The Power of Pleasure: How to Rewire Your Brain For Happiness


Cooking together with friends...evening walks with my husband...curling up on the couch with a good novel. These are some of the simple pleasures in my life. And when I take the time to relish them, I notice profound benefits to my physical and mental health.

In fact, focusing more on pleasure has the power to actually rewire your brain and nervous system.

In our culture, we tend to focus on the things that are difficult–stress, pain or problems that need to be solved. This is an easy habit to fall into because those things tend to be more dramatic. They grab your attention.

Instead, I invite you to shift your focus from time to time.

Notice what feels good in your life. 

It could be something really small, like how good it feels to sit in your favorite chair after a long day, or the relaxing way a hot shower feels on your neck and shoulders. It could be the taste of a delicious piece of summer fruit, or the feeling of a warm hug from someone you love.

See what it's like to just notice these sweet moments. Give them a little more attention and especially notice how they feel in your body. How does the support of that comfy chair feel as your tired muscles sink down into it? How does the flavor of that fruit subtly change as you chew? Where in your body do you really feel the warmth of that hug?

These kinds of experiences are small, even ordinary.

They don't grab your attention the way stressful things do. They are a bit more subtle, so it take a little extra focus to notice them more and feel them in a deeper way. When you do though, you are developing an important skill.

You're retraining your brain and nervous system to be in a the parasympathetic mode. That's the part of the nervous system that helps you rest, digest, relax and heal, so it's essential for breaking out of cycles of inflammation and disease, helping you to live in great health–both physically and emotionally.

It's key to know though, that by shifting our attention away from stress and difficulty we aren't just ignoring those things, but rather building the capacity and resilience needed for finding solutions to problems–without tipping into overwhelm.

So try it today. What feels good in your life? Take a moment to really be with it. Experience it. Enjoy it, and notice how this new practice, called "orienting to pleasure" helps your system shift into a greater sense of well-being in body and mind. It's a subtle process, but a powerful one!

Sarah CottenComment