by Anisha Reddy

Have you ever convinced yourself that after completing a specific goal or project, you’d be happy? Trust me—I get it. It’s how we’ve been taught to think.

Before you say anything, this is NOT a conspiracy theory! We’ve been conditioned to think formulaically: When we become successful, then we’ll be happy. After I get all A’s, I’ll be happy. After I get into my dream college, I’ll be happy. After I get the job I’ve always wanted, I’ll be happy.

Sound familiar? As a college student, I understand how difficult it can be to find happiness when you’re constantly bombarded with work and tests.

What happens once you reach your goal? Are you truly happy? For many people, the answer is no.

Once we achieve one goal, we set a new goal, and our happiness now depends upon our achievement of the next goal. But, if our goals are constantly changing and happiness depends upon us completing our goals, we’ll never attain true happiness.

“We need to…reverse this formula so we can…see what our brains are truly capable of,” Shawn Achor explains in his TED Talk, “The Happy Secret to Better Work.” Achor suggests that contrary to our current beliefs as a society, when we are happy, we tend to be more successful, not the other way around.

If you don’t believe me, watch his TED Talk. It’s scientifically proven!

Before we dive in, let me introduce myself. My name is Anisha Reddy, and I’m a former student of KD College Prep. I’m currently studying psychology and neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh. In this blog, I’ll explain how happiness can actually make you a better learner and provide you with some tips for how to positively impact your happiness and, therefore, your academics.

How Happiness Helps You Learn: A Crash Course on the Brain

I know you’re not here for a science lesson, but hear me out! When I first watched this TED Talk, I was a bit skeptical about how true it was that happiness helped you learn until Achor explained the science behind it.

When you’re happy, your brain is flooded with a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Aside from making you happy, the presence of dopamine increases the processing of new information. Basically, when you’re happy, your memory and storage capacity actually improve. Crazy, right? This means you’ll retain more information and can therefore perform better on the academic challenges thrown your way. (The struggle is real.) So how can you increase your happiness levels to maximize dopamine presence in your brain?

The Relationship Between Positivity and Happiness

Achor firmly believes that the way your brain processes the world contributes to 90% of your happiness. In his TED Talk, he emphasizes that “It’s not necessarily…reality that shapes us but the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality.”

Having a more positive mindset influences our thoughts and allows us to be happier. Though it’s hard to change your mindset sometimes, here are some actions you can take to retrain your brain to foster a positive perception of the world.

Brain Gains: Retraining Your Brain to Be More Positive

In his TED Talk, Achor mentions many steps that you can take to retrain your brain to be more positive, such as creating a daily gratitude list, meditating, and doing random acts of kindness for others. I’ve personally tried all three of these and have found that they’re actually pretty easy to incorporate into your daily routine!

Gratitude List

Try making a daily gratitude list. Jot down five things, people, or experiences for which you are grateful. As you start to run out of things to write, this may become challenging, but strive to identify new things each day. I find that making a gratitude list at the end of my day is especially effective, and I use it to reflect on my day as well as appreciate the little things. This exercise helps train your brain to be on the lookout for things to be happy about, so you’re more aware and happier!

Meditation

You don’t have to be a yogi to meditate! There are many apps that help with guided meditation. Some of them even allow you to target specific things, such as easing stress, minimizing negative thinking, and improving concentration. As a student, these exercises can be especially helpful. Meditation has been proven to be beneficial in many situations and allows you to focus on important thoughts by letting go of the unimportant ones. It can help with positive thinking by allowing you to dismiss negative thoughts that pop into your head.

Random Acts of Kindness

Whenever you find yourself being negative, try to do something for someone else. It’s difficult to do if you’re not in a positive mindset, but it can potentially make you feel better! Donate your old clothes or books. Compliment a stranger. Buy coffee for the person behind you in line or for one of your friends. These simple actions tend to boost your mood because you are doing something selfless, and you can turn someone’s day around. As cheesy as this is, smiles and laughter are contagious. Making someone else smile could actually make your day better as well.

Take Breaks

Take breaks during study sessions to do things that make you happy. Personally, it’s hard for me to stop myself from working because I’m always trying to get things done. I’m such a Capricorn. But, it’s important to take breaks. Step outside, grab food with friends, or even watch an episode of your favorite show. Do something fun on a regular basis so you can make yourself happy, keep your dopamine levels up, and help your brain become more efficient.

How This Applies to Your Life

As a student, it’s easy to think that we have to either choose to focus on our social lives or academics. However, if you’re mindful about the balance between the two, your social life can actually enrich your academics. It’s important to focus on your school work, but make time to spend with friends between classes and studying.

In summary, science is telling us that you need to do things that make you happy! Remember to do things for yourself because—not only is this good for you (self-love, am I right?)—but also it can actually help you process and retain things that you learn in school and in life.

Life is short, so instead of making happiness an end goal, why not be happy throughout all of your life? Your happiness will allow for your success, so make time for the things and people that make you happy. Just make sure you’re still focusing on school too.

Please note: This is not sponsored. I just really love this TED Talk, and it has changed the way I think about learning, studying, and my life in general. Plus, Shawn Achor is a really funny and engaging speaker. I highly recommend watching it!

Anisha Reddy is a former KD College Prep student and summer intern. She currently studies psychology and neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh.