Tweak your brain chemistry toward happiness, purpose, meaning

JILLIAN MICHAELS: There is a definite connection between the physical laws of inertia, a body in motion tends to stay in motion and the psychological components of inertia it's like when we become sedentary it's very difficult to begin moving again and to become motivated once more. And it's not just emotional, it's also physiological. Depression and feeling sedentary and feeling down and engaging once again in being hopeful, because essentially that's what motivation does require, can become a bit like a spider web. So in The Six Keys one of the major pathways we need to travel down is comprehending the connection between the state of our mind and how it very tangibly affects our bodies. When you look at something like depression or sadness or tragedy that kind of emotional stress we see that it literally changes our brain, it shrinks the size of our amygdala, our hippocampus, it shifts the ratios between gray matter and white matter, it changes our brain chemistry. And what all of these physiological changes do is essentially gear us to be more impulsive, less emotional regulation, more prone to depression and these thoughts then, of course, leading to our behaviors, which dictate the outcome of our reality.

So, as I mentioned it's a bit of a black hole so to speak so how do we turn it around? And it has to be something in my opinion that is fought on a myriad of fronts. First and foremost we need to establish a why, so we're going to look at the actual psychology of motivation. I believe it was Nietzsche who said, "If you have a why to live for you can tolerate the how." Because anything worth having, be in a healthy marriage, a thriving career, a healthy body, is going to require work and sacrifice. But work with purpose is passion; work without purpose is punishing and a lot of us already feel very punished by the rigors of our daily lives. So forming a very concrete goal, not just health, what does that even mean? How do you emotionally connect to being healthy? Somebody says well don't have that pizza tonight and don't watch How to Make a Murderer season two and you'll be healthy like that's not sexy. However, if it was hey you know what, give me 20 minutes in your living room with a quick exercise routine and get the sauce on the XY or Z meal you just ordered on the side, forgo the soda, get water instead and you're going to fit into those skinny jeans, have sex with the lights on with confidence, although I think that's greatly overrated, it's light at least 12 hours out of your day so why not open up your options? I mean walk your daughter down the aisle or look good in your wedding dress or meet your great, great grandchildren, watch humans land on Mars. I don't care what your reason is. It doesn't matter how profound it is, it doesn't matter how superficial it is, but it has to move you and you have to care because that's what makes that work in order to achieve it more manageable and turns it into passion versus punishment. At the same time how do we make this concept neural plasticity work for us instead of against us? How do we change our brain chemistry and the shape and size of various parts of our brain so that we're more prone to positivity and hopefulness as opposed to nihilism? Well, things like meditation, these mind-body interventions, and for the longest time I was like I live in L.A. like I can't hear this one more time. You know what's going to stress me out? Wasting five minutes chanting in my car on my lunch hour when I have stuff to do.

But the evidence is overwhelming and we see that five minutes even of meditation, I don't care when you get it in if it's in the morning, if it's at night, if it's in your lunch hour even if you suck at it, download an app, be consistent with it and over time we see that it helps to shift the physiology of our brain so we are more geared towards happiness, purpose and meaning. And in fact when we look at it holistically, in conjunction with that ball getting rolling so now maybe you've got just enough motivation to take that first step and you're moving. So the first step at the gym, the first one is always the hardest because now that body in motion stays in motion, now you're motivated to a certain extent, you're starting to see results. The fears and concerns with breaking out of that comfort zone have abated because you already went and you did it. Maybe you're uncomfortable at the gym, you're done with feeling uncomfortable at the gym you survived it; you're ready to go back tomorrow; the world is not going to end. You're eating a little bit healthier and all of those micronutrients are gearing your brain chemistry for the better and not the worst. So each and every step in the right direction is what begets more success. So it's a holistic and a cumulative approach that's going to yield those positive results. And then of course, once you're emotionally and physically in motion it's much easier to stay in motion.

  • The body influences the mind: physical activity changes our brain chemistry.
  • More activity in the body, and therefore in the brain, reorients us toward happiness, purpose, and meaning.
  • Neuroplasticity suggests we can program ourselves to be more optimistic and hopeful.


Participatory democracy is presumed to be the gold standard. Here’s why it isn’t.

Political activism may get people invested in politics, and affect urgently needed change, but it comes at the expense of tolerance and healthy democratic norms.

Photo by Nicholas Roberts /Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Polarization and extreme partisanships have been on the rise in the United States.
  • Political psychologist Diana Mutz argues that we need more deliberation, not political activism, to keep our democracy robust.
  • Despite increased polarization, Americans still have more in common than we appear to.
Keep reading Show less

Astronomers spot only the 2nd interstellar object ever seen

An amateur astronomer discovers an interstellar comet on its way to our Sun.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Surprising Science
  • The comet C/2019 Q4 (Borisov) was spotted by an amateur astronomer.
  • The object is moving so fast, it likely originated outside our solar system.
  • The comet should be observable for another year.
Keep reading Show less
Image source: live.staticflickr.com
Surprising Science
  • Australian scientists found that bodies kept moving for 17 months after being pronounced dead.
  • Researchers used photography capture technology in 30 minute intervals everyday to capture the movement.
  • This study could help better identify time of death.
Keep reading Show less