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Episode 42: Red Ribbon Week

Your brain has a mind of its own and has one primary goal: to feel good. 


Did you know that your brain will control you subconsciously to do anything at all costs to avoid pain or displeasure? 


Your brain wants to feel happy, and happy feelings come from certain chemicals produced inside. Maybe you’ve heard of some of them: dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. Those chemicals get automatically triggered when you do something enjoyable. 


Other chemicals get automatically triggered when you do something…unenjoyable. Or painful. Or uncomfortable. Cortisol is what’s known as a stress chemical, and your brain produces it to send a signal to the rest of your body that danger is close, so be on high alert- ready for a fight, or to run away, or to hide. 


It’s a really useful chemical. But it doesn’t feel good. And too much of it will make you feel worse and worse. 


Researchers have discovered that people feel physically and emotionally miserable when they experience those things.


Even the IDEA of doing something unenjoyable triggers those unhappy chemicals. For example, the experience of being rejected by a friend is one of the most painful experiences anyone can have. Your brain is so keen on avoiding rejection that it can imagine scenarios and situations that might lead to feeling that awful feeling. It will anticipate people’s reactions to things like your hair, your clothes, and the things you say, and before you even get around someone else, the chemical is already pumping. 

Remember, your brain wants to feel good and avoid feeling bad, but your brain can’t do both at the same time—it has to prioritize one over the other.


So, avoiding pain typically wins. Unfortunately, feeling good from the good chemicals gets turned off unless you become more aware of what’s happening in your brain and become intentional. 


Here’s where we get to the good news: Scientists have discovered that you can actually hack your brain system to be happier and healthier. You can choose to do certain activities to trigger happy chemicals to start flowing intentionally. We like to call them Natural Highs. 


A Natural High is an automatic response your brain has when you intentionally do something that you find enjoyable. Things like:


  • Reading a good book
  • Dancing to your favorite song
  • Hanging out with your best friend
  • Playing with your dog
  • Practicing your guitar
  • Riding your skateboard
  • Telling a joke
  • Creating a new video
  • Baking chocolate chip cookies
  • Bring a gift to a friend
  • Going for a run


Ironically, artificial substances can make you feel good, too. Certain substances like alcohol and drugs will flip a switch to turn off the bad chemicals and turn on the good. Unfortunately, they don’t work for very long. 


On the one hand, the high doesn’t last long. It expires.


The uncomfortable feelings return. 


On the other hand, your brain gets tricked into believing it needs those substances to avoid feeling bad and feel good…all the time. 


Then, when the high stops making you feel good, most people feel…worse. Guilty. Remorseful. Maybe even rejected by their friends and family they love. Those are awful, miserable feelings, and since your brain has developed a pattern, it starts to believe that the only way to feel good again is…yep—more substances. 


It eventually reshapes how your brain functions and cuts off some of the critical developments your brain needs later in life, really important things like how to learn, make good decisions, stay motivated towards important goals, and connect with people you love. 


Back to the good news: you’re in charge of how you feel more than you probably realize. By choosing to do something you enjoy, you feel more…joy. The more often and consistently you choose to do enjoyable activities, the more your brain will crave more…enjoyable activities. 


So here’s the question: What brings you joy? 

What are your Natural Highs?


Do you know?

For years we’ve been studying what a young person needs in order to transition into a healthy, thriving adulthood.  

They're uncommon sense ideas, really.

Download this checklist and use it with your students (or kids).

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