Retrain your brain for happiness

The ancient Hawaiian culture is known for its strong community bonds, living with a worldview based on peace, love and harmony. Sounds blissful, right? Well, you may be wondering what this has to do with you.

Modern neuroscience has now shown that we can create our own reality by taking charge of our thought patterns – by re-wiring the brain. Re-training your brain, however, takes hard work and perseverance, so we are here to help, guide and support you! Re-training your brain has been likened to ploughing new furrows in hard and ungiving ground. Once the initial trench has been ploughed, it becomes easier to run your plough over the trench again. Soon the earth is ready for planting new crops. The same can happen in your brain. Once, you push through and consistently practice, it becomes easier and easier and you will reap the rewards.

Back to Hawaii, we can use one of their ancient techniques to rewire the brain and foster feelings of love, connection, forgiveness, and peace. Hoʻoponopono is a Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness. The Hawaiian word translates into English simply as “correction”. Hence this practice was (and is) used to correct unhelpful thinking towards oneself and towards others in the community. It is a simple practice that comprises of repeating four key phrases while directing your attention to the person you wish to connect with (this can be yourself, too!). It goes as follows:

“I love you.

I’m sorry.

Please forgive me.

Thank you.”

This practice has been well researched, and its positive benefits are numerous, including – reduction in stress, increased sense of peace and wellbeing, improved relationships with self and others, more control over negative thoughts, and general increase in happiness.

Let’s look at one study, conducted in the 1980’s by an American Psychiatrist, Dr Ihaleakala Hew Len. Dr Len was called in to help improve the state of a mental health hospital for the criminally insane. He never saw any of the patients professionally or counseled them.  All he agreed to do was review their files. While he studied their files, he would work on himself – he would repeat the mantra over and over – and miraculously, gradually all the patients began to heal. After a few months of Dr Len being there, patients who had been shackled were allowed to walk freely; others who’d been heavily medicated, had their medications reduced; and those who had been seen as having no chance of ever being released, were released and freed. Not only that, but the staff began to enjoy coming to work. Absenteeism and turnover improved.

You can bring this same transformation into your own life, by using this practice to rewire your own brain. The challenge is to simply repeat the four phrases to yourself every day for at lease 28 days. It might be challenging to create this new pathway in your brain, but we are here to help, guide and support you. Old thoughts (or criticisms) may emerge to challenge you. You may not even feel anything while saying the words, or you may even feel the opposite! This is quite ok. In time, you will become more comfortable saying these four phrases to yourself. I would suggest the following to help you:

  • Set aside a time in your day to do the practice (same time, same place, every day)
  • Look into the mirror and focus on your eyes, your face, while saying these phrases.
  • Say the set of four phrases three times.
  • Take a moment of silence before leaving the space

Well, let’s get ploughing, shall we!

written by Misha-Joy Clark, Clinical Psychologist