Book Review: Habits of A Happy Brain

Can you change your life in 45 days? Most people would say that’s impossible. Dr. Loretta Graziano Breuning disagrees – and she sets out to prove it in her book Habits of A Happy Brain: Retrain Your Brain to Boost Your Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin & Endorphin Levels.

Habits of A Happy Brain is essentially an introduction to the science of happiness. Dr. Breuning begins by explaining how our inner mammalian brains are affected by the four happy chemicals: serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins. She teaches us how we create habits that stimulate these chemicals in early childhood, and how we add onto these neural circuits throughout our lives. Crucially, she explains that these habits can turn into a vicious cycle. If you know one way to feel good, it’s human nature to repeat that way. But if you do the same thing too often, you don’t get as great of a hit of your happy chemical and end up feeling disappointed. Still, you only know one way to feel better – and this becomes a vicious cycle.

It’s tough to break cycles you’ve followed your whole life – but it is possible. In her book, Dr. Breuning shows you how to switch these vicious cycles into “virtuous cycles.” She even provides you with new “happy habits” you can implement to increase the amount of each chemical in your life.

Overall, I was a big fan of Habits of A Happy Brain. Dr. Breuning is Professor Emerita at California State University and her teaching experience shines through on every page of her book. You’ll be able to easily understand Habits of A Happy Brain without a shred of information about the brain due to her straightforward writing style.

It helps that Dr. Breuning has included short activities throughout the text. These activities force the reader to connect their own experiences with Dr. Breuning’s explanations of the brain’s relationship to happiness, which cements these new learnings in the reader’s mind. I also liked that Dr. Breuning named 4-5 specific habits we could implement for each chemical, and gives techniques the reader can use wherever he/she is. This isn’t a scientific treatise on happiness – this is all action, all the time.

While I was not personally bothered by this, I can see how some might be bothered by Dr. Breuning’s treatment of the brain as essentially animal. After all, it’s never fun to recognize our brains as subject to the whims of various chemicals. Indeed, it’s depressing and fatalistic at times. However, Dr. Breuning smartly addresses these concerns in the beginning of the book, illuminating the difference between understanding the brain’s primitive nature and acting on it. She treats the brain as mammal, but she does it with respect.

This foresight is evident throughout the rest of Habits of A Happy Brain as well. There are lots of potential protests to following Dr. Breuning’s directions – and the author addresses many of these in a chapter entitled “Obstacles to Overcoming Happiness.” In addition, while Habits of A Happy Brain is an excellent introduction to the science of the mammal brain, there’s a LOT that it doesn’t go into. Luckily, Dr. Breuning ends the book with a “Recommended Reading” section that highlights the best books in certain categories related to the mammalian brain, like “Best Compilation of Happiness Research.”

This foresight was lacking in only one area. Here’s the thing: changing your habits, creating new ones and getting rid of the old, is immensely hard. And when you have to “do nothing” instead of what you’re accustomed to do, your brain is flooded with cortisol. Dr. Breuning says that we’ll feel this stress but doesn’t really  name ways to stop it, partially because that’s just the way things must go. However, it seems to me that retraining your brain would be a lot easier if you were able to do it with others. To that end, I would have appreciated an online social community based on this book – I think it would help implement these happy habits (although I recognize that perhaps this was not included because it would add another happy habit that could mess with our neural circuits). It’s not something I would expect from most books, but Dr. Breuning did seem to think of absolutely everything else.

All in all, I loved Habits of A Happy Brain: Retrain Your Brain to Boost Your Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin& Endorphin Levels. It’s straightforward, actionable and a great guide to boosting your mood. So if that’s exactly what you’re looking for, you should buy the book.

Liked this? Check out our interview with Dr. Loretta Graziano Breuning, and buy the book here!

Written by Sasha Graffagna

Can you change your life in 45 days? Most people would say that’s impossible. Dr. Loretta Graziano Breuning disagrees – and she sets out to prove it in her book Habits of A Happy Brain: Retrain Your Brain to Boost Your Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin & Endorphin Levels.

Habits of A Happy Brain is essentially an introduction to the science of happiness. Dr. Breuning begins by explaining how our inner mammalian brains are affected by the four happy chemicals: serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins. She teaches us how we create habits that stimulate these chemicals in early childhood, and how we add onto these neural circuits throughout our lives. Crucially, she explains that these habits can turn into a vicious cycle. If you know one way to feel good, it’s human nature to repeat that way. But if you do the same thing too often, you don’t get as great of a hit of your happy chemical and end up feeling disappointed. Still, you only know one way to feel better – and this becomes a vicious cycle.

It’s tough to break cycles you’ve followed your whole life – but it is possible. In her book, Dr. Breuning shows you how to switch these vicious cycles into “virtuous cycles.” She even provides you with new “happy habits” you can implement to increase the amount of each chemical in your life.

Overall, I was a big fan of Habits of A Happy Brain. Dr. Breuning is Professor Emerita at California State University and her teaching experience shines through on every page of her book. You’ll be able to easily understand Habits of A Happy Brain without a shred of information about the brain due to her straightforward writing style.

It helps that Dr. Breuning has included short activities throughout the text. These activities force the reader to connect their own experiences with Dr. Breuning’s explanations of the brain’s relationship to happiness, which cements these new learnings in the reader’s mind. I also liked that Dr. Breuning named 4-5 specific habits we could implement for each chemical, and gives techniques the reader can use wherever he/she is. This isn’t a scientific treatise on happiness – this is all action, all the time.

While I was not personally bothered by this, I can see how some might be bothered by Dr. Breuning’s treatment of the brain as essentially animal. After all, it’s never fun to recognize our brains as subject to the whims of various chemicals. Indeed, it’s depressing and fatalistic at times. However, Dr. Breuning smartly addresses these concerns in the beginning of the book, illuminating the difference between understanding the brain’s primitive nature and acting on it. She treats the brain as mammal, but she does it with respect.

This foresight is evident throughout the rest of Habits of A Happy Brain as well. There are lots of potential protests to following Dr. Breuning’s directions – and the author addresses many of these in a chapter entitled “Obstacles to Overcoming Happiness.” In addition, while Habits of A Happy Brain is an excellent introduction to the science of the mammal brain, there’s a LOT that it doesn’t go into. Luckily, Dr. Breuning ends the book with a “Recommended Reading” section that highlights the best books in certain categories related to the mammalian brain, like “Best Compilation of Happiness Research.”

This foresight was lacking in only one area. Here’s the thing: changing your habits, creating new ones and getting rid of the old, is immensely hard. And when you have to “do nothing” instead of what you’re accustomed to do, your brain is flooded with cortisol. Dr. Breuning says that we’ll feel this stress but doesn’t really  name ways to stop it, partially because that’s just the way things must go. However, it seems to me that retraining your brain would be a lot easier if you were able to do it with others. To that end, I would have appreciated an online social community based on this book – I think it would help implement these happy habits (although I recognize that perhaps this was not included because it would add another happy habit that could mess with our neural circuits). It’s not something I would expect from most books, but Dr. Breuning did seem to think of absolutely everything else.

All in all, I loved Habits of A Happy Brain: Retrain Your Brain to Boost Your Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin& Endorphin Levels. It’s straightforward, actionable and a great guide to boosting your mood. So if that’s exactly what you’re looking for, you should buy the book.

Liked this? Check out our interview with Dr. Loretta Graziano Breuning, and buy the book here!

Written by Sasha Graffagna

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