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The Secret to a Happier Brain

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The pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. Those handful of words penned within our Declaration of Independence symbolizes a seemingly simple goal: to be happy.

For our founding fathers, it was a right every human should have. For many of us, it is a life-long pursuit. But as any adolescent knows, it sounds easier than it is to achieve. If you or your teen has been feeling down despite the warming weather, have no fear. The key to achieving a happier mind is simple, although it lies in an unexpected place: away from yourself and instead in serving others.

The Key to a Happier Mind

Lead by psychology professor Eva Teizer, researchers at the University of Illinois have found that adolescents who enjoy pro-social activities, like community service, are happier than their counterparts. The study found that 15 to 16 year olds who derive pleasure from altruistic deeds are less likely to become depressed. By measuring activity in one part of the brain, Dr.Teizer’s team was able to determine that higher levels of activation from altruistic work lead to a decline in depression and risk-taking behavior. Ultimately, Dr.Teizer explains that less risk-taking behavior will decrease the likelihood of fatal incidents, like car accidents, by up to 33 percent.

Wiring the Brain for a Healthier Outlook

And this isn’t the only evidence to back-up the claim that compassionate teens are healthier and less prone to risk-taking accidents. Dr. Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist, a member of U.C. Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center's advisory board, and author of the book Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence, goes so far to say that our brains are wired to focus on the negative. He states that only by having positive experiences of the good things inside ourselves — resilience, love, confidence, kindness, and so forth — can we improve ourselves and help our brains grow happier and healthier. These positive moods and emotions lead to an overall stronger immune system.

So if you’re pursuing happiness, take some time away from introspective meditating. Your surya namaskar may help you unwind, but for a truly happier mind, look no farther than your local clinic or shelter. Put some time into volunteering and serving your community each week, and soon good karma will come back to aid you. Check out TeenLife's community service opportunities for teens, where you can search by specific city or state.

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