How achievement & brain health connects us to bliss & growth

brain health

A 1960’s female neuroscientist first discovered the connection between happiness and a magical quality of our brain health. Today, instead of talk therapy and drug therapy, we use those principles to help recovery clients who have lost all hope achieve a life they’re proud of.

Marian Diamond, PhD, was a courageous woman. She was born Nov. 11, 1926, and against great odds, became a neuroscientist. Diamond was the first female graduate student in the department of anatomy and spent her life passionately studying the brain.

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In 1966, Diamond led the team that discovered neuroplasticity. This is what we now know as the brain’s ability to change and grow larger in an enriched environment.

Here’s what Professor Diamond shared with her students at UC Berkley and with the world: When the brain lives in an impoverished environment, the brain actually shrinks. Lab rats in this environment were raised alone in cages that were small, dark and had little to do. These rats struggled with tasks and were suffering from depression and anxiety (among many other challenges).

When the rats moved to an enriched environment with playmates, toys and new challenges, the rats had a larger brain size and lived longer and happier lives. In other words, these rats thrived!

The science revealed optimum brain health is achieved in an enriched environment that incorporates:

  1. Diet
  2. Exercise
  3. Challenge
  4. Newness
  5. Love

Abraham Maslow, PhD, was another thinker who changed how we think about the architecture of happiness. At a time when psychology was gaining momentum and acceptance by focusing on people’s deficiencies and traumas, Maslow, a 20th century humanistic psychologist, was studying the best and brightest. He wanted to discover what traits these successful and happy people had in common.

Maslow taught us, “What one can be, one must be!” By studying the most exceptional people of his era, he offered to the world of psychology “The Hierarchy of Needs.” This five-tier model of human needs often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid. The needs are:

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  • Self-Actualisation
  • Esteem
  • Love and Belonging
  • Safety
  • Physiological

The desired outcome for a life well-lived according to Maslow was to achieve self-actualisation. To live life on your terms, to continue intrinsic growth, and to work towards achieving your unique potential.

Choosing to become self-actualised is to live through life’s challenges, and to be better tomorrow than you are today. There is no comparing yourself to others. This is your own journey.

As co-founder of Emergo Recovery, a residential holistic wellness and recovery program, we set out to leverage neuroplasticity and practice a brain-first approach to wellbeing. We call this Actualized Recovery®.

  1. Biological. To have the greatest chance of success, our bodies must have optimal health (homeostasis). Our program begins by restoring energy and improving all aspects of physiology. Treatment must begin with the brain.
  2. Psychological. We use experiential therapies proven in their ability to enhance the mind-body connection, such as yoga, ERT (Emotional Response Therapy), wilderness therapy, recreational therapy, expressive art and more.
  3. Spiritual. Your spirit is who you are at the deepest level. Spiritual development is about discovering your bliss. You flourish when you are spontaneously pursuing your life’s purpose.
  4. Social (connections). Isolation and loneliness are widely recognised as being a major driver of depression and sadness. Building strong, healthy social connections influences happiness and joy. In fact, the one global determinant researchers in the field of Positive Psychology of happiness is deep, meaningful relationships
  5. Lifestyle. Food, hydration, supplementation, sleep, movement, mindfulness + meditation, self-care, releasing toxins, belief patterns, play, learning, work, relationships. Creating a life that is focused on physical and emotional self-care and to care for others.

Where Maslow and Diamond broke through walls of thinking, we broke through a wall in applying their evidence-based work to help people overcome challenges that live in the brain, such as addictions and depression. In 2011, we created a truly holistic residential recovery program, and we’ve seen how the same approach applies to those who want to reach higher on the architecture of true happiness.

Many of us know how to have a ‘nice day,’ but according to the science that Diamond discovered, by focusing on being in a perpetual state of happiness, we’re missing the opportunities for achievement that truly connect us with our bliss and personal growth.

Susan KennedyAbout the author
This week’s author and brain health specialist, Susan Kenney, is the Co-Founder and Director of Therapeutic Wellness at Emergo Recovery, a private, residential recovery and wellness center. Susan pioneered Actualized Recovery®, an integrative brain-first approach to lasting recovery. This proprietary methodology focuses on optimizing neurological function while integrating biological, psychological, spiritual, social and lifestyle changes to create lasting recovery and wellbeing. Susan is a certified Brain Health Coach through the Amen Clinics, a certified Life Coach through the Wholebeing Institute, is a master’s certified Brainwave Optimization Technician, a certified sports nutritionist through BodyMind Institute, and a Reiki Master. Susan is currently studying Functional Medicine at the Kresser Institute, which focuses on uncovering root causes of personal imbalance and dysfunction, empowering clients toward greater wellbeing and happiness.