Having “fiddle fingers” is a good thing: Research shows busy hands alter your brain’s chemistry, making you happier

Many people say, “the eyes have it”, but some researchers insist that “the hands have it”, instead.  That’s because our hands hold the key to our happiness.

Kelly Lambert, a neuroscientist at the University of Richmond says “our brains reward us for getting a grip on the world.” She explains that we change our brain’s neurochemistry each time we move. Such “behaviorceuticals” — a term she coined from the word pharmaceuticals — can give us a sense of fulfillment and evoke other positive feelings that come from doing a job well done.

There’s one requirement, though. We should work with our hands.

Lambert cites the case of 19th century doctors prescribing knitting to women who felt overanxious. Knitting, she explains, helped the women calm down. Lambert further explains that repetitive movement raises the level of neurochemicals in our body. Neurochemicals, says world-class athlete and public health advocate Christopher Bergland, turn life’s pursuits and struggles into sources of pleasure.

This could be why you feel happy after you finally finish knitting that scarf that took months to complete. Lambert says using both hands creatively is more engaging for the brain.

The observation is timely, now that modern-day jobs which require social and analytical skills, like desk work, is on the rise, while those that need physical ability increased by only 12 percent in 2015. The neuroscientist is concerned because desk jobs only require people to sit on a chair and press buttons. They “lose a sense of control” over their surroundings.

Lambert cited her studies on rats to stress the hand-brain connection. Rodents who dug for a reward showed more signs of mental health, than “trust fund rats” who did not perform physical work. Not only that. The stress hormones of the “trust fund rats” soared.

That’s why it’s a good idea to keep those hands gainfully occupied, especially during our free time. Here are some activities you might want to try.

  • Making costume jewelry — You can do a lot by using simple, easy-to-carry items like wire wrapping stock wire, recycled steel, copper, or aluminum wire. You’ll also need a set of smooth or padded jeweler’s pliers. Beads, imitation stones, glitter, and other things you can think of can serve as attractive accents.
  • Calligraphy — Computer work has made the art of handwriting extinct. Teach yourself to write in an inverted way, backwards, or with your less dominant hand. You might get so absorbed, you lose track of time.
  • Woodcarving — You can start with a few chisels or carving knife, a woodcarving mallet and a piece of wood. You’ll need to draw your design on the wood and start carving away at the bits and pieces you don’t need anymore. It’s a lot of work, but it’s rewarding. It also teaches patience, because rushing your work will result in a bad piece of wood carving. Besides, you don’t want to accidentally cut the sensitive skin on your finger, do you?
  • Cross-stitching — You’ll need needles, a pair of scissors, fabric and yarns — the more colorful, the better. Go as wild as you can with the designs. Experiment with different color combinations. Then frame your handiwork and display them in the living room for you, your family and friends to admire. You can even give away some of your work as unique birthday or holiday presents.

Busy hands not just keep us gainfully occupied. They also make us happy, even if we’re all alone. Who wouldn’t want that?

You can find more articles related to the mind and how to improve it at Mind.news.

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