Review by Charmaine Childs

Everything we experience has a ripple effect of reactions in the brain. Thoughts, emotions and the choices we make can initiate an upward spiral in the direction of health and happiness and success — or a downward spiral in the direction of depression, anxiety and confusion. We need only make small changes in an upward direction to create enormous changes in our experience of the world.

In The Upward Spiral, neuroscientist Alex Korb offers an incredibly accessible and practical insight into recent neuroscientific research. He suggests simple choices we can make every day to rewire our brains, so that we move with increasing momentum towards a happier and successful life.

Here is some of the best practical advice from The Upward Spiral:


Make choices, be clear and take action. It doesn’t need to be the perfect decision (or even a big decision) just decide. Making decisions is a quick way to relieve anxiety and release chemicals in the brain that make us feel energised and optimistic. Choose always for what you DO want, rather than what you don’t want. The mind has a complex filter system that will show you more of what you are focusing on. When we choose finding the solution rather than solving the problem, we see opportunities much faster.


Move your body in a way that feels fun EVERY day. It doesn’t need to be the gym, even a little walk along the beach is great. The impact that exercise has on the brain is immense, releasing many of the same chemicals as antidepressants or other drugs, without any side effects. If you are trying to control your emotions under stress, lift your mood, or to resist temptation, then a moment of exercise before you take action will put you in a stronger mental state.

Some tips on getting the most neurological benefit from your exercise include: making it feel fun and voluntary; exercise that causes variation in your heart rate; writing out a plan and ticking it off ; visualising what you are aiming for while exercising; exercising in beautiful surroundings; and doing exercise that has a social element.


The brain and the body both influence each other in a bio-feedback loop. Strong emotions cause physical reactions (eg. tensing of facial muscles if we are stressed). Likewise, if we adjust our physical state, it creates changes in the brain (eg. relaxing the muscles of the face to calm the mind). The brain reacts in the same way when we smile and laugh, whether it is triggered by something pleasing or if you ‘fake’ it, so either way it will start an upward spiral.

Smiling, laughing, adopting upright open posture, slowing breathing or relaxing the face and other muscles are all good ways to reduce stress levels and increase happiness. Korb also suggested regular massage and yoga practice as scientifically proven ways to feel more content and at peace. Smile and make the bio-feedback loop work for you


We cannot control what happens around us, or even what thoughts pop up in our mind, but we can choose where to focus our attention. The mind has a negative bias built into its survival mechanism. To gain momentum for an upward spiral we must actively seek things to focus on that feel good: love, fun, appreciation and admiration are all part of gratitude. Scientific research suggests that a daily gratitude habit, such as keeping a gratitude journal, activates the approach system of the brain. This increases energy and happiness levels, as well as boosting the immune system and even relieving physical pain.