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'Activating Happy' conference will teach participants how to rewire their brains



REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Lake Oswego resident Sandi Serling says it's possible to rewire the brain to feel happier and more confident. Shell will share that message at the Activating Happy conference in October.Sandi Serling Zimmerman looks like just the right person to sponsor a conference called “Activating Happy” — smiling, outgoing and, well, happy. But the Lake Oswego woman readily admits that looks can be deceiving.

“I’ve always felt anxiety inside,” Zimmerman says. “Inwardly, I felt fear for no reason. I’ve been this way ever since I was a little girl.”

As a wife, mother and owner of her own public relations business, Zimmerman says she was able to appear upbeat and positive on the surface. But when her parents died within a few weeks of each other four years ago, the facade became too difficult for her to bear.

“I was so full of anxiety,” Zimmerman says. “And I thought, ‘I don’t want to feel like this.’”

It was at that point that Zimmerman met therapist Brad Pendergraft, a Portland-based therapist who works on the cutting edge of brain science.

“Brad taught me how the brain works and how we can absolutely gain control over it,” Zimmerman says. “It has changed my life, and I know it can change others.”

To that end, Zimmerman will host “Activating Happy” on Oct. 3 at the Lakewood Center for the Arts. The daylong conference will feature Pendergraft and other experts and focus on how to rewire the brain to feel happier and more confident during good experiences and cope during stressful ones, how to switch off “mind chatter” and be present in the moment, the importance of self-compassion, the upside of negative experiences and other topics.

“Seventy-seven percent of people experience health issues from brain stress,” Zimmerman says. “But the beautiful part is that we can rewire our brains so we can have a much better life.”

Basically, Zimmerman says, we don’t really know our own brains.

“We know more about flexing our biceps than we do our own brains,” Zimmerman says. “When we know how to control thoughts and eliminate negative thinking, the sky’s the limit. You will become your own best friend.”

“Activating Happy” will share techniques that have worked well for Zimmerman, including deep breathing. Many people feel super-charged anxiety in heavy traffic, she says, but relief can be quickly achieved.

“Three really deep breaths, in your nose and out your mouth, will bring you a state of calm,” Zimmerman says. “The brain will read, ‘Oh, you’re calm.’ We’re wired for negativity. We’ve been that way since the beginning of mankind. We live in a state of fear to protect ourselves. We don’t have to be that way.”

Zimmerman says speakers at the conference will share “stories of triumph” — ways they overcame major problems in their lives. The result is likely to be transformational, she says, but it will also be fun.

“It won’t be like opening up a science book,” Zimmerman says. “People will say, ‘Yeah! This is so great!’ The idea is to have fun and learn about the brain.”

It won’t be a panacea, though.

“This is not about being happy all of the time,” Zimmerman says. “We will stress people not going down the rabbit hole of depression, but we do need to feel all the emotions.”

Zimmerman expects her audience to feel like she did when she learned about re-wiring the brain: “on the edge of my seat.” And she’s sure her mission will not end after one conference. Lake Oswego has been her home for 32 years, and Zimmerman wants it to be the home of “Activating Happy,” too.

“It is really important to bring this to my own community first,” Zimmerman says. “It will branch out from here. The more feedback I get about this, the more I think I need to turn this into a business. I want to bring this to other cities.”

Sponsors for the event are Lake Oswego Public Library, Umpqua Bank and Starbucks Lake Grove.

Tickets for the conference ($47 before Aug. 1, $57 after) aren’t on sale yet, but Zimmerman is taking reservations online at activatinghappy.com. The project also has a Facebook page, and more information is available by calling Zimmerman at 503-697-0649.

Contact Cliff Newell at 503-636-1281 ext. 105 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..