To keep our ancestors alive, the brain evolved a “negativity bias” that makes it like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones, as my friend Rick Hanson always says. This might have been good for survival, but today this bias makes us needlessly stressed, worried, irritated, and blue.
The inner strengths we need for the long road of life are mainly built from positive experiences. But because of the negativity bias, positive experiences often flow through our brains like water through a sieve, with no lasting value.
If you’re starting to think this is the most depressing happiness tip I’ve ever written, never fear! Rick Hanson, PhD, a neuropsychologist and bestselling author, has a wonderful new book coming out in a couple of weeks. It’s called Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence, and it lays out a simple way to use everyday experiences to change your brain so that you experience more happiness, love, confidence, and peace.
Here’s the gist of how to “Take in the Good,” as Hanson calls it:
- Notice the good things that are all around you. Practice actively looking for the positive: Those flowers we planted in the fall are blooming; our neighbor was so nice to help us with a difficult project; work was particularly fun today. Regular gratitude practices help with this. The key, according to Hanson, is to “turn positive facts into positive experiences.”
- Draw out—really savor—those positive experiences. The idea is not just to hold something positive in our awareness for as long as possible, but also to remember and re-experience the positive emotions that go along with positive experiences.
- Let it all really sink in. Imagine that the positive experience “is entering deeply into your mind and body, like the sun’s warmth into a T-shirt, water into a sponge, or a jewel placed in a treasure chest in your heart.”
Drawing on neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, and wisdom from the contemplative traditions, Hardwiring Happiness shows you how to overcome the negativity bias and get good experiences into the brain where it can use them. By taking just a few extra seconds to stay with an everyday positive experience – the deliciousness of a cookie, the calming in a single breath, the warmth of a friend – we can turn good moments into a great brain that gives us a durable resilience and well-being.
Take Action: Take 30 seconds to “take in the good” of a positive experience before you drift off to sleep tonight.
Join the Discussion: Have you tried this practice? If so, share your experience in the comments.
PS: If you pre-order a copy of Hardwiring Happiness before the book comes out on October 8th, you can receive the free bonus of Dr. Hanson’s “Your Best Brain” multimedia presentation by visiting www.rickhanson.net/hardwiringhappiness.
The “Your Best Brain” multimedia presentation includes audio and slide sets from the “Your Best Brain” Workshop and will give you practical, research-based ways to learn how to “Be On Your Own Side,” “Take In The Good,” and “Come Home to Happiness.”