TRUTH: I really dislike the modern positive psychology movement. Here. I’ll say it : positive thinking doesn’t make you a better person! <ducks for cover>
Making sure we only “think positive thoughts” or “feel high vibration feelings” diminishes the fertile ground of our dark places and – in my opinion – create shame around perfectly and beautifully human experience. And MAN, there’s such beautiful growth available from the “compost pile.”
… but it’s sometimes easy to get stuck in our own sh*t, spinning our wheels and not leaving the places that are supposed to create a great change in our lives or days. Enter: Hardwiring Happiness, a really beautiful intersection between neuroscience and the practice of mindfulness — gentle enough to speak to those seeking a heartfelt path, and with enough hard data to communicate its importance to those motivated by scientific fact.
Dr. Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who has written five books, multiple articles, and delivered many speeches about “…the essential inner skills of personal well-being, psychological growth, and contemplative practice” according to his web site and this TEDx Talk. His writing incorporates brain science to help explain the reasons we do the things we do and the practice of mindfulness to create grace around our humanity.
Hardwiring Happiness begins with explaining our natural bias toward negativity – how we’re wired to look for bad/dangerous things in order to survive – and ways to train your brain to see and remember to orient toward the positive, beautiful things that happy every day!
Instead of shaming negative thoughts or experiences, it shows you how to help reduce the emphasis you place on, or weight you give to them by prioritizing all the good things you have in your life.
You have so much awesome stuff going on all around you all the time! We all do! We just – because evolution and human nature – tend to take them for granted. Or, worse, presume they’re just flukes and we don’t deserve them.
Rick coined the phrase “sad amygdala,” writing and speaking about it in many of his other works. The amygdala functions as the “fear and aggression center” of the brain. A very old part of the brain, it kept us safe during a time when negative things (threats) could kill us. But most of us are fortunate enough to walk around, safe from the threat of things like tigers starvation.
Dr. Hanson’s theory: your brain is be hardwired for survival/threat and that you can often react much more strongly to “bad” things than is really necessary. He says, though that, with mindful practice, you can re-wire your brains to seek out positivity (or happiness), driving optimism, motivation, and ambition, naturally leading to more positive thoughts and feelings!
Try this: for the next three days, each time you experience something positive (laughter, a good cup of coffee, your dog snuggling up to you) take TWELVE SECONDS to roll around in that experience. Feel it with as many senses as possible!
Or, at the end of every day, think about all of the good things in your life, choose one, write it down, and put it in the box. You’re consciously acknowledging that you do have good things in your life and training your brain to acknowledge them as well. (Then – when you have a totally awful day – go pull one or ten things out of the box and re-live them!)
Unpleasant things happen. Sh*t Happens. And happiness is something to which we all aspire at a deep, human level. We mistake “losing weight” or “making more money” or “accomplishing that task” for the state of happiness itself and mistake the lack of those things for a sad, scary life. This book reminds me over and over again that happiness is available ALL of the time, without the strain and fear-based striving we think is necessary to achieve it.