Mindfulness Meditation
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Taking in the Good

by on 29 January

As human beings, we have three core needs - we want to feel safe, satisfied and connected. Hardwiring Happiness explains how we can better meet these needs through a practice called Taking in the Good (by Dr. Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist).

 

Feeling safe means feeling relaxed, calm and peaceful. Satisfied means feeling contented, accomplished, glad and grateful. Connected means feeling attached to others - belonging, intimate, kind, worthwhile and loved.

 

Hardwiring Happiness explains how we can better meet these needs. Dr. Hanson's book is about using good moments during the day to change our brain so we feel more confident, at ease, worthwhile and cared about.


Our brain determines how we live our life - what we think and feel, say and do. And our day-to-day experiences continually change our brain. Hardwiring Happiness is about getting good at changing our brain for the better – to be oriented toward happiness rather than unhappiness.


How we feel and act – during our life and in specific situations – is determined by 3 things: what challenges we face; what vulnerabilities these challenges grind on; and the strengths we each have for meeting our challenges and protecting our vulnerabilities.


Our inner strengths are fundamental to a happier, productive and loving life. They help us “feel less stressed, anxious, frustrated, irritable, depressed, disappointed, lonely, guilty, hurt, or inadequate”.


Just one inner strength - positive emotions - “reduce reactivity and stress, help heal psychological wounds, and improve resilience, well-being, and life satisfaction. Positive emotions encourage the pursuit of opportunities, . . . and promote success. They also strengthen your immune system, protect your heart, and foster a healthier and longer life”.


On average, about one third of a person’s strengths are innate, built into our genetically based temperament, talents, mood and personality. The rest are developed over time. “You get them by growing them”. Hardwiring Happiness tells us how to do it.


Dr. Hanson explains that there are 3 ways of working with your mind, just as there 3 ways to relate to your garden you could:
• just watch your garden or mind, with its flowers and weeds, without any judgement - let be.
• pull out the weeds, just like you could decrease negative thoughts in your mind – let go
• grow flowers by encouraging positive thoughts - let in. This is the practice of Taking in the Good.


To let be is like practicing mindfulness – paying attention to our thoughts without any judgement. And, that can allow negative thoughts and feelings to melt away (to let go). But, that’s not enough – we also have to work with our mind, to make effort to uproot negativity and enhance our inner strengths – to let them in. Dr. Hanson recommends 3 steps when something difficult or uncomfortable happens:
• Be mindful of our experience – observe and accept it for what it is.
• When it feels right, let go of whatever is negative in your body or mind.
• When it feels right, after you’ve released the negativity, replace it with something positive – for example, gratitude for family and friends who love you. And hold this positive experience for 10 or 20 seconds. This will feel good in the moment, and it will grow flowers in your mind and new neural circuits in your brain. You will hardwire happiness by taking in the good.


“All mental activity – sights and sounds, thoughts and feelings, conscious and unconscious processes – is based on underlying neural activity. Much mental activity . . . flows through the brain . . . with no lasting effect on its neural channels. But intense, prolonged, or repeated mental activity – especially if it’s conscious – will leave an enduring imprint in neural structures, like a surging current reshaping a riverbed. Mental states become neural traits. Day after day, your mind is building your brain.


This neuroplasticity of the brain explains how London cab drivers have built mental muscle to memorize the city’s spaghetti-like street routes. And how mindfulness meditators have increased gray matter in parts of the brain which increases their ability to: pay attention; remember visual-spatial objects; and tune into themselves and others.


In other words, our experiences matter – not just in the moment but for the lasting traces they leave in our brain. “Your attention is like a combined spotlight and vacuum cleaner: it highlights what it lands on and then sucks it into your brain – for better or worse”.


If you keep resting your mind on negative stressful thoughts, your brain will be shaped into “greater reactivity, vulnerability to anxiety and depressed mood, a narrow focus on threats and losses, and inclinations toward anger, sadness, and guilt”. However, if you keep resting your mind on “good events and conditions . . . pleasant feelings, the things you get done, physical pleasures, and your good intentions and qualities, then over time your brain will take a different shape”, one that’s more resilient, optimistic, positive, and with a sense of self-worth. 


In effect, what we pay attention to is the main influence on our brain and our happiness, and we have a lot of influence over where our minds rest. We can deliberately prolong and even create positive experiences that will shape our brain for the better. We can enhance our inner strengths and happiness.
The importance of focussing on pleasant experiences is because the brain has a strong bias toward negative events to help us survive. We’re hardwired to be on the lookout for potential dangers and losses. This makes us overreact, creates vicious circles of negativity and increases our stresses. It also decreases the positive, so that we overlook good experiences and they don’t get built up in the brain to make us happier. It’s as if our brain has Velcro for negative experiences, and Teflon for good ones.


“The negativity bias is tilted toward immediate survival, but against quality of life, peaceful and fulfilling relationships, and lasting mental and physical health. This is the default setting of the Stone Age brain. If we don’t take charge of it, it will take charge of us”. But focussing on pleasant experiences corrects for the tendencies of the negativity bias. It levels the playing field.


Hanson explains that our brain has two modes – responsive and reactive. When we feel that our core needs are being met, the brain is in its responsive mode, and our body and brain refuel and repair themselves. When we experience that our core needs are not being met, the brain switches to its reactive – fight or flight – mode. In this mode, body and mind resources are drained while repair activities are put on hold.


While our ancient ancestors spent most of the time in the healthy responsive mode, our modern life makes this very difficult with its ongoing stressors:
• working long hours
• racing from here to there
• multi-tasking
• rapidly shifting gears, with little time for responsive activity between them
• little exercise
• processing dense incoming streams of information and stimulation
• constant pressures to acquire stuff
• 24-hour news with negative content
As a result, the reactivity mode is the new normal for most people, with “a background sense of being pressed, hassled, tense, prickly, drained, inadequate, uneasy or glum.”


Thank goodness, there is an alternative to this way of living – using our mind to change our brain for the better. “You can engage life from the responsive mode as much as possible, contain and calm reactive states when they occur, and return to your responsive home base as soon as you can.” This path is the alternative to stress, unhappiness, conflicts with others and many health problems. And, the more we follow this path, the easier and more intuitive it will become, as the brain will become increasingly biased toward it. And, very importantly, “ . . . your happiness becomes increasingly unconditional, less and less based on external conditions”.


I’ve been following this practice for several weeks, and have noticed three things – it feels good when I do it, I feel happier during the day, and I'm more mindful because I'm inclined to be looking for good things to appreciate as I go about my day. I look forward to teaching it in my meditation and mindfulness course.

 

Hardwiring Happiness:
The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence
- Rick Hanson, Ph.D. (2013)

 

Peter Black
Instructor - Meditation and Mindfulness

2 Comments

  • Ultherapy Realself

    Its like you read my mind! You seem to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with a few pics to drive the message home a bit, but instead of that, this is magnificent blog. A fantastic read. I'll definitely be back.

    Ultherapy Realself Thursday, 19 October 2017 18:00
  • Lawanna

    This web page includes priceless Information.

    Lawanna Tuesday, 19 September 2017 23:51

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