Last night I was reading an article about hard-wiring yourself to be happy. It says it only takes minutes per day. This information is from the front lines of brain science.
Recent studies suggest that happiness results from certain habits that can be sculpted into the tissues of our brain.
Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, Ph.D in Berkley, California says that rewiring is possible because of what scientiests call “neuroplasticity.” This is loosely defined as the brain’s ability to change its structure in response to thoughts, feelings and life experiences.
All mental activity is based on the underlying actions of billions of nerve cells that continually signal each other through vast networks of connections. This complex activity is constantly changing your brain.
I won’t go into more scientific explanation. I will break it down into what is easier to understand.
The key to rewiring for happiness is focusing on positive experiences and memories. The brain is primarily shaped by what you pay attention to. This means that by redirecting your attention, you can deliberately create and prolong the kinds of experiences that will shape your brain so that you are happier.
Sounds too easy, doesn’t it? But read on.
Why is happiness so elusive for many people? The brain has a negativity bias. It’s engineered to note pleasant experiences only in passing, if at all. While it is very good at fully absorbing negative experiences and turning them into something unpleasant.
In other words, negative reactions become a habit.
Why do people have a negativity bias in the first place? Evolution. Good stuff differs from bad stuff in its urgency and impact. Our Stone Age ancestors had to get good stuff, such as food and shelter, and avoid bad stuff, such as predators. In other words, the brain was hard-wired for survival, not happiness.
So our brains evolved a negativity bias that allows them to learn much more quickly from negative experiences than from positive experiences. In their world, it was life and death on a daily basis.
As a result, good experiences tend to bounce off the brain, while bad ones go right in.
What can you do?
You can turn your brain into Velcro for the good and Teflon for the bad instead of the other way around. If you do, eventually the good experiences will be woven into the fabric of your brain.
So what’s the method of achieving this?
First, have a good experience. You’re now activating a positive mental state. Gaze out the window and watch a bird up in a tree, or flowers swaying in the breeze.
If you’re looking at this bit of nature that is pleasing but not consciously registering it as a positive experience, it doesn’t count. The next part of the process is to install this active state into the neural structure of your brain.
So how do I accomplish that?
First, dwell on the experience by staying aware of it for 10-12 seconds. Also, enrich the memory by accessing many different senses.
For example, if you’re standing outside on a spring morning, inhale the scent of the soil and feel a soft breeze passing over your face. If you’re remembering a positive experience, recall the pleasant details.
By prolonging and enriching this experience or memory, you’re aiming to get as many neurons as possible firing together so they start wiring together.
Some people do this by imagining that the experience is going into them the way water goes into a sponge.
Done often enough, this absorbing of the experience creates new neural connections that transform passing mental states, such as feeling cheerful, into lasting neural traits, such as being a cheerful person.
Savor a positive experience for 10 consecutive seconds. Sounds easy enough.
Work at is consciously. Here’s how: While you’re absorbing a positive experience, bring up in the back of your mind something negative that’s related. Say the person who handed you your coffee at McDonalds smiled at you and told you to have a great day. Then think of something that happened that day that annoyed or upset you, like you smiled at someone on the street and they didn’t smile back.
If you’re aware of both the cared-for and the annoyed feelings at once, and you keep the positive experience bigger and refuse to allow it to be hijacked by the negative one, the positive material will gradually start associating with the negative material, which is a step toward downgrading the negative stuff and its impact.
Therefore, over time, the positive will gradually soothe and ease the negative. And eventually replace it.
Do we need to do this hundreds of times a day to achieve results?
No. Far from it. If you “absorb” good experiences half a dozen times a day for less than half a minute at a time (that’s three minutes a day) this neuropsychologist promises that it will change your life.
My own personal conclusion:
This is the mindset of the individual who looks at the glass as half full. It is the mindset of the individual who stops to smell the roses. I always told my children: Don’t rush through life. Stop to smell the roses.
If you don’t happen to have that mindset, using the tools in this post will help you to move your mindset from a negative one to a positive one. And everyone knows that it is how something is perceived, more than what has actually occurred, that makes the difference in how it affects you.
And above all, practice loving yourself first. It is not a selfish thing to do. It is the way you learn how to love. It is like doing an experiment on yourself first before you practice it on others.
So today, do something wonderful for yourself.