That’s what neuropsychologist Rick Hanson is suggesting and he has some amazing theories to back up the process and explain why it works. Founder of Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, Hanson has written a bunch of books: Hardwiring Happiness, Buddha’s Brain, and Mother Nurture. And he’s tested and explored the concept that happiness in our lives can be the result of certain habits which when performed regularly can become part of the very tissue of our brains.
I AM GUILTY OF STINKING THINKING
Another word for this is rewiring. And it’s possible because our brains have the ability to change in structure as we respond to thoughts, feelings and life experiences. This is called neuroplasticity. Hanson writes: “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…intense, prolonged or repeated mental activity leaves a lasting imprint, while less active connections wither away.”
ONE NEGATIVE INTERACTION PACKS A PUNCH
And I am so guilty! How many times have I indulged in a bad mood, worked the same negative thoughts over and over (stinking thinking) and failed to focus on something positive and uplifting?? And why do we do that?? Hanson says that the human brain has a negativity bias and he uses the example of ten encounters with a person in the workplace. Five are positive, four are neutral and one is negative. Which one will we think about on the way home from work or when falling asleep? You guessed it, the negative one. And he stresses that research shows that a good long-term relationship needs a 5-1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? One negative interaction is as powerful as five good ones. Wow.
THAT OLD HUNTER-GATHERER RELATIVE
The negative bias is part of evolution. Our ancestors knew about the bad things—predators, falling off a cliff, freezing, not finding that animal which meant dinner—but their needs were more immediate than ours. Bad things meant death, and they knew it best to remember that. Thus the bias or awareness of the negative meant that good feelings and experiences bounced off the brain and the scary bad stuff was firmly implanted.
CHANGE IT UP
Hanson writes about the rewiring process in his book. Here are some basics to follow. Start the process on awakening and continue it throughout the day–possibly six times for a total of 3 minutes a day. And the change won’t happen overnight, but gradually you will find yourself gravitating toward a happy thought on awakening and keeping to this pattern throughout the day.
- Process: relax, exhale, and focus on something beautiful or think of someone in your life who loves you and makes you feel good. You’ve activated a positive mental state.
- Now realize that this makes you happy or that it is a positive thought and install this active state into the neural structure of your brain.
- How? Stay aware of the positive experience or thought for 10-12 seconds. You can also enrich the thought by attaching more of your senses to that thought.
Hanson: “If you’re remembering …how your boss responded to your big presentation six months ago, recall the pleasant details—how your boss praised you afterward. By prolonging and enriching the experience or the memory, you’re aiming to get as many neurons as possible firing together so they start wiring together.” Morning is best because the brain is like a sponge ready to take in the first thought. So make it a good one–peace, happiness, good fortune, love and compassion. Hanson also suggests that as you continue to do this you will be more aware of the positive and cared-for feelings that you have. You will be able to make these positive thoughts stronger so that they won’t be overcome by the negative thoughts that come along. He writes: “Over time, the positive will gradually soothe and ease the negative and eventually even replace it.”
WHAT THOUGHT WILL START YOUR DAY?
As you awaken, maybe you’ll hear a bird sing, or you’ll focus on the sunlight at your window, or the gentle pattern of rain, or quiet music on the radio–anything that is positive and makes you happy. Then try to repeat the process throughout the day. Hanson stresses six times, 10-12 seconds a time, and all you have had to devote to this process is 3 minutes a day. Now that’s a habit that beats joining a gym or buying expensive equipment or cooking up a storm. Wishing you positive thoughts and happiness.
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