You Can Be Happier - Hardwire Your Brain for Happiness
I have noticed that women whose lives are going pretty well tend to be so hard on themselves, berating themselves with, “Well, I should be happier. Look at my life: I am married with two great kids. I live in the most beautiful place on earth. I enjoy the work I do. Why aren’t I happy? Especially this time of year! I have more than most, I need to stop complaining and be happy – now!!”
Does this sound familiar? If so, you probably think there is something wrong with you, when there probably isn’t. Sure, you can check with your doc and see if you are on the right anti-depressants. However, my hope is after reading this article, and integrating the use of a simple tool, you won’t have to be on medication at all! Wouldn’t that be nice? You won’t even have to give up worrying. Really – your worries and self-doubts are not the problem.
You Were Born This Way
Yep, all this worry, fear, and doubt is a natural part of our biology. Our brains are wired for survival. So in a neutral state, meaning even if everything is pretty good, your brain is scanning for danger.
It is how our ancestors survived in the wild when tigers were lurking in the bushes looking for dinner. The humans who tended to be nervous and said, “Yikes! That noise might be a tiger, we better run!” They lived to procreate, and are our ancestors. Those that said, “That noise, no worries. Sit back and relax. It’s probably nothing.” They were dinner, and are not our ancestors. So we got brains that run on the worry, anxious, fearful side.
We are lucky that tigers are not regularly lurking for dinner in our lives. Yes, grizzlies maybe here in Montana, but for the most part our lives don’t entail stalking and killing. Although our brains don’t know that, and often make us believe that we should be very, very, afraid!
Teflon for The Good and Velcro for the Bad
Rick Hansen in Hardwiring Happiness says that our brains are “Teflon for the good, and Velcro for the bad”.
See, the brain automatically makes more of the negative experiences storing them in long-term neural structures, but not the good experiences. It’s as if the good experiences are like sand that you are trying to hold in your hand, but slides out right through your fingers.
If we want the brain to store the good experiences in long-term neural structures, we have to nudge it to do so.
The good news: you can do something about it!
Science has proven that our brains are much more plastic than they originally thought. Just like an athlete has muscles from working out, we can build the positive neural networks in our brain. We don’t have to get rid of anything – just add a little extra focus to nudge those bright spots over to the long-term neural structures as well! Plus, it is pretty easy and doesn’t take much time.
Making More of The Good
Most positive experiences are small things that happen during the day, not big things like winning the lottery. (Whoa, wouldn’t that be nice? I digress, back to the good small things.)
Those small good things may be the:
brightness of sun streaming into your room on a cold, crisp day
satisfaction of a finishing a difficult email at work
warmth of your cat curled at your feet under your desk
Often, we notice these things fleetingly, but don’t pause to let them sink in.
That is the key here: letting it sink in. It only takes an extra 10 to 20 seconds to make a difference to your brain. That extra 10 or 20 seconds is all that is needed to move over that good experience from being grains of sand falling between your fingers to the longer-term neural structures. (I might have mixed my metaphors there, but I trust you get my gist.)
In his book, Hardwiring Happiness, Rick Hanson gives a three-step process that really works to make more of your good experiences. This process shifts them from being simply positive thinking to emotionally rewarding experiences that are rewiring your brain, which by the way, helps to create more good experiences.
Have a positive experience – this means noticing those little things when they are happening, bring them to the foreground of your awareness. This could be a pleasant physical sensation, something of beauty, the awe of nature, a sense of connection with a loved one or pet, or even satisfaction from getting something completed.
Enrich it – make more of that good experience by shining a spotlight on it in your awareness for five to ten seconds. Stay with it, and notice how it makes you feel in your body. See if you can find something new or fresh about the experience. Realize how it is personally relevant to you, or how it could support you in your life.
Absorb it – feel it sinking into your mind and body in a deeper way. As if it is integrating into your whole being, becoming integral resource inside of you that is available to support you at any time.
Do this for 10 to 20 seconds as little as six times a day and over time you will be restructuring your brain. Brain workout!
When I give this happiness prescription to my clients, they start to feel better. First, little by little, but over time it snowballs. Yes, of course, they still have the challenges in their lives, but somehow they feel more equipped to handle them. They may even still get to worrying and self-doubting – but they are not stuck there. Instead of just maintaining survival they are developing an internal resource for thriving, and it’s one that they can pull on anytime.
What are you struggling with? Do you want to be happier? Better resourced to handle the challenges in your life? Train your brain!
It’s easy and you may be surprised that 10-20 seconds of pausing and really letting the simple joys of life sink in is better than most anti-depressants on the market!
CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke are Master certified life coaches, business consultants, speakers and authors of The Beauty of Conflict. They believe real relationships are the key to creating great business results. They’ll take your team from mediocre to great.
Interested in coaching? Check out CrisMarie’s executive coaching and personal coaching, or Susan’s personal coaching and equus coaching.
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