Hardwire Your Happiness

Happy is one of the things I most want to be every day.

And yet it is a subtle sensation. And if you don’t relax into it you can easily miss it.

There is a difference between happy and giddy, between happy and super-charged, certainly between happy and successful. It has to do with energy, and where it is coming from.

Are you waiting for the world to give you the shiny star so you can be happy?

Or is it a sensation you can register, claim and cultivate in your day to day life?

For me, happy feels like an inner bubbling. As if a hot springs has opened up inside my chest and I get to soak there for a while. Like last night after dinner. There was nothing magical happening, just the five of us full of my man’s curried chick peas (they are _really_ good) and a sort of contented hum and quiet filled the house for thirty minutes or so. Each of us absorbed in our own projects (mine being loading the dishwasher) yet all happy, present and living together. 

It turns out that tuning into our desired emotions, while it seems a heart-task, is actually good for the brain. Our brain is negatively wired, meaning we tend to embed negative sensations into our actual neural structures and let positive sensations wash through us like a sieve.

This makes us hardwired to notice and experience even more negativity and so the cycle perpetuates itself and our negative experiences grow.

In Rick Hanson’s new book, hardwiring happiness, he proposes an alternative. Hanson reminds us that every day we walk down a winding path embedded with jewels, each one an opportunity for a positive experience. Most of us hurry by without noticing the pearls and diamonds at our feet. And even when we do see a jewel, we rarely feel anything about it. Jewel after jewel in our rear view mirror, lost forever.

With a little intention and skill and a few seconds each day you can weave a handful of those jewels into the fabric of your brain, being and life. These little moments of ease or comfort, as simple as savoring a hug or noticing the pattern of the raindrops, are an oasis in the day. And as we gather these experiences they become the good that lasts.

As Hanson (who happens to be a nuero-scientist) explains:

“Its the law of little things: lots of little bad things take people to a hard and painful place, and lots of little good things take them to a better one. I’m often struck by how big a change a few moments can make, inside my own mind or inside someone else’s. I find this really hopeful, since its the little things that we have the most influence over. You can’t do anything about the past, but you do have the power to take in the good during the next few moments (73).”

For me right now this means enjoying writing this post– really feeling the satisfaction it brings as I imagine you reading it and taking a little break from life’s intensity. Or savoring the vivid red of the blooming geranium plant in my office window.

I love Hanson’s attention to details. It feels like a complementary practice to designing your own Happiness Project, which I wrote about earlier this year. We need both to dream the big vision and to cultivate day to day gratitude.

Here are Hanson’s three steps to hard-wiring happiness:

Have — Notice a good sensation that’s already present in this moment. Tune into it. It might be the feeling of being pleasantly full after lunch, or the beauty of something in your environment.

Enrich  — Stay with the sensation: explore it, get curious about it, Keep your attention on it for ten-twenty seconds. (this can feel like a long time!)

Absorb– Sense the pleasant sensation is sinking into you as you sink into it.

The steps are so simple. Yet part of this work is also noticing what actually makes you feel good. For me shopping at funky fabric stores is a surefire hit of happy. I mean check out these critters. In green or purple I know they want to become my next tablecloth.

What is making you happy today? Could you soak it up?

And have a beautiful Thanksgiving, Birder. Know one of the things I am grateful for is YOU.

Warmly,

Courtney

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