Hardwiring Happiness is a book about taking your everyday experiences and using them to build inner strengths. When you have certain characteristics like self-compassion and curiosity, you can call upon them during times of frustration and difficulty–but more importantly, they serve you well in everyday moments. Learning to appreciate the small things your partner does, pulling back on an argument with your child, and taking courageous steps towards accomplishing your goals all become easier when you have a wealth of inner resources.
How it Works
If you have a passing familiarity with pop neuroscience, you know the phrase “neurons that fire together wire together.” Your brain is an association machine and when we make associations, we learn. In his book, Dr. Rick Hanson calls upon you to use the brain’s knack for association to resource yourself–to H.E.A.L. the parts of yourself that are wounded and thrive in your daily life.
Metta meditation asks you to cultivate compassion. You do this by focusing on your heart, repeating the same phrase, and being aware of what compassion feels like in the body. The sustained attention to the emotion helps it grow and fill you up.
Hardwiring Happiness is asking you to apply the same general practice to your other inner strengths.
Why You Should Do It
Dr. Hanson spends the first part of the book going over some of the science and answering the question Why we want to learn the skills he is going to teach us in the second half of the book.
Our brains have a negativity bias. This is in our evolutionary past *not* noticing a pretty flower is okay; *not* noticing a tiger means death. Hardwiring Happiness is not about ignoring tigers. There are and always will be negative things in our lives that we need to pay attention to–and actually, some experiences that feel bad are good for us in the long run.
That does not mean that we should ignore the positive or leave it to our brains to notice it. We want to help our minds pay attention to the lightness and the dark–to quit giving undue attention and power to the negative.
The Human Default
Our world is vastly different today than in our evolutionary past. For our ancestors, serious stress was related to serious stress. Tigers, fear of banishment, and snakes. Sadly, our brains cannot tell the difference between these very real threats to our lives and too much traffic on the highway. We have so many stressors today, including but not limited to the intense and frequent technology stress that we get from renewing our Facebook page. Stress reactions used to be occasional but they are now frequent. Our bodies are now in a constant state of reactivity which is not good for our health, mental or physical.
Responsiveness, as opposed to reactivity, used to be our norm. There weren’t lions around every corner. In social situations, we were less knee-jerk and more of the present and open.
This book will help give you the tools to return to that state or responsiveness by paying attention to the positive around us and turning mental states into neural traits by helping strengthen the bonds between neurons that focus on the beneficial in your daily life.
Follow this simple acronym: HEAL
H: Have an experience
Have an experience: This is the easy part. This month, some experiences will just crop up during the course of your day; some you might have to create for yourself.
Enrich: Think of moments when you naturally feel complete. People often have them on vacation or during the holidays–they look around at their family members and their surroundings and are overwhelmed with gratitude.
You can create this kind of feeling by taking time out of your day to enrich positive experiences. While it may not envelop you in the way it does when it comes naturally, you can make it a much bigger part of your life.
Absorb: This step will often happen at the same time as enrich. As you are making the experience bigger and more embodied, visualize it sinking into you. Maybe you like the idea of gold dust sinking into your center; or maybe you want to picture electricity pulsing in your brain and creating your experience. Whatever it is, try to make the beneficial feeling more apart of you.
Link: One of the reasons that our memories of the past are so bad is because each time we recall them, we can modify them. We can use this little quirk of our brain to heal parts of us that are hard to handle.
When you “link,” you hold the positive experience in the forefront of your mind and call up a negative experience–holding it on the sidelines. Over time, this will gradually make those parts sting less.
HEALing is not about denying the negative in our lives, just paying the beneficial its due.
If you have the time, listen to Dr. Rick Hanson go over some of the concepts on his podcast.