Repeated patterns of mental activity can help you rewire your brain to be happy
We hear a lot about creating new brain cells and rewiring your brain to staying smart till the day we die by learning new skills. However, we hardly hear about rewiring the brain to be happy. It is possible to do so by turning passing experiences into long-lasting connections in the brain so that you can be happy most of the time. Whatever happens in life you can still maintain a level of inner strength and peace if you build up the happiness resources in the brain.
Recently I had the opportunity to attend a one-day workshop with Dr Rick Hanson, PhD, called ‘Hard Wiring Happiness’ based on his latest book. He is a renowned Neuro-Psychologist and Mindfulness Teacher and has written many books. (See below for recommended books and CDs)
Rick presented practical steps to overcome the brain’s negativity bias and demonstrated how we can turn passing positive experiences into lasting neural resources. The workshop had several segments exploring the latest information in neuroscience and included practice sessions on how to rewire the brain to be happy. He taught us how to use several methods to lower anxiety and stress, lift our mood, grow confidence, nurture calmness and contentment and to fundamentally hard wire happiness into the brain.
The workshop’s focus was based on Buddhist philosophy and psychology and how they can be applied in our own life in the 21st century. He explored the causes of suffering and how it affects the brain. He showed us how the brain takes shape according to whatever the mind dwells upon and that repeated patterns of mental activity change neural structure. Hence, it is in our hands whether we have shape our brain to be happy or unhappy.
Rewiring for Happiness – The Three Stages
Dr Rick Hanson emphasized the importance of practicing mindfulness and gaining insight into the subtle processes of awareness. He pointed out that most of our experiences are passing incidents as far as the brain is concerned. They do not make lasting changes to the brain structure. For new cells to be born and new connections to be established it is necessary that we must make a conscious effort to go through three stages:
Spending time to absorb happy moments helps change neural structure
For example, looking at a beautiful sunrise is only the first stage – Activation. If you pass it by it will not make a lasting impression in the brain. However, if you pause and become mindful of the details of the experience such as the colour of the sky, the cool breeze, the passing clouds and the pleasant feeling – you are installing it in the brain. The third stage would be to absorb it into oneself by completely experiencing all aspects of the moment and being with it. All this can be done within 10 seconds, that is all it takes.
Linking – This step is optional where you spend some more time to create a link in your mind with an image, sound, feeling or smell of that moment so as to remind yourself of this experience and recall it at any time you like. This will become one of your ‘Happy Places’. So whenever you are feeling down in the dumps you can bring up this experience, ‘Remember Your Happy Place’ and it will help lift your mood.
Going through the process of activation, installation and absorption, and the optional step of linking is self-directed positive neuroplasticity. It means you are taking the initiative to rewire your brain to be happy, with new brain cells being born, maturing, firing and wiring together, to finally change the brain structure.
The secret to building happiness resources in your brain is to pause, take a deep breath and feeling happy in the present moment. Go through a list of things that are wonderful right at this moment. Remind yourself to look around you whenever you are having a pleasing experience and go through the three steps. In a few days you will find that it is easier to be happy most of the time.
Recommeneded Books and CDs by Dr Rick Hanson
Here are some resources to help you start your journey towards rewiring your brain for Happiness and Resilience.
Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence
Hardwiring Happiness lays out a simple method that uses the hidden power of everyday experiences to build new neural structures full of happiness, love, confidence, and peace. Dr. Hanson’s four steps build strengths into your brain— balancing its ancient negativity bias—making contentment and a powerful sense of resilience the new normal. In mere minutes each day, we can transform our brains into refuges and power centers of calm and happiness.
Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time
Research has shown that integrating little daily practices into your life can actually change the way your brain works. This guide offers simple things you can do routinely, mainly inside your mind, that will support and increase your sense of security and worth, resilience, effectiveness, well-being, insight, and inner peace.
Self-Directed Brain Change: Rewire Your Neural Pathways for Happiness and Resilience (CDs)
Self-Directed Brain Change is based on a significant emerging insight from neuroscience: that to keep our ancestors alive, the human brain evolved to cling to negative experiences like Velcro and shrug off the positive ones like Teflon. The good news, teaches Rick Hanson, is that we can retrain our neural structure out of “sheer survival” mode and into one of greater well-being, mental clarity, and moment-to-moment appreciation.
I hope you have found this article helpful. I will be sharing more of what I learned at the Hard Wiring Happiness Workshop in the next few blog posts. Your feedback is appreciated. Please leave your comments below: