Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence , written by neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, Ph.D., presents the evolutionary reasons behind our tendency to focus on negative events and feelings, and then offers ways to circumvent them. With the intent to help readers harvest positive emotions, Hanson teaches how to sow a field of good thoughts.
The Evolutionary Explanation
Hanson notes that it was more important for early humans to notice dangers than it is for modern humans to identify threats. One statistic he sites is that remains of early humans show that approximately “one in eight men died from conflict between bands, compared to one in a hundred men who died due to warfare in the twentieth century.” We have arrived socially where, for the most part, constant vigilance is not required. But our brains don’t know that.
Hanson encourages us to keep three parts of our brain happy, “pet the lizard, feed the mouse, hug the monkey” by meeting needs for security, satisfaction, and connection. He presents strategies to move beyond feeling “irritated, pushy or needy” to feeling positive.
Hardwiring for Positivity
Using the acronym HEAL, Hanson teaches readers how to more fully experience positive moments. Have a positive experience. Enrich the experience. Allow it to sink in. Link it to negative experiences to lessen their impact.
Have it. The author provides sixteen suggestions on how to have a positive experience including focusing on pleasant sensations happening right now. Is the sunshine on your arm pleasant? Is the tea in your cup sweet?
Enrich it. Take the positive experience or memory and learn to increase the intensity of the emotion by focusing on it. Take in the experience through multiple senses. How does it feel? How does it look?
Allow time for the experience to sink in. Stay with the positive emotion. Don’t let it slip away without taking note of it.
While the author states that linking the experience to negative ones is not necessary, he does suggest that it can be an effective way to replace negative automatic thoughts. One example he uses is glorying in an athletic achievement as an adult and linking it to the embarrassment of being chosen last for a team in elementary school.
Throughout this helpful book, the author reminds us that our current brain state is not set, but that we can grow a neural network to hardwire ourselves for positivity.
Hanson, R. Hardwiring Happiness:The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence . Harmony Books, New York. 2013. ISBN 978-0-385-34731-0