With intention, attention, and practice we can enrich positive experiences and grow our capacity for feeling good!
"How was your morning?"
"Not bad. The bus was late and I spilled the dog's food, but otherwise, ok."
"How was your day?"
"Ok. I caught every red light on the way to the office and was 15 minutes behind all day. I hate it when that happens."
Sound familiar? Ok, maybe you don't have a dog or kids that ride the bus, but details aside, these conversations are common ones. Why is it that we tend to identify the negative or difficult aspects of our day-to-day experience more easily that the positive or pleasant aspects? According to psychologist and best-selling author Rick Hanson, we are wired with a negativity bias that temporarily helps us survive in harsh conditions. This means that we are frequently thinking about perceived threats and imagining how we will respond to them (should they ever occur). According to Hanson "the brain is tilted toward survival but against long-term health and well-being." All this focus on the negative can affect our physical and emotional health because we release more stress hormones, like cortisol. And the positive experiences that we encounter throughout the day? They tend to drift by, maybe momentarily noticed, and are then pushed aside by the next perceived threat.
Now, the good news: with intention, attention, and practice we can notice more positive experiences, enrich them, and grow our capacity for feeling good!
Rick Hanson is the best-selling author of Hardwiring Happiness, Buddha's Brain, and Resilient. He presents the following how-to steps for internalizing the good experiences in our lives so that they can have lasting effects on our mood and well-being:
1. Have a beneficial experience: notice or create it. Notice the jewels in your daily experiences - taking a drink of cool water when you're thirsty, receiving a warm smile from a coworker, feeling the hot water in the shower, reflect with gratitude on something positive in your life.
2. Enrich it: stay with it, feeling it fully. Stay with a positive experience for 10, 20, or even 30 seconds. "Turn up the volume" on the experience. Intensify it. Consider what is new or interesting about the experience. The brain loves novelty! Consider why the experience is meaningful to you and why it matters.
3. Absorb it: receive it into yourself. Consciously choose to take the experience in. Notice and sink into the experience. Let your body receive it like a warm balm. Reward yourself for the experience - tune into whatever is hopeful, reassuring, or helpful about the experience.
Why not try this right now? Pause for a moment. What jewels do you notice?