Hardwiring Happiness: Install Positive Experiences

  Eduardo Garcia, "The Wave," Cuba

 Eduardo Garcia, "The Wave," Cuba

Here's the catch: In order to transfer positive experiences from short-term memory into long-term storage, you have to install them in the brain. Otherwise beneficial experiences, such as feeling cared about, are momentarily pleasant but have no lasting value. Meanwhile, because of negativity bias, your brain is rapidly & effectively turning unpleasant, negative experiences - feeling stressed, inadequate, hurt - into neural structure. 

So ... in order to install positive experiences into your brain: 

1. Look for good facts and turn them into good experiences.

  • This can include positive events or positive aspects of yourself and of the world - the taste of good coffee, getting an unexpected compliment, a beautiful sunset. 
  • Try to do this at least a half dozen times a day. There are lots of opportunities and it takes about 30 seconds. You can do it on the fly in daily life or at special times of reflection. 
  • Notice any reluctance to feeling good - such as thinking that you don't deserve it, or that it's selfish. Or that if you feel good, you will lower your guard and let bad things happen. 
  • Barriers to feeling good are common & understandable - but they get in the way. So acknowledge them to yourself and then turn your attention back to the good news. Keep opening up to it, breathing & relaxing, letting the good facts affect you. 

2. Really enjoy the experience. 

  • Most of the time, a good experience is pretty mild, and that's fine. But try to stay with it for 20-30 seconds in a row - instead of getting distracted by something else. 
  • Sense that it is filling your body, becoming a rich experience. The longer that something is held in awareness and the more emotionally stimulating it is, the stronger it becomes in your memory. 
  • By doing this, you will increasingly feel less fragile or needy inside, and less dependent on external supplies. Your happiness and love will become more unconditional, based on an inner fullness rather than on whether the momentary facts in your life happen to be good ones. 

3. Intend & sense that the good experience is sinking into you. 

  • People do this in different ways. Some feel it in their body like a warm glow spreading through their chest, the warmth of hot cocoa on a cold day. Others visualize things like a golden syrup sinking down inside, bringing good feelings and soothing old places of hurt. Or you can try feeling like a sponge absorbing the experience deep into your bones. 
  • Any single time you do this will make only a little difference. But over time those little differences will add up, gradually weaving positive experiences into the fabric of your brain and your self. 

For more, please check out Rick Hanson's ample & freely-offered writings on these topics.