Happiness is a tricky concept. We want it and can’t have it, but we are not happy when we achieve happiness. What if you could stop chasing after happiness?
The “how to rewire your brain after trauma” is a guide that helps people overcome psychological and emotional difficulties. The article talks about how the brain works, and how it can be changed by learning new skills.
If you’ve been reading/listening to AoM for a while, you’re probably aware that I have a melancholy, Eeyore-like disposition.
While I believe many who know me would describe me as a generally pleasant, good-natured, and well-intentioned fellow with his act together, I also have a propensity to dwell on the bad, to imagine worst-case scenarios, and to see life through a jaded lens. When I’m under a lot of stress, my low-level negativity may quickly escalate into a full-fledged depressed episode. Even in everyday life, my emotions are erratic: one week I’m feeling wonderful, the next I’m in a funk. Because so much of my family is the same way, I believe it’s definitely hereditary.
Unfortunately, my wife and children bear the brunt of my poor moods. Kate says I’m not nice to be around since it seems like a gloomy storm cloud has settled over our home. “Why are you so grumpy, Dad?” my kids inquire. The knowledge that I’m making my family unhappy makes me unhappy, which further enslaves me to Eeyore-dom.
In the last several years, owing to discovering the best strategies to manage sadness, I’ve gained a better grasp on my melancholy disposition.
But there’s one thing I’ve begun doing in the past few years that has had a very powerful influence on reducing my negative moods and assisting me in maintaining a more continuous happy attitude.
In fact, it’s been life-changing, and I don’t say that lightly.
Towards the last year, I’ve been using a simple meditation technique taught to me by a psychologist called Rick Hanson to “rewire” my brain for happiness. It’s so simple that you can accomplish it in a matter of seconds. Really.
Why Is Your Brain Predisposed to Negativity?
Have you ever noticed that when things are going well, it goes unnoticed, but when anything goes wrong, it stands out like a sore thumb?
You know how it goes: your boss always compliments your work, but he dismisses one suggestion, and it’s all you can think about; you begin to question if you really want to continue in that job. Or you post a photo on Instagram, and all your friends and family congratulate you and send you first bump emojis… but then one person says something unpleasant, and all the good vibes go. Hours later, you’re still stewing over the rude comment.
Why do our brains behave in this manner?
Negativity bias is built into the human mind; we pay more attention to and assign more weight to negative events than happy ones. There’s probably an evolutionary rationale for this: greater sensitivity to potentially harmful stimuli kept our caveman forefathers safe from life-threatening dangers. When a rustling in the leaves might signal a man-eating tiger, it pays to be a little anxious and neurotic.
While death no longer chases us at every step, there are still things in life that might kill or maim you, or just be mentally devastating, and knowing how to detect and avoid them is critical.
Our ingrained negativity bias, on the other hand, is mismatched with the modern landscape in some cases; we give an insult on social media the kind of attention it deserves, as if it were a life-or-death situation — as if we were in danger of being ostracized from the protection of our ancestral tribe — when it has no real significance.
For some of us, though, this negative bias is just too strong and sensitive — it is often triggered by situations with no major implications, blocks out perception of the good things that are simultaneously occurring, and creates rumination and emotional disturbance in proportion to the trigger. Negativity bias may contribute to tension, gloomy emotions, and even clinical depression in such instances.
Our excessive negative bias has to be brought into a healthy balance for people like us.
How do you go about doing that?
Rick Hanson enters the picture.
According to Dr. Hanson, depressed people’s minds are like Velcro for the negative and Teflon for the positive; they cling to the negative while allowing the positive to pass them by.
To develop a more positive brain, you must reverse the equation, recognizing the negative less and, more significantly, enabling the positive to stay.
It requires purposeful effort to rewire your brain in this manner, since although bad occurrences will slam the door in our heads, good ones must be let in.
This intentionality is achieved via Hanson’s HEAL method.
How to Use HEAL to Hardwire Your Brain for Happiness
The acronym HEAL stands for:
Have an enjoyable time. It should be improved. Absorb it and connect it
In a word, the HEAL process is all about anticipating and appreciating happy feelings and experiences. You may teach your brain to perceive more of the good in life and less of the bad by doing so.
Here’s how to put the HEAL process into action:
Have an enjoyable time. You don’t have to go out of your way to achieve this; it’s frequently just a question of noting the wonderful things that happen naturally throughout your day. If my kid rushes up to me and gives me a huge embrace, I make a point of acknowledging how great it is. It might even be as simple as noticing how nice your warm cup feels in your hand and how excellent your coffee tastes as you sip it. Keep an eye out for beautiful sunsets, gentle breezes, and random acts of generosity.
If you don’t have any great experiences right now (for example, if you’re commuting to work), you can make one up in your head. Consider a happy experience from the past, a goal you accomplished, or someone you know who loves you. Try to think about characteristics of character/personality that you enjoy if you have a propensity to be low on yourself. Are you a disciplined person? Reliable? Consider the positive characteristics you possess. You might even consider how fortunate you are to be alive, breathing, and with a roof over your head. Those are unquestionably great attributes, but our pessimistic brain takes them for granted.
Concentrate on the feelings that come to mind as you consider these wonderful gifts and experiences. Are you pleased with yourself? Grateful? Compassionate? Loved? Calm? Peaceful? Safe? Feel all of those good feelings. The key to reprogramming your brain for happiness is to concentrate on the emotional pleasures of happy experiences.
It should be enriched. Remember that persons with a strong negative bias allow the nice things in life flow off their head like Teflon; it’s “Yup, there’s a sunset,” and their thoughts are soon diverted. As a result, the following two phases in the HEAL process are meant to make life’s pleasant feelings cling like Velcro in your mind.
Stay with it for five to ten seconds or longer after you’ve had a favorable experience. It will be more interesting if you look at it from various angles. Capture the scene in three dimensions. What’s going on in your environment? What does it feel like to have that pleasant mood in your body? Consider how that sensation might fill your head. When you see that the happy mood is starting to fade, intentionally bring it back and dwell on it for a few moments longer. The goal of the enrichment phase is to constantly reignite that happy sensation; we’re attempting to activate those neurons associated with pleasant emotions in order to form a new link – a new more positive groove in your brain.
Take it in. Enhance the stickiness of the nice sensation or experience by envisioning it seeping into your mind after you’ve enhanced it. Imagine those pleasant feelings seeping into your brain like a sponge, according to Hanson. Another technique to absorb happy vibes, according to author Laura Vanderkam, is to create a treasure chest in your mind where you’re storing pleasant experiences.
Connect good and negative content. Linking is a strange step that I don’t take very frequently. It’s even optional, according to Dr. Hanson. It entails combining your enhanced and assimilated good emotions/experiences with an unpleasant feeling or experience, and then progressively envisioning the positive overcoming the negative.
Let’s imagine you’ve lately lost your job and are feeling down on your luck. Bring it up to your notice, but put it off to the side. Now recall a pleasant event or reality, such as your family’s affection for you. Extend that sensation. Take it in. Imagine that joyful mood triumphing over the bad feelings associated with losing your work. When I practice connecting, I see my good experience as a green blob devouring the red blob of a bad event.
You’ll be well on your way to orienting your brain in a more positive direction if all you remember from this HEAL process is to purposefully spend a few additional seconds to soak up excellent, joy-producing events like a sponge.
When Should Your Brain Be Hardwired for Happiness?
So that’s how you HEAL your way to a happier outlook. The key is to perform it on a regular basis. It isn’t a one-and-done situation. What we’re attempting to do, according to Dr. Hanson, is develop new neural connections that are tuned toward happy feelings, and the only way to accomplish that is to repeat the HEAL process.
You may achieve this in one of two ways:
During specific contemplative periods. You may invest 10-30 minutes of your day to practice this HEAL meditation. You may do the above procedure on your own, or you can utilize Dr. Hanson’s guided meditations on his premium membership website, The Foundations of Well-Being, if you need a bit more structure/prompting and want him to help you through it. For the last two years, I’ve been following his guided meditations there and have found them to be quite beneficial. At least once a day, I try to practice one of these meditations. They usually last 20 to 30 minutes. When I have a longer drive, I also perform my own meditations; I just turn off the music and do a HEAL contemplation on anything great. These devoted sessions are like going to the gym for my mind to develop its positive networks.
As you have positive events throughout the day. Hanson advocates implementing HEAL throughout your day as you have pleasant experiences, in addition to the specific HEAL sessions. This is difficult because it requires being aware of these times, even if our brain has a propensity to ignore them. It requires being deliberate; you must set out to recognize favorable events and then enhance and absorb them.
I enjoy it now when my kids rush up to give me a hug. I imagine how it feels to have their small arms wrapped around my neck, how they smell, how my home looks, and how the weather is outside. I’m attempting to transform it into a very genuine, movie-like recollection. Then, like water soaking into a sponge, I let the event sink into my memory. I sat back and let the warm sensation wash over me. That embrace gets ingrained in my being.
Imagine I’m an elderly guy with no children. This is another thought exercise that has helped me take in the good. What kind of memories do you think that elderly me would want? Present-day me is focused on preserving those memories for future Brett. So, as I go about my day, I’m seeking for pleasant experiences that I’ll want to remember in the future. It’s like how Frederick the mouse (remember that book?) spent the summer collecting up colors and words for the winter. It’s strange, but it really works.
What Do You Really Want? To Not Be Silly or To Not Be Miserable?
Now I’m going to tell it as it is. I get how woo-wooey and touchy-feely whole HEAL thing seems to be. When I initially began doing it with zeal, I was anxious about it since it made me feel silly. I was also upset at times because I had to work so hard at something that many others take for granted. But, despite feeling like a cheeseball at times, I was tired of being a cynical, jaded, melancholy Eeyore who pulled my family down, and I knew that the advantages of having a positive outlook to both body and mind are absolutely amazing, so I continued at it.
I’m pleased I did because it’s been a night and day change. Kate, who had no idea what I was up to, noticed that I appeared a lot calmer and happier after a few weeks of routinely completing the meditation practices on the Foundations of Well-Being and doing the HEAL thing in my day-to-day life. And she recently told me that in the two years I’ve been doing this HEAL thing on a regular basis, I’ve had less funks and depressed setbacks. Plus, she appreciates the fact that I’m taking steps to address one of my issues; that’s the real secret to marital happiness: you don’t have to be perfect or completely overcome your problem; all your spouse wants is for you to acknowledge the problem and show that you’re serious about working on it.
If you’re tired of being unhappy, I strongly advise you to try HEAL. It doesn’t take long, and it doesn’t cost anything (although I like Hanson’s guided meditations, you can certainly do this on your own). Except for your negative prejudice, you have nothing to lose.
I suggest getting a copy of Hardwiring Happiness and/or listening to my podcast with Dr. Hanson from a few years ago for additional information and thoughts on how to execute the HEAL process:
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