Hardwiring Happiness

Hardwiring Happiness: The new brain science of contentment, calm and confidence. By Rick Hanson, PhD.

Using a warm, readable style, Rick Hanson uses neuroscience to explain how our needs for safety, satisfaction and connection have evolved to have us focussing on the negative, a trait less than healthy in modern society. By ‘taking in the good’, we can retrain our brain to enjoy moments of beauty, calm and love, until the neurons that fire together, wire together and feelings of security, contentment, joy and affection become our everyday default setting. Very practical and well worth a read.

More information about: Hanson, R. (2013). Hardwiring Happiness; The new brain science of contentment, calm, and confidence. Harmony

Part One: Why

  • Chapter 1: Growing Good
  • Chapter 2: Velcro for the Bad
  • Chapter 3: Green Brain, Red Brain
    Part Two: How
  • Chapter 4: HEAL Yourself
  • Chapter 5: Take Notice
  • Chapter 6: Creating Positive Experiences
  • Chapter 7: Brain Building
  • Chapter 8: Flowers Pulling Weeds
  • Chapter 9: Good Uses
  • Chapter 10: 21 Jewels

…to help our ancestors survive, the brain evolved a negativity bias that makes it like Velcro for bad experiences but Teflon for good ones. Pxxvi

…positive experiences can meet your needs for safety, satisfaction, and connection. Pxxvi

I’ve distilled them down to four simple steps with the acronym HEAL: Have a positive experience. Enrich it. Absorb it. Link positive and negative material so that positive soothes and even replaces negative. (The fourth step is optional.) pxxvi

Inner strengths …include a positive mood, common sense, integrity, inner peace, determination, and a warm heart. Researchers have identified other strengths as well, such as self-compassion, secure attachment, emotional intelligence, learned optimism, the relaxation response, self-esteem, distress tolerance, self-regulation, resilience, and executive functions. P4

…positive emotions …reduce reactivity and stress, help heal psychological wounds, and improve resilience, well-being, and life satisfaction. Positive emotions encourage the pursuit of opportunities, create positive cycles, and promote success. They also strengthen your immune system, protect your heart, and foster a healthier and longer life. P6

In essence, you can manage your mind in three primary ways: let be, let go, let in. p6

As they say in neuroscience: Neurons that fire together, wire together. Mental states become neural traits. P10

activate mental states and then install them as neural traits. P15

From a survival standpoint, sticks have more urgency and impact than carrots. P20

In effect, the negativity bias is tilted toward immediate survival, but against quality of life…p29

…happiness encourages us to take practical steps toward our dreams. P44

We have no choice about the vital needs the brain serves – avoiding harms, approaching rewards, and attaching to others – nor about its capacity to be in either mode, green or red. Our only choice is about which mode we’re in. p50

You can use your mind to change your brain for the better. In particular, you can engage life from the responsive mode as much as possible, contain and calm reactive states when they occur, and return to your responsive home base as soon as you can. P52

When you tilt toward the good, you’re not denying or resisting the bad. You’re simply acknowledging, enjoying, and using the good. You’re aware of the whole truth, all the tiles of the mosaic of life, not only the negative ones. P60

Technically, taking in the good is the deliberate internalization of positive experiences in implicit memory. P60

As much as you can, help ideas like these become emotionally rewarding experiences; otherwise it’s merely positive thinking. P61

To take in the good, you have to want to help yourself. P65

You’ll be turning moments of hedonic well-being into a more fundamental sense of fulfillment and meaning: what’s called eudaimonic well-being. P71

Taking in the good is not about chasing after pleasure or chasing away pain. It’s about bringing the chase to an end. P71

In your subcortex and brain stem, connected but separate circuits handle liking and wanting. P87

Liking without wanting is heaven, while wanting without liking is hell. P88

In terms of building neural structure, what matters is not the event or circumstance or condition itself but your experience of it. P93

The Golden Rule is a two-way street: We should treat ourselves as we would treat others. P97

When two or more people have a shared positive experience, the good feelings in these empathy networks bounce back and forth in a chain reaction. P100

If you have talents that haven’t been fully used, consider what it might be like if they were. P105

Refuse to worry more than three times about something you can’t change; three strikes and the worry is out. P106

Five major factors heighten learning, the conversion of fleeting mental events into lasting neural structure. The greater the duration, intensity, multimodality, novelty, and personal relevance, the greater the retention in memory. P111

[regarding when his wife had a problem, especially if it concerned him]…leaning toward her helped keep my mind in the conversation and my heart open to her. Similarly, you could use a soft half smile to lift your mood, sit up a little straighter to become more alert, or widen your stance to feel a little stronger. P116

…focusing on and taking in different aspects of your experience will promote a sense of freshness and novelty and thus may support neurogenesis and help repair your hippocampus. P118

…in the fourth step of taking in the good – Link – you hold both positive and negative material in your awareness at the same time. You keep the positive material more prominent and intense, and sense it connecting with and gradually soothing, perhaps even replacing, the negative material. P125

If you go negative on the negative, you just have more negative. P126

…your three core needs, for safety, satisfaction, and connection. P136

When negative material is activated, typically from implicit memory stores, it is not retrieved as a unit from storage but rather is reconstructed in a dynamic process. ….[this means there are] two good methods for changing negative material. First, when you are aware of prominently positive material alongside the negative, what’s positive can soothe, compensate for, and sometimes eventually overwrite the negative. Second, during the “window of reconsolidation,” if you bring to mind a neutral trigger associated with the negative material while feeling only neutral or positive, this can disrupt the reconsolidation process and gradually erase the association between the neutral trigger and the negative material. P145

You can also use the fourth step in situations that start with a negative experience. First, be with the difficult experience, witnessing it with self-compassion. Second, when it feels right, try to let it go. Third, call up an appropriate positive experience and link it with the original negative material. P146

You can apply the steps of taking in the good to learning any new skill, from using a stick shift to staying cool when a teenager gets hot. P148

Sure, you could grit your teeth and exercise willpower, but this takes deliberate effort that’s draining and hard to sustain. P148

…use taking in the good to intensify the rewards and thus the attraction of the high road. P149

I’ve heard it said that wisdom is choosing a greater happiness over a lesser one. P149

mental rehearsal …has been shown to improve performance in various tasks. P168

Determination, tenacity, bending but not breaking, and integrity are forms of strength. P179

I think the sweet spot in life is to pursue your dreams and take care of others with your whole heart while not getting fixated on or stressed out about the results. P198

Studies have shown that self-compassion lowers stress and self-criticism while increasing resilience and self-worth. Pp211-212

…trust in love. Remarkably, more than any other kind of experience, love brings you home. P220

We’ve armed a Stone Age brain with nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, the fearful, greedy, and self-centered reactive setting of the brain promotes a kind of gorging of the earth’s limited resources that is causing deforestation, mass extinctions, and global warming. P221

Imagine a world in which a critical mass of human brains …spend most if not all of each day in the responsive mode. P222

This is not a utopian vision. The responsive mode of the brain is our home base. For our sake and our children’s sake, I hope we come home soon. P223

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