Change the Hardwiring in Your Brain – Be Happy
One of the Dialectical Behavior Therapy skills (Linehan, 2015) we work on in our groups is accumulating positive experiences. Accumulating positive experiences is a skill that encourages you to increase your positive experiences, both short term, such as daily, and long term, such as planning for a vacation you want to do. Having positive experiences improves our mood and allows us to manage difficult times better. It also makes us feel better about ourselves and gives us a better outlook on life which, in itself, gives us more stability to take on life. So consider having these positive experiences daily.
Short term ideas for positive experiences can be as simple as taking a long hot bath, walking the dog, reading a book, having a nice conversation with a friend, etc. You build the experiences into your day. You notice them. You enjoy them. I would go so far as to think about being thirsty and enjoying that drink of water as you focus on it going down your throat. Think about putting the feeling on like a suave and soaking it in. Relishing in it. Being in the moment. Enjoying it. Working to move it from a moment to wiring and firing it together, activating that part of the brain that enjoys life. Make the moment a good moment. Move it from a moment to hard-wire the brain. If negative thoughts come in, such as wondering when this is going to end, or you don’t deserve it, notice the thoughts, let them go, and go back to being focused on the moment of positive experience.
I like thinking and working on this skill because science backs this up. It reminds me of Rick Hanson’s work regarding Hardwiring Happiness. (Hanson, 2013) It also falls into line with Shawn Achor’s, Before Happiness: The 5 Hidden Keys to Achieving Success, Spreading Happiness, and Sustaining Positive Change. (Achor, 2013) According to both Hanson and Achor, being in the positive moments, experiences, in our life in the moment actually changes the brain when we let them in and really be present with them.
Achor gives us five things to practice daily for 21 days to create a habit (which would help to create the hardwiring). These include everyday writing down three things you are grateful for in the morning, writing for five minutes about a positive experience you had in the last 24 hours, meditating and doing a random act of kindness.
Hanson encourages us to sit in the good moment for at least 10 seconds to make sure that wiring and firing happens and gets transferred to our long-term memory He states that when the synapses are firing and wiring, they become more sensitive with new synopses developing, which allows that area of the brain to become even stronger the next time it is activated, allowing us to feel even better.
I have a visual image of creating pathways in our brain for happiness and joy, like pruning through the pathways, clearing them out and making them easier to access. Hansen’s work centers around the theory that we have to bask in the enjoyment of the good moments long enough for them to fire and wire together. The longer we fixate, or focus on the positive moment, the more the neurons are going to wire that inner strength that brings those feelings of happiness, gratitude, feeling loved and being lovable. So even in the difficult times, it is important to find something in the day to experience a good moment, even if it is enjoying the sunset or the fresh air on our face.
Start today to hard wire and activate more areas in your brain for happiness It is exciting to think that we can work our way through difficult moments slowly but surely by focusing on accumulating positive moments and experiences. Through those efforts our brain will actually change and move towards activating a more positive mood.
Achor, S. (2013). Before happiness: The 5 hidden keys to achieving success, spreading happiness, and sustaining positive change. New York: Crown Business.
Hanson, R. (2013). Hardwiring happiness: the new brain science of contentment, calm, and confidence. New York: Crown Publishers.
Linehan, M. (2015). DBT skills training manual. New York: The Guilford Press.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Janie Pfeifer Watson
Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner
- Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.
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