Firing and Wiring Towards Happiness in 2014
As I stepped outside today, the warmth of the sun on my face took the edge off the winter air. I inhaled the freshness of the moment as I caught a glimpse of the large cottonwood tree showing the starkness of season with its bare branches. Everything felt crisp today. Relishing in the moment, I pushed the “pause” button. There was joy right here, right now. I allowed the delight to seep over me like putting on a soothing salve and noticed the feeling as I felt the bliss move deep within me. I made a mental note of the landscape and the feeling within as I appreciated the beauty of the winter day.
There are moments like this all day long if we are aware. However, we may have to really decide to make this our intention (e.g. capturing the good, positive moments) as our brain has a negative bias to be on the lookout for danger and negative experiences. Although our brain has continued to evolve over millions of years, it still has that instinct to look for any danger so it is prepared to survive. It is hard-wired for this. Yet there are many good moments that we can anchor. These are the exact moments that are our opportunities to change our hard-wiring. These are our opportunities to capture the moments, to push the pause button, and to step into it allowing the feelings of the moment to be noticed and internalized – anchored within us. According to Rick Hanson, author of Hardwiring Happiness, this practice actually has a place in changing our brain structure. Hanson states that any growth requires structural changes within the brain. He gives some specific steps to hard-wire these experiences, which create the pathway to experience more of these feelings and thus, hard-wiring happiness. (Hanson, 2013)
Hanson states that we need a useful experience to activate the mind to reach the mental state that would be enjoyable (a good moment). Then we want to download that useful state – we want to “install” it for lasting structural changes in the brain-giving way to pathways to be created, allowing us to easily access these states.
To do this Hanson has some specific suggestions. First he recommends that we “capture” the ordinary experience and we notice it, allowing the duration of the experience to move from one or two seconds into 20 or more seconds. This allows us to increase the duration of our experience, which then allows time for the feelings to come up and “sink in”, thereby increasing the intensity of the moment. This sets up the opportunity to experience “the feelings” and to allow the neurons of these positive feelings to be activated in our brain, firing, as they are wired together with the experience of the moment. Last, Hansen suggests that we step into receiving the moment. Hanson calls this “yielding to it, letting yourself receive the gift” which I liken to putting on a balm and relishing in the moment. This entire practice is done within a minute or less – but the more we do it, the more we change the structure of our brain to wire it for happiness. (Hanson, 2013)
It certainly seems like a doable practice to become aware of the moments (becoming more mindful) during our day so that we can pause and step into appreciating and feeling the moment of joy. Perhaps we want to make 2014 about “capturing the year” by capturing the moments. It would mean you take the time to push the “pause” button when you want to anchor the feeling, thereby creating easier access to activating the feelings again and again. Get those neurons firing and wiring together towards happiness. Push your pause button and step into receiving what is already there for the taking. Make 2014 a year of grateful moments that run together for a year of happiness! And who knows, maybe at the end of 2014, you will not be saying, “Where did the year go?” because you were totally aware of so many of the moments that you lived in 2014.
Hanson, R. (2013). Hardwiring happiness: the new brain science for contentment, calm and confidence. New York: Crown Publishing Group.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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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