Take in the Good This Holiday Season

A sweet Thanksgiving craft: have your guests fill in what they are thankful for on colorful leaf cut-outs.

(Happy Thanksgiving, readers! Wishing you and your family a safe, healthy, and fulfilling holiday and long weekend. Here is a lovely guest post by Dr. Rick Hanson helping us slow down, be mindful, and to enjoy daily experiences as much as we can. Enjoy!)

In your own mind, as you and your family reflect on the past year, what do you usually think about at? The hundreds of things that went right, or the one that went wrong?

In effect, the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones. However, by tilting toward the good—toward that which brings more happiness and benefit to oneself and others—you merely level the playing field. You’ll still see the tough parts of life. You’ll become more able to change them or bear them if you take in the good, since that will help put challenges in perspective, lift your energy and spirits, highlight useful resources, and fill up your own cup so you have more to offer to others. Here’s how:

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

Good facts include positive events—like finishing a batch of e-mails or getting a compliment—and positive aspects of the world and yourself. Most good facts are ordinary and relatively minor—but they are still real. You are not looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, but simply recognizing something that is actual and true. Then, when you’re aware of a good fact—either something that currently exists or has happened in the past—let yourself feel good about it. So often in life a good thing happens—flowers are blooming, someone is nice, a goal’s been attained—and you know it, but you don’t feel it. This time let the good fact affect you.

2. Really enjoy the experience.

Most of the time, a good experience is pretty mild, and that’s fine. Simply stay with it for ten, twenty, even thirty seconds in a row—instead of getting distracted by something else. Soften and open around the experience; let it fill your mind; give over to it in your body. (From a meditative perspective, this is a kind of concentration practice—for a dozen seconds or more—in which you become absorbed in a positive experience.) The longer that something is held in awareness and the more emotionally stimulating it is, the more neurons that fire and thus wire together, and the stronger the trace in implicit memory.

In this practice, you are not clinging to positive experiences, since that would lead to tension and disappointment. Actually, you are doing the opposite: by taking them in, you will feel better fed inside, and less fragile or needy. Your happiness will become more unconditional, increasingly based on an inner fullness rather than on external conditions.

3. Intend and sense that the good experience is sinking in to you.

People do this in different ways. Some feel it in the body as a warm glow spreading through the chest like the warmth of a cup of hot cocoa on a cold wintry day. Others visualize things like a golden syrup sinking down inside; And some might simply know that while this good experience is held in awareness, its related neural networks are busily firing and wiring together.

Try to do this steps at least a half dozen times a day. When you do this, it usually takes only half a minute or so—there is always time to take in the good! You can do it on the fly in daily life, or at special times of reflection, like just before falling asleep (when the brain is especially receptive to new learning). Over time these steps will add up, gradually weaving positive experiences into the fabric of your brain and your whole being.

Dr. Rick Hanson is a neuropsychologist and author of Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time. Founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, and Affiliate of The Greater Good Science Center of the University of California, he’s taught at Oxford, Stanford, and Harvard, and in meditation centers in Europe, North America, and Australia. For more information, please visit, www.RickHanson.net.

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