As I’m preparing for an upcoming interview with Rick Hanson, Ph.D., I’m feeling excited by his many good ideas for how to rewire our brains to cultivate joy and happiness rather than fear and negativity. His research shows that, even in the most hectic day, if we take 10 seconds several times a day to acknowledge a positive experience, it will build new synaptic pathways in the brain that will be an antidote for our more negative, reactive brain. It’s like growing flowers in your brain. He describes it as “taking in the good.”
When I’m in the throes of panic and stress, I find it more than a little difficult to recall, on command, a good experience. It’s these times when I feel most alone in my distress, and the possibility of tapping into a good experience feels remote. As I was reading recently, my eyes drifted from the book to my altar and rested on a small, black with gold flecks, smooth, river rock, and a great calm and even joy came over me. Because my mode of learning tends to be more kinesthetic than visual, I followed my intuition and cradled this glistening pebble in my palm. I found myself easily transported to a very special place and time. In my mind’s eye, I’m standing by the gurgling stream called “Happy Isles” in Yosemite Valley National Park. As I embrace the rock, my being is filled with the bubbling merriment of the water flowing over the rocks, and I feel the happiness that Michael and I shared in this special place. Cradling this touchstone takes me to a place of shared connection, being in nature, and a feeling of peace and joy.
Because the brain cannot distinguish between a “real” event and one that is imagined, it is as if I’m actually there at this special place. Joy and happiness floods my body. In this state of being, I’m following the advice of Rick Hanson: I’m sculpting my brain from its more prevalent, negative bias to a new, more positive neural network. I am building more neural synapses for lasting happiness. I know it will take time and lots of practice, but I believe this is the wave of the future for all of us as we rewire ourselves into a new dream of the future that brings goodness to all.
Justine Willis Toms