Our brain is changing every day, and if we work at it, we can help it change for the better and build the habit of happiness.
That’s the contention of neuropsychologist Rick Hansen whose new book “Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence” is a current best-seller among books on mental health.
Hansen makes the case that evolution has caused our brains to hold on to bad but not good experiences.
“The brain has a negativity bias,” Hansen says. In our cave man past, we learned more about how to survive from bad experiences, and thus the brain evolved to capture those.
Hansen puts it this way: “Our brains are Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for good experiences.”
The key to greater happiness, then, is to hold on to the many small good moments that happen to all of us every day so they really register on the brain, he says.
“Learning is a two-stage process,” he says. “Most positive experiences wash through the brain like water through a sieve, even though negative ones get caught every time. You have to enrich the experience and absorb the experience: you have to help it last for 10 or 20 seconds. “
When the experience lasts just 10 or 20 seconds longer, it has a larger impact on the brain. “It’s a little bit like building a muscle,” according to Hansen.
On a scale of one to 10, those positives moments are probably only ones and twos, Hansen said. They can be as small as being greeted warmly by an acquaintance or feeling satisfaction after you make a good cup of coffee. But if we dwell on them a llittle longer, if we savor them a bit, our brains take note. Do that several times a day, and you begin to rewire your brain, Hansen says.
Here’s a 15-minute interview with Hansen where he explains how it works: