Tag Archives: health

“Hardwiring Happiness” by Rick Hanson, Ph.D.

So the problem that I have with the majority of self-help books is that they have a great idea that can be covered in a well-fleshed-out article, but they stretch it out with redundant examples to fill up the requisite number of pages needed to publish a book. Hardwiring Happiness definitely falls into this category. It is essentially a handbook on how to reprogram the neural pathways in the brain to create a more positive default response to stimuli. It’s a great idea and something I feel many people can benefit from, especially in our toxic fear-based society. I would have just preferred the Reader’s Digest version.

Hanson’s concept of hardwiring happiness is based upon the science behind neuroplasticity.

All mental activity—sights and sounds, thoughts and feelings, conscious and unconscious processes—is based on underlying neural activity. Much mental and therefore neural activity flows through the brain like ripples on a river, with no lasting effects on the channel. But intense, prolonged, or repeated mental/neural activity—especially if it is conscious—will leave an enduring imprint in neural structure, like surging current reshaping a riverbed. As they say in neuroscience: Neurons that fire together wire together. Mental states become neural traits. Day after day, your mind is building your brain.

(p. 10)

Hanson’s approach is based on a four-step principle which forms the acronym HEAL:

  1. Have a positive experience.

  2. Enrich it.

  3. Absorb it.

  4. Link positive and negative material.

(p. 60)

This approach reminded me a lot of EMDR, a type of therapy used to deal with issues of trauma (I can attest to the efficacy of this treatment). Positive experiences are embedded in the memory and strengthened. These positive mental states are then used to weaken the negative states associated with the trauma. HEAL is similar to EMDR, but used to promote general well-being and not intended to self-treat in situations where a trained therapist is needed.

As Hanson empathizes in this book, it’s important to address the brain’s negativity bias, where importance is placed on the negative instead of the positive (how our brains evolved in order to survive during harder times). But as is pointed out in the book, prolonged focus on the negative has lasting repercussions.

But when unpleasant experiences become negative material stored in your brain, that’s not good. Negative material has negative consequences. It darkens your mood, increases anxiety and irritability, and gives you a background sense of falling short, of inadequacy. This material contains painful beliefs like “no one would want me.” The desires and inclinations in it take you to the bad places. It can numb and muzzle you. Or it can make you overreact to others, which can create vicious cycles of negativity between you and them. Negative material impacts your body, wears down long-term mental and physical health, and can potentially shorten your life span.

(p. 126)

In an age where news and social media provide a constant stream that feeds the brain’s negativity bias, Hanson’s book offers some practical ways to deal with this. While it could have been shorter, the book is still worth reading for the simple steps provided for improving your mental well-being.

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Filed under Non-fiction

“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 26” by Lao Tzu

Image Source - Huffington Post

Image Source – Huffington Post

Heaviness is the root of lightness.
Serenity is the master of restlessness.

Therefore, the Sage, travelling all day,
Does not part with the baggage-wagon;
Though there may be gorgeous sights to see,
He stays at ease in his own home.

Why should a lord of ten thousand chariots
Display his lightness to the world?
To be light is to be separated from one’s root;
To be restless is to lose one’s self-mastery.

This was the perfect passage for me to read at this point in my life. I recently committed to meditating every day for all of 2017 (365 consecutive days of meditation), and lately I have been focusing my meditation of being grounded, centered, and more serene.

For me, the lightness that Lao Tzu describes is obsession or “flights of fancy.” I am guilty of this. I can drive myself crazy playing tapes over and over in my head, all the different scenarios and “what ifs.” This is a restlessness of the mind, and it is the cause of stress and anxiety for many of us. So staying grounded in the present is something that I need to practice.

As far as serenity goes, I have a keychain from years ago which I saved because it has sentimental value. It is very faded, but it says: “Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amid the storm.” Problems will always arise and life is never short of challenges, but how we face the challenges can make all the difference in our spiritual and emotional well-being.

As you finish reading this, I encourage you to take a deep breath, relax, and get centered. These are strange times and it is important to stay serene as the storms gather.

Thanks for stopping by, and have a peaceful day.

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Filed under Literature, Spiritual

“When I Have Fears” by John Keats

Keats

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charactry,
Hold like rich garners the full ripen’d grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the fairy power
Of unreflecting love;—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

As I was deciding what to read this morning, the title of this poem caught my eye; we all have fears, and I certainly have my share.

In this sonnet, Keats contemplates his death, and specifically, the things he will be unable to accomplish in his life as a result of his impending death. Considering Keats’ health issues associated with tuberculosis, this is understandable. But there is more here than just a “woe is me” sense of self-pity, which allows the reader to connect with what Keats was experiencing.

Keats felt that he had a purpose in life and that he was here for a reason. There were poems he needed to write, books he was meant to read, love he was supposed to experience. And as he stands alone at the threshold, he realizes at a deep level that he will not fulfill his life’s true purpose. This is the key to why this poem affects the reader at such a visceral level. It is a shared human emotion to feel that we each have a purpose in life, that we are here for a reason, to complete certain things. And this feeling becomes more pronounced when death is imminent. As we reflect back and think about what we wanted to achieve but failed to do, our dreams and aspirations “to nothingness do sink.” We have lost our opportunity, and therein is the tragedy of this sonnet.

We all have our “bucket lists,” things we want to do before we die. This poem reminds us that we need to pursue those dreams now, because we may not have time later. There is nothing worse than standing alone “on the shore of the wide world” and thinking: “If only…”

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Filed under Literature