Tag Archives: mental 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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“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

Doctor Strange: Issue 10 – The Last Days of Magic (Finale)

DoctorStrange_10

This issue concludes the “Last Days of Magic” arc, and just like the previous installments, the artwork, story, and symbolism is supreme.

I want to focus this post on pain and how the way we choose to deal with pain affects our physical and mental health. Within this tale, it comes to light that Doctor Strange has been hiding away his suffering, the result is the creation of a monster which is the physical manifestation of his repressed pain. I found this to be an accurate representation of what happens when an individual locks away personal anguish and trauma. That pain grows and festers within the individual until it becomes an internal monster, gnawing away at a person’s physical and mental well-being. For this reason, it is important to share your pain, because pain shared is pain lessened.

And this is what finally happens to Doctor Strange. People who the Doctor helped in the past now make themselves open to sharing and taking on a part of the Doctor’s suffering. When this happens, the monster which Strange created by hiding away his pain begins to weaken and lose its power.

Monster: I can feel them… sharing your suffering. All over the world. All of their own accord. How… how do you inspire such devotion?

When I was growing up, it was common for people to hide their feelings. To show emotion was to show weakness. Thankfully, more and more people these days recognize the importance of sharing your pain with others. It is very therapeutic and leads one to live a more happy and serene life.

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Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel” by Hope Larson

WrinkleTimeLarson_1

Earlier this year, my daughter and I attended a convention and Hope Larson was one of the guests. We picked up a copy of this book and got it signed, then it joined the other books on the waiting list. Anyway, I finally got around to reading it.

I remember reading the original book as a kid, but it was so long ago that I really didn’t remember anything about the story. What I did remember was the impression it left, that I had really liked it and that I had felt inspired after reading it. Since I do not remember the details of when I read the book back in elementary school, I cannot say for sure how accurate Ms. Larson’s adaptation is to the original, but I will go on the assumption that it is true to L’Engle’s classic.

The first thing I want to say about this book is that the artwork is excellent. Larson uses shades of blue and black in all her panels, and it works very well. As I allowed the images to guide me through the story, I actually felt like I was moving through another dimension. The color scheme gave everything a slightly dreamlike or surreal quality, while the images kept me somewhat grounded. There is one image of Meg glaring angrily at someone, and she is literally staring daggers. It is a great image and I laughed out loud when I came across it.

WrinkleTimeLarson_2

Now on to the text.

I could not help but interpreting the three women who guide the children through time and space as a manifestation of the Triple Goddess: Mrs. Whatsit (the younger of the three) representing the maid, Mrs. Who representing the mother, and Mrs. Which as the crone. Each of the women seems to embody the characteristics that you would expect from the aspect of the Goddess that they represent.

There is a great section in this book that addresses the issue of differences between people. It puts forth both sides of the argument: on one hand, differences are the root of unhappiness for people, who tend to judge themselves and others based upon observable inequalities; but on the other hand, differences are the source of happiness, allowing people to be individuals and pursue their own paths.

Charles: On Camazotz we are all happy because we are all alike. Differences create problems. You know that, don’t you, dear sister?

Meg: No.

Charles: Yes, you do. You’ve seen at home how true it is. That’s the reason you’re unhappy at school. You’re different.

Calvin: I’m different, and I’m happy.

Charles: But you pretend that you aren’t different.

Calvin: I’m different and I like being different!

Meg: Maybe I don’t like being different, but I don’t want to be like everybody else either.

(p. 255)

Another passage that fascinated me was when Meg’s father explains to Calvin how he was able to resist IT.

Because IT’s completely unused to being refused. That’s the only reason I could keep from being absorbed, too. No mind has tried to hold out against IT for so many thousands of centuries that certain centers have become soft and atrophied through lack of use.

(p. 299)

There is a lot to consider in this brief passage. Firstly, if we interpret IT as a symbol for institutional authority that demands conformity, then this passage can be viewed as encouraging dissidence and a breaking of social mores. The only way that society advances is when brave individuals challenge the accepted beliefs and refuse to be just another cog in the wheel. But there is something else that really struck me about this passage: the issue of parts the brain becoming atrophied through lack of use. I truly believe this, and I believe it on two levels. Certainly, mental stimulation helps keep the brain sharp (hence I am such an obsessive reader). But also, I think this ties into thought and consciousness. There are parts of our psyche that are neglected as we go through our mundane routines of daily life. We can easily forget to exercise our creative sides through art, meditation, visualization, spirituality, and such. If we go down that path of neglecting our spiritual and creative sides, we run the risk of allowing those parts of our consciousness to become atrophied.

I have to say that although I didn’t remember the details of when I read this book as a kid, I can certainly see how the lessons have become a part of who I am. I value individualism and appreciate the differences in others. I understand the importance of continuous learning and challenging established beliefs. And finally, I believe that there are myriad undiscovered realms in the infinite universes which exist within us and around us.

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