Tag Archives: negative

“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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“The Little Vagabond” by William Blake

LittleVagabond

Dear Mother, dear Mother, the Church is cold;
But the Alehouse is healthy, & pleasant, and warm.
Besides, I can tell where I am use’d well;
Such usage in heaven will never do well.

But, if at the Church they would give us some Ale,
And a pleasant fire our souls to regale,
We’d sing and we’d pray all the livelong day,
Nor ever once wish from the Church to stray.

Then the Parson might preach, and drink, & sing,
And we’d be as happy as birds in the spring;
And modest dame Lurch, who is always at church,
Would not have bandy children, nor fasting, nor birch.

And God, like a father, rejoicing to see
His children as pleasant and happy as He,
Would have no more quarrel with the Devil or the Barrel,
But kiss him, & give him both drink and apparel.

On the surface, this seems like a poem that criticizes the Church for its doctrine of austerity. The speaker asserts that if the Church would be more festive that it would attract more followers. While this is a perfectly legitimate interpretation, I see other symbolism buried within the verse.

Firstly, I see this as a pagan song. The speaker is addressing the Mother, with a capital M. It is a sign of reverence. We also have images of ale and bonfires, which are common in pagan rituals. It is also worth noting that the Christian god is not referred to as the Father, but instead he is “like a father.”

The other thing that struck me was the illustration. At the top, God is huddled with a naked male figure. In the last two lines of the poem, we have an image of God reconciling with the devil and offering him “both drink and apparel.” I believe that this image atop the illustration is God and Lucifer together, especially since the naked figure’s skin is tinted red. Also worth noting is the position of the two figures; it is almost as if they are forming a yin/yang symbol. One could say that the two are not in conflict, but are opposite energies or archetypes that complement each other, and when brought together create a whole.

This universal symbol of God and Lucifer complementing each other then becomes a symbol for humanity. In order to reach spiritual completeness, we must find a way to balance our positive and negative energies. Both are essential and neither should be denied or excluded. It is only when we find our balance between dark and light, male and female, positive and negative, conscious and subconscious, that we will become fully realized beings.

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