One way is to engage deeply with the positive experiences we have when we have them. In Five Essential Skills, Dr. Rick Hanson points out that while negative experiences register immediately in our memory (part of our survival mechanism), positive experiences need to be held in our awareness between 5-20 seconds for them to fully register in our emotional memory.
Dr. Hanson believes we need to balance out this negativity bias built into our system through consciously embedding positive experiences. He notes that one negative experience will outweigh a thousand positive ones. For those of us that are healing from any traumatic experience, understanding this is key to finding our way out of the pain and suffering. It is also a powerful way to grow our own happiness. If one traumatic experience is registered immediately and it takes a thousand positive ones to counterbalance it, then consciously drinking in the positive ones for extended periods can be used as a way to heal the trauma and find our way to greater happiness.
Mindfulness practices help grow our capacity to drink in the good by bringing our focus and attention to our physical and emotional body experiences as they happen. When something good occurs--and it can be something as simple as beholding a flower we find pleasant--bringing our attention to the details of the situation as well as our emotional reaction and physical sensations is the best thing we can do to embed the experience in our memory.
There are many simple pleasant experiences we can work with every day such as hearing the sound of birds or the breeze in the trees, a beautiful image or scene, the taste of a simple fruit, or seeing a friend or loved one. We can also intentionally build in experiences that bring good feelings and savor them for as long as we can by relaxing into the moment and laying aside any doubts and concerns.
Here are a few more proven ways to increase your happiness:
While the odds seem so stacked against us, given the way our brain and body works with negative experiences, we do have a lot of influence over our happiness through our own thoughts and actions. We can actually begin today by just reveling in the positive experiences we already have. We can also get more strategic and grow our pleasant experiences through simple ways. I invite you to join in on the challenges for this week:
Post what you discovered below so we can all learn new ways to grow our own happiness!
JoAnn Saccato, MA is a mindfulness teacher, author, life coach, educator, and consultant in Northern California. She is author of Companioning the Sacred Journey and the forthcoming Mindful and Intentional Living: A Path to Peace, Clarity and Freedom