Don’t worry–I haven’t gone zombie or anything, so your brain is perfectly safe in my company. Promise.
It’s just that, for some time now, I haven’t been super happy with the way my brain has been behaving. How it increasingly seems to focus on the negative, particularly in regards to my health. For instance, right now my brain is beaming its laser-like focus onto the completely self-inflicted twinging/burning feeling in my knees brought on by training to run/walk a half marathon. Of course, focusing on this feeling only increases the pain. But does my brain stop there?
Oh no, it also piles on a hefty dose of mental pain in the form of negative-Nelly worries: I’m old and falling apart, I’ll need knee surgery, I’ll never run or hike again, blah, blah. Why can’t my brain tell me instead to just slap on another freakin’ ice pack and focus on the positive? Such as: Wow, I ran/walked 11 whole miles last weekend and survived! My blood pressure is lower than it’s ever been, thanks to all that running! My body has hurt before–and worse than this–and healed up again just fine!
Just think how much happier I’d be.
In a wonderful book I’m reading now by Rick Hanson Ph.D., The Practical Neuroscience of Buddha’s Brain; Happiness, Love & Wisdom, he discusses how our brains have a “negativity bias”–they tend to focus on and remember negative experiences, even though most of our experiences are either neutral or good. By the way, news organizations–with their 24/7 coverage of the terrible and the frightening–excel at exploiting this bias. On the bright side, Hanson insists we can train our brains to focus more on the positive, and his book offers some great ways to do this.
One way I’ve been trying to nudge my brain in a more positive direction is to take time at the end of each day to jot down three or four things that made me happy that day. It’s easy, takes only a few minutes, and the effect on my mood and outlook has been pretty impressive so far. Often, as I list the three or four happy things, so many more happy things come to mind. Like today:
On my walk with our dog Daisy, seeing Mount Rainier shining white above a spring green field made me happy. Watching five gorgeous elk run across the field made me happy, too, and so did all of the drivers who moved their vehicles over and gave me a friendly wave and smile in response to my own.
At lunchtime, hearing the hummingbirds zoom around and a robin singing made me happy. So did the feel of the warm sun on my face and the sweet scent of the hyacinth at my feet. Savoring an egg salad sandwich for lunch, courtesy of my cheerful hens, and a tangy slice of rhubarb pie–the rhubarb a gift from a dear friend–made me happy, too. Bright dandelions and forget-me-nots bursting into bloom. A text from my husband.
So many happy things. And it’s only 2 p.m.
What made you happy today?
Thanks for reading!