Collecting Ordinary Jewels
In his book "Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence," neuroscientist and researcher, Dr. Rick Hanson writes:
“...each day is like a winding path strewn with pearls and diamonds, emeralds and rubies, each one an opportunity for a positive experience. Unfortunately, most people hurry by without noticing them. And even when they do see a jewel, they rarely feel anything about it. Jewel after jewel, left behind, lost forever.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. With a little intention and skill, you can take some seconds here and there each day to weave a handful of these jewels into the fabric of your brain, your being, and your life. Little moments of ease, pleasure, calm, determination, joy, insight, and caring become neural structure.”
But, how exactly do you do this when things are hard and overwhelming, like in the midst of a pandemic? According to Dr. Hanson, we need to be intentional about collecting and naming our ordinary jewels. It involves four simple steps that form the acronym HEAL.
H: Have a positive experience.
Notice a positive experience in the present or create one. You can do this by becoming more aware of your current setting, recent events, or ongoing conditions, the people in your life, tuning into your body and inner speech, and thinking about or imagining positive memories, emotions, and actions.
E: Enrich it.
This requires that you deliberately apply your attention to the positive experience and sustain it. Stay with and breathe in the good feeling. Give the experience a label such as “calming, relaxing, or safe.”
A: Absorb it.
This step heightens the installation of the good experience by prolonging and intensifying neural activity which builds neural structure. This involves sensing or visualizing that the good is sinking into you like a gentle rain or rays of sunshine. If taking in the good is like building a fire, step 1) is lighting it, step 2) is adding fuel to keep it going, and step 3) is feeling its warmth.
L: Link positive and negative material.
Hold both positive and negative in your awareness while keeping the positive more prominent. For example, feel a positive emotion while feeling a negative emotion simultaneously in the background. Know that the two are not mutually exclusive.
The fourth step (the 'L') is optional but transformative. Over time, this practice will strengthen and form pathways in your brain to build a more optimistic and resilient default mindset. With conscious effort, you can train your brain to become more resilient, HEAL, and find happiness.