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  • Writer's picturePia Singh

Hardwiring Happiness: Rewiring Your Brain for Positivity

Do you ever wonder why negative experiences seem to stick in your mind more readily than positive ones? It turns out, there's a scientific reason behind this. Dr. Rick Hanson, a renowned psychologist, explains in his book Hardwiring Happiness why our brains are wired for negativity and how we can retrain them for greater contentment, calm, and confidence.

The Negativity Bias: Why Bad News Travels Faster

Have you ever noticed how negative experiences seem to stick in your mind more readily than positive ones? That annoying comment from a colleague replays in your head for days, while the compliment you received earlier fades quickly. This phenomenon has a scientific explanation – it's all thanks to a built-in feature of our brains called the negativity bias.

Imagine our early ancestors living on the savanna. Their brains were constantly scanning the environment for potential threats – a rustling in the bushes could mean a predator, a poisonous berry could be fatal. In this context, prioritizing negative stimuli was crucial for survival. Experiences associated with danger triggered a strong emotional response, helping us remember to avoid similar situations in the future. This negativity bias served us well in our ancestral past. Our brains evolved to prioritize threats and danger.

While negativity bias was essential for survival in the wild, it can be detrimental in our modern world. Here's how it plays out:


We dwell on negative experiences, replaying them in our minds, while positive experiences fade quickly.

Negative experiences trigger a stronger emotional response than positive ones. This emotional charge makes them more likely to get stuck in a loop in our minds. We ruminate on negative events, replaying them over and over again, which can lead to feelings of sadness, anger, or frustration.

Stress and Anxiety

The constant focus on negativity can trigger a stress response, making us feel worried and insecure.

The constant focus on negative experiences keeps our stress response on high alert. This can lead to chronic feelings of worry, anxiety, and insecurity, impacting our physical and mental well-being.

Diminished Well-Being

A negativity bias can rob us of happiness and hinder our ability to build resilience.

Negativity bias robs us of the opportunity to fully appreciate the good things in life. Positive experiences fade quickly, leaving us feeling generally dissatisfied and unfulfilled.  This can hinder our ability to build resilience and cope with challenges in a healthy way.

Breaking Free from the Negativity Trap

The good news is, our brains are not set in stone. As a neuroscientist specializing in neuroplasticity, I'm excited about Dr. Rick Hanson's Hardwiring Happiness and its practical approach to cultivating positivity. The book highlights a fundamental truth – our brains are not static organs. They are constantly adapting and changing based on our experiences. The good news is, we can leverage this neuroplasticity to intentionally cultivate happiness and well-being.

Dr. Hanson's four-step method provides a powerful framework for rewiring your brain for positivity. Let's delve deeper into each step from a neuroscientific perspective:

Take in the Good

The first step involves actively noticing and appreciating positive experiences, big or small. This could be anything from a delicious meal to a kind gesture from a stranger. Savor these moments and let them register in your mind.

The first step, actively noticing and appreciating positive experiences, is crucial. When we focus on the good, we activate the brain's reward system, a network of structures associated with pleasure and motivation. This includes areas like the dopamine pathway, which releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that reinforces positive experiences. By taking in the good, we are essentially telling our brain, "This is something to remember and repeat!"

Sense the Positive

Don't just observe the good, feel it! Pay attention to the positive emotions associated with the experience – joy, gratitude, peace, etc. Let these emotions wash over you and fully immerse yourself in them.

Simply noticing the good isn't enough. Dr. Hanson emphasizes the importance of feeling the positive emotions associated with the experience – joy, gratitude, peace, etc. When we consciously experience these emotions, we strengthen the neural connections between the areas of the brain responsible for positive emotions and the prefrontal cortex, the seat of our higher cognitive functions. This emotional engagement strengthens the memory of the positive experience and makes it more likely to be recalled in the future.

Label the Experience

Mentally label the positive experience and the emotions it evokes. This helps to solidify the memory and strengthen the neural pathways associated with positive emotions.

Mentally labeling the positive experience and the emotions it evokes is a powerful tool for memory consolidation. The act of labeling activates the hippocampus, a key area for memory formation. By labeling the experience, we are essentially creating a "tag" that helps our brain easily store and retrieve the memory later.

Let It Sink In

End by mentally sending a gentle, positive sensation to a specific part of your body. This anchors the positive experience in your brain and makes it more likely to be recalled in the future.

The final step involves sending a gentle, positive sensation to a specific part of your body. This anchors the positive experience not just in your mind, but also in your body. The connection between positive emotions and bodily sensations is powerful. By associating a positive feeling with a physical sensation, we create a stronger, more durable memory trace in the brain.

Just a Few Minutes Can Make a Difference

Dr. Hanson emphasizes that these steps don't require a lot of time. Even a few minutes each day practicing these techniques can have a significant impact. As a Founder of Mental Health Platform, I'm a big advocate for Dr. Rick Hanson's work in Hardwiring Happiness. What excites me most is the simplicity and effectiveness of his method.

Dr. Hanson emphasizes that these steps require just a few minutes a day, yet they can have a profound impact on your overall well-being. From psychologist's perspective, by consistently taking in the good, sensing the positive, labeling experiences, and letting them sink in, you can:

Build Neural Strength

These steps stimulate the growth of new neural pathways associated with happiness, confidence, and resilience.

Our brains are constantly forming new connections, or synapses, between neurons. The more frequently a specific pathway is used, the stronger it becomes. Dr. Hanson's method encourages consistent, daily practice of focusing on positive experiences. This repetition strengthens the neural pathways associated with positive emotions like joy, gratitude, and confidence. Over time, these positive pathways become more prominent, making happiness a more natural state for your brain.

Counteract Negativity Bias

Over time, the positive experiences you "hardwire" into your brain will begin to outweigh the negativity bias, leading to a more optimistic outlook.

Our brains have an evolutionary bias towards negativity. This negativity bias served us well in the past, helping us identify threats and avoid danger. However, in today's world, it can lead to excessive rumination on negative experiences and a skewed perception of reality. By consistently practicing Dr. Hanson's method, you're essentially training your brain to focus on the positive. Over time, these positive experiences become the dominant memory traces, weakening the negativity bias and leading to a more optimistic outlook.

Create a Refuge of Calm

By training your brain to focus on the positive, you can create a sense of inner peace and well-being that serves as a refuge from daily stressors.

Chronic stress and negativity can take a toll on our mental and physical health. Dr. Hanson's method offers a powerful tool for cultivating inner peace and resilience. By consciously focusing on positive experiences and the associated emotions, you activate the relaxation response in your body. This reduces stress hormones and promotes feelings of calm and well-being. By practicing these steps daily, you create a mental refuge – a safe space within your mind where you can find peace and strength even amidst life's challenges.

Hardwiring Happiness is more than just a self-help book; it's a call to action. It empowers you to take control of your brain and cultivate a more positive and resilient mindset. By dedicating just a few minutes each day to these simple practices, you can unlock the hidden power of your brain and build a happier, more fulfilling life. The beauty of Dr. Hanson's method lies in its accessibility. Just a few minutes of intentional practice each day can significantly impact your brain and your overall well-being.

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