Barbara Fredrickson, a leading authority on positive emotions, explains that gratitude and other good feelings are not Hallmark card fluff, but actually the building blocks of resilience, physical health, everyday effectiveness and fulfilling relationships.
We can turn experiences into lasting inner strengths. There are methods to change the brain for better, to foster well-being, healing and happiness. We are focusing on inner strengths – capabilities, positive emotions, attitudes, motivations and virtues of the mind. About a third of our traits are innate – from our DNA, we can’t do anything about them. However, the other two-thirds are acquired – which we can change.
How do we develop these traits? It is a two stage process. In the first stage, information including bodily sensations, emotions, desires, images and thoughts are held in short-term memory buffers. In the second stage they are transferred to long-term storage, switched from activated states to installed ones.
For example, we become more mindful by repeatedly installing experiences of mindfulness, more resilient by repeatedly installing experiences of resilience. Beneficial states that are not installed are wasted, with little or no learning or growth. Meanwhile, our painful experiences are being rapidly converted into neural structure. The brain is good at learning from bad experiences but bad at learning from good ones.
So what can we do? The first step to take in the good is to understand how important it is to take in the good. So, having the good experience, the activation process, and then enjoying it which is the installation process. Most of these beneficial experiences are quite enjoyable because they are good for us. Most of them are mild, in the flow of everyday life. These ordinary jewels really count. A recent study suggests, as we internalize these positive experiences gradually, deliberately, we are sensitizing our brain for the positive. Over time we move from brain’s default negative bias, resetting it to a positive one.
- thoughts: knowledge, perspectives, images
- perceptions/sensations: hearing, seeing, touching
- emotions: both passing feelings & lasting moods
- desires: intentions, hopes, wants
- actions: sensing the body – talking, doing, posture
• in the foreground of awareness (the purring cat stretched out by my feet)
• Your immediate situation: being alive, stable conditions, relationships with good people
• About you: good things about yourself, you are caring, you try hard or persevere when challenged, you have good intentions for others
• The past – good times with friends, adventures you had
• Bad situations: research suggests one way people cope with bad situations is by finding good things. For example, it was tough to be injured but I have learned so much from it and that has opened me to the suffering of others.
• Using imagination: Imagining good facts could not have happened – an adventure such as bungee jumping that I may never have done or want to. In the process noticing that I am not making it up but imagining, that sinking in can be really beneficial. The memory making machinery of our brain doesn’t know the source of our experience. This might be a way to meet some deep need inside oneself.
“Keep a green bough in your heart,