I’ve received almost 500 hits on the blog that I wrote about my struggle with depression the other day. Even saying that word out loud or even in my own mind still bothers me. I hate to admit to it. Mostly out of fear of being judged or ridiculed. And the word, ugh, it’s such a horrid word.
For those of you who are reading this, today, or tomorrow or maybe a month from now, I’m going to tell you about a little secret that I learned that might benefit you, if you too, are finding yourself in a dark hole that you’re just unable to climb out of.
It’s the concept of what neuroscientist, Dr. Rick Hanson, refers to as Growing Good in his book, Hardwiring Happiness. The principle is pretty simple. In our day to day life we spend much more time ruminating the negative things that happen to us in the run of the day, and far less time allowing ourselves to linger and dwell on the good things, for instance, an invitation to supper, or even when a friend gives you a sweet compliment.
We shake off the good so quickly. That’s just ‘cos it is the natural thing to do. We do this because from an evolutionary perspective, good things do not and historically have not placed us in jeopardy or in danger of losing our lives. In other words, the good cannot and has not impacted our ability to survive, move forward, and reproduce our species. It’s part of the Darwinian survival of the fittest evolutionary theory.
In a previous time, negative events consisted of our exposure to disease, predators, etc., and so it was essential for survival purposes that we ruminated on and remembered the negative events and their impacts. Mainly, so we could avoid having a repeat of the same or a similar incident that may have harmed or killed us.
As humans, we have an inherent biological drive and need to survive and continue to proliferate our species. But it’s not thousands of years ago, and so WE DO NOT need to do this anymore. Today’s negative events, like the feeling of ridicule, a meeting with the boss, embarrassment of having done something stupid, and even shame, are not putting us at risk for our lives. While this stuff still sucks, and suck it does, we do not need to keep replaying that crap again and again in our heads. We can forget it and move the fuck on. Or just let that shit go.
What Hanson writes is that, we can actually train our minds to take in the good. To grow good is to purposefully make the choice to sit with that good thought a moment or while longer. He describes this as, “transforming fleeting experiences into lasting improvements in your neural net worth.” What he says is that “if you let the good fact (someone invites you for dinner) become a good experience, not just an idea, and then stay with it for at least a few breaths, not brushing it off or moving on fast to something else, it feels like something good is sinking into you or becoming part of you.” We are filling that happiness void. We are pouring love, like water, into our own well-being. Essentially, we are creating joy, strength and inner happiness.
When we sit with positive thoughts, the biology of our brains change and adapt. Taking in the good things that happen and sitting with them a while longer helps us to move away from the negative bias and negative thinking default setting that we have inherited as a collective species. You can think of it like exercise for the mind, like growing the muscle of the brain such that you develop on the whole a happier you. This ability, my friends, of the brain to adapt and change is what is termed as neuroplasticity.
When people say yoga, mindfulness, meditation, and perhaps even this concept are airy-fairy they are discounting a tonne of literature and scientific research which proves these things work. Anyways, I encourage you to take in the good whenever you can. It’s like filling a bucket. Only the bucket is your soul. And each time something good happens and you stay with that good thing a moment longer than usual, you are organically increasing the depth of happiness in your heart and inherently changing your life.
So, dear friends, linger in the comfort of your oversized sweater, in your faded blue jeans, in a passing compliment, with a cup of tea.
It’s not easy, but according to Dr. Shapiro, a clinical psychologist, practising in the field of mindfulness meditation, “what you practice grows stronger.”
xx Mandy Elaine ❤
*Photo Credit: Sam Lawlor* x