Smiling In the Dark (And Why You Should be Doing This)

appreciating the good in life
My friend often finds herself smiling in the dark just after switching off her bedside lamp.

She has a daughter named Claire.  Claire is an adorable five-year-old who was born with a heart defect that has already required open-heart surgery once.

The smallest airborne virus poses a particular threat to Claire’s body because of her vulnerability to life-threatening pneumonia.

Fortunately, Claire’s mother has some good coping skills for dealing with the stress.  Each night, before drifting off to sleep, she and her husband recall the funny things Claire has done during the day.

Claire has an adventurous spirit.  She’s always laughing, inventing games, or trying to argue her way out of punishments for ideas she took a little too far.

My friend practices the art of “taking in the good,” which is the term used by neuroscientist, Rick Hansen in his book, Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence.

By recounting the funny things Claire did during the day, she develops the habit of appreciating what is good.

Rick Hansen advises us to practice this with all kinds of small things.  He gives a personal example of peeling an orange, which he does several times each day.

He allows himself to focus on the delicious citrus smell as he peels the orange… purposefully allowing himself to wonder at the fact that no one else has ever seen the inside of this particular orange.

He allows himself to slow down and savor the taste of the orange inside, purposefully appreciating the good flavor.

He calls this “taking in the good” because it is a mental act of encouraging the mind to focus on the good things in life… even the seemingly insignificant good things.

By doing so, we actually rewire our brains over time.  We develop a mental habit that causes us to be happier people.

It happens gradually.  The brain develops stronger neural circuits associated with the habit of noticing what is good and appreciating the small things in life as it unfolds.

I think people who meditate have known this for years. But it’s fun to see scientists unraveling the brain science behind these benefits.

Because you read my emails, you know I put a high value on happiness.  I value happiness for its own sake. But there is a very powerful side benefit.  Which is that happiness tends to attract positive relationships.
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Give Your Man This, Even if He Doesn’t Deserve It

how to be more positive“I believe in you.” It’s nice when someone says that to you, isn’t it?

But what does it really mean? They believe you exist? Of course not. They’re saying they believe in your ability to achieve something. Or they believe in your general goodness and value.

In a way, when someone says “I believe in you,” they are practicing the art of positive thinking. They are choosing to believe the best. It feels good when you are the recipient of that faith.

I recently stumbled across a survey of jokes that were voted to be among the best. I thought this one was funny…

“I saw a book called The Power of Positive Thinking and thought I should probably read that. But then I thought, ‘What the hell good would that do?’ and I walked away.”

I like this joke because it makes light of a trap many of us find ourselves in. Once the human mind starts down the track of negative thinking, it can be difficult to switch tracks. It’s not easy to suddenly decide to be a positive person.

Once the rolling snowball of negativity starts to build, it can feel nearly impossible to reverse course. But there’s one method, one simple psychological side step that can do the trick.

I’m talking about a simple mental habit. You can get the benefits today. But there is also a long-term payoff…

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Mental Saturation for Joy

how to be mentally positiveI have always been fascinated by the topic of mental saturation. It’s the idea that you can manipulate your own thoughts, perceptions of the world, habits, and inclinations simply by choosing what you consistently expose your mind to.

A friend of mine once complained to me about nightmares she was having. We got talking about the content of her nightmares, and the possible contributors to her nighttime anxiety manifested in the world of her dreams. It didn’t take long for us to stumble into conversation about her love of horror movies.

As I write these words, Superman is staring at me. The original Superman movies were fairly cheesy, but a friend of mine gave me a Superman poster along with a single clip from an old movie reel from the film. I hung it in my office as inspiration to pursue goodness and to do my best at heroically serving others. I swore off horror films long ago.

My friend and I talked about my decision not to watch horror movies. To her, horror films represent the highest form of art. She loves the idea of striving for the most creative and dark forms of gruesome torture. However, as we got talking about the way she routinely saturates her mind with thoughts of malevolence and death, she couldn’t help but agree that she may predispose herself to more vivid nightmares than would be typical for someone who grew up on a farm two hundred years ago.

The fact is, these days we have far more choices about what we will expose our minds to. The world has changed. If you do not consciously adjust the stream of information entering your mind, you put yourself at risk. There is an endless stream of videos, magazines, websites, books, movies, and other mediums that allow me to focus in on any narrow subject I wish.

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Re-Imagine the Future

  • how to be optimisticThis post is about cultivating “The Hopeful Self.” It’s about acquiring optimism that can be cultivated to elevate your mood.This post is about you. It’s about enjoying life right here and right now. If implementing any of this advice ends up attracting other people, that will just be icing on the cake.

    One of the amazing things about being human is that we experience life on a continuum. Maybe there are Zen masters who reach a level of present-moment awareness more than 50% of each day, but I’ve never met them. I have met a few cats that seem to be able to pull that off, but no humans.

    Humans live their lives in anticipation of what’s coming next. When we expect it’s going to be something enjoyable, our moods lift. When we anticipate heart ache, hardship, or pain, our moods plummet.

    Here’s an interesting question. If you imagine a future that involves purposeful self development toward the goal of more consistently enjoying life, what would happen to your expectations about the future?

    Let me explain that question with a concrete example. Let’s say I have a friend named Ted. He’s kind of average as far as his typical mood states go. He feels down once in a while. He feels really happy once in a while, but most of the time his moods follow the ever-changing expectations of the moment.

    When lunch is five minutes away, his mood lifts a bit. On Friday afternoons he feels more energetic. While getting ready for his Monday morning workout he feels tired and blue. Afterward he feels successful and happy. In the weeks before a vacation his happiness goes up for a few minutes each time he thinks about the family members he will get to spend time with. When his boss dumps a pile of work on his desk his energy seems to disappear along with his cheerful spirit.

    Then one day, he stumbles across a book that is all about mental strategies a person can use to purposefully enhance happiness and feelings of well-being. He begins to imagine himself in the future, changed by the contents of the book as he develops new positive emotional habits.

    What would happen in this situation?

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