Can you hardwire happiness?

Hardwiring happiness.

It’s no surprise that I research obsessively, because I’m an INFJ, and being this personality type also suggests that I’m an avid reader, which I am. It did surprise me, though, when Hardwiring Happiness showed up in my life right when I needed it. It’s not the type of book I usually go for.

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I bounce around from self-help and psychology to young adult fiction/fantasy and comic biographies. I’m pretty fascinated by most things, although I will say that you won’t likely find me reading books on science or history (unless it’s a fiction book based in a historical time period – does that count?).

Yet, recently, I found myself absorbed in science – neuroscience.

I was in a Poor Mental State

When my injury happened last year on top of chronic headaches, and then was diagnosed with Adrenal Fatigue and other hormonal imbalances, I found myself seeking answers, especially when it came to my mental health.

I already have a tendency towards anxiety, but “health anxiety” was a whole new thing for me, and threw me into bouts of sadness and negative thinking. It was like I was mourning my old life – the painless one where I had energy to live my life. The one where I could do what I wanted when I wanted.

Even with therapy, I was struggling. What made it worse is that all I heard from those around me were instructions to “be more positive”, without any real step-by-step on how to do that. My brain doesn’t naturally lean to the positive side; it looks for problems and how to creatively solve them. I’m a skeptic, a realist, a future-tripper. I can’t just flip a switch on my personality.

Everyone’s brain fires differently, but what if that could be rewired?

Reading Hardwiring Happiness

I came across a book called Hardwiring Happiness in a bookstore several months ago while traveling, and flipped through it a little bit, thought it was interesting, but put it back on the shelf. Then, it popped up again online, and I stuck it in my Amazon cart for a few weeks before finally deciding to pull the trigger. I had it delivered to my Kindle and dug right in.

Now, let me be clear. I love most health topics, but I am not much of a science nerd, and things can go above my head rather quickly. This book delivered a great balance of neuroscience and controlled explanations. It went deep enough for me to grasp the concepts and understand the science, but not so deep that I felt completely lost.

For me, Part 1 (called WHY) of Hardwiring Happiness was the best part of the book, and was both fascinating and a bit of a bummer. Fascinating because the author, Dr. Rick Hanson, helped me understand WHY the brain does what it does. He uses the idea of a trench in the brain, as a metaphor for negative thoughts. Basically, each time you have a negative thought, whether it’s brooding, fear of the future, or feeling down on yourself, you are deepening your trench and making it easier and easier to dig. A simple concept, but HUGE in the grand scheme of the brain. I have, unwittingly, been training my brain to continue its negative bias, and even deepen it.

At one point, I wondered how it was even possible to rewire the brain for happiness, as it all seemed like an uphill battle. If you’ve ever heard someone say it takes 5 positives thoughts for every negative one, then you already understand the basics of how the brain works.

I loved learning about how the brain reacts and responds to negativity. It kind of validated my struggle with it, but it’s not there to excuse my thoughts and behavior. It does, however, help me understand that it can be altered to create a “positivity trench”, and that’s something I’m very interested in!

“Neurons that fire together wire together. Mental states become neural traits. Day after day, your mind is building your brain.”

Hardwiring Happiness

The most important thing to take away from this book is to take in the good. How, you ask? By utilizing the H-E-A-L protocol:

  1. Have a positive experience.
  2. Enrich it.
  3. Absorb it.
  4. Link positive and negative material (optional).

The first three steps are the easy part, but you still have to practice. What’s great is these practices can be put into action immediately on your own with only a little bit of instruction, like truly savoring a bite of food, absorbing the feeling of the sun shining on you, remembering you’re loved, or “sitting” in a special moment just a little bit longer.

The fourth step is optional, but definitely worth trying, because it may overwrite negative experiences, making the negative significantly milder when triggered in your brain. I haven’t tried this yet, because I’m not ready, but it sounds wonderful.

As I got in deeper, I found that I really enjoyed his tips, and how he shared personal examples from his own life and from the lives of others to help guide me in my journey. I also found the “Taking it in” summaries at the ends of each chapter to be really helpful.

Bumps that Didn’t Deter Me

Unfortunately, there were two areas of this book I struggled with.

First, as I got engrossed into Part 2 of the book (called HOW) I really found some helpful tools to reach my goals over time. It was exciting and encouraging, and made me smile. As I got further into it, though, it started to get repetitive, adding confusion to what was, essentially, a simple practice. The book also continued on much longer than it needed to, and became overly-specific and mind-numbing.

Second, towards the end, I struggled with some of the tables presented in Hardwiring Happiness. I wasn’t sure what some of the terms meant and how they might apply to my specific situation. I wished there had been more clarity in these parts of the book.

Thankfully, I still made it to the final chapter, “21 Jewels”. This chapter provides specific practices to help grow key strengths like protection, relaxation, peace, love and many more. This chapter really is full of jewels and shouldn’t be missed.

A Self HelpTool that Actually Helps

Obviously, I know I should be more positive, so I don’t need a book to pound it into my head over and over again. What I do need is a step-by-step plan to help me ADD positivity and encourage my brain to overcome its current thought pattern. This book helps me do that, and I feel empowered. I highly recommend it for anyone who tends to worry, feel down, or see things in a negative light.

I’m speaking to the introverted, intuitive personality types and to those who are highly sensitive, of which I am both (many are). I strongly believe this book can help you, and it’s incredibly simple to integrate into your daily life. There’s absolutely no risk, except that you might feel a little happier.

What do you do to minimize the negative thoughts and help your brain focus on the positive? Please share in the comments below.

Tea & ♥,

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