Our survival brains have a built-in negativity bias because – evolutionarily speaking – it’s much better to think that something is a snake, and to jump out of the way only to discover that it’s a vine on your path, than to assume it’s a vine, and be bitten by a snake.
If we have to get something wrong from a survival point of view, we’re better off with “false positives” – thinking it is something and then finding out (whew) it’s not true, than “false negatives” – thinking nothing’s wrong, when (gulp) it’s actually something.
Social science research confirms that painful experiences are just more memorable than pleasurable ones.
We tend to take the good for granted, but ruminate about potential threats. John Gottman’s research reveals we typically need five positive interactions to make up for every negative interaction we have with someone. Neuroscientist Rick Hansen often points out that although, “the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones,” that we can absolutely change this with the deliberate and intentional practice of taking in the good.
What if we intentionally started to focus on what works, what’s possible and what brings us joy, instead of being ruled by our fears and memories?
We can absolutely practice ourselves into this way of being.
Tilting our brains on a daily basis towards savoring the good in our lives strengthens positive neural networks and implicit memory systems in our brains. Instead of habitually spotlighting “what’s wrong” in our lives, our brains will begin to more readily enjoy those things that delight, resource and energize us.
Try this: For a week (at least) generate a Daily List of Delights. Put down anything and everything that you can think of each day that brings you joy or relaxes your nervous system. Make it a daily practice to connect with goodness, beauty and enjoyment.
Need some inspiration?
Here’s a random list of my current delights and happy-making things:
Finding a handwritten note in my mailbox
Homemade mac and cheese with thick pancetta
Beautifully wrapped gifts
“Leave it with me, I’ll plan it out.”
Finishing a great book and leaving it for someone to enjoy
The calm after a storm passes – literally and metaphorically
Starry, starry nights and crackling fires
Curling my toes into warm, white sand
The basalt columns that make up the Giant’s Causeway
Drifting 15 feet beneath the surface along a coral reef
Warm sunshine on my skin
Midnight walks in the forest over freshly fallen snow during the full moon
When the sun breaks through the clouds
Mary Oliver poems
Leonard Cohen’s voice and lyrics
Purging my closet
Fresh, sweet mangoes and sticky rice
People who wear their hearts on their sleeves
When someone refills my drinks without my asking
Sleeping babies. Napping cats
The power of the ripple effect
Enjoy Todd Doughty’s inspirational lists in Little Pieces of Hope
And now it’s your turn … What are some happy-making things in your life right now? What is bringing you joy? I’d love to know, leave a comment below.