“Feelings change. Sometimes sorrow, sometimes joy. But beneath it all remember the innate perfection of your life unfolding. That is the secret of unreasonable happiness.” ~Dan Millman ~
The same is true of our minds. The stream of experiences and our perception of them, how we color the events, will wear a “groove” our brain and which in turn sculpts our mind – the way we think.
For the greater part this takes place unconsciously and remains unconscious. This is called the implicit memory, which is the accumulation of our emotional habits, our ideas of relationship, our expectations, all the things that create our inner world.
These implicit memories fall on one side of the fence or the other; those which serve us, the positive, and on the negative, those that don’t.
The key to happiness and success, offered in all the wisdom traditions, is to honor, create, preserve and grow the aspects that serve and give little energy to or prevent, decrease or eliminate those that don’t.
There’s the challenge; your brain, I believe for evolutionary reasons, holds on to the negative memories “like a bull dog on a bone,” storing them for quick recall to react to offensive, challenging or wounding experiences. On the other hand positive experiences show no signs of having the same such tenacity.
For this reason, even when positive experiences out weight the negative, the negative grow faster and take up more of our mind-thought processes.
It’s not the negative emotions and experiences don’t have their place and there was a reason for the evolution.
Life is change and not all changes are easy, so it would be silly and simplistic to advocate a philosophy that argues that you should never experience negative emotions or deny challenging or wounding experiences.
Negative emotions and experiences can serve us in experiencing the greater wellbeing and happier life we seek.
Negative experiences provide benefits. Guilt and remorse offer us a moral compass when stray off course, anxiety can expose threats and anger can arise in response to personal and social wrongs.
Negative emotions are a warning system. They alert when things are not right, when we’ve strayed from or path and often spur us to corrective action.
There’s a big caveat here which is that, any of us who have reached the age of 30, surly, have plenty of negative “stuff” to draw on – anymore is suffering without benefit.
The second caution is not to “dwell” on the unpleasant or negative. Again, don’t try to suppress it – acknowledge it and then as quickly as possible let it go.
The “cure” is not to suppress the emotions, because that will surely backfire, but to transcend and transmute them by cultivating our positive emotions and experiences and make them a part of who we are.
How do you do that? Practice Optimism.
Here are three practices from Rick Hanson PH.D. and Richard Mendius MD, the authors of “Buddha’s Brain,” that will help you “internalize” the positive.
1. Create positive experiences from positive facts. Everyday good things happen around and too you, even, if you’re discerning, on the evening news. However much, if not most, of the time we are oblivious to them.
The practice is to become mindful, bring awareness to the little things happening around you and consciously acknowledge them.
Dr. Hanson suggests that “Whatever positive facts you find, bring a mindful awareness to them-open up to them and let them affect you.”
A recommendation would be to write down the good things in the actual moment or as close to it as possible. Then at the end of the day take a sec and review all the different experiences you’ve been a part of or witnessed. This will “reinforce” their effects.
2. Take time to savor the experiences. Consciously hold on to the experience as long as you can, enjoying the flavor.
Don’t let your attention wander off, the longer the emotion is held the greater the stimulation, and the more stimulating it is the more neurons fire off. As the saying goes, “The more neurons fire together the more they wire together.”
Part of the practice is to focus on your emotions and body sensations because they are the “essence” of your implicit memory.
One way to do that is to “pay particular attention to the rewarding aspect of the experience.” The example given is, when you give or get a hug, especially from someone you love; really focus your awareness on how good it feels. This will help activated the dopamine release, (the bodies “feel good” chemical) which is the human equivalent of “dog treats.”
According to Dr.Hanson, you can amplify the experience by purposefully enriching it. Here’s his example; if you are enjoying a positive relationship experience, you might recall another time when you experienced feelings of love from another. This causes the release of oxytocin, the “bonding hormone.”
3. The third recommendation is to use your imagination, to ‘feel’ that the experience is entering deep into your body/mind. Visualize it (a powerful practice on its own.)
See yourself soaking it up and it penetrating every cell in your body.
“Keep relaxing your body and absorbing the emotions, sensations, and thoughts of the experience.”
Focusing on the good is powerful practice for transcending the negative bias of memory. This is a practice that will yield noticeable results and its fun – you’ll soon find yourself smiling more.