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Hardwiring Happiness

BR_1-June14_FFThe New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm and Confidence By Rick Hanson, Ph.D.

Reviewed for Healthy Beginnings by June Milligan, M.Ed., CCHt, PLR |

This is an easy to understand book about how to rewire your brain for a more joyful, confident life. Rick Hanson is a neuropsychologist who understands that the experiences we have, and the thoughts we think every day, actually physically change the brain. Scientists call that branch of neuroscience Experience-Dependent Neuroplasticity. That’s just a big term meaning that our brains can change and are changing all the time. These discoveries have led to the understanding that we have a lot more power over our future than we ever imagined.

When the tiny connections in the brain move over to another position, that changes how easy or difficult it is to think positive or negative thoughts. The nature of those thoughts then change our mood, our attitude, our words and actions, literally everything we are motivated to do or not do. Most of us thought that our brain developed as we grew, turned out a certain way, and is now set in stone, with a certain level of intelligence and creativity, but that’s not the case. Our brains are changing all the time.  Those billions of tiny connectors (neurons) which make up the brain don’t touch each other. An electrical charge, as well as certain chemicals, jump across a tiny space and make the connection, which completes the thought. The more often we think certain thoughts, the easier it is to continue to think those thoughts. They create a rut, so to speak, through repetition. Scientists explain this by saying, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” But again, it’s not set in stone. It’s just a temporary connection. Is it hard to think something different, to open your mind to a new idea? Sure. You know that yourself. It’s kind of like trying to drive out of a deep mudhole rut when your tires want to continue down the same path. It takes effort. But the fact that we can and do change our minds, attitudes and beliefs many times during our lives, proves that we can do it. And we’ve also proven to ourselves that the brain then supports that new mindset, until we change it again.

The author explains why our brains want to hang onto the negative things that have happened to us, like Velcro. And why the positive things seem to slip away like they were sliding on Teflon. The brain was programmed that way in order to help us survive through our thousands of years of evolution. Those parts of the brain are still doing that same job, remembering the negatives so you’ll be ready to fight or run if something like that happens again. The problem is, those old challenges (saber tooth tigers) aren’t around anymore. Our current challenges are relationships, money, unfulfilling jobs, health, etc., but the brain treats them the same–as if they were physical attackers. The author gives dozens of practical ways you can manage your mind to let go of those old habits of worry and anxiety, and instill habits of feeling good about yourself and your life.

The ideas in this book work a type of practical magic. The many processes the author teaches makes it possible for you to rewire your brain for greater happiness, peace and wellbeing. Not only does he give you the science behind the processes he teaches, but he also relates stories of people who have used these methods to attain mindfulness, an inner peace and an attitude of contentment, confidence, calmness and resilience.

Rick Hanson is the author of the bestseller Buddha’s Brain, as well as Just One Thing and Mother Nature.  He is also the founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom. These books are available through Amazon and also from local bookstores.