“Don’t look outside yourself for happiness. Let go of the idea that you don’t have it. It is available within you.” from Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching)
When you go for a walk in the beautiful greenness of summer, what do you notice? What draws your attention and brings a smile to your lips? Can you make it last by staying with it for 5, 10 even 20 seconds? This practice of mindfully noticing what pleases us is called Savoring. This is a powerful practice. Why?
When we choose to savor our experiences, we create a series of events in our brains that counteracts the negative bias of our brains to always focus on the negative. Rick Hanson’s amazing book Buddha’s Brain gives us some great tools to change the neuroplasticity of our brains. We have learned that we can infuse positive material into negative material residing just below the surface in our implicit memories of the past. By deliberately directing positive experiences towards these roots, we can begin to stop them from growing back. “Taking in the good” can eventually change your neural structure, build up positive emotions and support well being and happiness. It also supports spiritual practice by giving us more motivation and conviction.
Seligman’s l998 research on Optimism also states we can change our moods with intentional mental training –usually associated with mindfulness, compassion development and concentration exercises. Research shows the left neocortex, involved in positive emotion, is stimulated, activated, strengthened and boosted and we can reset it to earlier happiness levels compromised by events earlier in our lives or genetics.
So maybe a Summer Happiness Practice could be looking at the glass half full rather than the opposite as it shows up in your life? Or Savoring your positive experiences for as long as you can before letting them go.
What are the practices that will bring us more happiness? There a four core doctrines found in all classic happiness theories from wisdom literature, philosophy, psychology, spirituality and self-help. These are pretty challenging to follow: 1) Know Yourself, 2) Control your desires, 3) Take care of what’s yours 4) Remember death and mortality. I would like to add that there is an additional factor that makes me happy and that is connecting with others in reciprocal giving and receiving. This is the interconnectedness of life that is so powerful.
The Buddha said, If you think or act with a calm and bright heart-mind, then happiness follows you always, like a shadow.” Thomas Bien, in his new book, The Buddha’s Way of Happiness, operationalizes a kind of positive buddhism that interprets the Buddha as saying that the joy and inherent freedom of being are our birthright and potential, rather than entirely dealing with suffering and its causes. He suggests we strive to work on our strengths and passion rather than overly focus on our weaknesses, problems and hang-ups. His book is a great next step to go after Buddha’s Brain because it walks you through many practices I found helpful and revealing. I find it really helps explain the powerful compassion and open-heartedness that arises when we practice mindfulness regularly with strong intention.
So if we put these two together, it sounds like using choice, intention and motivation are potent change agents at the root of our journey through life, both now and later. It is not what happens to us, but what we make of it that makes the difference. By learning to stay conscious and awake in the present moments, we can begin to see where we have choices and where we can make more intentions to find our core potential to be happy.
As you move through the next month of your summer, possibly consider these two practices and ponder these questions:
1) What makes me smile?
2) What warms my heart?
3) What shuts down my happiness?
4) What closes off my heart?
Keep noticing everything!
More opportunities to explore your path to wellbeing, happiness, and healing abound this fall with Balance Your LIfe Coaching. Try the Women’s Mindfulness Retreat on October 11-13 in Jamestown, Co. Here’s the link to register:
Obviously there’s alot to think about here.
There’s the challenge –staying motivated to keep bringing in the good when we are living each and every day and the ups and downs of being in this life and this body. And this is just the beginning of the practices of happiness –getting to know yourself and taking care of what’s yours.
The Buddha said, “If you think or act with a calm and bright heart-mind, then happiness follows you always, like a shadow.” His understanding of “happiness” is complicated