Paperback forthcoming December 2016. Do not order paperback exam copy until 12/27/2016.
Hardwiring Happiness lays out a simple method that uses the hidden power of everyday experiences to build new neural structures full of happiness, love, confidence, and peace. Grounded in neuroscience, Dr. Rick Hanson’s four steps build strengths into your brain— balancing its ancient negativity bias—making contentment and a powerful sense of resilience the new normal. In mere minutes each day, we can transform our brains into refuges and power centers of calm and happiness.
"Rick Hanson is a master of his craft, showing us a wise path for daily living in this book. Based in the latest findings of neuroscience, this book reveals that if we understand the brain a little, we can take care of our lives a lot, and make a real difference to our well-being. Here is a book to savor, to practice, and to take to heart."
-- Mark Williams, Ph.D., Professor, University of Oxford, author of Mindfulness
"The cultivation of happiness is one of the most important skills anyone can ever learn. Luckily, it’s not hard when we know the way to water and nourish these wholesome seeds, which are already there in our consciousness. This book offers simple, accessible, practical steps for touching the peace and joy that are every person’s birthright."
--Thich Nhat Hanh, author of Being Peace and Understanding Our Mind
"In this remarkable book, one of the world's leading authorities on mind training shows how to cultivate the helpful and good within us. In a beautifully written and accessible way, Rick Hanson offers us an inspiring gift of wise insights and compassionate and uplifting practices that will be of enormous benefit to all who read this book. A book of hope and joyfulness."
--Paul Gilbert, Ph.D., O.B.E., Professor, University of Derby, author of The Compassionate Mind
"Rick Hanson's new book works practical magic: it teaches you how, in a few seconds, to rewire your brain for greater happiness, peace, and well-being. This is truly a book I wish every human being could read - it's that important. I hope we'll soon be saying to each other, in meetings, over coffee, in crowded subway cars: “Take in the good?”
--Jennifer Louden, author of The Woman's Comfort Book
"I have learned more about positive psychology from Rick Hanson than from any other scientist. Read this book, take in the good, and change your brain so that you can become the person you were destined to be."
--Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., Professor, University of California at Davis, Editor-in-Chief, The Journal of Positive Psychology, author of Gratitude Works! and Thanks!
Hardwiring Happiness provides the reader with a user friendly toolkit to expand feelings of happiness and to functionally erase the profound consequences of negative memories and experiences.
Stephen Porges, Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina, author of The Polyvagal Theory
Learning to take in the good is like fully and mindfully breathing in life: it allows us to access our inner strengths, creativity, vitality and love. In his brilliant new book, Rick Hanson gives us the fascinating science behind attending to positive experiences, and offers powerful and doable ways to awaken the deep and lasting wellbeing we yearn for.
Tara Brach, Ph.D., author of Radical Acceptance and True Refuge
"Hardwiring Happiness teaches us the life-affirming skills of inverting our evolutionary bias to hold on to the negative in our lives and instead soak in and savor the positive. What better gift can we give our selves or our loved ones than an effective strategy to increase joy through brain-based steps that are both accessible and pleasurable? Bravo"
--Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., Clinical Professor, UCLA School of Medicine, author of Mindsight, The Mindful Brain, and Brainstorm
"Truly helpful and wise, this book nourishes your practical goodness and feeds the vitality of your human spirit. Following these practices will transform your life."
--Jack Kornfield, Ph.D., author of A Path With Heart
"Dr. Hanson has laid out an amazingly clear, easy, and practical pathway to happiness."
--Kristin Neff, Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of Texas at Austin, author of Self-Compassion
"Rick Hanson is brilliant at making complex scientific information about the brain simple. For anyone wanting to decode the black box of the brain and take advantage of its potential, this is the book to read."
--Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., co-author with Helen LaKelly Hunt of Making Marriage Simple
"I happened to be reading Hardwiring Happiness while my mother was dying in hospice. Following the instructions in the book, there was a healing that transformed my experience of my mother's dying. This was the right book for the right moment, and I am deeply grateful for it."
--Gordon Peerman, D. Min., Episcopal priest and psychotherapist, author of Blessed Relief
"With current neuroscience to back him up, Rick Hanson has given us an incredible gift. The practices within this book don’t take much time at all, yet have the potential to yield true and lasting change."
--Sharon Salzberg, author of Lovingkindness and Real Happiness
"Dr. Hanson offers a remarkably simple, yet transformative, approach to cultivating happiness. He provides clear instructions for bringing these insights into challenging areas such as parenting, procrastination, healing trauma, and transforming relationships. This book is a gift, one you will want to read over and over and share with your friends."
--Christopher Germer, Ph.D., Clinical Instructor, Harvard Medical School, author, The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion, co-editor, Mindfulness and Psychotherapy
"Seamlessly weaving together insights from modern neuroscience, positive psychology, evolutionary biology, and years of clinical practice, Dr. Hanson provides a wealth of practical tools anyone can use to feel less anxious, frustrated, and distressed in everyday life. With humor, warmth, and humility, this book combines new research and ancient wisdom to give us easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions to live richer, happier, and more loving lives."
--Ronald D. Siegel, Psy.D., Assistant Clinical Professor, Harvard Medical School, and author, The Mindfulness Solution
"Rather than offering simplistic positive thinking, Dr. Hanson's synthesis of the new science of the brain is realistic and practical. Stop needless suffering, take in the good with his HEAL formula, calm down and green your brain, and flip the switch. We all need Hardwiring Happiness as a wise, daily practice."
--Sara Gottfried, M.D., author of The Hormone Cure
"Dr. Hanson shows us, in compelling prose sprinkled with humor, how we can learn to “re-wire” our brain, so that we can respond to the world in a receptive mode, one resting in peace, contentment, and love. I can’t imagine a better prescription for our troubled world!"
--Robert D. Truog, MD, Professor of Medical Ethics, Anesthesiology, and Pediatrics and Director of Clinical Ethics, Harvard Medical School
"Always on the cutting edge, Rick Hanson is brilliant at making the neuroscience of happiness accessible, engaging, and practical. If you're looking for greater happiness, more fulfilling relationships, or greater peace of mind, this book is a treasure."
--Marci Shimoff, author of Happy for No Reason and Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul
"In a lively and lovely voice, Rick Hanson offers an inspiring, easily accessible guidebook to living happily."
--Sylvia Boorstein, Ph.D., author of Happiness Is An Inside Job
"Why should you read this over any other happiness or mindfulness book? Because the prose, stories, and concrete strategies are beautiful, lucid, and most importantly, they work. I cannot remember the last time a book brought me peace of mind as quickly and effectively."
--Todd B. Kashdan, Ph.D., Associate Professor, George Mason University, author of Curious?
"Carefully explaining both the neurobiology and practice of happiness Dr. Hanson writes simply enough that anyone can use this book as a primary resource to bring more joy and less stress into their lives."
--Frederic Luskin, Ph.D., Director of Stanford Forgiveness Projects, author of Forgive for Good
"Just as a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a life filled with joy and contentment is created "a dozen seconds at a time," as Rick Hanson shows us in this game-changing book. Hardwiring Happiness is an essential guide to finding peace and joy in our busy modern world--happiness that is not dependent on external or material conditions, but that is an essential part of who we are, no matter where we are or what we have. I can't stop thinking about the implications of this book."
--Christine Carter, Ph.D., former Director of the Greater Good Science Center, University of California, Berkeley, author of Raising Happiness
"Dr. Hanson provides an exceptionally clear and compelling explanation as to why we tend to focus on what's wrong far more than what's right. If you want to shape your own brain for the better and make feeling good a reflex, get this book and absorb its wisdom!"
--Michael D. Yapko, Ph.D., author of Mindfulness and Hypnosis and Depression is Contagious
"This deeply intelligent, beautifully written book weaves current neuroscience together with ancient and contemporary wisdom, and then translates these brilliantly into deceptively simple yet highly effective practices that really make a big difference – I know because I’ve done them."
--Anat Baniel, author of Move Into Life and Kids Beyond Limits
"Hardwiring Happiness demonstrates powerfully how a series of small steps brings about big changes."
--Phillip Moffitt, author of Emotional Chaos to Clarity and Dancing with Life
"The author weaves together the rigor of science, the beauty of art, the wisdom of reflection, and decades of clinical experience to offer us one of the most exceptional books on how to cultivate greater happiness and well being in our lives."
--Shauna L. Shapiro, Ph.D., professor, Santa Clara University, co-author of The Art and Science of Mindfulness
"In Hardwiring Happiness, Dr. Rick Hanson has given us an instruction manual for creating new brain patterns. This ability, once mastered, can change your life. And he does it all with a gentle humor and kindness that shines throughout the book."
--Bill O'Hanlon, Diplomate of the American Psychotherapy Association, author of The Change Your Life Book and Do One Thing Different
"This book is a gem. I recommend keeping it on your bedside table and making it the first thing you read each day".
--Cassandra Vieten, Ph.D., President, Institute of Noetic Sciences, coauthor of Living Deeply
"Dr. Hanson clearly and elegantly teaches practices and perspectives that change our lives by changing our brains. If you want a primer for true happiness, this is it."
--Andrew Dreitcer, PhD, Associate Professor, Claremont Lincoln University, coauthor of Beyond the Ordinary
"In this book, the insights of neuroscience become clear, practical, and profoundly transformative. Rick Hanson is the one expert in this realm that I've come to trust completely, and following his guidance is “taking in the good” indeed."
--Raphael Cushnir, author of The One Thing Holding You Back
"Hardwiring Happiness is a masterful wow, guiding readers to skillfully take charge of rewiring their brains. The benefits will be immediate, the well-being long-lasting, and the process life-changing."
--Linda Graham, MFT, author of Bouncing Back
"With the compassion and gentleness of a good friend and the rigor and precision of an engineer, Rick Hanson gives you the key takeaways from neuroscience that will enable you rewire your brain for a more joyful life.
--Terry Patten, author of Integral Life Practice
"I can’t help but fall in love with this book, it is so powerful in its elegant simplicity. Hardwiring Happiness opens us up to the small choices that are all around us to live a happy, fulfilled and resilient life.
--Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D., author of The Now Effect and A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook
"Unique in the growing field of neuroscience, Rick Hanson not only explains how the brain works, he gives us the tools to fix it. This book is a toolbox for transformation.
--Wes Nisker, author of Buddha's Nature
"Rick Hanson takes the technical and complicated and makes it simple, even ordinary. In Hardwiring Happiness, he has created an accessible, practical, and user-friendly guide that will help readers enhance their sense of well-being while also interrupting their habitual patterns of suffering.
--Karen Kissel Wegela, Ph.D., Professor, Naropa University, author of Contemplative Psychotherapy Essentials (coming from W.W. Norton in 2014)
"In this beautifully written book, Dr. Hanson walks us through the principles and practices that lead to transformation. He has an uncanny capacity to find the gems in dry, complex scientific research and combine them with his wisdom, wit, knowledge, and compassion. In Hardwiring Happiness, this results in profound, life changing lessons for us all."
--Daniel Ellenberg, Ph.D., co-author of Lovers For Life
"A fascinating exploration of the new science of happiness and how we can learn to shape our own brains."
--Roman Krznaric, Ph.D., author of The Wonderbox
"Hardwiring Happiness is a clear, easy-to-understand, fun and profound roadmap to genuine happiness. If you do the practices, they can change your life. Take in all the good this terrific book has to offer."
--James Baraz, author of Awakening Joy
An awesome set of instructions for upgrading the mental operating system!
Vincent Horn, founder of Buddhist Geeks
This book not only explains how to develop essential qualities of peace, satisfaction and connection - but also a sense of hopefulness that we can radically affect our reality and our well being.
Mark Coleman, author of Awake in the Wild
Hardwiring Happiness is fantastic--offering us an evolutionary perspective on our brain's built-in negativity bias, and then giving us practical tools for dealing with it. Brilliant.
Brian Johnson, CEO of en*theos
Here's what I love about Rick Hanson's book: it's practical, it's based on science, and it's full of wisdom. Best of all, it actually works.
Geneen Roth, author of Women Food and God and Lost and Found
Going through school, I was a year or two younger than the other kids in my grade, a shy, skinny, nerdy boy with glasses. Nothing awful happened to me, but it felt like I was watching everyone else through a wall of glass. An outsider, ignored, unwanted, put down. My troubles were small compared to those of many other people. But we all have natural needs to feel seen and valued, especially as children. When these needs aren't met, it's like living on a thin soup. You'll survive, but you won't feel fully nourished. For me, it felt like there was an empty place inside, a hole in my heart.
But while I was in college I stumbled on something that seemed remarkable then, and still seems remarkable to me now. Some small thing would be happening. It could be a few guys saying, "Come on, let's go get pizza," or a young woman smiling at me. Not a big deal. But I found that if I let the good fact become a good experience, not just an idea, and then stayed with it for at least a few breaths, not brushing it off or moving on fast to something else, it felt like something good was sinking into me, becoming a part of me. In effect, I was taking in the good--a dozen seconds at a time. It was quick, easy, and enjoyable. And I started feeling better.
In the beginning the hole in my heart seemed as big as an empty swimming pool. But taking in a few experiences each day of being included, appreciated, or cared about felt like tossing a few buckets of water into the pool. Day after day, bucket after bucket, month after month, I was gradually filling that hole in my heart. This practice lifted my mood and made me feel increasingly at ease, cheerful, and confident.
Many years later, after becoming a psychologist, I learned why doing this seemingly small practice had made such a large difference for me. I'd been weaving inner strengths into the fabric of my brain, my mind, and my life--which is what I mean by "hardwiring happiness."
I've hiked a lot and have often had to depend on what was in my pack. Inner strengths are the supplies you've got in your pack as you make your way down the twisting and often hard road of life. They include a positive mood, common sense, integrity, inner peace, determination, and a warm heart. Researchers have identified other strengths as well, such as self-compassion, secure attachment, emotional intelligence, learned optimism, the relaxation response, self-esteem, distress tolerance, self-regulation, resilience, and executive functions. I'm using the word strength broadly to include positive feelings such as calm, contentment, and caring, as well as skills, useful perspectives and inclinations, and embodied qualities such as vitality or relaxation. Unlike fleeting mental states, inner strengths are stable traits, an enduring source of well-being, wise and effective action, and contributions to others.
The idea of inner strengths might seem abstract at first. Let's bring it down to earth with some concrete examples. The alarm goes off and you'd rather snooze--so you find the will to get up. Let's say you have kids and they're squabbling and it's frustrating--so instead of yelling, you get in touch with that place inside that's firm but not angry. You're embarrassed about making a mistake at work--so you call up a sense of worth from past accomplishments. You get stressed racing around--so you find some welcome calm in several long exhalations. You feel sad about not having a partner--so you find some comfort in thinking about the friends you do have. Throughout your day, other inner strengths are operating automatically in the back of your mind, such as a sense of perspective, faith, or self-awareness.
A well-known idea in medicine and psychology is that how you feel and act--both over the course of your life and in specific relationships and situations--is determined by three factors: the challenges you face, the vulnerabilities these challenges grind on, and the strengths you have for meeting your challenges and protecting your vulnerabilities. For example, the challenge of a critical boss would be intensified by a person's vulnerability to anxiety, but he or she could cope by calling on inner strengths of self-soothing and feeling respected by others.
We all have vulnerabilities. Personally, I wish it were not so easy for me to become worried and self-critical. And life has no end of challenges, from minor hassles like dropped cell phone calls to old age, disease, and death. You need strengths to deal with challenges and vulnerabilities, and as either or both of these grow, so must your strengths to match them. If you want to feel less stressed, anxious, frustrated, irritable, depressed, -disappointed, lonely, guilty, hurt, or inadequate, having more inner strengths will help you.
Inner strengths are fundamental to a happy, productive, and loving life. For example, research on just one strength, positive emotions, shows that these reduce reactivity and stress, help heal psychological wounds, and improve resilience, well-being, and life satisfaction. Positive emotions encourage the pursuit of opportunities, create positive cycles, and promote success. They also strengthen your immune system, protect your heart, and foster a healthier and longer life.
On average, about a third of a person's strengths are innate, built into his or her genetically based temperament, talents, mood, and personality. The other two-thirds are developed over time. You get them by growing them. To me this is wonderful news, since it means that we can develop the happiness and other inner strengths that foster fulfillment, love, effectiveness, wisdom, and inner peace. Finding out how to grow these strengths inside you could be the most important thing you ever learn. That's what this book is all about.
In the Garden
Imagine that your mind is like a garden. You could simply be with it, looking at its weeds and flowers without judging or changing anything. Second, you could pull weeds by decreasing what's negative in your mind. Third, you could grow flowers by increasing the positive in your mind. (See the box on page 7 for what I mean by positive and negative.) In essence, you can manage your mind in three primary ways: let be, let go, let in. This book is about the third one, the cultivation of inner strengths: growing flowers in the garden of the mind. To help you do this most effectively, I'd like to relate it to the other two ways to approach your mind.
WHAT IS POSITIVE?
By positive and good, I mean what leads to happiness and benefit for oneself and others. Negative and bad mean what leads to suffering and harm. I'm being pragmatic here, not moralistic or religious.
Positive experiences usually feel good. But some experiences that feel bad have good results, so I'll refer to them as positive. For example, the pain of a hand on a hot stove, the anxiety at not finding your child at a park, and the remorse that helps us take the high road make us feel bad now to help us feel better later.
Similarly, negative experiences usually feel bad. But some experiences that feel good have bad results, and I'll call these negative. The buzz from three beers or the vengeance in gossiping about someone who wronged you may feel momentarily pleasurable, but the costs outweigh the benefits. Experiences like these make us feel good now but worse later.
Being with Your Mind
Letting your mind be, simply observing your experience, gives you relief and perspective, like stepping out of a movie screen and watching from twenty rows back. Letting the stream of consciousness run on its own helps you stop chasing what's pleasant and struggling with what's unpleasant. You can explore your experience with interest and (hopefully) kindness toward yourself, and perhaps connect with softer, more vulnerable, and possibly younger layers in your mind. In the light of an accepting, nonreactive awareness, your negative thoughts and feelings can sometimes melt away like morning mists on a sunny day.
Working with Your Mind
But just being with your mind is not enough. You also need to work with it, making wise efforts, pulling weeds and growing flowers. Merely witnessing stress, worries, irritability, or a blue mood will not necessarily uproot any of these. As we'll see in the next chapter, the brain evolved to learn all too well from negative experiences, and it stores them in long-lasting neural structures. Nor does being with your mind by itself grow gratitude, enthusiasm, honesty, creativity, or many other inner strengths. These mental qualities are based on underlying neural structures that don't spring into being on their own. Further, to be with your mind fully, you've got to work with it to grow inner strengths such as calm and insight that enable you to feel all your feelings and face your inner shadows even when it's hard. Otherwise, opening to your experience can feel like opening a trapdoor to Hell.
Whether you are letting be, letting go, or letting in, be mindful, which simply means staying present moment by moment. Mindfulness itself only witnesses, but alongside that witnessing could be active, goal-directed efforts to nudge your mind one way or another. Working with your mind is not at odds with mindfulness. In fact, you need to work with your mind to build up the inner strength of mindfulness.
Be mindful of both your outer world and your inner one, both the facts around you and how you feel about them. Mindfulness is not just self-awareness. While rock climbing, I've been extremely mindful of my partner belaying me and looking out for me far below!
A Natural Sequence
When something difficult or uncomfortable happens--when a storm comes to your garden--the three ways to engage your mind give you a very useful, step-by-step sequence. First, be with your experience. Observe it and accept it for what it is even if it's painful. Second, when it feels right--which could be a matter of seconds with a familiar worry or a matter of months or years with the loss of a loved one--begin letting go of whatever is negative. For example, relax your body to reduce tension. Third, again when it feels right, after you've released some or all of what was negative, replace it with something positive. For instance, you could remember what it's like to be with someone who appreciates you, and then stay with this experience for ten or twenty seconds. Besides feeling good in the moment, this third step will have lasting benefits, for when you take in positive experiences, you are not only growing flowers in your mind. You are growing new neural circuits in your brain. You are hardwiring happiness.
The brain is the organ that learns, so it is designed to be changed by your experiences. It still amazes me but it's true: Whatever we repeatedly sense and feel and want and think is slowly but surely sculpting neural structure. As you read this, in the five cups of tofu-like tissue inside your head, nested amid a trillion -support cells, 80 to 100 billion neurons are signaling one another in a network with about half a quadrillion connections, called synapses. All this incredibly fast, complex, and dynamic neural activity is continually changing your brain. Active synapses become more sensitive, new synapses start growing within minutes, busy regions get more blood since they need more oxygen and glucose to do their work, and genes inside neurons turn on or off. Meanwhile, less active connections wither away in a process sometimes called neural Darwinism: the survival of the busiest.
All mental activity--sights and sounds, thoughts and feelings, conscious and unconscious processes--is based on underlying neural activity. Much mental and therefore neural activity flows through the brain like ripples on a river, with no lasting effects on its channel. But intense, prolonged, or repeated mental/neural activity--especially if it is conscious--will leave an enduring imprint in neural structure, like a surging current reshaping a riverbed. As they say in neuroscience: Neurons that fire together wire together. Mental states become neural traits. Day after day, your mind is building your brain.
This is what scientists call experience-dependent neuroplasticity, which is a hot area of research these days. For example, London taxi drivers memorizing the city's spaghetti snarl of streets have thickened neural layers in their hippocampus, the region that helps make visual-spatial memories; as if they were building a muscle, these drivers worked a part of their brain and grew new tissue there. Moving from the cab to the cushion, mindfulness meditators have increased gray matter--which means a thicker cortex--in three key regions: prefrontal areas behind the forehead that control attention; the insula, which we use for tuning into ourselves and others; and the hippocampus. Your experiences don't just grow new synapses, remarkable as that is by itself, but also somehow reach down into your genes--into little strips of atoms in the twisted molecules of DNA inside the nuclei of neurons--and change how they operate. For instance, if you routinely practice relaxation, this will increase the activity of genes that calm down stress reactions, making you more resilient.
Changing the Brain for the Better
If you step back from the details of these studies, one simple truth stands out: Your experiences matter. Not just for how they feel in the moment but for the lasting traces they leave in your brain. Your experiences of happiness, worry, love, and anxiety can make real changes in your neural networks. The structure-building processes of the nervous system are turbocharged by conscious experience, and especially by what's in the foreground of your awareness. Your attention is like a combination spotlight and vacuum cleaner: It highlights what it lands on and then sucks it into your brain--for better or worse.
There's a traditional saying that the mind takes its shape from what it rests upon. Based on what we've learned about experience-dependent neuroplasticity, a modern version would be to say that the brain takes its shape from what the mind rests upon. If you keep resting your mind on self-criticism, worries, grumbling about others, hurts, and stress, then your brain will be shaped into greater reactivity, vulnerability to anxiety and depressed mood, a narrow focus on threats and losses, and inclinations toward anger, sadness, and guilt. On the other hand, if you keep resting your mind on good events and conditions (someone was nice to you, there's a roof over your head), pleasant feelings, the things you do get done, physical pleasures, and your good intentions and qualities, then over time your brain will take a different shape, one with strength and resilience hardwired into it, as well as a realistically optimistic outlook, a positive mood, and a sense of worth. Looking back over the past week or so, where has your mind been mainly resting?