Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist, long-time Buddhist dharma teacher, and best-selling author of “Buddha’s Brain,” writes about how “taking in the good” can change our brains. We have a built-in bias, he explains, to notice negative things more than we notice positive things. This inborn trait was useful back when our ancient ancestors lived in caves, when it was important to be able to quickly identify and remember threats such as hungry tigers and poisonous plants. Now, though, devoting so much of our attention to negative events doesn’t serve us. It only makes us feel bad.
You can counteract the negativity bias by consciously focusing on good events. This will not only make you feel better in the moment, but it can actually change the structure of your brain, making it easier to feel good in the future. The more you let the good events soak into your awareness, the greater the positive changes will be in your brain.
An easy and pleasurable way to carry out this practice is by noticing some of the small good things that happen every day that you may take for granted. Become aware of these events, and really take them in.
When someone smiles at you, for example, whether it’s a friend, family member, or complete stranger, notice how the smile makes you feel. Is there any sensation in the area of your heart? Is your own mouth spontaneously forming a smile of its own? Stay with the awareness for at least 30 seconds if you can.
Small good events are everywhere — the pattern that sunlight casts on a wall, a song on the car radio that reminds you of an old friend, the way the wind feels in your hair. All you have to do is tune in to this abundance of good things that already exist all around you.