Hardwiring Happiness

When I was a child we played a board game called “The Game of Life.”  Some of you may remember it.  The game consisted of moving little cars around a board and acquiring a spouse, children and various possessions.  You won when you reached the finish line after acquiring all the necessary ingredients to happiness.  The implicit lesson was that with luck and perseverance we could all reach that end goal of happiness – and once there – well, you’re there.  You live happily ever after.  What a cruel illusion.

So often I sit with clients with tears softly trickling down their cheeks and hear the despair in their hearts as they wonder, “Why aren’t I happy?  What am I doing wrong?  When will I finally be happy?”  Like so many of us they absorbed that lesson that happiness is a goal to be pursued, and if we work hard enough at it we will reach the finish line and be HAPPY.

The problem with understanding happiness as a goal is that we then judge ourselves as inadequate, or blame others, if we are not happy.  What I have come to know is that happiness is an emotion like all others, and like all emotions it comes and goes.  “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.”  The lesson I have learned is that when happiness does show up in our lives, the challenge is to notice it and cherish it, and know that this too shall pass.  Just as sadness, anger, fear and anxiety come and go like the waves on a beach, so too do happiness and joy.  And when we are blessed to be washed in a wave of delight then all we can do is to let the joy bubble up in us, and celebrate it for all it is worth.  For all waves recede.

I have been following Rick Hanson’s blog journal:  Just One Thing (JOT) for some time now.  Dr. Hanson guides the reader gently towards practices to center our souls.  I always feel calm and at peace after reading one of his newsletters, so I often save them up for moments when I need some centering.  So it was with great delight that I read that he had published a book called “Hardwiring Happiness.”  It did not disappoint.  Integrating the new wisdom of neuropsychology with the ancient wisdom of mindfulness, Dr. Hanson explains the brain’s “negativity bias” and explores a variety of ways to notice, hold onto, and amplify the small moments of joy that come our way. He talks about how we can grow the good in such a way to actually change the neural structure of the brain – ultimately enhancing our ability to experience feelings of calmness, contentment, confidence and joy.

We cannot be happy all the time.  But we can learn to rest in moments of peace, contentment and joy.

“be happy for this moment. this moment is your life.”  Omar Khayyam

Posted by Laura

Laura Marshall, LCSW, is the founder and director of the Sagebrush Center for Relationship Therapy. Her experience spans thirty years of supporting couples and individuals to create healthy and meaningful lives and relationships. She is also adjunct faculty for the New Mexico Highlands School of Social Work. She lives with her husband Steve and five sons in Farmington, New Mexico.

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