Our brains are magical things.They are full of creativity and wonder. The material world we have created from sticks and stones and water is absolutely incredible.
The part of the brain I would like to take a little look at today has to do with memory. Yes, some of us have a better memory than others do. If you’re anything like me, I cannot remember names or dates but I remember everything else. One of my friends has a photographic fashion memory, she can remember every outfit you have ever worn and where you wore it. I have another friend who was a professional athlete for years and years and remembers almost nothing, except what is absolutely necessary.
According to Dr. Rick Hanson there are two main types of memories: explicit and implicit. The memory mentioned above, that of events that actually happened, what you’ve studied at school, hard information, concepts, this kind of memory is called explicit memory.It also has social value, these are the memories that PhD’s are made of.
The second type of memory, called implicit memory, is actually a lot more powerful because it makes us who we are, not just what we know. It is the experience of life, how we process feelings and relationships, it is our sentient stimuli that are processed and stored in our implicit memory. It is what gives us our instincts. It is also the type of experience that profoundly affects the plasticity of the brain.
In order to survive thousands and thousands of years ago, we needed this implicit memory to stay alive: there were many dangers all around us, and our brains developed a knack for remembering negative, dangerous experiences. As a result, our brains are really good and remembering negative happenings. But dwelling in negativity can be detrimental to your sense of happiness. So what if we could exercise our brains and increase our capacity to stay with positive experience- like a Joy Piggy Bank – that expands happiness, combats depression, and can change your brain in a very positive way?
One way to do this is to create space for positive experiences – consciously noticing the beauty in your day, really observing it, saturating your experience by looking at everything around you with appreciation. A small, pleasant interaction with a family member or co-worker that often goes unnoticed, if given deeper value can not only add the loveliest quality to your day, but also affect your brain. If you can revel in that good feeling, let it linger as long as possible, you can boost your bank many fold.
Another exercise for a happier brain asks you to recall moments in your life where you felt accomplished or were in a state of pure joy. Really recalling the detailed emotional state, with a clear image of what you saw, heard and felt in that moment – getting inside that state can instantly change your mood…holding that joyous feeling in your body for even 20 seconds can start to change the chemical structure of your brain. Dr Rick Hanson believes you can further enhance the effect of those positive experiences by imagining them being absorbed into your body, heart and brain, whatever imagery feels right to you.
I have tried all of these techniques; the hardest one for me is the recalling of joyful events. It is even harder for me to do so when I am in a negative state. But I have noticed that inviting beauty into my day really works. It has a bit of a snowball effect. Even when I do not like something at first, like the way someone talked to me or my critical brain spewed some petty negativity that it’s so good at, I will find something I like about the person in about 3 minutes. Another way to do this is to recall that first moment of vacation, like the moment you stepped onto the beach and heard the ocean waves breaking on the shore. I have a girlfriend that literally banks these for later use.
The invitation to look for the good and recall a beautiful experience has been accepted by my brain. The Joy Piggy Bank is filling up. And it is like a snowball rolling down a hill. It needs a little momentum and weight to get going but once it does…Cha-Ching!!!!
*Dr Rick Hansen has written many books and articles on Happiness. His book, Hardwiring Happiness, is a great read.
By Jessica Olson