- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Harmony (October 8, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780385347310
- ISBN-13: 978-0385347310
- ASIN: 0385347316
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 373 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #226,048 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence Hardcover – October 8, 2013
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Q&A with Rick Hanson
Q. What does it mean to “hardwire happiness,” and why is it important?
A. Whether we are happy or sad, loving or angry, or wise or foolish depends on what’s inside the brain. Bringing good things into your brain is the key to well-being and effectiveness, psychological healing, creativity, and spiritual practice.
So, how do you get good things—such as resilience, self-worth, or love—into your brain? These inner strengths are grown mainly from positive experiences. Unfortunately, to help our ancestors survive, the brain evolved a negativity bias that makes it less adept at learning from positive experiences but efficient at learning from negative ones. In effect, it’s like Velcro for the bad but Teflon for the good.
This built-in negativity bias makes us extra stressed, worried, irritated, and blue. Plus it creates a kind of bottleneck in the brain that makes it hard to gain any lasting value from our experiences, which is disheartening and the central weakness in personal development, mindfulness training, and psychotherapy.
To solve this problem, I developed the four HEAL steps of taking in the good: Have a positive experience; Enrich it; Absorb it; and if you like, Link it to negative thoughts and feelings to soothe and eventually replace them.
Q. Is it really possible to overcome this Stone Age negativity bias? How much time does it take?
A. Your brain is constantly changing its structure based on what you think and feel; scientists call this “experience-dependent neuroplasticity.” When you take in the good, you take charge of this structure-building process.
Hardwiring happiness is not mere positive thinking, which is usually wasted on the brain. It’s about transforming fleeting experiences into lasting improvements in your neural net worth. It usually takes less than half a minute. Any single time you do this won’t change your life. But half a dozen times a day, day after day, you really can gradually change your brain from the inside out.
Q. What could I get out of doing this?
A. Besides building up specific inner strengths such as determination or feeling cared about, taking in the good has additional, general benefits. It’s a way to be active rather than passive—a hammer rather than a nail—at a time when people feel pushed and prodded by events and their reactions to them, a way to build oneself up when the world is wearing you down. When you take in the good, you treat yourself like you matter, which is especially important if you haven’t mattered enough to others. And over time, you could sensitize your brain to positive experiences, so it becomes more efficient at learning from them: making it like Velcro for good.
This is the good that lasts. Many little moments add up to big results over time.
Q. Some researchers believe that there is a happiness set point; do you agree?
A. This was the idea that people tend to return to their baseline after a big positive or negative experience—which was used sometimes to argue that there is no point in trying to become happier since we’ll just sink back into our old ways.
More recent research has shown that many people do gradually lift their happiness set point over time. But we have to earn this happiness. We have to do the work . . . which, in terms of taking in the good, is pretty enjoyable!
Q. Is taking in the good just another way to chase after positive experiences?
A. By incorporating these positive experiences into your brain—by building up the sense of being already happy, loved, and peaceful—you won’t have to seek out those feelings outside yourself. Your well-being will become increasingly unconditional, less dependent on external conditions like a partner being nice or having a good day at work. Experiencing that your deep needs are basically met, there’s no basis for the craving and clinging that lead to suffering and harm for yourself and others.
This practice (both the most pleasurable and the most powerful way to defeat the negativity bias and to build up inner strengths) brings you home—home to a comfortable intimacy with your own experience, to a confident openness to life, and to a sense of competence, even mastery, with your own mind.
"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
"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
"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
"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 of Making Marriage Simple
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In simple terms, being a little jumpy and fearful had survival value for our ancestors for millions of years. So now, even though no predators roam the range and we're not likely to be bludgeoned by a neighboring tribe, we're the descendants of those nervous souls and our brains still have "Velcro for negativity and Teflon for positivity." Which means that many of us are pointlessly jumpy and stressed.
So how do you switch this around so more of the positive sticks and more of the negative slides off? How do we take our brains from reactivity (stressful!) to responsivity (much better)?
Here Dr Hanson's book excels and may be the most practical manual of its genre. His central premise is that good stuff is happening all the time - e.g. you're breathing, heart's beating, sun's shining. All you have to do is take in more of the good. To help us take in the good, he's devised a 4-step protocol with the acronym HEAL:
1) Have a positive experience.
2) Enrich it.
3) Absorb it. Let it really sink in!
Now you practice this HEAL protocol on a regular basis, which can take less than a minute. The more you do this, the more you're training your brain to stay in the happy, responsive "green zone" all the time, even in stressful conditions.
If that were all I got out of the book, it would already be far more than my money's worth. And you, eagle-eyed reader, may have noticed that I haven't yet mentioned the 4th letter of the HEAL acronym:
4) Link positive and negative material.
This step allows you to overwrite and/or *erase* negative experiences with positive ones ("pulling weeds with flowers", in Hanson's poetic terms). This is an extraordinary feat of mental jiu-jitsu: to heal the mind using the mind. What's even more extraordinary is that anyone can do it. I've used it in my own practice, both for myself and patients, and it works nicely. Dr Hanson's simple, step-by-step protocol to pull the weeds from your own mental garden is easy to use and quite effective.
Some of the other things that I appreciate about this book:
-- The organization is clear and coherent - first the Why, then the How - making the material easy to absorb.
-- Dr Hanson is a trained neuropsychologist with 30 years of practice. This means that what he's teaching you works on real people like you and me.
-- Not only does Hanson have thorough command of the science, but he's also a master of explaining complexity in terms everyone can understand and implement.
-- Real-life anecdotes from patients illustrate some of the techniques. I'll always remember the one about writing positive experiences on strips of colored paper and turning those into a chain that grows every day.
-- The book has an actual recipe for getting yourself to practice the piano more. I'm hoping it's translatable to other tasks productive if not wholly pleasant.
-- A big bonus towards the end called the "21 Jewels": "a collection of practices for growing key strengths inside yourself," oriented around the three basic needs of safety, satisfaction and connection. Hanson leads you through a HEAL-based meditation for each one. Top 5: refuge, peace, enthusiasm, love, and feeling like a good person.
Ultimately, this is a manual for healing yourself and your family. Using the procedures laid out in this book, you can solve problems that may have seemed insurmountable for years: mediocre mood, poor relations, stress, guilt, self-criticism. If it saves you even half of a session with a shrink, it's worth the twenty bucks you plunk down for it.
I met Dr Hanson at one his talks here in the Bay Area, and find him to be a competent and compassionate healer and teacher. If you wish to turn up the color of joy in your life for the long term, you would do well to read his book.
-- Ali Binazir MD, Happiness Engineer and author of The Tao of Dating: The Smart Woman's Guide to Being Absolutely Irresistible, the highest-rated dating book on Amazon for 157 weeks