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Inclining the Mind to Joy

David Schouela

In the article, Seven Fact about the Brain that Incline the Mind to Joy , author Rick Hanson points out that the brain naturally emphasizes negative experiences. The term survival of the fittest means that those who successfully passed on their genes over millennia paid a lot of attention to negative experiences. Constantly on the alert, our ancestors were quick to freeze or bolt or attack depending on the situation thereby ensuring their survival.

Rick states that "the brain’s circuitry for the positive is like Teflon whereas negative experiences are like Velcro even though most of our experiences are either neutral or positive". When you look back at your day, does your mind tend to focus on all of the good things that happened during the day or the one bad thing that happened? I know that my mind tends to revert to the latter.

There are many things we can do to counteract the brain’s built-in negativity bias. Developing the habit of seeing the good takes willful intention and practice. Lately I have been keeping a daily gratitude journal. At the end of the day, I write down five things that I am most grateful for in my life – my family, my good health, all the snow we have been getting lately which means that I get to go snowshoeing over the Xmas holidays etc …

In a study conducted by Robert Emmons, PHD, author of the book Thanks! , participants were asked to keep journals every day for two weeks. “People who kept a gratitude journal reported feeling more joyful, enthusiastic, interested, attentive, energetic, determined and strong than those in the hassle group. They also offered more emotional support and help to others”. Emmons also found that practicing gratitude “improves physical health, raises energy levels and, for patients with neuromuscular disease, relieves pain and fatigue.” For more on the healing benefits of gratitude see the article in Greater Good magazine .


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