Soaking up little moments of joy in our lives seems like such a simple thing to do, and yet neuroscience is now proving that it has a profound effect on our wellbeing.
“Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind.” ~Ashley Smith
I love the October winds here where I live. Unlike the Northern Hemisphere, where they herald the onset of winter, our October wind is fresh and, hopefully, warm. Summer is just around the corner! After a winter spent struggling to dry clothes on the line between rain showers – here in New Zealand few people use a drier – drying clothes outdoors is a breeze again!
Just now I’ve been happily pegging. Sometimes this can be a chore but today it was a bliss moment. The sunlight on my back. The bird song. The smell of freshly mowed grass. The solidity of the earth beneath my feet. The sound of the washing flapping and billowing in the wind.
There is such joy in being utterly present and realising what an unbelievable honour it is to be alive. And what a miracle this moment is! I love these ordinary moments when it feels like the whole entire universe is showering me with love.
I just stand still and let it all soak in.
Neuroscience has a name for that thing that I do
In his book Buddha’s Brain neuroscientist Rick Hanson calls it “taking in the good”
Rick says that taking in the good aligns us to the everyday miracles that are all around us.He says that through this simple daily practice we build an inner resource of imagery and feelings that we can return to and tap into whenever the going gets challenging. As life tends to do as we grow older!
In Buddha’s Brain (an excellent book I highly recommend!) Rick suggests four ways we can take in the good.
The how-to of taking in the good
1. Actively look for good news
Judging by the media you’d think there wasn’t much good news around but of course we all know there is. And it’s the same in our daily lives.
Bad news things that happen to us, such as an unexpected health issue, get to be front page news in our mind and because of that we can miss the many little good news things that happen all day long; all those little everyday miracles like pegging the clothes on the line on a fresh spring day, or that unexpected act of kindness someone shows you, or the sunflower seed you planted that just pushed its little head through the soil.
No matter what is happening around you, celebrating the good news in your day is good for you, so get your good news goggles on! Trust me, even when life is really really challenging and you can barely keep up, there are still good news things everywhere!
So make a habit of actively looking for them and letting them fill you with joy!
2) Savour the good things
When good things do happen to you stay with them as long as you can – 5, 10 or even 20 seconds. Let all those special little moments of goodness and kindness and joy soak into you like water soaks into a sponge. If someone is good to you let the feeling of being cared for fill you up inside – warming your heart and soaking into every cell in your body.
Try to hold the warmth in your cells as long as you can. Work on making these good feelings part of you so you can draw on them and be comforted and uplifted by them later when you’re feeling blue, or overwhelmed and exhausted.
3) Put your full attention on what’s rewarding
If someone gives you a big teddy bear hug focus your attention on how rewarding it is; how gratifying and pleasurable it is and what you receive from it in the moment. How GOOD it feels! That will release increased levels of feel good chemicals which in turn means you can carry the experience inside you more easily and find it easier to keep revisiting it in your mind.
4) Actively look for beautiful things
Just as good things are everywhere so too is beauty. Make the choice to actively look for the beauty in every interaction and every moment of the day, however humble and mundane the task. Respond with every cell of your being to the wonder and beauty of it all.
What to do with all the good you’ve soaked up?
Rick suggests that when you’re feeling stressed you bring to mind one of those good things you’ve tucked away inside you. In my case it would be all those delicious feelings I experienced while pegging washing on the line on a warm spring day. Or perhaps the memory of walking on a secluded beach in my bare feet, paddling in the sparkling water and listening to the gulls overhead.
Apparently bringing this stored imagery to mind and keeping your attention on it for as long as you can manage activates the right hemisphere of the brain which in turn quiets internal verbal chatter that keeps you feeling stressed. So in a way all the good things you’ve tucked away inside you are like a sanctuary you’ve created for yourself – a healing place you can retreat to whenever the need arises.