Humans needed to survive in harsh conditions since our earliest cave dwelling days. As a result, our brains got very good at sensing danger. If we had a traumatic event, or even a close call, we had to learn from one experience to avoid those situations and any that looked like them in the future. A great survival skill, not so great for living anxiety free day to day. To counteract that natural predisposition and create new neural pathways of joy, try the following: Take 10 slow breaths whenever you are happy.
Contentment also counts as happiness, at least, according to the Buddha. Following his example, you don’t have to wait until you are completely blissed-out, everyday little joys are ripe for reinforcement. When you eat that first strawberry of the season, laugh out loud while reading a great book, notice the birds singing, watch children play, hear your favorite song, try something new and are surprised at how much you like it, get kissed or touched by a loved one, figure something out that eluded you, find yourself happy for no reason, or anything else that floats your boat, STOP and take 10 slow breaths while focusing on your happy feelings. You might even see if you can notice where in your body you sense them and breath into those spaces. For the fullest positive effect cultivate a feeling of gratitude.
Our brains are wired to remember dangerous, bad, or threatening situations. It’s called the negativity bias. That ship has sailed, it’s simply how we’re designed. Since neurons that fire together wire together, you can create new neural pathways through this practice. Not only will you feel better in the process, your amped up joy will strengthen your resistance to stress.
If you want a more physically oriented practice that helps you access good feelings when you are feeling depleted or down, try this yogic Breath of Joy:
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang