Hardwiring Happiness by Rick Hanson: Making Lasting Changes in Therapy

In his latest book, Hardwiring Happiness, Rick Hanson discusses how the brain is biased negatively and is relatively poor at learning from good experiences. He emphasizes that therapy can help with not only activating beneficial states, thoughts, sensations, emotions, etc. — but also with installing them as consistent traits. He has created a simple four step process called HEAL to actively practice taking in the good:

  • Have a positive experience
  • Enrich it
  • Absorb it
  • Link it to negative thoughts & feelings to soothe and eventually replace them

The idea is to stop and take the time (just 5, 10 or 20 seconds) to let the experience really land. So it need not be an enormously time-consuming practice. Rather in each instance one chooses to take this time to focus on experiencing the positive, the encoding process in the brain increasingly turns the useful experience into a reliable neural structure. Thus practicing consistently, while for short periods of time, helps to grow important inner strengths, such as resilience, empathy, secure attachment, insight and confidence.

With each of the principal therapeutic modalities that I practice (Hakomi, EMDR, and The Work of Byron Katie), there are aspects of the technique in which we practice the principals that Rick Hanson is espousing in his HEAL process. In Hakomi, this might show up in the transformation, integration and completion parts of a particular exploration. In EMDR, we might take in the positive during a shift in the processing and/or during resourcing. With The Work of Byron Katie, this can appear at times after the third question in the inquiry (“Who or what are you without this thought?”) and/or during the turnaround section. It can also be done more informally, simply by bringing attention to a positive experience and slowing down to really appreciate it.

The emphasis on taking the time to develop and strengthen these positive experiences is key and I both promote this in my work as a therapist, as well as encouraging it as a self-directed practice!