The material is based on universal, nondenominational principles that draw on both Buddhist philosophy and on contemporary neuroscientific studies that show we can deliberately incline our minds toward greater happiness. The seven suggestions that follow will give you a glimpse of his joyful prescription and help you understand how to put it to work in your own life.
1. Imagine Happiness
Any activity, when performed repetitively, changes the structure of the brain. But even repeatedly imagining an activity has an impact on neural structure. Researchers at Harvard Medical School demonstrated this with an experiment where they asked one group to play a five-finger exercise on the piano over the course of a week. A comparison group was asked to merely imagine moving their fingers to play the same exercise. Though actively playing the exercise had a greater impact on brain structure than imagining it, by the end of the week, the same region of the brain in both groups had been significantly affected.
Each day, deliberately imagine yourself happy. Picture yourself in a situation with people you really like, or engaged in an activity that gives you a lot of pleasure. By actively imagining feelings of happiness or recalling happy experiences, you can help to encourage changes in your brain that will predispose you to creating more real-life joy in your daily experiences.
2. Memorize Happiness in Your Body
Even though the brain is strongly inclined to notice and retain negative experiences over positive ones (that’s our protective survival instinct at work), you can help level the playing field by strengthening your neurological happiness circuits. Whenever you’re experiencing a moment of joy or contentment — walking, listening to music, being kind, feeling grateful — don’t miss it! Pause to notice the feelings in your body and the state of your mind. Do you feel warmth in your chest? Does your mind feel light and open?
Now consciously intensify that sensation. Some psychologists call this “memorizing” the feeling. Either way, you are causing the same neural circuits to fire repeatedly, thereby strengthening them. Psychologist Rick Hanson calls this “taking in the good.”
“As with any positive state of mind,” Hanson says, “if you can develop a strong ‘sense memory’ of the experience, you can reactivate it deliberately when you want to.”