Rick Hanson PhD
May 19, 2014
The importance of taking in positive experiences
Today we don’t gather our own food, fight off wild animals, or live in caves. And yet we’re equipped with stone-aged brains. With practice, however, we can change our brains, and our lives, for the better. Here’s why it’s important to take in positive experiences:
- Negative experience is registered immediately: helps survival.
- Positive experiences generally have to be held in awareness for 5 – 10 – 20 seconds for them to register in emotional memory.
- Negative experiences trump positive ones: A single bad event with a dog is more memorable than a 1000 good times.
- Therefore, it is SO IMPORTANT to consciously, deliberately help the brain register positive experiences so they sink into the deepest layers of your mind. The benefits:
- Generally positive internal emotional landscape, atmosphere, climate.
- The fundamental foundation of self-soothing, emotional self-regulation, resilience.
- Positive expectations about oneself, others, and the future. This is the legitimate basis of “verified optimism.”
- It’s also the basis of true faith or confidence in your spiritual path.
- “Evoked others,” the sense of others inside who are nurturing, encouraging.
- In psychological terms, this is the mechanism of what’s understood as the internalization of positive resources.
- A crucial resource inside and pathway for healing from trauma.
- All this is about being in reality, not wearing rose-colored glasses:
- It’s about proportionality, about our sense of the world being consistent with the nature of the world. For example, if the “mosaic” of life is mainly good, shouldn’t our sense of living itself be mainly good?!
- It’s about learning from new positive experiences – having them make a difference. It’s about using new positive experiences to counterbalance old negative ones.
- From a spiritual perspective, you are helping yourself really sense and then register good experiences on the path, or that come with skillful practice (e.g., the sukha, or deep happiness of peaceful meditation). This has many benefits:
- Highlight the milestones along the way, so you can know what they feel like and find your way back to them.
- Build faith and confidence in the fruits of the path.
- Reward yourself for doing something that’s noble but not always easy, and thus support your ongoing motivation.
- More easily tap into the peace, contentment, and basic well-being that are the preconditions for deep states of concentration and insight.