Look For The Good And You’ll Find It

The dishwasher overflowed last night, you woke up to a kitchen floor full of suds and were late to work.

You found out two days ago that the mole on your Dad’s ear was malignant.

A monster typhoon slammed into the Philippines and left 10,000 dead.

It seems that everywhere you turn these days there’s more than enough stress, chaos, and bad news. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, anxious, and just flat-out disgusted with it all.

How in the heck do you find the good, happiness, and joy in the midst of so much bad?  

You have to look for it, notice it, and take it in.  That’s how.

Noticing The Good 

In his book, Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence, Rick Hanson explains that our brains don’t automatically recognize the good for two reasons.  First, there isn’t a stimulus to catch your attention usually in something good.  There’s no threat, no fear, nothing to make your brain take notice.  Your brain doesn’t automatically note all the bad things that didn’t happen. 

Second, through a process called habituation, your brain filters out the run-of-the-mill happenings that don’t change every day whether it’s the refrigerator’s constant hum or, thankfully, the routine absence of major disasters in our daily lives.

While habituation is an efficient use of your brain’s neural resources, it causes a lot of the good that’s around us all the time to simply go unnoticed. According to Hanson, to counteract the brains’ natural tendency, we have to look for, put emphasis on, and create good experiences.  To do this, you have to become aware of what good is present in your life and make the thought an embodied experience accompanied by good feelings, sensations, desires, and actions.

Hanson’s not talking about making anything up here.  He only asks that we see what’s true and already right there in front of our eyes. It’s a shift in perspective.  Noticing the good doesn’t mean denying the bad realities.  It means choosing to focus your attention on anything that could yield a positive experience.

hardwiring-happiness-cover-198x300Hanson writes:

Often we see a good fact but don’t have any feelings about it.  This seemingly small step – from idea to embodied experience – is critically important, for without it, there’s not much to install in your brain.  In terms of building neural structure, what matters is not the event or circumstance or condition itself but your experience of it.  

How to Take in the Good

So how, exactly, do you do this?  

You take in the good by noticing a positive that’s already present in your life or creating one.  He suggests finding good facts in your current setting, recent events, ongoing conditions, personal qualities, the past, and the lives of others.

  • You’re alive.  
  • You ate today.  
  • The sun is out.
  •  That trip to the beach last summer was awesome.  
  • You exercised yesterday.
  • You have always been a hard worker. 
  • You’re smart.
  • You earned a college degree and nabbed that award at work last year.
  • Your cousin just had a healthy baby boy.  

These seemingly small, but good things can be turned into embodied experiences by tuning into your body and allowing yourself to really feel the positive emotions and sensations accompanying the thoughts.  It’s important to follow through on any positive actions that might occur to you, like writing a note or making a phone call.

Good facts are all around you every moment of every day.   Even “bad” facts often contain seeds for good experiences.  You have to intentionally look for the good in the bad. 

  • What lessons did you learn?  
  • Are you stronger for having had the experience?
  • What did you gain?

Sometimes, it’s impossible to find good or create a good experience. You might be in terrible pain, have suffered a tremendous loss, be buried in depression or in a panic. That’s OK.  That’s being human.  With compassion for yourself, accept where you are, ride out the storm, and look for the good when you can come up for air.

Finding the Good in My Life

After a suicide attempt years ago, I was left seriously brain injured and lost custody of my two sons who moved to a different state with their father.  As part of my emotional recovery in the years that followed, I had to consciously look for the good around me because there wasn’t much readily apparent anymore.  

At times, I had to get out the magnifying glass, but good was always still there.  I just had to notice it.  The sun warming my cheeks as I walked the dog on a chilly morning; the silkiness of the cat’s fur as I scratched her rumbling chin with her curled up on my lap; a really good tune playing on my iPod were the smallest of joys, but joys nonetheless.

Noticing the good has become an invaluable staple in my mental health toolbox. It’s a choice, costs nothing, and anyone can do it anywhere at any time. With practice, making a conscious effort to notice the good and internalizing it becomes a habit making it easier to activate and maintain a positive state of mind even in the midst of chaos or upsetting events.  Over time and through neuroplasticity, the practice actually changes the neuronal structure of your brain hardwiring it for happiness.

Look for the good, and you’ll find it. Promise.

Image:  http://unsplash.com/post/75619000057/download-by-coley-christine-catalano

25 Comments

  1. It’s true that if you look hard enough, and you can discover both good and bad in almost anyone and anything. But it’s equally true that clear thinking is hard to achieve when one is depressed. Granted in some cases of depression therapeutic intervention may be necessary. But I am unable to take pharmaceutical drugs due to allergic responses so I have to rely on keeping my physical health and mental health in balance through alternative means. I too will place this book on my reading list.

    I have learned how to look for the good. It’s the seeds of goodness that we plant and cultivate that gives rise to the sprout of hope and it’s hopefulness that leads to optimism to blossom. As hope is ‘confident expectation in a change in direction’ and as all things change, it’s important not to give up looking for goodness and hoping for better times to come.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I know that, after my suicide attempt, this practice of looking for the good was a life line I clung to every day. Otherwise, life was too dark. I do believe in optimism, with healthy dose of realism mixed in because hopeful expectations can be the cause of pain and suffering. (The Dark Side Of Hope https://thebestbrainpossible.com/the-dark-side-of-hope) It’s a fine line that everyone has to find for themselves in each situation between hoping and accepting. Sounds like you have found your balance. It’s a choice we have to make every day. All the best to you.

    • helena mallett Reply

      I’m the same time thief i can’t take medication because of allergic responses which makes depressive episodes pretty difficult. I do list 3-7 things each day which have been good though however small. I’ll take a look a this book – it might make good Christmas presents…

      • Helena, I applaud your efforts to change your depression by changing your thoughts and brain. This book is a must!

  2. Sounds like a good read. I’m really busy right now getting re-certified, but I’ll put it on the list.

    The habit I practice along the lines of Hansen’s and your advice is to allow time to inwardly, sincerely celebrate every instance of progress, no matter how small. I finished the grocery shopping AND dropped off the recycling. I’m a hero! I put out more birdseed. I’m providing for bird babies! I cleaned up Finnegan’s poop. I am such a responsible adult! WOO-HOO!

    You’re so right. We are surrounded by goodness.

    • Good to hear from you, Mikey. Glad to hear that you discovered this practice on your own. It may seem silly, but yes, sometimes, we have to highlight the joy present in cleaning up the dog poop! 🙂 It really works.

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  4. Judith M Hampton Reply

    Debbie, I applaud your sharing the insights in this book. I do remember being told after the death of a close relative that “if taking one day at a time” was too much, just focus on ‘taking one hour at a time.” That was awhile ago and many things have happened since, some good and some not so good. “Each day is a present,” as the saying goes, and looking for the good each morning is essential. Turning off the TV news, not reading the negative reports in the newspaper but instead delighting in the Cirque du Squirrel antics outside at the bird feeders and the colorful beauty of the blue birds and cardinals as they flit among the pansies and, as you do, delighting in the warmth of sunshine. There are ‘make your own sunshine” days when clouds overshadow and rain continues without cease, but a kind word brightens and warms the heart. Everyone faces their own struggles but each of us can make our days better with positive reactions to our world. JH

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  15. I love it thanks so much for the share!! please keep more like this with boosk recomendations and explantion of them thanks in regards

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  17. I wanted to say thank you for this. You are so very brave and lovely.
    I woke up in a funk today and I haven’t been able to shake it off. I’d put it down to a regular bad day, but given my mental health record, I just can’t help feeling alarmed that I might be falling into despair or absolute numbness again. You gave me hope and I appreciate it a lot.

    If you happen to read this, thank you for listening!

    Much love
    xx

    • I’m so glad that you found reading this helpful. Looking for the good in my life always works to cheer me up. And it’s always there– we just have to remember to look! 🙂

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