One great thing about this year: making New Year's resolutions has never seemed less relevant. Is dropping five pounds even a thing now? And who doesn’t consider a little self-medication to be the new form of meditation? These days it’s more about regulating our nervous systems than being our best selves.
We can, however, reframe our circumstances in a way that empowers us to enjoy our lives completely -- and that changes our sense of agency over all the external, worldly circumstances. It’s really simple: let yourself be happy.
Happiness is always possible if we allow it in. Do you have a roof over your head and four walls to protect you from the elements? Is there fresh air to breathe and clean water to drink? Are there people who love you? Did you enjoy a nice cup of tea this morning? Noticing these things and appreciating the safety and pleasure they offer is giving yourself permission to drink in all the goodness of life. And that, friends, is the foundation for happiness.
The phrase “take in the good,” can feel like a tall order right now — there’s so much opportunity for stress and worry. Yet, according to author and psychologist Rick Hanson, this is the key to hardwiring our brains for unconditional happiness, regardless of our concerns.
Hanson, who wrote Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence says: “Your brain has a negativity bias that makes it like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones. This bias evolved to help ancient animals survive, but today it makes us feel needlessly frazzled, worried, irritated, lonely, inadequate, and blue. The good news is that in just a few seconds at a time in the flow of daily life, you can turn your experiences – the pleasure in a cup of coffee, the accomplishment in finishing a tricky email, the warmth from a friend’s smile – into lasting inner strengths built into your brain, such as resilience, balance, and positive emotions.”
He writes: “Practicing taking in a sense of protection, relaxation, pleasure, enthusiasm, self-compassion, feeling like a good person—and of course the hallmarks of the responsive brain: peace, contentment, and love, creates a foundational inner strength that I’ve seen change my own life and the lives of others.”
Need a method to get started with your practice of “taking in the good”? Hanson offers the following “One Minute for Good” exercise to begin cultivating happiness as a baseline for living:
Take just a minute on first waking, just before bed, at the start of meditation, or before heading into a challenging situation and do the following:
- For a breath or three, be aware of what’s generally happening in your mind and body without trying to change it. Find an intimacy with yourself.
- Start relaxing, letting your breathing soften and slow. Disengage from any worried thinking. Let go of any tension. Touch on a sense of strength and recognize protections such as friends nearby. Notice that you’re alright right now. Rest in a growing peace.
- Bring to mind one or more things you are grateful for or glad about. Think of something that makes you feel happy. Sense the fullness already present in this moment. Rest in a growing contentment.
- Bring to mind one or more people (or a pet) who care about you. Let yourself feel appreciated, liked, or loved. Be aware of your own warmth and caring for others. Rest in a growing love.
- Then get a sense of peace, contentment, and love woven together in your mind, three aspects of a single whole experience of ease and homecoming. Rest in the responsive mind. If you like, imagine moving through your day in this responsive way.
- Finish up with another breath or two while you sense that peace, contentment, and love are sinking into you.
If you want to go deeper, Hanson offers these free, guided meditations on:
This New Year, we have only one resolution. Happiness. It may look as simple as enjoying the sun on our face on a winter morning, and it might be as complex as taking a big, bold swing for the bleachers to help create a new future for our planet. Either way, we're going to be happy when we do it.
How ever you choose to get to your own sense of happiness, we invite you to join us.
Wishing you the best for 2021.
image credit: Matheus Bertelli