Rick Hanson, Ph.D. is a psychologist, Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and New York Times best-selling author. His books are available in 26 languages and include Hardwiring HappinessBuddha’s BrainJust One Thing, and Mother Nurture.

 A summa cum laude graduate of UCLA and founder of the Wellspring Institute...

Rick Hanson, Ph.D. is a psychologist, Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and New York Times best-selling author. His books are available in 26 languages and include Hardwiring HappinessBuddha’s BrainJust One Thing, and Mother Nurture.

 A summa cum laude graduate of UCLA and founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, he’s been an invited speaker at NASA, Oxford, Stanford, Harvard, and other major universities, and taught in meditation centers worldwide.In 2016 he gave a keynote address at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.

His work has been featured on the BBC, CBS, NPR, and other major media. His free offerings include the Just One Thing newsletter (over 120,000 subscribers), Buddha’s Brain Facebook (over 650,000 likes), and Being Well podcast. His online Foundations of Well-Being program helps people use positive neuroplasticity to grow key inner strengths like resilience, self-worth, and compassion, and anyone with financial need can do it for free.

Dr. Hanson has spent decades helping people turn everyday experiences into lasting happiness, love, and inner peace, hardwired into the brain. He enjoys wilderness, taking a break from emails, and time with his wife and two adult children.

 

 

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See What’s Likable

likeable See What’s Likable

What’s to like?

The Practice:
See what’s likable.

Why?

Liking feels good, plus it encourages us to approach and engage the world rather than withdraw from it.

Your brain continually tracks whether something is pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. In essence, is it a carrot, a stick, or safely ignored? Naturally, we like – we enjoy – what’s pleasant, dislike what’s unpleasant, and wish what’s neutral would get pleasant pronto.

Natural opioids – pleasure molecules – are released when you see things you like; on the other hand, disliking things can activate the neural networks of pain. Liking things feels good, so we approach them; disliking things feels bad, so we avoid them.

We are hardwired to like some things, like the sweetness of sugar, and dislike other things, like shivering from cold. But most situations are in the middle and formed of many parts. Consequently, our response to them – liking or disliking – depends a lot on what we pay attention to and on our own perspective.

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Have Compassion

compassion Have Compassion

Do You Care?

The Practice:
Have compassion.

Why?

Compassion is essentially the wish that beings not suffer – from subtle physical and emotional discomfort to agony and anguish – combined with feelings of sympathetic concern.

You could have compassion for an individual (a friend in the hospital, a co-worker passed over for a promotion), groups of people (victims of crime, those displaced by a hurricane, refugee children), animals (your pet, livestock heading for the slaughterhouse), and yourself.

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Be Friendly

befriendly Be Friendly

Friend or Foe?

The Practice:
Be friendly.

Why?

Friendliness is a down-to-earth approach to others that is welcoming and positive.

Think about a time when someone was friendly to you – maybe drawing you into a gathering, saying hello on the sidewalk, or smiling from across the room. How did that make you feel? Probably more included, comfortable, and at ease; safer; more open and warm-hearted.

When you are friendly to others, you offer them these same benefits. Plus you get rewarded yourself. Being friendly feels confident and happy, with a positive take on other people, moving toward the world instead of backing away from it. And it encourages others to be less guarded or reactive with you, since you’re answering the ancient question from millions of years of evolution – friend or foe? – with an open hand and heart.

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See the Person Behind the Eyes

behindeyes See the Person Behind the Eyes

Who is behind the mask?

The Practice:
See the person behind the eyes.

Why?

Most of us wear a kind of mask, a persona that hides our deepest thoughts and feelings, and presents a polished, controlled face to the world.

To be sure, a persona is a good thing to have. For example, meetings at work, holidays with the in-laws, or a first date are usually not the best time to spill your guts. Just because you’re selective about what you reveal to the world does not mean you’re insincere; phoniness is only when we lie about what’s really going on inside.

Much of the time, we interact mask-to-mask with other people. There’s a place for that. But remember times when someone saw through your mask to the real you, the person back behind your eyes. If you’re like me, those times were both unnerving and wonderful.

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Love the World

love_the_world Love the World

Are we really so separate?

The Practice:
Love the world.

Why?

To simplify and summarize, our brain has three primary motivational systems – Avoiding harms, Approaching rewards, and Attaching to “us” – that draw on many neural networks to accomplish their goals. 

Lately, I’ve started to realize that a fourth fundamental human motivational system could be emerging as well.

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors depended upon their habitats for food and shelter. Today, over 7 billion of us are pressing hard up against the limits of Lifeboat Earth. To survive and to flourish, cultural and perhaps biological evolution are calling us to love the world.

The world is near to hand in the food you eat, the air you breathe, and the weather and climate in which you spend your days. And then in widening circles, the world extends out to include complex webs of life and the physical characteristics of the land, the sea, and the sky.

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Leave the Red Zone

stressmeter Leave the Red Zone

Are you stressed or upset?

The Practice:
Leave the Red Zone.

Why?

There I was recently, my mind darting in different directions about projects in process, frazzled about little tasks backing up, uneasy about a tax record from 2010 we couldn’t find, feeling irritated about being irritable, hurrying to get to work, body keyed up, internal sense of pressure. Not freaked out, not running from an attacker, not suffering a grievous loss, my own troubles tiny in comparison to those of so many others – but still, the needle on my personal stress-o-meter was pegged in the Red Zone.

Then that quiet background knowing in all of us nudged me to cool down, dial back, de-frazzle, take a breath, exhale slowly, repeat, start getting a sense of center, exhale again, slow the thoughts down, pick one thought of alrightness or goodness and stay with it, exhaling worry about the future, coming into this moment, just sensations, calming, mind getting clearer, focusing on what I’ll do this day and knowing that’s all I can do, the body sense of settling down yet again sinking in to make it one bit easier to settle down the next time. Leaving the Red Zone, not all the way to Green, more like Yellow, but no longer even Orange. Whew.

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Recognize Suffering in Others

recognizesuffering Recognize Suffering in Others

Where Does It Hurt?

The Practice:
Recognize suffering in others.

Why?

We’re usually aware of our own suffering, which – broadly defined – includes the whole range of physical and mental discomfort, from mild headache or anxiety to the agony of bone cancer or the anguish of losing a child. (Certainly, there is more to life than suffering, including great joy and fulfillment; that said, we’ll sustain a single focus here.)

But seeing the suffering in others: that’s not so common. All the news and pictures of disaster, murder, and grief that bombard us each day can ironically numb us to suffering in our own country and across the planet. Close to home, it’s easy to tune out or simply miss the stress and strain, unease and anger, in the people we work, live – even sleep – with.

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Choose To Love

chooselove Choose To Love

What does your heart say?

The Practice:
Choose to Love

Why?

Many years ago, I was in a significant relationship in which the other person started doing things that surprised and hurt me. I’ll preserve the privacy here so I won’t be concrete, but it was pretty intense. After going through the first wave of reactions – What?! How could you? Are you kidding me?! – I settled down a bit. I had a choice.

This relationship was important to me, and I could see that a lot of what was going through the mind over there was really about the other person and not about me. I began to realize that the freest, strongest, and most self-respecting thing that I could do was both to tell the person that we were on very thin ice . . . and to choose to love meanwhile.

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How to live in peace with each other?

playingfair How to live in peace with each other?

The Practice:  
Tell the Truth and Play Fair

Why?

Perhaps like you, I’ve been worrying lately about what it will take for all of us to live together in peace.

I remember what I’ve heard many teachers say to their students: Tell the truth. Play fair.

This is what we ask our own kids to do. It’s what we look for in a friend, a boss, and a neighbor. If your child cheats on a board game, you point it out; it’s not OK. We want cashiers to give us the correct change and doctors to be honest about our test results. It’s basic.

The Foundation of Morals and Ethics

People compete with each other and have conflicts. But whether it’s a game of cards, businesses on main street, or an election, we expect a level playing field. Rights for you are also rights for me, and rules for me are also rules for you. If everyone accepts these standards, winning is all the sweeter because you earned it. Losing may be bitter but at least you know you weren’t cheated.

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The Practice: Take Heart

woman-enjoying-beautiful-landscape-on-fuerteventura-island-picture-id513671582 Take Heart

What do you do when the bottom falls out?

The Practice:
Take heart.

Why?

It takes heart to live in even ordinary times.

By “taking heart,” I mean several related things:

  • Sensing your heart and chest
  • Finding encouragement in what is good both around you and inside you
  • Resting in your own warmth, compassion, and kindness; resting in the caring for you from others; love flowing in and love flowing out
  • Being courageous, whole-hearted and strong-hearted – going forward wisely even when anxious, knowing your own truth and as you speak it

When you take heart, you’re more able to deal with challenges like aging, illness, trauma, or conflicts with others. You’re also more able to take advantage of opportunities with confidence and grit.

Additionally, it takes heart to live in, live with, and live beyond times that are really hard. Your personal hard time might be bad news about your health, the death of a parent, or betrayal by others. Or it could be related to changes in your country and world, and your concerns about their effects on others and yourself; I’ve written about the importance of finding and facing facts at the level of society (feel free to skip it if you don’t want my take on politics).

There are so many examples of honorable people facing great difficulty with dignity, principle, and courage. They did it. We can, too.

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Stay Right When You’re Wronged

stayingpositive Stay Right When You’re Wronged

There’s been mistreatment or injustice – now what?

The Practice:
Stay right when you’re wronged.

Why?

It’s easy to treat people well when they treat you well. The real test is when they treat you badly. (Much of what I say here applies to concerns about injustice or mistreatment that threatens or happens to others, from someone bullying a child to an oppressive government, but I will focus on the personal level.)

Think of times you’ve been truly wronged, in small ways or big ones. Maybe someone stole something, turned others against you, broke an agreement, cheated on you, or spoke unfairly or abusively.

When things like these happen, I feel mad, hurt, startled, wounded, sad. Naturally it arises to want to strike back and punish, get others to agree with me, and make a case against the other person in my own mind.

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Let Things Change

changingleaves Let Things Change

What’s changing?

The Practice: 
Let Things Change

Why?

The fifth of my personal Top 5 practices (all tied for first place) is open out, by which I mean relaxing into a growing sense of connection, even oneness, with all things.

“Opening out” can sound kind of airy-fairy or flakey, but I mean it in very down-to-earth ways; check out these JOTs about it: accept it, accept them as they are, and let it go. Here, I’m focusing on relaxing and opening into the fact that things keep changing, and not fighting it.

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Trust In Love

trustinlove Trust In Love

Do you believe in love?

The Practice:
Trust in love.

Why?

Take a breath right now, and notice how abundant the air is, full of life-giving oxygen offered freely by trees and other green growing things. You can’t see air, but it’s always available for you.

Love is a lot like the air. It may be hard to see – but it’s in you and all around you.

In the press of life – dealing with hassles in personal relationships and bombarded with news of war and other conflicts – it’s easy to lose sight of love, and feel you can’t place your faith in it. But in fact, to summarize a comment from Gandhi, daily life is saturated with moments of cooperation and generosity – between complete strangers! Let alone with one’s friends and family.

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Grow Inner Strengths

innerstrength Grow Inner Strengths

What would make a difference inside you?
The Practice: 
Grow Inner Strengths.
Why?

I’ve hiked a lot and have often had to depend on what was in my pack. Inner strengths are the supplies you’ve got in your pack as you make your way down the twisting and often hard road of life. They include a positive mood, common sense, integrity, inner peace, determination, and a warm heart. Researchers have identified other strengths as well, such as self-compassion, secure attachment, emotional intelligence, learned optimism, the relaxation response, self-esteem, distress tolerance, self-regulation, resilience, and executive functions. I’m using the word strength broadly to include positive feelings such as calm, contentment, and caring, as well as skills, useful perspectives and inclinations, and embodied qualities such as vitality or relaxation. Unlike fleeting mental states, inner strengths are stable traits, an enduring source of well-being, wise and effective action, and contributions to others.

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Enjoy The Good That Lasts

rustic-fence-picture-id1050368386 Enjoy The Good That Lasts

What doesn’t rust?

The Practice:
Enjoy the good that lasts.

Why?

So many things change. Leaves fall, friends move away, children leave home. My dad died a year ago, and my mom about ten years before that. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting older (darn, there is no fooling the mirror).

The world changes, too. Evolving technologies alter jobs and lives. Elections happen and different people take charge. New restaurants open while others close.

Experience itself is always changing, right at the front edge of now. So are the neural substrates of this moment’s experience, fleeting coalitions of millions of synapses coming into being even as they disperse, while the molecular structures of individual synapses themselves are dynamically constructing and deconstructing in the blink of an eye.

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Love Your Neighbor

neighbors Love Your Neighbor

In the neighborhood?

The Practice:
Love your neighbor.

Why?

This practice might sound extreme or pushy, and I want to tell you what I mean by it.

Everyone has lots of neighbors, and they come in many shapes and sizes. Obviously the people living across the street are neighbors, but in some sense so are the people you live with. Friends, relatives, co-workers, all the people you know are neighbors. So are the people at the market or walking past on the street. Other living things are neighbors as well, such as cats and dogs, birds and bees, ants on the kitchen counter, and plants and trees.

There’s also a neighborhood inside each of us. The human body contains about 100 trillion cells – and at least as many microorganisms that are neighbors, too. Plus consider your mind. My own mind is like a village with many characters at different stages of biological and psychological evolution, chatting or arguing with each other. All the parts of your mind – the pushy internal critic, the playful child, the longing for lasting happiness, the calm voice that talks you off the ledge – are neighbors of a sort.

In the largest sense, the neighbors of your neighbors are your neighbors, which means that every living thing is your neighbor – and mine. Wow. Walt Whitman got it right when he wrote: “I am large, I contain multitudes.”

What should we do with our neighbors? Ignore or hate them? Or recognize and love them?

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Beware Anger

anger Beware Anger

Have you been wronged?

The Practice:
Beware anger.

Why?

Anger is tricky.

On the one hand, anger – feeling annoyed, irritated, resentful, fed up, mad, outraged, or enraged – alerts us to real threats, real injuries, and real wrongs that need correcting, and it energizes and fuels us to do something about them. In my family growing up, my parents had a monopoly on anger. So, I suppressed my own, along with a lot of other feelings, and it’s been a long journey to reclaim my interior, including anger, and be able to feel it fully and (hopefully) express it skillfully.

Whether in personal relationships or in the halls of power, people in positions of authority or privilege often tell others that they don’t deserve to be angry, they shouldn’t get so worked up, it’s their own fault, etc. when in fact they have every reason and right in the world to be angry. It is certainly important to know in your heart what is actually happening, how bad it is, what the causes are, and what to do – and decide for yourself how much you want to get or stay angry.

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Find Your Ground

find your ground Find Your Ground

What can you do when you’re shaken?

The Practice:
Find your ground.

Why?

I’ve been to New Zealand, and really respect and like it. There’s a Maori term – turangawaewae, “a place to stand” – that I’ve come back to many times.

I’m sure I don’t know the full meaning of the word in its cultural context. But at a basic level, it’s clear that we all need a place to stand. A physical place to be sure – hearth and home, land and sea, a bed to curl up in – but also psychological or spiritual places, such as feeling loved, a calm clear center inside, knowledge of the facts, compassion and ethics, and realistic plans.

This is our ground, the place we rest in and move out from . . . even under the best of circumstances. And when you’re shaken by events at any scale – from changes in your health to changes in your country or world (here’s a recent post you may find relevant: Take Heart) – then it’s especially important to find and hold your ground.

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Love Someone

senior-couple-embrace-in-kitchen-picture-id498746836 Love Someone

What can you do when there’s nothing you can do?

The Practice:
Love Someone.
Why?

Sometimes something happens. Perhaps your sweet old cat takes a turn for the worse, or there’s a money problem, or your son waves goodbye as he gets on a plane to start college on the other side of the country. Sometimes it’s on a larger scale: maybe there’s been an election and you’re grappling with its consequences (see my last post on this topic: Take Heart).

Or you might be dealing with something ongoing, like a dead-end job (or no job at all), life after divorce, chronic pain, or a teenager who won’t talk to you.

Whatever it is, at first it’s normal to feel rattled, frozen, or unclear about what to do. After awhile, you do what you can to change things for the better. But often there’s not much you can actually change, and sometimes nothing at all.

Still, there is always one thing you can do, no matter what.

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Take Heart

hand-holding-red-knit-heart-picture-id1147909478 Take Heart

What do you do when the bottom falls out?

The Practice:
Take heart.

Why?

It takes heart to live in even ordinary times.

By “taking heart,” I mean several related things:

  • Sensing your heart and chest
  • Finding encouragement in what is good both around you and inside you
  • Resting in your own warmth, compassion, and kindness; resting in the caring for you from others; love flowing in and love flowing out
  • Being courageous, whole-hearted and strong-hearted – going forward wisely even when anxious, knowing your own truth and as you speak it

When you take heart, you’re more able to deal with challenges like aging, illness, trauma, or conflicts with others. You’re also more able to take advantage of opportunities with confidence and grit.

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