It's easy to forget that we are all perfect in our own design. Sometimes we muck it up with habits and choices that do not serve us. 

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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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Find What’s Sacred

candle-picture-id639302904 Find What’s Sacred

What’s precious to you?

The Practice:
Find what’s sacred.

Why?

The word, sacred, has two kinds of meanings. First, it can refer to something related to religion or spirituality. Second, more broadly, it can refer to something that one cherishes, that is precious, to which one is respectfully, even reverently, dedicated, such as honesty with one’s life partner, old growth redwoods, human rights, the light in a child’s eyes, or longings for truth and justice and peace.

Both senses of the word touch me deeply. But many people relate to just one meaning, which is fine. You can apply what I’m saying here to either or both meanings.

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Empty the Cup

cup-of-black-tea-served-with-biscuits-picture-id1070717858 Empty the Cup

Are you full to the rim?

The Practice:
Empty the cup.

Why?

Once upon a time, a scholar came to visit a saint. After the scholar had been orating and propounding for a while, the saint proposed some tea. She slowly filled the scholar’s cup: gradually the tea rose to the very brim and began spilling over onto the table, yet she kept pouring and pouring. The scholar burst out: “Stop! You can’t add anything to something that’s already full!” The saint set down the teapot and replied, “Exactly.”

Whether it’s the blankness of a canvas to an artist, the silence between the notes in music, bare dirt for a new garden, the not-knowing openness of a scientist exploring new hypotheses, an unused shelf in a closet or cupboard, or some open time in your schedule, you need space to act effectively, dance with your partners, and have room around your emotional reactions.

Yet most of us, me included, tend to stuff as much as possible into whatever room is available – room in closets, schedules, budgets, relationships, and even the mind itself.

Personally, my own mind is often filled with themes of work: details of tasks to do, problems to avert, opportunities to capture keep swelling up again into awareness to capture my attention. For a friend of mine, the wallpaper of her own mind, as she puts it, is rumination about her health problems.

Remember the cup: its value is in the space, the emptiness, it holds.

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Enjoy Now

young-woman-running-against-morning-sun-picture-id1182436440 Enjoy Now

When are you?

The Practice:
Enjoy now.

Why?

There’s a profound and miraculous mystery right under our noses: this instant of now has no duration at all, yet somehow it contains all the causes from the past that are creating the future. Everything arising to become this moment vanishes beneath our feet as the next moment wells up. Since it’s always now, now is eternal.

The nature of now is not New Age or esoteric. It is plain to see. It is apparent both in the material universe and in our own experiencing. Simply recognizing the nature of now can fill you with wonder, gratitude, and perhaps a sense of something sacred.

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Know You’re a Good Person

couple-having-fun-in-a-flower-shop-picture-id479545378 Know You’re a Good Person

Who are you, deep down?

The Practice:
Know you’re a good person.

Why?

For many of us, perhaps the hardest thing of all is to believe that “I am a good person.” We can climb mountains, work hard, acquire many skills, act ethically – but truly feel that one is good deep down? Nah!

We end up not feeling like a good person in a number of ways. For example, I once knew a little girl who’d been displaced by her baby brother and fended off and scolded by her mother who was worn down and busy caring for an infant. This girl was angry at her brother and parents, plus lost and disheartened and feeling cast out and unloved. She’d been watching cartoons in which the soldiers of an evil queen attacked innocent villagers, and one day she said sadly, “Mommy, I feel like a bad soldier.”

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Feel the Support

young-adult-man-hiking-in-beautiful-mountains-picture-id1059683946 Feel the Support

What helps you carry your load?

The Practice:
Feel the support.

Why?

We’re all carrying a load, including tasks, challenges, worries, inner criticism, mistreatment from others, physical and emotional pain, loss and illness now or later, and everyday stresses and frustrations.

Take a moment to get a sense of your own load. It’s very real, isn’t it? Recognizing it is just honesty and self-compassion, not exaggeration or self-pity.

There’s a fundamental model in the health sciences that how you feel and function is based on just three factors: your load, the personal vulnerabilities it wears upon – such as health problems, a sensitive temperament, or a history of trauma – and the resources you have. As a law of nature, if your load or vulnerabilities increase – over a day, a year, or a lifetime – so must your resources. Otherwise, inevitably, you will get strained, depleted, and ground down. I’ve had times like this myself, and I’ve seen it in loved ones.

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Vote

country-road-and-mail-boxes-rural-alberta-near-devon-picture-id1145563362 Vote

What difference do we make?

The Practice:
Vote.

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Hug the Monkey

baby-macaque-monkey-picture-id1142957157 Hug the Monkey

Longing for love?

The Practice:
Hug the monkey.

Why?

To simplify a complex process spanning 600 million years, your brain developed in ways that are loosely related to three major stages of vertebrate evolution:

  • Reptile – Brainstem, focused on avoiding harms
  • Mammal – Subcortex, focused on approaching rewards
  • Primate/human – Neocortex, focused on attaching to “us”

Since the brain is integrated, avoiding, approaching, and attaching are accomplished by its parts working together. Nonetheless, each of these functions is particularly served and shaped by the region of the brain that first evolved to handle it.

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Feed the Mouse

little-mouse-and-cheese-picture-id92906697 Feed the Mouse

Got cheese?

The Practice:
Feed the mouse.

Why?

To simplify a complex process spanning 600 million years, your brain developed in ways that are loosely related to the three major stages of vertebrate evolution:

  • Reptile – Brainstem, focused on avoiding harms
  • Mammal – Subcortex, focused on approaching rewards
  • Primate – Neocortex, focused on attaching to “us”

Since the brain is integrated, avoiding, approaching, and attaching are accomplished by its parts working together. Nonetheless, each of these functions is particularly served and shaped by the region of the brain that first evolved to handle it.

In this three-part series, the previous JOT – pet the lizard – was about how to soothe and calm yourself. This affects your brain as a whole, including its most ancient structures and the management of perhaps the first emotion of all: fear. This JOT continues the series by focusing on how to help you feel rewarded, satisfied, and fulfilled – in a word,  fed – which also engages your brain as a whole, with a particular focus on its subcortical regions that emerged mainly during the mammalian stage of evolution.

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Pet the Lizard

petthelizzard Pet the Lizard

Down deep, do you feel at ease?

The Practice:
Pet the lizard.

Why?

I’ve always liked lizards.

Growing up in the outskirts of Los Angeles, I played in the foothills near our home. Sometimes I’d catch a lizard and stroke its belly, so it would relax in my hands, seeming to feel at ease.

In my early 20’s, I found a lizard one chilly morning in the mountains. It was torpid and still in the cold and let me pick it up. Concerned that it might be freezing to death, I placed it on the shoulder of my turtleneck, where it clung and occasionally moved about for the rest of the day. There was a kind of wordless communication between us, in which the lizard seemed to feel I wouldn’t hurt it, and I felt it wouldn’t scratch or bite me. After a few hours, I hardly knew it was there, and sometime in the afternoon it left without me realizing it.

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Find Your Own Way

male-hiker-on-footpath-picture-id1138685150 Find Your Own Way

Did you truly choose this path?

The Practice:
Find your own way.

Why?

The human body has about 100 trillion cells (plus another ten quadrillion microscopic critters hitching a ride, most of them beneficial or harmless). Each one of your cells has aims – goals, in a sense – controlled by its DNA: cells conduct processes aimed at particular functions, like building bones or gobbling up harmful invaders. Cells also work together in larger and larger assemblies in pursuit of broader goals, such as the 100 billion neurons in your brain that run the nervous system, which as a whole is itself the master regulator of the body.

In effect, there are layers, hierarchies, of goals in the body – and a similar architecture of aims in the mind. For example, operating right now is the goal of moving your eyes over these words, which serves the goal of understanding them, which serves larger goals such as desires to learn new things, new skills, and to be truly happy.

In short, whether in the body or the mind, there is no life without goals. Trying to “transcend” goals is itself a goal. The only question is: Are your goals good ones? In other words, do they lead to happiness and benefits for you and others rather than suffering and harms?

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Make The Offering

maketheoffering Make The Offering

What could you offer?

The Practice:
Make the offering.

Why?

One of the strangest and most meaningful experiences of my life occurred when I went through Rolfing (ten brilliant sessions of deep-tissue bodywork) in my early 20’s. The fifth session works on the stomach area, and I was anticipating (= dreading) the release of buried sadness. Instead, there was a dam burst of love, which poured out of me during the session and afterward. I realized it was love, not sadness, that I had bottled up in childhood – and what I now needed to give and express.

We can hold back our contributions to the world, including love, just as much as we can muzzle or repress sorrow or anger. But contribution needs to flow; it stagnates and gets stinky if it doesn’t. Thwarted contribution is the source of much unhappiness. For example, the wound of loneliness and heartache is about not having others to give to as much as not having others to get from. And one of the major issues with adolescence in technological cultures is that there are few opportunities for teenagers to make a real difference, to matter and feel a sense of earned worth.

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Love the World

saveearth 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.

When you love the world, you both appreciate it and care for it. Each of these actions makes you feel good, plus they help you preserve and improve everything you depend on for your health, livelihood, security, pleasure, and community.

During most of the last several million years, our human and hominid ancestors did not have much capacity for harming the world. Nor did they have much understanding of their effects on the whole planet.

But now, humanity has great power for good and ill. And we have inescapable knowledge (no matter how much some try to deny it) of what we are doing to our own home. As the earth heats up, as many species go extinct, and as resources such as fresh water decline, it is critically important that a fourth major motivation guide our thoughts, words, and above all, deeds:

Love the world.

Remember the Big Things

Remember the Big Things Remember the Big Things

What matters most to you?

The Practice:
Remember the big things.

Why?

In every life, reminders arrive about what’s really important.

I’ve received some myself, as I’m sure you have, too. Perhaps it was news of a potentially serious health problem, the death of a loved one, or an accident that could have turned fatal. These are uncomfortably concrete message that sooner or later something will catch up with each one of us.

When I’m pierced with one of these reminders, it’s like there are three layers in my mind. The top layer is focused on problem-solving. Beneath that is what seems like a furry little animal that’s upset and wants to curl up and be hugged. The bottom layer feels accepting, peaceful, and grateful.

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Be Home

home Be Home

What’s your deepest nature?

The Practice:
Be home.

Why?

Throughout history, people have wondered about human nature. Deep down, are we basically good or bad?

When the body is not disturbed by hunger, thirst, pain, or illness, and when the mind is not disturbed by threat, frustration, or rejection, then most people settle into their resting state. This is a sustainable equilibrium in which the body refuels and repairs itself and the mind feels peaceful, happy, and loving. I call this the Responsive mode. In a sense, this is our “home base,” our fundamental nature as human beings. (Obviously, I am not talking about the physical location where a person lives.) We are still engaged with the world, still participating with pleasure and passion, but on the basis of a background sense of safety, sufficiency, and connection.

But when body or mind are disturbed – perhaps by overwork and fatigue, or by the cough of a nearby lion a million years ago or a frown across a dinner table today – Mother Nature has endowed us with hair-trigger mechanisms that drive us from our resting state. Fight-flight-freeze systems in the body get activated, and related experiences of fear and anger, disappointment and drivenness, and loneliness, shame, and spite occur in the mind.

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Lower the Pressure

Lower the Pressure Lower the Pressure

Is it truly urgent?

The Practice:
Lower the pressure.

Why?

Things come at us with so much urgency and demand these days. Phones ring, texts buzz, emails pile up, new balls have to be juggled, work days lengthen and move into evenings and weekends, traffic gets denser, financial demands feel like a knife at the neck, ads and news clamor for attention, push push push PUSH.

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Give Over to Good

the-feeling-of-a-welldeserved-nap-picture-id1144519329 Give Over to Good

The Practice:
Give over to good.

Why?

In every moment, you and I and everyone and everything else – from quantum foam to fleeting thoughts, intimate relationships, rainforest ecosystems, and the stars themselves – are each a kind of standing wave, like the ever-changing though persistent pattern of water rising above a boulder in a river.

We are the result of multiple causes flowing through us. As Buckminster Fuller famously said, “I seem to be a verb.”

This fact is amazing, but it’s corroborated by both modern physics and deep ecology. We can get silly-cosmic about it (done this myself – not only as a college sophomore!), but the implications are very down to earth.

As unique standing waves, you and I are constructed each moment by the currents – the forces and factors, both internal and external – flowing through us. We have no choice about being lived by these currents, continually given over to them.

But we can choose to give ourselves over to the good ones.

By “good,” I mean that which leads to happiness and benefit for you and others; “bad” means the opposite. (Of course, honesty about what is actually turning out to be truly good is important; history holds many cautionary tales about people giving themselves over to things they thought were good – e.g., Nazism – but weren’t.)

Giving over to good means relaxing into, opening to, being buoyed and guided by things like your own naturally good heart, the impulse to take the high road, love, compassion, vitality, courage, the longing for justice, and the wisdom and support of good friends.

Then your life’s wave becomes simpler, happier, and more beneficial.

How?

There are two steps: knowing what the “good” is for you, and then giving yourself over to it.

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Being Resilient During Coronavirus

japanese-zen-garden-with-textured-sand-stock-photo-picture-id1175009801 Being Resilient During Coronavirus

During times like this, it’s natural to feel afraid, anxious, or threatened. The brain has evolved to react quickly to threats, and it’s easy for there to be a sense of helplessness associated with problems that appear far beyond our control.

But being consumed by fear causes wear and tear on the body, which actually undermines your safety. That’s why it’s so important to look for ways to be effective and express our agency, even if it’s only through how we choose to think about things.

Below you’ll find suggestions and resources for how to do just that during this challenging time. Please share this page widely. These resources are free for all.

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Don’t Beat Yourself Up

Don’t Beat Yourself Up Don’t Beat Yourself Up

Are you hard on yourself?

The Practice:
Don’t beat yourself up.

Why?

A previous JOT – admit fault and move on – was about our relationship with other people. This JOT applies the same practice to ourselves.

Most people know their less than wonderful qualities, such as too much ambition (or too little), a weakness for wine or cookies, something of a temper, or an annoying tendency to rattle on about pet interests. We usually know when we make mistakes, get the facts wrong, could be more skillful, or deserve to feel remorseful.

Some people err on the side of denying or defending these faults (a word I use broadly here). But most people go to the other extreme, repeatedly criticizing themselves in the foreground of awareness, or having a background sense of guilt, unworthiness, and low confidence.

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Do you feel swamped with bad news?

badnews Do you feel swamped with bad news?

The Practice:
Find the good news.

Why?

“Tell the truth.” It’s the foundation of science – and the foundation of healthy relationships, communities, and countries.

But the truth of things is complicated. To simplify, there is the good of things that are enjoyable and helpful, the bad of things that are painful and harmful, and the neutral of things that are neither.

We need to recognize genuinely bad news for our own sake and to take care of others. But we also need to recognize good news: things that are useful, reassuring, inspiring, opportunities, solutions, etc.

The Brain’s Negativity Bias

Unfortunately, we have a brain that generally fixates on bad news and brushes past good news. Over the 600 hundred million year evolution of the nervous system, our ancestors:

  • Had to avoid two kinds of mistakes: (1) thinking that there’s a tiger in the bushes but actually all is well, or (2) thinking that all is well while actually there is a tiger about to pounce. What’s the cost of the first mistake? Just needless worry. But what’s the potential cost of the second mistake? Ulp, no more mistakes . . . forever. So we have a brain that tends to make the first mistake again and again to avoid ever making the second one.
  • Had to get “carrots” such as food and avoid “sticks” such as predators. Imagine living back in the Stone Age – or even Jurassic Park. If you didn’t get a carrot today, you’d have another chance tomorrow. But if you didn’t avoid every single stick today, game over. Consequently, negative experiences are fast-tracked into memory – “once burned, twice shy” – while most positive experiences slip through the brain like water through a sieve. In effect, the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.

As a result, we routinely overestimate threats while underestimating opportunities and resources. Some people have an “optimism bias” in what they say. But in their actions, studies show that most people work harder to avoid pain than to get pleasure and remember failures and rejections more than successes and kindness from others. One result is that the media focuses on bad news, because that’s what people pay attention to; thus, the saying in journalism, “if it bleeds, it leads.”

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See Your Part

supportivepartner See Your Part

What’s your own role?

The Practice:
See your part.

Why?

In situations or relationships with any kind of difficulty – tension, feeling hurt, conflicts, mismatches of wants . . . the usual crud – it’s natural to focus on what others have done that’s problematic.

This could be useful for a while: it can energize you, highlight what you most care about, and help you see more clearly what you’d like others to change.

But there is also a cost: fixating on the harms (actual or imagined) done by others revves up your case about them (see Drop the Case), with all the stresses and hard feelings that this brings. Plus it makes it harder to see the good qualities in those you have issues with, the influence of additional factors – and whatever might be your own part in the matter.{jcomments off}

For example, let’s say you work with someone who is unfairly critical of you. Sure, there are the ways that this person is out of line, self-righteous, whatever. Additionally, there are the ways that this person is also doing good things, plus the ways that other factors – such as coworkers who like to gossip – are making things worse. And there might be your own role as well, perhaps inadvertently.

To be clear, sometimes we really do have no part in whatever happened. Many situations are like a person walking across a street with a green light when a drunk driver hits them. And in many other situations, our own role is small at most, and never justifies the harmful actions of others. I feel it is courageous and self-respecting to recognize and as appropriate call out the harms done by someone to us or others.

And still . . . we usually have little influence over other people. Yes, we do what we can about what’s “out there,” but “in here” there are many more opportunities for managing our reactions and for becoming more skillful in life.

Further, I’ve never been able to come to peace about anything that’s bothered me until I take responsibility for whatever is my own part in it. Which, upon reflection, is sometimes nothing at all! But the willingness to see for oneself whatever one’s part is enables a genuine sense of release when we can enjoy “the bliss of blamelessness.”

Paradoxically, when you step into acknowledging your part, then you can step out of tangles of conflicts with others and ruminations and resentments inside your own mind.

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30 Simple Ways to Create Balance and Connection

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