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 Happiness, Buddha’s Brain, Just One Thing, and Mother Nurture.  A summa cum laude graduate of UCLA and founder of the Wellspring Institute for N...euroscience 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.     More

Be of Help to Others

helpingothers Be of Help to Others

Do not underestimate the impact of a small deed. 

What can I do?

The Practice:
Be of Help to Others.

Why?

I'm doing a series on my personal top five practices (all tied for first place), and have so far named three: meditate (including mindfulness, self-awareness, and, if you like, prayer), take in the good, and bless (including compassion, generosity, and love).

I saw one way to bless on a trip to Haiti, in the efforts of many dedicated people: be helpful. As you probably know, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with roughly 80 percent unemployment. The national government seemed like a tattered sheet in the wind. A public middle and high school I visited was missing half its schoolbooks as well as the funds for the last two grades. Imagine your own child in such a school . . . and that the $30 it takes to buy the books she needs is a month's wages, as out of reach as the moon.

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Make Good Agreements

satisfied-auto-service-customer-picture-id924919376 Make Good Agreements

Life is full of trade offs between benefits and costs.

Is it worth it?

The Practice:
Make good bargains.

Why?

Life is full of trade-offs between benefits and costs.

Sometimes, the benefits are worth the costs. For example, the rewards of going for a run—getting out in fresh air, improving health, etc.—are, for me at least, worth the costs of losing half an hour of work time while gaining a pair of achy legs. Similarly, it could well be that: getting a raise is worth the awkwardness of asking for one; teaching a child good lessons is worth the stress of correcting her; deepening intimacy is worth the vulnerability of saying "I love you."

But other times, the benefits are not worth the costs. For example, it might feel good to yell at someone who makes you mad—but at a big price, including making you look bad and triggering others to act even worse. There are indeed rewards in that third beer or third cookie—but also significant costs, including how you'll feel about yourself the next day.

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Welcome Faces

iStock-871180142 Welcome Faces

What do their faces say to you?

The Practice:
Welcome faces.

Why?

As our ancestors evolved over millions of years in small bands, continually interacting and working with each other, it was vitally important to communicate in hundreds of ways each day. They shared information about external "carrots" and "sticks," and about their internal experience (e.g., intentions, sexual interest, inclination toward aggression) through gestures, vocalizations - and facial expressions. Much as we developed uniquely complex language, we also evolved the most expressive face in the entire animal kingdom.

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Hold Desires Lightly

close-up-shot-of-hands-working-with-soil-picture-id622457762 Hold Desires Lightly

Be aware of wanting inside your own mind.

What do you want?

The Practice:
Hold desires lightly.

Why?

Getting caught up in wanting — wanting both to get what's pleasant and to avoid what's unpleasant — is a major source of suffering and harm for oneself and others.

First, a lot of what we want to get comes with a big price tag — such as that second cupcake, constant stimulation via TV and websites, lashing out in anger, intoxication, over-working, or manipulating others to get approval or love. On a larger scale, the consumer-based lifestyle widespread in Western nations leads them to eat up — often literally — a huge portion of the world's resources.

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Welcome Fragility

dandelion-clock-in-morning-sun-picture-id665037880 Welcome Fragility

Be mindful of both actual and potential fragility in yourself and others.

Could it crack?

The Practice:
Welcome fragility.

Why?

The truth of anything is like a mosaic with many tiles, many parts.

One part of the truth of things is that they are robust and enduring, whether it's El Capitan in Yosemite or the love of a child for her mother and father.

Another part of the truth is that things bruise, tear, erode, disperse, or end—fundamentally, they're fragile. Speaking of El Capitan, I knew of someone climbing it who had just placed anchors above a long horizontal crack when the sheet of granite he was standing on broke off to fall like a thousand-ton pancake to the valley floor below (he lived, clutching his anchors). Love and other feelings often change in a family. Bodies get ill, age, and die. Milk spills, glasses break, people mistreat you, good feelings fade. One's sense of calm or worth is easily disturbed. Wars start and then end badly. Planets heat up and hurricanes flood cities. Earthquakes cause tidal waves and damage nuclear reactors.

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Be Aware Of Progress

happy-couple-looking-at-sunset-from-convertible-picture-id842605642 Recognize what is improving in your own life.

Are some things getting better?

The Practice:
Be aware of progress.

Why?

There are always things that are getting worse. For example, over the past year, you probably know someone who has become unemployed or ill or both, and there's more carbon in the atmosphere inexorably heating up the planet.

But if you don't recognize what's improving in your own life, then you feel stagnant, or declining. This breeds what researchers call "learned helplessness" - a dangerously slippery slope. It typically takes only a few experiences of painful entrapment to create it but many times as many counter-experiences to undo it.

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Lighten Your Load

soap-bubbles-floating-on-green-garden-background-picture-id592035670 Lighten Your Load

On the path of life, most of us are hauling way too much weight.

What's weighing you down?

The Practice:
Lighten your load.

Why?

On the path of life, most of us are hauling way too much weight.

What's in your own backpack? If you're like most of us, you've got too many items on each day's To Do list and too much stuff in the closet. Too many entanglements with other people. And too many "shoulds," worries, guilts, and regrets.

Remember a time when you lightened your load. Maybe a backpacking trip when every needless pound stayed home. Or after you finally left a bad relationship. Or just stopped worrying about something. Or came clean with a friend about something that had been bothering you. How did this feel? Probably pretty great.

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Have Trust in Love

portrait-of-a-happy-couple-picture-id522330365 Have Trust in Love

Love is like air. It may be hard to see, but it's in you and all around you.

Do you believe in love?

The Practice:
Have 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 being 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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Don't Rain On the Dreams of Others

rainbow-and-water-drops-on-glass-texture-picture-id153517484 Don't Rain On the Dreams of Others

Are you too quick with doubt, limitations, cost analyses, reasons why not?

Why do we have cheerleaders?

The Practice:
Don't rain on others dreams.

Why?

Let's say you've had an interesting idea or moment of inspiration, or thought of a new project, or felt some enthusiasm bubbling up inside you. Your notions are not fully formed and you're not really committed to them yet, but they have promise and you like them and are trying them on for size. Then what?

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Receive Generosity From Others

shopper-giving-a-gift-to-a-friend-in-winter-picture-id887389552 Receive Generosity From Others

Let it sink in that receiving generosity is good.

Do you accept the gift?

The Practice:
Receive generosity from others.

Why?

Life gives to each one of us in so many ways.

For starters, there’s the bounty of the senses – including chocolate chip cookies, jasmine, sunsets, wind singing through pine trees, and just getting your back scratched.

What does life give you?

Consider the kindness of friends and family, made more tangible during a holiday season, but of course continuing throughout the year.

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Speak Intelligently (6 guidelines from Buddha)

happy-couple-walking-and-talking-in-the-countryside-picture-id806165312

Words – and the tone that comes with them – can actually do damage.

What are you saying?

The Practice:
Speak Intelligently.

Why?

"Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me."

Ah, not really.

Often it's words– and the tone that comes with them – that actually do the most damage. Just think back on some of the things that have been said to you over the years – especially those said with criticism, derision, shaming, anger, rejection, or scorn – and the impacts they've had on your feelings, hopes and ambitions, and sense of yourself.

Words can hurt, since the emotional pain networks in your brain overlap with physical pain networks. (The effects of this intertwining go both ways. For example, studies have shown that receiving social support reduces the perceived intensity of physical pain, and – remarkably – that giving people Tylenol reduced the unpleasantness of social rejection.)

Besides their momentary effects, these hurts can linger – even for a lifetime. The residues of hurtful words sift down into emotional memory to cast long shadows over the inner landscape of your mind.

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Try to Understand Others

fathers-mothers-and-babys-hand-picture-id672165776 Try to Understand Others

Painful experiences are more than passing discomforts.

What Are They Feeling?

The Practice: Try to understand others.

Why?

Imagine a world in which people interacted with each other like ants or fish. Imagine a day at work like this, or in your family, aware of the surface behavior of the people around you but oblivious to their inner life while they remain unmoved by your own.

That's a world without empathy.

Empathic breakdowns shake the foundation of a relationship; just recall a time you felt misunderstood – or even worse, a time when the other person couldn’t care less about understanding you. In particular, anyone who is vulnerable (e.g., children, the elderly) has a profound need for empathy, and when it’s a thin soup or missing altogether, that’s very disturbing. In my experience as a therapist, poor empathy is the core problem in most troubled couples or families; without it, nothing good is likely to happen. With it, even the toughest issues can be resolved.

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Don't Be Pressured

pressurefall Don't Be Pressured

Bring mindful awareness to how your brain reacts to feeling threatened

What makes you feel threatened?

The Practice:
Don't be pressured.

Why?

Humans evolved to be fearful, as anxiety helped keep our ancestors alive. Consequently, we are vulnerable to being alarmed, manipulated, and even intimidated by threats, both real ones and “paper tigers.”

This vulnerability to feeling threatened has effects at many levels, ranging from individuals, couples, and families to schoolyards, organizations, and nations. Whether it's an individual who worries about the consequences of speaking up at work or in a close relationship, a family cowed by a scary parent, a business fixated on threats instead of opportunities, or a country that's routinely told it's under "Threat Level Orange"—it's the same human brain that reacts in all cases.

Therefore, understanding how your brain became so vigilant and wary, and so easily hijacked by alarm, is the first step toward gaining more control over that ancient circuitry. Then, by bringing mindful awareness to how your brain reacts to feeling threatened, you can stimulate and therefore build up the neural substrates of a mind that has more calm, wisdom, and sense of inner strength—a mind that sees real threats more clearly, acts more effectively in dealing with them, and is less rattled or distracted by exaggerated, manageable, or false alarms.

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Don't Squabble

happysiblings Don't Squabble

You know you're squabbling when you find yourself getting irritated.

The Practice:
Don't squabble.

Why?

It's one thing to stick up for yourself and others. But it's a different matter to get caught up in wrangles, contentiousness, squabbles . . . in a word: quarrels.

Similarly, it's one thing to disagree with someone, even to the point of arguing—but it's a different matter to get so caught up in your position that you lose sight of the bigger picture, including your relationship with the other person. Then you're quarreling.

You know you're quarreling when you find yourself getting irritated, especially with that sticky feeling that you're just not gonna quit until you've won.

Quarrels happen both out in the open, between people, and inside the mind, like when you make a case in your head about another person or keep revisiting an argument to make your point more forcefully. We quarrel most with family and friends—imagine that! But also with people on TV, or politicians and groups we don't like. We can even quarrel with conditions in life (such as an illness or tight money) or with physical objects, like a sticky drawer slammed shut in anger.

However, they happen, quarrels are stressful, activating the ancient fight-or-flight machinery in your brain and body: a bit of this won't harm you, but a regular diet of quarreling is not good for your long-term physical and mental health.


Plus, it eats away like acid on a relationship. For example, I was in a serious relationship in my mid-twenties that was headed for marriage, but our regular quarrels finally so scorched the earth in our hearts that no love could grow there for each other.

This week, try not to quarrel with anyone or anything.

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Forgiveness

forgiveness Forgiveness frees you from the tangles of anger and retribution.

Are you holding onto feeling wronged? Try the practice of forgiveness.

First, forgiveness has two distinct meanings:

  • To give up resentment or anger
  • To pardon an offense; to stop seeking punishment or recompense


Here, I am going to focus on the first meaning, which is broad enough to include situations where you have not let someone off the hook morally or legally, but you still want to come to peace about whatever happened. Finding forgiveness can walk hand in hand with pursuing justice.

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Don’t Give Up

dontgineup What's the most important thing?

The most important thing is to remember the most important thing.

The Practice: Don't Give Up.

Why?

Have you heard this saying?

The most important thing is to remember the most important thing.

What are the most important things to you? In your life as a whole? During a particular interaction with someone? Right this minute?

The most important things often get pushed to the sidelines. Urgent crowds out important. Modern life is full of distracting clamor, from text messages and emails to window displays in the mall. Other people tug at you with their priorities - which may not be your own. And it can feel scary to admit what really matters to you, tell others, and go after it for real: the fearful voices whisper in the back of the mind: What if you fail?

But if you don't make a sanctuary for what is important, it will get overrun by the bermuda grass of B and C priorities.

How?

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Speak From Your Heart

communication Speak From Your Heart

Speaking truly—to yourself and to others—does mean being authentic.

What's in your heart to say?

The Practice:
Speak from your heart.

Why?

It's been said that the most powerful tool for physical health is a fork (or spoon), since the choices you make with it determine the good or bad things you put into your body.

In the same way, perhaps the most powerful tool for your mental health—and certainly for the health of your relationships—is your tongue. Thousands of times each day, it (or your fingers on a keyboard: same thing) offers the good word or the bad one out into your world.

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Give None Cause to Fear You

rock-climbing-in-china-picture-id510616195 Give None Cause to Fear You
When others feel safe around you, you have less cause to fear them.

What puts people at ease?

The Practice:Give none cause to fear you.

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Do Not Put Yourself Or Others Out Of Your Heart

young-woman-in-heart-shape-cave-towards-the-idyllic-sunrise-picture-id873620504 Try to make a commitment to an open heart.

What is an open heart?

The Practice:
Put no one out of your heart.

Why?


We all know people who are, ah, . . . challenging. It could be a critical parent, a bossy supervisor, a relative who has you walking on eggshells, a nice but flaky friend, a co-worker who just doesn't like you, a partner who won't keep his or her agreements, or a politician you dislike. Right now I'm thinking of a neighbor who refused to pay his share of a fence between us.

As Jean-Paul Sartre put it: "Hell is other people."

Sure, that's overstated. But still, most of a person's hurts, disappointments, and irritations typically arise in reactions to other people.

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Speak With A Softer Tone

blurred-floral-background-in-grunge-style-with-poppies-picture-id589133320 Speak With A Softer Tone

How do you talk to people?

The Practice:
Try a softer tone.

Why?

When our kids were little, I’d come home from work wanting some peace after the daily roller-coaster and often walk into a living room full of stuff—toy trucks, tennis shoes, bags of chips, etc. At the time, the arrangement my wife and I had was that I’d be primarily responsible for income and she’d be primarily responsible for taking care of the kids, including getting them to pick up after themselves. When we were both home, we divided the housework and child-rearing evenly.

Sometimes I’d get irritated about all the clutter, and the first words out of my mouth to my wife would be: “How come there’s all this mess?!” After a day chasing children, Jan would feel criticized and sputter back at me. Then there’d be a quarrel or a chilly silence. Not good.

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