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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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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Speak Truly

speak-truly Speak Truly

What’s in your heart to say?

The Practice:
Speak truly.

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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Finish What Is in Your Cup

tea-cup-on-saucer-with-tea-being-poured-picture-id466073662 Finish What Is in Your Cup

What's the "wallpaper" in your own mind?

Are you full to the rim?

The Practice:
Finish what is in your 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.

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Come to a Place of Calm

calm Come to a Place of Calm

When feeling scattered, collect and concentrate your thoughts and feelings.

To what is your mind given?

The Practice:
Come to a place of calm center.

Why?

I’m old enough to remember a time when people usually answered “good” when you asked them the standard, “How are you?” (often said “harya?”). These days the answer is commonly “busy.”

I know what it feels like to get very busy and start to feel dispersed: juggling a dozen priorities at any moment, attention skittering from one thing to another, body revved up, feeling stretched thin and spread out like being squished between two sheets of glass.

Do you know the feeling? Besides being both unpleasant and a spigot of stress hormones, it’s weirdly contagious. Spreading from one person to another and fueled in part by the underlying economics of consumerism, we now have a Western and especially American culture of busyness. If you’re not busy, you must not be important. If you don’t have a lot on your mind, you must be under-performing. If your kids aren’t busy with homework and after-school activities, they won’t get ahead. If you don’t look busy, someone will ask you to work harder. Etc.

Enough already. Instead of being scattered to the four winds, collect and concentrate your mind and energy. Besides feeling a lot better, it’s more effective in the long run. For example, what does an Olympic gymnast do before launching a tumbling run or a rocket before heading into space? Come to center.

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See Intense Wants

confrontation-picture-id1027767690 See Intense Wants

When deeper wants are recognized one feels seen and less likely to be reactive.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, what are the deepest wants of all?

The Practice:
See intense wants.

Why?

I did my Ph.D. dissertation by videotaping 20 mother-toddler pairs and analyzing what happened when the mom offered an alternative to a problematic want ("not the chainsaw, sweetie, how about this red truck"). Hundreds of bleary-eyed hours later, I found that offering alternatives reduced child negative emotion and increased cooperation with the parent.

Pretty interesting (at least to me, both as a new parent and as someone desperate to finish grad school). And there's an even deeper lesson. Kids—and adults, too—obviously want to get what they want from others. But more fundamentally, we want to know that others understand our wants—and even more fundamentally, that they want to.

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Remember the Important Things

reflecting Remember the Important Things

In every life, reminders arrive about what's really key.

What matters most to you?

The Practice:
Remember the important 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 messages 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 Accepting of Difficulty

surfing Be Accepting of Difficulty

Fighting with the hard things in life just makes them worse.

Is it hard?

The Practice:
Be Accepting of difficulty.

Why?

Sometimes things are difficult. Your legs are tired and you still have to stay on your feet another hour at work. You love a child who's finding her independence through emotional distance from you. A long-term relationship could be losing its spark. It's finals week in college. You're trying to start a business and it's struggling. You've got a chronic health problem or a disability. Sometimes people don't appreciate your work. You're being discriminated against or otherwise treated unjustly. The body ages, sags, and grows weary.

Plus there are all the little hassles of everyday life. You're in an airport and can't get wifi (the injustice!). You're at home looking for the ice cream and someone ate the last of it. You're talking to your partner and realize he or she isn't really paying attention.

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Notice Good Intentions

goodintensions Notice Good Intentions

By recognizing positive intentions we feel safer, supported, and happier.

What do others want?

The Practice:
Notice good intentions.

Why?

Hustling through an airport, I stopped to buy some water. At the shop’s refrigerator, a man was bent over, loading bottles into it. I reached past him and pulled out one he’d put in. He looked up, stopped working, got a bottle from another shelf, and held it out to me, saying “This one is cold.” I said thanks and took the one he offered.

He didn’t know me and would never see me again. His job was stocking, not customer service. He was busy and looked tired. But he took the time to register that I’d gotten a warm bottle, and he cared enough to shift gears and get me a cold one. He wished me well.

I can see his friendly eyes as I write now, a week later. It was just a bottle of water. But I feel warmed by his kindness and buoyed by his good intentions.

Recognizing the positive intentions in others, we feel safer, more supported, and happier. And when others feel that you get their good intentions, they feel seen, appreciated, and more inclined to treat you well.

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Forget The Shoulda's

Life's stream Forget The Shoulda's

When healthy inclinations become "shouldas," then there is a big problem.

Is it really true?

The Practice: Forget the "shoulda's."

Why?

One time I watched a three-year-old at her birthday party. Her friends were there from preschool, and she received lots of presents. The cake came out, she admired the pink frosting rose at its center, and everyone sang. One of the moms cut pieces and without thinking sliced right through the rose - a disaster for this little girl. "I shoulda had the rose!" she yelled. "I shoulda shoulda SHOULDA had the rose!" Nothing could calm her down, not even pushing the two pieces of cake together to look like a whole rose. Nothing else mattered, not the friends, not the presents, not the day as a whole: she was insistent, something MUST happen. She had, just HAD to get the whole rose.

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30 Simple Ways to Create Balance and Connection

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