Have you noticed that we tend to remember bad experiences more than good ones?
Think of the past few days. Try and recall all the good experiences that you had – can be a good meal, or a great conversation, or a wonderful book that you read…attempt to recall as much as you can about this good experience. The words that were said, the feeling that you had, the taste, the sights…
Now try and recall a really bad experience that you had in this same period. Can be an argument, or a really bad email from a client, or a rude boss, or that car that swerved in front of you at the last moment…attempt to recall how you felt.
Chances are – you would remember bits of the good experiences, but a lot more of the bad ones.
Even at work, you may have a dozen colleagues wish you a good day as you pass them by – you don’t remember them as much as that one guy who didn’t wish you. Why is that?
Dr. Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist and author of “Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence”, writes that we humans share ancestors with “bats, begonias and bacteria that go back at least 3.5 billion years.” Hanson describes these ancestors as living in a world of carrots and sticks. Carrots are rewards (food, sex, shelter), and sticks are punishment (predators, disease, injury).
“Over hundreds of millions of years, it was a matter of life and death to pay extra attention to sticks, react to them intensely, remember them well, and over time become even more sensitive to them.”
Which is why it isn’t your fault that you consciously and unconsciously pay more attention to bad experiences (and amplify them) rather than good ones. Some studies show that the amplification is more than three times as much. We are hardwired to notice and remember bad stuff…
We do walk towards loved ones, but run away from danger right?
So what can we do about this?
One exercise that I practice post my meditation session is recalling three things that I am grateful for. They can be as small as having good food, or as large as just being able to wake up to another day. Here is how you can try it – it’s simple, but very effective.
Join your palms in namaste (we all know this now, courtesy COVID!), so that the tips of your fingers lightly touch each other (don’t press them together or exert more pressure), and in a way that your palms are in front of your chest, shoulders relaxed, head slightly turned upwards, a slight smile on your face, and eyes gently closed.
Take in a series of deep breaths (slow inhalation followed by slow exhalation)..3-5 breaths until you feel your breath slowing down naturally. Now recall three things that you are grateful for. Breathe in as you recollect, and as you breathe out feel a genuine warmth, a sense of gratitude to a higher power, a prayer to the divine, to the collective consciousness…notice the warm feeling and allow it to percolate within you, around you..take your time. Enjoy the lightness that this brings to you, the warmth…
Now gently rub your palms together, and put them to your closed eyes..gently open your eyes…
Try this at least once a day (twice is ideal).
The point of the exercise is to consciously notice the good things that matter to you, and amplify them, so that the bad experiences are let go.
Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, says: “It works, because the brain can’t tell the difference between visualization and actual experience. So you’ve just doubled the most meaningful experience in your brain.”
When you start doing this daily, it creates a pattern, a habit – one that then becomes a way of thinking and living.
There are lot a things to be grateful for these days – for those of us working from home, having the luxury of a room to ourselves to work without disturbances is a blessing…to have enough space to walk around and exercise is a blessing…to have a job and be able to fend for oneself in troubled times is a blessing…to be healthy and safe is also a blessing. Let’s look for the small blessings that we have, and be grateful for each one of them.
I am grateful to be able to sit in my terrace as I type this, surrounded by greenery and the sounds of my feathered friends. Here is them saying hello, do wish them back too:)