The sun was shining when I first sat down, and how it’s already overcast. That’s okay. There’s a beauty in shadow just as there is in full sun. How I love life!

I was going to write, “How I love MY life,” but then I realized that “I” have nothing to do with this feeling. It’s not about me or mine. There’s no sense of possession here.

In fact, there’s no “I” to be experiencing it. It’s just the naked experience.

Life.

Love.

Ah…! Yes.

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“Buddha’s Brain” by Rick Hanson

Want to be happier? “Buddha’s Brain: the Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom” has practical advice on how to do so, based on both neuroscience and Buddhism. Which is one of two reasons why I love it.

The other reason is the cool brain science stuff explained in plain English.

First take-away point: “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” You stimulate pathways in your brain often enough (the neurons firing), and after a time they decide to grow closer together (the wiring) so they can communicate more quickly. Result: You think happy thoughts, it gets easier to think happy thoughts.

Second take-away point: We create most of own suffering. “Only we humans worry about the future, regret the past, and blame ourselves for the present. We get frustrated when we can’t have what we want, and disappointed when what we like ends. We suffer that we suffer. We get upset about being in pain, angry about dying, sad about waking up sad yet another day. This kind of suffering – which encompasses most of our unhappiness and dissatisfaction – is constructed by the brain.”

Anyone else seeing the first two Noble Truths here?

Third take-away point: “Your brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones – even though most of your experiences are probably neutral or positive.” And why is this? Because negative experiences may be dangerous, and you need to learn from them: the stove may be hot, don’t drive too fast, etc. Remembering last night’s sunset is not a survival imperative. No wonder we can be so unhappy so much of the time! It’s what we remember.

Fourth take-away point: Taking in the Good. “[C]onsciously look for and take in positive experiences. There are three simple steps: turn positive facts into positive experiences, savor these experiences, and sense them sinking in.” In other words, take time to smell the daisies.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the good stuff in this book. Hanson also has several guided meditation series, including “Meditations for Happiness: Rewire Your Brain for Lasting Contentment and Peace.”

I highly recommend anything with Hanson’s name on it. He melds the scientific and the spiritual in a way few others have dared, and with great clarity.

Have you read this book? Listened to these meditations? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

~ Rev. Jăbō

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Gratitude Practice

I’m taking a wonderful course called Awakening Joy.  I’m taking the online version, since the live course is in Berkley, CA and I’m at the other end of the state.  It’s presented by Buddhist teacher James Baraz, whom I had the pleasure of hearing speak recently at Insight L.A.

One of the many terrific practices James recommends for increasing our happiness “set point” is that of gratitude.  There are several ways of increasing our gratefulness: noticing good things when they happen and taking a moment to savor them; keeping a gratitude journal; writing a gratitude letter to someone and then reading it to them.

I’m using both of the first two practices.  And recently, I created some accountability for myself by exchanging daily gratitude emails with a dear friend.  Wow!  I can actually observe my mind moving from a “glass half empty” mentality to a “glass half full” attitude.

It’s been a delightful experience, so I pass it along for what it’s worth.  May all beings benefit.