The human brain “is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones,” according to psychologist Rick Hanson, PhD. In other words, our memory records traumatic events in permanent marker and good times in pencil. We can recall painful, frightening or distressing circumstances in vivid detail. In contrast, most of our really good moments slip away.
I think evolution and survival are to blame. Our brains are wired to perceive peril, even where it doesn’t exist. Without fear, we’d walk into dangerous situations unaware. It’s better to suspect there’s a wolf waiting around the corner and be wrong than to nonchalantly approach the wolf without a clue. Have you ever worried yourself sick about something, only to feel foolish afterward because your imagination had gone way overboard? I know I have. That’s fear, keeping us alive.
If you were asked to describe a time when you were anguished, you’d easily provide a list. But asked about times when we were overjoyed, we draw a blank. It’s more difficult, at least.
What can we do to ensure that the good stuff gets imprinted, along with the negative?
For one thing, we must be present. I don’t mean only physically, but full-on mentally and emotionally present. Somehow, we’ve been conditioned to under-react to delight. People often become uncomfortable when we jump for joy. They give us a sideways glance and avoid eye contact, rather than opening themselves to share our rapture. No wonder it doesn’t stick – we suppress it before we fully experience it!
If we are truly “in the moment,” our awareness of happiness is sharper, more acute. Joy is abundant, if we look for it: Better yet, if we expect it. So, how can we make sure it penetrates the grey matter?
I have a little saying for times like these. “Who’s better than us right now?” It’s not intended to be boastful. Instead, it makes me really focus on the significance of the particular occurrence: Where I am, who I am with, what we are doing. I feel it more deeply. I make it stick.
Don’t be afraid to acknowledge moments of bliss. Bask in it! Tell someone about it. Write it down. Internalize the feeling.
The J. Geils Band sang “And the good times are the best times. The bad times fade away. The good times are forever.” Train your brain to remember the good stuff. Ask yourself often, “Who’s better than me right now?”