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Velcro Vs. Teflon

Jun 16, 2008
In prehistoric days, when cavemen Ugh and his wife, Mrs. Ugh were trying to survive long enough to raise the baby Ughs, they had to pay more attention to potential threats than positive events to avoid dangers like being eaten by a saber-toothed tiger.

This selective attention to negativity is what allowed Mr. and Mrs. Ugh and all the baby Ughs to survive. If you wanted to live a long life, it was better to react to every single thing that might be life-threatening, even if it turned out to be harmless, than to ignore something truly lethal. Our ancestors were the "Nervous Nellies" and "Fearful Franks" of the tribe; the people who were more "relaxed" about these possibly dangerous situations usually weren't around long enough to have kids and pass on their genes!

Today, even though we don't have to be on the lookout for tigers anymore -- well, at least not in my neighborhood -- we're still hard-wired the same way. For my book on unconditional happiness called Happy for No Reason, I interviewed psychologist and brain researcher Dr. Rick Hanson, who explained this phenomenon. He told me that our brains are "Velcro for negativity and Teflon for positivity." Our negative experiences "stick" to us like Velcro, while our positive experiences slide right off of us like Teflon.

I'm sure you've noticed this yourself. If you receive ten compliments and one insult, which do you remember? If you're like most people, you'll make yourself miserable by stewing on the insult for hours, overlooking the larger number of positive messages. Psychologists call this tendency to respond more intensely to disturbing thoughts and experiences, our "negativity bias."

To reverse this bias, start registering your happy experiences more deeply. Have the intention to notice everything good that happens to you: any positive thought you have, anything you see, feel, taste, hear or smell that brings you pleasure, a "win" you experience, a breakthrough in your understanding about something, an expression of your creativity -- the list goes on and on. This intention activates the reticular activating system (RAS), a group of cells at the base of your brain stem responsible for sorting through the massive amounts of incoming information and bringing anything important to your attention. Have you ever bought a car and then suddenly starting noticing the same make of car everywhere? It's the RAS at work. Now you can use it to be happier. When you decide to look for the positive, your RAS makes sure that's what you see.

Once you notice something positive, take a moment to savor it consciously. Take the good experience in deeply and feel it; make it more than just a mental observation. If possible, spend around 30 seconds, soaking up the happiness you feel. If you want to accelerate your progress, take time every day to write down a few of your wins, breakthroughs, and things you appreciate about others -- and about yourself. This simple but powerful "Happiness Habit" will shift the balance of power in your mind -- tilting the Velcro/Teflon ratio in your brain toward happiness. This is one of the keys to becoming Happy for No Reason.
About the Author
Marci Shimoff is author of the new book Happy for No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out; plus Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul and Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul, making her one of the bestselling female nonfiction authors of all time. She's also a featured teacher in the international film and book phenomenon, The Secret. Visit Happy for No Reason.
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