50 simple exercises for increased happiness, positive thinking and wisdom from the bestselling author of The Buddha's Brain.
In Buddha's Brain, Rick Hanson explained the neuroscience underlying meditation and helped readers maximize the benefits of mindfulness for greater happiness and peace of mind. Building on the success of Buddha's Brain, Just One Thing presents over fifty simple practices readers can do that can have a dramatic positive impact on their lives. Just one simple practice can make big changes in readers' lives by gradually increasing readers' capacity for joy, relaxation, and gratitude. Each practice is grounded in neuroscience and positive psychology. The book offers information on why the practice is important and how it works, guidance for performing the practice, and additional resources readers can use to delve deeper into that particular type of practice. Some of the practices encourage readers to focus on gratitude for what they have, while others offer guidance for taking refuge and slowing down in stressful times. All of the practices are designed to gradually change the way readers process their emotions and create new neural pathways for greater happiness and fulfillment.
Rick Hanson, PhD, is a neuropsychologist, founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, and author of Buddha's Brain. His work has been featured on the BBC and NPR, and he has been invited to present at Oxford, University of California Berkeley, Stanford University, and other universities.
"What a way to go through life! These simple yet profound practices train the brain, open the heart, and enhance well-being. Rick Hanson provides the map. If you follow it, you'll surely increase your happiness and awaken your joy!" --James Baraz, author of Awakening Joy "This gem of a book is the perfect follow-up to Rick Hanson's brilliant Buddha's Brain. Just One Thing offers dozens of easy-to-learn practices that slowly work their magic on our brains, making it possible for all of us to dwell in the peaceful contentment of a Buddha. Just One Thing is one of those rare books that becomes a lifelong companion--never far out of reach." --Toni Bernhard, author of How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and their Caregivers "These are great practices--wise and straightforward, scientific and nourishing. They can transform your life." --Jack Kornfield, PhD, author of The Wise Heart and A Path with Heart "Rick Hanson has done the work for us, distilling decades of self-inquiry and key psychological research into fifty-two essential skills for healthy, happy living. This deceptively simple book is a trustworthy guide to living our lives more deeply and fully. Read, practice, and your brain will surely return the favor." --Christopher K. Germer, PhD, clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School and author of The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion "Most people want to be happier, healthier, less stressed, and more self-accepting, but it's often hard to find time to work toward these goals. The brilliance of this book is that it offers powerful, targeted practices that can be done easily throughout the day to help people reach their highest potential." --Kristin Neff, PhD, associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Self-Compassion "Is it improper to be begged by someone you don't know to buy a book? Then call me improper because I am begging you to give yourself the miracle of Rick Hanson's grounded science and earthy spirituality. Keep this book close by while giving copies to everyone you love." --Jennifer Louden, author of The Woman's Comfort Book and The Life Organizer "If you are looking for bite-sized daily practices that can open your heart and clear your mind, Just One Thing deserves to be at the top of your reading list. Grounded in fascinating science, psychological understanding, and timeless wisdom, this book offers a rich assortment of entirely simple, doable ways you can find more happiness and ease." --Tara Brach, PhD, author of Radical Happiness "Delightfully clear and practical, this book distills profound insights from ancient wisdom traditions, modern psychology, and cutting-edge neurobiology into simple techniques anyone can use to live a happier, saner, more rewarding life. I felt more awake and alive after reading just a few pages." --Ronald D. Siegel, PsyD, assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and author of The Mindfulness Solution "Just One Thing is full of simple, down-to-earth steps you can take to experience greater happiness and love in your life. Based in brain science, but written beautifully from the heart, this book is a gem." --Marci Shimoff, author of Happy for No Reason "Just One Thing is a very wise, sincere, and heartfelt guide to living well. Rick Hanson skillfully guides you through fifty-two accessible and down-to-earth practices that can transform your outlook on life and health" --Bob Stahl, PhD, coauthor of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook and Living with Your Heart Wide Open
"What a way to go through life! These simple yet profound practices train the brain, open the heart, and enhance well-being. Rick Hanson provides the map. If you follow it, you'll surely increase your happiness and awaken your joy!" -James Baraz, author of Awakening Joy
50 simple exercises for increased happiness, positive thinking and wisdom from the bestselling author of The Buddha's Brain.
introduction Using Your Mind to Change Your Brain This is a book of practices--simple things you can do routinely, mainly inside your mind, that will support and increase your sense of security and worth, resilience, effectiveness, well-being, insight, and inner peace. For example, they include taking in the good, protecting your brain, feeling safer, relaxing anxiety about imperfection, not knowing, enjoying your hands, taking refuge, and filling the hole in your heart. At first glance, you may be tempted to underestimate the power of these seemingly simple practices. But they will gradually change your brain through what''s called experience-dependent neuroplasticity. Moment to moment, whatever you''re aware of--sounds, sensations, thoughts, or your most heartfelt longings--is based on underlying neural activities; the same goes for unconscious mental processes such as the consolidation of memory or the control of breathing. Exactly how the physical brain produces nonphysical consciousness remains a great mystery. But apart from the possible influence of transcendental factors--call them God, Spirit, the Ground, or by no name at all--there is a one-to-one mapping between mental and neural activities. It''s a two-way street: as your brain changes, your mind changes; and as your mind changes, your brain changes. This means--remarkably--that what you pay attention to, what you think and feel and want, and how you work with your reactions to things all sculpt your brain in multiple ways: Busy regions get more blood flow, since they need more oxygen and glucose. The genes inside neurons get more or less active; for example, people who routinely relax have improved expression of genes that calm down stress reactions, making them more resilient (Dusek et al. 2008). Neural connections that are relatively inactive wither away; it''s a kind of neural Darwinism, the survival of the busiest: use it or lose it. "Neurons that fire together, wire together." This saying from the work of the psychologist Donald Hebb means that active synapses--the connections between neurons--get more sensitive, plus new synapses grow, producing thicker neural layers. For example, cab drivers who have to memorize the spaghetti snarl of streets in London have a thicker hippocampus--a part of the brain that helps make visual-spatial memories--at the end of their training (Maguire et al. 2000). Similarly, people who routinely practice mindfulness meditation develop thicker layers of neurons in the insula--a region that activates when you tune in to your body and your feelings--and in parts of the prefrontal cortex (in the front of your brain) that control attention (Lazar et al. 2005). The details are complex, but the key point is simple: how you use your mind changes your brain--for better or worse. There''s a traditional saying that the mind takes the shape it rests upon; the modern update is that the brain takes the shape the mind rests upon. For instance, you regularly rest your mind upon worries, self-criticism, and anger, then your brain will gradually take the shape--will develop neural structures and dynamics--of anxiety, low sense of worth, and prickly reactivity to others. On the other hand, if you regularly rest your mind upon, for example, noticing you''re all right right now, seeing the good in yourself, and letting go--three of the practices in this book--then your brain will gradually take the shape of calm strength, self-confidence, and inner peace. You can''t stop your brain from changing. The only question is: Are you getting the changes you want? All It Takes Is Practice That''s where practice comes in, which simply means taking regular action--in thought, word, or deed--to increase positive qualities in yourself and decrease negative ones. For example, studies have shown that being mindful (chapter 22) increases activation of the left prefrontal cortex and thus lifts mood (since that part of the brain puts the brakes on negative emotions) (Davidson 2004), and it decreases activation of the amygdala, the alarm bell of the brain (Stein, Ives-Deliperi, and Thomas 2008). Similarly, having compassion for yourself (chapter 3) builds up resilience and lowers negative rumination (Leary et al. 2007). Basically, practice pulls weeds and plants flowers in the garden of your mind--and thus in your brain. That improves your garden, plus it makes you a better gardener: you get more skillful at directing your attention, thinking clearly, managing your feelings, motivating yourself, getting more resilient, and riding life''s roller-coaster. Practice also has built-in benefits that go beyond the value of the particular practice you''re doing. For example, doing any practice is an act of kindness toward yourself; you''re treating yourself like you matter--which is especially important and healing if you have felt as a child or an adult that others haven''t respected or cared about you. Further, you''re being active rather than passive--which increases optimism, resilience, and happiness, and reduces the risk of depression. At a time when people often feel pushed by external forces--such as financial pressures, the actions of others, or world events--and by their reactions to these, it''s great to have at least some part of your life where you feel like a hammer instead of a nail. Ultimately, practice is a process of personal transformation, gradually pulling the roots of greed, hatred, heartache, and delusion--broadly defined--and replacing them with contentment, peace, love, and clarity. Sometimes this feels like you''re making changes inside yourself, and at other times it feels like you''re simply uncovering wonderful, beautiful things that were always already there, like your natural wakefulness, goodness, and loving heart. Either way, you''re in the process of developing what one could call a "buddha brain," a brain that understands, profoundly, the causes of suffering and its end--for the root meaning of the word "buddha," is "to know, to awake." (I''m not capitalizing that word here in order to distinguish my general focus from the specific individual, the great teacher called the Buddha.) In this broad sense, anyone engaged in psychological growth or spiritual practice--whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, agnostic, atheist, or none of these--is developing a buddha brain and its related qualities of compassion, virtue, mindfulness, and wisdom. The Law of Little Things Now, if a practice is a hassle, most people (including me) are not going to do it. So the practices in this book involve either brief actions a few times a day--like finding beauty (chapter 17)--or simply a general attitude or perspective, such as relaxing anxiety about imperfection (chapter 46) or not taking life so personally (chapter 48). Each moment of practice is usually small in itself, but those moments really add up. It''s the law of little things: because of slowly accumulating changes in neural structure due to mental activity, lots of little things can wear down your well-being--and lots of little things can get you to a better place. It''s like exercise: any single time you run, do Pilates, or lift weights won''t make much difference--but over time, you''ll build up your muscles. In the same way, small efforts made routinely will gradually build up the "muscle" of your brain. You really can have confidence, grounded in the latest brain science, that practice will pay off. How to Use This Book But you have to stick with it--so it really helps to focus on one main practice at a time. Life these days is so busy and complicated that it''s great to have just one thing to keep in mind. Of course, it''s got to be the right "one thing." For forty years, I''ve been doing practices--first as a young person looking for happiness, then as a husband and father dealing with work and family life, and now as a neuropsychologist and meditation teacher--and teaching them to others. For this book, I''ve picked the best practices I know to build up the neural substrates--the foundations--of resilience, resourcefulness, well-being, and inner peace. I didn''t invent a single one: they''re the fundamentals that people make New Year''s resolutions about but rarely do--and it''s the doing that makes all the difference in the world. You can do these practices in several ways. First, you could find one particular practice that by itself makes a big difference for you. Second, you can focus on the practices within a section of the book that addresses specific needs, such as part 1 on being good to yourself if you''re self-critical, or part 5 on being at peace if you''re anxious or irritable. Third, you could move around from practice to practice depending on what strikes your fancy or feels like it would help you the most right now. Fourth, you could take a week for each one of the fifty-two practices here, giving yourself a transformational "year of practice." Whatever your approach is, I suggest you keep it simple and focus on one practice at a time--whether that time is an event or situation (e.g., a ticklish conversation with your mate, a crunch project at work, a meditation), a day, or longer. And in the back of your mind, other practices and their benefits can certainly be operating; for example, not taking things personally (chapter 48) could be in the foreground of awareness while taking refuge (chapter 28) is in the background. Know what your practice is each day; the more you keep it in awareness, the more it will benefit you. Besides simply thinking about this practice from time to time, you could rest your mind even more upon it by putting up little reminders about it--such as a key word on a sticky note--or journaling about it or telling a friend what you''re doing. You could also weave
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