Written by Gavin Sklar, 2023 Let Go & Grow Summer Intern
Edited by The LG&G Team
What brings you joy?
Is it a phone call from a relative? The sunlight that comes in through the window and warms your skin? Exercise? Laughs and fun times with friends? Nutritious and delicious food? Or a movie to wind down?
This is a very important question to answer. In the first place, this is because many people do not think to do any of these activities – for various reasons, including even the belief that they don’t deserve joy. Additionally, many people may very well participate in these activities, but how often do we consciously think to do them FOR feeling good, or think to add more of these in our life lives? It is important to think about joy because to live our happiest, and most meaningful and fulfilling lives, the experiences that cultivate joy will make all the difference.
What is the definition of joy? – According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune.” Doesn’t that sound great?!
Furthermore, with mental health struggles increasingly on the rise, alarming statistics make answering these conversations even more prevalent to talk about.
According to a study by the American Psychological Association in 2019:
- Rates of depression increased by 52% between 2005 and 2017 among adolescents aged 12 to 17 years old.
- Rates of depression increased by 63% between 2009 and 2017 in young adults aged 18 to 25 years old.
- The rate of young adults with suicidal thoughts or other suicide-related outcomes increased 47 percent from 2008 to 2017.
These statistics are from 6 years ago. Imagine how they have changed since then!
In fact, humans do a good job of engaging in joyous activities. However, a lot of the time, we are thinking of the very next activity to do, or as soon as we finish our exercise, we go right to our phone, or to our next thing on the to-do list.
All this is surely okay, but this approach may leave us with a shaky sense of joy that is both vibrant, yet also ever-fleeting and has us immediately wishing for the next vacation, or the next social outing. This is very unfortunate that for many, joy is attached to only a few occasions and doesn’t last very long.
How do you cultivate a more connected and secure sense of joy?
In the book, “Hardwiring Happiness” by Rick Hanson, Ph.D., the author introduces a powerful practice called “taking in the good,” to give lasting feelings of contentment, calm, and confidence. This approach is much more than the popular approach of “positive thinking,” and more than gratitude. This approach describes our mind like a garden – where negative experiences are weeds, and positive experiences are flowers (although this is surely a spectrum). “Taking in the good” focuses on strengthening the flowers that are already there, and growing more of them in our garden. The technical definition of taking in the good described in the book is “the deliberate internalization of positive experiences in implicit memory.”
The approach is beautifully summed up in the book with an acronym called HEAL in 4 simple steps. According to Hanson, just like downloading software on a computer or an app on our phone, this practice can work in a similar way. “Step 1 activates a positive mental state, and steps 2,3, and 4 install it in our brain.” However, during the actual practice of taking in the good, all these steps blend together.
- H – HAVE a positive experience.
Having a positive experience is simply engaging in that movie, or nutritious meal, or night out with friends – something that brings you joy. The key here is either noticing a positive experience that’s already going on in the current foreground or creating one.
- E – ENRICH it
Enriching the experience is truly where “taking in the good” comes into play. As soon as the activity ends (or even during), this involves sitting with the experience for at least 12 seconds – or 3 breaths. “Sitting” with the experience allows us to feel the positive emotions from that good experience. Where are we feeling the joy in our body? What was so awesome about the experience? Was it the idea of having friends? Was it the beautiful fact that we have two legs to take a run, or the nice weather outside? Or the fulfilling meal we ate that many people don’t get a chance to have?
Science shows that with just these 5-12 seconds at least, this practice fires neurons in our brain to both create new neural circuits in our brain and strengthen already existing circuits; therefore allowing these positive states to be experienced more often in our life and seal these experiences in our memory. All we have to do is take 3 deep breaths either during or after the experience, therefore “sitting” in the feelings, “turning positive neural states into lasting neural traits.” Side note, our physical position does not have to be sitting at all, and you can read more on how to grow your nervous system’s capacity to have and to hold the good right here.
Personally, during the INHALE in through my nose, I like to visualize the words someone may have said to me that brought me joy, or the love I felt in the moment, and then during the EXHALE out through my mouth, I let these feelings permeate through my whole body and being.
- A – ABSORB it
Rick Hanson puts this step beautifully when he says “sense and intend that this feeling of being on your own side is sinking into you as you sink into it. Let this good experience become a part of you.” Imagine the experience as gold dust that slowly absorbs into your psyche. Or “place it like a jewel in the treasure chest of your heart.” This step allows this energy and feeling of the experience to be secured within, so ideally, we can tap into it whenever we need it, just like a tool in a toolbox. And even better, this practice helps to secure these awesome memories in our brain, which unfortunately many tend to forget easily– the little but POWERFUL daily occurrences.
- L – LINK positive and negative material (optional)
*This step is optional, yet highly effective if we can tap into it.
Acknowledge the negative material that might be in the back of your mind still trying to break in. There is a place to clear it– but knowing this, we can choose to jump right back into the gratitude and love for the moment, letting these feelings run the show while the anxiety, stress, and/or sadness take a backseat… or better yet, fly out of the window. For example, when you feel healthy in your current situation or meal, there may still be those negative feelings of craving chocolate or chips that are hijacking your awareness. Let these feelings be present, and then either let go of the negative completely or just rest in the positive – letting the nutritious composition of the food, increased energy in your body, and people associated with these feelings take over – so we associate with the positive.
A note from Dr. Brooke Stuart: Here, in this place, we can utilize our power of choice to opt for something different that could work better for us. We are giving it the time and space to saturate our experience to see if we prefer it!
This practice may seem a little complex, but that is why there is a whole book on it. And when it comes to everlasting joy, what most people say as their main desire in life – it is most definitely worth it to try 🙂
If this practice is seeming a little overbearing or difficult, remember this:
- All it takes is a few breaths.
- Savor the moment.
- Acknowledge the little things.
- “Get those neurons to fire together, so they wire together.”
Additionally, if you are looking for a practical approach to revamp your health, wellness, energy, love for life and grow your nervous system’s capacity to have and hold the good, we offer the Mind Body Reset (MBR) program that allows you to LET GO of limiting beliefs, habits, and thoughts that are holding you back, while GROWING into a better, fuller, and more vibrant version of yourself.
And remember, you already have joy within you, all you have to do is choose it. What you want wants you too! ☺
Hanson, R. (2016). Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of contentment, calm, and confidence. Harmony Books.
Join the mind body reset. Let Go & Grow. (2022, November 3). https://letgoandgrow.com/mind- body-reset/
Mental health issues increased significantly in young adults over last decade. (2019). PsycEXTRA Dataset. https://doi.org/10.1037/e502642019-001
Gavin Sklar is someone who strives for excellence in everything he does and is. He is passionate about feeling his best within his own body and helping others do the same. Gavin grew up playing plenty of sports with his main sport being baseball where he competed at the Varsity level in High School and was the team captain for his senior year. Sports taught Gavin the values of commitment, discipline, and effort while doing something that he loves. Additionally, growing up as the oldest of 4 children and later on the captain of the high school baseball team, he needed to learn how to lead others in many different ways for both an optimal family and team dynamic. Now, Gavin holds the positions of Content Writer at Let Go & Grow International and President of the Holistic Living Organization at UCF where he aims to grow and impact others on a daily basis.