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Wiring your brain for happiness
An ordinary day can become joyful, especially if your daughter invites you up the canyon. Pictured from left, Stephanie Hammond Weekes and Bonnie and Mel Hammond. - photo by Sherry Young
Springtime always brings a lift to our spirits, but if that isnt enough to drag you out of the doldrums, keep reading. Even if youre over-the-moon happy it may be worth your while, since we can never have too much happiness.

Happiness for Beginners a novel by Katherine Center, which is a nice beach read, had a good idea that made me dog-ear a page and mark it.

In the story, Helen is on a wilderness survival hike with a group and is a bit awed by Windy, who Helen sees as the perfect girl. Helen doesnt know what to say to her until she remembers her grandmothers good advice: Ask others about themselves.

As they are hiking one day, she asks Windy, an aspiring pet psychologist, what she is reading. Windy replies she is reading a book for a class on the positive psychology movement, or the study of happiness. She tells Helen how the focus used to be on neuroses and disorders. In this movement, they tell people to look for what people do right. The idea is to focus on happy, well-adjusted people and figure out how they do stuff.

The old glass-half-full idea.

Windy tells Helen, But its not just attitude. Its genuinely connected to memory." Their discussion moves to how it's also connected to brain wiring. "But (this) brain wiring appears to be something you can alter, Windy said.

She tells Helen to remember and practice the good stuff. Then Windy says, The more you register good things, the more you will think about and remember good things. And since all you really have left of the past is what you remember '

It changes the story of your life, Helen finishes.

Then Windy tells her something most of us have been told forever: Write three good things you remember of that day every night.

The conversation made perfect sense to me. People can actually train and hardwire their brains. It is the power of positive thinking.

There are, of course, serious medical reasons why this doesn't work for everyone. Those with mental illnesses and complications need to keep to their treatment regime, but adding this practice to their treatment couldn't hurt. In fact, it will help immensely, according to an acquaintance of mine who attests to the power of positive psychology.

After suffering a nervous breakdown and leaving college midway through her senior year, Lindsay Maxfield was devastated by a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, thinking it would rule and ruin her entire life.

With a fortunate choice of a doctor who guided her to focus on the good, take notice of the positive and let go of all the bad, she slowly regained her mental health. He also advised her to keep a gratitude journal to write down three good things a day, which she did.

"At the time, it was an epic struggle to find even three good things, but slowly, I got better," she said. Little by little, my world changed. I got stronger and I learned to look for the good. I realized my illness didnt have to define me.

Now off medication for more than five years, Lindsay is a happily married mother of three. She finished college, has had success in her career and has a life she loves. She believes it is all because she trained her brain to seek out and hold onto the good.

While shopping I noticed a book, "The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin. It sounds like it goes right along with the positive psychology idea.

Rubin also has a five-year, one-sentence journal titled "The Happiness Project One-Sentence Journal" that got very good ratings. The book summary includes: This daily ritual is highly do-able and provides a striking sense of accomplishment, and as the years go by you can see how your entries evolve.

Start today reading a good book and seeking out friends who will help you or, as in Lindsay's case, select a wise doctor. Remember to write down three memories of the day. We can choose to be optimistic.

Can it be that simple? You'll never know unless you try.

A final bit of inspiration from this anonymous quote: We are not given a good life or a bad life. We are given a life. It is up to us to make it good or bad.