Some years ago, when I learned that it was possible to re-wire my brain to feel happier by doing a series of brief mental exercises, I became interested in experimenting with that. So, one of the things I decided to do was, at the end of each day, to reflect on my day and recall the most beautiful thing I'd seen, or the place where there was the most goodness I had observed or experienced that day, and then every night I wrote it down in a notebook. It became something I started looking forward to doing, and it eventually became a habit. Honestly, there was never a day that I was disappointed, because somewhere, there was always something of beauty or goodness if I just looked for it.
Sometimes it was the beauty of hearing the Robins joining together to sing their springtime early morning song, or maybe it was a flock of sparrows chattering back and forth as they gathered around the bird bath in the garden. Maybe it was seeing an incredibly beautiful sunset or rainbow. Or perhaps I noticed someone doing something to help someone else, like a teenager gladly volunteering to take a garbage can to the curb so a senior adult wouldn't have to struggle with it. Or maybe it was an older mom jumping in to help a younger mom struggling with little kids at the grocery store. One day on the way to the counseling center where I worked at the time, I saw a dad outside cutting the grass in his front yard with a push lawnmower. He pushed it with one hand because with the other hand he held a sleeping baby against his bare chest as he walked back and forth. Sometimes the most beautiful thing I experienced was when I worked with someone who normally engaged in a lot of self-criticism, but who suddenly had a flash of insight about their own self-worth, or who experienced breaking free from a negative belief or habit that had held them back in their life.
Most of the things I noticed were just simple, common, ordinary things, yet when I reflected back on them each evening, they seemed infused with something of God's love and care. Little by little, the notebook filled up with memories of beauty and goodness, and so the neural pathways in my brain associated with noticing beauty and feeling happy were strengthened and expanded. Occasionally, I'd just read down through the memories listed and I would feel so blessed!
When I set out to do this experiment, I didn't plan on what happened, but here is the outcome of it: I, literally, rewired my brain and programmed my mind - my unconscious - to always be looking for beauty and goodness, no matter what else is happening in my life. I had been doing this exercise for several years, and one day when my husband and I were having a disagreement about something and we were both a little irritated with each other, suddenly something beautiful came into my line of vision. I quickly noticed its beauty, and my irritability calmed down and I felt peace. That was when I realized the power of developing a mindset of looking for beauty and goodness, and doing it so often that it becomes an automatic response.
So, if you tend to feel down a lot, or even if listening to the news makes you feel depressed, the idea of creating new neural pathways or strengthening existing networks in your brain associated with beauty and goodness is one idea that can help you raise your level of happiness and joy. While it's just a simple little tool, you can gain some big benefits from it by regularly practicing it. This exercise won't solve any problems you are dealing with, and it doesn't mean you will never feel sad or angry, but it is something that can help you more regularly feel happier, more contented, and more blessed.
(Photo credit: cdt/Nataba)