Hardwiring Happiness

October 8, 2013 non-fiction, Psychology, Self-Help 10

17288646Title: Hardwiring Happiness
Author: Rick Hanson
Source: from publisher for review
Rating: ★★★★☆
Fun Fact: Things you think about often shape your neural pathways.
Review Summary: I only finished this book two days ago and I actually think it’s already making a difference for me because it gives such great actionable advice. Very helpful!

Hardwiring Happiness is all about focusing on the little things. It is not, however, just another one of those books telling you  “live in the moment” which are so popular these days. Instead, it focuses on events and feelings that you can pay attention to in order to build up the inner strength you need to face specific challenges. By focusing on positive experiences, you help yourself remember positive feelings more strongly, despite our brain naturally remembering negative experiences better.

At times this book reads like a piece of fluff. It’s rooted a lot in the author’s own experience and clearly had the illustrative stories I think are so important in self-help books. It was less clear that the author was going to offer actionable advice or back his claims up with science. Initially, a lot of the advice sounded kind of new-agey and silly to me. Fortunately, the author includes explicit directions for performing exercises that will help you feel better about specific challenges. Even better, for me, they worked! For instance, I sometimes feel stressed about running late, so the other day when I was early, I took a moment to savor being on top of things. When I woke up the next morning feeling like I should be somewhere already, I was able to remember the feeling of being on top of things and relax. It might sound silly, but I really think I’m already feeling happier as a result of this and several other little practices from the book.

In terms of scientific backing, I think the author used a paraphrase of “research has shown” maybe twice in the whole book. He is well credentialed and does eventually get into some of the interesting theories of evolution of the brain underlying his ideas. He also occasionally mentioned other credible sources that influenced his theories. However, I was only really convinced that his work was backed by research when I reached his bibliography. This could easily have been a five star review for me had the author integrated this research into his text. As is, I’d love to give this to friends to read since I’ve found it so helpful, but I don’t think I can. I’d have too hard of a time getting people to look past the insubstantial sounding bits when the text doesn’t make it clear how much research is backing it up. That said, I’d love to talk one of you into reading it and actually trying the exercises, because I think this is a book worth sharing.

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10 Responses to “Hardwiring Happiness”

  1. Charlie

    It is better when it’s obvious in the narrative (for want of a better word) that there is research behind it. It’s also nice to have the link there between the text and notes in the bibliography. Sounds a bit of a missed chance but otherwise pretty good. I like how you’ve discussed the science because it’s easy to put down a book before the fact becomes apparent.

    • DoingDewey

      That’s exactly how I felt about it. It was almost perfect and the lack of science was a missed opportunity. I might have given up on it because of the lack of science in the text if I weren’t reading this for a review, but having finished, I’d highly recommend pushing through it 🙂

  2. Asti (A Bookish Heart)

    Gah, sorry. Somehow it hit enter… Let’s try that again.

    Wow, sounds like quite the interesting book! I’ve always found it curious that negative experiences are so much easier to recall and discuss than positives. It’s like they scar themselves into our brains. I’ve never thought about how maybe it’s because we don’t ever take the time to actually savor the positive. It’s like it something goes right we just move on and act like it’s not important, but if something goes wrong it’s the end of the world. I might have to try and see if I can rethink any of the things I think. Like, instead of being stressed that I haven’t been commenting on as many blogs because of uni and whatnot, I’ll be proud of myself for commenting on yours?

    • DoingDewey

      I think that’s a great idea 🙂 It sounds like the current theory is that we remember negative things more strongly because it was to the advantage of our caveman ancestors to be overly cautious in order to survive. The author uses the example of it being better to worry that there might be a lion in the grass today and be wrong then it is to be wrong not to worry! But today, it’s definitely better to convince your brain to relax and focus on the good things 🙂 Thanks for taking the time comment!

  3. Aylee (@AyleeArgh)

    Huh, what a coincidence that I should be reading a review for a book like this – I was literally just a minute ago thinking that I wish I didn’t focus so much on the negative things in my life! I am a naturally anxious and easily stressed person, so it’s definitely a struggle for me to think positively sometimes. I bet I could benefit from a book like this.

    • DoingDewey

      I would definitely recommend it! I loved that the author gave step by step suggestions for focusing on specific positive things to balance out specific negative thoughts you might be struggling with. It made it really easy to jump right in to trying his suggestions 🙂

  4. amynabi

    It sounds like an interesting book. I have a difficult time getting myself to read books. But I think this is one book worth checking 🙂

  5. TracyK

    Sounds like a useful book and I am glad it worked for you. If I see it, I will give it a try. I already believe that the changes you talk about can help, so no problem with convincing me of the viability. But actually putting these changes into effect and keeping up with it is the problem.

    • DoingDewey

      You’re right! I’m actually thinking of buying a physical copy, instead of just the ebook, so I can have it sitting around staring at me to remind me 🙂