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In one of my brief walks around my neighborhood, I passed a truck with a provocative bumper sticker: “Feelings Are Irrelevant.”
The therapist in me wondered how the driver had gotten that message in their childhood, but on further reflection, I thought, What a sad belief.
Feelings are quite relevant — whether we “believe” in them or not, they run our nervous system with ruthless efficiency — triggering our the amygdala part of our brain with messages of fear, danger, sadness, or anger.
But feelings also open us to awe, love, gratitude, admiration, and kindness.
What a grey-toned world it would be without the colorful life of feelings.
I know how tempting it is to shut down our emotions when we have had trauma, shock, and an endless cycle of bad news.
When you live with chronic illness, it is especially tempting not to try not to feel a roller coaster of fresh worry or flare-driven anxiety.
Our nervous systems are hard-wired to privilege bad news — to respond more quickly and pay more attention to whatever danger or potentially difficult thing is on our horizon.
To “re-wire” takes some effort and attention, yet it can be done.
How to Savor Emotions to Rewire Your Brain
In his book Hardwiring Happiness, the psychologist and Buddhist teacher Rick Hanson gives us an exercise to help male good feelings as relevant as bad ones.
He terms it “savoring.”
Research has demonstrated that just 10 seconds of savoring a good feeling can “install” it in our neural networks. This can begin to turn us slowly away from negative feelings like anxiety and rumination, and gently toward positive feelings like appreciation, compassion for ourselves and others, and gentle hopefulness.
Hansen recommends you find a situation, person, or object that holds good feelings or pleasurable feelings. You savor that moment, or pet, or loved one, or flower for 10 seconds. Use all your senses: see it, feel it, hear it, smell it — even taste it if that’s appropriate. The more you use your physical senses, the more deeply the savored feeling gets installed.
This is a practice that we can repeat any time: when we’re lying in bed, in the shower, or as we sit by a window. You can even do it when you’re in pain.
The more you practice savoring a good feeling, the more you can experience the powerful relevance of your own feelings to help you stay focused and in charge.
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