The Neuroscience of Happiness: An Interview with Rick Hanson, Ph.D.
By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
I am delighted to bring to you neuropsychologist, meditation teacher and
author of the hit new book Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of
Happiness, Love, and Wisdom,
is co-founder of the
Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, which also
publishes the monthly Wise Brain Bulletin and hosts the WiseBrain.org
website. He is also author of the Meditations for Happiness audio download
and co-author of the Meditations to Change Your Brain CD set.
talks to us about how we can use our minds to change our
brains, to help our minds in everyday life.
: You quote a popular phrase that came from Canadian psychologist
Donald Hebb, saying that “neurons that fire together, wire together.” Can
you let us in on the significance of this quote?
: Hebb and others were trying to understand how we learn things, from
remembering what we had for breakfast to the emotional learning that is the
residue of happiness – at one end of the spectrum – and trauma, at the other
end. In other words, how does mental activity change neural structure? A
pretty important question! Hebb developed the theory, since borne out in its
essence by subsequent research, that it is the simultaneity of firing (within a
few thousandths of a second) of neurons that are connected with each other
that leads to strengthening existing synapses – which are the junctions
between neurons – and to building new ones.
For example, if you routinely dwell on your resentments and regrets, the
neurons involved in that particular mental activity will fire busily together,
and automatically start wiring together as well. Which will add one more bit
of neural structure to feeling discontented, mistreated, angry, or sorrowful.
On the other hand, if you regularly focus on the good facts around you and