Books are rather like old friends. It can be such a joy to reconnect with them. Last week I decided it was time to reconnect with ‘Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence’ by Rick Hanson. I took it on my tram trip to the city and lo and behold, I found myself in the company of ‘Melbourne’s Happiest Tram Driver’!! What a bit of synchrony! His name is Bruce Whalley. Resplendent with a bow tie and smart braces, Bruce was our jovial, heart-warming tour guide. This is a route that I take often. Bruce transformed the potentially mundane journey to a fresh experience to be treasured and enjoyed. The upside of every shopping strip, the Yarra River, the weather and even the calibre of Melbournians was celebrated in his humourous, kind banter. Fellow travellers looked up from their devices … looked at each other and smiled and laughed … and looked out the window to notice the sunshine and the passing parade of features.
I am also inspired by the people that I meet in schools and workplaces. At one school that I work at every child is warmly greeted by name and acknowledged every morning (irrespective of weather conditions) by both the Principal and Assistant Principal. Happiness and connection can be seeded in simple ways: eye contact, smiles, personal greetings and active listening. Even calling the classroom roll can be an opportunity for caring connection.
In classes with children (and adults) we have recently been pondering the importance of practice. It is said that to become a professional musician the investment is over 10,000 hours of practice. To excel in any endeavour requires commitment to practice. To create a healthy, resilient and happy mind also requires commitment and regular practice. Neural networks are like real estate. If we do not use them, they will be taken over by another ‘land lord’ of interests and habits. I used to play piano – and after years of neglect and musical inattention, those networks seem to be extinct. Sadly, now I cannot read music or play a note.
So if we are to be mindful, it is something that we have to practice. Mindfulness is a skill that needs to be practiced every day. Rick Hansen says we need to do more than simply ‘observe the mind’. He reminds us that the mind is literally something that we are creating. Survival has sculptured neural networks wired to notice what is wrong and dangerous. We all have the potential to cultivate happy neural networks, which enable us to live with awareness of creativity, gratitude, humour, kindness, forgiveness and joy. Every day brings countless opportunities direct and sustain attention in these positive places.
A dedicated Meditation practice fills up an ‘inner well’, which nourishes the self and has the potential to flow outwards, in all kinds of wondrous ways, to others. Enriching relationships in both our professional and personal lives … and lighting up other lives with chance encounters in the supermarket, tram and wherever we go.