Installing happiness in your brain in 2023
A book review with instructions for the mental health of museum professionals
Starting 2023 with a happy foot
Happy 2023 everyone!
Here we are again, and I thought that the best way to start a new year would be with a little article on happiness.
This is especially true when there are so many headlines from 2022 that seem to be threatening our chances of having days - gosh at least one! - full of positivity. I bet you have all seen something or other for the latest articles on:
Toxic museum work environments
Yet another perishable being thrown at art
Bad wages in universities, museums, and general heritage
Upcoming recession maybe
Did we mention inflation?
So here's a refreshing change for you, from Peru, with love.
How does this relate to museum workers, aspiring students, and heritage, I hear you say?
No, it’s not because we're never happy.
Hardwiring Happiness - The book
In short, I read a book called Hardwiring Happiness last year. You can check it out here and no, this is not an affiliate link.
And, by the way, here's another random tip for you that makes me happy a lot:
I didn't even have to buy it, because I got the audiobook through Libby (which works with the Canadian library system) - I'm sure those of you lucky enough to live in countries with developed library systems could find it.
Or you could also get one of those temporary Audible or Scribd free trials and have a listen there!
BUT you don't really have to because I already read it and made copious notes just for you (well, no. It was for me mostly, but now you too, you lucky things).
What this book is essentially saying is that the human brain has evolved over time to focus on bad things a lot rather than good things. Why? Because for several hundred thousand years, we were still part of the food chain so
a good experience meant you got a delicious meal
while a bad experience meant you became something else's delicious meal.
In other words, your bad experience could be your last experience - so the best way to avoid the bad becoming the last was for our brains to become trained to focus and overanalyse bad situations.
This is why, if you get a bucketful of praise on your annual review and one small negative feedback, your brain will likely completely gloss over all the praise and just worry about that one bad thing. True? True.
According to this book,
people thrive when positive experiences outnumber negative experiences by 3:1, ideally more.
It means that we need to consciously overcompensate for negative triggers with positive thoughts.
I also heard on some Netflix show with a Chinese lady on etiquette (have you seen that, by the way? It's a cute show.) that
you actually need 9 positive interactions with someone to get over a bad first impression.
Talk about inducing anxiety for socially awkward people! In short, it takes a lot of positive to overpower the fact that our brains just want to focus on the negative.
While focusing on the negative meant that every single ancient ancestor you have got very good at surviving dinnertime, now that we're out of the food chain, doing this just causes us more anxieties and mental health problems than we really need.
What does the author suggest is the solution?
Using the brain's regular workings to re-wire our immediate reactions when facing negative stimuli.
What does this mean?
We must consciously take the time to appreciate and internalise good experiences (for at least 5-10 seconds) so that whenever we have a negative experience, we can call up one of these positive, internalised moments and actively use it to "defuse" whichever negative emotions may be trying to run away with us at the moment. The author (PhD in psychology and therapist) presents the acronym HEAL, a mental exercise that stands for
Have a positive experience
Link positive and negative material
Yes, anyone at all can use the exercises he presents, but I wanted to apply this to museum and heritage professionals specifically, and this newsletter is starting to get a bit on the long side, so I hope you can hop over to the article to get my full, meaty notes on the book, how the brain works, and exercises aimed directly at museum staff or emerging professionals!
I even made little tables and everything showing the characteristics of our core psychological needs and how we can choose the right kind of positive experiences to counteract the different bad experiences.
And as I’ve said before, this newsletter is not just for museums and art people, so if you're just here out of interest, you can always switch out the exercises to themes relevant to you - believe me, there are a lot of things in common that you can take away.
Thank you for reading!
I wish you a wonderful start to 2023 and the beginning of a productive process of hardwiring your own happiness!
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