Taking in the good – just one drop at a time

Humans are wired for survival. Our brain is like Velcro for negative and Teflon for positive [1]. Have you noticed that we tend to remember things that went wrong in our day or a negative comment that someone made, and how we replay these situations in our minds? Yet we may have missed the lovely weather, a kind stranger, or ten other positive comments that the same person may have made. This is the brain’s built in negativity bias, which means that we experience and remember painful or negative situations and emotions more strongly than positive ones. After all we can always find another carrot if we survived today.

This is, however, only half the story. Science also tells us that positive emotions play an equally important role in our survival. Specifically, positive emotions broaden our awareness and encourage novel and exploratory behaviours to build our resource [2]. When we feel joy or other positive emotions, we are more likely to be curious about our environment, connect with people, and be more creative. And thus, supporting us to develop well-being and resilience in the longer-term.

Fortunately, it is possible to train our brain to take in the good [1]:

  • Noticing the good things in life

    Notice the small good facts about ourselves or the world in our day to day life. This may be enjoying a walk in nature, a hug from a loved one, the bus driver waited for you, a stranger smiled at you, a compliment, solving something difficult, or an enjoyable conversation with a friend. There are lots of good things that we can recognise especially if we cue ourselves to look for it! Challenge yourself to find novel positive experiences that you have noticed yet.

  • Enjoy the experience.

    We know that positive experiences tend to be subtler, so spend a little more time savouring it with as many of your sense.

  • Allow the positive experiences to land.

    Taking in the compliment, the smile, the warmth of the sun, sense of achievement or pleasure, and absorbing the experience within every single cell of your body. You can visualise it or may just feel it.

This takes 30 seconds to a minute, and no one has to know! Each time we practise taking in the good, it may only make a small difference. Like drops of water on a rock, we are persistent, something as soft as water can carve a hole in a solid rock.

What’s one thing good in your life?

Dr Hui QuekBrisbane City Psychologist
Hui is a Clinical Psychologist who focuses on helping adults develop a strong foundation for wellbeing that empowers them to meet their challenges with confidence, and to live joyfully with purpose. Hui incorporates mindfulness, compassion, acceptance, values, strength-focused and positive psychology. More…


[1] Rick Hanson

[2] See Barbara Fredrickson’s work.