Taking in the Good

Inside Diego's (saber-toothed lion) mouth. Ice Age 3

The three of us lay in bed, arms around each other, just a normal Saturday morning snuggle. Then Virgil pushed his way in, lying on his side between Little J and me, his head on the pillow like a person. I couldn’t believe it. Little J said, “Now the whole family is here.”

Dennis said, “And everyone has an arm over someone.”

And then Virgil put a paw on Little J.

Where was the photographer in that moment, to capture the four of us? A plaited loaf of love bread warming in the filtered Saturday morning sun?

I closed my eyes and tried to soak in the feeling for thirty seconds. Yes, I counted. Why?

Last Thursday night, when I should have been home nursing a budding cold, the nerdier side of me took hold, and I took my hankie and clip board to a lecture on brain science and spirituality by neuroscientist, Rick Hanson. I’m so glad I went.

Among many fascinating things, Hanson talked about the brain’s natural “negativity bias.” Apparently we’re wired to give far more importance to negative occurrences than positive ones. Evolution favored our ancestors who were hyper-vigilant, nervous and constantly rehashing horrible things like say, a near-fatal run-in with a saber-toothed lion. That’s how the folks of yore survived, by remembering every detail of a terrible experience so that they could better protect themselves the next time they were stalked by a sharp-fanged mammal.

What happened to our ancestors who sat by the lake, thinking positive thoughts and not reacting to negativity and drama?


So I guess we can stop beating ourselves up for quickly forgetting the fabulous news (clear PET scan by the way, with ZERO signs of cancer) and focusing on the one negative interaction that hurt our feelings. It’s hardwired in us to do just that. It’s not our fault. Yay.

And! According to Hanson, we can evolve our brains in a new direction. Since we don’t have to be worried about that saber-toothed lion anymore; since it’s now proven that focusing on positive, loving, and compassionate thoughts will extend our lives, not shorten them, we can diminish the negativity bias and create a positivity bias.

To do this, Hanson suggests a practice called “Taking in the good.” All you have to do is spend a few minutes each day savoring the thoughts and emotions of being loved, connected, and compassionate. It’s important to not simply visualize, but to feel the emotions connected to the chosen moment. When a good moment occurs, concentrate on the details. Give yourself twenty to thirty seconds to soak it in.

I feel Little J’s warm cheek pressed up to mine, the smell of Virgil’s kibble breath as he purrs, and Dennis’s hand on my back as he holds us all in his embrace. The morning moment in time, for keeps, for savoring. Taking in the good.



  1. Terre’s avatar

    Thank you, Jennifer–just amazingly beautiful…. There may not have been a photographer there that Sat, but I feel like I just looked at the photos of your morning. Heart warming. And no cancer in that photo! YEAH!!!!!!!! So happy for you!

    And thanks for sharing the practice you learned from Rick Hanson–20-30 seconds to soak in the good. Made me think of a story I read in a book by Pema Chodron, which I just found now online and copied and pasted here. Big hugs to you and your family!

    “There was a story that was widely circulated a few days after the attacks of September 11, 2001, that illustrates our dilemma. A Native American grandfather was speaking to his grandson about violence and cruelty in the world and how it comes about. He said it was as if two wolves were fighting in his heart. One wolf was vengeful and angry, and the other wolf was understanding and kind. The young man asked his grandfather which wolf would win the fight in his heart. And the grandfather answered, “The one that wins will be the one I choose to feed.””

  2. Jan’s avatar

    Cear PET and NO SIGN OF CANCER!!!!!! Hot damn!


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