Reading Guides

Reading Guides

Guiding readers through the main concepts and details of chapters and texts

Hardwiring Happiness

To download the reading guide click here.

Chapter One: Growing Good

1. Of the following inner resources – calm, determination, gratitude, contentment, sense of accomplishment, feeling cared about, self-compassion, confidence, self-worth, love, resilience, and insight – which are already strong inside of you, and which are especially important these days to develop further?


2. What do you think about the idea of positive experience-dependent neuroplasticity: deliberately using your mind to change your brain to change your mind for the better?


3. What did you think about the author’s belief that there are just three basic ways to engage the mind (letting be, letting go, and letting in)? Can you give an example how you used each one of these approaches to your own mind?


4. Think of something positive in your life, perhaps something you’re grateful for or someone who you love. For a dozen seconds or more, open to a positive experience. What’s this like for you?


Chapter Two: Velcro for the Bad

1. What do you think about the idea that our brain has evolved a negativity bias? What does the author mean by your brain being like “Velcro for bad experiences but Teflon for good ones.”


2. Do you agree with the author when he says, “We routinely overestimate threats and underestimate opportunities and resources?” How do you do this yourself?


3. What’s a personal situation that had many positive features but you focused on the one bad thing about it? (Like a job performance review that had nine compliments for you and one area for improvement.)


4. What are some good facts in your life that you don’t usually notice? What are some positive facts that you do notice but don’t usually have a positive experience about? Even when you do notice a good facts and have a good experience as a result, how often do you stay with that good experience for a dozen or more seconds?


Chapter Three: Green Brain, Red Brain

1. What’s it like to realize that your brain is the product of 600 million years of evolution – that it has been built to solve the survival problems faced by ancient reptiles, mammals, primates, and early humans?


2. What do you think of the author’s framework that we have three fundamental needs – for safety, satisfaction, and connection – that are managed by the Avoiding, Approaching, and Attaching systems in our brains? Can you give an example of one of your needs for safety, satisfaction, and connection?


3. What’s the difference between the Responsive (green) mode and Reactive (red) modes of the brain? How do each of these feel for you?


4. What are some internal factors that tip you into the “red zone?” What are some internal factors that help you stay in the “green zone?”


Chapter Four: HEAL Yourself

1. The author says, “when you tilt toward good, you are not denying or resisting the bad. You’re simply acknowledging, enjoying and using the good.” What are your thoughts about this statement?


2. What, if it were more present in your mind these days, would really help you? In other words, using the author’s metaphor, what’s your “Vitamin C?”


3. Bring to mind a recent positive experience and then practice the three basic HEAL steps:
i. Have a positive experience
ii. Enrich it
iii. Absorb it


4. Make a list of some things that help you feel calmer, happier, or more loved when you think about them.


5. Complete the practice of Being on Your Own Side (p. 66) and write about and/or discuss your experience. What feelings come up for you in this exercise? Ease? Joy? Resistance? Forgiveness? Sadness?


Chapter Five: Take Notice

1. What’s the difference between liking and wanting? How might it benefit you to be able to enjoy things without getting caught up in wanting them?


2. Think of a recent positive experience and reflect on and write about and/or discuss the different aspects that composed the “song” of the experience: thought, perception, emotion, desire, and action.


3. Name something positive in the background of your awareness right now and use the practice on page 86 to bring it to the foreground.


Chapter Six: Creating Positive Experiences

1. Complete the practice on page 92 – “From Idea to Embodied Experience” – and write about and/or discuss your experience with the practice.


2. For one or more of the following, create (Have) a positive experience, and then practice the next two steps of HEAL, Enriching and Absorbing:
– Current Setting
– Recent Events
– Ongoing Conditions
– Your Personal Qualities
– The Past
– The Future
– Sharing Good with Others
– Finding the Good in the Bad
– Caring about Others
– Seeing Good in the Lives of Others
– Imagining Good Facts (i. Things That Could Be True, ii. Things That Couldn’t Be True)


3. In what ways do you already practice creating good facts and evoking positive experiences? Write about and/or discuss your methods.


Chapter Seven: Brain Building

1. What are the benefits of enriching an experience?


2. Using a good experience that you brought to mind in one of the previous chapters, or a new one, explore one or more of the following approaches for enriching it:
– Duration
– Intensity
– Multimodality
– Novelty
– Personal Relevance


3. Describe your own personal methods for absorbing a good experience. What images or feelings come to mind?


4. Practice the meditation on Peace, Contentment and Love (p. 121) by yourself or with a partner, and write about and/or discuss your experience.

Chapter Eight: Flowers Pulling Weeds

1. What are one or more examples in which you already do the Link step in HEAL, in which you are aware of both positive and negative material at the same time, and help the positive ease, soothe, and even replace the negative.


2. Are you able to be aware of both positive and negative material at the same time? Practice doing this a few times with something that is strongly positive alongside something that is mildly negative.


3. Talk about your experience of doing the Linking step.


4. Using Table 5 (p. 137) as a guide, identify one or more key “antidote experiences” for yourself.

Chapter Nine: Good Uses

1. Create your own “Hardwiring Your Happiness” chart and fill in the column headings with the experiences you’d like to take in.


2. Which (if any) blocks do you identify with? Make a list of your blocks and the specific ways you can work with them.


3. Consider a current situation in your life that you would like to be more responsive to rather than reactive to. Imagine, write about, and/or discuss the potential benefits for you of “going green” (the Responsive mode) in this part of your life.


Chapter Ten: 21 Jewels

1. Of the 21 strengths the author names, or thinking of additional ones that he doesn’t name, what are your own “top ten” strengths that you’d most like to reinforce or develop?
2. How are you going to use the 21 Jewels? Practicing one a day for 21 days? Practicing three a day for a week? How are you feeling called to use these strengths in your life?


3. After practicing with one, many, or all of the strengths, write about and/or discuss your experience and how you feel and imagine your life changing as a result.


Buddha’s Brain

To download the reading guide click here.

Chapter 1: The Self-Transforming Brain

1. How does it feel to know that you can use your mind to change your brain to change your mind for the better?


2. The author describes virtue, mindfulness and wisdom as the three pillars of Buddhist practice. Which aspects of your life foster these qualities and which aspects challenge them?


3. What do you think about the author’s statement that, “wholesome changes in the brains of many people could help tip the world in a better direction?” Do you agree or disagree?


Chapter 2: The Evolution of Suffering

1. In what ways have you experienced separation in your life and what have the effects been? Isolation? Alienation? Overwhelm?


2. How do you relate to the three primary survival strategies – creating separations, maintaining stability, and approaching opportunities and avoiding threats – that make you suffer?


3. The author describes how our brains simulate the world like a mini-movie running constantly. Think of a recent occurrence when the simulator pulled you out of the present moment. What was the mini-movie that played? Did it set you chasing pleasures or resisting pains?


4. Take yourself through the self-compassion exercise beginning on page 46 and write about your experience. How does this feel for you?


Chapter 3: The First and Second Dart

1. Reflect on a recent instance when you threw a second dart. Was it to yourself or another? Was there a first dart present? Was the second dart a reaction to something that was actually good?


2. Can you identify with any of the physical or mental consequences of frequent SNS/HPSS activation (beginning on p. 56)?


3. On page 61, the author describes the four stages on the path of awakening. Which stage do you find yourself in most often? Can you identify the second darts that keep you at a particular stage (if you’re not operating at stage four – unconscious competence)?


Chapter 4: Taking in the Good

1. Which negative material in your life would you like to have infused with positive material? Look for opportunities to both have a positive experience and allow it to sink in, soothe and replace old pains; and bring to mind positive emotions and perspectives when negative material arises.


2. In your own words, describe why it’s good to take in the good.


3. What are the deep roots of your recurring upsets?


Chapter 5: Cooling the Fires

1. Practice one or more of the methods for activating the parasympathetic nervous system. How does this feel in your body?
2. On page 90, the author suggests imagining or writing down a conversation between the inner protector and a critical or alarming subpersonality, making sure that the inner protector makes a powerful case for you. How do you feel about this exercise?


3. Are there situations in your life that you approach with similar expectations from childhood? Reflect on these situations and consider the questions that the author offers: “What options do I actually have? How could I exercise power skillfully to stick up for myself and take good care of myself? What resources could I draw upon?”


4. Complete the practice, Exploring Your Refuges (p. 95.) What was this experience like for you?


Chapter 6: Strong Intentions

1. Why do you think it’s important to both cool the causes of suffering and warm up the causes of happiness?


2. What is your understanding of the difference between desire and craving?


3. Complete the practice of Many Ways to Feel Strong (p. 105) and describe your experience. How did this exercise feel for you? In what ways do you already feel strong?


Chapter 7: Equanimity

1. What is your understanding of equanimity? In a state of equanimity, what happens when the limbic system fires?


2. Using the relaxation practices in chapter 5, make a list of mild to strong triggers and work your way up the list (from mild to strong) bringing a greater sense of tranquility to each one (p. 116).


3. How does equanimity block the normal sequence in the mind that moves from feeling tone to craving to clinging and to suffering?


Chapter 8: Two Wolves in the Heart

1. What is your understanding of how and why humans developed empathy?


2. What are some of the traits that modern day humans developed through the “banding” of early humans?


3. How did we form an “us” against “them” dynamic? How did this dynamic support survival?


4. How does the wolf of hate show up in your life? How does it feel to consciously release the thoughts of someone being “not like me?”

Chapter 9: Compassion and Assertion

1. What does empathy mean to you? Write about or discuss a recent experience of giving or receiving empathy. How did this experience feel for you?


2. On page 145 the author suggests experiencing daily compassion for five kinds of people – someone you’re grateful for, a loved one or friend, a neutral person, someone who is difficult for you, and for yourself. In what ways is this practice easy and in what ways is it challenging?


3. Beginning on page 147, the author offers examples of unilateral virtues. What are your core virtues? What are your purposes and principles in relationships? Make a list of your unilateral core virtues (your personal code) and visualize yourself acting accordingly, no mater what happens.


4. Which of the key points of communication that the author lists are you using skillfully? Which could use more practice? How do these communication skills relate to your personal code?


Chapter 10: Boundless Kindness

1. On page 159, the author describes a meditation in which you repeat specific phrases for wishing yourself and others well, to help sink into a deep sense of loving-kindness. Describe your experience with this meditation. What sensations or emotions did you notice?


2. Of the practices the author lists to “Tame the Wolf of Hate”, which resonate with you strongly? Which do you already practice and which can you commit to practicing more often?


3. Complete the Ten Thousand Things exercise on page 165 and journal about your experience. How did this exercise feel for you? How has it changed your feelings or perception of the person who was the subject of the exercise? Do you feel differently about that person or the situation? Do you feel differently about yourself?


Chapter 11: Foundations of Mindfulness

1. What are your personal challenges to mindfulness, if any? Which aspect of attention is most challenging for you: holding something in your awareness, filtering out distractions, or managing the desire for stimulation?


2. Of the suggestions the author gives to support everyday mindfulness on page 184, which are you willing to commit to practicing? What practices can you add of your own?


3. The author suggests four ways to improve your attention: using intention, staying awake and alert, quieting the mind, and abiding as awareness. Name situations in your work and home life, and your spiritual practice in which you can use these techniques to improve your attention over time.


Chapter 12: Blissful Concentration

1. On page 198 the author offers ways to intensify rapture and joy. Having given yourself the opportunity to experiment with them in meditation and in everyday situations, describe some of your experiences.


2. Describe, in as much detail as you can, the nuances in experiencing the states of rapture, happiness, contentment, and tranquility.
3. How does it feel to give yourself over to the present moment, dropping the past and the future?


Chapter 13: Relaxing the Self

1. Recall and describe an instance in your life when your sense of “I” was strong and the cause of suffering. Conversely, describe an instance when your sense of “I” was relaxed and you felt happy and satisfied.


2. Did your understanding of the self change after reading the author’s descriptions? How do you feel about the author’s suggestions for relaxing the self: releasing identification, practicing generosity, being good to yourself, relaxing about what others think, and relaxing the desire to be special?


3. In addition to the author’s suggestions for feeling joined with the world and joined with life, how will you deepen these practices to contribute to thriving, happiness and contentment for yourself and others?


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