• The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science
    By Norman Doidge, M.D.  A few decades ago, scientists considered the brain to be fixed or “hardwired”.  In easily accessible, fascinating personal stories, Doidge explores the science of neuroplasticity, interviewing both scientific pioneers and the patients who have proven the brain has remarkable powers of changing its own structure.
  • How We Choose to Be Happy: The 9 Choices of Extremely Happy People
  • By Rick Foster and Greg Hicks  Interviewing some 300 people all over the world, the authors developed the 9 choices they found in happy people everywhere.  These are not people with easy lives, but through personal stories the authors present a road map of how people create happiness. The book also provides a key to the mind-body connection.  Their model is being studied in medical schools like the Mayo Clinic, the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the American Heart Association because these 9 strategies are also associated with increased health and well being.

Websites and Videos

For Panic Attacks

Gives Me Hope offers very short stories of human generosity, love, compassion.  It’s the perfect antidote to the relentless news of war, natural disasters, human greed and violence. It’s about the full half of the glass.

JUST ONE THING by Rick Hanson provides weekly practices that are grounded in brain science, positive psychology, and contemplative training. “They’re simple and easy to do – and they produce powerful results. For example, one practice asks you to take a few minutes each day to notice little things you appreciate or feel grateful for, like the smell of an orange, the smile of a friend, or a sense of your own sincerity and good intentions. This may not sound like much, but research has shown that this practice will lift your mood, protect you against stress, and even strengthen your immune system.  You’ll be gradually strengthening your neural pathways of happiness, love, and wisdom.”

Self Compassion

We all get down on ourselves at times.  Some of us make a habit of it, increasing our sense of unworthiness, inadequacy and drowning our motivation.

The drive for high self esteem, endorsed by so many over the past couple of decades is based on trying to feel like we are performing well, being successful.  The problem is that we can’t all be above average on everything all the time.  We can end up feeling worse about ourselves, increasing our self criticism for all the ways we don’t merit high esteem.

Self-compassion is based on being kind and caring for our total human experience, including all our challenges, strengths and weaknesses.

Kristin Neff is the world’s leading brain researcher on the topic of self-compassion.  From her book:

Research strongly suggests that people who are more self-compassionate lead healthier, more productive lives than those who are self-critical. And the feelings of security and self-worth provided by self-compassion are highly stable. Self-compassion steps in precisely when we fall down, allowing us to get up and try again.


I recommend the watching this free conversation she had with Neuropsychologist Dr. Rick Hansen as part of a series on compassion and the brain (it’s episode six).  Neff describes her studies, including how to tell the difference between self-indulgence and self-compassion.

Kristin Neff’s website includes a test to see how self-compassionate you are and exercises and meditations to increase self-compassion.


GREATER GOOD SCIENCE CENTER eNewsletter is a wonderful resource.

The Greater Good Science Center studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society.  Based at the University of California, Berkeley, the GGSC is committed  to both science and practice: not only do they sponsor groundbreaking scientific research into social and emotional well-being, they help people apply this research to their personal and professional lives.


By Katherine Roubos:

Our brains are predisposed to over-notice potential threats and under-acknowledge the positive elements of our experience. One of the ways we can increase our capacity for joy is to teach the brain to let it in through our automatic filter, rather than discarding it as “unimportant” information. Because we can use our thoughts and habits to change our brains, using small practices and intentions to notice joy in our lives and in the lives of those around us can make a significant difference in how much joy gets through our filter over time.


For example, I decided to notice my favorite color, blue, for a week. The sky and the flowers, even the color of people’s cars or clothes brought me a lot of delight because I placed attention on noticing and appreciating it. My intention helped to get it past my filter. Another friend of mine took on the practice of noticing stranger’s happiness for a week. She said that she hadn’t realized how happy passing by a playground can be, or how beautiful it is to see two friends laughing together at a café. Placing your intention on appreciating joy in small, particular areas of life can help build your brain’s capacity for joy without it feeling overwhelming or impossible.