Sunday, August 29, 2010


I recently stumbled across "Rapt - Attention and the Focused Life" by Winifred Gallagher.  She writes of a universe of ways that paying attention (or not) create the life we live.  The book contains plenty of neuroscience for the geeks among us, but it's an easy read for the less geeky.  Here is how the book ends...

Attending to pleasure is a reward in itself, but savoring also boosts your quotient of positive emotion, which in turn expands your focus and may confer health benefits, such as improved resilience and immune function.  During an illness, says Bryant (Fred Bryant, psychologist at Loyola University in Chicago), 'you should savor not just for the sheer joy of it, but also to help yourself recover.'  Then too, he says, 'just because something bad is happening doesn't mean lots of good things aren't also.  They're two very different phenomena.  The joy and meaning you find in life and the current stressor -- an illness, a troubled relative, a career setback -- are separate concerns, and you can experience both.'
The best strategy for savoring is learning to pay rapt attention to carefully chosen top-down targets.  To practice this skill, Bryant suggests taking a 'daily vacation': spending twenty to thirty minutes focusing on something you enjoy or suspect you might but have never done.  Then, at the end of the day, you revisit and relish that pleasurable interlude and plan the next sojourn.  After seven days, he says, 'most people say,  "What a great week! I wish I could do that all of the time!" Well why not?'

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