How Contemplation Can Make Positive Experiences Last

This week, an email appeared in my inbox from one of my teammates at work. It was an unsolicited message sent to the entire company explaining the positive impact that another person on our team had on one of our clients. It was one of many emails I received that day. I read it quickly, smiled, thought, “That’s cool,” deleted it and moved to the next email.

A couple of years ago, a different kind of email appeared in my inbox from one of my teammates. It was a forwarded email from a disappointed client. I read that one quickly, too, shook my head, thought, “How did we let that happen?” and responded with questions. I still think about that email to this day.

Studies of the human brain show that we all have, what scientists call, a “negativity bias.” We look for and ruminate on bad news. As Dr. Rick Hanson puts it, “The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.” In fact, we have to savor positive experiences for at least 15 seconds for them to have the same sustaining effect on our brain that negative experiences do.

Thinking about this, I returned to my teammate’s recent positive email and re-read it. I read it slowly, thinking about the joy she must have felt writing it. I considered the pride that my other teammate must have had seeing it, and how much I appreciate him. I thought deeply about our business and the value it brings.

For at least 15 seconds.


Contemplation is defined as deep reflective thought or the action of looking thoughtfully at something for a long time. Science has proven that, if you want to have lasting joy in your life, you have to spend time focusing on what’s positive around you. Your mind is a magnet for negativity. Joy, on the other hand, has to be cultivated. You have to marinate your brain in goodness in order for it to have a transforming effect.

Imagine finding the positive in a difficult meeting and allowing that to turn over in your mind for 15 seconds. What if you chose to notice what’s great about your co-worker, customer, partner or child and then…continued noticing it for 15 seconds.

Or what if the next time you’re waiting in line, sitting in rush hour, fighting to finish a difficult task or working through a hard conversation, you look around to find something joy-producing…and then stay with it for 15 seconds.

What if you were more contemplative?

Remember that the good things will be fleeting unless you stay with them. So in your fast, busy, over-scheduled, never-enough, impatient, multi-tasking, frustrating day, activate your senses.

Where could you be more contemplative this week?



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  • Susan Arico
    May 6, 2016 at 6:01 pm

    Fascinating. I like the way this suggestion (and the science behind it) blends the qualitative and the quantitive… Contemplation of good for the purpose of savoring – with a time goal. While it feels paradoxical, it also puts legs to the idea of actually DOING it.

    • Matt Norman
      May 7, 2016 at 11:10 am

      Thank you, Susan. Great point you make that to “be” we ultimately have to “do” something.