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    Missing something in life, but can’t figure out what it is?

    That’s how I felt for the last year. I’ve been happy, grinding away at work and passions, but all along there’s been this subtle feeling of something being a little off.

    I figured this was just a normal part of life in one’s early career days, but then last week I learned some new information that changed my perspective on things.

    While at a retreat in San Francisco for the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute Engage Program (LINK HERE) that I’ve been going through the last 6 months, I had the opportunity to hear from Rick Hanson, PhD. Rick is an incredible man, and the bestselling author of Hardwiring Happiness (LINK HERE) and Buddha’s Brain (LINK HERE).  

    Rick gave a fascinating presentation, and it’s safe to say that the entire class was blown away by the information he gave us. This was life changing knowledge for me, and I’ll share what I learned below.

    Framing Things Up

    Have you ever considered the fact that humans are animals?

    Despite being highly evolved animals, our brains haven’t evolved as fast as our environments.

    Think about it for a second..humans, for millions of years, lived together in groups of no more than 50 people until 10,000 years ago.  

    Versus now, when we live in cities together with millions of other humans.

    For some of us, this is causing our brains to be on ALERT mode on a frequent basis - our brains aren’t used to being in the same space (digital or physical) of more than 50 people.

    Our brains haven’t caught up to the speed with which times have changed. And the pace is getting faster by the day.

    It’s easy to think highly of ourselves, as if we’re “above” other life forms, because we are the most evolved animal on the planet. But yeah...We’re animals.

    We are animals, and animals have needs. Needs. These needs are the things we need to feel like our lives are full. When our needs aren’t being met, life becomes very hard to enjoy.

    If you disregard your needs you disregard your happiness. That’s the key insight I had.

    Here’s what you need to know to do a better job of satisfying your needs so you can feel better!


    Human Beings Have 3 Fundamental needs: Safety, Satisfaction and Connection

    In order to achieve wellbeing, we need to fill these three needs. If we neglect these needs, we feel discomfort. A slight feeling of something doesn’t feel right. That discomfort can be a 24/7 thing if you aren’t careful!

    One interesting part about our needs is that it is that the degree to which we meet our needs is dependent on numerous factors. A huge part of whether or not we’re meeting our needs depends upon where we focus our attention….


    When you get anxious and your body releases stress hormones, your body goes into threat mode, and you don’t feel safe.

    Thus, if you can use your mind to tell your body that you are actually safe, you can meet that need.

    If you constantly focus on all the things in life that frustrate you, you’ll feel unsatisfied.

    Thus, if you use your mind to focus on something you are satisfied about, you can more effectively meet that need.

    If you constantly focus on the lack of romance/family/friends in your life, you’re not going to feel connected. Further, if you aren’t focused on the connection in your life, you may be missing that need.

    Thus, if you use your mind to focus on the connection you do have in your life, you can more effectively meet that need.


    The Good News: We can Manually Feed our needs

    The times we live in aren’t helping us meet our needs, but with the knowledge of what our needs are, we can manually do it ourselves.

    The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is go through each of these 3 needs and use my mind to satisfy these needs in some capacity.

    After many years of waking up tense most mornings (I’ve had stress my entire life), this is the most effective thing I’ve ever come across for calming myself down and starting my day off on the right foot.

    Side note: The success I have in being able to do these brain hacks with such success rests on the mind strength I’ve built up through meditation over the last 6 years. Meditation pretty much gives you superpowers (that superpower being the ability to live in the present moment). If you want to learn more about meditation, read this Mindfulness 101 blog post (LINK HERE) or try this meditation (LINK HERE).

    Hopefully you have built up some mind strength through meditation at this point. If not, there’s no time like the present to start. Meditation will help you develop the foundation for the toolkit you need to navigate life like an all star.

    Now for how to actually brain hack your needs to feel better on demand….


    Cultivate Safety by Telling Yourself that you are safe

    If you’re not actively focusing on the fact that you’re safe, you may be subconsciously feeling unsafe without realizing it. This is how our brains are wired, and it comes from evolution. Back when there were saber-tooth tigers trying to eat us, feeling constantly unsafe helped us be paranoid to find safety.

    If you get social stress, what’s often happening is your brain going into threat mode (AKA Fight or Flight). If you can manually help tell your body that everything is okay, you can calm yourself down and find peace in the moment.

    If you are a high-stress person, placing more emphasis on the fact that you’re safe may help you reduce your stress in any given moment.

    Like I said earlier, simply telling yourself that you’re safe as soon as you wake up is a good place to start.


    Cultivate Satisfaction Using Gratitude

    It seems weird, but feeling satisfied is actually one of our fundamental needs.

    When we don’t feel satisfied a host of bad things happen. We get frustrated. We crave things. We over eat (or whatever your vice is). We become addicted.

    If you want to feel a deeper level of satisfaction, all you have to do is get more satisfaction out of the things you already have.

    Close your eyes and think of something that you already have. Allow a little smile to come to your face as you’re thinking about whatever it is. It could be a friend, an accomplishment, you name it.

    Again, this is the second thing I do when I wake up while I’m still lying in my bed (after soaking into the fact that I’m safe). This morning I contemplated the satisfaction that comes from knowing that everyone in my immediate family is alive and well.


    Cultivate Connection by focusing on the Connection in your life

    This was the need in which I was the most interested. Connection is the need that I have ignored most over the last year. I was so focused on career advancement that I neglected the importance of connection.

    Rick helped me realize that my lack of focus on connection was the driving factor for the dullness I had often experienced during the last year. It wasn’t anything unbearable, but it wasn’t thriving. Thriving is the goal my friends.

    We don’t just have to get by. With practice and training we can live with immense amounts of Joy.

    So I asked Rick: What can we do to cultivate more connection in our lives?


    Connection Brain Hack #1: Feeling Cared About

    If you want to increase your feelings of connection, increase your feelings of feeling cared about.

    You can do this by Feeling Included. Are you a member of a team, a dorm, a religious community? Focus on the fact that you’re a part of something.

    You can do this by Feeling Appreciated. Is there someone out there that appreciates you for you? It could be your mom, your grandmother, your friend, you name it. Focus on how it feels to have that person’s appreciation.

    You can do this by Feeling Liked. Is there someone out there that likes you? Focus on how it feels to be liked. If nobody comes to mind, remember there is always yourself (hopefully you like yourself).  If not, time to make some changes!

    You can do this by Feeling Loved. Is there someone out there that loves you? Your parent, maybe even your dog or cat? Focus on how it feels to be loved. Remember, you can always love yourself.


    Connection Brain Hack #2: Compassion & Kindness

    I quote Rick when I say “love feeds us as it flows out from us”. Friends, if we want to feel more love and connection in our lives we need to start giving more love and connection.

    This starts with something as little as wishing someone compassion and kindness.

    First, wish yourself compassion and kindness. Touch your hand to your heart or cheek to stimulate the feelings of being cared for, and say to yourself “May I be well, May I be happy, May I be free from suffering”

    You can do this by visualizing someone, ANYONE, and saying to yourself “May you be free from suffering, may you feel loved”.

    The simple act of wishing ourselves and others to be well actually makes us feel more connected.


    Connection Brain Hack #3: Knowing that you are fundamentally a good person

    This one shocked me. Rick told us that we can cultivate feelings of connection by simply acknowledging to ourselves that we are a good person.

    Exercise: Breathe in and acknowledge that you are a part of humankind, breathe out and know that you are a good person.


    Connection Brain Hack #4: Reflect on your Inter-connectedness with the world

    Connection doesn’t just have to be focused on other humans. Have you ever taken a moment to consider how much connection you have with the world around you?

    For example, each time you exhale, you breathe out carbon dioxide. That Carbon Dioxide feeds the trees around you. The trees, in turn, produce the oxygen that you breathe in. So with each breath you are taking part in a key part of the cycle that keeps the trees and yourself alive. Interesting right?

    Conclusion: Feed Your Needs, Feed Your Happiness

    Hopefully this post helps you understand that happiness is to some degree a formula.

    Minding to our needs is an important ingredient to the happiness formula. Pay attention to them!


    Sum Up

    • Humans are animals. Animals have needs. When we don’t meet our needs, life might feel a little dull and we don’t feel awesome.

    • Humans have 3 fundamental needs we need to take care of in order to feel great. These needs are Safety, Satisfaction and Connection

    • You can use mental resources (brain hacks) to help you meet your needs and feel awesome.

    • Brain Hack Safety: Remind yourself that you are safe

    • Brain Hack Satisfaction: Focus on something you’re satisfied with in your life

    • Brain Hack Connection: Remind yourself that you are a part of humankind and that you are fundamentally a good person.

    • A great way to get in the habit of keeping your needs fulfilled is to go through a checklist of the above three needs (safety, satisfaction, connection) right when you wake up in the morning.


    Smiling and Connected,



    PS - Facilitate connection and share this with someone!

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