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?



To download the reading guide click here.

Chapter 1: Mind in Life

1. This introductory chapter uses the metaphor of the many pathways that go up the mountain of awakening. What routes have you set out upon in your life to guide your spiritual practice? What aspirations have you had on these paths?


2. What are some of the qualities you’ve admired in teachers or people you respect? How does it feel to look for these aspects within yourself?


3. How do you think the concept of “neurodharma” could influence your personal and spiritual development?


4. What are some ways you can practice “letting go, letting be, and letting in” in your daily life?


Chapter 2: The Enchanted Loom

1. Can you identify ways that “craving” might be contributing to additional suffering in your life?


2. What is your innate disposition towards life? (e.g. optimistic, fearful, trusting, despairing) Do you believe it’s possible to “use your mind to change your brain to change your mind” – to alter the way you see life?


3. Are there examples in your life when you’ve used mindfulness, meditation, or prayer practices and seen positive effects? Explain.


4. What is your initial response to the Seven Steps of Awakening?


Chapter 3: Steadying the Mind

1. What if any has been your experience with Buddhism or Buddhist meditation practice and how has it influenced your life?


2. What is your natural temperament and how has that affected your ability to concentrate?


3. Thinking back on some learning experiences in your life, what has contributed to your ability to really integrate the material or practice you were studying?


4. After practicing with the “Feeling Grounded” meditation, describe the experience and any lasting benefits you may have had from taking in the good. Practice also with the Five Ways to Steady Your Mind practice and report on any outcomes.


Chapter 4: Warming the Heart

1. The author states that mindfulness and meditation practice are not sufficient for cultivating an open and receptive heart. What practices could you use to develop warmheartedness and empathy towards others?


2. What are some examples of healthy and unhealthy desire in your life?


3. The author says that healthy desire is “pursuing beneficial ends with skillful means while being at peace with whatever happens.” What do you think about this?


4. What have you experienced after practicing with the Four Good Wishes for a time?


5. How can you bring more self-compassion into your life?


Chapter 5: Resting in Fullness

1. What are your responses to the Buddhist idea that all life includes suffering?


2. How might the idea that “the conscious mind may forget, but the body remembers” manifest in your life when considering your childhood experiences and upbringing?


3. Describe some experiences that resulted from using the Link Step in your daily practice.


4. The author suggests that suffering is optional, as long as we practice letting go instead of holding on. What can you say about this in your own life?


5. Recall a stressful or confrontative event and reflect on how your fundamental needs (for safety, satisfaction, and connection) might have influenced your response to the situation.


6. In “growing strengths matched to your specific needs,” how would you answer the four questions in this section?


Chapter 6: Being Wholeness

1. Recall an example when you felt divided over making a decision – important or mundane – and reflect on what parts of your mind were active and possibly in conflict. Are there “rooms” in your mind that have been exiled or not accepted?


2. The author offers several ways that we can train our minds to rest in fullness (the Green Zone) including Sensory Focus, Not Knowing, Let Your Mind Be, and Gestalt Awareness. Which practice works best for you and why?


3. Which of the Five Hindrances are most challenging for you and how have you worked with them?


4. What types of awareness practice have you used and what benefits have they offered? Describe any experience you’ve had with resting in awareness, particularly if there’s been a felt sense of wholeness.


5. Try the self-awareness experiment offered at the end of this chapter and report on any insights.


Chapter 7: Receiving Nowness

1. What is your experience of the Present Moment?


2. How does this compare with the author’s description of wakefulness, alerting, and orienting?


3. The author states that our experiences are compounded, made up of parts within parts within parts. After practicing with the guided meditation, “Parts Passing By,” describe any experiences or sensations that may have enhanced your understanding of this idea.


4. What is your reaction to impermanence, recognizing the ephemeral nature of all experience? How does practicing with bodily sensations, as the author suggests, affect your experience of the transient nature of reality?


5. What refuges do you draw upon in life to give you strength, shelter, and inspiration?


6. The author says that all “eddies” are by nature impermanent, compounded, interdependent, and empty. What would in mean to “love the eddy and be the stream” in your life? How would that look?


Chapter 8: Opening into Allness

1. In this chapter the author attempts to answer the question, “Does the self exist?” How do you feel about this question and the idea that “you will never find the presumed full self in your actual experience?”


2. Have you ever had a felt experience of the “emptiness of all things?” If so, what was it like? If not, have you read about or heard of such an experience from others?


3. Practice with the guided meditation “Relaxing Self-ing” and report on any experiences or insights that might have added to your understanding of “no-self.”


4. Describe an experience where you may have moved from an egocentric to an allocentric perspective – and vice versa. What did that feel like?


5. What does “awakening” mean to you?

Chapter 9: Finding Timelessness

1. How do our more popular views of “nirvana” compare with the way nibbana is defined in this chapter?


2. What has been your approach to the transcendental in your life? How does it compare with how it is described here?


3. As you work with this material, what aspects of everyday life can you use to practice with unconditionality, or the feeling of possibility? Describe some of these.


4. When the author describes a “deeper awareness looking back at you” or a “love beyond yours living through you,” how does that make you feel?


5. The author asks questions about how we might understand the meeting of the conditioned and unconditioned. What are your thoughts on how a deep sense of quiet might be “an opening to what may lie beyond ordinary reality?”


Chapter 10: The Fruit as the Path

1. What has been your experience of reading this book? What made sense and what didn’t?


2. What will you take away with you into your everyday practice?


3. How do you work with the balance of compassion and equanimity in your daily life?


4. What might be the result of being more at peace with whatever happens in your life? (including how others feel about you?)


5. As you practice with the “Offering with Peace” meditation, how might your sense of “a larger offering moving through us all” grow?


6. BONUS QUESTION: Do you take delight in your practice? Are you enjoying the ride?


Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

Rick Hanson, PhD is a psychologist, Senior Fellow of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, and New York Times best-selling author. His books have been published in 29 languages and include NeurodharmaResilient, Hardwiring HappinessBuddha’s BrainJust One Thing, and Mother Nurture – with 900,000 copies in English alone. His free newsletters have 215,000 subscribers and his online programs have scholarships available for those with financial need. He’s lectured at NASA, Google, Oxford, and Harvard, and taught in meditation centers worldwide. An expert on positive neuroplasticity, his work has been featured on the BBC, CBS, NPR, and other major media. He began meditating in 1974 and is the founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom. He and his wife live in northern California and have two adult children. He loves wilderness and taking a break from emails.


  1. Befriending Yourself
  2. Self-Compassion
  3. Acceptance
  4. Enjoying Life


  • How life course is shaped by challenges, vulnerabilities, and resources; why you can usually affect resources the most.
  • Resources are located in the world, the body, and the mind; why mental resources are often the easiest and quickest to develop.
  • Mental resources are inner strengths like gratitude, confidence, calm, self-acceptance, determination, compassion, assertiveness, and happiness.
  • Developing inner strengths – growing the good inside yourself – means using your mind to change your brain for the better.
  • The vital stance of being on your own side, a friend to yourself. Understanding why you matter. Self-compassion.
  • A preview of how to turn passing experiences into lasting inner strengths woven into your brain.
  • Finding more acceptance of things as they are, even if they’re not your preference. Accepting yourself. Telling the truth about how it is for you. Honoring your pain.
  • Opening to the longings in your heart. What do you wish was better in your life? What, if it were more present in your mind, would really help these days? How can you use this program to get more good stuff inside yourself?
  • Preview of the Foundations of Well-Being program.
  • What do you want to get out of this program? Setting intentions for it.


  • Tara Brach Interview
  • Compassion for Yourself as a Child Creative Activity
  • The Caring Quilt Creative Activity

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