See What’s Likable

See What’s Likable

What’s to like?

The Practice:
See what’s likable.

Why?

Liking feels good, plus it encourages us to approach and engage the world rather than withdraw from it.

Your brain continually tracks whether something is pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. In essence, is it a carrot, a stick, or safely ignored? Naturally, we like – we enjoy – what’s pleasant, dislike what’s unpleasant, and wish what’s neutral would get pleasant pronto.

Natural opioids – pleasure molecules – are released when you see things you like; on the other hand, disliking things can activate the neural networks of pain. Liking things feels good, so we approach them; disliking things feels bad, so we avoid them.

We are hardwired to like some things, like the sweetness of sugar, and dislike other things, like shivering from cold. But most situations are in the middle and formed of many parts. Consequently, our response to them – liking or disliking – depends a lot on what we pay attention to and on our own perspective.

Consider someone you know well, maybe your partner in life. Like each one of us, this person is a mosaic with many tiles. Even if you love this person, it’s easy to get so used to his or her good qualities that you kind of tune them out.

The same is true for other people, and for many everyday situations. For example, you might feel fine overall about your job or career but have lost touch with lots of the concretely good things about it.

I’m not talking about craving or clinging to what you like. You can thoroughly enjoy and like a pleasant experience while letting it flow through you without getting attached to it.

Nor am I talking about rose-colored glasses. Sure, we need to see real problems, and deal with them. But when we overlook things we could authentically like, we miss out on chances to feel good, step into life, and seize opportunities.

Plus flip it around. How do you feel when you are with someone who sees lots to like in you? When you find things to like in others, it’s a beautiful gift to them. And in turn, it leads them to treat you better.

How?

Pick something simple – a meal, a room, a view out a window – and find something you like about it. Perhaps it is a particular taste, or the curve of a favorite armchair, or the way that light is playing on leaves outside. For a few seconds or longer, stay with it and let the sense of enjoyment grow. Be mindful of the experience of liking something.

Then shift your awareness to something you don’t usually pay much attention to. Perhaps it is a spoon, or a corner of carpet, or a stretch of sidewalk. Try to find one or more things to genuinely like about it. It’s fine, in fact normal, if the liking is mild or subtle. Be mindful of the process of self-generating enjoyment. Notice how much power you actually have over whether you like something, and your power to find more and more things to like.

With one or more people, look for things to like – to enjoy, respect, or appreciate. (Of course, you’re not waiving your rights or dropping your concerns just because you see something good in a person.) You can do this when you’re face-to-face or when you simply bring someone to mind. Try it with a person you’re close to, with a friend, and with someone you don’t know well (e.g., a server in a restaurant). For example, perhaps the person has a quirky sense of humor, or basic decency, or a gentleness with children, or a plucky passion for doomed causes. Then, for a challenge, try this with someone who is troublesome for you, such as a meddling relative or a stressful person at work.

Be mindful of the results with these various people. I bet it feels better to see what’s likable about them – even the ones you find irritating. And for the ones who are dear to you, you could find, as I have, that this practice brings freshness, gratitude, and renewed intimacy.

Last and not least, how about recognizing what’s likable – about yourself? What do your friends and loved ones like about you? Can you see yourself in this way? How does this feel?



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.

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