An Enchanted Garden
BY FLORENCE LEVINE
If you haven't come to our gar-den,
you're missing a magical
place. One clear evening at
sunset while hot purple azaleas
highlight its beauty, its usual still-ness
comes to life. It's a butterfly
show! Better than watching the
Plaza Players from cooped up seats,
I stand center stage in Mother Na-ture’s
great outdoors, amidst thick
foliage of elephant ears, buttercup
yellow begonias and lush red roses
where butterflies gently kiss per-fumed
For a brief shining moment the
garden transforms. In a clandestine
ceremony where quasi-farmers grow
tomatoes, kale, squash, and straw-berries,
the master of ceremonies
begins. The six-year-old future bota-nist
orchestrates. The players, three
identical three-year old miniature
gardeners donned in rubber boots,
carrying pint-sized watering cans
filled from mama’s hose, drench the
greenery and themselves. One by
one each triplet leans into the long
incubator tank, sticks his arm way
down, forages around, then retrieves
a gentle friend on his fingertip. Ten
beautifully colored butterflies, grate-ful.
Metamorphosis from caterpillar
to butterfly within days.
“Free as a winged butterfly,” each
hovers over the lush greenery for
their first time, wondrous. (And I
wonder, how do they know just
what to do, how to be a butterfly?)
With a little stretch of my imagina-tion,
I'm Dick Van Dyke in Mary
Poppins jumping into the painting
on the sidewalk, and worlds away.
A welcome escape from the raging
I’m savoring, I learn from positive
psychology. Stopping to smell the
roses. A branch of Psych devised by
Martin Seligman after his five-year
old daughter accused, “Daddy, stop
being such a grouch!” As president
of the APA, he researched to find
out how we can feel more positive,
happier. True story.
A friend mentions that she's a
pessimist like her father rather than
an optimist like her mother. That
reminds me that I also adopted pes-simism,
my mother's, rather than my
father's optimism. The good news,
I've learned, is science says we can
But how? Aren't we the way we
are? Well, yes. And no. I get a les-son
from neuroscience: We inherit
a brain wired like Velcro for the
negative, and Teflon for the positive.
That kept our caveman ancestors
alive. The problem is that negative
thinking detracts from happiness.
“Positive experiences flow through
like water through a sieve.”
The good news: Research finds
that our brain can change. It is not
fixed for life as thought. Instead,
it has neuroplasticity. More good
news: we can overcome that nega-tivity
bias. But how? We can actu-ally
rewire to be more positive and
happier. I'm all ears.
A few simple yet effective ways to
rewire to stay focused on the posi-tive,
from “Hardwiring Happiness”
by neuroscientist Rick Hanson. It
sounds simple: Hold onto the good.
But being wired like Teflon for the
positive makes it take conscious
Stay in the moment. Hold on to
a feeling of joy. Of beauty. For a few
seconds or longer. The beauty of
a rose, book you love. A friend. A
Gratitude. Appreciate all you
have. Write a jewel moment of your
day into a gratitude journal. A bright
spot. Something as big as a new
home or small…a smile, holding the
door for someone who appreciated
it. Hold the feeling. Rewire your
ancient brain for more happiness.
Optimism. Hopefulness about the
future. Look at the bright side. The
glass is half full.
If you were born an optimist or
got it at home, you're lucky. For
those of us less fortunate (like
me), Martin Seligman, my friend,
says you can learn, in his book
“Learned Optimism,” mindfulness
Dr. Laurie Santos teaches the Yale
class on happiness and has tips for
us. In her
words from AARP magazine:
“Our minds suck at happiness.
They're naturally wired for survival.
We pay more attention to trouble.
You have to work at happiness.”
She gives her, as well as other
experts’, ‘proven strategies’ to
• Connect: “Good relationships
keep us happier and healthier,” as
found in the longest study of well-
being, the Harvard study. You don't
need a lot of friends, “It's the quality
of your relationships that matters.”
• Move: “Exercise reduces stress,
brings more oxygen to your brain
and calms you.”
• Savor: “Pause to soak in a
wonderful moment- a sunrise, the
morning’s birdsong, the joy of our
Her point: be in the moment,
focus, and don’t worry about the
future. Adopting a positive focus,
savoring, gratitude, optimism, look-ing
at the bright side, connecting
with a friend, are some researched
cornerstones of more happiness.
Given that we're wired like Teflon
for the positive, we want to do this
with intention. To hardwire in more
happiness. Hold on to feeling good
for a few seconds or longer. A few
times a day. A fun project.
“It takes effort,” says Sonja
Lyubomirsky, Positive Psychology
researcher. It's like learning any-thing--
a new tennis stroke or piece
on the piano. It may be painstaking
at first (just ask me!) and it takes
practice. But after about three
weeks it comes more easily.
I hope you find your own
Butterfly Show. Whatever does it for
you. You need only to look around.
I wish all more joy in your day.
Particularly at this time.
The Three Gardeners - Joshua, Oliver and Elijah
36 NORTH SHORE TOWERS COURIER ¢ August 2020