See Progress: The Wisdom of Appreciating What’s Improving

The ability to see what is improving and being able to appreciate it (no matter how small the progress) is vital to reshaping our beliefs and perceptions of ourselves our bodies and the world at large. Although the revelations that promote or are the catalyst for change can happen over night the changes whether mental or physical almost never do. Learning to be patient and look for the signs of change can help us wait out the full outcome.

ByRick Hanson, Ph.D.
Neuropsychologist, Author of Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom

The practice: See progress.


There are always things that are getting worse. For example, over the past year, you probably know someone who has become unemployed, ill or both, and there’s more carbon in the atmosphere inexorably heating up the planet.

But if you don’t recognize what’s improving in your own life, then you feel stagnant, or declining. This breeds what researchers call “learned helplessness” — a dangerously slippery slope: in the original experiments on dogs, whose motivational neural systems are like our own in important ways, it was very easy to train them in helplessness but very, very hard to teach them later that they could actually walk a few steps to escape from painful electric shock.

If you don’t recognize what’s getting better in the people around you, then you’ll continue to feel disappointed — and they’ll continue to feel criticized, not seen, and “why bother.”

If you don’t see the positive trends in our world over the past several decades — such as the end of the Cold War, improved medical care and access to information, and a growing middle class in many third world countries — then you’ll get swallowed up by all the bad news, and give up trying to make this world better.

It’s not that you’re supposed to look through rose-colored glasses. The point is to see life as it is — including the ways it’s improving.