HARDWIRING HAPPINESS: Overcoming Negative Thinking


[semester equivalent = 3.33 credits]



Brenda McKinney



Humans have an incredible capacity for happiness but many hold tight to negative thinking. This limits growth, an ability to find passion or motivation, and quite simply, an inability to see the opportunity in tomorrow. It’s important to understand the science behind your evolutionary bias for hanging on to negative experiences. Did you know, there is a specific part of your brain, the amygdala, that is responsible for how you respond to situations and experiences?? Neuroscience has shown our ability to concentrate on happy thoughts depends the amygdala response. The goal of this course is to teach you how to train your mind to cultivate happiness and recognize when the brain is lying to you. Hardwiring Happiness introduces a powerful four step process, H E A L, that uses the hidden power of everyday choices to teach you how to create new neural structures that eventually lead to new habits. HEAL is also appropriate for all classroom and brings an exciting new element to social learning. It’s exciting to know that your brain never stops growing and having the opportunity to retrain your brain with accessible and easy steps to bring about increased contentment and peace is a beautiful outcome. Hardwiring Happiness is a course that could change the course of how you live your life and deepen your understanding of what it means to live in happiness. Please join me today.

Text is Hardwiring Happiness used from $3.95, $15.63 new from Amazon. ISBN: 978-0-385-34731-0.  Also available as an eBook. Having a hardcopy is highly recommended.

LEARNING OUTCOMES: Upon completion of this course, participants will have:

  • Understand biological wiring and predisposition to having a negative brain
  • Learn how happy and sad thoughts are dictated by your brain and how you should respond
  • Delve into the science behind why it is so difficult for us to really bask in the good things that happen, and why we immediately hold tight to the negatives
  • Discover training for your brain that will teach you how to embrace the positive
  • Develop a user-friendly tool kit to expand feelings of happiness while identifying and responding to positive input
  • Learn to erase years of negative and traumatic experiences and overcoming fear
  • Learn about the power of journaling, gratitude meditation, morning activities to set your brain
  • Research about how to HEAL children and bring your own experiences to the classroom

Completion of all specified assignments is required for issuance of hours or credit. The Heritage Institute does not award partial credit.

The use of artificial intelligence is not permitted. Assignment responses found to be generated by AI will not be accepted.

Completing the basic assignments (Section A. Information Acquisition) for this course automatically earns participants their choice of CEUs (Continuing Education Units), Washington State Clock Hours, Oregon PDUs, or Pennsylvania ACT 48 Hours. The Heritage Institute offers CEUs and is an approved provider of Washington State Clock Hours, Oregon PDUs, and Pennsylvania ACT 48 Hours.



Continuing Education Quarter credits are awarded by Antioch University Seattle (AUS). AUS requires 75% or better for credit at the 400 level and 85% or better to issue credit at the 500 level. These criteria refer both to the amount and quality of work submitted.

  1. Completion of Information Acquisition assignments 30%
  2. Completion of Learning Application assignments 40%
  3. Completion of Integration Paper assignment 30%


CREDIT/NO CREDIT (No Letter Grades or Numeric Equivalents on Transcripts)
Antioch University Seattle (AUS) Continuing Education Quarter credit is offered on a Credit/No Credit basis; neither letter grades nor numeric equivalents are on a transcript. 400 level credit is equal to a "C" or better, 500 level credit is equal to a "B" or better. This information is on the back of the transcript.

AUS Continuing Education quarter credits may or may not be accepted into degree programs. Prior to registering, determine with your district personnel, department head, or state education office the acceptability of these credits for your purpose.



Hanson, Dr. Rick, PhD. 2013. Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence. Harmony Books.
ISBN: 978-0-385-34371-0

None. All reading is online.





Assignments done in a course forum will show responses from all educators who have or are taking the course independently. Feel free to read and respond to others' comments. 
Group participants can only view and respond to their group members in the Forum. 

Assignment #1: Taking a Look at Your Journey

For those participating in Group Collaboration, you must read and follow the instructions outlined in the Group Collaboration Guidelines. Click on the link for Guidelines.

  • Assignment #1, each participant must complete this assignment independently.
  • There should be a minimum of (4) four group meetings during which the course content is discussed. 
  • Teleconferences or live meetings are acceptable. A good videoconference option is Zoom (
  • Each participant must attend at least 75% of the group meetings (a minimum of 3 of 4 meetings).


You must complete your introduction before moving on to other assignments.

In a 500+ word response, introduce yourself with a background profile and introduction. Include the challenges you have experienced that led you to register for this course. Explain what you hope to achieve once you’ve completed the coursework.

Assignment #2: Working with Your Brain

Read in your text, Hardwiring Happiness, chapters. 1-2.   Be prepared to discuss neural connections, negativity and how that thinking becomes hardwired into our brains.

View the following videos to deepen your understanding of how the brain works:

  • Evolution and the Brain:
  • How We Change Our Brains for the Better, Dr. Hanson
  • Understanding Neuroplasticity
  • Good and Bad are Incomplete Stories
In 750+ words respond to the following questions and prompts. Include all learning from the videos and reading.
  • Explain why and in what way the brain is negative and why our brain is wired this way. What does the author mean by your brain being like “Velcro for bad experiences but Teflon for good ones.”
  • Focus on how our brain decides what is good or bad. Explain how our thoughts, memories, personalities reflect this thinking.
  • Tell how the video has helped you redefine the notion of good or bad. Share any pertinent examples that helped your understanding.
  • Do you agree with the author when he says, “We routinely overestimate threats and underestimate opportunities and resources?” How do you do this yourself?
  • What have you learned about the daily battle for survival that your brain engages in? How has this changed your perception of your own role in choosing positive over negative?
  • Delineate the new practices that you learned about brain training and how to change your brain every single day.

Assignment #3: Learning About the Green & Red Brain

Read in your text, Hardwiring Happiness, chapter 3. Begin to add to your toolbox in learning how creating positive energy makes you less dependent on external factors.

View the videos:

In 750+ words respond to the questions/prompts. Include the learning from the videos and the reading.

  • Explain the three operating systems. How does this help you understand which of the systems has control in your brain and why that is critical for you?
  • Summarize the critical learning about the reactive vs. the responsive brain.
  • Discuss how the reactive mode has become ingrained in our culture and why that affects your decision to move into the responsive mode on a daily basis.
  • Explain the tools you learned that can assist you while you are on the path of training your brain to move out of reactive to responsive.
  • How did the video help you understand the two ways your brain responds to stress and the role you play in this response? Was any of this new learning for you?

Assignment #4: H-E-A-L Yourself: How to Create a Happiness Brain

Read in your text, Hardwiring Happiness, chapters 4 and 5.  Do the two practice exercises to build background on how to train your brain.

View the following video:

  • Hardwiring Happiness

In 750+ words respond to the questions/prompts. Include the learning from the video and the reading,

  • Explain the neuroscience behind HEAL and why practice is a critical component
  • What did you learn about practicing forgiveness, being a good friend to yourself, and allowing yourself time to practice and train your brain?
  • Explain the meaning behind this statement: “It is not about chasing fun or chasing away pain, it is about bringing the chase to an end.”
  • 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?
  • Practice taking in the good from 10 – 20 times a day. How has this changed your attitude? What results do you see from keeping your brain focused on the positive? You may even want to record your responses to this activity.

Assignment #5: Brain Building Through Taking in the Good

Read in your text, Hardwiring Happiness, chapters 6 and 7. Do the practice exercises to help you move from idea to experience.

View the following video:

  • How to use intention to take in the good and set up the pathways in your brain

In 750+ words respond to the questions/prompts/video:

  • Explain the importance of the fact that we are the architects of our own brains; our thinking is not something that just happens to us. Has this changed or affirmed your thinking?
  • Summarize the role that this chapter presents about how to deliberately change your thinking, gratitude, and embracing the positive.
  • Define “good experiences” and explain how you have the power to give good experiences to yourself every day
  • Practice staying aware of a positive experience.  Try the One Minute for Good exercise. Include your thoughts and reflections on this practice in your life. Be sure to include your thoughts about this activity and how often you did it in your response.

Assignment #6: Learn to Link Positive Memories & Thoughts

Read in your text, Hardwiring Happiness, chapter 8. Discuss how to overwrite the negative in your brain.

Watch the following video:

  • Benefits to Negative Experiences
  • Read the following article, Do Positive Experiences Stick to Your Ribs?

In 750+ words respond to the questions/prompts/video and reading:

  • Explain the high cost of negative thinking and how it affects the brain
  • Summarize the methods for eliminating negative thinking while considering what would be most effective for you.
  • Explain how it is possible to hold both the negative and the positive in the brain at the same time?  Include your new learning about how this can heal memories and reduce negative thoughts.
  • View the chart with antidote experiences and then address your own core needs of safety, satisfaction, and connection.
  • How has your thinking about memory reconstruction and reconsolidation changed or been enhanced?
  • What part of the learning created new understandings for you and how do you see it becoming part of the changes in your life?

Assignment #7: Deeper Understanding While Thinking about the Thinking

Read in your text, Hardwiring Happiness, chapter 9. Practicing the four HEAL steps in your personal and professional life provides the opportunity to train your brain.

  • Read at least 3 other entires in forum and respond to at least one of them.
  • Do the activity on hardwiring happiness for at least one week.

In 750+ words respond to the questions/prompts/insights from forum:

  • Explain the meaning behind this statement: “You can’t change experiences, but you can use new thinking to fill in the holes.”
  • Discuss the author’s idea that we often feel embarrassed about clinging to bad things from the past. How does the example of the dandelions help you understand what is happening in your brain?
  • What are the ways to offer HEAL to a child/teen? What is critical for you in your own life first?
  • The author warns about running into roadblocks when you try take in the good. How has this changed your thinking and made you more proactive? You might even want to make a list of the roadblocks. Which of them are the most challenging for you?
  • Why is it critical to meet challenges again and again in a responsive way in order to use our brain training and be able to hardwire happiness?

Assignment #8: Benefits of Gratitude

Here’s what you need to do to start a gratitude journal that actually works:

  • Each day write ONE thing you’re grateful for at the top of your page
  • List out 5 reasons why you’re grateful for it
  • Set aside a specific time and place to write in your gratitude journal
  • Make a habit of going there at the same time every day.
  • As with any goal you set, if you don’t visualize the details and commit to a specific time, your chances of following through will dwindle.

View the following video:

  • The Power of Gratitude

Keep a record of your gratitude in a journal for two weeks.  As a part of HEAL, you must learn to embrace and hang on to positive experiences. This is your chance to focus and create positive energy in your own life.

  • Write in a journal OR you can use an APP if that works better for you. Schedule a time every day when you will complete your gratitude journal. 

    Requirements for the journal:
    a)  To begin, start your journal by responding to the following:
         1. People I am grateful for
         2. top 10 memorable events in my life
         3. things I  am grateful for at the present time
         4. people where I have made a difference
         5. I am grateful for the following opportunities

         b)  Allow some time to embrace each of the five items you write. Record your feelings, changes, and how you are moving to a more responsive brain.
         c)  Feel free to use pictures, stickers, scrapbooking, lists, writing, or any other therapeutic techniques.

In a 750+ word response detail how the journal has helped you understand, and embrace HEAL.  Share your reaction to reflecting and enjoying those moments in gratefulness each day. How has it changed your thinking? Have you found that you were focused less and less on negative thoughts? Will you continue this process?



In this section, you will apply your learning to your professional situation. This course assumes that most participants are classroom teachers who have access to students. If you do not have a classroom available to you, please contact the instructor for course modifications. Assignments done in a course forum will show responses from all educators who have or are taking the course independently. ​Feel free to read and respond to others' comments. Group participants can only view and respond to their group members in the Forum. 


Assignment #9: Creating a Lesson Plan

Create a lesson or activity that addresses H E A L with students.  Your lesson should contain information on the brain, and techniques students can use to move their brains more towards the positive.  Also create a graphic or poster that can be used to enhance your lesson and used in the classroom. Poster must be at least 11 X 17 or larger, focused on training our negative brain. It should be in color, have pictures and color, and presentation quality. An explanation of the poster must accompany this assignment.

Additional Resources for Create a Lesson Plan if needed

Hardwiring Happiness pages 159-162

Videos to increase your knowledge 


James Baraz and Michele Lilyana, Awakening Joy for Kida
Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish, How to Talk so Kids Will Listen & Listen so Kids Will Talk.

Assignment #10: Jewels for Changing Your Life

Use your text, Hardwiring Happiness, Chapter 10 guide, put into practice 21 Jewels for Changing Your Life.

  • 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?
  • How are you going to use the 21 Jewels? Practicing one a day for 14 days? Practicing three a day for a week? How are you feeling called to use these strengths in your life? A fun approach is the popcorn style where you just pick one at random and then check it off. If you don’t like one you can replace with a different one.
  • 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
  • Keep a journal, that is your own personal therapy writing, a retreat from the world, a chance to run a marathon with words.  This a fun and critical part of helping you with your brain training.

in a 750+ word response, summarize your experience. Focus on the learning, what assisted you in the process of HEAL, and what changes that have begun to be part of your responsive versus reactive brain.

***You have two choices for your response. One is to email a response to instructor each day. This response would be about the jewel you have chosen and your response to the attempt. The other response is to do the 14 days and respond at the end. 

Assignment #11: Option Assignment

Complete one (1) of the following assignments:

Option A)
Design your own assignment (action plan) with instructor’s prior approval. Examples include doing a podcast, blogging about your process of hardwiring happiness. Choose something interactive that allows you to review and refresh your own learning.

Option B)
Create a PowerPoint presentation for your staff based on this course and focused on of helping your school meet the needs of kids who are experiencing adversity. Save it as a PDF. The presentation MUST include graphics, pictures, color, correct font size, and be presentation ready. Check for errors before you submit. It must be at least 20 slides, have a bibliography, and include several interactive slides to assist your colleagues.

Make sure your slides are:

  • Clean. Remove anything (headings, images, icons, template content) that does not support the idea you are trying to communicate.
  • Image-based. Try to only use pictures. If words are essential to getting your point across, use as few as possible Replace full sentences with short phrases or single words. Note: your slides are not your script.
  • Readable. If you're using words, pick large fonts and contrasting colors so all students can read easily and quickly.
  • Interesting. Explore the wonderful world of smart art and begin to eliminate all bullet points.
  • Dr. Hanson has slides available and may be helpful to you on your project.

Assignment #12: (500 Level ONLY) Continuing the Learning

Complete one (1) of the following assignments:

Option A)
Research and read at least three different articlesand watch at least two video links pertaining to changing negative thinking in children/teens and in 500+ words summarize your conclusions, comparing them to what you’ve learned so far from Dr. Rick Hanson’s work. How 

Using 123HelpMe or other online sources, search for and read at least three (3) papers or research on Hardwiring Happiness or negative brains.  Based on this reading, your own life experience and what you learned from viewing and text reading, write a 5-7 minutes speech on the benefits of HEAL, gratitude, and how you can create happiness and positive brains directed to students, parents or your colleagues.
Note: 123Helpme has a fee of $2 for two days use.

Option B)
Using the videos in the bibliography and your own internet searches, choose 5 videos that would be appropriate for the classroom. Plan to use each of the videos to  create workshops. The design must include one artistic activity, journaling, or interactive assignments. Please track the workshop, the responses of the kids, and how you were able to change thinking.

Go to Dr. Hanson's site for a wealth of videos. Using others from You Tube/Vimeo/Ted Talks also acceptable.

Option C)
Based on what you’ve learned, discuss with staff in special education in what ways the learnings from this course might prove effective for children with special needs and where the limitations might be.  You could also use this meeting for a discussion on the fragile learners or kids who are struggling within the system. Meet with at least two other educators. Share your learning in a 30 minute discussion. Then refer specifically to kids with special needs. Summarize these discussions in 500+ words indicating any special actions that were agreed upon. Be share to share the handout or summary of the plans for the discussion, then you can summarize the events surrounding the follow-up discussion.

Option D)
Research and present in graphic form as well as 500+ words the biology and chemistry of brain activity, focusing specially on changes observed as we go from a negative to a positive brain environment.

Option E)
Design your own assignment and get instructor approval for your idea.
Be creative and let the inspiration of this course provide an outreach or a personal project for you.


Assignment #13: (Required for 400 and 500 level)

(Please do not write this paper until you've completed all of your other assignments)

Write a 400-500 word Integration Paper answering these 5 questions:

  1. What did you learn vs. what you expected to learn from this course?
  2. What aspects of the course were most helpful and why?
  3. What further knowledge and skills in this general area do you feel you need?
  4. How, when and where will you use what you have learned?
  5. How and with what other school or community members might you share what you learned?


Instructors will comment on each assignment. If you do not hear from the instructor within a few days of posting your assignment, please get in touch with them immediately.


Brenda McKinney, CEO of Vancouver, WA based BrainVolution, is a developer and dynamic facilitator of workshops that teach practical thinking and learning tools for raising student achievement with the brain in mind. She has trained educators throughout the Pacific Northwest and is a popular presenter because of her ability to motivate, make things fun, and teach practical techniques for the classroom that can be used immediately. Brenda continues to read hundreds of books and articles on the subject of neuroscience and searches for the answer to success for every student. Her work with at-risk students and those with reading problems have made her a popular speaker at the state, regional and national level.

Brenda is able to synthesize the new research and continues to address the role of how to use the latest findings to create high achievement classroom. She brings 30+ years of experience at the elementary, middle school, high school and university level as a mentor teacher, consultant, motivational speaker, university instructor, and reading specialist. Brenda has her Master’s in Education from Washington State University and is nationally certified in Brain Based Learning through the renowned  Jensen Corporation, led by Eric Jensen, a noted international spokesperson for neuroscience and education.


Brenda will inspire and motivate you with her energy, enthusiasm and knowledge. Her wisdom, techniques, and brain based approach to education will inspire you and challenge you to meet the demands of this ever changing world.



HARDWIRING HAPPINESS: Overcoming Negative Thinking


Amen, Daniel. 2018. Feel Better Fast and Make It Last: Unlock Your Brain’s Healing Potential to Overcome Negativity, Anxiety, Anger, Stress, and Trauma. Tyndale House. ISBN: 9781496438812.

In Feel Better Fast and Make It Last, you’ll discover new, powerful brain-based strategies to quickly gain control over anxiety, worry, sadness, stress and anger, strengthening your resilience and giving you joy and purpose for a lifetime.

Benoist, J. F. 2018. Addicted to the Monkey Mind: Change the Programming that Sabotages Your Life.

ISBN-13: 978-0692978597. A toolbox of strategies. The book shares the journeys of two relatable characters to teach you how to develop a powerful new mindset and finally break the pattern of negative self-talk. This is something we all need. The idea of a monkey brain is one we can relate to and learning through examples is helpful.

Hanson, Rick. 2016. Buddha’s Brain. The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom. Rainforest Books. ISBN: 9781572246959. Using guided meditations and mindfulness exercises, you'll learn how to activate the brain states of calm, joy, and compassion instead of worry, sorrow, and anger. Most importantly, you will foster positive psychological growth that will literally change the way you live in your day-to-day life.

Hanson, Rick. 2016. Hardwiring Happiness. The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence.  Harmony Books. ISBN: 9780385347310 Text for the course. Hardwiring Happiness lays out a simple method that uses the hidden power of everyday experiences to build new neural structures full of happiness, love, confidence, and peace. Learning to see through the lies your brain tells you will change your life. Dr. Hanson’s four steps build strengths into your brain to make contentment and a powerful sense of resilience the new normal. Hardwiring Happiness takes practice. This book is just what you need to support you on this journey. It will help you transform your brain into a refuge and power center of calm and happiness.

Korb, Alex and Daniel Siegel. 2015. The Upward Spiral. Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time.  New Harbinger Publications.  Daniel Siegel is always a favorite of mine. The focus in on small daily actions to rewire your brain. This book reinforces what you are learning and there is a workbook to accompany the text. You may just want to purchase the workbook. Helpful and the format is great.

Merzenich, Michael. 2013. Soft Wired. How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life. 2nd edition.  Parnassus Publishing. ISBN: 9789432823. In Soft-Wired, Dr. Michael Merzenich–a world authority on brain plasticity–explains how the brain rewires itself across the lifespan, and how you can take control of that process to improve your life. Soft-Wired offers sound advice for evaluating your brain and gives clear, specific, scientifically proven guidance for how to rejuvenate, remodel, and reshape your brain to improve it at any age.” This book is a delight.

Reilly, Pete. 2016. The Garden of Hearts. Meditations, Consolations, and Blessings for Teachers. Irimi Horizons Publishing.  ISBN: 978-0-9861354-1-5. An inspirational book for teachers and about teachers. It provides a chance to look at teaching from another perspective. HEAL asks you to focus on hold on to

the positive. This book certainly assists with this process and will provide numerous blessings. I enjoyed this book intended for teachers.

Seigel, Daniel J. and Tina Payne Bryson. 2015. The Whole-Brain Child Workbook: Practical Exercises, Worksheets, and Activities for Developing Minds. PESI Publishing.ISBN   978-1-9361287-4-7

One thing we all need help with is ideas about how to bring our new learning to the students. This one is intended for younger children. I excited about the ideas that can be used for parents or teachers.


Amen, Dr. Daniel. 2015. 3 Quick Steps to Stopping Negative Thinking Now.

Eartheart, Christine. 2018. Unleash Your Joy Potential.

Rick, Hanson, 2015. The Mystery of Happiness.

Hanson, Rick. 2019. Three Ways to Work with the Mind.

Leaf, Caroline. Ted Talk. 2015.  Science of Thought.

Nelson, Dr. Lani. 2014. Staying Stuck or Moving Forward.

Powell, Ted. 2015. When Your Mind Works Against You.

Sood, Amir. 2015. Happy Brain: How to Overcome our Neural Predispositions for Suffering.