“It is the mind that translates good and bad circumstances into happiness or misery. So happiness comes with the purging of mental toxins, such as hatred, compulsive desire, arrogance and jealousy, which literally poison the mind. It also requires that one cease to distort reality and that one cultivate wisdom.” Matthieu Ricard
Mindfulness is an effective mental technique, originating from the 2,500-year-old Buddhist contemplative practices and adapted to suit non-religious contexts, including board rooms, corporations, hospitals, schools and sports teams.
It is a practice that supports the capacity to stay focussed on what you are doing as you are doing it, a powerful antidote to the distractible nature of the mind and the information overload in our digital world. When practiced regularly, it can bring more calm and effectiveness into everyday life, reducing stress and enhancing mental capacity.
Here are four ways mindfulness enhances happiness:
1. It can help you get out of negative thought loops
The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” — William James
So often what gets in the way of our happiness is the tendency of the mind to fall into unhelpful loops of negative thinking. This can propel us into a downward spiral and affect our lives in many unhelpful ways. Mindfulness meditation is a form of rigorous training of the mind which helps us to become more familiar with the nature of the mind and more skillful in noticing when our minds are getting caught up in these unhelpful patterns of thought. When we learn to observe this, we can actually choose to disengage and move our attention in ways that support us rather than pull us down. Whether it’s loops of worry, planning into the future, replaying events from the past, or caught up in self-judgment — when we develop the skill of mindfulness and bring this quality of awareness to the working of our own mind, we open up a whole new possibility toward greater happiness. We begin to have the power to be the master rather than the slave of our mind.
Next time you catch yourself in a negative thought loop, see it for what it is, the mind caught up in a wheel of thinking, and realize that at any moment you can simply disengage from that pattern of thinking and move your attention to something else. Try redirecting your attention to the body by engaging in some kind of physical activity. This may short circuit negative thinking and ground you back to the here and now.
2. It can make you feel more connected to others
The greatest gift you can give someone is your attention.” — Jim Rohn
We are social animals that have evolved to be in relationships. From a very young age, the healthy development of our own brain requires interactions. Loneliness has now been suggested to be a risk factor for diseases ranging from cardiovascular disease to Alzheimer’s. In order to flourish we need to feel connected to others. Mindfulness can deepen and enrich our relationships as we bring a quality of present-moment attention to the people around us.
3. It can connect you to a sense of inner contentment
Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you —Lao Tzu
Many of us can get caught up in the hedonic treadmill, constantly needing stimulus from the outside world to give us a hit of happiness and pleasure. Whether it is money, relationships, approval, or success, this kind of happiness is dependent on external factors which are transient and over which we have no control.
There is another form of wellbeing and happiness, eudaimonic happiness, first explored by Aristotle. This type of happiness is not dependent on external circumstances but rather emerges from an inner sense of wellbeing and living in alignment with one’s values. The practice of mindfulness enhances happiness by cultivating a sense of inner wellbeing which allows us to feel content needing to obtain anything from the outside world. It’s a rare feeling in this age of consumerism but it is available to all of us at any moment.
4. It can enhance your gratitude.
Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance — Eckhart Tolle
The practice of mindfulness enhances happiness by helping us slow down even for a few moments. It helps us reconnect with what is happening from moment to moment. This slowing down enables us to notice more of what is present both in our environment and within ourselves. As we notice more of what is happening around us and within us, wonder and gratitude can spontaneously emerge. Whether it’s being more present to the tastes of a home-cooked meal or connecting with something as simple and miraculous as the breath — mindfulness enhances our happiness by infusing our lives with gratitude and appreciation of the ordinary things which can so often pass by unnoticed.
Discover more about the benefits of scientific mindfulness meditation in my book The Happiness Plan
To read the next Mindful in May article, click here.
NOTE: This article was written by Dr. Elise Bialylew and is part of the Mindful in May series, the world’s largest online mindfulness meditation and fundraising campaign. Every May, thousands of people worldwide join the program featuring the world’s best experts and build mental resilience through committing to 10 minutes of meditation per day, while also raising funds to address the world’s most urgent global issues. Over the last eight years, Mindful in May has taught over 40,000 people to meditate while raising $800,000 to bring clean, safe drinking water to the developing world. Due to the unprecedented and catastrophic bushfires in Australia, this year Mindful in May’s fundraising efforts will be directed toward this cause.