Mindfulness and happiness

29 12 2014

In my opinion, much of our worry and unhappiness are the result of our inability to be in “the present”. Most of the times, we tend to be ruminating about our past or worrying or planning about the future. Inspirational author Spencer Johnson (most famously known for his  “Who Moved My Cheese”), in his best-selling book “The Present” emphasized that “the present moment is the best present (gift) you can give yourself.” None can fail to agree with this wisdom. But, in reality, mind-wandering is so ubiquitous that it’s affecting our lives adversely.

Do you know that our minds wander about half the time? A study conducted by Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert on 15,000 subjects  revealed that  people think about something other than what they are doing about 47% of the time. Of course, it varies among various activities. But it is interesting to note that in every activity other than sex, our minds wander at least 30% of the time. Even during “work”, our minds wander half the time. Too bad!!

A wandering mind is an unhappy mind.

Research finds that being able to be aware of the present – being mindful to ourselves, and our surroundings will reduce stress & anxiety, and improve health & happiness.

Mindfulness is generally defined as “non-judgmental, moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment” (Jon Kabat-Zinn). In “Mindfulness Meditation”, one should focus on breath and every time a thought occurs aka mind wanders, one has to bring the focus back to the breath. The idea is not to have no thoughts at all, because it’s almost impossible. Realizing that the mind is wandering and consciously bringing it back to the “breath” is the crux of this type of meditation. With practice, it will become easier and also one will observe that the mind wandering is reduced – it slows down.

Shauna Shapiro, internationally recognized expert in mindfulness, defines “mindfulness as “the awareness that arises out of intentionally paying attention in an open, kind, and discerning way”.  She emphasizes that “intention”, “attention”, and “attitude” are  the important aspects of mindfulness. We need to set the compass our heart to pay attention to something intentionally. And we need to approach it with the right attitude – with openness, curiosity, warmth, a sense of trust, gentleness, kindness.

We need to be kind to ourselves. Calming our mind is not an easy process.  But every time you catch your mind when it’s wandering and bring it back to whatever it is your are doing – if it is meditation, focus on the breath – you can congratulate yourself. You should not be frustrated that your mind wanders. It’s how it is and you are trying to calm it down. Be gentle and kind to yourself. It gets better with practice.

At this point, there  is a need to make a distinction between “mindfulness’ and “meditation”. Meditation is much broader in its scope.  Being mindful is only one part of it. Also, you can practice mindfulness even when not meditating.

A related concept is “flow”, a state when we truly feel like we’re “in the moment” or “in the zone”. We all experience it occasionally – when we are engrossed in some activity and lose all track of time.  “Flow” is intrinsically rewarding. We achieve “flow” when we engage in a task that is highly challenging for which we have a high level of skill.  The balance between the challenge and high skill is integral to flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the pioneer researcher of “flow”, says that it is the secret of happiness.

Daniel Goleman, renowned psychologist and author of “Emotional Intelligence”, in his latest book “Focus” focuses on precisely the same topic. Being mindful and focused is the most essential driver of success, not only for individuals and in personal settings, but also for organizations and workplace settings. He says that it is essential to be aware of our negative feelings and thoughts too. We need to acknowledge them and address them. I don’t know more about this book, but I’m sure it has lot of enlightening and useful stuff for all of us.

Part 11 of Science of Happiness Series.

Part 1    Part 2    Part 3    Part 4   Part 5    Part 6    Part 7    Part 8    Part 9    Part 10



One response

25 04 2015
Happiness made easy | Peek Inside My Mind

[…] Part 1    Part 2    Part 3    Part 4   Part 5    Part 6    Part 7    Part 8    Part 9    Part 10    Part 11 […]

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