One of the most powerful and scientifically proven tools for increasing happiness is to be more mindful. This simply means paying attention to what’s happening in the moment.
As the scientific understanding of the benefits of mindfulness has grown, it’s appearing in more and more places. Just yesterday the Wall Street Journal
had an article on how mindfulness practice is being taught at the country’s business schools (see article here)
Benefits of mindfulness
Mindfulness and it’s more formal practice of meditation have been extensively studied by scientists for decades with some very impressive results not only in increasing positive emotions, but also in decreasing stress and relieving chronic disease.
Studies have shown that regular mindfulness makes people happier, more engaged, and more resilient and it promotes feelings of ‘having enough.’ In brain scans, mindfulness has been shown to consistently activate the part of your brain that is responsible for happiness (the left pre-frontal cortex, for those of you techies out there).
Mindfulness has been shown to be effective in the treatment of pain, stress, anxiety, depression, eating disorders and addiction. Mindfulness even improves immune function.
Jon Kabat-Zinn was the first to bring mindfulness to medical treatment in the west. He describes mindfulness as ‘paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.’ This simply means to be open to what’s happening now, rather than being lost in thought.
For example eating mindfully means noticing the flavors and the textures of the food you are eating. Mindfully dishwashing = feel the soap on your hands, the warm water. And mindful driving = feel of the steering wheel in your hands, noticing how your feet know just how much pressure to put onto the gas pedal to pull into that opening.
Mindfulness in Action
Remembering to be mindful is difficult because we are always so busy doing things and our minds are typically going a mile a minute planning, worrying, etc. Formal meditation practice is the best way to train the mind to be more mindful.
Shawn Achor, in his corporate trainings, teach Fortune 500 employees and managers to take their hands off the keyboard for 2 minutes a day and focus on one singular calming action — typically to watch and feel the breath go in and out. Here are some typical instructions:
When you start this practice, you’ll notice that your mind will wander. Each time you become aware of the wandering; simply bring your attention back to the breath. It may wander 10 or 20 times in the two minutes. Know that the practice is NOT about being perfectly focused for the duration; instead, the practice IS the noticing and the bringing it back. “Oh, there my mind went again, where do I feel the breath now?” It is in this returning to the breath that the learning and training happens. .
If you are interested in tapping into the benefits of mindfulness I recommend that you commit to this simple exercise for 21 days. Set a calendar reminder to do this every day.
As this becomes a habit, you will find that your ability to concentrate increases and the meditation will often be coupled with feelings of calm and contentment. You are likely to notice that your self-awareness and empathy increase as well. I highly recommend that you give this simple two minute exercise a try over the next few weeks. And see what happens.Eric Karpinski The Happiness Coach