4 Ways Mindfulness Can Enhance Your Happiness
By Elise Bialylew
“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.”
Mindfulness is the new black. It is an effective mental technique, borrowed from the two-thousand-year-old Buddhist contemplative practice 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 practised regularly, it can bring more calm and effectiveness into everyday life, enhance happiness and mental capacity, and reduce stress.
1. It helps 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. We also become more skilled at detecting and rerouting 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 getting 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 realise 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 makes 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 relationship. From a very young age, the healthy development of our own brain requires interactions. Loneliness has now been proven 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, and greatly enhance happiness in the process.
3. It connects you to a sense of inner contentment
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 dependant 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 and flourishing is not dependant on external circumstances. Rather, it emerges from an inner sense of wellbeing and living in alignment with one’s values. Through the practice of mindfulness, we can cultivate a sense of inner wellbeing, contentment and wellness independent of 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 enhances your gratitude
The practice of mindfulness helps us to slow down – even if just for a few moments – and 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 can infuse our lives with gratitude, enhance happiness, and highlight the ordinary things which can so often pass by unnoticed.
Learn the skills of mindfulness by registering to take part in Mindful in May. Learn how to meditate with thousands from around the world and raise money to bring clean, safe drinking water to the developing world.
Elise Bialylew is the founder of online global mindfulness campaign Mindful in May. She is also an out-of-the-box thinker, a doctor trained in psychiatry, and a mindfulness meditation teacher. She teaches thousands of people around the world to meditate while raising funds to build clean water wells in the developing world. Through her diverse training, people around the world learn to enhance happiness and reach their full potential at the Mind Life Project. Her work has been featured in the Huffington Post and the New York Times, and on national Australian television.