We all know that happiness is important. Happiness is about positive wellbeing, feeling satisfied with your life and generally wanting things to continue as they are. Unhappiness is the reverse when our general life satisfaction is low and when we want things to be different.
We know that life does not always go the way we hope it will. Sometimes relationships run into difficulties; we may find ourselves out of work, or a loved one becomes seriously ill. It’s natural to feel sadness, anxiety, and anger when we encounter problems, but how can we expect to be happy when things like this are happening in our lives?
Happiness goes a lot deeper than an emotion or mood, which are more like waves and currents on the surface of the ocean. Although positive emotions like joy and contentment are important to happiness, there’s also a foundational sense of well-being and meaningful connection with life. This foundation of happiness supports the good times, as well as providing the resilience to cope when life gets difficult.
There are several things that contribute to our happiness. These include physical and mental health, relationships and society, work and activities, genetics and upbringing, and income. Of all of these factors, the amount of income has the least impact on happiness. Research shows that, once basic needs are met, there’s no direct link between wealth and happiness. In fact, in one famous study that compared lottery winners with people who became paralysed in an accident, researchers found little difference in their levels of happiness a year later.
A big misconception in western society is that if only we could get what we want, then we’d be happy. For decades, the advertising industry has used social comparison to motivate consumers. If only I drove that car, lived in that beautiful house, ate those chocolates, on that lovely new sofa – then I’d be happy. Recent research shows that things actually work the other way around; happiness comes before success. Being happy is the means, rather than an end in itself. We’re more successful when we embrace positive wellbeing and happiness that makes us more energized, motivated, engaged, creative, resilient and productive. There’s also evidence that happier organisations are more successful and that their employees are more productive.
So, what has happiness got to do with mindfulness and how does practising mindfulness help?
Harvard University carried out some interesting research to see what makes people happy. Over 15,000 people across 80 countries used an iPhone app that prompted them on what they were doing, how they felt and where their attention was in that moment. The results show that peoples’ attention was off in thought, away from the present task around 48 percent of the time. And when people drifted off in thought they reported being less happy, no matter what they were doing. Even when people let their minds wander to pleasant thoughts, they were less happy than when their attention was connected with what they were doing in the moment.
Some of the ways that mindfulness supports positive well-being and happiness include:
- Presence: Connecting with our present-moment reality, rather than drifting off in thought about the past or future. Noticing when our mind wanders and returning our attention to the present is an important foundation of mindfulness practice.
- Gratitude: Expressing appreciation and gratitude for what we already have, rather than what we don’t have that we think might make us happy. Our lives get so busy that we can easily take many things for granted, for instance, our health, access to good food, friends and family, and where we live in the world.
- Responding rather than reacting: Practising mindfulness changes the way we relate to our experience, from unconscious and habitual reaction to a conscious and skilful response.
- Kindness and compassion: Practising kindness and compassion to others, as well as ourselves and offering help and support where it’s needed.
- Acceptance: About finding the easier path through difficulty by embracing and working with reality as it is. Rather than habitually resisting or avoiding, we learn to proactively accept and work with unwanted experiences.
Ultimately practising mindfulness helps to build the foundation for positive wellbeing and happiness that allows us to savour the good times and find the energy and resilience to work with reality when life becomes a bit difficult.
Find somewhere undisturbed and sit in a comfortable, dignified and upright posture, where you can remain alert and aware.
There are two guided practices for this session. You can close your eyes, or lower your gaze while the meditations play.
- Play the first settling practice, then read through the session content, which you can print off if that helps.
- Then play the second practice to explore and experience positive well-being, energy and aliveness, gratitude, kindness and compassion.
Suggested weekly practice
- Explore what promotes and what hinders positive wellbeing and happiness for you.
- Bring to mind three things that you can be grateful for before you go to sleep and when you first awake each morning.
- Try practising acceptance by embracing whatever arises in your experience as if you had chosen it.
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