Is mindfulness the new happiness pill?
We all want to be happier. More and more, happiness is becoming the holy grail of modern life. It’s something we all strive for, want more of and believe will be the answer to our problems. As a society, most people now recognise that money, fame, and a mansion by the sea won’t necessarily bring us peace, yet we pursue happiness with the passion and desperation of a lovesick teenager. There are more books, seminars and films investigating what makes us happy and how to achieve happiness than ever before. We are happiness obsessed.
And why shouldn’t we wish to be happy? Feeling happy is a wonderful way to feel. Some would say that because we’re wired to pursue pleasure and avoid pain, its only natural that we should we want to feel happy all the time. However, what actually makes us happy in the truest sense may not be what we think.
As a society, most people now recognise that money, fame, and a mansion by the sea won’t necessarily bring us peace, yet we pursue happiness with the passion and desperation of a lovesick teenager.
We all know that when we rely on external pleasures to make us happy, the happiness we feel is transient, and leads to a never ending cycle of pursuing those ‘things’ that make us happy. This also applies to our emotional states. Becoming attached to how high we should feel, in order for us to be happy, actually sets us up for disappointment and often only serves to keep it further out of our reach. We also then fall into the trap of resisting the present moment if it involves pain, sadness or fear, or even if it doesn’t quite reach the level of ecstasy or joy that we expect.
Mindfulness teaches us that happiness is an emotional state like any other, and rises and passes away just like the rest of our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations. Intense and ecstatic at times, short-lived and hollow at others, happiness is just one of many emotional states we experience as part of the range of natural human emotion. It’s not necessarily the ultimate goal and our attachment to it is unrealistic.
When you practice mindfulness, you learn to bring your awareness to whatever you are experiencing in the present moment, whether that be happiness, sadness, fear, disappointment, or anything else. You become truly aware of the moment, without judging it as good or bad. This in turn allows acceptance of the moment, rather than wishing it to be different to what it is. You can then begin to experience a deeper connection to the moment and a bliss that is akin to happiness but much deeper, more stable and longer lasting. This happiness is able to withstand the torrents of changing circumstances and emotions.
Mindfulness teaches us that happiness is an emotional state like any other, and rises and passes away just like the rest of our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations.
Getting out of the rut of experiencing the world through the murky film of our thoughts, we become free to experience the world as it really is, openly accepting whatever it brings, be it pain, sorrow, or joy. And rather than rejecting our pain or sadness which can lead to despair, learning to sit with these emotions without judgment brings empathy and compassion. As we practice opening our awareness to this way of being, it becomes the new norm, allowing the kind of true happiness that comes when we are able to move past the duality of happiness vs sadness, pleasure vs pain and giving vs getting. When we can hold both sides of the coin together, as part of the greater whole, we achieve a higher state of consciousness that is not devoid of pain but in its truth, brings its own fulfillment.
People who practice mindfulness report feeling more present in their lives and having greater emotional balance, self-acceptance and self-compassion. They also report having increased self-awareness and feeling more connected to themselves, others and the world around them. This is largely due to being better equipped to experience and sit with unpleasant thoughts and feelings in a non-threatening way. Being able to choose your responses rather than mindlessly reacting when someone pushes your buttons, allows you to have a greater degree of control over your own emotional state. When knocked off balance, mindfulness allows you to return to a state of equanimity more quickly and easily.
Mindfulness is not about being happy all the time. It’s about creating space to be present with whatever emotional state you are in, without allowing it to hijack your day or even your life. Mindfulness does however, offer a wonderful sense of freedom in the realisation that you are not a slave to your emotions or conditioned reactions. Mindfulness allows you to be with life however it is, and over time, creates more space for you to choose how you respond to it. This freedom can truly be exhilarating and brings a much deeper, and more satisfying, sense of joy and fulfilment into your life.
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