Though there is some debate over whether or not mindfulness and happiness are directly correlated, I believe, and have experienced, that a big part of happiness is deciding to be mindful. When you decide to notice life as it is without needing to change it, you realize that good things are simply everywhere, and they’re worthy of your appreciation.
“Mindfulness helps you go home to the present. And every time you go there and recognize a condition of happiness that you have, happiness comes.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
A Few Thoughts on Mindfulness and Happiness
Mindfulness is observing without adding our projections or expectations onto what is happening. It’s a state in which our attention is not distracted by anything other than what’s happening right now. When we become more mindful, we realize that we have control and influence over our own life by cultivating a more peaceful internal environment.
Because unpleasant experiences are an inevitable part of life, mindfulness may not seem to be synonymous with joy. Yet, there is some pretty interesting research that shows we’re more likely to feel better when we’re mindful than when we’re not mindful, even when it’s an unpleasant experience. That’s pretty amazing. It means that mindfulness is a source of happiness within us.
When we’re frustrated, for instance, we can either let that frustration dictate our next thought, action, and feeling, or we can pay attention to that feeling of frustration and recognize it for what it is. We can say, “I am frustrated in this moment,” and somehow that can help us respond to the unpleasant, painful experience with a little more openness and equanimity.
There can be less suffering when we practice mindfulness of the moment as it is and let go of the desire to have life happen exactly to our liking.
I love Pema Chödrön’s words, “Suffering begins to dissolve when we can question the belief or the hope that there’s anywhere to hide.” Mindfulness and happiness are, for me, intimately intertwined because it means we’re not hiding from anything. We’re here in the moment, seeing what’s happening, feeling what it means to be alive–with a little less judgment and a little more appreciation for the opportunity to be in this moment.
There can be less suffering when we are not attached to the initial desire to escape from what we don’t like. There can be more peace when we decide to breathe in and through this moment.
There’s more research being conducted on mindfulness and happiness, and it gives me hope that the present moment is always home to all that we need, and that we can become home to the happiness that’s always within reach.
Mindfulness as an Internal Source of Happiness
Merely observing something, without passing judgement, connects us with our inner source of happiness. Perhaps the reason we feel better (rather than worse) when we connect with the moment as it is, is because our fundamental nature is one of peace and happiness.
When you practice mindfulness (which is the only way to truly understand how mindfulness works), you develop the ability to tap into a more calm, centered space. When you continue with the practice, what started out as a temporary feeling of peace becomes more frequent. Practicing mindful living on a consistent basis totally transforms the way you operate–you live from a centered space rather than from a space of mind-wandering, stress, and reaction.
So, when are we most happy? To gather data on the question, Matt Killingsworth built an app, Track Your Happiness, that let people report their feelings in real time. Among the surprising results: We’re often happiest, or at least less unhappy, when we’re mindful than when we’re not mindful.
Matt suggests that objective conditions and external circumstances have a small impact (if any) on our lasting happiness. Instead, a potential cause of happiness may have a lot to do with the contents of our moment-to-moment experiences. So he discovered a way to study a large, diverse group of people’s happiness as they’re going about their daily lives. The main topic of study: mind-wandering.
In his talk, he states that, “The ability to focus our attention on something other than the present is really amazing. It allows us to learn, and plan, and reason in ways that no other species of animal can.” When our minds wander, they’re unconstrained and we can go to a “happier place” when we can’t change the physical reality in front of us. Findings show, however, that mind-wandering typically does not contribute to happiness; in fact, it does the opposite.
People are substantially less happy when their minds are wandering than when they’re not, no matter what they’re doing. Even when we’re straying away from something that’s not very enjoyable to begin with (e.g. commuting), we would be happier if we stayed in the moment. Perhaps this is because when our minds wander, we often think about unpleasant things like our worries, anxieties, and regrets.
Yet even when we’re thinking about something neutral, we’re still considerably less happy than when we’re not mind-wandering. Even when we’re thinking about something pleasant, we’re just slightly less happy than when we’re not mind-wandering.
Mind-wandering seems to be correlated with unhappiness, but which is the cause and which is the effect? The data showed that “there is a strong relationship between mind-wandering now, and being unhappy a short time later, consistent with the idea that mind wandering is causing people to be unhappy. In contrast, there’s no relationship between being unhappy now and mind-wandering a short time later. In other words, mind-wandering very likely seems to be an actual cause and not merely a consequence of unhappiness.”
All of this means that we have a source of happiness right within us. Though we may not be able to be mindful in every single moment, and there may be times when we want our minds to wander, we could increase our happiness by becoming more mindful in the course of our daily lives.
- Did any of these findings surprise you?
- How can you become more mindful today, in this moment?
- What thoughts help you return to the present moment when you notice yourself drifting into the past or future?
Please share your thoughts, mindfulness practices, insights, and experiences with me in the comments.
Share this post with someone who may appreciate it.
Happiness is something you (re)discover within yourself.