by Jennifer Landis
You’ve heard self-help gurus talk about mindfulness and happiness. But what do they mean? What exactly is mindfulness? Will you be happier if you practice it?
Many believe there’s a connection between them. Let’s explore.
What is mindfulness?
Most experts agree mindfulness is the focus on the here and now, with no judgments or preconceived notions.
You walk through the park on a sunny day. Do you worry about your bills? Wonder what you can make for dinner? Fume about the ways your rude, lazy coworker bothered you today? Shut off the world with headphones blaring? You may be pretty normal, but you’re not being mindful.
Do you observe the scenery? How you’re breathing? The birds chirping?
This doesn’t just make your walk more pleasant — it also helps you exercise mindfulness.
Mindfulness can take many forms. Feeling stressed? Instead of judging yourself for feeling this way, just acknowledge it. Sometimes this simple act will keep you from overthinking and perpetuating the tension.
We tend to give too much credence to negative thoughts, particularly about ourselves. Mindfulness can help you see the difference between the story you tell yourself about your circumstances and what your circumstances actually are.
How to Practice Mindfulness
Nirvana was not reached in a day! Mindfulness is like any other exercise: it takes practice. The following are ways to exercise your mindfulness muscles.
Mindful Practice #1: Meditation
Most people still have no idea how to meditate. That’s okay. Though it brings ease, it can be kind of complicated.
Many meditation techniques originate from the East including Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism. Buddhist practices include Zen and Loving Kindness meditations. Mantra, Transcendental and Yoga meditations are Hindu methods. And within each style are sub-disciplines you can master.
Mindful meditation won’t take you to another world, but it may help you get in touch with everything good that already exists in your world.
Mindful Practice #2: Music
Listening to music that soothes you — and even singing along — is another way to exercise mindfulness.
Whether the songs that relax you include a piano concerto, a slow-paced indie ballad or Blink-182, the mindful way to listen is to concentrate on each note. Maybe even dance along! Music is a great way to release stress.
Mindful Practice #3: Speak Your Thoughts
After a busy day at work, do you find it hard to focus with a steady stream of thoughts running through your mind? Does trying to push aside these thoughts while meditating just stress you out more?
Instead of fighting the notions in your head, try to observe them objectively. Consider creating an audio journal. You can record yourself during your drive to and from work. Instead of fuming while you’re stuck in rush-hour traffic, you can spend the time relaxing your mind. It’s an easy way to process what’s going on in your head.
Achieve happiness through mindfulness
So, you’ve done the exercises to practice mindfulness. How do they translate into your being happy?
Remember that mindfulness centers you so you can deal with reality. You’re not distracted by what you’re afraid the moment could become or by what you want the moment to be. You realize that you may not be able to control the moment, but you can control your reaction to it.
But what about when bad things happen? How can just accepting them as they are contribute to your happiness?
Some research suggests that, even when we’re confronted with a terrible situation, those who are mindful feel better than those who try to avoid thinking about it. Again, this shows the source of satisfaction is realizing you possess ultimate control over your feelings.
Have you ever been excited about going to, say, a New Year’s Eve party?
You’re currently unattached, the party is being hyped as “the” place to see and be seen, and you’ve bought a new dress or suit and you look awesome in it. You look absolutely fabulous and you know it.
You arrive to the party. At first glance, you see no one that you would ever consider to be Mr. or Ms. Right. The venue does not look as swanky as you expected. Even the band is not to your liking.
Now, you can let your disappointment determine your thoughts, actions and feelings past midnight. Or, you can observe that your disappointment only exists because you’re not being mindful. Consider that this feeling was created by preconceived notions and is no more than a fleeting thought. Letting go of how you imagined the night would go can actually help you enjoy yourself.
As you practice mindfulness more, you’ll improve your capacity to center yourself. Creating happiness occurs when you develop your inner resources by devoting time to them. As you progress, feelings of calm and satisfaction will become a permanent part of your being. They’ll replace constant stress, frequent mind-wandering and knee-jerk reactions.
You don’t practice mindfulness to become an amazing meditator — you practice it to transform your life. Even if you’re not mindful every moment of the day, consistent practice will help you tap the source of happiness within you.
How do you stay mindful in the moment? Share your secret in the comments below!