Research on happiness abounds these days – it’s a popular topic. For more than a thousand years, Eastern philosophies have advocated it; now books are being written about it, scientists are busy researching it and an iPhone app has collected data about it.
Stay right where you are
The big question – how do I get to where I can be happy? As it turns out, there is good news, although it may be mind twisting for some. Happiness is right where you are. Yup, the key to happiness is to be present in the moment, to Be Here Now. As Buddha says, “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”
When we think about the past, it’s usually with regret. We wish we could change what happened or had behaved differently. When we turn to thoughts of the future, we typically are anxious about how events will unfold. We can’t change the past, nor can we control the future. So how do we find the sweet spot of happiness?
Research is being done on how to spot happiness, maintain it and acquire more of it. However, it’s not ‘out there’. External circumstances can’t provide happiness. It has become apparent that our level of joy depends on how present we are in the moment.
Richard Alpert, a Harvard University professor who would later become known as Ram Dass, wrote the book “Be Here Now” in an attempt to convey a similar message: pay attention. What he realized (and science validates) is that when we are present in our lives, happiness grows. It’s not the flashy car, expensive house or corner office, but simply the ability to fully engage with what is right in front of us.
After completing research and developing an iPhone app to measure moments of happiness (or unhappiness), Harvard grad Matt Killingsworth and his team found the mind of the average individual wanders for 47 per cent of the time. This produces (shortly thereafter) unhappiness. Afterwards, Killingsworth observed, “A wandering mind is an unhappy mind,”
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Nurture happiness by meditating
Killingsworth’s research underscores why many spiritual and philosophical traditions have always advocated for meditation. Even just a few moments of stillness each day can help by taming the mind. The effects are cumulative — the more one meditates and the mind is quieted, the more easily one can stay in the moment. Watching the breath and sensing the body are two traditional methods for creating awareness in the present.
How to Meditate
- Don’t try to ‘think of nothing’. If this is your first time mediating, you may not realize you’re not in control of your thoughts.
- Redirect Your Thoughts. Relax – your mind will wander, it’s normal and part of the ebb and flow. When you can catch your mind wondering, pay attention to the thought. Try not to get engaged thinking the thought but take a step back and notice what you were thinking of and how you feel.
- Notice Your Body. Focus your attention by noticing everything you can about how your body feels, beginning with the top of your head. Focus your attention on your face, your eyes, how the air feels when you breathe in and out, the tension in your face, and so on. Move your attention down your body towards your feet and focus on each part of your body, noticing how everything feels.
- Notice Your Breath. If you’ve checked how your body feels and still have more time left begin to pay attention to your breath. Notice how deeply you breathe, how much air is in your lungs, how fast you’re breathing, and so on.
- Be consistently aware of your surroundings and what’s taking place around you.
- Meditate at least once a day.
- Clarify what’s important to you – write down your definition of REAL success.
- Declare each day who you are going to be.
Stay in the present – bring your mind back from the present or future when it begins to wander.
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