Mindfulness: Unlocking the Key to Happiness

Mindfulness gets talked about a lot these days. It’s being promoted for everyone from Silicon Valley execs to British schoolchildren as a way to improve productivity, concentration, even as a way to treat serious mental health issues like depression and anxiety. But mindfulness isn’t some new trend, the practice has been around for thousands of years – science finally catching up is a welcome development, because it gives us studies to back up what practitioners have been saying all along. Changing the way you think is possible, and comes with a host of positive side effects. Now we have the brain scans to prove it.

 

What is Mindfulness?

Coming out of the Buddhist tradition of meditation, mindfulness is a way of carrying the calm, centered feeling of meditation with you into the rest of your day. With practice you learn to pay attention to the present moment, while letting go of the mental chatter and automatic thoughts that bring stress and distraction.  

 

The Science of Serenity

The amazing thing is that meditation really does rewire the brain. Researchers found that people practicing a half hour a day of mindfulness meditation had growth in the brain areas associated with memory, self-esteem and empathy after just 8 weeks. In other studies, people were better at dealing with pain and stress after practicing mindfulness. The reduced stress was found to improve the immune system, blood pressure and sleep patterns. Psychologists have developed programs that incorporate mindfulness into treatments for patients with OCD, anxiety and depression.

What’s more, the effect of all this brain activity is felt as an overall improvement in mood and sense of well being. In short, it makes you happier.

 

How To Be

Practicing mindfulness doesn’t require being in a scientific study or going on a Buddhist retreat. The main obstacle people have to daily meditation is usually finding the time, but moments of mindfulness can happen throughout the day. It can be as simple as taking a moment to pause and focus on three things:

1. Body

How does your body feel right now? Be aware of how your feet feel in their shoes, the sensation of the air on your skin, the taste of food in your mouth. Are any muscles tensed up? Work on easing them back down.

2. Breath

Pay attention to your breathing and how you can make it flow. Take slow, even breaths, counting them out until you reach 10. Do another 10 if you have time.

3. Thoughts

Let them come! People often worry that meditation is thinking about nothing, so that any stray whisper from the brain is somehow failing. It’s actually about not judging or holding onto the thoughts that do come. So if you find yourself starting down a familiar path of worry while standing in line at the coffee shop or in stuck in traffic, give your busy brain a gentle nudge back to counting your breaths and let the thought go.

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