Happiness and mindfulness: How to train yourself to be happy

by Simon Henry
@simlington

I’m starting this post with this assumption:

We all want to be happy.

So I’m excluding masochists.

Then again, if masochists get pleasure from being unhappy, presumably they’re happy being unhappy – and therefore just like everyone else. (Actually wanting to be happy – just taking a circuitous route.)

Who knows?

This line of argument is making me unhappy, so let’s move on.

Something that troubles me is that we humans frequently do things that make us happy in the very short term but ultimately make us miserable – or dead – in the medium or longer term.

Let’s take some examples.

Gluttons are happy while the extra pancake – dripping with syrup, Nutella and dulce de leche – hits their taste buds.

Smokers are delirious when a waft of fumes from their first cigarette of the day hits their lungs.

People with short tempers feel much better when they’re shouting at – or hitting – the apparent cause of their anger.

As most of us know, binge eating, smoking and verbal and physical assault have bad consequences.

I don’t want people with weight problems, nicotine addictions or anger management issues to feel like I’m picking on them.

Some of us watch the X Factor while injecting heroin and wearing jeggings.

Ahem.

None of us is perfect!

But we don’t have to put up with these less-than-optimal ways of living. We really don’t. But how?

Mindfulness lets you see what is really going on at any given time – it lets you see the truth and you don’t have to hide away from it.

You can be mindful of the urge to eat that plate of sugary heaven before you stuff it down your gob and continue on your uncomfortable journey to obesity and early death.

You can be mindful of the urge to suck poisonous chemicals into your lungs before actually sparking up the cigarette that will ultimately lead to further cigarettes – and an early and painful death.

You can be mindful of the urge to attack the person who pushed in the queue at the garage before an attack that leads to your conviction for GBH (or serious injuries to yourself if the pusher-in is a karate black belt).

Stopping thoughtless (or mindless) behaviour takes some effort – but it’s worth it.

In order to stop yourself before you do self-defeating, dangerous and silly things, you can train your mind to be aware of what’s going on in the present moment through Mindfulness Meditation.

And once you’re fully trained up, you’re no longer a robot who’s been programmed to act in a particular way – you’re a mindful human being who has a choice of how to act in any set of circumstances.

And guess what?

This makes you happier – because having choices, feeling in control and not dying of lung cancer or languishing in jail are all ways of improving your happiness scores.

You’ll find there are lots of things to choose from for your Mindfulness Meditation Training Course. Here are some things you could choose to be aware of right now:

Thoughts
Sounds
Sensations in the body
Your breath
Smells
Sights

And your awareness can move from one to the other. If you find someone has just farted in the room you’re sitting in, for example, you may want to be less aware of smells and more aware of how your body feels, standing up very quickly and leaving the infected area as soon as possible.

Just choose something to be aware of and see how long you can stay with this awareness.

And when you find your mind has wandered off to something else, just bring it back to whatever you wanted to be aware of.

You should do this even if you were aware of something bad (Nigel Farage on the radio) and your mind wandered to something good (Les Dawson). Actually in this case we’ll take pity on you, let you turn the radio off and allow your thoughts to linger on Dawson, the little Lancastrian legend.

This idea of being aware of what’s going on in the present moment sounds pretty simple.

It’s not.

But it is useful, because it starts helping you to see what’s going on in your mind, rather than being taken down paths you perhaps don’t want to travel.

And the happiness you get from knowing you’re not killing yourself – or likely to kill someone else – is enduring and positive.

I’m new to thing mindfulness thing – having only been doing it for a couple of years.

The best experts I’ve come across are:

Jon Kabat-Zinn
Danny Penman
Mark Williams
Pema Chodron

They’re all excellent in their own ways. Pick one at random, read about them and find out what they advise.

Let’s all be a bit happier. Eat less, smoke less, take less heroin, wear jeggings less frequently – and murder less. It all makes so much sense.

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And you can follow me @simlington on Twitter

Copyright Simon Henry @simlington 2014

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One thought on “Happiness and mindfulness: How to train yourself to be happy

  1. mentallysane

    Reblogged this on Mind over shatter and commented:
    Interesting post on mindfulness. You may also want to check out Sharon Begley’s “Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain”, an excellent read which links new scientific insights on brain plasticity to Buddhist ideas on the transformative power of mind. Could the mind change the brain?
    For now, enjoy the post below, as well as the weekend!

    P.S.: New blog post coming up soon by the way, so please don’t hesitate having a look every now & then. Your thoughts & feedback matter!

    Like

    Reply

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