And, anything that eases the burdens, reduces the stresses, sweetens the ride and gives us time to enjoy and thrive is bound to be a happiness creator. I put mindfulness as tool number one on that list.
What do I mean, more specifically, by mindfulness? Some folks prefer to use the words 'meditation' or 'centering', for some folks it may even be 'prayer', 'contemplation' or 'sadhana'. I mean, simply and directly, creating an intentional time away from activity and interaction with the purpose of sitting still, in purposeful observance of the mind.
You may choose to add observance of the breath, or to add a mantra, or to add an object or image of devotion. The idea is to 'concentrate' in the most classic sense of the world. To come back together towards the center... to reduce our circles of concern and thought back down, like an onion being peeled one layer at a time, until we come to the core, the essence, the seed.
It's a practice, and yes, it can be frustrating. I think as many folks have told me they can't practice mindfulness because they say 'my mind won't ever shut up, how am I supposed to sit and be still!" as tell me they can't do yoga because "I can't touch my toes!". It's a practice... I couldn't speak any language until I was able to walk around as a toddler being unintelligible making noises for a couple years. Miracle of miracles, I ended up speaking (and reading and writing, English!) You practice, you learn; you don't, you don't.
The brain, the mind, your consciousness, your mental condition - whatever you identify with, you are able to work on it, refine it, train it, strengthen it and improve it. Neuroscience has come a long way, and we now know that neuro-plasticity extends through your entire life. You can make this happen, you start with five minutes a day, feeling like a failure because 'the committee in your head is just outraged and out of order!' Persevere, keep at it, chuckle at your own foibles at it... then, maybe you go up to 10 minutes after a week, and you keep doing it.
Practicing mindfulness will increase your energy and your strength. Since stress has so many profoundly negative and taxing effects on us both mentally and physically, when we use mindfulness to eliminate or better control stress, we reclaim more energy. We may think and act more purposefully because our minds aren't weighed down with problems, and have more endurance, because of the reduction of stress on your immune system, which positively affects everything else.
Mindfulness helps to keep you in a positive frame of mind, by actively increasing the levels of serotonin produced in the brain. This benefits of heightened levels of serotonin work to alleviate headaches, tension, depression, as well as providing an elevated sense of well-being.
It has been shown that with regularly practiced mindfulness, blood pressure can be regulated. While this is due largely to the overall reduction of stress, there is also an impact on how blood circulates and how the blood vessels respond and react in a positive way.
Mindfulness creates better ability for focus, and heightened memory function. This leads to the mind 'feeling stronger, more resilient and better able to handle the trials and tribulations of everyday life'. This then leads to greater states of contentment, the ability to seek and pursue fulfilling actions and choices, and the willingness to trust and take risks.
Mindfulness helps you to get out of the details and see the bigger picture; we are able to see things much more clearly. Irrespective of what plagues us, what problems we may have, when we just sit and take the time to observe the action of being, it all becomes just a little less personal, a little less tragic, a little less dramatic... we may even discover solutions for those problems simply by clearing our mind of the repetitive chatter. Then, we become able to take action to clear away the problems and address the issues.
Strong intuition is key to finding a connection to our inner Self. Through harnessing intuition we can preserve the well being of our bodies and minds. To achieve that, we must develop practices which bolster our intuition. A prime method for developing and harnessing good intuition is through mindfulness, which helps you observe your thoughts and feelings in order to have true discernment. It also provides the tranquility to fully follow, understand and embrace our highest purpose, our truest nature, and therein, to find happiness.
Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, has led experiments in cooperation with the Dalai Lama on effects of meditation and mindfulness on the brain. His results suggest that long-term, or short-term practice of mindfulness meditation results in different levels of activity in brain regions associated with such qualities as attention, anxiety, depression, fear, anger, the ability of the body to heal itself, and so on. These functional changes may be caused by changes in the physical structure of the brain.
There, so in addition to all of that above, we've got proven tool for weight loss, we hit blood pressure already, it's a mental acuity strengthener, and it's been proven to reduce heart disease. It'll make you smarter, a more empathetic and emotionally intelligent person, and overall, increase your ability to sustain periods of contentment and happiness.
All of that is excellent, but the highlight for me is this. Studies show, people who start out the day with fifteen to thirty minutes of mindfulness statistically have a better, happier day. They handle anything that comes up with ease, with no stress --- or at the very least, minimal short term stress --- they move easily from task to task, with complete focus.
Simply put, mindfulness helps us be happier. We all have a set point of happiness in our lives, like the optimum temperature on a thermostat. The environment makes us feel ourselves higher or lower, but there's always that set point we recalibrate ourselves to; where we experience happiness. Through the practice of mindfulness meditation we can raise that happiness calibration to a higher level, which, over time will make your happy times even happier, and your unhappy times seemingly less unhappy.
Get happy, give thanks and praise, do the work... make the time, just five minutes at first - sit and be mindful. Observe the breath, repeat an affirmation, focus on a candle flame. Allow your natural thoughts to emerge and simply notice them, then let them drift away like clouds in the sky.
Check back for my next tip - that would be Step 9 - Serve and Help.