Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Happiness and Mindfulness

Seems to me that there is a lot of talk these days about happiness. Whether we're happy or whether we would be happier if we only emphasized the "right" things in our life instead of the "wrong" things. Whether we're happier today than we were in yesteryear. I think one reason* there is so much talk about happiness is the definition different for everyone. Also, happiness is a complex concept and one that's hard to define and measure. But despite these complexities, there are people out there who are trying to understand and define happiness in a scientific way.
One of these people is Matt Killingsworth. He developed a happiness app and is collecting data about people's moods and correlating them with what they are doing. From his various findings, there is one thing that is consistent from the study. People are happier when they are fully engaged in what they are doing instead of letting their mind wander. That was true even if they didn't like what they were doing at the time. Apparently the reason for this is when our mind wanders, it usually goes to negative places and focuses on things we are worried about. And when we're worried, we're usually not happy.

Unfortunately, I'm normal in this way. After learning about Killingsworth's research, I noticed that while I was mowing, I was spending a fair amount of time with my mind wandering to worrisome thoughts. The same thing happened later while I was taking a walk. I knew I was the worrying kind, but I didn't realize how much idle worrying I actually do.

image source
So I wondered if there was anything I could do about this. I concluded that I am going to try to practice more mindfulness. I am going to try to be fully present in whatever I am doing and not have my body busy doing something while my mind wanders off to worry. When I'm mowing, I am going to listen to the sound of the mower and notice the plants I am cutting. When I'm walking, I'm going to notice how long my stride is and how my arms are swinging. And with enough practice, maybe I won't be the typical person anymore. My thoughts will stay in the present instead of in the future worrying. And just maybe, I will finally understand what the Buddist monks have known for a very long time--mindfulness is an important key to happiness.

(Okay, to be truthfully honest, I've gone through this phase before with only minor success. It takes a lot of work to retrain a lifetime of rapid fire, worrisome thoughts. But I'm gonna give it a try.)

*I think another reason there is so much talk about happiness, is that we are dong very well as a whole. We have most of our basic needs met, so we have the luxury to think about things such as whether or not we are happy.