What is Happiness?
Back in the day, scientists believed that people had a set happiness index. Some people were born more prone to be happy, whereas others were drawn to misery. Certain events could cause elevated happiness or intense misery, but they believed that eventually, people would move back to some kind of baseline happiness or state of being. Today, science has come a long way. Society’s obsession with happiness and finding peace in an increasingly complicated world has given way to many theories on how to effectively feel more fulfilled.
While not all theories can be verified, one such method has been shown to have many positive effects: meditation. It has been proven that meditation can improve that “baseline happiness” by tapping into the brain’s neuroplasticity — its ability to develop and be adaptable to change.
Benefits of Meditation
There are many scientific studies that demonstrate the benefits of meditation. One study by the Compuware Corporation involves offering its employees 60-minute group meditation sessions over seven weeks. They learned a meditation technique known as loving kindness. Participants were asked to meditate at least five times per week for 15-20 minutes. Results showed that this practice increased positive emotions over time in comparison to the control group. In turn, these positive emotions produced and increase in a wide range of “personal resources” such as mindfulness, purpose in life, social support and decreased illness symptoms.
Even though mediation is an age-old practice, it has recently become a recognized and popular means to deal with adversity. Other techniques of meditation, such as gratitude exercises, are used to prevent relapse. Praising oneself for accomplishments, no matter how small, such as getting through 24 hours without a relapse has proved to be fruitful in combatting relapse.
Meditation techniques are also being used in traditional workplaces. Oftentimes, businesses offer guided meditations for their employees for a portion of their lunch breaks or after work, as a way to reflect and unwind. In the Austin, Texas school district, James Butler acts as the school system’s first mindfulness director. He equips teachers and students to recognize stress through mindful meditation, and held designs classes with a meditation component to help students to deal with anxiety during exam time.
These examples show the acceptance and utility of meditation in various aspects of life. In general, meditation exercises like yoga and tai chi greatly benefit the brain. In fact, as we noted in a previous article about increasing brainpower, researchers have found that subjects who engage in meditation-based exercises evolved to become less reactive to negative stimuli generating embarrassment or shame.
How to Meditate: Different Techniques
Mindfulness meditation and concentration meditation are a couple of the most common meditation techniques. The two are broad umbrellas, and often specific methods within these two areas will differ according to certain gurus and meditation masters. Mindfulness meditation encourages one to be aware of wandering thoughts as they drift through the mind. The point isn’t to judge or change these thoughts, but simply be aware that they are occurring. In the process, one becomes more mindful in everyday life.
Concentration meditation involves focusing on a single point. This could mean focusing on the breath, a particular sound, a chant or mantra, staring at a candle flame or counting beads on a thread. In this type of meditation you refocus your attention on the chosen object every time your mind wanders, improving concentration, and learning to let go of random thoughts and feelings.
So how do you get on the meditation bandwagon and work towards a happier life? While there are many different ways to meditate, here is a technique that is easy to implement and doesn’t require any additional props or space. You can always find guided meditation videos and other forms of meditation on the internet; the goal is to find a method that you resonate most with.
A quiet spot is ideal for meditation, but this practice can be done anywhere — from the backseat of a car or in a crowded room where you feel the need to calm down. Yogic and Ayurvedic theories state that energy flows best when you are sitting tall, so make sure you are in an upright position, with your hands on your knees or thighs facing skyward. Now all you have to do is breathe naturally, focusing on each inhale and exhale. Notice how your body reacts to each breath — the rise of your rib cage, shoulders, and belly — and don’t try and control it. In case you find your mind wandering, just try to refocus it back on your breath. Start with this meditation for two minutes, slowly increasing your time as your progress.
Don’t expect immediate results when it comes to meditation. While you may not feel too different the first few times, an ongoing meditation practice will surely start to have a positive effect on your body and mind. Considering the negligible amount of effort it requires, you have absolutely nothing to lose. So go ahead and try meditating for happiness and well-being!