Here’s Why Meditation Makes You Happy
Have you ever wondered why meditation makes you happy?
Essentially, when you use meditation techniques for happiness, you train the mind to stop wandering and to live in the moment. And this makes you happy.
Science proves this.
Let’s take a look.
Meditation Makes You Happy Because It Stops “Wandering Mind”
A study conducted by Harvard showed that people spend 46% of the time focusing on something other than what they’re doing.
They termed this, “Wandering mind”.
Psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University tell us, “A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” Killingsworth and Gilbert write. “The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.” (1)
This wandering mind serves to block out the present moment.
- Do you think about work while trying to sleep? That’s a wandering mind.
- Do you think about food while you’re at the gym? Wandering mind.
- Do you check your phone while having a conversation? Again, that’s wandering mind.
Wandering mind makes it hard to be happy. When you use meditation techniques for happiness you stop wandering mind, hence why you become happy.
Another way to achieve the same thing is to live in the moment.
Why Meditation Makes You Happy Even When You Were Down?
You’ve probably heard the term “mindfulness” before. But you might not have gotten the full picture.
Mindfulness is a specific meditation technique, and it is also a general term referring to living in the present moment (*3). We can use both these types of meditation for happiness.
Let’s begin with the latter.
Mindfulness in this sense meaning living in the moment. It’s about being aware of the world around us. It’s about focusing on the world as it comes to us through our senses.
To do this, we just focus on the present moment.
Try these mindfulness meditation techniques for happiness:
- Eat mindfully
- Take a mindful walk
- Lie down in bed mindfully
- Practice mindful art (read Read Wendy Ann Greenhalgh’s excellent Mindfulness & the Art of Drawing: A Creative Path to Awareness [AMAZON] )
- Take a mindful shower
These mindfulness meditation techniques make you happy because they give you a chance to just enjoy the moment.
Numerous scientific studies have proven that these mindful moments create positive feelings and can even help to eliminate anxiety and depression. (*4, *5 *6)
So mindfulness means happiness. But it also refers to a specific meditation technique: Mindfulness meditation.
In Buddhist tradition, Mindfulness refers to a certain type of meditation in which we practice awareness of thoughts, feelings and sensations.
Jon Kabat Zinn [Professor of Medicine Emeritus and creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School] describes mindfulness this way: “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally. It’s about knowing what is on your mind.”. (7)
When we practice mindfulness, we are being present moment mindful but focusing on what is happening in the mind itself.
This titrates what Buddhists call Dukha and Sukha, which is satisfaction and dissatisfaction. The more we live in the moment (the more mindful we are) the more Dukha we have, and the less Sukha.
Most experts advocate practicing for twenty minutes at a time, which can be a challenge when we are suffering. However, research shows that these twenty-minute mindfulness sessions will pay dividends.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD and published in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that mindfulness significantly improves mental health and boosts happiness. (*8)
Mindfulness. Two definitions. Both equally beneficial.
Both present moment mindfulness and mindfulness (the meditation technique) train the mind to open itself to the present moment, and this brings happiness.
So if you ever wonder why meditation makes you happy: it makes you happy because it stops mind wandering and helps you live in the present moment.
If you think you could do with letting happiness in, I recommend reading Eli Jackson Bear’s Sudden Awakening: Stop Your Mind, Open Your Heart, and Discover Your True Nature [AMAZON].
Both science and spiritual wisdom advocate the use of meditation for happiness.
While research laboratories to this day are continuing to study the affect of meditation on the brain, religiosity and spiritualism centre on the affect meditation has on the spirit.“To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one's family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one's own mind,” —Buddha Click To Tweet
In today’s fast-paced society, however, it can be hard to control the mind.
We’re victims to a constant barrage of over-stimulation. From the pressures of work to the noise of social media, there’s such an overflow of information that the mind rarely get the opportunity it needs to rest.
Over time this leads to mental degradation, the mind becoming tired and worn.
The mind needs a chance to rest.
Sleep does not always work. Oftentimes while we sleep we dream and even then the mind doesn’t truly rest. That’s why it’s a good idea to try using some meditation techniques for happiness too.“In mindfulness one is not only restful and happy, but alert and awake. Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality,” —Thich Nhat Hanh. Click To Tweet
When we meditate we focus the mind on the present moment.
When meditating, the mind isn’t creating thoughts, nor is it judging reality, nor is it performing any other task than just observing. This state of pure observation, of mindfulness, is of immense value to physical, mental, and spiritual health.
Research into the effects of meditation on happiness and other mental states began in 1960 with Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard University. Dr. Benson discovered that meditation was effective in treating anxiety, depression, and stress, and that at the same time as curing the mind of these negative states meditation also create positive states like happiness, compassion, and love.
A later study showed that meditation can alter a person’s “Set Point.”
Meditation makes you happier by altering your set-point
The “Set-Point” is your baseline of happiness
“The set-point theory of happiness suggests that our level of subjective well-being is determined primarily by heredity and by personality traits ingrained in us early in life and as a result remains relatively constant throughout our lives,” writes Alex Lickerman M.D, Director of Primary Care at the University of Chicago. This “Set Point” acts as a baseline of our well-being. Though our emotions fluctuate we will return to this set-point over time.
Daniel Goleman, author of “Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence,” says, “There’s a bell curve for this ratio, like the one for IQ: most of us are in the middle, with some good days and some bad days. Those who are tipped to the far right are likely to have clinical levels of depression or anxiety. And those whose setpoint tips far to the left are able to bounce back quickly from upsets.”
It is possible to change this set-point. One way to do so is through meditation. A study showed that only eight weeks of meditation for one hour a day raised a person’s happiness set-point. Those participants who had meditated for an hour a day became happier and also more empathetic and compassionate. The researchers also noted that the meditators’ immune systems had improved.
Why Does Meditation Make You Happy? Because it stops “attachment”
So why does meditation make us happy?
It makes sense when you understand what unhappiness is.
Most of the time unhappiness is caused by changes to things you’ve grown attached to (8).
Change and attachment. These are the causes of unhappiness.
People fear change. And they especially fear changes to things they’re attached to.
Let’s take a closer look for one second.
Let’s say that you are in a loving relationship. You’re married. It’s been perfect. You can’t imagine ever getting a divorce because you’re so happy. But then your husband or wife cheats on you. Obviously you’re hurt. But why are you hurt? You’re hurt because something that you have become attached to (your marriage) is being changed (by infidelity).
You’re stock broker making millions. Because you like making millions, you become attached to it. You pray it will never end. But then bam!, 2008 recession. Stock market isn’t what it was. You end up losing your job. You’re now working at a grocery store. Happy? I don’t think so.
Those are two examples of things that were positive that changed. But have you ever noticed how even when something changes for the better you still feel a little bit sad? Weird huh? But again, something you had grown attached to changed. And the result is unhappiness.
Meditation Makes You Happy Because It Helps You Let Go
So, we know that when you are too attached to things you risk becoming unhappy.
When you’re too attached to your marriage, for instance, you risk becoming unhappy when things go wrong in the marriage. And also, because you fear change, you become unhappy at the slightest suggestion that something might go wrong. Even the tiniest little hiccup can cause anxiety. And it is all because you are too attached to things.
Meditation helps you to detach. And when you detach you gain control of your emotions.
This is a little blurry. It can be hard to visualise what’s going on here. So let’s take a closer look at why attachment hurts so much.
- You’re in a marriage.
- Because this marriage means so much to you, you try to hold on to the marriage in your own mind.
- It’s like you are mentally gripping this marriage with your mind. But then something changes.
- Your husband / wife has an affair.
- This feels like reality is pulling at your marriage.
- Your mind is pulling one way. Reality is pulling the other.
- This is a fight you won’t win. Your mind can’t defeat reality. The more you resist the more strain you’re going to feel in your mind. The more strain your feel in the mind the more pain there will be.
- End result? Unhappiness. Pain.
- The solution is to let go.
Meditation helps you to let go. When you let go you find happiness.
The tighter you grip onto your ideas the more painful it is when life pulls the other way. That’s why you need to let go.
There are a million and one quotes and platitudes about letting go.
- When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need.” —Lao Tzu
- “This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet.” —Rumi
- “In the end only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.” —Buddha
But what is letting go really all about?
Just imagine that your mind and reality are two physical forces. Now imagine if your mind is pulling one way and reality is pulling the other? What’s going to happen? Something will break. And it aint gonna be reality.
Paul Martin Harrison
Paul Harrison is a meditation teacher, author and journalist based in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Paul has helped thousands of people to discover their true potential. Don’t miss Paul’s inspirational and enlightening book Journey To The Buddha Within You.