This weekend, I got the joy of heading back to Chicago to see my best friend for her bachelorette party. I usually try to drag my husband into going back with me for these trips; the 8 hour drive to Chicago is not on my list of favorite things to do. (Even more so in my car, which doesn’t have cruise control. Also – is this a sign of my impending age? I struggle to make it through eight hours of driving without cruise control and wind up needing like an entire week of recovery for my right leg and hip? Is this what 30 feels like?)
To occupy my time, I downloaded a plethora of my favorite podcasts and jams: Punch Brothers, Andrew Bird, Chris Thile, Justin Timberlake, Drake, Rhianna, and of course Ira Glass and the TED Radio Hour.
You may have heard me gush about TED talks before, and for a nerd who loves to learn, let me tell you – this is my JAM. This was the first time, however, that I got the TED Radio Hour, and let me just tell you Guy Raz is no Ira Glass… But he grew on me.
Anyway, the first podcast I listened to on the drive was all about happiness. (“Simply Happy” is the name of the episode, should you want to go check it out.) What we can all agree on, says Guy, is that we all want to be happy. No matter your age, race, or whatever political persuasion you identify with, we all want happiness, even if we find opposing ways to get there. Happiness is a universal desire.
For someone that is goal-oriented and driven, such as myself, individuals (like my husband) who express their only desire is “to be happy” quite frankly drive me nuts. But – what do you want to achieve? says my busy busy brain. There are times that I wish I was content to live a simple life, work a simple job, have children and be done with it. But my desire to do something that leaves a mark leaves me passionate and firey and burning with desire for more.
Anyway, I digress, although now is a good opportunity to tell you: this is the opposite of what you should to do find happiness. According to researcher Matt Killingsworth, happiness is most readily available when we are being present. As in, when you engaged in the activity it is that you are doing completely.
Humans have this incredible ability to think about something other than what we are doing, which allows us to plan, get creative, and have an evolutionary advantage when it comes to protecting our species. Unfortunately, it also means that, when done too often, we are miserable. It’s funny – we normally think of creativity and imagination as good, desirable traits (and don’t get me wrong – they are), but creative people have been shown to be more prone to nightmares – and potentially also less happy.
But let’s pause for a minute and think about what happiness actually is.
Happiness is an emotion, and emotions exist within us to guide us in certain directions. Positive emotions (happiness, love, joy) will lead us towards the activities that create this emotion, and negative emotions (anger, frustration, grief) will lead us away. Pretty simple, right? But here’s the catch: emotions are by nature impermanent. Happiness is not meant to stay. It is meant to lead you in a particular direction, and when you go there, its job is done and it goes away. That is the nature of emotions. Even grief and fairly large, disheartening events, have been shown to not affect the day-to-day emotions of most individuals just three months following the event.
So happiness is not meant to last. However, what you can find is contentedness. Being content can last forever, and being content comes from being present. It acknowledges whatever it is that is good, or bad, or just okay, as impermanent, as constantly changing. We are constantly changing. This is good! Exchange of air fuels your cells with oxygen. Exchange of words means increased communication. Change is our nature – change is a constant, and change is good.
Emotions are changing. You are changing. The weather is changing. Our nation is changing. The best thing you can do for your own personal happiness, is to sit back, acknowledge it, watch it, and be okay.
One of my favorite meditations for cultivating present-mindedness is so simple, it’s silly. Try it out, and let me know what you think. Maybe we’ll all be on our way to more present-mindedness and living more content, peaceful lives.
- Sit in a chair or on a mat. Let your eyes close down or just focus your gaze, letting it get fuzzy around the edges.
- Take a few deep breaths. Notice where the breath comes in and out of your body. Notice where you feel the breath in your torso.
- Bring your awareness to your sense of touch. What textures do you feel on your skin? What do the various articles of clothing feel like on your body? What parts of your body are touching the ground, or the chair? Where is your weight balanced?
- Become aware of your vision. What do you see – even behind closed eyelids? Can you notice a dance of light, or any shifting movement patterns?
- Notice your sense of taste. Do you have any tastes lingering? Is your throat dry and scratchy, or is it smooth and calm?
- Are there any smells present – of incense, your shampoo or soap? Do you smell any outside smells – of a particular type of cleaner, of the wind?
- What do you hear? What are obvious noises, and what about any noises in the background? Can you hear the sound of your breath? Your heartbeat?
By simply noticing and observing your five senses, you are already cultivating present-mindedness – and that’s the next closest thing to cultivating more happiness in your day to day life!
Namaste my friends! ❤