What do you think of when you think of happiness? Is it a feeling you chase after but never quite reach, or a state of mind that you’re able to tap into if you have the right resources? Happiness is a state of mind — an underlying sense of contentment, fulfillment, and satisfaction in life.
Here’s the good news: the feeling is already there, readily accessible, often buried beneath layers of thoughts and emotions. All it takes is tapping into it and reconnecting with a happy state of mind. By doing a happiness meditation such as the Headspace’s Happiness course (available to logged in subscribers), you can start mindfulness training to reconnect with that feeling and experience more happiness. Below, find everything you should know about the link between meditation and happiness.
What is happiness meditation?
Achieving a sense of underlying contentment and satisfaction does not necessarily manifest itself as a wide-smile, explosive sort of happiness. Rather, it is a connection to something innate within us, leading us to this genuine sense of satisfaction and reconnection with our mind’s happy state.
In practicing meditation for joy and happiness, we are creating the conditions necessary to experience a happy state of mind. To do so, we are nurturing four essential supports or ingredients of happiness: kindness (for others and ourselves), empathy (for others and ourselves), playfulness, and inner balance. By integrating these aspects of ourselves into our daily lives, we can reconnect with a happy state of mind and step away from negative internal dialogue.
Are we afraid of being happy?
If you’ve ever struggled with anxiety or depression, you might relate to a feeling of uneasiness, or even fear, surrounding happiness. This phenomenon is fairly common and can manifest itself differently for different people, according to research by psychiatrist Paul Gilbert of Kingsway Hospital in England. Generally, this fear manifests itself under one of these three categories:
- Those who experience discomfort whenever they start feeling relaxed or even lazy.
- Those who are scared of experiencing happiness because they believe something bad will inevitably follow.
- Those who are conditioned to be worried and feel uncomfortable when they’re not constantly worrying.
If you can identify with any of these, you’re not alone — and you’re also not hopeless. Through a process called neuroplasticity, the brain is able to develop and change. Practicing meditation for joy and happiness will help you become more comfortable with these ideas.
The happiness set point
It has long been thought that each of us has a happiness set point, or a fixed average amount of happiness that we naturally have within us based on genetics — but thanks to neuroplasticity, the set point can be altered.
Through meditation, you can rewire your brain to reset its happiness set point. According to science, this is possible by thickening the major areas of the brain responsible with helping you cope with uncomfortable situations, as well as shrinking the amygdala — the part of your brain that is activated when you experience stress.
The benefits of meditating for happiness
Researchers have found that living in fear of happiness is correlated with anxiety and depression. By taking the time to nurture your mind and becoming more open to the idea of happiness, you are reducing your risk of becoming burdened by anxiety and depression. Leading a happier life and decreasing your attachment to outside circumstances can reduce stress and even help you get a better night’s sleep. Just 10 days of using the Headspace app increases happiness by 16%!
Changing your perspective
Ready to get happier? First, take a moment to think about your practice. Picture yourself sitting on the side of the road and watching your thoughts, feelings, and external circumstances driving by. As you’re watching them drive by, you might become unsettled by the movement. You might run into traffic and try to stop or chase after them — and become restless in the process. As you approach your practice, try to shift your perspective toward these passing thoughts and circumstances. Just watch and acknowledge.
One of the most effective ways to create a space of happiness within yourself is by focusing on the happiness of others. As you go through life thinking about happiness and as you try the happiness meditation outlined below, think about how the practice will benefit those around you. Think about how turning this practice into a habit can influence your relationships with others, in turn guiding you to become more present and begin seeing happiness as a matter of the present, not the future. In meditating for happiness, you might come across the visualization technique (used below) and techniques that cultivate compassion, such as loving-kindness.
A quick meditation for happiness
When you are ready to begin your practice, take a moment to get comfortable on a chair or on the floor, and keep your eyes just slightly open, becoming aware of the space around you. For a few breath counts, inhale deeply through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Close your eyes as you allow your breath to return to its natural rhythm, solely through the nose.
Take a moment to check in with your body and do a head-to-toe scan. How do you feel? Light or heavy? Still or agitated? As you return awareness to the breath, it’s time to tap into your imagination. Visualize a speck of sunlight which starts in your chest area. This speck holds a feeling of happiness and fulfillment, and it’s expanding in every direction. As it moves through and then beyond your body, it brings about a feeling of ease and allows the body to feel spacious and light. When you can’t imagine it getting any bigger, let go of any focus. Opening your eyes, bring your awareness back to the body and become aware of the sights and smells surrounding it. Are you feeling more content? Hold on to that feeling.
How to continue cultivating happiness with a daily meditation practice
Sometimes, holding on to that feeling of happiness might be tough to do on your own. This is where establishing a daily meditation practice can help. The Headspace app offers guided meditations for happiness, which use a guided visualization technique in order to achieve a sense of ease and joy within the body. Just 10 days of using Headspace for meditation has been shown to increase happiness by 16%.
You can explore the 10-session Happiness and Appreciation courses (only available to logged in Headspace subscribers) to develop a more playful attitude towards life and discover a renewed sense of appreciation both for yourself and the world around you. As you delve into these guided meditations for joy and happiness, think about your motivation, and remember that meditation benefits those around you as well.
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