The link between happiness and mindfulness is an increasing area of interest for many people and these days is a term you will see commonly written about or spoken about, both in a personal and a professional sense.
Dr Ellen Langer, the founder of the Langer Mindful Institute and often described as the “mother of mindfulness” has researched this topic for more than 4 decades. As the author of eleven books and more than two hundred research articles, she discovered that becoming mindful is much easier than most people realize. Mindlessness is pervasive. Langer says people much of the time are mindless. They are simply “not there.” The problem is that when you’re not there you’re not there to know that you’re not there. The simple process of noticing new things is the key to being there. When we notice new things we come to see the world with the excitement of seeing and experiencing it for the first time.
People are also coming to realize that mindfulness is not the same as positive thinking. Positive thinking or affirmations are commonly known as a way to deliberately remove negative thoughts, a way of controlling the mind or reprogramming through repetition and forcing oneself to think in a different way. This method can be beneficial for some, but for others may lead to a state of disappointment or anxiety when old or recurring thoughts eventually return.
Being mindful is not defined as a technique but instead in essence, as a skill. It’s the skill of being fully present and fully aware, and what that means is that you’re not trying to change the circumstance or the way you perceive a circumstance. You’re just aware of what is, plain and simple.
So mindfulness is about being right here, right now. Not getting bogged down with feelings, emotions, and ruminating so deeply that you can’t see what’s going on around you. It’s the state of being present, the state of being aware. It’s the state of being conscious, like just right here, right now.
Depsite new research and books being published on the topic, it really is a very old tradition. Mindfulness and Meditation is ofen described as a science of the mind and infact it is more than 2,500 years old.
We have the ability to practice mindfulness in trying cirumstances, i.e in the middle of a difficult work negotiation, or during an argument with a family member. But in its simplest form we have the opportunity to practice mindfulness as we are buying groceries or sitting at traffic lights. How often do move through your day, being completely mindful of where you are and what you are doing? Do you always remember your drive or walk to work and if so what do you notice?
Dr Langer explains, we become mindless because once we think we know something, we stop paying attention to it. We go about our morning commute in a haze because we’ve trod the same route a hundred times before. But if we see the world with fresh eyes, we realize almost everything is different each time – it is always possible to view situations or life using a “beginner’s mind.”
Mindfulness will increase your clarity of thought. Being able to have good judgment, being able to put together different pieces of what’s going on and really seeing them for what they are instead of our own judgment which can cloud a situation or create a made up story which becomes far removed from the actual truth. Langer says her research, conducted in the lab and in the field, shows that a focus on novelty and engagement are the simplest ways to produce mindfulness in all aspects of life, every day.
Our favourite tips to help you lead a more mindful life:
– Know you are not your thoughts, they only appear within you. Without the juice of your attention, thoughts can simply disappear
– Reduce self-consciousness and don’t worry what others think. The truth is most people are worrying more about themselves than they are about you!
– Just “breathe” – your state of breath has a direct correlation to your state of mind
– Avoid worrying or projecting fear as to what may happen the future, instead concentrate on savoring the present moment
– To make the most of time, spend time doing activities where you lose track of it – known as being in flow
– If something is bothering you, move towards it rather than away from it (acceptance)
– Practice paying attention to your immediate experience, even if this starts small, i.e. complete awareness as you brush your teeth each morning
A cartoon from The New Yorker sums it up:
Mindfulness is a topic we study in further detail on our LEAP programme.