Happiness is a buzz word that has been around for as long as humans have been able to think about it. While we all want more, self reports of happiness (in Western societies) have been declining for the past 50 years, this despite general increases in income. Yet, most people would say that money is very important, if not the key to happiness. Positive Psychology has taken the task of understanding happiness and applied important scientific principles to better understand and demystify contributors to happiness. One finding is that specific practices, such as gratitude, can enhance one’s happiness. Done in a particular way, gratitude tasks have been shown to aid in developing a greater sense of contentment. Another finding is that Mindfulness practices can, with practice, enhance happiness. With our minds increasingly distracted with various stimuli (internal and external pulls on our attention), it is becoming increasingly difficult to attend to the moment and to do so intentionally. When our minds get distracted, our automatic minds tend to orient mental energy to the most pressing issue or the most demanding issue, or perhaps a recent issue that has stuck with you. For many people, our automatic mind takes our mental energy and commits it to rethinking specific issues that then on the one hand, have a negative impact on our mood, and on the other hand, remove us further from the present moment. Mindfulness, in part, is a way of training the mind to be where we want our minds and mental energy to be. We can practice having greater control over where our minds focus.
How to gain more happiness is still a question being investigated. However, several research avenues are shedding light on this question from a variety of angles. We have known for some time now that brain scans have shown that mindfulness practices tend to enhance the activity of parts of the brain associated with positive emotions. Such areas of the brain have also been associated with conscious control, planning etc. and may play a role in how we can train our minds to appreciate more (gratitude as noted above). Another avenue of research examines the role that mindfulness plays in managing mental illnesses of different kinds. Individuals who experience depression and anxiety often report reduced symptoms having been involved with and practiced mindfulness based interventions targeting their symptoms.
Another avenue of research looks at resilience and optimism. A recent article in Scientific America called “The essence of Optimism”, the authors note that “we can tune our mind to notice the bright side of ambiguous events, bolstering our resilience to stress and anxiety” (Fox, E. 2013). This article explores the role that biases in how we interpret information can play a role in the onset of certain types of mental illness and promote resilience in one’s life.
Mindfulness has been linked to a variety of positive and life enhancing outcomes. These include enhanced life satisfaction and peace of mind. With practice, Mindfulness can become a powerful tool to assist you in finding the kind of joy you may be seeking. Of course, life satisfaction is a very individualized concept, but when asked to rate general life satisfaction, participants in mindfulness based practices often reported enhanced satisfaction.
For more information on what mindfulness is, see our webpage that gives a brief description. With such little space here it is difficult to give anything but a brief glimpse of the research. If you are interested in exploring this area of psychological research, please let us know.
1 Jon Kabat-Zinn, 1990. Full Catastrophe Living. Dell Publishing, NY.
2 Positive Psychology, Harvard Medical School Special Health report.
The science of happiness has come a long way in the last couple of decades. With greater knowledge of both what contributes to happiness and what contributes to sadness and dissatisfaction, Positive Psychology continues to help us better understand what each one of us can do to improve the quality of our lives and our relationship.
Mindfulness is a practicable skill
- Practice has been linked to enhanced happiness
- Positive Psychology has taken on the scientific study of what enhances our lives, improves quality of life, and increases happiness.
- Specific practices, such as gratitude tasks, when done in a particular way, have been shown to enhance contentment.
- Training ourselves to intentionally control where our mental energies go can be a powerful tool to reduce distraction and enhance satisfaction levels.
There are specific practices that can assist you in enhancing your contentment and happiness levels such as gratitude journals and letters. If you are interested in learning more or would like further information, please contact us.