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The Truth About Happiness: It Is A Process, Not An Outcome!
One way to actively create it.
It sounds logical that for us to be happy we want to get everything we want and remove everything we dont want.
Simple right? Very logical. Very wrong.
The research on happiness shows that happiness is a lot more complex than that, and simply getting what we want doesn’t mean we are happier. Take for example any country, the richest person is not necessarily happier than the poorest person. You can draw the same comparison at a meta level too; the richest country (in today’s world ranking it is the USA) isn’t necessary the happiest country in the world (which is Finland).
So we have a problem; getting what we want doesn't make us happier.
Psychologically speaking, it was thought that if we get rid of mental disease we can get happier. That is also wrong, and this is the reason positive psychology has been so popular over the last 2+ decades. It showed that happiness is not just absence of mental illness, but it is a combination of social, physical and mental wellbeing
Research shows that one other aspect essential to our happiness is our attention.
Where focus goes, energy flows.
Attention is not a state of mind we get to and we stay in, it is a continuous and dynamic moment-to-moment effort. In this sense, it is a process that is kept alive through active participation. i.e. you’re only paying attention in the moment you do pay attention.
Here are three ways to strengthen your attention, and subsequently your happiness.
Let’s dive straight in!
Focus or attention can be actively pursued (like forcing yourself to listen to someone speak in a noisy room), but that’s not the only way to focus.
A more relaxed and easy approach is to see focus as a natural by-product of removing distractions. When there are distractions, attention is taken away. But when distractions are removed, attention is available fully and can be directed as needed.
This makes it almost effortless to focus, and that’s very powerful.
Manage external distractions by managing your environment and how easily you’re accessible (mute notifications, put phone on Do Not Disturb, literally get a DND stand to put on your desk when you do not wish to be disturbed, and use noise-canceling headphones)
Manage internal distractions by being aware of distracting thoughts that come up and choosing to bring your focus back to the area of focus. The process here is important, you are not putting effort in focusing, you are putting effort in catching a distraction and choosing to let it go.
Which brings me to the best way to do so - mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness is gym for the mind.
The very definition of mindfulness, as shared by Jon Kabat-Zin (the father of Western Mindfulness) over 4 decades ago, is the paying attention on purpose, moment-to-moment, and non-judgmentally.
In the practice of mindfulness meditation, the simple (yet very hard process at first) is to continuously pay attention keeping these three pillars in check. Being a process means it improves with practice, and the mind becomes more capable of doing so without being drawn away to constant distractions.
The power of mindfulness isn’t only in strengthening the muscles for focusing and paying attention.
Non-judgment or acceptance is arguably the secret behind the success of mindfulness. It directly impacts levels of well-being and happiness by limiting the levels at which stress impacts you.
It’s not like mindful people do not experience stress, they just do so on much shorter periods. When time is divided into moments that are born anew and continuously change, it provides the opportunity to open a fresh page much sooner than clinging to the stressor and its frustration.
It is a conditioned habit that we can unlearn and instal a more powerful appraoch.
Know Your Values
The easiest way to stop distractions is by being very clear on and committed to what truly matters to you.
It naturally absorbs you in and calls for all your attention that it literally crowds out all other distractions. This is the reason why positive psychology calls the work one does with purpose as a calling. It has the ability to pull/call you towards it.
The easiest way to define purpose is the knowing of and active pursuit of things we value.
But it is a chicken and egg situation when it comes to knowing true values and managing distractions. Especially in today’s world when we all are hyper distracted, it becomes even harder to filter through the junk and know what truly is valuable and resonates with you instead of what’s trendy and socially desirable.
Here is where knowing one’s self and building a deeper connection through journaling, reflecting, and mindful presence can be very resourceful.
Knowing that happiness is a process that can be unlocked by managing and strengthening the process of paying attention can offer a simple and reliable pathway towards increasing your wellbeing.
Charge up your day by bringing an intention of paying attention to your moment-to-moment experience today and watch your mood soar.
Have a Super Sunday! ⚡️
With much joy,
PS. In October, I will be running an 8-week empirically validated mindfulness program called MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) that was started by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn more than four decades ago.
This program is the most researched mindfulness program in the world, deeply rooted in science, and has consistently been shown to deliver positive outcomes associated with increased self-awareness, as well as emotional and attentional regulation.
I studied this program at Brown University and then continued to the University of California San Diego, where I am currently teaching under mentorship.
If you’re interested in joining the program starting in October, click the link belowto sign up for the orientation session and then decide if it is the right fit for you!