Happiness… An inside Job

In the pursuit of happiness, one of the hardest concepts to get our head around is the fact that happiness is an inside job, with the sole responsibility of happiness is within us rather than dependent on other people or external factors.

I know people say ‘happiness is a choice’, but how many of us really chose to be happy? Isn’t it easier to blame others/ events / weather for our unhappiness rather than admit we are unhappy because we choose to be?!

For me, it was one thing knowing that whether I am happy or sad depended entirely on me and actually doing something about it! Doing something about it, turns out to be quite simple; and it was all in my head!

  • Positive reframing

Every day we come to face to face with many events and circumstances that affect our emotions negatively. Everything from arguments, bad days at work, tantrum throwing children (or adults for that matter!) to cancelled trains and unfair parking tickets test your emotions and feelings to the limit.

Whatever the situation maybe, one of the main things to remember is that there is something between the situation and you, and that is your thoughts about the situation. By changing the thoughts can completely change the way you feel about the situation; you can go from feeling completely awful to something resembling happiness and the power to make this change is entirely up to you.

In psychology, this is called positive reframing; a way of trying to reconsider the things and events in a more positive light. Positive reframing doesn’t change a situation, but it changes the way you feel about it by putting a positive perspective to it, finding the ‘sliver- lining’ in every situation.

Example diagram

There isn’t always an easy option, but there is always a silver-lining if you look hard enough for it. One of my all-time favourite quotes is ‘this too shall pass’ and whatever situation you find yourself, whether positive or negative, it too will come to pass so ride out the negatives and savour the positives.

  • Make Gratitude your attitude

Cultivating gratitude is one of the best ways to be in a state of happiness. By focusing more and more on what you are grateful for, the more you start seeing life in a completely new frame of mind. This is also one of the key tools in using law of attraction to your vantage; what you focus on you attract – so by focusing on what you are grateful for you are more likely to attract it into your life.

How does gratitude help you to be happier person? First of all, being grateful for things you have make you count your blessings and this has an impact of our mood and emotional well-being and this is backed up several studies (including C.Watkins et al (Berkeley)) . Other positive psychology studies have shown that practicing gratitude consistency leads to not only to positive emotions, but to positive experiences, improved health, stronger relationships and resilience to adversity.

Most of us have something to be grateful for; food on our plates, a shelter to stay warm; someone to call a friend or a family and if you are reading this, then a smart phone or a computer at your fingertips to access abundance of information. There is always something to be grateful for, in any situation if you look hard enough.

  • Live in the moment

One of the fundamental things to remember is that the only reality we have is this moment in time is the present while the past and future does not exist outside of our mind! So if we focus on the present moment, rather than worry about the past or be anxious about the future, we are on the road to living a happier life.

“Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy” – unknown

In does take some practice to be present in the moment but when you start living this way, you can learn to appreciate the beauty of the moment and live a fuller life. Here are few techniques that you can use to stay in the moment.

Breathe: One of the best ways to do this is simply be and focus on this present moment. Turn off your smart phone / computer or whatever distraction you have around you and focus on your breath and stay present to the moment.

Notice small things: Another exercise to stay in the moment is to notice what happening around you without judgment and notice the small things; sound of a clock ticking, bird song in the garden; light flickering on your phone; vapors rising out of a hot cup of tea.

Meditate: Of course one of the ultimate ways to be present in the moment is to practice meditation. There are many meditative techniques and teachings out there, but the main thing with meditation is patience as sometimes it will take time to train your mind.

  • Good relationships

I recently watched a TED talk by Robert Waldinger on a 75 years study into true happiness and satisfaction, based on Harvard study in America. Since the 1930’s, this study followed over 3000-odd adults in America, ranging from Harvard graduates to deprived inner city Boston young adults, to understand what really makes people truly happy and not surprisingly, one single reason that stood out as vital for happiness is good relationships and social connections.

However, in the first instance, fostering good relationships seems to be at odds with the concept of inner happiness. If your happiness is driven by your inner most thoughts and feelings, why should a good relationship matter? First of all, we humans are social animals and we thrive at best in groups and when we are connected to others. So we can be happy on our own, but we are much happier when we are connected to someone else.

But even far more fundamental point is that people who have inner happiness are much better at relationships than those who rely on other people to drive their happiness. Those who have found inner happiness are usually whole and secure and they do not need other people to fill in their happiness, instead their own happiness flows into the relationship, flourishing the relationship.

“Happiness is an inside job. Don’t assign anyone else that much power over your life” – Mandy Hale

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The thing called work…

At the beginning of the year I had one of the best jobs that I had in my career, at least from the point of view of having had a great work life balance, control over what I needed to do and liking the people that I worked with. Then something inside me compelled me to change roles and fast forward 6 months and I am in a job that is really busy, I have lost a lot of my autonomy and I don’t feel like I am in control of my own work. One of the first initial thoughts was ‘have I made a mistake? Should have I stuck to the role I knew and I was comfortable with?’ However, the part that compelled me to move, deep down knew that not only this is a good learning experience, but vital for me to move forward and that this will contribute to who I want to be, even if I fully don’t understand what it is at the moment.

When I joined the team, some of my colleagues were putting in 45-50 hours a week and this was considered a norm in this particular team. For me, someone with a young child, differing home priories and charity commitments (and not to mention blogging commitments!), this certainly wasn’t the norm, but also near impossible. The old me would have given up before I even started soon as I saw the hours the others put in, or at the very least I would not have been motivated to perform at my best as I would have assumed I am on a downward slope anyway.

However, with my new found wisdom though law of attraction, setting positive intensions and using mindfulness, I decided to give my new work role a full-hearted go, which is a real test of my beliefs as well as my ability. My overall goal for this role was that I will not only survive this role, but I will thrive in this role, while also maintaining my work life balance no matter what and not compromising on the quality & quantity of time I spend with my daughter.

My morning routine for work consists of setting my intensions in the morning just as I am waking up and then doing a quick meditation session on my commute to work. Sometimes, I listen to audio books by great self-help teachers such as Dr Wayne Dyer and Abraham Hicks, while also listening to upbeat music before I walk into work. On the way back, I also tend to write down all the things I was grateful for the day and sometimes when I do have a bad day, writing it down also helped me to get perspective on the issue.

Here are some of the main intensions I have been setting myself every morning:

  • I felt good at work today
  • I had a relaxing day at work and I come home energized
  • I had a sense of achievement today, completing all the tasks that I wanted to
  • I have built some of the best working relationships that I can
  • I helped someone at work today
  • I finished my work at 5.30 today
  • I had learned something new at work
  • I had a wonderful day at filled with fun and laughter at work

All my intensions are usually in past tense and there is a good reason for it; I will say it to myself in past tense and then I will close my eyes and visualise how I would feel at the end of the day when I have achieved these intensions and try and hold on to that feeling as much as I can.

One of the other techniques that have helped me is mindfulness towards my tasks and towards my feelings while I am work. In the past, not only my mind will wonder during mundane tasks, but also I will move from one task to another without completing it and getting distracted. When I have a lot of work to do, I try and prioritise as much as I can and I stick to one task at a time while being mindful when my attention waivers. This way, I can concentrate on the most value add tasks and go home when I need to. One of the other sides to mindfulness is compassion; I think this is one of the most important tools in the modern work place. By practicing more compassion and less judgement, I started seeing even the most difficult people as not difficult, but as individuals who are having a difficult time themselves and need my kindness, not anger or frustration.

Looking back at the past few months, all of these tools and techniques have helped me to make my work life not just bearable, but really enjoyable. Some of my colleagues have commented on my positive attitude and my ‘bounce-back-ability’ even during turbulent times. I know this is not my long term future, but it the short term it is serving my purpose of giving opportunities to test out my beliefs while building up skills and knowledge on a professional and personal basis. Ultimately, I know this is all part of my happiness journey though the thing called life….

Science of Meditation

‘The more modern science and the ancient science of mind come together and work together, the more our knowledge will be expanded. Then eventually we can educate humanity on the importance of our inner world, our mind, in order to promote peaceful families, a peaceful society and a peaceful world.’ – His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Meditation and Mindfulness seems to be the buzz word at the moment whether it is in the media, every wellness magazine or at your local yoga class. The number of people practicing meditation is increasing exponentially, and I am no exception. It has not been an easy journey and it has taken me over 5 years to get the hang of it, but I am happy to say I am a regular meditator. In principle meditation is easy; close your eyes breathe and focus on quietening your mind. In reality, it can be really hard to get to that state where your mind is completely relaxed, but it is worth the effort.

There are many benefits associated with meditation and it is well documented in the psychotherapy world, and it is also increasingly being encouraged in the corporate world to promote overall wellness and productivity of employees. I work at a large bank and we have a monthly meditation sessions running across quite a few sites across the UK. For me this is not just an indication of the popularity of meditation, but an indication of the vast benefits of meditation.

Defining Meditation

Origins of meditation is often thought of as arising from ancient Eastern traditions including Buddhist and Hindu practices, but there are also evidence of meditative techniques in the west as far back as 20 BC. The best way to describe meditation is as state of thoughtless awareness. There are varieties of meditation techniques and practices, although some inevitably does involve sitting crossed legged and chatting, others most often involves sitting comfortably and focusing on breathing, and they do all have a common goal; to slow down, and eventually, stop the constant stream of cluttered thoughts and activities of our mind so you are left with pure awareness of the current moment, the NOW. For those who are more spiritually inclined, this is the point where you are often thought to connect with your higher self or the universe.

Neuroscience of Meditation

There have been several studies into the benefits of meditation, as far back as 1950’s and gaining more momentum in the last few decades as branches of science such as positive psychology have been established. There are clear evidence that long term meditation changes the structure of the brain including noticeable thicker cortex in areas processing attention, introspection (observation of one’s mental state) and sensory processing.

A study by Holzel et al., (2011) showed that meditation lead to increased brain tissue in the hippocampus, which is associated with learning and memory, as well as reduction in the amygdala, region connected with stress and anxiety.

Modern technology such as functional MRI scans have shown that meditative states have impact on our brain waves including reduction of beta waves (thinking state) which means that our brains stop processing information as actively as they normally would, therefore becoming more relaxed mentally and physically.

Other studies have also shown that people who mediated regularly had stronger activation of the brain that is associated with empathy and therefore leading more compassion.

one beautiful asian woman naked sitting with petal flowers in silhouette studio isolated on white background

 

Wellness and Meditation

The list of benefits arising from continuous practice of mediation is vast and I have picked out a few that stood out for me:

  • Boosts your immune system – studies have even shown that mediation type relaxation can reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence and help in reducing infections.
  • Increase physical healing – known to help in post-operative healing.
  • Emotional Balance – i.e. Meditation can make you happier by increasing positive emotions and reducing stress and anxiety.
  • Helps to build better relationships – by building compassion and increasing emotional wellbeing.
  • Increases focus by improving attention and increasing memory.

Meditation and Law of Attraction

Meditation can be a really useful tool in the manifestation process of the law of attraction. When you want to attract something in your life that you desire, meditative state is perhaps the best point to connect with the universe at a subconscious level. A lot of ‘new thought’ thinkers point to ‘theta’ waves as the key to the optimal brain state where you can manifest your desires. Theta state is the deep relaxation light sleep stage often used in hypnosis to reach the trance-like state. If you can control this state, then you have heighten ability to focus and concentrate, giving you the ability to re-programme your thinking by visualisation and re-affirming your desires.

Tips for Meditation

  1. Start with choosing the right time and convenient place; perhaps early mornings and somewhere really quite and comfortable
  2. Make sure you are sitting comfortably – spine straight and feet firmly on the ground is sufficient. You don’t have to sit crossed legged if it is not comfortable!
  3. Start with the breath – Breathing deeply slows the heart rate, relaxes the muscles, focuses the mind and is an ideal way to begin practice
  4. Meditate with Purpose – meditation is an active process and focusing your attention on single point can help; perhaps meditating to be more compassionate or meditating for general wellbeing
  5. Notice your frustrations – don’t simply try and ignore it as it is more likely to become a larger thought; so notice and then let go by focusing on your breath or the sounds around you.
  6. Small steps in the right direction can go a long way – some people click to meditation like ‘duck to water’ but others may take a longer journey to a get to a point where they can confidently say they can meditate. The key is to keep practicing; even if it is just for few minutes a day.
  7. Experiment – try different types of meditation practices; perhaps a read a book on meditation; download a meditation app or attend a local class! Different methods work for different people.

‘Quite the mind, and the soul will speak’ – Ma Jaya Bhagavati