There is an old saying: “Happiness is a state of mind.” As it turns out, it’s true.
Think back to a time when you were very unhappy. You probably attribute it to some specific situation, such as a problem or issue you were dealing with, or perhaps you didn’t have things you thought you wanted or needed. You probably mentally assigned the cause of your unhappiness to these external factors.
We often think it’s our problems–our troublesome life circumstances–that make us unhappy, and that if our circumstances would just change to something more desirable, then happiness would be easy. It turns out, though, that it’s not our circumstances that make us happy or unhappy.
A recent Harvard study reveals that stray thoughts and wandering minds are directly related to unhappiness. The study discovered that those with constantly wandering minds were less likely to be happy than those able to focus on the tasks at hand.
This study seems to confirm what Buddhists, sages, and saints have long taught–that an unruly mind creates unhappiness and dysfunction, and that the keys to happiness lie in mastering the mind, and not in changing external factors in our lives.
The most startling part of the discovery is that unhappiness doesn’t just come from the mind wandering to unpleasant things. The study shows that people with minds that wander to neutral or even pleasant thoughts are still less happy than if the mind did not wander at all.
During the study, people were asked to focus on a given activity. It was found that even if the activity was some hum-drum chore, participants were happier if their minds were fully there, focused in the moment. The conclusion is that when the mind wanders repeatedly (and for many of us it wanders all day, every day), it drastically reduces our overall happiness and well-being.
Happiness Is Living in the Moment
This recent Harvard study only serves to confirm the results of research that has been conducted on meditation and mindfulness for more than 40 years. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, one of the world’s leading researchers in positive psychology, refers to this state of mind as “flow.” Csíkszentmihályi describes flow as being totally absorbed or immersed in the activity in which you’re engaged. It doesn’t matter what the particular task is–what matters is that you are fully present when you’re doing it.
Csíkszentmihályi, often called the grandfather of positive psychology, found that our happiest moments are when we are in the state of flow. In this state, we are highly alert. We are totally focused with one-pointed attention. This focus–this mindfulness of being in the moment–is when true happiness spontaneously arises.
When you are mindful of your activity, you’re not preoccupied with regrets or worries; you’re not planning or wanting for anything. You’re not lending power to thinking processes and so they do not dominate your awareness.
Flow allows you to truly and deeply live your life as it unfolds in the here and now. Perhaps this is why the latest research continues to confirm that mindfulness increases happiness–to be mindful is to truly experience life and make the most out of every moment.
I’m Too Stressed to Be Happy
Some people have a hard time believing that the causes of true happiness are so simple. “I’m too poor,” “I’ve got too many worries,” and “life has not been good to me,” are common complaints. The mind will often try to tell stories about all the other things you need before you can allow yourself to be happy.
However, your life circumstances may have a lot less to do with your happiness than you previously assumed.
The Association for Psychological Science notes that researchers found people of a high socioeconomic status are no more likely to be happy than people of a lower socioeconomic status.
Happiness is not something that comes from where you live, what you can afford, or a better career or relationship. All evidence supports the fact that happiness is found from cultivating a healthy and balanced mental environment through practicing mindfulness, or in the words of Csíkszentmihályi, by cultivating your ability to be in the flow state – Mellissa O’Brien
There is an old saying: “Happiness is a state of mind.” As it turns out, it’s true, and that state of mind has a name: Mindfulness.
Evidence suggests that learning this valuable skill is the key to true and lasting fulfillment.