Is happiness really just a feeling? We learn from the experts how to make it an internal trait, not a short-term solution
What do you associate happiness with? Perhaps it’s getting a promotion at work or fitting into those jeans after a lifestyle change. Don’t get us wrong, we’re not saying that success at the office isn’t a justification for happiness, because who doesn’t like doing well at their job? But, what if contentment is something we could choose daily, rather than relying on the expectation of something in the future? H&W uncovers the power of the positive to find out if our brains really are hard-wired to happiness.
A state of mind
In our fast-paced world, we’re always looking for ways to feel good and quite rightly, too. A recent study* found that a massive 92 percent of us suffer from stress, so going to a relaxing yoga class or Friday night drinks with friends is going to give us that happiness ‘hit’. But, what is it that gives us this buzz? “Happiness is a state of being where one is connected to the present moment and free from worry and preoccupation,” says Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic (thechelseapsychologyclinic.com). “In this state, the mind and body are flooded with feel-good chemicals which promote feelings of contentment and positivity.”
Happiness vs positivity
It turns out that positivity and happiness are completely different things, but using a positive mindset is the right road to happiness, says psychotherapist Nick Davies (ndhypnotherapy.com). “You can have a positive state of mind, yet still feel unhappy. Accepting everything to be as it is, like being mindful in the present moment, can create a state of peaceful happiness.”
Think happy thoughts
We’re often advised that if we think happy thoughts, we’re making a difference to how we feel, but it’s not that simple according to Dr Elena. “We can certainly train our minds to become more mindful of positive experiences. Making a conscious effort to focus on the good in life helps to facilitate feelings of wellbeing, giving us the best chance of happiness.” So, if we tap into this feeling of happiness, we can essentially train our brains to think happy, but are we hardwired for it? Buddhist philosophy says we are. “Our thoughts and emotions are really just habits, and so we can build new, positive ones and become less habituated to those that are negative,” says Buddhist monk Gelong Thubten (gelongthubten.com). “Scientists coined the term neuroplasticity to describe this, which simply means the potential for mental change through training. If we discover that our minds are bigger than our problems, we’ll see that deep down we all have the potential to be truly happy.”
Permission to feel sad?
Feelings of completeness and peace seem to come easily for us when life is going well, but what about when disaster strikes? Matt Pepper, author of Happiness: The Inside Job, believes we can maintain a sense of happiness when life gets difficult. “The most important thing is to realise that you’re in charge of how you feel. Whatever has happened, you’re the one in charge of your mood, it’s just about learning the tools that work for you. Go for a run, take a short nap, do yoga, get outside, phone a friend who uplifts you or watch a YouTube video that makes you laugh.
Remember, you feel what you focus on, so concentrate on the good stuff in your life if you can.”
Meditation for medication
Meditation is also said to be the key to unlocking the happiness within us. Gelong Thubten says that, by using meditation, we can be at peace with our thoughts to find true happiness. In his book, A Monk’s Guide to Happiness, he says: “Meditation is about giving our minds complete freedom; it enables us to find space within, rather than from the thoughts. It doesn’t matter what kind of thoughts you have during your meditation session. The key point is that you are developing an awareness of the thoughts and breaking your addiction to them, by bringing your focus back to your breathing. Training in this manner will have a significant effect on the rest of your life.” It turns out that we don’t have to be sat on a mountain top looking virtuous to achieve this sense of complete peace, either. “We don’t have to go to such extremes [to find true happiness]. It’s much easier to control your own thoughts by simply learning the rules which govern them,” states Matt. “By taking the time to be with yourself in meditation, you get to turn up the volume of who you are and turn down the negative emotions that delay you from getting to that point. The key to happiness is being who you are in life and not what others want you to be. That is freedom at its best.”
You haven’t reached your final destination
If we control our thoughts like scientists suggest, we could consistently choose the positive to make happiness a daily habit. Matt says you can start by identifying the positive aspects in your life, eventually making you realise that you are in charge of your own thoughts. “Many of us are in a state of continually waiting for the future to magically bring us happiness, with the belief that ‘I’ll be happy when…’. Believing that happiness is always just around the corner means you are forever waiting for it. By making happiness a daily choice, life will change as the feeling is not dependent on the outcome.”
Give this three-minute guided meditation with Buddhist monk, Gelong Thubten a go for your daily dose of happiness.
Sitting still, notice the room around you. Take in the light, shadows and any sounds you can hear.
Then, feel the ground under your feet. Next, focus on your body’s contact with the chair.
Switch your attention to the feeling of the texture of your clothing under your fingers, as your palms rest on your legs. Notice your shoulders – it’s okay if they feel tense or tight. Become aware of the front of your body. Feel how your breathing moves your body. Breathe naturally and without effort. Whenever your mind wanders away, gently return to the present moment, using your body as the focus.
For more, read this
Buddhist Monk, Gelong Thubten shares his personal journey with burnout 25 years ago. Find out how he used meditation in the 21st century to unlock the key to his own happiness, and how you could do the same. Available at amazon.co.uk, £9.71.