September 18, 2018
By eM Life teacher Kelly Barron
Happiness can be Subtle
The other day I saw the postman sitting in his truck and I went outside to hand him a letter. We exchanged some friendly chitchat and I headed back inside. As I turned to go into the house, a warm, unexpected summer breeze greeted me. I stood still and let the gentle air wash over me, thinking: “This is joy.”
Joy can be like that – small and unassuming. And, often, it’s right around the corner waiting for us. You can find it in your first sip of coffee in the morning. It’s hiding in the smile of your child. You can even find it in a pair of well-cushioned socks.
We often miss these little bits of happiness in the hurried routine of daily life full of work deadlines, mounting laundry and school drop offs. Yet, if we pause to pay attention to the many small, good moments that arise in our day we can build, brick by brick, a solid foundation of well-being.
Practicing mindfulness helps. Soaking up every little bit of happiness in our lives requires some worthwhile attention. After all, it’s hard to enjoy the warmth of a summer breeze if you’re fixated on your iPhone. What’s more, left to its habitual patterns the mind naturally travels down the well-worn path of worry if we don’t consciously redirect it.
This is the so-called negativity bias at work. Psychologist and meditation teacher Rick Hanson says the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones. The brain is hardwired to register negative experiences more strongly than positive ones because that’s what helped our ancestors survive. It’s a very useful to have a reactive brain that’s highly attuned to detect threats when you’re being chased by a saber tooth tiger. It’s far less so when threats to our physical survival are fewer and when our lasting desire is to be happy.
With a bit of mindfulness, though, we can tilt things in our neurological favor by making a practice of noticing the many pleasant moments in our day. They don’t have to be picture postcard moments that make us want to “jump for joy.” Those are, of course, welcome. But so, too, are the quiet joyful moments that happen when we’re present for them. We can pause and notice how good the warmth of the sun feels on our face. We can take a full breath and feel how soothing fresh air feels in our lungs. And we can share a bit of chitchat with the postman and notice how it puts a lift in our step.
Here are few tips on how to use mindfulness to cultivate more happiness in your daily life.
Come to Your Senses: Many simple pleasures come to us through our senses. We can invite more happiness in our life by being more aware of the subtle, but often, pleasurable sights, sounds and sensations we regularly experience. I’m often struck, for example, how enjoyable it is to pet my cat, Peter. Feeling the softness of his fur under my hand quickly shifts my mind away from workaday worries and lands my attention in the contentment of the present moment.
Savor: Slowing down and drinking in a sensory experience puts you squarely in the path of well-being. It can take the brain a few seconds to register that something good is coming your way. So, savor the flavor of a juicy peach. See the smile on the face of the grocery store cashier. And feel the low-down goodness of your feet on the ground as you walk about during the day.
Non-Problematic Joy: Sometimes finding joy is as simple as noticing what isn’t wrong or what doesn’t feel bad. Much of the time the fact that everything is O.K. is not only good. It’s great. Most mornings, for example, my car starts without a hitch, my teeth feel fine and the sun rises with confidence. While these experiences might not be thrilling, paying attention to them can encourage a deeper sense of appreciation and gratitude for all that’s right in your world. And that’s truly something to feel happy about.
The Body Scan: Check-in and gently move your focus through your body
One mindfulness practice that can incorporate all of these techniques is the body scan. Often, we’re very attuned to what feels uncomfortable or even painful in our bodies. But as you practice the body scan with eM Life, see if you can broaden your attention to also include what feels pleasant or even just O.K. Doing so can make you more attuned to notice some of the small happy moments in your daily life.
Explore eM Life and take part in one of our Mindful Daily sessions this month as we delve into many aspects of happiness and a variety of helpful tools and skills to help cultivate it.