Pay attention! It will make you feel happier.
Would I like to write an article about happiness? Well, first of all, what is happiness? Countless books have been written about it. What I do know is that since I have been inspired by the Buddhist Zen teacher Thich Nath Hahn (1926-2022), I feel happy more often. His message is: If you live, move, eat and take care of your relationships consciously, you will automatically feel happier. The meditation exercises improve your concentration and give your insight, with which you can use to set yourself free from fear and anger, and ultimately experience happiness to a greater extent. I have been practising mindful living for about eight years now and I find it far from easy but it has helped me get rid of my chronic stress and that alone makes me a happier person. I try to meditate for 15 minutes every day, which I’m sure I don’t always manage to do, but when I do, it adds to my sense of happiness. Being attentive is what it’s all about and that just so happens to be proven by science. Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert, two scientists connected to Harvard, tested the claim: ‘A someone. Who is fully present in the here and now with their attention is a happier person’.
2250 participants took part in the study. Because feelings of happiness can be measured most reliably at the moment the experience occurs, they developed an app for the iPhone. The participants received a call at random times of the day to answer a few questions:
- How do you feel at this moment? (on a scale from 0 – very bad – to 100 – very good)
- What are you doing right now?
- Are you thinking about something else than the activity keeping you occupied? (answer options: no; yes, of something nice; yes, of something neutral; yes, of something boring).
It was striking how often people thought about something else than what they were doing: almost half of the respondents had their thoughts wandering. We think about things in the past, or daydream about the future. No matter what we are doing, our minds wander during all kinds of activities. But what does the research show? People who think about something other than what they are doing at that moment feel substantially less happy than people who keep their attention there. So thinking about something fun when you’re doing something boring doesn’t make you happier! Even tedious chores are better done with attention. It even turns out that wandering thoughts predict that you will feel less happy during subsequent activities. This also applies to fun activities: they become less fun if you let your thoughts wander beforehand. So whatever you do, do it with attention because this contributes to your happiness!
This article appeared in the Dutch Yoga International.
Paula Jap Tjong is the founder of the Chair Yoga knowledge platform www.stoelyoga-nederland.nl and www.chairyogaworld.com. She invites people to keep moving and relaxing regularly, a must for wellbeing and vitality. Paula Jap Tjong facilitates exercise and relaxation programmes for individuals, companies, and healthcare services. She has written two chair yoga books and trained more than 2000 people as chair yoga teachers.