Happiness is not only achievable, it’s also our default setting as humans. But sometimes we need a little help rebooting.
When the mind is calm and clear at the same time, happiness arises spontaneously. The mind becomes naturally joyful! So when our mind becomes calm and clear, it returns to its default, and that default is happiness. That is it. There is no magic; we are simply returning the mind to its natural state.
So what we need to do is mentally press Ctrl+Alt+Delete to find a state of happiness. How?
The key to achieving your brain’s default happiness setting is practicing mindfulness in your daily life. This doesn’t mean lighting incense and chanting (though if that works for you, fantastic!). The goal of mindfulness is to bring your mind to a state of relaxed concentration.
Step one to achieving your goal is to breathe (unless you find yourself gasping for air frequently, you’re probably pretty good at that already). Even in ancient societies with long mindfulness traditions, it isn’t seen as something magical or mysterious—it is just mental training. Mindfulness simply requires you to find a quiet spot and focus on your breathing for a few minutes a day. Try this out the next time you need to make an important phone call or give a presentation: Give yourself a few minutes to relax and breathe before you start the task.
Why is the respiratory system the key to happiness? Mindfulness trains two important faculties, attention and meta- attention. Attention is something we all understand. William James has a very nice definition for it: “taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form. Meta- attention is the ability to know that your attention has wandered away. Let’s say you are paying attention to an object, and eventually your attention wanders away to something else. After a while, there is something in your mind that “clicks” to let you know, hey, your attention has wandered. That faculty is meta-attention.
Meta-attention is also the secret to concentration. The analogy is riding a bicycle. The way you keep a bicycle balanced is with a lot of micro-recoveries. When the bike tilts a little to the left, you recover by adjusting it slightly to the right, and when it tilts a little to the right, you adjust it slightly to the left.
It is the same with attention. When your meta-attention becomes strong, you will be able to recover a wandering attention quickly and often, creating the effect of continuous attention, or concentration.
How will this make you happier? Researchers have found that the more mindful you are, the happier you feel. A joyful disposition isn’t the only happy side effect of mindfulness, when you spend your time training your concentration, you’ll see results at work. Imagine how much more productive you’ll be when you’ve trained your brain to stay focused. Think about the service that you’ll be able to give customers when you are focused totally on their needs.
The next time you feel a deadline looming or get nervous before a meeting, take a mindful moment and you might find some breathing room.
Take a few minutes each day to quietly focus on your breathing. Be present in the moment and try to keep your mind clear of stress. See how your concentration improves over the course of the week.