Having introduced my Happiness is… series, and touched the surface of some of the things that can feed into unhappiness, I am beginning my Happiness is... journey with mindfulness. Not all of the content in this series will be about mindfulness, but it certainly has such strong links to practices that can work to increase our happiness.
Have you ever found yourself on autopilot? Drifting through life not being particularly aware? You may not think so. However, a common example of this is driving. have you ever arrived at a destination with little recollection of the journey you made? Consider this as being mindless or, as I described it above, on autopilot. I talked about mindfulness in my blog post on Ruby Wax’s show A Mindfulness guide for the frazzled and how, in our busy lives, we can become lost in the melee of conflicting demands of modern life.
Although mindfulness, as a skill, is a very simple concept, our minds are not naturally mindful and so it requires practice.
Types of mindfulness
There are two types of mindfulness:
Daily mindfulness is about taking notice of things. Walking upstairs and noticing the feel of the bannister, using your time standing in line to notice your breathing and how your body feels.
Formal mindfulness involves sitting quietly and paying attention to your surroundings. Observing your thoughts, any sounds or sensations, bringing your attention back whenever the mind starts to wander. A common technique is the body scan where you focus your thoughts on the sensations of the body parts.
Formal mindfulness practice can take place at home without assistance but can be supported by specific mindfulness apps.
My favourite apps at the moment are Headspace and Calm.
The free version of Headspace gives you 10 free, 10-minute sessions to see how you get on. You are then able to purchase the paid version should you wish to. I have never needed to myself, but I know that it is there if I need it.
Calm also has a free version offering a breathing facility, meditation assistance and sleep stories. The breathing section helps you to regulate your breathing as you breathe in as it tells you to, hold that breath and then breathe out in line with the circular display. There is a free meditation program, sleep stories and then the option to pay for a greater variety. I mostly use calm for the sleep stories and just reuse the free stories. You can opt to pay for greater variety but I haven’t made it to the end of one of the free stories yet, I am always asleep before the end.
Benefits of mindfulness
Becoming more mindful can help us to understand ourselves more and also lead us to better appreciate and enjoy the world we live in. It gives us a fresh look at things that we often take for granted. Mindfulness develops over time. If you think of your mind as a muscle, with practice, we increasingly teach it to recognise our thoughts, actions and reactions. As a result, we train our attention and become fitter in an emotional sense. Becoming more aware of our thoughts and feelings enables us to see patterns. The greater understanding this gives us allows us to recognise when our thoughts are taking over and need to be managed.
Tips for mindfulness
Notice the little things
Although this may seem insignificant, everyday mindfulness has considerable potential to disrupt the autopilot, allowing for new perspectives and outlooks.
Experience new perspectives
Even simple changes such as taking a different seat, venturing to a different coffee shop or eating your lunch in a different setting can help you see the world in a different way.
Give yourself time
With such busy lives and so many conflicting priorities, we can often feel that we must always be doing something. Multi-tasking to achieve productivity has become something of a treasured skill. However, there is another way to live. Speeding through life can often be counter-productive so give yourself some time to simply be. Use the time to focus on your breathing, your surroundings and listen to the sounds around you.
As I mentioned previously, our minds are not naturally mindful. Beginning to practise mindfulness can be more difficult because old habits can be difficult to overcome.
Do not convince yourself that you do not have time for mindfulness. Those who do feel this way are, most likely, the ones who need it the most.
There is much more to mindfulness and it has close ties with many other aspects of life which we will explore as the series continues. Do you have any other top tips?
This content is not sponsored.