There’s an increasing amount of evidence for the benefits of mindfulness for mental health. We know that regularly practising mindfulness can reduce stress and make you less likely to burnout. Mindfulness can also boost mental resilience (your ability to adapt to challenging situations). But is there any evidence to suggest that mindfulness can make you happier?
Take a minute to ask yourself, what does happiness mean to you? Happiness, unsurprisingly, can be tricky to define. We all have our own individual views on what happiness is. For some people, happiness is a physical sensation – a general sense of contentment, experiencing sensory pleasure or the absence of pain. For others, happiness is found through family, a fulfilling career or working towards meaningful goals.
Scientists have accepted that there is no single definition of happiness, so they measure it by asking people to rate their happiness for themselves. After all, we all know when we feel happy and when we don't.
Whatever your definition of happiness, in this article I’m going to share with you how and why mindfulness could make you happier.
Happiness and a wandering mind
One study has found that, on average, our minds wander almost 47 percent of the time. In a typical 9 to 5 job, this works out as 4.5 hours of mind wandering per day! This may come as a surprise to some, but how does this relate to happiness?
Over 2,000 people who took part in the study used a mobile phone app to track how distracted they were during daily activities. They also recorded how happy they felt. The study found that people who were focused on the task at hand were likely to feel happier. This was true for all types of activities – whether the activity was enjoyable or not.
What do these findings mean? In essence, this study shows that it isn’t necessarily what we do that makes us happy but whether we’re focused on the activity. Washing the dishes, for example, or taking out the bins may not be enjoyable, but it pays to focus when doing it.
A known benefit of mindfulness is increased present moment awareness (the ability to pay attention to what you’re doing right now). Regularly practising mindfulness can therefore enable us to be present in the current moment, which can make us happier.
Happiness and rumination
Much of what we know about happiness comes from studying unhappiness, in particular depression. Rumination (dwelling on negative thoughts and events) is a well-known component of depression. Rumination can make you more likely to become depressed and can keep you stuck in a cycle of depression.
Through the course of a normal day, however, we all ruminate. Think of a time when you’ve been stuck in a stressful traffic jam or had a difficult conversation – you may realise that you were dwelling on the event for a while afterwards.
Mindfulness has been shown to reduce rumination. Armed with this knowledge, it follows that practising mindfulness (and reducing the tendency to ruminate) can increase your happiness.
So does mindfulness make you happier?
In short, yes; regularly practising mindfulness can boost your happiness. In practical terms, happiness takes time to develop. Practising mindfulness is a lot like going to the gym – you have to make time for it, you have to do the exercises and you have to do it often. Individual experiences of mindfulness can vary considerably. Some find it boosts their concentration and mood from the outset, while others experience a more gradual benefit.
When starting to learn mindfulness, you’ll notice that there are good moments and challenging ones. Difficulties may arise if you have poor concentration, unresolved emotional issues or you have any underlying health concerns. The key is persistence and support – speak to your mindfulness instructor or GP if you need to. In the majority of cases, people go on to successfully include mindfulness in their daily lives.
Just as our definitions of happiness are individual, so are our experiences of mindfulness. There is one thing, however, that we can all agree on: a regular mindfulness practice is a key component of a happier life.
Three mindfulness tips for a happiness boost
- Make some time during a busy day just to feel your feet on the ground. Even if it’s a few seconds during your lunch break; it’ll give your mind a break from your work day.
- Notice nature. On your walk to the station or from the car, take a moment to appreciate what’s around you. What season is it? What changes do you notice in the scenery?
- Take a moment to savour your favourite meal. Notice the taste, the texture and flavours.
Related blogs you might like to read:
- 10 everyday moments for mindfulness
- How mindfulness can help you manage stress
- Try out our mindfulness podcasts
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