Learning to be happy

            Knowing intellectually that happiness isn’t easy doesn’t take away our deep faith that it should be.  We look around for someone to blame for this state of affairs, and 90 percent of us will settle on the usual suspect:  ourselves.  We all have a secret list of things we feel guilty and shameful about, parts of our character that we believe are weak, fearful, needy, selfish, lazy—the list can go on and on.  Each time we struggle with these things, we only make them stronger, because we can only struggle in the same old self-defeating ways we know, and we are doomed to lose the battle.  I strongly advocate learning a new skill to help us put our shameful secrets in a different perspective that removes their power.  That skill is mindfulness.

            Mindfulness, to me, means using your mind in a new way, consciously and deliberately.  It’s turning the observational powers of the mind on itself, looking with compassion and curiosity at what’s going on inside the head, and then turning the same skills on the world.  It means becoming more observant and deliberate; more thoughtful about reacting to emotions and impulses; more curious, more ready to look beneath the surface, not so hasty about jumping to conclusions; kinder, more patient, more tolerant of ourselves and others.  Mindfulness actually removes the need for defenses, because we learn to face our feelings head on.  Regular meditation practice is the best way to train your brain to be more mindful. You can also learn the skills of mindfulness in everyday life.           

            With mindfulness practice we really do rewire the brain; practice results in an increase in activity in the prefrontal cortex, where the brain processes positive feelings and controls negative feelings, where the brain can control the automatic messages of fear and anger.  With practice we develop what I call a new pilot, a new, more objective, less easily influenced orientation toward society, the whims of our brains, the automatic responses of our minds; a sense of confidence in ourselves, a belief that we can figure out where we have to go.



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