The 7th Happiness “Sin”: Distrusting Life
Nowadays it is believed that our feelings serve to hinder, rather than enhance, the quality of our judgments and decisions. This assumption underlies our tendency to feel uncomfortable about admitting that our decisions are influenced by feelings, and more generally, gut-instincts. We believe that feelings and instincts often mislead us on the path to the right decisions and choices.
But just as relying too heavily on feelings and gut-instincts can be a mistake, so can its opposite: underestimating the importance of gut-instincts and feelings. We use the term “mind-addiction” to refer to the tendency to ignore or underestimate the importance of gut-instincts and feelings. It is a significant reason why many of us aren’t as happy as we could be.
The most obvious reason why mind-addiction lowers happiness is that leads to de-valuing happiness. “Thinking too much” comes in the way of making happiness-maximizing choices because thoughts distract us from the intelligence in our feelings and gut-instincts. As findings from several studies suggest, our gut-instincts and feelings aren’t random and arbitrary; rather, they are the repository of a lot of useful information that served us well in our adaptive past. By refraining from the direction in which our feelings and instincts lead us, we often make seemingly rational choices, which however reduce our levels of happiness and deprive us of the millennial experience and creative potential of our gut-instincts.
The decision of whether to go with feelings and gut-feel or with thoughtful deliberation may ultimately be more of an art than a science. There are a number of variables that can have a bearing on whether to make a decision based on feelings and gut-instincts or thoughtful deliberations, but a more self-aware person is more likely to be aware of the relevance of these variables and therefore, to be more capable of making the right call. Self-awareness, in other words, can help one exhibit the required flexibility in going either with feelings and gut-instincts or with thoughtful deliberations, depending on context. It helps us in recognizing the ways in which the mind comes in the way of happiness. Self-awareness helps one realize that there’s a source of happiness within us that can be potentially be accessed at all times. How we can do this – in the Seventh Habit of the Highly Happy.
The 7th Habit of the Highly Happy: Mindfulness
Imagine that you’re given the opportunity to be a fly on the wall for any event. Whatever event you choose, the idea is that you are a disinterested observer. Not an uninterested observer, mind you, but a disinterested one. Uninterested means being bored and not interested. Disinterested, by contrast, means being unbiased, neutral You simply accept whatever is going on as it is.
Now imagine that, instead of observing an external momentous event, you observe what is going on in your head. Like in the previous situation, you wouldn’t want to attract attention to yourself, or change anything that is happening. For example, if you had the thought, “I am a despicable slob for polishing off a whole tub of ice-cream in 10 minutes flat,” you don’t change it to “What do you expect? I’m through a rough patch!”, you just observe.
This is mindfulness - observing whatever is going on in your head with great interest and curiosity, but in a non-clingy sort of way. You could, of course, be mindful of something that’s going on outside of you as well—like a sunset or a movie. Since mindfulness is a practice of „bare attention”, it involves merely observing whatever is going on, without commenting, judging, categorizing or ruminating about it.
The paradox of mindfulness is that it leads to mitigating negativity and intensifying positivity. Numerous research results from psychology and neurobiology prove this phenomenon, although they still cannot explain how it happens. Mindfulness enhances happiness by literally changing the structure of the brain to make it a “happier brain.” - the practice of mindfulness thickens the left pre-frontal cortex, which is a part of the brain associated with higher levels of happiness. Practicing mindfulness also lowers the activation of the amygdala, which is associated with worrying and stress.
Mindfulness also enhances happiness by helping us connect with our inner source of it. The idea—that, at our core, our nature is to be joyful and blissful—is a prevalent theme in some of the world’s oldest religions. So, in that sense, the idea is not new. What’s new, however, is that evidence from neuro-science backs this claim.
Despite the numerous both physiological and psychological benefits from mindfulness most of us aren’t well-versed in practicing it. Our seventh exercise will help you develop this habit.
The 7th Happiness Exercise – Presence Practice
The presence practice is a type of mindfulness practice that was developed by Vijay Bhat specifically for busy people with very little time on their hands.
The presence practice nurtures a variety of interrelated qualities, including bare attention, self-awareness, self-compassion, and belonging.
1. Sit in a comfortable position with a straight back. Mentally scan your body beginning with the top of your head and scan all the way down to the tip of your toes…and then back up. Consciously let go of your any tightness or stiffness you come across in the parts of your body that you are going through.
2. The second step is to observe your breath. An even breath is the first signal of presence. Simply observe your breath as you inhale (your abdomen will rise) and exhale (your abdomen will fall). You don’t need to regulate your breath in any way… just notice.
3. The third step is to observe your mind. A clear, calm, quiet mind is the second signal of presence. Start screening your mind and pay attention what thoughts and scripts are running there. Just like you would do on your computer screen, shut down all the open windows and applications of the mind – gently, but firmly. When your mind becomes clear and quiet, it can focus fully and you can bring all its resources to bear on one thing at a time.
4. The fourth step is to bring your attention to your physical heart. An open heart is the third signal of presence. Feel the warmth in your chest area. Now become aware of your emotional heart the place from which you relate, connect and engage with others. Try to open it, first just a crack and then wider and wider, so you can receive the true feelings, emotions and even vulnerabilities to others. Remember you are in a safe place.
5. The fifth stage is to notice subtle, fleeting, nuanced sensations around you. Sensing the world round us is the fourth signal for presence. Notice all the sounds, textures, aromas and energies swirling around you, which you otherwise may overlook.
6. The sixth step is to achieve something called „energetic introduction“, which is the fifth signal of presence. When the first four signals are in place, energetic induction happens effortlessly. Your sense of presence will radiate outwards and make you feel comfortable about including yourself in others’ lives and concerns and allowing them to be included in your life and concerns.
7. The seventh and final step involves noticing how your internal state has changed (if it has), and then saying these affirmations out loud:
The reality of this moment . . . is that . . . I have nothing to defend.
The reality of this moment . . . is that . . . I have nothing to promote.
The reality of this moment . . . is that . . . I have nothing to fear.
The only reality of this moment . . . is that . . . I AM HERE NOW.