Mindfulness Meditation
    • Learning how our mind creates our world

Health and Happiness

by on 01 September

I recently looked up "well-being" in the dictionary. It's defined as a "happy, healthy and prosperous state".

This suggests that one way to enhance our well-being is to become more prosperous. Many studies have found, however, that beyond a relatively low level of wealth a higher income does not bring greater happiness. (1)

A second way is to care for our health. Many people devote a great deal of time and effort to their physical fitness and health, thereby enhancing their well-being.

The third way is to increase our happiness. Yet, studies have shown that external conditions – education, social status, hobbies, age, ethnicity, etc. – only explain about 15 percent of our satisfaction with life. The vast bulk of our happiness depends on the way we live and think, how we perceive and react to life's events, and the goals we set for ourselves. (1) These factors point to our inner life, our thoughts and feelings or emotions.

Fundamentally, happiness is an emotion. And our emotions reflect our thoughts, the activity of our mind.

In this context, I recently ran across a compelling translation of the word meditation from the time of the Buddha (2). Since Buddhists have studied and practiced meditation intently for a very long time, their understanding of it is worth examining.

Twenty-five hundred years ago, the word for what we now call meditation was bhavana, which means "development" or "culture. Since meditation refers to training the mind, bhavana meant developing mental culture. And, since the purpose of meditation is life-enhancing, bhavana meant "developing a wholesome mental culture".

At the same time, the word for mind – citta - conveyed a sense of heart and mind together. Twenty-five hundred years ago, it was clear how intimately connected are our emotions and thoughts.

To Buddhists, bhavana (meditation) means cleansing the mind (and heart) of negative qualities – impurities and disturbances such as lustful desires, hatred, ill-will, worries and restlessness, and doubts. Such thoughts can cause a feeling of stress because they mean dis-satisfaction with the way things are, unhappiness with reality. For Buddhists, bhavana also means cultivating positive mental and emotional qualities such as concentration, awareness, the analytical faculty, confidence, joy, and tranquility.

When our body is not well, we diagnose the cause of the health problem and treat the cause. In the same way, when we experience negative feelings or emotions, we can investigate the cause – our thoughts. Then, we can switch our thinking to a more positive subject, observe the negative thoughts until they dissipate, or – if they are persistent and habitual – reflect upon their nature and develop strategies to deal with them. But, in order to do this, we need to be aware of our own negative thoughts and emotions. Most of us have a very limited ability to do this. That's where meditation comes in. It helps us notice – be mindful of - our thought and emotional patterns, so that we can calmly and wisely respond to them. It's the training necessary to "develop a wholesome mental culture".

So, our health and happiness can be greatly influenced by our choices. We can exercise to train our body for fitness, as well as pursue many other healthy options. And, we can meditate to mentally train for a happier, more contented outlook on life. Through these wholesome activities, we can develop a greater sense of well-being.


Source material from:
(1) Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skills (2006), by Matthiieu Ricard
(2) what the Buddha taught, (1959), by Walpola Sri Rahulla


Peter Black
Instructor, Meditation and Mindfulness


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