Self-Awareness and Happiness

by on 19 September

 

My website sets out the name of the course I teach - Mindfulness Meditation. Underneath this name, the tagline which I recently changed reads Self-awareness and happiness. This is the major purpose of practicing meditation and mindfulness (M&M) – developing a deepening inner happiness resulting from:
     • seeing more clearly how we lead our lives
     • learning how some of our personal habits lead to stress and unhappiness; and
     • letting go of these habits in order to reduce unhappiness.

      Self-awareness means seeing much more clearly how we lead our life in two ways:

     • our “outer life” - what we do and say - the part that others can see, and
     • our “inner life - what we think and how we feel - the mental, emotional and physical part that others don’t see.

     While most people are generally aware of their outer life, few really understand their inner life: how their mind works, their habits of thinking, and how their thinking affects their feelings and moods – their happiness.

      I use the word happiness on the website, but a more useful, more subtle word is contentment. By that, I mean feeling “OK” with things in your life – feeling OK about your health, body, capabilities, job, career, family and friends.

     Not feeling OK means we’re uncomfortable with some situation in our life, and we “stress out” about it. The situation might be an incident right now – like an argument – or it might be some ongoing situation – an unpleasant boss. M&M can help with both situations but I’m talking here about the latter problem. In that case, we think negative thoughts strongly or persistently enough to become unhappy. We create a bad feeling, emotion or mood which can last for hours, weeks, or a lifetime. There are three ways we can stress out.

     First, we might wish a lot of the time that some good thing would happen our life, like getting a promotion, seeing our kids resolve some issue in their life, or having more friends. This is wanting our life to be better in some way, longing for something we don’t have. 

     Second, we might wish persistently that some negative situation in our life would stop or go away, like an illness, our financial situation, or the behaviour of a colleague, friend or family member. This not wanting some feature of our life is aversion.

     Third, we might worry a lot about something bad in the future that might happen, like poor health, losing our job, or something happening to our child. This is anxiety.

     These are the three main types of stress we can experience - wanting, not wanting, and anxiety. When we learn through M&M to pay attention to how we live, we gradually realize that these uncomfortable emotions – anxiety, irritation, anger, or longing for something – are mainly the result of our personal habits of thinking. In other words, stress comes from our negative thoughts. If we think sad thoughts long enough and strong enough, then we’ll feel sad, we’ll feel the emotion of sadness. By learning to let go of our negative thoughts, we can reduce or avoid the negative emotions that normally follow.

     This would be a rather major accomplishment because it would be changing the way we live! We would be learning how to be in greater harmony with ourselves, other people, and our situation in life. M&M isn’t easy - it requires determination and diligence - but the results can be pretty awesome – being aware of our inner life on an ongoing basis, getting to know who we really are, and gradually experiencing less and less emotional negativity in our life.

     The wonderful book Hardwiring Happiness by neuroscientist Rick Hanson addresses the 3 key needs of our outer life – safety (a job and roof over our head), connection (family and friends), and satisfaction (meaningful pursuits). He teaches how we can cultivate more gratitude about these 3 elements of our outer life in order to increase our inner happiness.

     The practice of M&M, on the other hand, increases our happiness by reducing emotional negativity in our life. It has helped me reduce various negative habits, including anger, envy, and several forms of anxiety.

     We lead both an outer life and an inner life, but we only live once. Why not aspire to a good life in both arenas?

Peter Black

Instructor: Meditation and Mindfulness

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