The pursuit of happiness has been identified as the number one quest of humans. Why is this?
Certainly, we feel so much better when we are happy and with good reason! Our smiling faces set in motion a feedback system that affects our Vagus Nerve, sending the message throughout our body that all is well. Our survival response is at rest and ‘feel-good’ neuro-chemicals and hormones cascade throughout us; alleviating pain and promoting well-being.
It is no wonder that we long for this state.
The question is whether we can choose the state of happiness, promoted by our own practices or whether happiness randomly emerges as a result of circumstances, when ‘the planets are aligned’. If the latter is true, we would need to resign ourselves to the idea that we are merely passive recipients of chance, rather than active participants in creating our own happiness.
Research has shown that some individuals do have trait happiness as a result of inherited genetics and social construction; however, this is not the case for the majority of us.
Some good news, identified in the results of research by Richie Davidson, from Wisconsin University, is that mindfulness practice enables us to get out of the Default Mode Network of our brain that is responsible for the types of negative rumination that lower our mood and block happiness.
Another distinct advantage to using mindfulness is that we begin to develop a different relationship with our emotional responses and thoughts in such a way, that we no longer get caught up in them. Instead, we develop the ability to observe them with compassion; ‘lay out the welcome mat for them as though they are a visit from a valued friend’, validate them, and mindfully consider what they are signalling to us. In this way we become active participants, no longer swung this way and that, like ships in a stormy sea, by thoughts and emotions, triggered by circumstances.
Using mindfulness, we make for ourselves a safe haven where we are anchored and stable, regardless of the circumstantial ‘weather’. If we can anchor ourselves in such a way that we are closely connected to others in meaningful social engagement, we are likely to be happier, more resilient, and have greater wellbeing. With reciprocal support, we can then ride out the storms of life, together.