It’s All About Attention (& Happiness): Yours!

attention“What’s it take to become happy very quickly without dramatically changing your life…? The key to happiness really comes down to one word: Attention.” *

“What are you going to do to make yourself happy today?” Years ago, someone who cared about me very much asked me that question. I remember thinking then what an interesting concept it was that there was something to do about my sadness that could and should be done by me. I doubt he meant that I should get control of my attention to make myself happy. Again, this was a long time ago before mindfulness became as mainstream in America as it is now, and certainly before I started practicing and teaching it myself.

Even now, though, we know that there is a time and a place for happiness. So, for example, the full-blown mourning of a major loss may not be the right time to expend one’s precious energy trying to cheer oneself up. Mourning is a process to be respected, and trying to resist one’s sorrow can impact this process in ways that only complicate and extend it.

That said, more generally, there are significant benefits to happiness in love, work productivity, creativity, health and longevity. And there is more of it to be had by each of us than many of us may think. It’s not like happiness is a pie, so if one person takes a piece there is less for another. Au contraire. Happiness multiplies. You smile and the whole world smiles with you. Well, maybe not the whole world, but more of it because that’s how we humans are built: to smile when you smile, to laugh when you laugh, even to yawn when you yawn. The simple act of smiling can thereby make us feel happier than we otherwise might. So can gratitude; so can giving; so can tracking your mood/activities to get a better idea of which activities in your life actually make you feel bad or good; so can slowing down to smell the roses* – which brings us to ATTENTION.

People are often unhappy with their lives until they realize that the reason they are so unhappy is because they are not even in their own lives.** Their attention is elsewhere. You know how that is. Maybe you just read a few pages and, if asked what you read, you would flunk the test. Or, while driving, you got where you were going and could not remember a thing about how that happened. It is not possible to enjoy our lives if we are not in our lives because a wandering mind has taken us somewhere else, in some past regret or future worry, too much of the time. Some experts say to bring the attention back to something present positive, but people sometimes find that approach a little contrived. Last thing they want is to feel like, or to look like, they are living in La La Land. So, I’m saying something else, which is to notice when the attention wanders and bring it back to the present, positive or not. This taking charge of the attention is fitness for the brain, shown to produce changes in the brain and corresponding beneficial emotional effects. But that’s not all.

Being in charge of the placement of our attention (focus) strengthens our self-control. And numbers of studies show a strong link between happiness and self-control. So there we have it, all the many ways that taking charge of our attention can make a happy difference in our lives. Just about everyone can do this, i.e., to get good at noticing that the mind has wandered and, each time we notice, to gently bring it back. Practice, practice, practice, and see what happens.

To work on this or something else, would love to hear from you:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

*Eric Barker, “Why Attention Might Be The Key To Happiness,” http://theweek.com/articles/554899/why-attention-might-key-happiness

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.

 

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