Happy Now: App and All!

happynow “Unlike other animals, human beings spend a lot of time thinking about what is not going on around them, contemplating events that happened in the past, might happen in the future, or will never happen at all. Indeed, “stimulus-independent thought” or “mind wandering” appears to be the brain’s default mode of operation…Although this ability is a remarkable evolutionary achievement that allows people to learn, reason, and plan, it may have an emotional cost.”*

Human minds wander all over the place – to plan, to reason, to learn – and to be able to hit the ground running anytime. It’s like a car with motor running all the time so, instead of fumbling around trying to find our keys, we can just get in and go. In Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, neuroscientist Robert Zapolsky tells us that’s what zebras do. They just do what they have to do. Fight, flight, freeze. Boom. Done. On to the next activity.

Not us. We do so much ruminating about the past and worrying about the future, that we are hardly if ever in the present moment of our lives, where all the happiness resides. Says who? Says ancient philosophy and religion, and its modern day progeny, Mindfulness, which may be defined as:

…a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.**

Take Tracy.** Tracy, who came to me unhappy in work and love, realized quickly how little of her focus and attention she was investing in either her relationship or her work. Tracy spent most of her ‘mind’ on the past, trying to figure out what was wrong with her, or in the future trying to figure out who to be, what to do, where to go if she could ever get out of the now. Since she had convinced herself that nothing in her present would bring her pleasure, it took practice for her to be able to bring her attention to the moment she was in, to see if there was anything to this idea that now is where our true happiness is found. No surprise to me, as a mindfulness teacher and practitioner myself, Tracy found that actually living in her own life, connecting to it moment by moment, enriched her experience, lifted her darkness, and brought happiness her to life. All because she took charge of her attention, and put it where it belonged more often than not – in the here and now.

But don’t take my word for it. You can try this yourself. And, guess what, there’s an App! Go here for the “Track Your Happiness” App and, if you like, to participate in Killingworth’s and Gilbert’s Happiness study at Harvard.* So far, they are finding that we are out of the present moment almost as much as we are in it, and that ‘out of it’ typically bums us out. If an App is not your thing, you can keep a log, let’s say every hour on the hour noticing and jotting down what you are doing, whether you are focused on it, and what kind of mood you are in. Do this at work and at home, and anywhere else you may roam. Then, on the premise that increasing happiness feels good and is good for you, you can use this information to guide your attention toward that end. And finally, if you find you are having troubling directing to your attention to where you think it belongs, you can try mindfulness meditation (App for this too), which builds brain fitness for that. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind. Killingsworth, M and Gilbert, D. November 12, 2010, VOL 330 SCIENCE

**Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/mindfulness

***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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