Happiness: Inside? Outside? You Decide.

“Given all that, the next time you have the choice between meditating and sitting in a bar with your friends complaining about meditation class, you should probably seriously consider going to the bar, no matter what your happiness app says.”*

Oh come on. Please tell me she was kidding. The author of this anti-mindfulness article, Ruth Whippman, is highly praised for her humor, so who knows. She is an author, journalist, and filmmaker. It does not, however, appear that she is a licensed clinician – so here’s a perspective from one who is.

Of course, Ms. Whippman is right that people spend too much time with their phones and their apps and whatever else cloisters them away from the real joys and challenges of other people. As Aristotle said, we are social animals, so it is also true that our health and well-being depends largely on the quality of our relationships with other people in our lives.

In fact, the Harvard Grant Study, a one of a kind longitudinal study, found that love is the key to a good and happy life. In the words of the study’s pioneering researcher, George Vaillant:

As Vaillant puts it, there are two pillars of happiness. “One is love,” he writes. “The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.”

And therein lies the real key – and where mindfulness can help. How we cope with life. Surely we all know people who may not even know how much they stand in their own way of giving and receiving love. I don’t mean any old crap that passes for love, but the kind of love that nourishes, the kind that Vaillant is talking about.

One woman** told me that, just as the article suggested, she drinks with her friends at the bar to lift herself up when she feels down. But she noticed that while she was with her friend…she was not really with her friend – mostly because what ailed her on the inside distracted and removed her from the very human connection she craved. Intoxicating maybe. Nourishing not. She realized that her happiness would have to be as much an inside as outside job, and came to me to figure out how to cope with life on the inside in ways that did not prevent love.

That’s one end of the spectrum. At the other end, there are clients who aim to become perfect on the inside so they can feel worthy enough to risk an attempt to find and keep love. For them, the work is in finding the courage on the inside to get them out there to practice, practice, practice, as I like to say. This is how we grow. In relationship, I agree. Surely there is growth in our relationships, for my clients and me, but at some point they need to enact the learning in the real world for the real thing to happen for them out there for real.

For some, the inside needs caring and careful attention. For others, the outside job needs more of the mind’s attention that it’s been getting so far. Different strokes. Either way, all of my work is mindfulness-based, which is to say geared toward increasing present moment, non judgmental awareness of how the mind works, what makes us tick, and what gets in the way.

So, even though a number of experts I happen to respect make the point themselves that mindfulness is not for everyone and everything, they add that there are enough well crafted studies to indicate that there are ways in which it really can help. Some of it is in cultivating the kind of focus, calm, and compassion that finds and fortifies connection to inner and outer world love.

Don’t take their word for it, but let’s not throw this baby out with the bathwater either, just because someone has had some fun with it in print. Over time you might find that life begins to ease or even transform. I know mine did. But don’t take my word for it either. Practice, Practice, Practice…And See What Happens.

For help with this or something else (by videoconference from anywhere you are), or to let me know what you think, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* Whippman, Ruth. “Happiness is Other People.” New York Times, October, 27, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/27/opinion/sunday/happiness-is-other-people.html

** 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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