• Isabelle Morley, PsyD

Mindfulness and Gratitude: An Introduction to Happiness

Have you ever felt like you weren't happy with life even though you have everything you ever wanted? You might be missing two key ingredients.



Postponing Happiness


We all have dreams of what we hope for in life. Maybe it's to own a home. Maybe it's to get a certain job. Maybe you want a family, or to travel, or to move across the country.


These dreams keep us engaged and motivated in our life. But they can turn negative if we keep postponing our happiness for them.


We think to ourselves-


I'll be happy when I finally have that fancy car.


I'll be happy when I've visited to every continent.


I'll finally be happy when I've made partner in my firm.


I know I'll be happy once I get all the things I want for my life.


The problem is that the goalpost moves. Once you get that fancy car, suddenly you really want a new TV. If you make partner, you realize that you could be making more money at another firm. You move to a new house in a nice town, but get stuck in a negative loop of trying to keep up with the Jones's.


The problem is that the goalpost moves.

Don't Wait for Happiness

Keep those dreams, let them inspire and excite you, but don't wait on them for your happiness.


There is a revolutionary idea that right now, you have enough to be happy.


In this very moment, as you're reading the words off this screen, you have accomplished enough and are enough.


In this very moment, as you're reading the words off this screen, you have accomplished enough and are enough.

You're Missing Out on the Small Moments

So let's say you have everything you've ever wanted, and you're still unhappy. Not clinically depressed, but still feeling unfulfilled and unsatisfied.


You're feeling this because you're missing out on all the goodness that's surrounding you. You keep looking at the big milestones as the moments that will fill up your heart, when in reality it's the small moments that add up to happiness.


There are amazing but missable moments that you breeze past every day.

There are amazing but missable moments that you breeze past every day. You may not even realize that your day is full to the brim with wonderful things because they are small, seemingly insignificant, and your brain is looking right past them.


That delicious cup of coffee in the morning.


When the kids sleep an extra half hour on a Saturday.


Sitting under an umbrella on a patio on a perfect day.


When your favorite song comes on the radio during your commute.


Not being late to work.


Not getting in a fight with your spouse.


Not having a kid with a fever.


Not having to take a semester off from college.



Enjoying the Not Bad Moments


In addition to looking for the good, we can also look for the not bad. The end of the list above is all the things that didn't happen, that are also worth celebrating.


The monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who teaches mindfulness and meditation, has a great quote that sums this up:


"When we’re having a toothache, we know that not having a toothache is a wonderful thing. Yet when we don’t have a toothache, we’re still not happy. A non-toothache is very pleasant.”


How often do we forget that our normal life is not just neutral, it's good? We easily slip into seeing it as unexciting, mundane, and not good enough, when we could be seeing it as wonderful.



The Two Missing Ingredients


Mindfulness

In short (for the purpose of this post), let's look at mindfulness as the ability to be fully aware of all these moments.


You need to be present in your life in order to notice all the good.


Don't rush through your shower, or you'll miss the wonderful sensation of warm water and the fragrant smell of your shampoo.


Don't stare at your phone while you walk the dog each day, or you'll miss watching the trees swaying in the wind, hearing the melody of bird calls, and smelling fresh cut grass.


Distracting ourselves through technology or being caught up in our thoughts detracts from fully living.


You need to be present in your life in order to notice all the good.

Gratitude

Once you notice all these small, wonderful moments, you can take the next step: being grateful for them.


You can do this in the moment, such as pausing to smell a lilac and noting how happy you are to have found this flower as you run your errands that day.


Or you can practice gratitude each day by writing a list, called gratitude journaling. Every night, write down 3-5 things that happened over the course of the day that you appreciated. It can be small things (think: that morning cup of coffee) or big things (like a promotion at work).


Every night, write down 3-5 things that happened over the course of the day that you appreciated.

Rewiring the Brain

Instead of looking for the negative and focusing on life's stresses, you can train your brain to look for the positives. It will create a new neural pathway in your brain, one that is searching for the good, and as a result, you will start to find more and more good things. It will create a positive upward spiral to replace the a negative downward one. There is a great TedX talk on this by Shawn Anchor that I highly recommend, if you're interested in an entertaining and informative 12 minutes.