The concept of choosing happiness can be an incredibly controversial topic. For anyone who has experienced distressing experiences like anxiety, depression, addiction, chronic pain, trauma or a stress-related medical illness, to say “choose happiness” can appear shaming. When conditions are genetic or biological nature, there is no choice and pain is inevitable. However, while we can never change what happens to us in any given moment, with awareness, we can choose how to respond to it.
Let’s take a closer look at what “choose happiness” can mean and how it may be the most powerful phrase we know to change lives.
Well as you may know by now mindfulness has made the cover of Time Magazine. This means that mindfulness has arrived, right? When I first heard this I said to myself something I said to myself over a decade ago which was “this practice is going to reach the mainstream world, it something we sorely need right now.” But watching a short clip on MSNBC made me curious about whether it’s being conveyed in a way where people are going to truly get the benefit that the science of mindfulness promises.
Let me explain.
I always say if there’s anything we’re assured of in life besides death and taxes, it’s stress and pain. While that may seem like a doomsday statement, if you look at it again, it’s actually quite freeing. If you know stress and pain are inevitable, then you can learn how to be grateful for the good when it’s here and be graceful when the stress and pain arrives.
Here’s a short passage from Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler: Quick Exercises to Calm Your Mind that gives voice to this.
“It is what it is, while it is. Nothing lasts forever. Difficulties will pass and so will the wonders; tune in to the preciousness of life.
Bring this awareness into the moments of your day, tuning in to what really matters.”
Life is so precious.
How can we get better and better at setting aside the trivial mind traps that keep us stuck and drag us down into states of anxiety and depression?
Believe it or not, five years ago starting a blog called Mindfulness and Psychotherapy seemed like a risky venture. At the time, some people I mentioned it to said, “Well, there are a whole lot of blogs that come and go within a year.” The integration of mindfulness, compassion and neuroscience as a therapy in our daily lives has now become key to millions of people. Through posts and interviews we’ve looked into practical applications for stress, anxiety, depression, addiction, trauma, grief, happiness, joy, self-compassion, forgiveness, relationships, business, medicine, technology, politics and so much more.
Since the inception of this blog we’ve seen the publications of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, The Now Effect and Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler. It has been incredibly rewarding to share these years with you and I wanted to thank you all deeply for all your interactions, they have been a source of living wisdom for me and the other readers to benefit from.
Now, here are my Top 10 Favorite Posts from 2013:
Science points to the statistic that our minds wander on average about 46.9% of the time from what we’re intending to pay attention to. This statistic is mainly from an adult population. Now, imagine if you grew up (and you might have) with all the digital distractions of the modern world and you can inflate that number. The alarming piece is that research shows that kids’ ability to resist distraction predicts how he or she will fare health-wise in adulthood. Dan Goleman, PhD author of the international best seller Emotional Intelligence and his new groundbreaking book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence shows us the science behind why the mental asset of attention may be the most important thing to focus on this year.
But while science and theory can peak our interest change never happens unless we put it into action. That’s what I’m glad Dan created an audio series that complements the book, giving us the practical techniques to increase focus of adults, teens and kids.
Today I’m going to keep it short and give you something to immediately put into practice to feel a sense of personal control and freedom in your life.
First, a story:
I was driving on the way to my office this morning and noticed a number of occurrences where my attention was brought to my phone. It was as if my brain and body were hijacked and pulled me in that direction. In an instant there was a feeling of tightening in the chest and my breathing became a bit shallower. I decided to just be aware of this for the duration of the drive and noticed it a few more times. Each time I would note it and redirect my attention to the road ahead of me. Each time I did that my body relaxed. I decided in that moment that the diagnosis of ADHD nation is incorrect; we have now become an Obsessive Compulsive Nation (OCN).
But even this has an upside…
Over 10 years ago I had a realization that we walk through life often times unaware of all the sacred moments that are there. I was curious whether we could become more aware of these moments as they were happening and also were they possible to cultivate? After conducting a national research study I found that not only can we train ourselves to be more aware of them and we can also cultivate meaningful moments. Not only that it’s associated with stress reduction and increased well-being, but all the interviews pointed to a common theme of feeling more connected to life.
What is sacred in life is right in front of us and we often time don’t realize it until it’s passed. We’re “too busy” in our own heads to see it.
Now I’m going to share it with you.
Everyone has ups and downs in life, sometimes they’re more extreme than others. Today I am thrilled to bring you an interview with Toni Berhard, someone I deeply respect and a longtime practitioner and leader in mindfulness. She is author of her newest book How to Wake Up helping us navigate these ups and downs with greater ease and also the past award winning book How to Be Sick which speaks of how to live with greater peace with chronic illness. Toni was dean of students at the University of California Davis School of Law and the writings and practices in these books have been inspired by over 20 years of personal practice.
Today, Toni talks to us about why it’s so hard to be present to our lives, practices that Toni finds to be personally impactful, why we have to navigate joy, and some personal advice for the rest of us.
Elisha: You say that the key to peace and well-being is to be present for your life as it is. Why is that so hard to do?
I’ve always been interested in the wisdom of our elders and often do a practice with students and clients when they’ve seemed to veer off the path of what truly matters in their lives. I ask them to project themselves forward many years from now looking back onto this very moment right now, what do they wish they would’ve done? Bronnie Ware is an Australian Nurse who spent many years working in palliative care caring for those who were dying. She eventually published a book called the The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.
Regrets can be seen as something that’s good if they give us insight into what we can change today for the better. Here are the Top 5. Use them as north star to help guide your actions in the days that follow toward an even more fulfilling life. Although we can veer off the path, when we notice the star, we can always come back to it.
Top 5 Regrets of the Dying:
Our most fundamental need in life is to be safe. When we feel safe, the body relaxes, we become more flexible in the way we see life and are generally happier. But throughout life we all suffer different traumas and feel vulnerable. Maybe we were made fun as a child at school, were a child of divorce, felt inadequate as a parent or perhaps suffered more severe traumas such as some form of physical or sexual abuse. All of these are now reference points for your brain to bring up from time to time arousing feelings of insecurity and vulnerability.
How to we heal insecurity and feel safe again?
I’m going to give you a simple acronym to play with that builds on the practice that Christopher Germer, PhD and Kristen Neff PhD use to cultivate self-compassion called “Soften, Soothe, Allow.” The new acronym of S.A.F.E which I’ll explain in a moment, integrates the ability to inquire a bit deeper into the vulnerability that is there and expands a wiser, more secure awareness of our common humanity.
The acronym for this practice is S.A.F.E: