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Path To Happiness: Start At Mindfulness
I love Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness:
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way;
in the present moment, and
The “happiness map” above indicates that mindfulness leads to appreciation and compassion. How does this work? I believe that mindfulness allows us to see others more fully. We discover their good qualities, and we are moved by their struggles and pains. If we then take what we have learned about the other person, and give voice to our appreciation and compassion, something quite remarkable happens! Through that vocalization, we become even more mindful of this person whose merits we are celebrating.
Bodhipaksa, a member of the Triratna Buddhist Order, talks about the power of appreciation on a website called wildmind. “Rejoicing in merits,” or punya-anumodana, is a traditional Buddhist practice of celebrating someone’s good qualities. One of the benefits of expressing appreciation is that it allows us to see others more fully. “When we are prepared to really be mindful of another person, without self-blinding judgment, then we start to notice things about them that we were previously only dimly aware of.”
I encourage you to watch a few of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s video presentations. In this first one, he describes mindfulness as “presence of heart.” The video shows the nian, which is the Chinese character for mindfulness. It is a combination of two separate characters, each with its own meaning. The top part of the character means “now” and the bottom part of the character means “heart” or “mind.” Literally, the combined character means the act of experiencing the present moment with your heart.
In this second video, Jon Kabat-Zinn tells us why being mindful can help us unlock our compassionate side. This was part of a talk at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. The interviewer asks Kabat-Zinn to describe the relationship between compassion and mindfulness. He says, “Who we really are is compassionate.” He also says, “The spaciousness of real awareness is compassion.” He also quotes Einstein:
“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
The Road From Appreciation To Happiness
We have seen how mindfulness allows us to see others in our lives more fully, thus giving us a fuller appreciation of them. This enhanced appreciation should manifest itself as gratitude. Gratitude makes us happy!
From the post by Glen Tickle titled SoulPancake Examines the Science of Happiness, Makes a Few People Cry Along the Way at GEEKOSYSTEM:
What makes us happy? The University of Pennsylvania did a study to find out, and you can read that study on their website. The folks at SoulPancake didn’t just read the study though. They took in it, distilled it, and built on it. What they ended up with is this video.
The essence of the study is that showing gratitude makes us happy. So why not encourage people to show gratitude to each other, and then measure the result on their happiness using science? That’s what they did, and this is only the beginning. They want more people to follow the parameters of the experiment, and to send in videos of their results.
- Appreciate everyone and everything in your life.
- Let your loved ones know that you love them. Hugs are amazing!
“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” — Thornton Wilder
The Road From Compassion To Happiness
The “happiness map” started at the “mindfulness” location. From there, we saw connections to compassion. When we are mindful of others, we are moved by their struggles and pains. We understand that they are simply trying to make the best of life with the gifts and talents at their disposal.
Here is an excerpt from that article:
“As a Buddhist monk, my main aim is to practice altruism, the practice of bodhicitta, with wisdom or awareness. I believe that analytical meditation is one of the key methods to transform the mind and the emotions. This has brought me inner peace and strength. Such a method also allows one to change perceptions and attitudes toward oneself, others, and immediate problems.
I feel that the foremost change would be that as one develops a sense of concern, of compassion for others, one’s mind broadens or widens. At that point, an individual’s problems and suffering appear very small.
To develop concern for others one could start by analyzing the value of negative feelings, or ill feelings, toward others. Consider what that means to you, and how you feel about yourself. Next probe the value of such a mental attitude and the value of a mind that shows concern and compassion for others.
I am suggesting that you analyze and make comparisons between these two mental attitudes. From my experience, I have found that insecurity and a lack of self-confidence brings about fears, frustration, and depression. However, if your nature changes to a selfless concern for the welfare of others, you will experience calmness, a sense of inner strength, and self-confidence.”
To view the entire article, click here: Compassion Makes You Happy.
“For someone to develop genuine compassion towards others,
first he or she must have a basis upon which to cultivate compassion,
and that basis is the ability to connect to one’s own feelings and to care for one’s own welfare…
Caring for others requires caring for oneself.”
—Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama
“The three key components of self-compassion are self-kindness, a sense of common humanity, and balanced, mindful awareness. Kindness opens our hearts to suffering, so we can give ourselves what we need. Common humanity opens us to others, so that we know we aren’t alone. Mindfulness opens us to the present moment, so we can accept our experience with greater ease. Together they comprise a state of warm, connected, presence during difficult moments in our lives.”
— USCD Center for Mindfulness
Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life
This wonderful quote seems the perfect way to conclude this post. It’s from Sylvia Boorstein’s Stanford Keynote Speech, 2005. I discovered it on the Mindfulbalance Blog.
“One of my meditation teachers used to end each of our interviews … and say to me, ‘Remember, Sylvia, be happy.’ I actually for a long time thought it was a salutation, like ‘have a good day’ or something that you say just in a routine kind of a way, and it took me a long time to realize that it was an instruction, ‘Be happy.’ Not only that it was an instruction but that it was a wisdom transmission – that happiness was a possibility. I understand that happiness to mean, the happiness of a mind that’s alert, that’s awake to the amazing potential of being a person in a life, with a mind that’s opened, that sees everything that’s going on, and realizes what an amazing possibility this is, and with a heart that’s open, the heart that responds naturally as hearts do, in compassion, in connection with friendliness, with love, with consolation when it needs to: That that’s the happiness of life – a mind that’s awake, a heart that’s engaged.”
Gratitude for Resources Used in This Post
I truly appreciate all of the fine resources that helped me with this post. Each is worth further exploration.
Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life
Heal Your Life
HELPGUIDE.org Collaboration with Harvard Health Publications
USCD Center for Mindfulness
Do you agree with the “happiness” map? What directions would you give?