The Art of Mindfulness
A desire to calm your mind, to reduce negative emotions, improve well-being and respond with resilience to factors outside of our control are all keys to mindfulness. According to neuroscientist, Richard Davidson at the Center for Healthy Minds, our well-being is something that we can learn — it’s no different than learning the cello or developing skills to become an effective leader.
Davidson explores four components to well-being, for the Huffington Post, grounded in neuroscientific research that suggests mental training and learning skills in these areas can make a difference in improving well-being and even rewire areas of the brain.
Well-being is a skill. If one practices the skills of well-being, one will get better at it. “Exercising our minds should be approached much in the same way we exercise our bodies,” Davidson writes.
Resilience. When you’re faced with a challenging situation that produces a negative result, how long does it take for you to recover? Davidson writes that science in this area suggests resilience, or how quickly a person rebounds from adversity, can result in a person experiencing less negative emotion overall.
Davidson found, based on an questionnaire, that people who report greater purpose in life may recover better than others because this purpose could help them, “reframe stressful situations more productively,” according to the study.
Outlook. The ability to savor positive experience — from completing a big project at work to seeing kindness in others. Prolong positive emotion has been shown to improve psychological well-being.
The results from his study show that people with more sustained levels of activity in the ventral striatum, an area of the brain linked to positive emotion and reward, report higher levels of psychological well-being and display lower levels of cortisol (a stress hormone that’s good in moderation, but problematic in excess).
Attention. A wandering mind is an unhappy one. Davidson writes that there’s plenty of data that shows when people are really focused on what they’re doing, and their minds are not wandering, they actually feel better about themselves. Mindfulness— being present in the moment— can lessen our tendency to want and desire things we don’t have.
Try this beginner’s guide to mindfulness meditation podcast.
Practice Empathy. There’s substantial evidence to suggest that when people engage in generous, and altruistic behavior, they actually activate circuits in the brain that are key to fostering well-being.
“I call it a double-positive whammy because, by being generous to others, you benefit them and yourselfs,” Davidson writes.
Try this kindness practice from Mindful magazine. Recite these words slowly and deliberately, starting first with yourself, then extending to others.
May I be safe.
May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I live with ease.
Extend to others…
May the people I encounter be safe.
May the people I encounter be happy.
May the people I encounter be healthy.
May the people I encounter live with ease.
Davidson adds that while our brains are constantly being shaped, we have the opportunity to take more of a responsibility for the intentional shaping of our own minds and through that, we can shape our brains in ways that would enable the four components of well-being to be strengthened.