Happiness Club Month 4: Mindfulness
Last month in our Happiness Club, we walked over 500 miles between us. Our focus for the month was exercising and we each committed to walking our 10,000 steps a day to improve our mood. The added pay-off is that this month, we’re also feeling leaner and fitter, as well as cheerier. We even met for a ‘happiness walk’ mid-month on the South Downs – and managed to laugh throughout despite it being the most miserable rainy day ever. (Although a stop at the pub definitely helped!) Four months since the founding of our Happiness Club and we’re sharing more about what makes us tick, what’s working and what’s not. It’s amazing how sharing how you feel – and realising you’re not alone – has the ability to make you feel more supported, and yes, happier.
This month, we are focusing on the ‘fourth key to happiness’ from Action for Happiness: noticing the world around you. The experts call this ‘mindfulness’, which means having as full as possible awareness of what is around us – what we can see, hear, touch and taste. Plus, noticing and observing our thoughts and feelings.
Mindfulness is paying attention – with intention, because if we’re not careful, we can find ourselves dwelling on our worries. The brain is a wonderful organ, but it has a bias towards negativity. Yes, useful to ensure our survival and safety, but not great if you actively seek and focus on perceived threats. Mindfulness is like being aware of the many TV channels you can choose to watch and opting to pay attention to the ones that make you feel good, educate you and/or make you laugh, versus mindless channel-surfing of those that makes you feel flat, tired and fearful.
‘By weaving mindfulness into your day – to be present in the moment rather than worrying about what you’ve just done or planning what you’ve got to do next – creates a sense of space and helps us feel a bit more in control,’ says Vanessa King, positive psychology expert at Action for Happiness.
The science bit
Also, a growing number of scientific studies are showing the benefits of mindfulness can improve many aspects of our lives – everything from our physical and mental wellbeing and our relationships, to our performance at school and work. And it appears to have positive effects for everyone, from children to the elderly*. One researcher even suggests that once you have learned the technique, mindfulness has a ‘transmitting quality’. Its benefits increase over time and, with practice, can spread to many areas of our daily lives.
This all sounds great, but mindfulness is something that few of us do naturally in today’s busy, multi-tasking world. However, it is something we can train ourselves to do. It’s simple, yet can feel hard until you learn how.
King suggests that we start by thinking small. ‘Even just a few seconds can make a difference to how we feel. Stop for just one minute and breathe. Just focus on your breath going in and out. You may find it helpful to count one as you breathe in, and two as you breathe out,’ she says. Here are some of her other suggestions:
- Stop and notice what’s around you. If you’re outside, focus on the colour of the leaves, the sky (or walls, ceilings and floors if you are indoors). What can you hear? What’s the furthest sound you can hear? What can you smell? Notice your feet on the ground or seat on the chair. Which bits are in contact and which not? What’s going on in your body? Which areas are cold or warm, which are tense or relaxed?
- Try mindful eating. How many of us eat on the run or while we are doing something else? Why not sit down to eat? Notice what you are eating – the texture, colour and smell. Take a small mouthful and chew slowly – what is the texture in your mouth and on your tongue? What can you taste first and next? Make the mouthful last as long as you can.
- Download a free video or podcast of one, three, or 10-minute mindfulness exercises. Set your alarm or schedule a reminder to do it regularly, perhaps every other day. Do it when you can take a few minutes out.
QUESTIONS TO DISCUSS AT YOUR HAPPINESS CLUB
- When was the last time you found yourself doing something mindlessly? For example, driving and not noticing the journey.
- Describe the last time you felt fully focused in the present and fully enjoyed doing something.
- Set a timer and ask your group to close their eyes and be quiet for two minutes. Once the time is up, discuss what you noticed about your thoughts. Were they negative or positive?
- What thoughts do you regularly find yourself dwelling on and how do they make you feel?
- What is the one mindfulness habit you can create starting this month? For example, noticing your thoughts while you’re brushing your teeth.