I will always remember precisely how I felt when I had depression. It was hard to be happy. But a meditation technique made happiness easy even at that low, low time. Let me share what I learned with you…
Happiness does not have to be a challenge.
Problem is, it doesn’t feel that way when we’re facing negative emotions like sadness, grief, and anger. At such times, happiness can seem miles away.
When we’re down, we tend to exaggerate our suffering. (*10) Do you remember having a sore finger as a kid? You probably cried and cried, exaggerating the pain.
The same thing happens when we are depressed. When we are depressed we exaggerate our pain. And that exaggeration can make the situation seem a million times worse.
When we are depressed we are already suffering, and we also exaggerate that suffering. The result is that happiness seems a million miles away. And while minor changes could potentially bring happiness, it just doesn’t feel that way. It feels as though happiness is impossible.
When you’re depressed, happiness feels impossible
When I went through depression a few years ago I could barely get out of bed, let alone find the energy to smile. My mind was full of anger, hate, sadness… a whole mesh of suffering. And I felt completely alone.
Of course, help was always available.
There is always help available to us.
There are more than 100,000 licensed psychologists in the United States (*1), and a roughly equal number of drug stores (which are doing good business as 30 million people are on anti-depressants). But maybe you prefer your help online. There are an estimated 1,630,000 health blogs according to Google (*2).
Clearly, help is ours when we want it.
Then again, those psychologists, drug stores and health blogs offer different advice, and oftentimes they even directly disagree with one another. So you’re never really sure whose advice to take.
This all forms a vicious cycle because:
- People who have depression need help
- When depressed, we are often incapable of finding solutions to problems.
- The amount of conflicting advice makes it difficult to know where to turn
- Maybe that’s why less than 30% of people with depression get help.
With such an eclectic mix of different advice, finding a way out of our pain is about as difficult as escaping King Minos’ Labyrinth.
What we need is some very basic guidance, the sort of guidance we can follow without the slightest chance of confusion.
When I had depression I managed to find that simple guidance. I found the simple truth I needed to know to get out of depression. And it completely changed my life.
Let me share my simple guidance with you.
What I learned is this: the mind is a gateway. And it’s either open or closed
When you cannot find the peace of mind to get to grips with all those advanced and often confusing health guidelines, know this: there is a gateway to happiness. At all times, we are either opening ourselves to happiness, keeping happiness out, or somewhere between the two.
This gateway, this in or out process, is within our minds. And it is scientifically proven to exist, as I will share with you in a moment.
When we are awake, our minds are either open, closed, or somewhere between the two.
When we are down, we are lost in our own thoughts. We do not allow reality in. We don’t open our minds to the light of the day. The gateway is closed.
When we stop and actually observe our mind at these times, we can see that our thoughts block out the present moment like clouds blocking the sun. We can sense a blockage in our minds.
Usually this blockage is not total. We may be half in our thoughts and half in reality, just as the sun can be somewhat blocked by clouds.
Other times, the mind is completely open.
When we see a stunning sunset, for instance, we may forget ourselves and focus completely on that stunning sky. At these times, there are no clouds in the mind. The present moment is entering our minds freely, unobstructed. At these times we feel tranquility, happiness, and inner peace.
Open the gateway, let the present moment in, and happiness follows.
The mind is a gateway…? WTF…? Oh, I see…
When I say that the mind is a gateway I am, of course, being waxing lyrical a little.
The mind is not literally a gateway. But it does open and close. And you can see this for yourself just recounting some moments of joy and grief.
Bring to mind the happiest times of your life and you will likely find that your mind was open. Perhaps you were on vacation, standing on a beach gazing out over the ocean. It felt like there was no stress, no thoughts, no distractions. You were free to enjoy the moment. Your mind was open to let in that present moment reality. And you were happy.
When the mind is open in this way, we find happiness and tranquility.
Now bring to mind a time when you were truly down. Maybe you just went through a bad breakup. Your mind was full of negative thoughts. You barely even raised your chin to look at the world. You were lost in your own mind. In other words, your mind was closed. And you were unhappy.
- Closed mind = Unhappy
- Open mind = Happy
How, then, do we open our minds when they are closed?
How To Open The Mind Using Mindfulness
Mindfulness is both a specific meditation technique and a general term referring to living in the present moment (*3). And both are important to us.
It’s easier to begin with the latter definition of mindfulness, in which we are living in the moment. This is the easiest place to begin because it does not require discipline and can be practiced in very short spells, which can be helpful when we are down and when we lack focus.
This definition of mindfulness simply means living consciously in the present moment.
While we can technically be mindful at any moment, certain moments are more conducive to mindfulness than others.
Some good times to practice present-moment-mindfulness include:
- When eating
- While out for a gentle walk
- When lying in bed
- When drawing
- When showering
- When practicing gentle exercises like Tai Chi
- When sitting outside on a pleasant day
- Take a look at these 25 mindful habits for more on this.
All moments of mindfulness help to train the mind to open, and even if we are only able to be mindful for a few minutes these moments will help us to move towards happiness (*4, *5 *6)
So one way to be happy is by living consciously in the present moment.
Another way to open the mind is with Mindfulness Meditation
As well as present moment mindfulness, we can also practice the traditional meditation technique called mindfulness.
Generally practiced in twenty-minute sessions, mindfulness is a way of becoming aware of our thoughts and of the workings of the mind.
Jon Kabat Zinn [Professor of Medicine Emeritus and creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School] describes mindfulness this way,
“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment, non-judgementally. It’s about knowing what is on your mind.”. (*7)
When we practice mindfulness, we are being present moment mindful but we are focusing on what is happening in the mind itself.
Most experts advocate practicing mindfulness for twenty minutes at a time. This, however, can be challenging when we are down. At these times, five or ten minutes is a more realistic figure.
Research shows that short sessions of mindfulness meditation help to develop happiness.
You can read all about the health benefits of mindfulness in this guide (click).
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD and published in JAMA Internal Medicine, tell THE DAILY MEDITATION that mindfulness significantly improves mental health and boosts happiness. (*8)
Both present moment mindfulness and mindfulness (the meditation technique) train the mind to open itself to the present moment, a practice which brings happiness with it.
The more we open our minds to the present moment, the more we let that light in, the happier we will be.
Happiness is a simple gateway. We are either living in our thoughts and closing out the present moment, which is the path to unhappiness; or we are opening the gateway and opening our minds to the present moment, which is the path to happiness.
Happiness does not have to be difficult. Sometimes, it’s a simple gateway we need to open.
*1 ,American Psychological Assiocation, ( June 2014 ), How many psychologists are licensed in the United States? http://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/06/datapoint.aspx
*2 Ryan Farrell, The Most Popular Blog Categories, ( May 21 2013 ), http://www.socialmediatoday.com/content/most-popular-blog-categories-infographic
*3 Berkeley, What Is Mindfulness? () http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/mindfulness/definition
*4 Crane, C., Barnhofer, T., Duggan, D. S., Hepburn, S., Fennell, M. V., & Williams, J. M. G. (2008). Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy and Self-Discrepancy in Recovered Depressed Patients with a History of Depression and Suicidality, Cognitive Therapy Research, 32, 775–787.
*5 Ivtzan, I., Gardner, H. E., & Smailova, Z., (2011). Mindfulness meditation and curiosity: The contributing factors to wellbeing and the process of closing the self-discrepancy gap. International Journal of Wellbeing,1(3), 316-326.
*6 Higgins, E. (1987). Self-discrepancy: A theory relating self and affect.Psychological Review, 94 (3), 319-340 DOI: 10.1037//0033-295X.94.3.319
*7Mindful, (January 11 2017), Jon Kabat-Zinn: Defining Mindfulness, https://www.mindful.org/jon-kabat-zinn-defining-mindfulness/
* 8 Julie Corliss, (January 2014, Mindfulness Meditation May Ease Anxiety, Mental Stress, http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-may-ease-anxiety-mental-stress-201401086967