Self-development techniques abound. Which of them affords the best bang for your buck? Meditation is diverse in its benefits— even a quick glimpse into its impact on mental and emotional well-being reveals its profound potential to improve your quality of life. And rest assured, improving your state of mind also positively affects the physical health of your body. Here’s how meditation can improve your mental state.
How meditation creates more happiness
Society is plagued by a laundry list of mental ailments. By consciously befriending your mind through meditation, you can positively affect its condition, and thus, your mental health. Meditation is mind training.
The human mind is drawn towards the negative. Initiating in a time when survival was the name of the game, we inherited from our ancestors a mind hard-wired for vigilance, always being on the lookout for the next combat or survival challenge. And vigilance’s kissing cousin is worry. Nowadays, the news does much to feed our negative, worrying minds.
Besides the news’ effect, in today’s fast-paced, information-overloaded, “keeping up with the Joneses” world, we stress ourselves by always striving to accomplish more; we are rarely still. We’re propelled to attain, whether it is more status, wealth, or possessions, often for the wrong reasons. We are never satisfied, and put off true happiness until the next want is fulfilled. Or, we worry too much about losing our newly acquired status and material gains. Due to our over-striving for more, and our fear of losing that which we’ve attained, we often fail to enjoy these very things today.
The desire for a better life is not the issue. Conscious striving is healthy. The problem is that we are rarely present in the current moment, and we keep putting off happiness until some future date which never arrives.
Unhappiness stems from the mind: desire and aversion
Many Eastern philosophies teach that unhappiness, most often termed suffering, stems from the instability of the mind. Buddhism believes that two main sources of unhappiness are desire and aversion. Buddhism is a religion, or philosophy, that studies the mind. It points out how we crave and lust after our desires, while we avoid things that make us uncomfortable. We either attach to or push away things, people, and situations we want or don’t want.
Worry, such as thinking of all the reasons we can’t or shouldn’t do something, is a form of aversion. We often think of all the things that could possibly go wrong, sometimes tracing back to past negative experiences. This is not surprising, given that science has proven that we remember negative memories with more power than we do the positive ones. Furthermore, we think of and ruminate over negative events more often.
Again, we are rarely in the present moment. We’re living in the past or worrying about our future.
This is where meditation can create great awareness and power in our lives by showing us that focusing on aversion only brings pain and more aversion. Moreover, because we constantly cling to people, things, and desired outcomes, meditation also helps us to deal with the “attachment issues” we experience when things don’t go our way.
With practice, we can become aware of our emotional responses and transform them, alleviating the negative mind. We can choose to reframe our negative experiences in a way that lifts, rather than shrinks, our being. We can even dissolve them, recognizing this negativity as having no grounds in present reality, merely being fabricated by the mind.
Meditation teaches us to rest the mind and to let go.
Advances in brain research support the malleable nature of our brains
Neuropsychiatrist Daniel Amen, M.D. states: “You’re not stuck with the brain you’re born with. By changing your brain, you can change your life. With simple breathing and awareness techniques it is possible to quell anxiety and panic, calm inner turmoil and fight depression by learning how to short circuit automatic negative thoughts, conquer impulsiveness, obsessiveness, and anger, develop focus and stop obsessive worrying” (2013).
By utilizing tools like meditation, we can change our brains, altering our emotional habits and responses. As Dr. Wayne Dyer’s bestselling book title implores us: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life. It’s up to you what you create. Meditation is merely a tool to help you recognize your creative power, giving you the awareness necessary to utilize your mind in a beneficial way.
Through meditative practice, we quit striving to find happiness “over there” and instead learn to embrace what is. It’s about recognizing the thoughts in our heads that tell us we’ll be happy “when” (we get that desired job, the perfect spouse, new home, etc.) and transforming those thoughts into happiness now. This does not mean for us to quit striving; rather, it simply means for us to enjoy the journey.