I remember reading a novel years ago (Island by Aldous Huxley), that described a utopian society on a beautiful tropical island where all of the residents were happy all of the time. One of the unique features of this island paradise was that trained mynah birds flew freely around the island, perching in the trees and calling, "Here and Now! Here and Now!" and "Attention! Attention!". The birds were reminders to pay "attention" to the "here and now", or to be fully present in the moment. But, why?
We know that keeping our thoughts in the present moment is a valuable strategy for reducing stress and increasing happiness. With few exceptions, we create stress for ourselves either by reliving the past or anticipating the future. Thoughts about the past are often focused on mistakes, loss or other regrets. Thoughts about the future usually consist of worry or anxiety about what is ahead. As long as our attention is fully present in each moment, we experience little to no stress.
But what does it mean to be fully present in each moment? It means that we are focused on and connected to whomever we are with, or whatever we are doing. We are fully engaged in the interaction or the task at hand. As soon as our attention wanders to the fight we had with our partner last night or the difficult meeting we have scheduled for tomorrow, we have lost the moment and can become distressed again.
The idea of mindfulness (the popular term for the practice of focusing on the here and now) has gained a lot of traction over the past 40 years as evidence of it's many benefits has mounted.
If you practice mindfulness, will you be happy all the time like the residents of the utopian island described above? Well, the book is fiction, but some of the benefits of mindfulness found by researchers include:
-less negative thinking
-reduced emotional reactivity
-increased relationship satisfaction
To learn more about mindfulness, check out any of these popular books on the topic:
-Mindfulness for Beginners by Jon Kabat-Zinn
-The Now Effect by Elisha Goldstein, PhD
- Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn
For more evidence-based strategies to increase your happiness, sign up for my Science of Happiness group, starting March 2.