People seem to believe that the second summertime rolls around, it’s all sunshine and butterflies, pool parties and late summer nights, hanging with friends or meeting that summer fling. But that’s not always true. Sometimes our expectations for the summer deflate like that flamingo floatie that’s been sitting in your pool since May.
It’s not hard to get stuck in a state of summertime sadness, as Lana Del Rey would put it. And that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with having the blues every now and then, but when it starts to interfere with who you are on a day-to-day basis or affect us in other areas of our lives, then enough is enough. Maybe you’ve recognized that you want to shake things up in your life so you can feel happier again, but how?
There are countless ways of going about this, but some of the most effective techniques you can introduce into your daily life are positive psychology, mindfulness, and meditation. You can probably see how mindfulness and meditation would go together, but what exactly does positive psychology have to do with this trio? The Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania defines it as the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. It’s founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play. In his TED Talk, Martin Seligman, professor at the Positive Psychology Center at UPenn, talks about the three different happy lives one can lead—the pleasant life, the life of engagement, and the meaningful life.
The pleasant life involves as much positive emotion as you can achieve and the skills to amplify it. The life of engagement involves your work, parenting, love and leisure. And the meaningful life is a craving for deeper connection and meaning, and knowing what your strengths are and using them to belong to something larger than you are. Basically, he’s saying that there is more to happiness than just feeling happy.
We’ve all heard the saying “money can’t buy happiness,” and the reason for why materialism fails to satisfy us is because of our human capacity for adaptation. We are able to adapt to a given level of stimulation and react to changes in that level. For example, we strive to reach a certain level of income, yet once we reach it, we are only satisfied for a short span of time before we feel we need to reach higher. This is because we adapt to the level we have achieved and need to continue achieving.
Another reason we are never satisfied with our own lives is due to social comparison. Social media is famous for this phenomenon because we scroll through countless pages of other people’s happy and successful lives, and think, “that should be me.” The problem is, we’re so involved with other people’s lives and happiness that we sometimes tend to forget about our own.
As for our own lives, our happiness is in our hands. Researchers have found that happiness is determined by:
- 50 percent variability due to genetics (thanks, mom and dad)
- 10 percent circumstantial factors (demographics, personal history, etc.)
- 40 percent happiness-related activities/practices
We can’t do much to change our genetics, and as much as we would like to think we can control the world around us, sometimes we are thrust into some unfavorable circumstances. Many studies have proven that the way we think determines the way we feel and act. Therefore, although we have heard countless times that a positive outlook can make the difference, sometimes it’s good to know that just by thinking a certain way, you can feel that way, too. Finally, engaging in activities such as acts of random kindness, thinking positively, practicing gratitude and setting new goals for yourself are key ways to increasing and sustaining happiness levels. As easy as that sounds, the actual practice can be difficult. That’s where mindfulness and meditation comes in.
Mindfulness and meditation can go hand in hand, enhancing and balancing each other. Mindfulness is the process of bringing your attention to both your internal and external experiences and sensations occurring in the present moment. It’s almost as if you zoom into your current being, both the outside world and your inner thoughts, and explore that moment in exquisite detail. You allow everything to be, and merely experience.
While there are many forms of meditation, the basic practice trains the mind to realize a benefit or simply acknowledge its content without becoming identified with that content. Both mindfulness and meditation benefit from another essential component of positive psychology—flow. Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. When we can invest our whole being unto a single moment or activity, we are strong and we are present.
Mindfulness meditation is a basic practice of taking a good seat, allowing you to be comfortable yet strong in posture, paying attention to your breath and your relation to the environment around you, and being mindful of your thoughts. When your mind wanders—and it will—gently coax it back to attend to your breath and environment. A great example of mindfulness meditation in practice is called the Body Scan. You aren’t thinking about deadlines or schedules, or what you need to cook later that night—you’re living in the moment and becoming more in touch with yourself, which is something we tend to struggle with and a vital part to being happier and living a fulfilling life.
All in all, the combination of these three techniques can help in more ways than just getting that temporary happy fix. They take time and practice, but truly do lead to helping live rewarding lives with a deeper sense of happiness.