Happiness is not an elusive art -- it is an accessible practice. A practice that doesn't involve guilt-ridden to-do lists disguised as resolutions.
Spiritual leaders and scientists agree, our thoughts shape our reality. If we believe that our happiness/peace/fulfillment depends on achieving certain benchmarks of success (which often advance as soon as we've reached them) then it will. The World Health Organization predicts that depression will become the largest global health burden by 2030. Our unrelenting search for success likely contributes to this growing discontent.
We don't need to get a raise, work out four times week or learn to cook in order to be happy. In fact, happiness inspires energy to work out, confidence to excel in our career and creativity in the kitchen.
As Thich Nhat Hanh simply says,"There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way."
This year, let's forgo piecing together a projection of fulfillment, notice that we already have what's necessary to be happy, and let dopamine do its job: activate neurological networks of confidence, creativity and problem-solving. Even our ability to stave off illness may significantly increase when we're happy.
Michael D. Lemonick reports in Time that studies of Buddhist monks in meditation by psychologist and researcher Richard Davidson indicate that happiness is "a physical state of the brain -- one that you can induce deliberately." Thanks to neuroplasticity (the constant rewiring of our brain in response to thoughts, behaviors and environments) we can all train our brains to dwell in joy, productivity and peace like the monks of Davidson's study, whose neurological happiness networks sparked with unprecedented activity. To do so, we accept that we're masters of our own experience and step into the present moment where we can effect change.
Everyday we enforce mental patterns, intentionally or not. Repetitive thought processes become ingrained until we travel through them habitually. Like water carving rivers in land, our thoughts shape our mental landscape. With attention we can channel the flow to support our wants and needs. Without it, we're at the whim of the strongest current.
While a goal to exercise three times a week is helpful, berating yourself about it is not. If you remain rooted in an intention of health, it will propel you to rest when you need it, take the stairs instead of the elevator and notice how increased oxygen expands your lungs and energizes your heart. Instead of enforcing neurological pathways of "I'm lazy," "I'm out of shape," or "I'm not accomplishing my resolutions," fortify "I'm respecting my body," "I feel great when I exercise," and "I'm making healthy decisions."
"That's the beauty of it! When you pay attention to what's going on in your own brain ... and take responsibility for the circuitry you're running, you make the rules of a new game ... It's true freedom," shares neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor.
Understanding that whatever we focus on we'll cultivate -- what are your intentions for 2013 and how will you support them? Is it thinner thighs you want, or to feel healthy and beautiful? Do you need a raise, or is it stability, agency and confidence you're after? Accept your conditions for happiness without compromise and you'll notice that the seeds of them lie within you, waiting to be cultivated through conscious, positive thought.
Breathing in, I see the seed of happiness within me.
Breathing out, I am present to water this seed.
For more by Lilian Cheung, D.Sc., R.D., click here.
For more on happiness, click here.