Lesson 4 – To Be in the Moment

Recap:

In the last lesson we talked about Ikigai. 

Have you taken the time to ponder on what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs and what people are willing to pay for? 

Do you believe that if you found your Ikigai then you would raise your baseline happiness?

Remember –

  • it takes 21 days to form a habit
  • and the formula for happiness is – H = G + C + T&A

Your thoughts and actions are the most important part of the change that you are wanting to make.  Be the change you want to see.

How do you feel you went in the past 3 weeks?

Who is the happiest man in the world?

Just ask Google.  The answer comes back as Matthieu Ricard – a writer, photographer, translator and Buddhist monk, with a PhD in molecular genetics, who lives in Nepal.  He is also the French interpreter for the Dalai Lama.
(Source: Wikipedia)

So what has he done to be awarded such an unusual title and how do you measure such a thing?

Ricard volunteered for a 12 year brain study by neuroscientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on meditation and compassion.  He scored significantly higher than the rest of the hundreds of volunteers. 

MRI scans showed much higher levels of upbeat gamma-wave activity when Ricard was meditating (which are linked to consciousness, attention, learning and memory) that had never before been reported in neuroscience literature. 

The scans also showed almost invisible levels of negative emotion.  In addition, Ricard’s brain displayed excessive activity in the left prefrontal cortex, much more so than in the right.  

This translated to Ricard having an abnormally large capacity for happiness and a reduced propensity toward negativity.  (Alyson Shontell, Business Insider Australia). 

Whilst I realise that this is subjective, it is the scientific findings that are important, not that the study was a small subset of all of the people in the world.

Ricard says “If you can learn to ride a bike, you can learn how to be happy”. 

His life lessons are simple and paraphrased below.  I urge you to think about them and answer the questions that follow.  Journal your answers.  Take your time.


1. Anyone can be the happiest person in the world if they look for happiness in the right place, but the problem is we tend not to.  Where do you usually look for happiness?  Is it outside of yourself?  Where do you think your ‘right’ place is to look?

2. Happiness is a way of being, not the pursuit of an endless succession of experiences.  Are you exhausting yourself chasing fleeting experiences?  How can you incorporate this ‘way of being’ into your everyday life?

3. Pleasure exhausts itself as you experience it.  Happiness is a skill to be cultivated that we all have the potential for.  Think back over the past week.  Were there any incidents that caused you happiness that was lasting?

4. Being happy is about raising your ‘happiness baseline’.  This is sustaining, unlike euphoric experiences that are transient.  How are you going with raising that baseline that we covered in Lesson 1?

5. To be truly happy you have to get rid of hatred, obsession, arrogance, envy, greed and pride.  They are toxic.  Mind training or meditation will drown these out and you can replace them with positive qualities.  Love, altruism, benevolence, focusing on other people.  How much time a day do you spend focussing on yourself – what you can get, who has hurt you, comparing yourself to others?  Take note of the negative thoughts – can you minimise them?


6. Familiarise yourself with how your mind works.  Be mindful of your thinking patterns.  Where do your thoughts go when you feel slighted by someone?  How about when you have been praised for something or when you have been overlooked for promotion or a spot on the sports team?  You can change these thinking patterns.  Are you prepared to try?


You wouldn’t run a marathon without training, and in the same way you have to train your mind to be happier.  Ten to fifteen minutes per day of mindfulness practice is all it takes.  Focus on positive thoughts and emotions.  Try not to get distracted. 

You may not be into the thought of meditation, but mindfulness is quite different, and is a good place to start.  As humans we can choose to be fully present in the moment.  This means being here and now, aware of our thoughts.  Not thinking about the past or looking forward into the future. Right here and right now. 

Being aware of the person in front of you who is talking right now.  Taking notice of what a child is saying. Feeling the sun and breeze on you and seeing what is in front of your eyes.

It’s not just Buddhist monks doing this.  Schools, pro-sports teams, medical centres and the military are using this to treat anxiety and depression, enhance performance, alleviate chronic pain and improve the baseline level of happiness in people.

But it takes practice.  Your brain can be trained to think in this way.  To pay attention.  To be in the moment.  You need to make a habit of it – do it every day.

Neuroscientists now claim that through doing mindfulness practice the brain’s “fight or flight” centre, the amygdala, appears to shrink. This primal region of the brain, associated with fear and emotion, is involved in the initiation of the body’s response to stress.  This shrinking reduces your emotional reactivity.

As the amygdala shrinks, the pre-frontal cortex – associated with higher order brain functions such as awareness, concentration and decision-making – becomes thicker.  This makes you less likely to be driven by your emotions and more likely to make thoughtful, less reactive decisions.  This is where Matthieu Ricard has the jump on the rest of us.

Shawn Achor says in his book ‘The Happiness Advantage’

We need to retrain our brains to fully capitalise positivity, rather than negativity. This will improve productivity and performance.

So how do we use all of this information to our advantage?  It’s one thing to be happy when you’re on holiday or on the weekend.  But what about raising your baseline happiness to ensure you feel better about the world all the time.  How about when you’re at work?

All of this productivity, performance, concentration and non-emotional decision making would come in really handy in the workplace surely?  As a member of any workplace you have a responsibility to not only do your job, but also to contribute to the organisation and to the emotional hygiene of others within it. 

Your happiness level can have a profound effect on the others you work with.  Research has proven that happy workers have:

  • Higher productivity
  • Produce more sales
  • Perform better in leadership positions
  • Received higher performance ratings
  • Get paid more
  • Have more job security
  • Are less likely to take sick days/quit/get burned out

Take the work that you do on yourself at home with you wherever you go.  Especially your workplace.  Others around you are crying out for motivation, leadership and a little light in their day that tells them they are doing a good job in a company that is probably trying to make a difference in the world.

Exercises:

  • Keep up your Gratitude Journaling
  • Find 10 minutes a day to be mindful.  Or start with 5.
  • Move on to meditation, if you feel up to it.  If you need help, these were listed as the best Meditation Apps of 2019:
    • The Mindfulness App
    • Headspace
    • Calm
    • Buddhigy
    • Sattva
    • Stop, Breath & Think
    • Insight Timer
    • 10% Happier

If you don’t like the Apps – just focus on your breathing or some gentle music.  Alternatively, do a scan of your body from your toes to the top of your head thinking about each body part as your come to it.  How does it feel?  Tense it.  Relax it.  Give it some attention.  Move on.

  • Mentally and emotionally lift up your work colleagues whenever you can –
    • a smile, a pat on the back, a word of recognition,
    • focussing on what they are saying without formulating your response in your head
    • an email thanking them,
    • bringing them a coffee, or asking after their family. 

It doesn’t take much but the rewards can be enormous.

Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash