For more than 2000 years (and probably many millennia before that) we humans have been speculating about Life and the Pursuit of Happiness (as you probably have yourself)
There have been some excellent books published on the subject if you have the time and inclination. But for those of you with less time, here is the first of a short series of articles about the pursuit of happiness in a professional world.
Step 1: Learn to rest your mind
The fundamental factor underlying the feeling of happiness is that of balance: that the mind and body (and spirit if you’re that way inclined) are in harmony. Nearly everyone strives for happiness and the good news is that with the minimum of effort it can be easy to achieve. There are several basic things to do but in this article I will just mention the first.
The first is to ‘Rest Your Mind’ or to be more precise, rest your prefrontal cortex. Your prefrontal cortex is where you hold your conscious thoughts. It’s where you consider things, imagine things, handle retrieved memories, plan things and formulate ideas. It’s only 5% of your total brain but in today’s professional life it is one of the most overworked. Believe me when I say it needs to rest once in a while. Why? It might not be obvious but in a similar way that your muscles need a rest, so does your prefrontal cortex. It needs energy to work (eg. oxygen from the blood) and therefore it gets tired and starts to hurt (and you know what that feels like). But conscious thinking can stop the rest of your brain – the other 95% – from doing its job.
When I say ‘rest’ I’m not talking about thinking about something else. I’m talking about not thinking about anything: switching it off and allowing your subconscious the resources it needs. Yes, I’m referring to deep relaxation, mindfulness or meditation (not sleep, though a solid 8 hours sleep is also important). Research shows that as little as 15 minutes of emptying your mind can improve your ability to deal with stress, reduce anxiety, improve creativity, improve memory, increase you body’s immune system and reduce the risk of depression – all important for your general wellbeing.
So instead of taking a coffee break, why not find some quite corner and try emptying your mind: Experience the sounds, scents and feelings but without thinking about them, awareness without judgement. It’s like ‘being’ but in an entirely egoless sense. The important thing is to stop conscious thought. At first it can be a little tricky. You find thoughts trying to squeeze back in. No problem: Recognise them for what they are, pat them on the head and gentle send them out. The more you practise, the easier it will become. What’s more, you might just find that afterwards the solution that has been avoiding you, that elusive memory you’ve been trying to retrieve or that creative idea you’ve been searching for will suddenly pop into your head having given the other 95% of your brain a break from the distractions of conscious thought. So you’re onto a winner whichever way you look at it.
It is said that happiness is not a destination but a journey. If you can start that journey by finding 15 minutes to rest your mind everyday, then you are already one step further along the right path.