Mindfulness in action: a key skill for a happier life

What do you want more than anything else?

If your answer to that question is to be happier, you’re on par with one of the most common answers to that question the world over. I’m with you too.

To understand what contributes to a happier life; scientists study what very happy people do, and then put those ideas to the test. One landmark study used an app to randomly ask participants a different question, or questions to be exact. Mainly, what are you doing? What are you thinking about? And how happy are you?

The bottom line? Nearly 47% of the time the participants were thinking about something other than what they were actually doing. And not only does that translate to our minds being anywhere but in the moment for almost half of our waking hours, this mind wandering was also found to be a major cause of unhappiness.

That’s one of the reasons there’s such a buzz around mindfulness. Which is essentially about having a non-judgemental, moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts and feelings. It’s about enjoying each moment, one-by-one-by-one.

We are never happier than when our attention is in the here and now, and that’s one of the reasons a visit to the hot springs makes us feel so good. We can’t help but enjoy more present moment awareness when there is so much to notice, and so much to capture the attention of our senses.

Free from everyday distractions and often surrounded by friends, the hot springs are a beautiful place to free our minds from what’s gone before us, and what might lie ahead. All there is to do is to enjoy the water, notice the natural landscape and experience the contentment and the connection that happens in the present.

Have you tried it lately? To maintain your focus on the present moment?

It’s a simple notion, but it’s actually a challenging thing to do day-to-day. When we’re busy with things to do and places to be, a regular mindfulness practice will make each day more enjoyable, more memorable and happier.

It takes discipline and effort, but it gets easier over time. And with practice, the thoughts that carry our attention away from what we are doing become less sticky.

By practicing mindfulness our attention improves, and when our minds do happen to wander, as they inevitably will, we notice it more quickly. We can then ‘unhook’ from the thought that captured our attention more easily, and return our focus to the present moment.

So, how best to start?

1)    Start small

Choose a brief activity of everyday such as cleaning your teeth, walking into your kitchen or even the first mouthful or two of a drink or a meal. Anything that feels like a good fit for you. Set your intention, here and now, to mindfully undertake that activity with present moment awareness and a childlike curiosity of every part of the experience.

Each time you visit us here at the hot springs we invite you to savour the smell of the minerals and notice the warmth of the water and the different surroundings of each unique pool.

2)    Be kind to yourself

Be gentle on yourself when you forget to do your practice. And when you do undertake your practice, remember that mind wandering is normal. It will happen, over and over again, despite your best intentions. We all do it. It happens often, and there are times when our minds have wandered away for minutes before we even notice. That’s ok. Be kind to yourself when this happens. Every time it happens. Simply notice your mind has wandered, gently ‘unhook’ from the thought without judgement, and return your focus to what you are doing.

3)    Tune-in

Tune-in to your senses during your mindfulness practice. If you’re brushing your teeth you could pay attention to your grip on the toothbrush in your hand, the smell and taste of the toothpaste, the sound of the water running or the gentle pressure and feel of the bristles on your teeth and gums.

When you are next at the Hot Springs, the reflexology walk is a beautiful place to mindfully enjoy every moment. You could begin by noticing the warmth of the water, and the texture and pressure of the stones underfoot, listening to the sounds of running water and the frogs in the lake, smelling the aroma of the minerals coming off the water and mindfully noticing the steam, the view of the reflexology path and surrounding landscape.

4)    Find the right fit for you

Play around with your mindfulness practice and notice what works for you. Perhaps it’s listening to music, taking a mindful walk, mindfully eating a couple of squares of chocolate, folding the washing, colouring in, tuning into the sights and sounds of nature or mindfully taking a shower.

5)    Practice often

If you want to build muscle, you need to undertake strength training regularly. Developing our attentional ‘muscle’ is just the same. It requires repetition. You could begin with a daily practice for a predictable activity, and over time, extend this practice to other moments or activities in your day. And remember, it’s not about controlling your thoughts; it’s simply about noticing what you notice.

by Dr Jodi Richardson

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