Despite many of us in the modern world enjoying a level of comfort and luxury that would be been unimaginable for most of human history, we still find it very hard to be happy. In fact, it seems that modern society is contributing to our fatigue and discontentment — with high-pressure working lives, decreased sense of community and a perceived lack of meaning all causing strain.
As much as we may struggle, however, the pursuit of happiness is still the primary goal for most people. While it would be trite to suggest that meditation can solve all our problems, there are reasons why it can help us achieve this goal.
Experiencing Less Stress
Our “fight or flight” response is continually triggered in day-to-day life by our “lizard brain” stress response system, which cannot differentiate between a true emergency and something routine — such as running late, or demands at work.
The stress response evolved in order for us to detect and face life-threatening situations, but because we have the capacity to think about our lives this response is no longer purely instinctive. Instead, we have the capacity to trigger our stress response simply by ruminating over fears and worries — especially if we struggle with anxiety.
During periods of relaxation, the hormones and physiological responses of stress naturally dissipate and do little harm, but unfortunately this isn’t the case if we’ve found ourselves on a relentless high-alert. In cases like this, the end result is exhaustion, vulnerability to illness and unhappiness.
Meditation has shown promise in various studies to reduce stress and increase “present moment awareness”, encouraging us to appreciate the moment rather than stewing over our concerns. Eventually we become calmer in general — our brains stop reacting so significantly to every trigger and our recovery time after a stressful event is improved.
In the long run, this increases our natural optimism and makes happiness easier to achieve. Consciously forcing ourselves to become more positive can be a real struggle, but because meditation appears to reduce stress on a physiological level, seeing the world in an optimistic light isn’t hampered by feelings of pressure.
Living a hectic life full of anxiety and worry makes it nearly impossible to look at any situation with a good sense of perspective. We can overcomplicate our lives and get lost in a fog that lasts for years, never really looking up from the grindstone to appreciate what we have and enjoy ourselves.
Stress makes us think narrowly and hinders our ability to make good decisions, but, once it is eased, we can think much more clearly. This leads to more productivity and efficiency, allowing to work in a way which gets things done faster and with focus, further freeing our time and mental energy.
When we aren’t in “emergency mode” all the time, we can think about our lives without the panic, anger or irrationality that stress can bring. With this, we are more able to objectively assess what’s actually important, both in our relationships and our work lives.
There are many health benefits of meditation, as stress can be the root cause of, or can aggravate, many illnesses. It directs energy away from normal functioning such as digestion and immune response, exacerbating ongoing issues such as IBS while leaving us more susceptible everyday coughs, colds and stomach upsets.
It also contributes to bad habits such as eating bad food, smoking and overindulging in alcohol. Those who are tired are more likely to choose high-fat, high-sugar options in their diet, while being chronically stressed increases our chances of looking for crutches such as a nicotine habit.
This further damages our health in the long term while also perpetuating the problems which make us feel bad in the short term (whether it’s just guilt or a vague hangover). Meditation tackles stress, the primary issue, putting us the best possible frame of mind for making good decisions regarding our health, whilst also improving our sleep.
There are many different forms of meditation and it can be worth doing a little research to see which kind most seems to resonate with you. Mindfulness is where most people begin — and with plenty of apps on the market to introduce you to this technique, it can be a good way to bring meditation into your life.
If you would prefer some guidance, it’s likely that there will be meditation teachers (or Buddhist centers) which will be happy to teach you how to meditate and offer support as you make it a daily habit.
Being the happiest we can be is one of the overriding aims of humanity, yet it is frustratingly elusive. It’s easy to think that happiness is something that will come later, if only we sacrifice our time and peace of mind now. Meditation can help us be happy wherever we are in life, and let us identify the changes we need to make in order to be truly content in the present moment.