A few months ago, I took an online quiz to determine how rich I was, compared to the rest of the world. The quiz started with questions like "Do you have a roof over your head?", and "Do you have running water in your house?".
I wasn't expecting that kind of questions. The word "rich" had put images of Ferraris, Rolexes and private jets in my mind. What hit me, was that by simply answering "yes" to these questions, I was already among the wealthiest people on the planet.
Counting your blessings
It's a huge cliché of course. But apparently, you do forget how blessed you really are. Practising mindfulness can help to stay more aware of all the blessings in your life. Which has a huge effect on your happiness level.
But what about the terrorist attacks, the economic and political crises, climate change, air pollution? And you probably have a few worries closer to home as well.
Will mindfulness not make you complacent or naive, and blind for all the things that are going wrong? It's a question we get asked a lot.
Frankly, I don't think it works like that. On the contrary, focusing on the positive will help you to solve your problems, because it makes you more resilient and creative.
According to neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, our brain is like Velcro for the negative and Teflon for the positive. Meaning that negative things stick, and that we quickly forget positive experiences.
This "negativity bias" contributes to stress because we focus on our worries and forget our blessings. And the more stressed we get, the more the world becomes a threatening place. It's a vicious cycle.
Focusing on the positive doesn't mean fooling yourself with things that are simply not true, like saying how great everything is while things are falling apart.
It means being aware that next to the negative, there are also other things that are positive, beautiful, meaningful, rewarding. There always are. Reflect on it for just 30 seconds right now. What positive things do you notice? Maybe you're nice and warm, sitting comfortably, you have friendly people around you. Or there's something beautiful to see or hear.
Training this kind of open awareness that also includes the positive and pleasant things, is one of the first steps in living a happier life with less stress.
Another great way to really celebrate life is to step up from noticing the positive to really taking it in and savouring it. You can go for a "savouring walk" for example.
Just go anywhere, in the city or in nature, and take your time to open up your senses and take in what looks nice, smells good. You might be amazed at how many beautiful or interesting things there are once you start noticing them. And chances are that you won't walk very far; there's so much in just one spot!
This kind of awareness and savouring practices are always part of our 8-week courses, mindfulness days or retreats.
Because mindfulness is so much more than learning to deal with stress, unpleasant emotions or thoughts. Focusing on and taking in the good is just as important.