Category Archives: Practice Happiness

What is Meditation? The Science of How it Makes us Happier.

1Assignment 

1.  5 notes from the first movie.

2. Take 5 notes from the reading to prove that Meditation is making people happier.

3. Practice the Meditation (watch the So Hum Meditation below).  Explain how it makes you feel afterward in 1 paragraph or more.

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Begin Reading Here: 

A quiet explosion of new research indicating that meditation can physically change the brain in astonishing ways has started to push into mainstream.

Several studies suggest that these changes through meditation can make you happier, less stressed — even nicer to other people. It can help you control your eating habits and even reduce chronic pain, all the while without taking prescription medication.

Meditation is an intimate and intense exercise that can be done solo or in a group, and one study showed that 20 million Americans say they practice meditation. It has been used to help treat addictions, to clear psoriasis and even to treat men with impotence.

The U.S. Marines are testing meditation to see if it makes more focused, effective warriors. Corporate executives at Google, General Mills, Target and Aetna Insurance, as well as students in some of the nation’s classrooms have used meditation.

Various celebrities also are known meditators, including shock jock Howard Stern, actors Richard Gere, Goldie Hawn and Heather Graham, and Rivers Cuomo, the lead singer of the band Weezer.

In one study, a research team from Massachusetts General Hospital looked at the brain scans of 16 people before and after they participated in an eight-week course in mindfulness meditation. The study, published in the January issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, concluded that after completing the course, parts of the participants’ brains associated with compassion and self-awareness grew, and parts associated with stress shrank.

READ: Meditation 101: Tips for Beginners

Recently, the Dalai Lama granted permission for his monks, who are master mediators, to have their brains studied at the University of Wisconsin, one of the most high-tech brain labs in the world.

Richie Davidson, a PhD at the university, and his colleagues, led the study and said they were amazed by what they found in the monks’ brain activity read-outs. During meditation, electroencephalogram patterns increased and remains higher than the initial baseline taken from a non-meditative state.

But you don’t have to be a monk to benefit from meditation, which is now gaining acceptance in the field of medicine.

Physicians have increasingly started prescribing meditation instead of pills to benefit their patients. A Harvard Medical School report released in May found that more than 6 million Americans had been recommended meditation and other mind-body therapies by conventional health care providers.

Perhaps the most mind-bending potential benefit of meditation is that it will actually make practitioners nicer. Chuck Raison, a professor at Emory University, conducted a meditation study in which he hooked up microphones to participants who had been taught basic meditation and those who hadn’t. He then recorded them at random over a period of time. Raison found that these newly-trained mediators used less harsh language than people who had no meditation experience.

“They were more empathic with people,” Raison said. “They were spending more time with other people. They laugh more, you know, all those things. They didn’t use the word ‘I’ as much. They use the word ‘we’ more.”

However, even the Dalai Lama admitted that meditation is not the silver bullet cure-all for every ailment or emotion.

“Occasionally, [I] lose my temper,” he said. “If someone is never lose temper then perhaps that may come from outer space, real strange.”

The Dalai Lama also cautioned that meditation takes patience, so new mediators should not expect immediate results.

“The enlightenment not depend on rank,” he said, laughing. “It depends on practice.”

Some scientists believe that in a generation, Americans will see meditation as being as essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle as diet and exercise.

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Mindfulness Meditation & Addiction

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One of the first steps in dealing with addiction is to discover the emotional cause of it, whether it is fear, depression, anxiety, or pessimism.  Many times these unwholesome thoughts and beliefs come from what I call the “wanting mind.”  In wanting mind, we feel that our current state of unhappiness could be cured if only we could have the money, job, relationship, recognition, or power we had and lost, or never had and strongly desire.  Often we cause ourselves suffering when we ache for something that lies out of our grasp or cling in vain to something that has already passed away. Sometimes, wanting mind involves tightly holding on to something negative: an unwholesome belief about how things ought to be or should have been, or an unwholesome emotion such as anger, sadness, or jealousy. Mindfulness practice helps us develop the capacity to see clearly exactly what we’re attached to so that we can let go of it and end our suffering. The hidden areas of resistance that emerge into our awareness can be noted and examined later so that we can make the conscious choice to reject them.

You can never completely avoid the wanting mind or any other hindrance. Desire is part of being human. It causes us to strive toward bettering our lives and our world, and has led to many of the discoveries and inventions that have provided us with a higher quality of life. Yet despite all that we can achieve and possess, we can become convinced that we won’t be happy or contented unless we acquire even more. This unwholesome belief can lead to competitiveness and feeling resentful toward, or envious of, those who seem to have an easier life.

If I have a patient who is using drugs or even food to manipulate their moods I first refer them to a nutritionist; a psychiatrist or psychopharmacologist; or a holistic doctor, such as an integrative medical doctor, to break this habit.  In addition to this I recommend mindfulness meditation, yoga practice, and regular exercise as they are all excellent to help mood regulation.  These types of activities lower the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in your bloodstream, increase your interleukin levels (enhancing your immune system and providing you with greater energy), and streamline your body’s ability to cleanse itself of chemical toxins, such as lactic acid in your muscles and bloodstream, which can affect neurotransmitter receptors and alter your mood (Chopra 1994; Rossi 1993).

The challenge to altering addictions is the fear that you can’t change which can push you into denial and cause you to minimize the consequences of your unproductive behaviors. Whatever you discover about yourself and however painful your discovery, dramatic breakthroughs are always possible. Research on mindfulness meditation indicates that qualities we once thought immutable that form temperament and character can actually be altered significantly. By retraining your mind through mindfulness practice, you create new neural networks. If you’re aggressive, you can find ways to temper that aspect of yourself, becoming assertive and clear about your boundaries without entering into a competitive and possibly even hostile mind-set that will sabotage you.

For many years, scientists believed that the brain’s plasticity, that is, its ability to create new structures and learn, was limited after childhood. However, new research shows that we can alter the structure of the brain and reap the benefits well into adulthood. Sara Lazar, a researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital, discovered that the more one practices mindfulness meditation, the thicker the brain becomes in the mid-prefrontal cortex and in the mid-insular region of the brain. Changing your mind (or thought processes) actually causes changes in the brain (Lazar et al. 2005). Lazar found that, while people who’ve practiced meditation for ten or twenty years are adept at quickly achieving a state of concentration and mindful awareness, newcomers who engage in mindfulness meditation as little as four hours a week can achieve and sustain a state of mindfulness that leads to creative flow, or what I call “open-mind consciousness.” She discovered that even beginning meditators in their early twenties were able to achieve advanced states of concentration and insight (what I refer to as “mindstrength”) equal to that of senior meditation practitioners. Intention and attention of focus were the keys to reaching these states, not the number of hours spent on a meditation cushion (Lazar and Siegel 2007). From my own experience and work, I know that regular mindfulness practice allows us to set aside distractions and enter the transformative state of open mind.

Mindfulness practice may positively affect the amount of activity in the amygdala, the walnut-sized area in the center of the brain responsible for regulating emotions (Davidson 2000). When the amygdala is relaxed, the parasympathetic nervous system engages to counteract the anxiety response. The heart rate lowers, breathing deepens and slows, and the body stops releasing cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream; these stress hormones provide us with quick energy in times of danger but have damaging effects on the body in the long term if they’re too prevalent. Over time, mindfulness meditation actually thickens the bilateral, prefrontal right-insular region of the brain (Lazar et al. 2005), the area responsible for optimism and a sense of well-being, spaciousness, and possibility. This area is also associated with creativity and an increased sense of curiosity, as well as the ability to be reflective and observe how your mind works.

By building new neural connections among brain cells, we rewire the brain, and with each new neural connection, the brain is actually learning. It’s as if we’re adding more RAM to a computer, giving it more functionality. In The Mindful Brain, leading neuroscientist Daniel Siegel (2007, 5), defines the mind as “a process that regulates the flow of energy and information.” His early brain research showed that “where neurons fire, they can rewire” (2007, 291); that is, they create new neural pathways or structures in the brain. He postulates that one of the benefits of mindfulness meditation practice is this process of creating new neural networks for self-observation, optimism, and well-being. Through mindfulness meditation, we light up and build up the left-prefrontal cortex, associated with optimism, self-observation, and compassion, allowing ourselves to cease being dominated by the right-prefrontal cortex, which is associated with fear, depression, anxiety, and pessimism. As a result, our self-awareness and mood stability increase as our harsh judgments of others and ourselves decrease. By devoting attention, intention, and daily effort to being mindful, we learn to master the mind and open the doorway to the creativity available in open-mind consciousness.

It’s entirely possible that the same effects can be achieved through other practices that appear to open up new neural pathways, such as tai chi, yoga, and other forms of meditation, but thanks to researchers studying mindfulness meditation, we now know that we can actually remap the brain and affect the way it functions, as well as the way it influences the body.

Ronald Alexander, Ph.D. is the author of the widely acclaimed book, Wise Mind, Open Mind: Finding Purpose and Meaning in Times of Crisis, Loss, and Change. He is the Executive Director of the OpenMind Training® Institute, practices mindfulness-based mind-body psychotherapy and leadership coaching in Santa Monica, CA, for individuals and corporate clients. He has taught personal and clinical training groups for professionals in Integral Psychotherapy, Ericksonian mind-body healing therapies, mindfulness meditation, and Buddhist psychology nationally and internationally since 1970. (www.openmindtraining.com)

Happify- Daily!

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Assignment:  Read the article below and take 10 notes on your reading.  Be ready to discuss after the reading. 

At Happify, we’re translating the latest cutting-edge research into fun and interactive activities and games that help you build your happiness skills and form life-changing habits. Optimism, self-confidence, gratitude, hope, compassion, purpose, empathy—these are all qualities that anyone can own. You just have to learn how. And doing so will change your life.

Happify’s S.T.A.G.E. framework helps you build five key happiness skills: Savor, Thank, Aspire, Give, and Empathize.

Savor

Savoring is a quick and easy way to boost optimism and reduce stress and negative emotions. It’s the practice of being mindful and noticing the good stuff around you, taking the extra time to prolong and intensify your enjoyment of the moment, making a pleasurable experience last for as long as possible. So whether it’s preparing a meal, pausing to admire the sunset, or telling a friend your good news—the idea is to linger, take it in, and enjoy the experience. Eventually it’ll become a habit—one you’ll never want to break. Research by Dr. Fred Bryant, a professor at Loyola University Chicago who coined the term “savoring,” shows that those who regularly and frequently savor are happier, more optimistic and more satisfied with life. Bryant describes savoring as three-fold, meaning we can savor the past (by reminiscing), savor the future (through positive anticipation) or savor the present (by practicing mindfulness). There are many savoring techniques—and you may find that you gravitate towards some, but not others. Researchers Bryant and Veroff have proposed a number of ways to do this, including savoring with other people, concentrating on the meaning of an activity, incorporating humor, and writing about their experience.

Thank

The simple act of identifying and then appreciating the things people do for us is a modern-day wonder drug. It fills us with optimism and self-confidence, knowing that others are there for us. It dampens our desires for “more” of everything—and it deepens our relationships with loved ones. And when we express our gratitude to someone, we get kindness and gratitude in return. In studies led by Dr. Martin Seligman, people have written gratitude letters to someone they’ve never properly thanked, and seen immediate increases in happiness and decreases in depressive symptoms. Bob Emmons, Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Davis, is a leading researcher in the field of gratitude and author of Thanks: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier. He believes everyone should try practicing gratitude because the benefits are so powerful: “First, the practice of gratitude can increase happiness levels by around 25%. Second, this is not hard to achieve. A few hours writing a gratitude journal over 3 weeks can create an effect that lasts 6 months if not more. Third, cultivating gratitude brings other health effects, such as longer and better quality sleep time.”

Aspire

Feeling hopeful, having a sense of purpose, being optimistic. Study after study shows that people who have created meaning in their lives are happier and more satisfied with their lives (Steger, Oishi, & Kashdan 2008). You too can feel more upbeat about your future and your potential. And who doesn’t want that? Genuine optimism is a friend magnet. It also makes your goals seem attainable and your challenges easier to overcome. Bottom line: you’ll not only feel more successful, you’ll be more successful. A person’s level of hope is shown to correlate with how well they perform tasks. Using one’s strengths in daily life, studies have found, curbs stress and increases self-esteem and vitality. Another study found that participants who were asked to imagine their future in an optimistic light increased their levels of happiness over the next six months. Believing that your goals are within reach promotes a sense of meaning and purpose in life—a key ingredient of happiness.

Give

Everything about giving is a no-brainer. Obviously, when you give someone something, you make them happier. But what you might not know is that the giver—not the receiver—reaps even more benefits. Numerous studies show that being kind not only makes us feel less stressed, isolated and angry, but it makes us feel considerably happier, more connected with the world, and more open to new experiences. In one famous study, Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky asked students to commit five random acts of kindness each week for six weeks. Whereas the control group experienced a reduction in well-being, those who engaged in acts of kindness showed a 42% increase in happiness. We’re happier when we spend money on other people than when we spend money on ourselves. And a 2006 study found that simply reflecting on nice things we’ve done for other people can lift our mood. Dr. Stephen Post, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University and founder of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, is a pioneer in the study of altruism and compassion. His research shows that when we give of ourselves, everything from life satisfaction to self-realization and physical health is significantly affected. Mortality is delayed. Depression is reduced. Well-being and good fortune are increased.

Empathize

Empathy is a powerful word packed with lots of different interpretations. It’s the ability to care about others. It’s the ability to imagine and understand the thoughts, behaviors or ideas of others, including those different from ourselves. If you care about the relationships in your life—and who doesn’t?—learning the skill of empathy has enormous payoffs. When we empathize with people, we become less judgmental, less frustrated, angry or disappointed—and we develop patience. We also solidify the bonds with those closest to us. And when we really listen to the points of view of others, they’re very likely to listen to ours. Strong relationships are essential to happiness, according to Drs. Ed Diener and Martin Seligman, and practicing empathy will go far in nurturing the relationships in your life. Richard Davidson, professor of psychology at University of Wisconsin—Madison, was the first to show that compassion is a skill that we can all learn. He says the brain is constantly changing in response to environmental factors, and this also extends to compassion for the self. Research by Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the field, suggests that people who have more self-compassion lead healthier, more productive lives than those who are self-critical.

Sign up for Happify for activities and games that will enhance your life, boost your happiness, and help you build lasting habits for a more fulfilling life.

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