The Road to Happiness: Mental Health and Meditation

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What is happiness?

In this modern age, some people believe that happiness starts from within ourselves. It is a relatively pleasant feeling that we are all capable of, regardless of what is going on around us.

This feeling is relative to what gives us pleasure. To some people, it could be achieved after eating their favorite food that they’ve been craving after for so long. For others, it could be from a positive thought that sparks their creativity, or after getting a message from a special someone.

Some of us might not know what makes us happy, but we surely know what DOES not make us happy. In that case, happiness might be like looking at a menu in a restaurant and not knowing what to order. We don't know what we want, only what we don't.

If that’s the case, is it possible to achieve happiness in the absence of the things, situations or people that make us unhappy? But if happiness is from within, then how are we supposed to deal with our feelings?

If we can’t control what is outside of us, then we can only control our reactions. Our mind creates the reactions. Therefore, if we can control our mind, then we can control how we react or how we feel.

Controlling one’s reaction means keeping the balance of the mind. It’s about accepting that feelings are real as a result of who we are. We can choose not to be miserable or try to chase a pleasant feeling to suppress the negativity.

Try observing your feelings and you’ll realize that they are fleeting. They come and they go. They don’t last very long.

Some people say our emotions are influenced by the chemical reactions in our body. Have you experienced going to a meeting without having breakfast or perhaps sitting through a meeting that has dragged on into lunch time?

The feeling of hunger makes us impatient or perhaps irritated. Sooner or later though the pang of hunger will go away.

Dr. Jason Fung, who popularized intermittent fasting, talks about a “hunger hormone” called ghrelin that is found to increase appetite. It is usually at its highest before and during your usual meal time because that’s when your body is used to eating. It decreases after that period which means your feeling of hunger also reduces whether you have eaten or not.

But for those who are not aware about this and are in the middle of a crucial situation – decision making, arguments or exams, can do something that they might regret later.

The question again is can you control your reaction to that situation and not create misery out of it?

Yes, you can but it is not an easy task. It requires dedication just like when we're doing a physical exercise. We also need a mental exercise for our well-being.

Improving your mental health

Having a balanced and peaceful mind brings happiness. It is not the absence of unpleasant feelings, but having the awareness of those feelings and being able to accept them without harming yourself or others.

To achieve this, it is important to be mentally well. Improving mental health is a vital aspect of one’s life, as well as that of an organization. Many institutions have increasingly prioritized mental health in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the United States, 40% of adults are dealing with mental health issues related to the effects of the pandemic. But, our mental health issues were already there and are now impacted by the current crisis. In 2017, about one in five adults in the US suffered from mental illnesses.

Anxiety and depression can be prevented though it's usually an ongoing process. While some people require clinical and medical care, others can help themselves by being self-aware and engaging in activities that are beneficial rather than detrimental to their mental health.

The World Health Organization encourages people to regulate their time spent reading the news and engaging with social media. They recommend we take more time to keep in touch with the people we love, our family and friends instead.

Using the internet to your benefit

Since social distancing and other pandemic measures began, we may be keeping a very hectic routine. An easy way to relieve stress is right inside our pockets — our mobile phones.

Now that many of us are working from home, we have more time to check our phones or connect to the internet.

It is “boon and bane” as we all know. By being aware of that, we can decide how we are going to make use of it for our benefits.

The internet helps us communicate with the people who care for us, as well as perform our jobs or earn an income. It is also a vast resource of useful information and inspiration to improve our quality of life.

As we are churned into the new normal, work from home scenarios, we may feel perturbed and insecure.

Some of us might be missing the regular routine or be so worried about the goals that are now impossible to achieve as we had previously planned. Some of us might have lost a family member, friend or colleague, lost jobs or businesses.

How can our mind ever be peaceful in this time of uncertainty?

Practicing meditation everyday

Meditation can lead us the way to happiness and peace of mind. Taught and practiced in Buddhism around the world, meditation is a tool discovered by Buddha to find enlightenment.

There are various meditation techniques, but mindfulness meditation and Vipassana (which means “to see things as they are”) are focused on achieving balance of the mind.

Mindfulness is a state of being aware of what is going on in front of us — the present moment. One way to be present is to observe our body and physical sensations.

In Vipassana, one begins the meditation with “anapana” which is to observe the breath as it comes and goes out of the nostrils. By doing this, the restless mind is like an animal being tied to a post to start concentrating.

The world around us has been slowing down. We can take it as an opportunity to take small steps on our road to real happiness. Breathe. You’re alive. And that’s what matters most.

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