Improve Psychological Adjustment with Meditation

Improve Psychological Adjustment with Meditation

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Fine-tuning which type of mindfulness or meditation someone uses as a prescriptive to treat a specific need will most likely be the next big advance in the public health revolution of mindfulness and meditation.” – Christopher Bergland


Meditation training has been shown to improve health and well-being. It has also been found to be effective for a large array of medical and psychiatric conditions, either stand-alone or in combination with more traditional therapies. As a result, meditation training has been called the third wave of therapies. One problem with understanding meditation effects is that there are, a wide variety of meditation techniques and it is not known which work best for improving different conditions.


In focused attention meditation, the individual practices paying attention to a single meditation object, learns to filter out distracting stimuli, including thoughts, and learns to stay focused on the present moment, filtering out thoughts centered around the past or future. In open monitoring meditation, the individual opens up awareness to everything that’s being experienced regardless of its origin. These include bodily sensations, external stimuli, and even thoughts. The meditator just observes these thoughts and lets them arise and fall away without paying them any further attention. Loving Kindness Meditation is designed to develop kindness and compassion to oneself and others. The individual systematically pictures different individuals from self, to close friends, to enemies and wishes them happiness, well-being, safety, peace, and ease of well-being.


These techniques have common properties of restful attention on the present moment. They are also similar to many religious and spiritual practices. There are large differences between these practices that are likely to produce different effects on the practitioner. But what those differences are is not known. In today’s Research News article “Religiosity and Meditation Practice: Exploring Their Explanatory Power on Psychological Adjustment.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at:, Montero-Marin and colleagues explore the different effects of these practices on the psychological well-being of practitioners.


They recruited adult participants online and had them complete measures of happiness, depression, positive and negative emotions, and negative psychological adjustment. They were also asked to indicate the amount of prayer, and the types and amounts of meditation practices engaged in, including open monitoring, focused, and compassion meditation types.


They found that positive psychological states were associated with the amount of the various meditation practices and not particularly with religiosity or prayer. They found that the amount of focused meditation practice was significantly related to all measures of psychological adjustment, including happiness, depression, positive and negative emotions, and negative psychological adjustment. On the other hand, open monitoring practice was significantly associated with self-regulation of negative emotions and compassion meditation was significantly related to positive emotions and happiness.


These are interesting results that are cross-sectional and correlative. So, care must be taken in concluding causation. Nevertheless, the results suggest that meditation practice has positive benefits for the psychological state of the practitioner that are superior to religious practices. It appears that focused meditation practice has the greatest benefits while compassion meditation may help increase happiness and open monitoring meditation may help with dealing with negative emotions. Previous research has indicated some additional benefits of religiosity, prayer, and focused, open monitoring, and compassion meditation techniques. It remains for future research to better clarify the advantages and disadvantages of each of these meditation types.


So, improve psychological adjustment with meditation.


”For someone who meditates, the practice offers a chance to improve physical wellbeing, as well as emotional health. However, there is no “right way” to meditate, meaning people can explore the different types until they find one that works for them.” – Zawn Villines


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Montero-Marin J, Perez-Yus MC, Cebolla A, Soler J, Demarzo M and Garcia-Campayo J (2019) Religiosity and Meditation Practice: Exploring Their Explanatory Power on Psychological Adjustment. Front. Psychol. 10:630. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00630


There has been increased interest in the relationships between religiosity, meditation practice and well-being, but there is lack of understanding as to how specific religious components and distinct meditation practices could influence different positive and negative psychological adjustment outcomes. The aim of this study was to assess the explanatory power of religious beliefs and the practice of prayer, focused attention (FA), open monitoring (OM), and compassion meditation (CM) on psychological adjustment, taking into consideration a number of practice-related variables such as session length, frequency of practice and lifetime practice. Psychological adjustment was assessed by means of happiness, positive affect, depression, negative affect, and emotional overproduction. A cross-sectional design was used, with a final sample comprising 210 Spanish participants who completed an online assessment protocol. Hierarchical regressions were performed, including age, sex and psychotropic medication use in the first step as possible confounders, with the addition of religious beliefs and the practice of prayer, FA, OM, and CM in the second step. FA session length was related to all psychological adjustment outcomes: happiness (ΔR2 = 0.09, p = 0.002; β = 0.25, p = 0.001), positive affect (ΔR2 = 0.09, p = 0.002; β = 0.18, p = 0.014), depression (ΔR2 = 0.07, p = 0.004; β = -0.27, p < 0.001), negative affect (ΔR2 = 0.08, p = 0.007; β = -0.27, p < 0.001) and emotional overproduction (ΔR2 = 0.07, p = 0.013; β = -0.23, p = 0.001). CM session length was related to positive affect (β = 0.18, p = 0.011). CM practice frequency was associated with happiness (ΔR2 = 0.06, p = 0.038; β = 0.16, p = 0.041). Lifetime practice of FA was related to happiness (ΔR2 = 0.08, p = 0.007; β = 0.21, p = 0.030) and OM to emotional overproduction (ΔR2 = 0.08, p = 0.037; β = -0.19, p = 0.047). Religious beliefs and prayer seemed to be less relevant than meditation practices such as FA, OM, and CM in explaining psychological adjustment. The distinct meditation practices might be differentially related to distinct psychological adjustment outcomes through different practice-related variables. However, research into other forms of institutional religiosity integrating social aspects of religion is required.


Improve the Happiness of Healthcare Workers with Mindfulness

Improve the Happiness of Healthcare Workers with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Thanks to the rapidly growing science of mindfulness, we are now understanding the seamless interconnectedness of brain, mind, body, experience, and well-being — to say nothing of the contributions to health and well-being that stem from social interconnectedness and environmental/planetary concerns.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn


Stress is epidemic in the western workplace with almost two thirds of workers reporting high levels of stress at work. In high stress occupations, like healthcare, burnout is all too prevalent. Burnout is the fatigue, cynicism, emotional exhaustion, sleep disruption, and professional inefficacy that comes with work-related stress. It is estimated that over 45% of healthcare workers experience burnout. Currently, over a third of healthcare workers report that they are looking for a new job. It not only affects the healthcare providers personally, but also the patients, as it produces a loss of empathy and compassion. Burnout, in fact, it is a threat to the entire healthcare system as it contributes to the shortage of doctors and nurses.


Preventing burnout has to be a priority. Unfortunately, it is beyond the ability of the individual to change the environment to reduce stress and prevent burnout, so it is important that methods be found to reduce the individual’s responses to stress; to make the individual more resilient when high levels of stress occur. Contemplative practices have been shown to reduce the psychological and physiological responses to stress. Indeed, mindfulness has been shown to be helpful in treating and preventing burnoutincreasing resilience, and improving sleep. Hence, mindfulness may be a means to improve the self-compassion and happiness of healthcare workers and thereby reduce burnout.


In today’s Research News article “Compassion, Mindfulness, and the Happiness of Healthcare Workers.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: ), Benzo and colleagues recruited adult healthcare workers and had them complete measures of mindfulness, self-compassion, happiness, relationship status, exercise, perceived stress, and spiritual practice. The data underwent a regression analysis to determine the relationship between the measures.


They found that the higher the levels of exercise and self-compassion, the greater the levels of happiness and the lower the levels of perceived stress. In addition, they found that the higher the levels of coping with isolation and mindfulness the higher the levels of happiness. The association of mindfulness with happiness occurred for the mindfulness component of self-compassion and both the non-judgmental awareness and non-reactivity to emotions.


These results suggest that mindfulness and self-compassion are very important for the happiness of healthcare workers. The most important components of self-compassion appear to be mindfulness and the ability to cope with isolation that is a frequent occurrence with healthcare workers. Being mindfully aware of themselves, non-judgmentally appears to be crucial for happiness of workers this high stress occupation.


Although these results are correlational and causation cannot be determined, prior research has demonstrated that mindfulness training works to improve well-being and reduce burnout, reduce perceived stress, and also increases self-compassion. So, the present results likely reflect an underlying causal connection between mindfulness and the happiness of healthcare workers. This further suggests that mindfulness and self-compassion training should be included in the initial training or continuing education of healthcare workers.


So, improve the happiness of healthcare workers with mindfulness.


“There is increasing evidence that learning to practice mindfulness can result in decreased burnout and improved well-being. Mindfulness is a useful way of cultivating self-kindness and compassion, including by bringing increased awareness to and acceptance of those things that are beyond our control.” – Kate Fitzpatrick


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Benzo, R. P., Kirsch, J. L., & Nelson, C. (2017). Compassion, Mindfulness, and the Happiness of Healthcare Workers. Explore (New York, N.Y.), 13(3), 201-206.




Decreased well-being of health care workers expressed as stress and decreased job satisfaction influences patient safety and satisfaction and cost containment. Self-compassion has garnered recent attention due to its positive association with wellbeing and happiness. Discovering novel pathways to increase the well-being of health care workers is essential.


This study sought to explore the influence of self-compassion on employee happiness in health care professionals.

Design, Setting & Participants

400 participants (mean age 45 ± 14, 65% female) health care workers at a large teaching hospital were randomly asked to complete questionnaires assessing their levels of happiness and self-compassion, life conditions and habits.


Participants completed the Happiness Scale and Self-Compassion Scales, the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire as well as variables associated with wellbeing: relationship status, the number of hours spent exercising a week, attendance at a wellness facility and engagement in a regular spiritual practice.


Self-compassion was significantly and independently associated with perceived happiness explaining 39% of its variance after adjusting for age, marital status, gender, time spent exercising and attendance to an exercise facility. Two specific subdomains of self-compassion from the instrument used, coping with isolation and mindfulness, accounted for 95% of the self-compassion effect on happiness.


Self-compassion is meaningfully and independently associated with happiness and well-being in health care professionals. Our results may have practical implications by providing specific self-compassion components to be targeted in future programs aimed at enhancing wellbeing in health care professionals.


Improve Happiness and Meditative Experiences with Yoga

Improve Happiness and Meditative Experiences with Yoga


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Happiness, not in another place but this place…not for another hour, but this hour.” – Walt Whitman


“Meditation leads to concentration, concentration leads to understanding, and understanding leads to happiness” – This wonderful quote from the modern day sage Thich Nhat Hahn is a beautiful pithy description of the benefits of mindfulness practice. Mindfulness allows us to view our experience and not put labels on it, not make assumptions about it, not relate it to past experiences, and not project it into the future. Rather mindfulness lets us experience everything around and within us exactly as it is arising and falling away from moment to moment.


A variety of forms of mindfulness training have been shown to increase psychological well-being and happiness. So, it would be expected that yoga practice would similarly increase these positive states. It is not known, however, if yoga training can produce a cross-training effects, improving the effectiveness of other mindfulness practices.


In today’s Research News article “Effects of Maharishi Yoga Asanas on Mood States, Happiness, and Experiences during Meditation. International Journal of Yoga.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: ), Gobec and colleagues recruited college students who practiced Transcendental Meditation. They were provided a 2-week course in yoga that met for 2 hours on 8 days over 2 weeks and included instruction in theory and practice of postures. The participants were measured before and after the training for mood states and resilience. They found that after training there was a significant decrease in total disturbance of their mood states.


In a second experiment the yoga training occurred for 4 weeks and a matched group of control participants was included. The participants were measured before and after the training for mood states and meditative experiences including: hindrances, relaxation, personal self, transpersonal qualities, and transpersonal self. They found that in comparison to the control participants after yoga training there were significant increases in happiness and meditative experiences, including personal self, transpersonal qualities, and transpersonal self.


The results suggest that yoga practice improves mood particularly increasing happiness as has been found to be true for contemplative practices in general. In addition, the results suggest that yoga practice alters the experiences that occur during meditation, including increased ability to transcend experiences of body and mind during meditation. This should greatly enhance the depth and effectiveness of the meditation. This is a completely new finding that yoga practice can enhance the individual’s experience during a separate mindfulness practice, meditation. This “cross-training” effect may greatly increase the effects of yoga practice on the psychological and spiritual health of the individual.


So, improve happiness and meditative experiences with yoga.


According to yoga philosophy, santosha, which means contentment, is a form of self-discipline. In other words, happiness is a skill and practice. Happier people do not have easier lives, with less hard work, grief, divorce, or financial strain than the rest of us. They’re simply more grateful for what they have and choose to be conscious of their contentment more often.” – Rebecca Pacheco


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are a also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Gobec, S., & Travis, F. (2018). Effects of Maharishi Yoga Asanas on Mood States, Happiness, and Experiences during Meditation. International Journal of Yoga, 11(1), 66–71.




Many studies showed positive effects of Yoga Asanas. There is no study on Maharishi Yoga Asanas yet. This research replicated and expanded observed improvements on the profile of mood states (POMS) as a result of 2-week Maharishi Yoga Asanas course. Thirteen college students taking part in a 4-week course on Maharishi Yoga Asanas were matched with 13 students taking other courses at the university.

Aims and Objective:

The main objective of the study was to assess the effects of Maharishi Yoga Asanas on mood states, degree of happiness, and experiences in Transcendental Meditation (TM) practice.


All students were given two psychological tests and additional question before and after their 4-


Repeated measure MANOVA showed the 4-week Maharishi Yoga Asanas course resulted in significant increase in happiness during the day and significant improvements in (1) sense of personal self, (2) transpersonal qualities, and (3) transpersonal self during their TM practice.


This research shows that Maharishi Yoga Asanas affect more than body and mind. Rather they influence much deeper levels of one’s subjectivity including one’s transpersonal self.

Improve Psychological Well-Being Regardless of Income with Mindfulness

Improve Psychological Well-Being Regardless of Income with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Contrary to what most of us believe, once we have enough to meet our basic needs, a higher income may not significantly increase our wellbeing and may even have a negative effect in some cases!” – University of Minnesotta


Income is only weakly related to happiness, satisfaction with life, and psychological well-being. Indeed, studies of happiness have shown that people with very low incomes are generally unhappy. Surprising, those who are quite rich tend to be generally unhappy. It’s the people in the middle, with sufficient, but not excessive income, who are generally the happiest. A surprising fact in this regard is that people who have won large amounts of money in the lottery afterward are much less happy than before.


In the U.S. as individual incomes rose over decades the percent of people considering themselves very happy fell and depression rose. Indeed, higher incomes are associated with higher levels of stress, increased likelihood of divorce, and less enjoyment of small activities. It is possible that a higher income may mean more work, less leisure time, and fewer strong social connections. In other words, the benefits of having more money might be offset by the sacrifices people are making in other aspects of wellbeing.


Mindfulness has been found to be associated with happiness and well-being. It is possible that mindfulness may affect the relationship between income and happiness, satisfaction with life, and psychological well-being. In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness as a Moderator in the Relation Between Income and Psychological Well-Being.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: ), Sugiura and colleagues recruited adult participants (aged 20 to 59 years) on-line and measured their income levels, mindfulness, satisfaction with life, and psychological well-being, including subscales for self-acceptance, environmental mastery, positive relations with others, personal growth, purpose in life, and autonomy.


They found, similar to previous research, that income had a significant but very small positive relationship with satisfaction with life and psychological well-being. Interestingly, income was also significantly positively related to the mindfulness facet of non-reacting and negatively with the observing facet. They found further that the association of income with psychological well-being with life was moderated by the non-judging and describing facets of mindfulness such that when these facets were high psychological well-being was high irrespective of income but when they were low income had a strong positive association with psychological well-being.


These results are correlational so caution must be exercised in reaching conclusions. But, the results are interesting and suggest that the amount of money that the individual makes only effects their psychological state when mindfulness is low. When mindfulness is high, psychological well-being is high no matter their financial state. Hence, maintaining high levels of mindfulness may be a key to happiness and well-being


So, improve psychological well-being regardless of income with Mindfulness.


“As much as income and well-being may be connected, it’s important not to give that link too much weight. How you live your live, the values you live by, the pleasures you take in the small moments of your life, your connections to the people important to you and your general outlook all have as much and likely more of an impact on your individual happiness.” – Christy Matta


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Sugiura, Y., & Sugiura, T. (2018). Mindfulness as a Moderator in the Relation Between Income and Psychological Well-Being. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 1477.



The relation between income and life satisfaction has been found to be weak, albeit positive (r = 0.10–0.20). This study introduced psychological well-being (PWB) as a dependent variable predicted by income in addition to life satisfaction. Furthermore, individual differences might determine the strength of this relation, that is, act as moderators. Thus, this study introduced mindfulness as one such possible moderator. Participants (N = 800, 50% women, aged 20–59 years) completed an Internet questionnaire. Of them, 734 reported income and were included in the analyses. Income had weak, yet positive, zero-order correlations with life satisfaction and PWB (r = 0.13 and 0.11). Hierarchical regression controlling for demographics indicated that the relation between income and PWB was moderated by mindfulness facets. Specifically, among those low in not judging or describing of experiences, PWB was positively related to income. On the other hand, those high in these mindfulness dimensions indicated higher PWB irrespective of income.


Improve Psychological Well-Being with EcoMeditation

Improve Psychological Well-Being with EcoMeditation


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Eco Meditation ,. . .is a powerful meditation, a synergy of multiple techniques, doing certain physiological moves to help you get into a deep delta meditative state, the same as a meditative master, and in only 90 seconds. You can do this meditation any time of the day, and cumulative benefits accrue with long-term use.” – Inspire Nation


Meditation training has been shown to improve health and well-being. It has also been found to be effective for a large array of medical and psychiatric conditions, either stand-alone or in combination with more traditional therapies. As a result, meditation training has been called the third wave of therapies. One problem with understanding meditation effects is that meditation is not a specific practice but rather a category encompassing a wide array of practices. It is not known which work best for the health and well-being of the practitioners and for improving different conditions.


In today’s Research News article “The Interrelated Physiological and Psychological Effects of EcoMeditation.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: ), Groesbeck and colleagues study the effects of a relatively new, less commonly practiced, technique called Eco-Meditation. As described by the authors, EcoMeditation “focuses on physiological cues. . . it has participants mimic the physiological state of an experienced practitioner. Participants mechanically assume breathing patterns and body postures that are characteristic of long-time meditators. EcoMeditation combines elements of 4 evidence-based techniques: the Quick Coherence Technique, Clinical Emotional Freedom Techniques, mindfulness meditation, and neurofeedback.


In an uncontrolled pilot study, they recruited participants who were attending a weekend meditation workshop at a residential conference center where they practiced EcoMeditation. Before and after the workshop and 2 months later, the participants were measured for anxiety, depression, happiness, pain, Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), resting blood pressure, heart rate, heart rate variability, heart coherence, and Salivary immunoglobulin A and cortisol levels as physiological markers of stress.


They found that in comparison to the levels prior to the workshop, afterward there were significant decreases in anxiety, depression, pain, resting heart rate, salivary cortisol levels, and a significantly increase in happiness. Unfortunately, none of these effects were still present 2 months later. Hence, after participating in the workshop but not 2 months later the participants reported improved psychological well-being and less stress.


This is an uncontrolled pilot study and no firm conclusions can be made. Without a control group there are many sources of confounding present and many alternative explanations for the results. But, the results were interesting and provide support for a more controlled study.


So, improve psychological well-being with EcoMeditation.


“In meditation, you’re seeking a state, like peace of mind, not an outcome. The rest of your life is about doing; meditation is about being.” – Anne Siret


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Groesbeck, G., Bach, D., Stapleton, P., Blickheuser, K., Church, D., & Sims, R. (2018). The Interrelated Physiological and Psychological Effects of EcoMeditation. Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine, 23, 2515690X18759626.



This study investigated changes in psychological and physiological markers during a weekend meditation workshop (N = 34). Psychological symptoms of anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and happiness were assessed. Physiological markers included cortisol, salivary immunoglobulin A (SigA), heart rate variability (HRV), blood pressure (BP), and resting heart rate (RHR). On posttest, significant reductions were found in cortisol (−29%, P < .0001), RHR (−5%, P = .0281), and pain (−43%, P = .0022). Happiness increased significantly (+11%, P = .0159) while the increase in SigA was nonsignificant (+27%, P = .6964). Anxiety, depression, and PTSD all declined (−26%, P = .0159; −32%, P = .0197; −18%, P = .1533), though changes in PTSD did not reach statistical significance. No changes were found in BP, HRV, and heart coherence. Participants were assessed for psychological symptoms at 3-month follow-up, but the results were nonsignificant due to inadequate sample size (n = 17). EcoMeditation shows promise as a stress-reduction method.

Positive Mindfulness

Positive Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“It is possible to live happily in the here and the now. So many conditions of happiness are available – more than enough for you to be happy right now. You don’t have to run into the future in order to get more.” –  Thich Nhat Hanh
Much of the tone of Buddhist teachings was established with the Four Noble Truths; there is suffering, there are causes of suffering, suffering can be relieved, and there is a path to the end of suffering. This focuses us on suffering, the negative side of existence. Without a doubt, these Four Noble Truths are correct and following them is a means to end suffering, become happy, and become enlightened. But, the negative tone has permeated much of the practice. The focus on the unpleasant has made the practice seem to be a chore, a necessary chore, but, nevertheless a chore. The unpleasantness prompts escape into mind wandering.


But, this tone can be completely altered without altering the truth of the teachings. The Four Noble Truths can be simply restated in the positive; there is happiness, there are causes of happiness, happiness can be increased, and there is a path to endless happiness. This simple rejiggering of the teaching makes a tremendous difference. It focuses the practice on happiness, making it a pleasant endeavor that can be enjoyed, relished, pleasurable, and looked forward to. It changes the practice from a chore to a joyful endeavor.


The science of Psychology has long established that all creatures, and especially humans, respond best to the positive. Negatives produce distaste and avoidance behaviors. On the other hand, if someone receives a positive reward for doing something they are not only more likely to do it again, but they will also feel good about it. So, changing the Four Noble Truths into the positive, can make practice not only an enjoyable experience, but more likely to occur.


This does not suggest that we should pursue happiness as is done in the modern western world. In this paradigm, happiness is pursued by consumption and accomplishment. When we buy something new, say a designer watch, it makes us happy. But, this happiness, like everything is impermanent, it fades and the watch no longer makes us happy. So, now we pursue something else, perhaps a new car. After working hard and saving, we go out a buy a brand new luxury car. This brings us happiness. But, just like the happiness from buying the watch, it fades and eventually the car no longer makes us happy. In fact, the monthly payments may make it a source of suffering.


In the modern world happiness is also pursued by accomplishment. We go through a prolonged education to acquire a degree. Upon graduation, we feel very happy, but this too fades. So we think that when we get a good job, then we’ll be happy, and indeed when we obtain it we do feel very good and happy for a while, but unfortunately, that too fades. So, we look for a promotion or a new job to make us happy, and again it does but only temporarily. This whole cycle is termed by Psychologists as the “hedonic treadmill.” We keep pursuing things because they temporarily make us happy but each happiness is impermanent and we get back on the treadmill looking for the next thing that will make us happy, on and on and on. Instead of happiness it brings disappointment and suffering.


Perhaps there’s a better way, and that is pursuing happiness in our practice. We look carefully and mindfully at what actually produces more lasting happiness. This can begin very simply. When you feel happy, even for a brief moment, simply look at it carefully and reflect on exactly how you feel, what are the sensations you experience in your body. This practice can make you more sensitive to happiness and more aware when happiness actually arises. Also, reflect on what led up to this happiness. This can help to make it clearer what the roots of happiness are to you and perhaps how to produce it in the future.


This simple practice of meditating on the state and causes of your happiness will slowly begin to expand the frequency, duration, and depth of the happiness you experience. This can begin to interrupt and push suffering away. There’s a process in psychological practice called counter conditioning. In this process, you eliminate an unwanted state or behavior, not by stopping it, but by replacing it with a positive state or behavior. This is very effective. So, as you expand happiness you are in fact counter conditioning suffering and replacing it with happiness. This suggests that there’s no need to focus on the elimination of suffering. In fact, trying to eliminate it often amplifies it or becomes itself a suffering. In contrast, focusing on happiness, eliminates it in a joyful way, overwhelming the gloom with sunshine.


During mindfulness practice it’s good to keep in mind Thich Nhat Hahn’s instruction to start by putting a smile on your face. Even if it’s a bit forced, it still somehow makes you feel happier. It’s also a reminder to look for good feelings and happiness during the practice. I like to focus while meditating on what and where something feels good on my body, maybe a subtle tingling sensation in a foot or an obvious cool breeze striking the face. I meditate on how beautiful it is to just be alive and sitting quietly. I listen closely to the symphony of sounds, some even internally in my head, and wonder at the miracle of hearing and the beauty of the sounds themselves. In hearing you own internal voice you can laugh at its inane content, bring joy rather than frustration at not being able to quiet the voice. What actually is looked at doesn’t matter so much but that the habit be built of seeing the goodness, the aliveness, the joy, and the happiness that is right there, all the time while doing something as simple and mundane as meditating.


This may seem contrary to the instruction of focused meditation to pay attention to only one thing and become single pointed. But, you’ll find that when you focus on the good, it becomes easier to concentrate and you become better at single pointedness. It is transformed from a frustrating chore to a source of joy. This not only enhances meditation but also makes it more likely that you’ll meditate in the future and look forward to it. Positive practice might also seem contrary to the instruction of open monitoring meditation let go of trying to control experience but to allow everything to just arise and fall away on its own, while just noticing. Looking for the positive may seem to be controlling. But, as it turns out, positive practice leads to better open monitoring as you learn to experience the joy and happiness in what is spontaneously occurring around you. It becomes easier to continue observing and lessens the mind wandering.


Meditation is only a platform to practice skills to apply to everyday life. Happiness can be found while doing everyday things. I like to look for good feelings and happiness no matter where I am, what I’m doing, or the conditions around me. I sometimes swim laps in a pool. This can be excruciatingly boring. But, I focus on how good my body feels in the water, the exquisite feelings of the internal sensations of energy in each part of my body, and the miracle of body in motion and the automatic unconscious movements controlling it. This changes what could be experienced as a chore to a joyous, mindful, and pleasurable experience.


You can do something similar almost anywhere, perhaps driving a car. Looking at traffic and noticing how well people work together to produce a safe environment, or accommodate someone who is driving not so safely, can produces a loving smile. When stopped at a traffic light, looking around and at the sky, looking for and finding the beauty and wonder all around can transform impatience to happiness. While driving remembering and seeing the joy experienced when you first got behind the wheel and drove as a teenager. Again, what exactly you do is unimportant. Rather the practice is to see the happiness everywhere around you all of the time.


We need to accept that this will be an ongoing process. As Thich Nhat Hahn reflected “When I was a young monk, I wondered why the Buddha kept practicing mindfulness and meditation even after he had already become a buddha. Now I find the answer is plain enough to see. Happiness is impermanent, like everything else. In order for happiness to be extended and renewed, you have to learn how to feed your happiness. Nothing can survive without food, including happiness; your happiness can die if you don’t know how to nourish it.” This makes it clear that we should continually renew and reinforce the state of happiness.


Happiness is self-reinforcing. The more you find it the more it promotes more happiness. It slowly builds upon itself, generalizing to other similar activities and circumstances producing an upward spiral of good feelings. You’ll find that slowly happiness begins to fill more and more of your day displacing more and more of the suffering. This is an automatic byproduct of positive practice which can completely change your view and experience of existence. Life become transformed from constant suffering to constant happiness. Try it. You’ll like it.


“Mindfulness helps you go home to the present. And every time you go there and recognize a condition of happiness that you have, happiness comes.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are a also available on Google+

Happiness is Just a Spin Away


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


 “We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.” – Frederick Keonig


We were recently driving through Louisiana and passed a billboard advertising a casino with the headline “Happiness is just a spin away.” For the gambler, this is the lure. Each win is a rush of happiness. Unfortunately, it’s short-lived. The next burst of happiness is now right in front of the gambler if they just continue spinning. From a psychological standpoint this is a perfect example of the power of intermittent reinforcement. When a reward is contingent upon an action, in this case pulling the lever on a slot machine, but the dispensing of the reward is not predictable, with the number of pulls needed to produce the reward not predictable, it produces a very potent form of conditioning. It is why gambling is so addictive. The brief rush of a win strongly conditions the lever pulling to get the next rush.


I was struck by how well the sign, “Happiness is just a spin away,” captured the western ideas of happiness and how to obtain it. It is a perpetual cycle of reward producing brief happiness followed by the loss of happiness followed by more action to produce another brief happiness. This is what psychologists term the hedonic treadmill. On the face of it, it sounds silly. We would never do that. But, if we look honestly and carefully at our lives we will see that most of it is spent on the hedonic treadmill. We work to purchase a new car and get a rush of happiness, but after a while it fades. So, we pursue a new love interest, and get a rush of happiness, but after a while it fades. So we work to purchase a new home and get a rush of happiness, but after a while it fades. So, we look for a new job and get a rush of happiness, but after a while it fades. And on and on it goes, on the treadmill, pursuing the ephemeral happiness that we can never seem to be able to keep a hold of. So, we spin the wheel again.


Humans consider themselves smart people. But, it never seems to occur to most people that there may be something wrong with their idea of how to obtain happiness. After spending the majority of our lives failing to obtain the lasting happiness that we seek, you’d think that we’d catch on that what we’re doing isn’t working, hasn’t ever worked, and there’s no reason to believe that it ever will work. But working against that recognition is a society and a culture that is determined to keep us on the hedonic treadmill. The western consumer culture requires that we keep seeking happiness in things. If we didn’t, the economy might collapse. It is virtually impossible to escape the advertising messages that pervade our everyday lives. Each holds out the promise of happiness if we just use this toothpaste, take this drug, drive this car, see this movie, go to this concert, buy this gadget, etc. The barrage of messages is all geared to keeping us on the treadmill. If there is a crack, a glimmer of vision that something might be wrong, the messaging distracts us by bombarding us with the idea that “happiness is just a spin away.”


So, what are we to do? Give up the search for happiness? No, that is a waste of time. We are born with a biological program to seek happiness and to deny it is to fight against our biological nature. So, trying to not seek happiness is as futile as to pursue it on the hedonic treadmill. Fortunately, there is an answer. One so simple, that few see it. It’s right in front of us hidden in our delusions of what makes us happy. It is so simple that we can’t believe that that could be the answer. It is so contrary to the cultural messaging that we can’t trust that it could work even if we saw it. It’s simply to accept what is, enjoy what we have, and be in the present moment.


If we adopt the belief that happiness is right here, right now, if we only allow ourselves to accept it, then we will begin to look at our existence differently. We don’t need to search somewhere else. We don’t need to wait to another time. All we need to do is look closely, without judgment at our present experience. We have become so used to it that we can no longer see it. But, what is here in the present moment is actually wondrous and miraculous. Each breath is a miracle. The energy and life just bubbling in and through our bodies is amazing. How can we not be happy when we realize the mystery of our existence and what a gift this precious moment is. We’ve experienced so many similar moments, are so accustomed to them, that it’s difficult to break through and see the wonder in each one. But, just concentrate, if only occasionally, on fully experiencing what is transpiring right now. It just might change your life.


Just take a look around. Listen to the bird chirp and wonder at the experience of hearing and the sheer beauty of the singing. Look at the tree where the bird is perched and enjoy its uniqueness. There has never been and never will be one just like it. See its beautiful nuanced colors from the myriad shades of brown of the bark to the shimmering green of its leaves in the sunlight. Look at its roots and be amazed by its stability and strength, at their ability to remove nutrients and water from the ground and move them a 100 feet into the air. Look at its leaves wonder at their ability to use the sun’s energy to create complex molecules and energy from the nutrients. Now look at the person standing under the tree and witness their uniqueness. Marvel at their ability to simply stand or walk and what an amazing feat of balance, dexterity, coordination, and strength it is. Look in their eyes and realize the consciousness that is looking through them and seeing you. Observe their happiness, sadness, joy, fear, etc. and recognize how much just like you they are. Relish the fact that you are not alone. This could go on and on. There is so much right in front of you in this present moment to keep you entertained and awed for days on end.


The ultimate reward for making the effort to deeply experience the present moment is the happiness which will grow. Not the ephemeral happiness or the momentary highs of the hedonic treadmill, but an enduring, satisfying, mellow happiness that can be re-invoked at will. Happiness is not “a spin away.” It is always present and accessible in the present. So, get off the treadmill and discover the happiness that has always been present inside you. You only need to stop the seeking elsewhere and just be in the present. Happiness is not somewhere else at some other time. It is here all of the time for the picking. You just have to stop waiting for the results of the “spin” and simply enjoy “spinning.”


“There is only one cause of unhappiness: the false beliefs you have in your head, beliefs so widespread, so commonly held, that it never occurs to you to question them.” – Anthony de Mello


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are  also available on Google+

What’s Missing from the Present Moment


The mind is never satisfied with the objects immediately before it, but is always breaking away from the present moment, and losing itself in schemes of future felicity… The natural flights of the human mind are not from pleasure to pleasure, but from hope to hope. – Samuel Johnson


One of the central tenets of Buddhism is that life is characterized by dukkha, which is usually translated as suffering. But, I prefer the less colorful translation as unsatisfactoriness. We in general constantly find ourselves and our lives to be unsatisfactory. It would appear to be a human characteristic to be constantly striving for something better. This can be a good thing as it’s been a driving force behind the development of agriculture, science, medicine, and engineering which has allowed us to improve our physical well-being. But, it has left us with intense feelings of unsatisfactoriness, dukkha.


This constant striving for something better results in seeing whatever is currently happening as flawed and needing improvement. Hence, we critically evaluate the present and find it unsatisfactory, not quite up to what it could be. As a result we impatiently wait for whatever is going on now to end so we can move on to the next thing. Unfortunately, when we get there, that too is seen as flawed and unsatisfactory and we again look forward to the next thing. But, that too is unsatisfactory. So we eagerly anticipate the next thing which of course is also found to be unsatisfactory, etc. etc. etc.


So we never enjoy anything for simply what it is. We are constantly looking for something better in the future, which of course it never is. So we move through life never happy, never appreciating all the beauty, wonder, and happiness that is present right now. What a sad treadmill! Constantly striving but never attaining the elusive perfect experience. A bit of thought quickly leads to the conclusion that the problem is that we never simply immerse ourselves in what is present. We’re always looking forward to something better resulting in us never truly enjoying what is.


When you’re on this treadmill and looking forward to a better future that never comes, break out of it by thinking “what exactly is missing from this very moment?” Examine what is actually present right here, right now, not in relation to the past or the future, but simply as it is right now. Is there anything that is actually missing? If you look deeply you’ll begin to see that nothing is missing. The present moment is complete and wonderful. Everything is perfect just as it is.


This takes some practice as our minds constantly want to find flaws and find ways to improve things. Don’t think about what might make it better. That involves memories of the past and expectations for the future. Simply, focus on what is. Look at what you’re experiencing. Listen deeply to the sounds that are present. The gnawing sound of the motorized lawn tools that is breaking up your peace is actually quite fascinating if you listen carefully. What a miracle it is that you experience it. Somehow you can sense which direction it’s coming from and how far away it is. How do you do that? What a wonder. Look carefully at what it is about it that makes you cringe and want it to go away. Realize that this unique sound will never be present again exactly as it is right now. How amazing is that? Here’s a one of a kind completely unique experience right here in your present moment.


Look at the intricacies and beauty available in the simplest things around you. Appreciate the incredible ability of the fly to soar through the air. Slowly you’ll begin to appreciate its completeness and its perfection. Look what is right in front of you. It may not be picturesque, perhaps a parking lot. But revel in the colors and forms that are witnessed. Appreciate the miracle of seeing. We take it so for granted. So, look at it deeply. What a wonder it is. What a delight!


Now let the greatest wonder of the present moment come front and center. Look at what is looking. Observe not just what’s being seen, but observe what’s seeing, what’s listening, what’s feeling, what’s knowing. What you’re observing is completely incomprehensible to science. It is one of the greatest mysteries in the universe, human consciousness, and you can view it right now within yourself. It’s only available in the present moment, but it’s truly one of the greatest wonders of all.


What could possibly be missing from this incredible moment? If you simply look at it deeply, honestly, without recourse to the past and future, you’ll find that it is absolutely complete and perfect as it is. You need not look to something else for happiness it’s right here, right now, in the miracle of existence, that’s always there in every moment.


Always say ‘yes’ to the present moment… Surrender to what is. Say ‘yes’ to life – and see how life starts suddenly to start working for you rather than against you”Eckhart Tolle


The power for creating a better future is contained in the present moment: You create a good future by creating a good present.” – Eckhart Tolle


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Be Mindful of the “Shoulds” and “Coulds”



Humans torment themselves with “shoulds” and “coulds”. “Things should be this way.” “I could have made a different choice.” “He could have done this for her.” “She shouldn’t have said that.” “I should work harder.” My son should call home more often.” “I shouldn’t have done that.” “I should plan more for the future.” “I could go to church more often.” “I should be doing better,” etc. The list could go on endlessly.

All of these “shoulds” and “coulds” do nothing to change anything except for our happiness. They produce regrets, dismay, and dislike of ourselves and others. Since “should” and “could” imply that we are not acting or feeling as we might, it suggests that we are flawed. This then becomes the source for low self-esteem. Since “should” implies that others aren’t as good as we’d like or expect them to be, it suggests they are unworthy. This then becomes the source for gossip, putting others down, and dislike.

Every time that we say “should” or “could” it is a blatant admission that we’re unhappy with ourselves, things, or others as they are. We want them to be different. The discrepancy between what is and what we want it to be makes us unhappy with the way they are. This is the very essence of suffering. How can one be happy if thing are not right, if they “should” or “could” be different.

The secret to happiness is learning to accept things as they are. This doesn’t mean that we like or endorse what is, we simply accept it as reality. We can see all of the suffering and injustice in the world, not like it, and prefer that it wasn’t there, but recognizing that this is the way it is. This then suggests that the key to our happiness is learning to accept the world, ourselves, and others just as they are.

How can we do this? Mindfulness practice is a key to accepting things as they are. It helps us focus on the present moment. “Shoulds” and “coulds” revolve around the past. Being in the now there can be no “should” or “coulds”. There is only what is at the moment.

If we pay careful attention to the present moment we can begin to see that nothing is lacking. Everything that is needed right now is completely present. There is wonder and beauty in what is present in front of us. Happiness can become a simple constant state. It’s not an ecstasy or a high, but an enduring state of joy. If we can open our eyes without “should” or “could” it is more than possible, it is inevitable.

Unfortunately, there always seems to be this inner voice reminding us of what “should” or “could” be or have been. It is hard to be happy when we’re being constantly reminded by ourselves that things would be better if they were different. To find that happiness that is always there inside us, we need to quiet that voice or recognize that it is only a thought and let it go. This is where practice comes in. We must work at it. We have too long a history of busy minds and listening to the inner voice. It will take a while to learn a different way.

Stick with the practice. Be persistent. It will slowly begin to quite the mind. We will gradually learn to recognize that the inner voice is only a thought produced by a deluded mind and learn to ignore it, just let it pass through like a piece of dust in the wind. Remember, that if we’re willing to invest this time and effort we can indeed find the peace and happiness that is always present right here and right now.

So, practice and learn to find joy in things as they are.

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

Rediscovering Happiness

Basic human nature is to seek happiness. It is natural and programmed into our DNA. Many of us, however, find happiness to be very elusive. We have trouble finding it and even when we do, we don’t seem able to sustain it. How can we attain a state of enduring happiness?

In order to attain true and lasting happiness it is imperative to recognize that our core, natural, state is happiness. If we look back to infancy this becomes apparent. If an infant’s basic needs are satisfied it is happy. All it takes is a full belly and a clean diaper. It smiles and gleefully interacts with its environment. A young child’s play is an exemplar of pure joy. So, as long as our basic needs are satisfied we should be happy.

Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to work this way. Most adults pretty much have their basic needs satisfied, but they are not particularly happy. They occasionally discover happiness when something wonderful happens or when they acquire some highly desired thing, but the happiness fades quickly and they’re left unsatisfied and unhappy.

A key that may reveal the nature of the problem may be found in the expression “finding happiness.” It implies that we have to go look for it somewhere, with something, or with someone. If we have to search for it, then it can’t be present already. So we look in the external world and are quite frustrated that lasting happiness is never found.

If we were happy as a child we might ask ourselves how did we lose it? It was there but now it’s gone. Well, the truth is that it’s not gone, it’s not lost, it’s still there. But, if it’s still there why don’t we feel happy. What’s preventing us from seeing and experiencing the happiness that is always there in the core of our being?

Again look back at the infant. The baby is basically totally in the present moment, the past and future are not an issue. The child at play is completely immersed in the moment, not thinking about anything but what’s there right now.

If we look carefully, we’ll see that our current experience is actually dominated by the past and the future. It is that orientation that prevents us from being happy. We ruminate about the past and review it constantly or we project into the future and become anxious or fearful or worried. We seek happiness in the future by pursuing something that will happen later. In other words, we completely lose sight of the fact that the only time you can be happy is right now!

All of this leads to the conclusion that to find happiness we need to focus single mindedly on the present moment. It is there right here, right now if we just open our minds to it and put away thoughts of the past and future. Our minds find this very difficult to do. That’s where mindfulness training comes in. It is the best method to remove our mind from interfering with the happiness that is already there.

By practicing mindfulness we will learn to quite the mind and observe the present moment only. This takes time and devotion, but slowly the core of happiness will begin to emerge. Slowly you will begin to not just see but experience that happiness that is always there. Mindfulness practice removes the mental obstacles to happiness and unlocks your basic nature where there is always happiness. It is not in a person place or thing. It’s right there within you once you learn how to uncover it.

So practice mindfulness and rediscover the happiness that was always there.