Have you ever driven home and not remembered the trip? It’s not uncommon to have moments when our minds seem to be in another place. The scary part is that being on autopilot throughout the day can actually rob us from happiness -- and it could be dangerous as well. A study that tracked people’s moment-to-moment happiness and thoughts found that peoples' minds wander about 47 percent of the time. This means, about half of the time, we are not focused on what we are doing and our minds are thinking about something else. In addition, the study revealed people are substantially less happy when their minds are wandering.
So how can you stop your brain from wandering so much? Learn to be mindful. Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present and aware of where you are and what you are doing without judging or labeling your emotions. This does not come easily as we live in a world that favors busyness, promoting multitasking and constantly checking our emails. And when we do have down time, we often turn to our smart phones for some type of social media distraction. It takes practice to be mindful, but luckily we can incorporate it in easy ways each day. We can practice mindfulness daily by doing things like meditating, noticing our breathing, taking a moment to pause between tasks, and practicing being present in the moment.
Research has proven that not only will mindfulness help improve your happiness, it offers a large array of other health benefits from neurological, to mental, to physical health and well-being. Researchers from Boston University and Harvard Medical School discovered that the amygdala, the “fear center” in the brain, shrunk in participants after they had been practicing mindfulness meditation for just eight weeks. Additionally, several scientific studies have concluded that mindfulness improves attention span, memory and emotional regulation, allowing you to respond instead of react. Mindfulness also protects the aging brain, decreases stress and anxiety, improves perspective and quality of sleep, and has been shown to help with addiction control and smoking cessation. Mindfulness can even decrease the body’s inflammatory response and help fight infections. With all of these benefits, don’t you want to start being in the moment more than just 50 percent of the time?
Bottom-line: Being in the present moment is a key to lifelong happiness and improved health. By engaging in the present, you will be able to cope more effectively with the bad moments and draw even more enjoyment from the good ones.
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Written by: Kelsey Bird, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern
1. American Psychology Association
2. Psychosomatic Medicine
3. Cambridge University Press
4. The Harvard Gazette