If you’ve ever googled about meditation, you must’ve read how everybody seems to glorify it. You know, the usual “meditation is the key to happiness” and all that. But are the benefits of meditation backed up by science? Or is it just hyped? In this article, you’ll discover everything about how meditation makes you feel, and if it has a connection with happiness.
Meditation makes you happier. Various scientific studies continue to prove that meditation reduces stress, anxiety, and depression. Meditation increases your base happiness level, so you stay happier, 24×7. Although many of these benefits may not be immediate, they are certain if you are consistent in your practice.
But you’re a logical individual. You won’t (and shouldn’t) believe it just because some guy on the internet has bolded it. So, let’s take a look at some studies and logical answers to better understand how exactly meditation affects us and makes us happier human beings.
External things don’t make you happy (really)
Before we dive into how meditation can help you feel happier in your day-to-day life, it’s important to realize that we don’t gain any long-term happiness from external objects and accomplishments. This insight will help you see why meditation is so important.
You see, I used to dream about a particular car daily, and I wanted it more than anything. I’m talking about the one parked outside my house. Do I jump and scream out of happiness every time I drive it? Far from it. It’s a part of my daily routine now. I did feel a burst of happiness when I drove it for the first few times, but that was it. Now, I’m pretty much back to square one. It didn’t make me any happier than I was before.
And let me tell you, nobody is trying to impose pessimism on you. There’s an actual scientific theory called the hedonic treadmill. According to this theory, people tend to quickly fall back to a stable or base level of happiness regardless of huge good or bad incidents in their lives.
The theory also suggests that as you start to acquire increasing amounts of money and possessions, your desires and expectations also increase, resulting in no permanent gain in happiness. It means that after some time, you’ll fall back to your normal or base level of happiness whether your spouse dies, or you win a lottery. Really, lottery winners aren’t a lot different than hospital patients in terms of happiness.
Before you call BS on this, you might want to dig a bit deeper into the set-point theory of happiness to enlighten yourself. In short, it’s the same as the hedonic treadmill and states that we have a fixed set point or “an ‘average’ level of happiness around which our day-to-day and moment-to-moment happiness varies”. Taking a look at the paradox of hedonism will also be helpful. Feel free to click the links to read more about these topics.
So, now you might be wondering: How can I increase my base level happiness? Is there any way to escape this treadmill? Well, you’re in luck. That is exactly where meditation comes into the picture. It helps you increase your base level of happiness by resetting your set points.
The link between meditation and happiness
A study was conducted by B. L. Fredrickson and colleagues in 2008 to explore the relationship between meditation and happiness. In this research, about 1800 employees of a large software company were offered six group meditation sessions of 60 minutes each over seven weeks. They were taught a practice known as loving-kindness, which is a form of meditation in Buddhism.
It was found that the participants experienced an increased level of positive emotions in their daily lives because of this meditation practice. Follow-up tests showed that their average or base level of happiness had also increased. Not only that but they developed more empathy towards others’ emotions and became better at picking emotional cues as well.
The researchers state that “loving-kindness meditation is an intervention strategy that produces positive emotions in a way that outpaces the hedonic treadmill effect”.
According to Psychology Today, meditation is the best thing you can do to increase your base level of happiness. If your happiness level is increased, you’ll have a more positive outlook on life, and you will flow through life with a happier, calmer temperament.
So, now you know two major things. Firstly, external objects or achievements won’t make you happy in the long-term. And secondly, you’ve also found out that the regular practice of meditation gives you a permanent sense of contentment and happiness.
How about some more interesting studies? Let’s discover how meditation changes the structure of our brain to make our lives a whole lot better.
Growing happiness within yourself (literally)
There’s a part of our brain called the precuneus. This region seems to have a strong connection with subjective happiness, as was concluded in a study. Naturally, what it means is that if the precuneus is more active and larger, you’ll have a happier temperament.
Now, another study tells us that the regular practice of meditation rewires our brain and increases the size of its few major parts.
Can you guess what those parts include? Yes, the precuneus region. Good on you, Sherlock!
This increase in certain areas of our brain, in turn, helps us combat the challenging and stressful situations of life without becoming unhappy. Since meditation increases our average level of happiness, we’ll be more likely to deal with the difficulties and sorrows of life more calmly.
So, if you’re naturally very anxious or get stressed about little things, meditation will prove to be life-saving for you. It will quiet down those noisy and overactive areas of your brain, and encourage the growth of parts responsible for joy and contentment. You will have a positive outlook on life.
Even your peers and family members will notice a change in you, and then you can point them to this blog, so they can also learn about the science and practice of meditation 😉
How meditation makes you happy
Meditation not only increases the positive parts of the brain but even shrinks the negative ones. Here’s a study showing how mindfulness meditation reduces the size of a region of the brain called the amygdala. Amygdala is the “fight or flight” center of the brain. It is the section that controls anxiety and fearfulness. The larger its size, the more aggressive and fearful behavior you’ll show.
You may have also heard about cortisol – it is a stress hormone. Simply put, too much cortisol in your body, and you’ll be more stressed, have mood swings, anxiety, troubles falling asleep, and more – all of which are on the opposite side of happiness. A study conducted on 30 medical students concluded that the cortisol level of the participants decreased considerably after a four-day mindfulness program. You heard it right! only four days, people.
Still not convinced? Here’s more proof, O skeptical one:
A study done by Yale researchers reveals that the minds of experienced meditators daydream significantly less than ours. How is that connected to happiness? Generally, when your mind wanders, it doesn’t take you to happy places a lot, does it? We tend to worry about the past or the future. The less your mind wanders, the more you will be in the present moment – which means you’ll be more peaceful and happier.
Last but not the least, a study conducted at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine suggested that meditation is effective in treating the symptoms of anxiety and depression, much like antidepressant drugs. So, doing mindfulness meditation daily will help reduce depression as effectively as some medical drugs. Want peace and joy without any prescription? Meditate!
Also check out: Are Meditation and Prayer the Same?
I know, it can seem very daunting to try to sit silently all alone with your thoughts. Maybe you’ve tried it but gave up because your mind was too loud. It might tempt you to resort back to your old ways of dealing with life – codependent relationships, addictions, and whatnot. However, meditation gets better and more rewarding with time. I’m saying this with experience.
You also don’t have to sit for hours at a stretch; you can start small – very small if you want. Remember that with meditation, consistency is what ultimately matters. Meditating daily for just 10 minutes a day for 3 months will have a much more rewarding benefit than trying to sit for an hour at once and giving up the next day.
Meditation has the tremendous power to instill a profound sense of serenity and peace in your innermost being (and your brain). So, if you’re thinking about building a meditation practice, by all means, go for it. Give it a try, and see how you feel. Good luck.