Scientists used to believe that people had a set happiness index. Some people were born with a disposition towards happiness while others were more prone to embracing misery. Time‘s article reported that “neither very good events nor very bad events seem to change people’s happiness much in the long term.” Studies indicate that most people “revert back to some kind of baseline happiness level within a couple years of even the most devastating events, like the death of a spouse or loss of limbs.” However, recent studies show that with practice, people can elevate their baseline happiness level. We now know that the brain continues to develop and is capable of change—known as neuroplasticity.
The good news is that these practices which elevate the baseline of happiness can be done in just a few minutes per day and doesn’t cost a dime. All that is needed to gain the benefits of these practices are: (1) a commitment and (2) regularly doing the practice.
Meditation Increases Happiness
There are many scientific studies that demonstrate the benefits of meditation. In one study, Compuware Corporation, a large business software and information technology services company in Detroit, Michigan, offered its employees six 60-minute group sessions over a seven-week period. The participants learned a form of meditation known as loving kindness. Loving kindness meditation is a “technique used to increase feelings of warmth and caring for self and others.” Participants were asked to meditate at least five times per week for 15-20 minutes.
In comparison to the control group:
Results showed that this meditation practice produced increases over time in daily experiences of positive emotions, which, in turn, produced increases in a wide range of personal resources (e.g., increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, decreased illness symptoms). In turn, these increments in personal resources predicted increased life satisfaction and reduced depressive symptoms.
How long you should meditate during each sitting to gain the benefits of meditation is up for debate. Shawn Achor suggests even two minutes per day over 21 days can make a difference. “In just a two-minute span of time done for 21 days in a row, we can actually rewire your brain, allowing your brain to actually work more optimistically and more successfully.”
Others, such as Jon Kabat-Zinn‘s popular Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), encourage participants to practice for 45 minutes per day.
My personal opinion is that it’s the consistency of the meditation practice that matters more than the duration. It’s similar to exercise. You can go to the gym and work out strenuously for two hours once a month and it’s unlikely to result in much gain. Regular exercise, even if it’s 10 or 20 minutes, is much more likely to get you in better physical shape.
I’ll share other tips for increasing happiness in future posts. In the meantime, try a short guided meditation. Practice it daily for 21-days and see for yourself if it has a positive impact on your life.
This article was first featured on Forbes.