Why Meditation Can Actually Make You A Happier Person, According To Science
I used to be so, so resistant toward meditation. Honestly, I would have rather gotten a root canal done than sit in silence for an extended period of time, alone with my thoughts. *Shudders*. Flash forward a few years, and meditation is one of the few things that keeps me sane. If you've ever experienced the healing powers of mindfulness yourself, you can probably attest to the fact that just a bit of meditation makes you happy, when practiced consistently.
Meditation has been defined in many ways by many people, but when it comes down to it, the practice simply involves turning inwards and being able to observe all of your thoughts and bodily sensations, without judgment.
Engaging in a daily meditation practice, whether it be for a quick five minutes in the morning or a lengthier hour in the evening, does incredible things for the human mind, such as relieving built up anxiety, quieting mental chatter, improving focus, and increasing self-esteem and feelings of confidence.
The benefits of mindfulness are becoming more and more widely realized and appreciated.
To understand how including meditation into your daily routine can truly affect your happiness and joy towards life it helps to understand a psychological phenomenon called your "happiness set point."
According to the American Psychological Association, in 1978, a team of psychologists from Northwestern University and the University of Massachusetts published a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that revealed that lottery winners actually weren't all that much happier than hospital patients suffering from spinal cord injuries.
If you're like, OK what the actual f*ck, that right there is some BS, allow the "happiness set point" theory to enlighten you. The scientists discovered that the amount of happiness you have within you is based on genetics. Happier people naturally have more activity in the front portion of the brain. So, even when unfortunate, stressful, or life altering events happen, their brain chemistry will shift back toward their innately joyful nature within a few months.
Meditation can actually help rewire your brain.
According to Psychology Today, meditation is the strongest mental practice that has the power to reset your happiness set point, thus turning you into a more joyful person and literally rewiring major areas in your brain.
Neuroscientist Sara Lazar's studies show that maintaining a consistent meditation practice leads to a thickening in a few major areas of the brain, which in turn increases your ability to cope with uncomfortable and difficult situations and stressful occurrences that life throws at you. If, according to the happiness set point theory, you're naturally more predisposed to being overly worried or stressed out, meditating on the reg can quiet those overactive areas of your brain, and thicken the areas responsible for joy and pleasure.
According to MindBodyGreen, Lazar's studies also show that meditation shrinks the portion of your brain called the "amygdala." This is the section of your mind which controls fearfulness and anxiety, so the smaller that bad boy is, the happier you'll be as a whole.
Yet another study published by the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health tested 30 medical students to measure their cortisol levels before meditation. Cortisol is the hormone in your body responsible for stress, and too much of it can lead to sleep trouble, anxiety, and mood swings (AKA way less happiness, friends). Well, the study revealed that after just four days of mindful meditation, the students' cortisol levels decreased significantly. Just four days, people.
The bottom line is: Meditation has the power to instill a deep sense of calm and serenity in the innermost part of your being (and brain). With a daily practice, it doesn't even matter if you believe in the happiness set point or not. You'll be able to communicate better in your relationships, better cope with tricky curveballs life throws your way, and have a deeper sense of self-worth and understanding of your thoughts and tendencies.
Now that's a prescription for some major joyfulness right there. Happy meditating!