What is Mindfulness and What it is Not.

Photo by John Baker on Unsplash

Mindfulness is a tool that has become exceedingly popular recently. Only a few years ago, the general public would not be familiar with the term. Today, it’s something we hear about all the time in a range of different contexts.

In some ways this is a good thing: mindfulness is a great tool to be aware of and it can be used to greatly improve your concentration, awareness and happiness. But at the same time, it’s also a bad thing: because it has been misappropriated in many instances and many people don’t actually really understand what it means anymore.

With that in mind, let’s take an in-depth look at what mindfulness is and what it isn’t – and how you can start using it to improve your life.

The Basics

Mindfulness is often used to describe a type of meditation. Specifically, ‘mindfulness meditation’ is a type of meditation that involves reflecting on the contents of your own mind and how they might be affecting you. Whereas the point of some forms of meditation – such as transcendental meditation – is to completely ‘empty’ your mind, the point of mindfulness is instead to simply detach yourself from your thoughts and become an observer. This way, you can prevent them from affecting you in the same way and you can also gain a greater understanding of the contents of your own thoughts.

Often this is described as ‘watching the thoughts go past like clouds.’ The idea is not to engage with them or let them affect you but simply to observe them and to later reflect on how they might impact on your happiness.

Uses

By doing this, mindfulness allows us to take some time out of our stressful day to remove ourselves from our thoughts and thereby get some rest and relaxation.

But it’s not really just about meditation. What mindfulness also means is being constantly aware of your own thoughts as you go throughout your day. Some people will tell you to be ‘mindful’ of your body, or ‘mindful’ of your environment. But really what you should be focussing on is just what you’re mindful of.

Next time you go out for a nice walk with family, or next time you do something else that you should be enjoying, just make a note of whether you’re really focussed on what you’re doing and whether you’re actively engaging in it… or is your mind elsewhere? Are you actually worrying about work? Or stressing about other things?

Mindfulness teaches us to be more aware of our thoughts as that way, we can decide that we’re not going to let them affect us and because that way we can then make the conscious effort to refocus and to decide to be happy.

Mindfulness is not mysticism or linked to religion. It’s not a cure-all therapeutic technique. All this is a tool and better yet, a state of mind. With practice, you can learn to be more in-tune with your own thoughts and that can change everything.

How to Use Mindfulness to be Happier

Mindfulness can mean a great many things depending on who you ask. Essentially this is a tool and like any tool, it can be used in numerous different ways.

Specifically, mindfulness can be used to change what we focus on and to change the way we think. Too often we don’t pay attention to what’s going on inside our mind and that makes us victims of our emotions. We can be in a beautiful place doing fun things with friends, only to find ourselves thinking about work and getting stressed – not actually enjoying the situation we’re in.

Likewise, we can have everything we could possibly want in life and not be happier. And it all comes down to what we choose to focus on.

This is why you can use mindfulness, among other things, as a brilliant tool for making yourself happier and more at ease with your life.

Gratitude

Sometimes this is referred to as a ‘gratitude attitude’. All that effectively means, is that you’re putting yourself in a state of mind where you’re focussing on the things you’re grateful for and you’re happy for. And one very easy way to do that is simply to take a time out at the end of each day to write down those things and to think about them.

Try and end every day by writing three things that you’re thankful for and reflecting on them. Where possible, try to make these different things each day and avoid repetition.

Sometimes these will be obvious things: like your health, like the people you love and like the fact that you have access to food. Focussing on the people you love in particular is a great way to be more grateful to people and this can end up actually improving your relationship with them.

But at the same time, you’re also going to think about those smaller silly things. Maybe you’re grateful for the delicious cereal you’ll have tomorrow? Maybe you’re grateful for the fact that there’s a new film coming out that you’re very excited about? These are all legitimate things!

Now try to carry this over into your daily life. Each time you think of something you don’t have, or that isn’t the way you want it, try to think as well about the things you’re grateful for and what you do have. Don’t have that big flat screen TV? Well just be grateful you have a computer that can watch pretty much any film you can dream of on demand.

Language

Likewise, you should try and think about language and the way you talk – which can have a big impact on your gratitude as well as on the way that other people think about you. For example, trying to stop complaining is something that is very worthwhile. The next time you find yourself saying anything negative, try and follow it up with a positive point that counteracts it. You’ll feel happier and people will think of you as a more positive person they want to be around!