By Conor Byrne
I read an article the other week about a psychology study that discovered that those individuals whose thoughts were mindful and engaged in their lives tended to be happier. Those whose thoughts floated away were less happy.
There is nothing terribly surprising about this finding. After all, mindfulness has been a pillar of most religions in one form or another for centuries and, in recent decades, has become a viable therapy within the realm of clinical psychology.
What I was left to marvel at was the fact that the study suggested that minds were wandering 47 percent of the time. Put another way, in walking across campus to classes, half of the people that we encounter are not totally “there.” Where do our minds go then? What occupies us so much?
I can only provide speculation, but I can’t help but feel that part of this wandering mind syndrome has to do with the fact that we are offered so many opportunities to escape our realities. I am living within my own body 24/7, and yet I’m pretty sure that I could avoid the depths of my soul for weeks at a time if I wanted to. I could easily spend the waking moments of my life immersed in work, connected to the countless applications of the Internet, engaged in a silly texting conversation or “plugged in” to the sounds of my iPod on a walk to class.
Similarly, it is becoming much easier to grow impatient with life when our service industry stresses “instant satisfaction guaranteed” and a late night Whopper is just a car ride away.
For lack of better phrasing, I believe we are over-stimulated and too dependent on the instant gratification of today’s standards. This results in the establishment of our own private worlds in which seeking the next satisfying experience and our own personal gains becomes most important.
When almost every tangible desire of our heart has an outlet that can satiate us and when every moment of boredom has an immediate solution, is there any incentive to explore our conscious thoughts or come to better terms with our being?
There will always be another feel good hit of the summer or outrageous celebrity figure that will be readily available to us through today’s media. These things may bring us some temporary entertainment, but at the point that they are the construction of our reality, we are substituting our inner essence for the products of the consumer society.
The study confirmed that a greater awareness of our present moment will result in happier lives. While this could be taken to mean that we will find happiness so long as we are engaged in any mind-occupying activity we desire, I believe this mindfulness speaks to a real contact with an acute awareness of the purpose of our actions.
To reengage ourselves with this possibility, there needs to be room made amongst the daily buzz of our lives for reflection on whom we are and where our lives are headed.
By no means do our lives need to be a passive, receptive process. We truly are the captains of our ships. We just need to further develop our capacities to see where our lives presently are and avoid settling for less. We can lose our minds constantly chasing the goods of this world, but it’s within our capacity to find so much more. The challenge is to step outside of comfortable living.
While this may be scary, or an effort, there is no life like the one that has been critically reviewed, questioned and challenged. I believe that is the real happiness that we often think we find in temporal pleasure.