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What can make you happier, increase your attention span and even make you more courageous?

 

Meditation.

I listed it as one of the 10 things should you do every day to improve your life. It can boost happiness.

Via Shawn Achor’s The Happiness Advantage:

Take just five minutes each day to watch your breath go in and out. While you do so, try to remain patient. If you find your mind drifting, just slowly bring it back to focus. Meditation takes practice, but it’s one of the most powerful happiness interventions. Studies show that in the minutes right after meditating, we experience feelings of calm and contentment, as well as heightened awareness and empathy. And, research even shows that regular meditation can permanently rewire the brain to raise levels of happiness, lower stress, even improve immune function.

Increase meaning in life and social support:

The authors tested this build hypothesis in a field experiment with working adults (n = 139), half of whom were randomly-assigned to begin a practice of loving-kindness meditation. 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.

Stretch your attention span:

This article shows that a group randomly assigned to 5 days of meditation practice with the integrative body–mind training method shows significantly better attention and control of stress than a similarly chosen control group given relaxation training. 

That same study showed improvements in anxiety, depression, anger, fatigue, and vigor:

Compared with the control group, the experimental group of 40 undergraduate Chinese students given 5 days of 20-min integrative training showed greater improvement in conflict scores on the Attention Network Test, lower anxiety, depression, anger, and fatigue, and higher vigor on the Profile of Mood States scale, a significant decrease in stress-related cortisol, and an increase in immunoreactivity.

In his book The Courage Quotient: How Science Can Make You Braver, Robert Biswas-Diener shows how we can use science and research to be more brave. Yoga, prayer, meditation — anything that helped people keep calm proves valuable:

Rather than trying to talk yourself out of fear, you can confront it head on by getting control of your heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension. Members of the Courage 50 frequently pointed to mental practices related to self-soothing. Some exercised or practiced yoga on a regular basis. Others meditated or prayed when they found themselves in fearful situations. Many of them had developed personal breathing rituals through which they could slow their heart rate and relax.

 

So how long is this going to take? 

Shawn Achor, Harvard happiness expert and author of The Happiness Advantage says improvements can be seen with as little as two minutes a day. 30 minutes a day for 8 weeks can rewire your brain for the better.

Via Daniel Coyle’s excellent book The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills:

A recent study at Massachusetts General Hospital showed that practicing meditation for twenty-seven minutes a day created lasting brain changes in… eight weeks.

 

So how do you do it?

The Mayo Clinic explains a number of different methods. Here is the simplest one:

Focus all attention on your breathing. Concentrate on feeling and listening as you inhale and exhale through your nostrils. Breathe deeply and slowly. When your attention wanders, gently return your focus to your breathing.

Keeping your attention on your breathing can be very tricky. Frankly, I am terrible at this but I do believe it produces results. Doesn’t hurt that there’s plenty of science and a few thousand years of various religions to back it up.

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Related posts: 

What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

Here are the things that are proven to make you happier

12 ways to eliminate stress

About Eric Barker