General Vivek Murthy, the US Surgeon General says that there is one factor that leads to health and success in life – happiness. He defines happiness not as hedonistic pleasure, but as emotional well-being that comes from fulfillment, social connection and love. He says that “happiness is protective,” and reduces our risk of illness and death from illness if we do become sick. Further, our happiness is not due to external factors in life, but from our own internal response to life events and circumstances. Scientific research shows that this state of emotional well-being can be cultivated by practicing gratitude, kindness, exercise, meditation and social connection. These simple practices lead to a healthier and stronger world.
The Buddha taught these very same principles 2,000 years ago. Our own well-being and ease arises from how we respond to the ups and downs of life. He taught gratitude as one of the paramis – a “perfection” of the heart. Kindness is considered to be at the pinnacle of human development. Meditation teaches us to work with our minds. Community is a sanctuary and refuge in this life.
These days you can find mindfulness in many settings such as the workplace or a hospital with no mention of the Buddha who was the original teacher of mindfulness. In large part this is because research has shown the effectiveness of meditation. Yet many of us still don’t understand what is meant by mindfulness meditation and we feel that we can’t do it because of some perceived fault such as impatience. Mindfulness meditation is not about coming to a kind of blank thoughtless state – in actuality, it is not about coming into any particular state at all. Mindfulness meditation is way of observing and experiencing moment by moment whatever is arising. Mindfulness meditation allows us to practice non-contentiousness with everything that arises during the meditation including impatience, grief or peace. We practice not judging whatever comes and cultivate the habit of non – reactivity. When the mind is clear and free then wisdom and intuition arise naturally. The capacity to respond rather than react to whatever we may meet in daily life grows through practicing doing this while meditating. We create more peace and less suffering. We learn, as General Murthy says, our well-being is not due to external circumstance, but to our response. Meditation gives us a chance to practice responding with wisdom.
The Buddha taught community as a refuge in this life and recommended that we surround ourselves with others that are committed to waking up. Research shows that we are deeply influenced by the people around us, our community. In the same vein, General Murthy also recommends social connection for happiness.