Scientific evidence suggests that positive emotions can help make life longer and healthier

“When I was five years old my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” – John Lennon

Happiness and its effect on longevity 

Happiness is something which we all seek in life. Although we may sometimes have deluded ideas about how we might obtain this happiness. So we chase money, crave new clothes, a new car, or a new relationship. It is of course true that these things can bring happiness, but real lasting happiness comes from within and from doing the things which really make you feel happy, not just the external experiences and objects which you think will make you happy.

Two psychologists, one from the University of Pennsylvania and one from the University of Michigan teamed up to study three different pathways to happiness. These are the categories which they came up with.

1. Hedonism – seeking pleasurable emotions and sensations from external sources.

2. Doing good – Searching for meaning outside of yourself, (as in Aristotle’s notion of eudemonia, which emphasised knowing your true self and acting in accordance with your virtues).

3. Engaging fully – pursuing activities which engage you fully. From the influential research by Michaly Csikszentmihalyi, who explored people’s satisfaction in their everyday activities. His research was carried out over a number of decades and found that people reported the greatest satisfaction when they were totally immersed in and concentrating on what they are doing. He called this the ‘flow’ state. Through testing hundreds of volunteers, each these three pathways listed above were found individually to contribute to facilitate authentic satisfaction in life. Meditation and Mindfulness come under the category of flow.

What is Flow?

So how do you know if you are experiencing the ‘Flow’ state? These are the key qualities of Flow.

  • You lose awareness of time
  • You aren’t thinking about yourself
  • You aren’t interrupted by extraneous thoughts (such as your shopping list, or whether or not to get your hair cut.)
  • You are active, flow activities aren’t passive, (such as watching television) and you have some control over what you are doing.
  • You work effortlessly, although you may be working hard, (because flow activities require effort), it seems to feel almost effortless.

It is a single minded immersion, your emotions are completely and only connected to your task. These qualities are all experienced in the practice of mindfulness, therefore mindfulness is a ‘flow’ activity.

“Happiness is the very opposite of selfishness. It involves conscious choice every second of every day. Much of my life has been spent either unhappy or in a kind of neutral state and now I realise that one can make a conscious decision to be happy. Happiness follows from a sense of living in harmony with oneself and with others, and turning one’s mind to the present and away from one’s own self-centred thoughts.”- Sir Anthony Seldon

Sir Anthony Seldon’s opinion that happiness is found in the present moment is echoed in the research carried out by Harvard graduate Mat Killingsworth. In 2009, Matt Killingsworth launched a research programme on the co-relation between mindfulness and happiness. His conclusion was that we are happier when are minds are not aimlessly wandering.

Mindfulness helps to develop a more focused state of mind which has been shown through science to bring us into a happier and more peaceful awareness. The very thing which the young John Lennon was told by his mother was the ‘key to life’.