Neuroscience is learning what Buddhism has known for ages: our happiness is determined by what’s going on inside our minds rather than any external factors.
Buddhists say that the key to a happy and content life is inner peace. New research in neuroscience is starting to agree and even suggests that adopting a few Buddhist habits can be beneficial in cultivating a happy life.
So I thought it would helpful to go through 5 common Buddhist habits and what the science says about each. Here we go:
1) Be generous
“Generosity is the most natural outward expression of an inner attitude of compassion and loving-kindness.” —The Dalai Lama XIV
Buddhism has always emphasized the practice dana, or giving. In fact, in Dighajanu Sutta, generosity is identified as one of the four traits conditioning happiness and wealth in the next life.
Science backs this up. Research shows that you’ll feel happier if you spend that money on someone else, instead of yourself.
A 2008 study gave 46 volunteers an envelope with money where half of the participants were instructed to give that money to someone else and the other half were told to spend it on themselves. Sure enough, those who spend their money on others felt higher levels of happiness.
2) Savor everyday moments
“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
This is of course a fundamental practice of Buddhism – mindfulness. Mindfulness is all about paying attention to the present moment without judging it. Buddhism says that the present moment is the only moment you need to find happiness.
Happiness is found by living in the now, according to a major study into mental wellbeing. Psychologists at Harvard University collected information on the daily activities, thoughts and feelings of 2,250 volunteers to find out how often they were focused on what they were doing. They found that people were happiest when they were engaged in their tasks and least happy when they were ruminating or daydreaming.
3) Practice gratefulness
“‘Enough’ is a feast.” – Buddhist proverb
Buddhists say that desiring is one of the most common causes of human suffering. Instead, Buddhists say that’s incredibly important to appreciate what we have right now.
Science, again, backs this up. In a recent study, psychologists at UC Davis had 3 groups of participants keep weekly journals focused around a particular topic. One group wrote about the hassles they experience in life, the other group wrote about major events, and the last group wrote about things they were grateful for.
After 10 weeks, those who were told to write about things they were grateful for ended up feeling happier and more optimistic about life.
4) Practice meditation
“Meditation brings wisdom; lack of mediation leaves ignorance. Know well what leads you forward and what holds you back, and choose the path that leads to wisdom.” – Buddha
Meditation originated from Buddhism and many studies are now showing that meditating – focusing intently and quietly on the present for a period of time – can help lessen feelings of depression and anxiety.
Brain scans have been conducted on Buddhist monks who show well-developed brain areas linked to heightened awareness and emotional control.
5) Get out exercise.
“The mind can go in a thousand directions, but on this beautiful path, I walk in peace. With each step, the wind blows. With each step, a flower blooms.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
And the Buddha said – yes it’s true that Buddha didn’t say much about exercise. However, walking meditation is a key practice in Buddhism, even though it’s sometimes done very slowly.However the Buddhist scriptures commonly mention that such-and-such a person was “walking and wandering up and down beside the river for exercise.”
There is no denying the high you feel after a run in the park or a swim at the beach. Exercise not only boosts your physical health–as one can easily see by watching a marathon or a boxing match–but it also improves mental health.
According to a recent study, every little bit helps. People who engaged in even a small amount of exercise reported better mental health than others who did none.