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I will try to create more happiness and less unhappiness in the world around me


Action 20

Learn how to meditate

Meditation is an ancient tradition that has been scientifically studied and shown to have a big positive impact on our minds and bodies. It's easy to learn, but needs regular practice. It's worth trying - as once you've learnt it, you'll truly have a skill for a happier life.

Why do it?

Scientific research has shown that meditation has many benefits for our well-being, including:

  • Increasing our ability to withstand stress
  • Making us feel more rested
  • Helping to relieve and reduce pain
  • Lowering our blood pressure
  • Increasing our immunity.

What's more, regular practice over time can literally change the structure of our brains so that we are able to experience more positive emotion.

But that's not all, there is evidence that meditation can also help improve: our ability to focus, our level of alertness, our memory, our academic performance and creativity.

Practicing meditation has been shown to help us get in touch with our feelings and over time it can increase how happy and optimistic we feel as well as our sense of spirituality. It can help us accept who we are and increase our sense of fulfilment. It can also help us build empathy and compassion and so help improve our relationships with other people.

Wow! Surely something with so many potential benefits is worth trying?

What exactly is meditation?

Mediation is a technique that involves learning how to be fully present and aware in the current moment, rather than thinking about the past or future. It is a skill that can be learned through regular practice.

Mediation involves a conscious intention or attempt to focus our attention without analysing, judging or dwelling. The 'conscious' part means that it is a deliberate, active skill - so it's different from resting or sleeping. It isn't a relaxation technique, although practising meditation often results in people becoming more relaxed.

The 'intention or attempt' part means that it's not about striving or trying too hard, it's about learning to be more aware. It's really a process rather than a one off and you need to do it regularly to get the most benefits.

There are three basic types of meditation:

  • Concentrative meditation: focusing on a single thing such as your breath
  • Mindfulness meditation: acknowledging your thoughts, sights or sounds
  • Contemplative meditation: opening up to consider the big questions of life.

There are different mediation approaches with names such as: 'zen', 'transcendental', 'vipassana', or 'loving kindness'. It may also simply be called 'mindfulness' (although strictly speaking meditation is a technique to teach mindfulness). Some forms of meditation may also be wrapped up into specific techniques or courses, for example Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction.

Learning meditation

Meditation does take practice so it helps to think of it as a process rather than a destination, focusing on your intention rather than trying hard to get it 'right'. You don't need be able to sit cross-legged - you can meditate sitting in a chair or even walking. It can be learned by schoolchildren, and by adults of all ages.

Although mediation is often thought of as coming from Eastern spiritual traditions, other religions such as Christianity and Islam have similar practices. Today, however, much meditation is not associated with a religion and does not need any religious affiliation.

There are lots of different approaches to learn meditation, including books, courses, events, online tools and even iPhone applications. See the resources section below for more information.

Where to start
  1. Learn a basic technique (such as the one below). A great way to learn is from one of the online guides or audio downloads. There are lots available. Alternatively, try a class. Search online for beginners meditation or mindfulness class in your local area. Learning this way can be helpful if you have questions and gives you encouragement to keep going.
  2. Have a go. Having learned the basic idea, make time to sit comfortably and start practising the technique you've learnt.
  3. Keep it up. Try to find a few minutes to meditate at the same time every day if possible. You can build up your time gradually. Remember that it doesn't always go well, and that's part of the process. It takes about three weeks to develop a reliable habit, so stick with it - the benefits really are worth it!
A simple meditation

A simple way to start is to set aside 10 minutes when you won't be disturbed. You'll need some way of timing yourself - a kitchen timer or timer on your mobile phone is ideal. Here goes:

  1. Set your timer for 10 minutes
  2. Sit comfortably in a chair (a firm chair is probably better than an armchair). Have your feet flat on the ground and your hands relaxed in your lap
  3. Remind yourself why you want to meditate today
  4. Softly gaze ahead and take five slow, deep breaths (in and out counts as one breath). As you get to the last one, close your eyes. Breath normally.
  5. Notice how your body feels. Are you sitting evenly? Does your body feel heavy or light in the chair? Just notice, no need to adjust or change anything.
  6. Then notice any noises, near or far.
  7. Come back to your body and starting with your head, scan down from top to toe. Notice how each area is feeling - your forehead, eyes, mouth and chin, your shoulders… right down to your toes. Just observe, No need to move. Observe any emotions you are feeling.
  8. Now notice your breath and how it rises and falls, rises and falls, rises and falls…
  9. Start to count: 1 on the in breath, 2 on the out breath, 3 in, 4 out… continue to 10. When you get to 10, start again at 1. Continue until the timer sounds. Throughout this time you'll find thoughts come to you. Just notice them and then come back to focus on your breath. If you lose track of your counting, just start again. It will get easier with practice.
  10. On hearing the timer, let yourself breath normally and freely. Notice how your body feels in the chair. Notice any emotions you are feeling. Notice any sounds, near and far.
  11. Now slowly open your eyes. Before you move, think: what are you going to do next…?

[1] Shapiro, S.L. (2009). Meditation and Positive Psychology. In S.J. Lopez & C.R. Snyder (Eds.) Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology. NY: Oxford University Press.

[2] Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). The How of Happiness. London: Penguin Books


Daily Meditation

"Half an hour's mediation each day is essential, except when you are busy. Then a full hour is needed."

St Francis de Sales

St Francis de Sales

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Mindfulness changes your brain

Recent research has shown that an 8 week mindfulness meditation class can lead to structural brain changes including increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection.

Daily Actions

The Happiness Challenge involves simple daily actions in three areas:

* Be Mindful - do less and notice more

* Be Kind - do things for others

* Be Grateful - remember the good things

Happiness Challenge workbook

Download: Happiness Challenge workbook



The Happiness Challenge was supported by our friends at Headspace.