the key to happiness

I stumbled upon this Ted Talk today. Apparently, a lot of researchers have been using scientific methods to analyze what makes us, human beings, happy.

The gist of the video is that to be happy, we simply have to keep our mind focused on the task beforehand at that exact moment.

Well, well, isn’t that what Yoga and Buddhism have been preaching to us all this time (say, the past few thousands years)? This is also the essence of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga, especially the internal limbs leading up to samadhi, or the state of bliss, of union with the Divine.

The fifth limb, pratyahara, is the withdrawal of the senses to the external world–imagine your senses retreating back into a holy cave you’ve built within you. Once the mind has stopped paying attention to the physical world, the sixth limb, dharana–the act of concentrating the mind on one place, object, or idea–might happen. The seventh is dhyana, or simply put, meditation. This is when your concentration on that place, object, or idea becomes a continuous, undisturbed flow of cognition. You become oblivious of time, the commotions and sounds happening around you. My dad used to explain to me that meditation is kind of like reading a good book. You might become so absorbed in it that if someone were to open and shut a door, you might not even hear it because the mind is intensely flowing along with the storyline.

Lastly, the eight limb, samadhi. It is said that once you’ve achieved a steady meditation from practicing dhyana, samadhi becomes effortless. You more or less just “slip” into that state of bliss and union.

In Matt’s talk, at about 8:11, he states that there is a strong relationship between mind-wandering causing unhappiness, as opposed to unhappiness causing mind-wandering. So, if the mind doesn’t wander and it stays in the present moment, then we are happier. Hmm..looks alot like Sutra I.2 to me: Yogas-citta-vrtti-nirodhah.Yoga is channeling the behaviors of our mental frames, quieting the chitter-chatters of the mind.

Matt also found that even when you’re doing something unpleasant, you can actually be happy if the mind is not wandering but focused on the task. I thought back to the days of studying for exams, being grumpy and sighing all the time, wishing I could be out in the sun. Those minutes were long and arduous. But during the few minutes (and if I’m lucky, hours) that I am completely focused on my studying materials, time flew by fast. Unfortunately, the minute I noticed that I had been studying for minutes (or hours) continuously, the mind had already snapped out of its “studying mode” and is once again in search of some distraction in the forms of Facebook.

I was surprised that the overall mind-wandering rate is only 47%, because it seems like my mind is wandering 80% of the time throughout the day. Even in my Sun Salutations, it is not uncommon that my mind is thinking about what to have for breakfast (I know, bad yogi!). For all I know, I am still far, far, far away from that samadhi.

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