Meditation is an ancient practice, long associated with inner peace and happiness. Combined with prayer, it is recommended by most religions.
Yet meditation is still unfamiliar in western countries. A 2007 survey about meditation by the National Institute of Health found that 9.4% of the US populations had practiced it in the previous year. While up from 7.6% in the 2002, it’s still a small part of daily life for most Americans.
The Many Benefits of Meditation
Being new to meditation myself, I was astonished at my enhanced feeling of well-being and new ability to change behaviors that no longer served me. From somewhere deep inside, meditation has unlocked improved health, problem-solving skills and creativity. I was born a temperamentally happy person yet this new tool has enabled me to quickly process upsets and setbacks and return to a serene state. This relaxed consciousness has become a blessed sanctuary I look forward to visiting every day.
Brain Science Tells Us Why Meditation Makes You Happier
Armed with modern tools for imaging the very workings of our brains, neurologists have discovered that meditation changes the physical structure of our brains. Why is this important? Because both feelings of well-being and unpleasant ones like anxiety originate in specific locations in our heads.
In a controlled study of meditation reported in January 2011, scientists report that just 30 minutes of meditation a day for eight weeks produced measurable increases in “gray matter” in the parts of the brain related to memory, sense of self and empathy. There were corresponding decreases in the amygdala center that reflexively controls most of what we do and say. Not surprisingly, anxiety and stress originate in our “reptile brain” as an ancient survival mechanism to real or imagined threats.
What does this mean in real life? Science shows that you can change your brain by external actions that can be taught and practiced. And how can changing my brain make me happier? Meditation makes you feel more in control by improving your memory and learning skills. It makes you more compassionate by increasing those cells related to empathy. It makes you nicer to be around!
And meditation can reduce or even set you free from “lizard brain” hijacks to what are often imagined threats that cause anxiety and stress, especially the free-floating type that fills your harried days and sleepless nights with a vague sense of malaise. You can always visit your inner sanctuary to banish your worries.
Practitioners of meditation have always known it made them happier. Now modern science has shown us exactly why meditation makes you happier. I predict in the not-too-distance future, doctors will forgo prescriptions for antidepressants and Xanax and teach meditation instead!