Positivity

  • How To Make Friends With Change

    Written by Amy Jane Wood

    If there’s one thing that can be counted on in life, it’s change. Sages, scientists and philosophers have agreed on this simple fact since time immemorial: “Nothing endures but change,” declared Heraclitus back in Ancient Greece. "All conditioned things are impermanent" said Buddha. “Nothing gold can stay,” wrote Robert Frost. A profound acceptance of this truth – that all things are impermanent – can truly transform the way we live.

    Of course, it is in our human nature to try and defy change. Left-brain thinking, which is so dominant in our culture, seeks to sweep the world into tidy boxes -- filing and ordering life to give it more permanence, security and familiarity. But to do this also goes contrary to the truth – that the present is living, in flux, and therefore difficult to fix. In a paradoxical twist, the only thing we can count on is change – so it makes sense to try to make friends with it.

    We can try to see change with new eyes by appreciating what it brings to our lives. Have you ever stopped to consider what a world without change would be like? “Thanks to impermanence, everything is possible.” says Thich Naht Hahn. Without change, we would be frozen in time and space. In this way, change opens a world abundant with potential and possibility -- a living moment for which we can be grateful.

    Many of us may feel that change arouses fear and anxiety. Perhaps this stems from an expectation that it will be for the worse, or from a desire to distance ourselves from unpleasant aspects of our experience. Whatever the reason, fear blocks our ability to meet change with acceptance and open-mindedness. In these moments, we can use mindfulness to become more aware of the dialogue that’s taking place within -- and by looking at fear with curiosity and non-judgement, we can begin to disconnect from it and find the power to step into courage.

    Of course, we all need to feel grounded when change takes place around us, but so often we seek this anchor in external things or people. Once we truly understand that the external world is transient and fleeting, it makes little sense to continue to seek security in it -- and that's when we can start to look for that anchor inside of ourselves using mindfulness and meditation. By practising over and over the act of remaining present with what arises, we can come in touch with a part of ourselves that is beyond the ebb and flow of life.

    In fact, the more we let ourselves experience change, the more we may realise that it is something we can survive and benefit from. Life doesn’t necessarily get ‘easier’, but using mindfulness, we can ride its waves with more resilience and equanimity – or in the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn, we “learn to surf.”

  • Mindfulness Tips For When We Feel Jealous

    jealousySometimes it’s as harmless as envying a friends new pair of lovely shoes, but at other times jealousy can feel like a painful dagger in our hearts. It can make it difficult to enjoy any sense of happiness or gratefulness in our lives, because all that we can see is what we don’t have. It’s called the ‘green-eyed monster’ for good reason, for at its worst jealousy can make us bitter, resentful and lead us to behave in ways that aren’t aligned with how we really want to be.

    When we’re focusing on the good in others’ lives, and only on the bad in ours, our view of life becomes distorted and we get stuck in an envious trance. If we can learn to notice it when it arises, jealousy can serve as a reminder for us to take some mindful steps back into the present moment.

    Recognise and Accept

    Before we can make positive use of the arising of jealousy, we must first get to know it better. How does it make us feel? Although it may seem unappealing, it might be useful to bring to mind a situation that made you feel jealous, so that you can become familiar with the mental and physical changes it creates. For example, it might make you feel tense, or perhaps it gives you a heavy or restrictive feeling in your chest or throat. Maybe your pulse quickens, or perhaps you start to feel tearful. What kinds of thoughts are attached to the emotion? And what happens to your mental clarity? It’s likely that any sense of peace or spaciousness disappears, and instead we find that our whole attention is taken up by the subject of our jealousy.

    Once we become familiar with these signs, we will then be more able to recognise its presence next time it occurs. With this recognition, it’s also helpful to give ourselves some compassion and understanding, trying our best to just accept that we feel jealous in this moment, without piling on too much guilt or judgement about it.

    Breathe Through It

    Jealousy might sometimes highlight problems in our lives that we have the power to change. For example, if we’re envious of a friend’s career, we might find that we can take certain steps that will enable us to change careers and find our dream job.

    However, in other situations, we might experience jealousy over something that we just can’t do anything about. For instance, in unrequited love, if we see the person we love with their partner, and feel all the jealousy and pain that comes with that, there’s nothing we can do to change that situation. In these types of scenarios, the best that we can do is to breathe through the emotion until it passes (which it always will).

    A simple meditation that focuses on the breath is useful for when we’re experiencing emotional pain. Of course, it’s a given that our minds will wander onto painful thoughts, but by gently bringing our attention back to the breath each time we notice, we can become a little calmer. If we can include an attitude of compassion during this process – forgiving and understanding ourselves – then we will find that our racing minds will eventually settle down, and we can move on with our day, knowing that at any time we can return to this practice of coming back to the breath.

    Proactive Steps

    By focussing on what is missing from our lives, our minds create suffering. However, there are things that we can do that will help our minds focus more on the good, and less on what is lacking.

    To help train our brains to see the good things in life, we can practice writing down three things each day that have made us feel grateful, no matter how small or insignificant they might seem. Knowing that we need to remember things to write down will prompt us to start consciously looking out for the good stuff. As well as this, we can also start allowing ourselves to linger on pleasant experiences. If we’ve been feeling jealous, we’ve already been letting ourselves linger on unpleasant experiences, so we might as well do the same for the good stuff! Each time we let these positive experiences and feelings sink into our brains, we get a little better at noticing them and appreciating them.

    There will always be things in life that make us feel jealous from time to time, and gratitude won’t cure that completely. However, by taking proactive steps to notice things that make us feel grateful, we’ll be able to bring some balance and happiness back into our lives.

  • Getting the Most Out of the Summer

    Flower Box

    Summer is here! And so it’s time for picnics, walks on the beach, BBQ’s with family and friends, and chilled out summer evenings. For those of us in England, it can also mean super changeable weather!  But whether we’re having a typically unpredictable English summer, or the sun and sand of exotic holiday destinations, there’s many things around us at this time of year that we can take time to appreciate and feel grateful for. We can use the signs of summer as reminders to practice being mindful.

    The Gift of Sunshine

    There’s something about a clear blue sky and warm summer sunshine that makes life seem that little bit easier. Of course, just because the clouds have gone doesn’t mean our worries have too. Yet by taking a moment to appreciate the nicer weather we can at least soften our troubles for a while. Actively noticing and feeling grateful for the positive things in life, like the sunshine, can help make us healthier and more resilient. You can read more about this in our blog post, 8 Wellbeing Benefits Of Practicing Gratitude.

    So next time we notice that the sun is shining, we can take a few deep breathes and spend a moment or two to focus on our experience. We can let our eyes drink in the beautiful blue of the sky, and notice the warmth of the sun on our skin or in our hair. Try sending a smile or a heart-felt ‘thank you’ up to the sky, and notice how it might change your day.

    Switching Off

    Maybe we’re on the beach or lounging in the garden, and we want to take pictures of our cocktails or our ‘hot dog legs’ to put on social media. This isn’t a bad thing, but maybe we don’t always need to show the world that we’re having a nice time; maybe sometimes we can appreciate the lovely day and keep the experience as a private gift to ourselves, or something we only share with those who are there with us.

    Mindfulness is all about getting in touch with the moment to moment nature of life. By pausing and settling in to the moment, we may find that it’s simply enough to enjoy what we’re doing without immediately reaching for our phone to share it. Experiment with appreciating some moments just for yourself, and see how it changes your experience.

    Connecting with Nature

    Summer offers a great opportunity to spend some time in nature, away from the hustle and bustle of town or city life. Although a lot can be said for winter walks, sometimes it’s easier and more pleasant to be outdoors when it’s warm and dry! If we’re not mindful, the summer can pass us by before we know it, so if we have busy schedules we may need to consciously set aside some time to appreciate it while it’s here.

    No matter where we choose to go, there will be plenty of things around us to help us become more mindful. If we go to the beach, we can take time to notice how the warm sand feels between our toes, or how the gentle sound of waves can soothe our worries away. If we’re in the countryside, we can notice how the sun shines through the leaves on the trees, creating brilliant greens and dappled shade on the ground. Or we can watch how the bees and butterflies flit from flower to flower.

    The great thing about nature is that it’s never in a rush. It takes its time, and yet everything gets done: the flowers bloom, the grass grows and the bees collect their pollen. This provides us with a gentle reminder that we too are part of nature, and that we are all growing and blooming in our own time.

    Ice Creams, Berries and BBQ’s!

    When it comes to food and drink, there are lots of things we can enjoy in the summer that just don’t taste the same at any other time of the year. If we practice mindful eating and drinking, we can really enjoy and savour these things.

    We can notice how our ice cream tastes, and how it melts in the heat. As we try to lick the edges of our ice creams before they melt, we may be reminded of carefree childhood summers, or simply just enjoy getting a little messy! If we’re eating strawberries, we can slow right down and really experience eating them; noticing how they look, smell and how they taste as we bite into them. Maybe they’re still warm from the sun, and so we can feel grateful for being able to eat fresh locally grown fruit. And if we’re at a BBQ with friends or family, we can take the time to notice the smell of the coals and smoke, or even how it’s kind of satisfying to watch how the food slowly cooks on the grill.

    There are so many unique sights, sounds, textures and tastes to be enjoyed in the summer, and noticing them with more attention, and intention, can make our moments so rich and memorable!

    Changing from one season to another can be difficult. The following meditation helps you let go and be grateful for the season that lies behind you, and lets you welcome and look forward to the new one - so that you can gracefully flow through life. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3nFcLtGWuU&t=13s

    Would you like to learn more about how mindfulness can enrich our lives? Check out our calendar for upcoming workshops and courses!

  • The Art of Mindful Drawing

    DrawingWhen we were children, we’d be so captivated by the process of exploring our imagination on paper that self-critical thoughts probably never entered our minds. Yet as we grew older, and faced the sometimes harsh opinions of others, this creative confidence might have been chipped away. We became fearful of making mistakes, of being laughed at or criticised, or of not being ‘good enough’ at what we were doing.

    However, with a little mindfulness and self-compassion, we can regain the creative freedom of our childhood and once again experience the joy of exploring our artistic side! Whether doodling freely, or drawing from real life, we can use these different methods of drawing as a way to reconnect with ourselves and the world around us.

    Creativity Hasn’t Left Us

    “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” - Pablo Picasso

    The reason it becomes more difficult to remain artistic as we grow up is not because we lose creativity; it’s because we lose our confidence in it. Beneath all of the internalised criticism and limiting beliefs, our creativity is still there.

    In a fascinating study conducted by Darya Zabelina and Michael Robinson of North Dakota State University, it was found that undergraduates showed higher levels of creative thinking when prompted to imagine that they were 7 years old. In the study, the undergraduates were split into two groups. One group was instructed: “You are 7 years old. School is cancelled, and you have the entire day to yourself. What would you do? Where would you go? Who would you see?” The second group were given the same instruction, all but for the first sentence.  After taking a variety of tests to measure creative thinking, the first group showed increased creative originality when compared to the second group.

    So we still have access to our creativity; we just need to be reminded that we never lost it.

    Doodling (or Going With the Flow!)

    Our society is a little obsessed with outcomes. We like to know the results of what we’re going to do before we start doing it. Yet, as children, we probably just put coloured pencil to paper and started drawing, maybe with a rough idea of what we were trying to create, but perfectly willing to draw whatever we felt moved to draw at the time. Nothing seemed too fanciful, nothing too abstract or weird. It was just fun!

    Doodling without a plan or purpose can feel very therapeutic, and is a great way of practicing being in the moment. Through drawing, shading or colouring, in whatever ways feel pleasant or interesting, we can get to know ourselves better. Which colours make us feel happy? Or sad? What kind of shapes are we drawn to? Do these things change depending on our mood? What kind of movement of the pen or pencil feels good to us? Can we allow ourselves to draw without form, and if not, why might that be? Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to doodle, just like there’s no right or wrong way to dance! It’s all about drawing what we feel to draw, just exploring what comes through us with openness and curiosity.

    Attention to Detail

    Unlike doodling, drawing from real life requires more conscious concentration. This makes it the perfect tool for training our eyes and minds to really see what we’re looking at. Forget all ideas of what you think a face, a flower or a piece of fruit looks like, and really pay attention to it before making a mark on the paper. Have you ever seen this particular object, from this particular angle, in this particular light before this moment? It’s unlikely, so notice every detail about it: shape, texture, colour, light and shade, any perception or depth or distance.

    By letting go of pre-conceived ideas, we can start to see things as they truly are. Draw what you see, not what you think you see.  Some artists say that you never really see a person until you draw them. It’s certainly true that drawing from real life can open our eyes to a whole world of detail that we never noticed before.

    Self-Criticism and Self-Compassion

    There is of course room for healthy, constructive self-criticism. In fact, learning how to do things better can be part of the joy of drawing. Over time, it’s natural to want to see some sort of progress in our creative endeavours; objectively analysing our artistic work and trying to improve can help us find this. However, if this self-critique becomes excessive, unkind, or if we become trapped in restrictive perfectionism, we are more likely to give up trying, rather than advance as artists. This is where self-compassion becomes really important.

    Whether we just want to draw something every now and then for the fun of it, or whether we want to become skilful artists, self-compassion is equally important. Rather than always finding fault in our creations, we can try to focus on what we have achieved. Being mindful of our self-talk can help us determine which criticism is worth taking note of, and which is coming from a self-diminishing place.  If we adopt an encouraging attitude towards ourselves, we can give ourselves back that creative confidence we lost as we were growing up.

    Would you like to explore mindful drawing in a supportive, encouraging environment? Check out our Mindful Drawing workshop!

  • Taking Time to Play

    Have you ever sat and watched a group of children play, and sighed to yourself, thinking, “Man, I’d love to be a kid again!”? How nice it would be to feel so care-free again!

    Yet just because we’re grown up doesn’t mean that we can’t still play. In fact, taking time to play is very beneficial for our well-being, relationships and even productivity.

     

    play

     

    A Waste of Time?

    Author and psychiatrist, Dr. Stuart Brown, MD has studied the life histories of over 6,000 people and found a compelling link between a person’s success in life and their childhood, and current, playing habits. “An adult who has “lost” what was a playful youth and doesn’t play,” he says, “will demonstrate social, emotional and cognitive narrowing, be less able to handle stress, and often experience a smoldering depression. From an evolutionary point of view, research suggests that play is a biological necessity.” And yet so many of us don’t allow ourselves to be playful.

    We certainly live in a results-driven society. When it comes to work, education, and sometimes even how we spend our free time, our focus is usually on what we will achieve by the end of a particular activity. We spend our time in the same way we would spend money; we feel we must put it to ‘good use’, and not fritter it away on frivolous things. If we do spend time on something that was fun but not ‘useful’ (i.e. we don’t have anything to show for it afterwards), we may feel guilty for having wasted that time. For example, we may avoid investing time in learning new things unless it will benefit our career, or if we exercise it may because we have particular fitness goals that we want to achieve, rather than because we enjoy moving our bodies. This is probably why we envy children’s ability to play: they don’t play to achieve something; they play because it is a joyful way to spend time.

    Yet if we really watch children play, we can see that they are not wasting time at all. Firstly, enjoying our lives is never wasteful. And secondly, children learn many skills from playing. They learn how to interact with the world, with other people, and in the process of playing they explore their dreams, emotions, and who they are. Studies, such as Brown’s, show that this beneficial process doesn’t stop justbecause we’ve grown up.

    Enjoying This Moment

    One of the main benefits of practicing mindfulness is that it helps us become more present. Being present in the moment doesn’t mean that we forget about our responsibilities, or that we don’t make plans for the future. However, if we are spending the majority of our time preparing for the next day, week, months or years, then we are perpetually missing the gift of the present moment.

    While we of course can’t become completely like children again, we are able to become more conscious about how we spend our time, and can actively choose to spend some of that time simply enjoying life. Giving ourselves permission to play is an excellent way to do this.

    How to Play

    Dr. Stuart Brown, MD compares play to oxygen: “…it’s all around us, yet goes mostly unnoticed or unappreciated until it is missing.” The opportunity to play is all around us because all it really means is to engage with our present surroundings with curiosity and imagination. Cultivating a sense of curiosity helps us stay mindful, because it means we are really taking notice of things. We can do this anywhere, and in many different ways.

    We could buy a pack of paints and start adding them to a canvas, with no idea of what we’ll end up creating, just exploring how the colours look, how they blend together or contrast with each other. We could take a walk with no destination in mind, just because we want to explore where we live, or an area of countryside. On our walk, we can stop to notice trees, plants, streams, touching them and engaging with them as if the world is our playground. We could take some time to look out of the window at the clouds and daydream. We could have funny conversations with our pets, and notice the cute and amusing ways they react to us. We could dance like no one was watching, or sing like no one could hear us. We could try on clothes that we wouldn’t normally wear, or experiment with make-up and accessories, not because we’ve got to get dressed up to go somewhere, but because it’s fun to play dress-up sometimes, just as we did as children.

    Regaining our sense of play can help us in many areas of our lives. It can help us become more creative in work or at home, it can help us connect with loved ones, friends and even strangers, and perhaps most importantly, it can help reconnect us with ourselves!

    When was the last time you played? What did you do? Or what play ideas would you like to do? We love hearing your experiences, so share them in the comments below!

  • Holding Happiness Lightly

    happiness

    Savouring happy moments is important. In the same way repeated exercise makes our muscles stronger, paying attention to what makes us feel good helps our brains become better at noticing positive things. You can read more about this in our blog post Being Open To The Good Things In Life. However, that savouring of happiness can all too easily turn into clinging, and clinging to any experience, even a lovely one, will inevitably cause suffering as all experiences are transitory.

    Wanting More

    Sometimes happiness can sneak up on us and take us completely by surprise: an unexpected present or compliment, the chance discovery of a great book or café, falling in love, being outside during a beautiful sunset, etc. In those moments, we feel a kind of deep and pure happiness; we weren’t necessarily looking for those things, and so our minds are free of expectations. We just enjoy the joy. But then, after the moment has passed, we may start to feel that our happiness is dependent on those things happening again, or in different, better ways. The compliment made us feel good, and so we want more of them. The sunset was awe-inspiring, but perhaps if we were to watch the sunset on a beautiful island rather than in the middle of the city it would be even better. Rather than simply savouring the pleasant feelings and then moving on, we start forming criteria for our future happiness based on what has made us happy in the past.

    Conditional Happiness

    From a young age, we start collecting these ideas and beliefs about what must happen in our lives in order for us to feel happy. For example, when we are small we feel happy and safe when our parents approve of us, and so we carry that idea with us, perhaps for our whole lives: “If I can just win my parents approval, then I’ll be happy.” Or maybe we picked up the belief somewhere along the way that we can’t be truly happy unless we’re in a relationship, but then when we’re in one it may seem that being in a relationship isn’t quite as joyful as being married, and then we think we’ll perhaps find an even greater sense of happiness if we have children, and so on.

    The problem with conditional happiness is twofold. We suffer in the lead up to achieving it, because we are filled with a desire for something we don’t yet have, and so therefore feel a terrible sense of lack. Then once we do have it, rather than finding that place of eternal happiness that we had been hoping for, the emotion naturally passes and we have to set our sights on the next goal that will make us happy. If we’re not mindful, we could get stuck on this treadmill for the rest of our lives.

    Cultivating a Sense of ‘Enough’

    Some of the happiest people are not those who have everything they ever wanted, but are those who find contentment in what they have. It’s an unconditional happiness; a steady peace of mind that doesn’t fluctuate so wildly depending on whether life goes our way or not. We can cultivate this sense of ‘enough’ by becoming more accepting of the way things presently are, and by becoming more appreciative of the little things in life.

    Mindfulness helps us see that reality is not our idea of how things ought to be, but that it is simply what is. When we believe that ‘what is’ is incorrect somehow, this can cause us tremendous amounts of suffering. For example, if we don’t get a job we really wanted, or if the person we are in love with doesn’t love us back, we can get totally lost, not just in sadness and despair (which are understandable reactions to painful events), but also a sense of things not being the way they should be. We are at odds with reality, and that really hurts. Yet by learning to accept that things don’t always go our own way, and by learning to compassionately accept painful feelings, we can become more steady and more in the driving seat of our own peace of mind.

    Appreciating the little things in life is also important, and nice to do! While we may believe that to be happy we must have wealth, our dream job, our dream partner, etc, we can actually find happiness in the very act of being appreciative. Try noticing something right now that you can appreciate, no matter how small. Maybe it’s your cup of coffee, the fact that you have the ability to hear traffic on the street, or simply that you are breathing. They may seem like mini-happy-moments compared to “important” ones like getting married or winning the lottery, but while we are in these little moments, while they fill us with contentment, don’t they seem almost as big?

    Learning to hold happiness lightly is a work in progress for us all. We’re bound to get stuck, to find ourselves projecting our happiness onto future events, or to think that we would be happy now if only it wasn’t for X, Y or Z. But by practicing, by noticing our expectations and conditions for happiness a little more each time they arise, we can eventually loosen our grip, and make way for a more unconditional kind of joy.

    In the following meditation, we will bring to mind somebody and something we are grateful for, and will be guided to not only ‘think’ gratitude but to also feel it in our body. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxKU4scnoUA&t=281s

    Our Gratitude Workshop with Dr. Cinzia Pezzolesi next month is perfect to learn how to cultivate gratitude, happiness and a sense of enough. Check it out here.

  • Values, Rather Than Goals, Help Us Live a Rich and Meaningful Life

    In his book “The Happiness Trap”, Russ Harris, one of the founders of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), suggests that the word happiness has two different meanings.

    One of them is ‘feeling good’. We feel good when we feel a sense of pleasure, gladness or gratification. Say we have finally been given that long longed-for promotion or we’ve just been on a great first date with someone amazing. In those moments, we feel a great sense of pleasure. They are life’s ‘happy moments’. And because these moments feel so good, we naturally want more of them.

    Society reinforces this tendency to strive for a constant state of happiness: Hollywood and fairy tales lead us to believe that happy endings are the ultimate goal, and advertisements tell us that if we only buy this specific product it will make us feel good. Our society drives us so much towards happiness, that when we spot someone in a state of unhappiness it makes us shrug – maybe not if it’s a loved one, but most definitely if it’s a stranger. For example, if we see an adult sobbing on a train, our nervous system immediately tenses up; we potentially feel shame, look away and most often don’t know what to do.

    True Happiness

    grapesLuckily, there’s a second meaning to happiness which encompasses more than just ‘feeling good’ – after all, we not only experience pleasurable emotions such as Love, Joy and Curiosity, but also unpleasant ones such as Fear, Anger, Shock, Disgust, Sadness and Guilt. Russ Harris believes that true happiness does not come from wanting to feel good all the time, but from ‘living a rich and meaningful life’ which is directed by our values. He defines these as ‘your heart’s deepest desires for the sort of person you want to be, and the things you want to do in your time on this planet’.  Examples of values are ‘being caring’, ‘independence’, ‘creativity’ and ‘mindfulness’.

    Unlike goals, values can’t be completed or ticked off a list. They are a direction we desire to keep moving in, an ongoing process that never reaches an end. A good example of a value is ‘being loving and caring’ as opposed to the goal of ‘getting married’. You can have the intention to be loving and caring every day for the rest of your life, but once you’re married you are married. Goal achieved. You may even end up being married and at the same time being hard-hearted and uncaring. Of course that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ever set goals for ourselves. But rather than seeing their achievement as our ultimate aim in life, we should look upon them as lucky by-products that may or may not happen while living a life according to our deepest values.

    Getting Better at Feeling

    ACT is a good abbreviation because it stands for committing to take action towards creating a rich and meaningful life, guided by our deepest values while accepting the pain that inevitably goes with it. Because when we head towards what really matters to us, we will not only experience feelings like Love, Joy and Curiosity, but along this path we will also experience the more unpleasant feelings of the spectrum of human emotion. ACT, as a mindfulness-based approach, teaches us how to mindfully explore those feelings, open up to them and accept them as a natural part of life instead of having to constantly push them away. In that sense, ACT is not about simply ‘feeling better’. It’s about opening up to life in all its shades, thus ‘getting better at feeling’ so that we can follow our hearts truest values and live a rich and meaningful life.

     

  • Welcome Everything, Push Away Nothing

    Wouldn’t it be lovely to be happy all the time? Waking up with a big grin on our faces, bouncing out of bed and skipping into work every morning for a whole day of joy and laughter.

    Unfortunately, our minds aren’t designed like this. However naturally positive we are, it’s impossible to be in a state of constant pleasure all of the time. Our brains have evolved to preempt possible threats (a leftover from when our ancestors were struggling to survive in a dangerous world) and, sophisticated though they have become, still have a tendency to act like Velcro for the bad stuff and Teflon for the good.

    There will always be times when we are fearful, angry, bored or sad; and depending on our upbringing or genetics, some will experience these feelings more than others. The challenge arises when we do not welcome and accept these natural human tendencies and instead try compulsively to shut them out or make them go away.

    In the attempt to be happy, many of us try all sorts of ways to avoid uncomfortable feelings. For example, when sitting in the car in a traffic jam, we might turn on the radio or start texting a friend - anything to avoid potentially feeling bored or irritated. In a more extreme example, we might turn down an interview for a dream job because we don’t want to put ourselves in a position where we might be anxious or embarrassed.

    As well as trying to avoid uncomfortable feelings, many of us also chase after enjoyable ones, such as pleasure and excitement. Unfortunately, no matter how hard we try to hold on to these feelings of happiness, they will, at some point, change or slip away. When inevitably they do, we leave ourselves open to disappointment or despair, or a neverending quest for the next high. In fact, as Russ Harris in 'The Happiness Trap' writes: "The harder we chase after pleasurable feelings, the more we are likely to suffer from anxiety and depression".

    So where do we go from here? Mindfulness-based approaches work on the belief that true wellbeing comes when we learn not to avoid uncomfortable feelings or chase after happiness, but to accept what is. By observing our minds and bodies, and how they react to situations, we practice a kind of self-awareness that allows us to be with challenging thoughts or feelings without allowing them to erode our quality of life.

    So if we’re sitting in the car and notice thoughts and feelings of boredom or loneliness, instead of trying to distract ourselves, we can consciously turn towards these sensations with an attitude of non-judgemental friendly curiosity. We might ask ourselves: What exactly is my mind’s reaction to this situation and what kind of feelings do I experience in the body? Instead of immediately grabbing the phone to send a text, we can become mindfully aware of the arising thoughts and feelings and then make a conscious choice of whether we want to check the phone or instead be with what is.

    The more we practice this, we learn to respond in a more mindful and attentive way to unpleasant experiences, accepting them as just thoughts and feelings that will, as with everything in life, pass away. By noticing and accepting as they arise and pass, we reduce their pull over us. We learn to 'welcome everything and push away nothing'.

    Developing this mindfulness skillpower will mean we don’t have to go through life desperately trying to avoid challenging situations or chasing an impossible dream of constant happiness. It means we can have a choice of how we want to approach the circumstances we find ourselves in... and this will ultimately lead to a richer and more meaningful life.