I started to meditate regularly four years ago, and since then, little by little I started to feel better. My outside world was the same (same work, same family, same house, and more or less the same friends – except that the number of Acem friends increased), so it was evident that the reason for this feeling of having more of the life I really want for myself was a change in the inside world.
People dedicated to study the parameters involved in happiness say that it is not a sum of happy moments; it is more related to a specific lifestyle, a way of looking at life in general. But, what does meditation change in the way the meditator behaves in life?
In relation to these thoughts, there is an interesting article in the last number of the journal Science (12 nov. 2010, vol.330 nº 6006, p.932) called: A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind, (by Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert, from Harvard University, USA): Using an application for iPhone, they interviewed 2250 adults about what they were doing and thinking at different moments of the day, and how they felt at these moments. After analyzing the data, they concluded that more than 46% of waking hours, these persons were thinking about things not related to what they were doing. They also found that, overall, people whose minds were wandering were less happy than those with thoughts focused on the task at hand, even if that activity was not especially interesting.
In conclusion, erratic thinking seems to be a good way of predicting people´s unhappiness (the more our minds drift away from the present – and where they go, less happy we feel), even more than the activities we do in everyday life. The same authors suggest that perhaps traditions like meditation, that emphasize living in the present moment (i.e. increased awareness of the here and now, being conscious of our actions at the present time) can affect our degree of happiness.
If we put these results in the perspective of Acem meditation, the question would be: How does it work? Is it that resolution of unfinished issues makes us feel happier because we are less influenced by these traits of our personality? or is it something else we get used to do? Is the basic instruction (going back to the repetition of the sound even when thoughts are interesting) a way of disciplining the mind in being in the here and now, and not wandering around out of any control? This is what this article about wandering mind suggests. Another possible explanation would be that during meditation, we observe the thoughts coming and going, and it seems that over time the compulsive thoughts seem to loose their power and maybe gradually subside. In some way, meditation can change our relation to thoughts: from a beginning place of being used by the thoughts, we tend to move towards a place we start to use thoughts more consciously.
Anyhow, although it is always interesting to know how things really work, to me the most important is that it really works, and as the basic instruction is so simple , it really looks like magic!
If you want to read a little more, go to: http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2010/11/wandering-mind-is-unhappy-mind.html. And if you have an iPhone and want to participate in the study, go to www.trackyourhappiness.org and download the application.