Back to this. The happiness study. One of the findings across all the thousand research studies is that mindfulness creates more happiness. This is what people report: people report that they’re happier once they practice mindfulness. Here’s one of the things they found. They had people beeped on their smart phones. They had 2500 people across the world beeped on their smart phones at random intervals in the day. They asked the people, “What are you doing?” Three questions: “What are you doing?”, “How’s your mood?”, and “Is your mind on what you’re doing?” What people reported was that if their mind was on what they were doing, they reported more happiness.
Even if they were doing things they didn’t like. Let’s say you don’t like doing the dishes. If you’re doing the dishes and you’re unhappy about it, and your mind is thinking about 10 other things you wish you were doing, you’re not too happy. But if you’re doing the dishes, even if you don’t like doing the dishes, but you’re keeping your mind on it, attending to the present moment, you’re happier.
This was repeated. This is what was shown with the study with 2,000 people. The more you can pay attention, the happier you are. He said, “A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.” That was the quote in Science Journal.
The last little piece I’ll go into is the impact on the brain structure. There’s been a lot of research in the last five, seven years on mindfulness and neuroscience. So they’ve hooked people up to brain scans, to fMRIs, to EEGs, to find out what is going on when people meditate. What they did was they looked at people who were what you might think of as the people who have been in caves for 20, 30 years meditating. These are like the Olympic athletes of meditation. They’ve been doing a lot of meditation. They looked inside their brains, and they saw that these three areas were thicker than people of the same age.
You don’t need to know anything about brain science. I just thought I’d show it to you. But one is the right insula – that’s #1 right inside. The second, the right Brodmann area, and the third is the central blah blah blah, you don’t need to know. It’s a little complex. But what this shows – this area of the brain is the front part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is what we might think of as the CEO of our brain. It’s responsible for delayed gratification, for flexible thinking. It’s responsible for regulating body and brain states. This is something you really want. You really want your prefrontal cortex to be online and very active and robust.
What they found, that the people who practiced meditation for 30 years, their prefrontal cortex was thicker than people of the same age. Do you know that as you get older, your brain thins out? Do you know that? Okay. Now if you want something else to worry about, you can worry about that. (laughter) It’s called age-related cortical decline. As you get older, your brain thins out. But if you practice, if you do different things, it’s not going to happen. So the meditators, there was minute structural changes.
You’re listening and you’re thinking, “Great, I don’t know how to meditate.” They looked at this with beginning meditators too, and they saw structural changes in only eight weeks. Very small changes in the brain in these same areas, connected to the prefrontal cortex and also connected to an area related to self-awareness and compassion. Those parts of the brain seemed to be thicker.
I’m not going to go into this too much, but just to say that as we meditate – and whatever you do, your brain can change. So if you practice a skill, at whatever age you are, your brain can change. This is what the science of neuroplasticity can show us. I’m going to go back to this later.
I’m going to end this part of the slideshow by just talking a little personally. Mindfulness, as I said earlier, it’s not something that’s out of the realm of your experience. You’ve done it before, you’ve practiced it maybe. You may not have called it mindfulness, but you’ve had that experience. I have a two-year-old, and I’ve been watching my daughter over these last two years, and this baby, when she was a baby – and now she’s a toddler – is incredibly mindful. Not just my baby, but all children are like that. Have you noticed the way little kids bring this awe and wonder to the world? They’re connected and they’re present and they’re completely in the moment. I see that.
Unfortunately, sometimes it can be annoying, because we’re walking down the street and I’m trying to get from Point A to B, and she wants to do anything. She wants to sit and look at the bug and hang from the fence, and she’ll see that bug and she’ll just go straight for it, and it’s the most interesting, amazing thing in the whole world. You know what I’m talking about, right? With kids? Yeah.
Well, here’s the news: we were like that once too. We were. We were all little kids. What happened? You grew up, you got socialized, you got educated. Lots of things happened. So mindfulness, in some way, is like a return. It’s a return to ourselves. It’s coming back to that part of us that we’ve had since birth, that we lose because life gets in the way in some way. Mindfulness is something – I really think of it as our birthright. We’re going to learn these tools that we’re going to practice together to help us re-access a part of ourselves that is somewhere covered up, but it’s right there. It’s right there for us to find.
Let’s do it. You’re going to turn that off, and I’ve said a lot about mindfulness. Any questions about anything I just said, before we go into the experiential part? Any questions?
SPEAKER: Living in the utmost present – is that what it means, mindfulness?
DIANA: Living in the utmost present? Is that what you said? That’s one aspect of mindfulness. Present moment attention. Yeah, living in the present. I often talk about it as having a particular kind of attention that we bring to the present. Remember I was talking earlier about not being in the past, not being in the future, but really being right here? I think that’s what you’re pointing to. Yeah, absolutely.
SPEAKER: I’m a piano student, and that demands that you live in the present. You can’t go anyplace else when you’re playing the piano.
DIANA: That’s right. She says as a piano student, she knows she has to stay in the present. There’s no choice. You have to stay in the present. There’s certain skills that you’d better stay in the present with. For instance, what if you’re a tightrope walker? You’d better stay in the present, right? There are lots of skills that bring that present moment attention to us.