Have you heard of the happiness ‘set-point’? The old theory was that we all have a genetic set-point, where even if we win the lottery, shortly after, we return to the same level of happiness because of our genetic happiness set-point. However, since then, psychologist Martin Seligman proved that happiness is 40% genetic set-point, 10% environment and 50% mind processes.
What does this mean? It means that yes, we do all have different levels of general happiness purely because of our genes, but it also means we can do something about increasing that. And, rather than spending our life trying to improve our environment, which includes our income, house, relationship, appearance etc, that will only ever improve your happiness maximum 10%… instead what we should focus on is working on our mind processes, which has a 50% capacity for improvement.
So how do we improve our mind processes, our thoughts and thought patterns?
Yep you guessed it… yoga. But why? Non-believers stay with me…
We can change the way our mind works because of neuroplasticity in the brain, we can literally change the way the brain is shaped by repeatedly practicing thinking another way. So does that mean if we really want to be happier, we just have to think happy thoughts? I can feel eyes rolling already…mine included.
If it really was that easy, why aren’t we all skipping to work in the morning? There are a couple of things at play. Firstly a lot of us don’t know HOW to think happy thoughts, how to not dwell on the past, or worry about the future, we don’t know HOW to practice another way. Secondly, subconsciously a lot of us want to moan, be upset, because it gets us connection, love, and that meets our core human need (described my previous blog about stress) so we don’t actually want to stop that.
The first part, when it comes to learning HOW to think happy thoughts, the obvious answer would be meditation. Have you ever tried it? A lot of people still havent, usually under the assumption that ‘it’s not for them’ maybe as a result of the common misconception that it’s part of some sort of religion, or you have to be a certain type of person to meditate, both untruths. But even if you can look past that, it is difficult to meditate on your own, even with brilliant apps like Headspace, how many of us with actually prioritise meditation over all the other things on our to-do list? How many of us will make the time and commit to it, despite the endless distractions at home? The chances of it happening tend to be quite slim.
But, we will make the time to improve how we look, or get out of pain and injury. And that’s where the butterfly effect of yoga is brilliant. Yoga is meditation, the purpose of yoga is mental refinement, we just use the body to help us get there. By adding a ‘workout’ into the mix, with the incentive of improving how we look, or healing injury yoga tends to draw people in more than meditation. But, it has all the same benefits mentally, AND physically. Win. Win.
The second part, when the yoga studio provides an environment which is totally accepting, and we start to feel connected, back to ourselves and in a community with others, we no longer need to hold onto sadness or pain to get connection, so we see start to feel our sadness fall away as we feel ready to be ‘okay!’.