According to Psychologist and Neuroscientist, Dr. Richard Davidson PhD, “Well-being is a skill.”
What does this mean? This means that you can teach yourself to experience Well-Being!
WHAT IS WELL-BEING?
Without going into scientific definitions of hedonia (pleasure or momentary well-being) and eudaimonia (flourishing, living a meaningful life), I will simply state that Well-Being is a condition you are familiar with when you don’t have it! You certainly do not experience well-being when you are dealing with a chronic Autoimmune condition!
Dr. Davidson has been at the forefront of scientifically studying compassion and kindness practices and bringing this into mainstream science. He says that Well-Being includes 4 constituents. These 4 constituents are based on hard nosed neuroscientific evidence.
WHAT ARE THE 4 CONSTITUENTS OF WELL-BEING?
- Positive Outlook
RESILIENCE: It is the ability to maintain high levels of well-being in the face of adversity. How soon do you recover from negative events? Research suggests that mental training in mindfulness meditation can increase brain circuits involved in resilience. However, these changes are evident in long-term meditators, in those who have six-or seven thousand hours of meditation. I have not reached there yet but it is certainly something I aspire for!
Though resilience requires many hours of cumulative practice, smaller doses of mindfulness practice or loving-kindness or compassion meditation have shown great benefits too.
ATTENTION:”A wandering mind is an unhappy mind.” This was the title of an article in Science (2010), by Dr. Matthew A. Killingsworth and Dr. Daniel T. Gilbert, from Harvard University. They studied mind wandering through an iPhone app and this is what they found:
- People’s minds wandered frequently, regardless of what they were doing. Mind wandering occurred in 46.9% of the people studied.
- The nature of people’s activities had only a modest impact on whether their minds wandered.
- People were less happy when their minds were wandering than when they were not and this was true during all activities.
- (This is profound): Mind wandering was generally the cause, and not merely the consequence, of unhappiness. What people were thinking was a better predictor of their happiness than was what they were doing.
What can you do to stop mind wandering? If you are new to contemplative practice why not try a guided mindfulness app or CD or drop in on a workshop or go for a mindful walk? Find something that you like.
POSITIVE OUTLOOK:How do you look at your life? Is the glass half-empty or is it half-full? As Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor Emeritus at University of Massachusetts, says “If you are breathing, then you have more things going right for you than wrong.”
GENEROSITY: When people engage in generous behavior they activate brain circuits that are important for Well-Being. You can try loving-kindness meditation. Most importantly, are you kind to yourself?
NEUROPLASTICITY: Why is this concept important?
Neuroplasticity means that your brain can change in response to training and experiences. It can change for the better or for the worse. Why not be deliberate about the way your brain changes, because it IS going to change anyway!
Until some years ago we were taught that the brain does not make new nerve cells as an adult (adult neurogenesis) and it cannot make new neural pathways. This concept has been turned around completely now. Studies have shown that we can make new nerve tissue! High levels of stress can destroy nerve tissue, but mindfulness practice has shown increase in brain tissue thickness in just 8 weeks of practice!
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO ENHANCE YOUR WELL-BEING?
- Meditation/Mindfulness Practice.
- Practice loving-kindness meditation, especially to yourself!
- Stop watching negative news on television! (unless that’s your profession).
- Did you check your ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) score? ACE Score
- Enjoy “Me-Time”.
- Richard J. Davidson is the William James and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry and the Director of the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior and the Founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, USA.
- Davidson, R. J., & Schuyler, B. S. (2015). Neuroscience of happiness. In J.F. Helliwell, R. Layard, & J. Sachs (Eds.), World Happiness (Chapter 5). New York, NY: The Earth Institute, Columbia University. PMCID: Policy Exempt.
- Killingsworth, Matthew A., and Daniel T. Gilbert. “A wandering mind is an unhappy mind.” Science 330.6006 (2010): 932-932. The app is “Track Your Happiness” available on iPhone.
- Hölzel BK, Carmody J, Vangel M, et al. Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry research. 2011;191(1):36-43. doi: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006.
- Spalding, Kirsty L., et al. “Dynamics of hippocampal neurogenesis in adult humans.” Cell 153.6 (2013