Preoccupation or Prayer?

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Multitasking can lower productivity. A life of distraction hinders happiness. But meditation may actually impact the structure of the brain. Scientists don’t know why, but meditation can reduce anxiety, depression, and pain. Quiet time, prayer, Scripture memorization—these are all part and parcel of a meditative life and are certainly encouraged throughout the Bible. When the day takes on frantic undertones, or when we find it difficult to stay in the present time and place, there’s a good chance that refreshing our devotional habits will help.

Of course we’re called not only to prayer, but to praise, worship, and thanksgiving. Time[1] Magazine reported that people who are grateful tend to feel more content. Gratitude means noticing the good in our lives and being happy for what we have. If one of your “brain ruts” is that of constant comparison or disgruntlement, you’re dragging yourself down. Happy people are seldom bothered by the successes of others. They count their own blessings. They have a biblical perspective: all good things come from God, and he knows what is best for us. Remember, we can change those neural pathways with practice. We don’t need greater wealth or better circumstances to be happy. We need greater appreciation, mindfulness of our blessings, and a willingness to express our gratitude for them. Church helps. It’s an easy place to express our gratitude. Furthermore, when I of Sunday mornings, I think of

  • Music, a proven mood enhancer.
  • Fellowship, touted by many as essential to sustained happiness.
  • Friends. Time says stable, committed relationships matter.
  • Faith. Multiple studies assert that people of faith tend to struggle less with depression and anxiety.
  • Acts of Service: Time insists that charitable giving brings greater happiness than personal spending, and that doing acts of kindness is better still.

Does money buy happiness? No, but it does give us the opportunity to do a scientifically (and Biblically) supported happiness-building activity: spend some on other people. In one study, children as young as 2 years old were given the choice of giving another child small crackers from either their own pile or from that of someone else. They were happier giving away their own crackers! Another study showed that people who commit to doing three or more acts of kindness a week may elevate their happiness level.

Is wanting to be happy a selfish goal? I think not. The Bible talks about rejoicing and gladness and praise. And isn’t it generally unhappy people who become turned in upon themselves, sometimes spreading their gloom as they go? So, let’s make choices that bring good cheer. Currently, only 30% of Americans say they are very happy. Maybe this is the year we can up that number.

[1] The Science of Happiness: New Discoveries for a More Joyful Life, A Time Special Edition, September 9, 2017.

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Mindfulness

brain-2062057_1280 mindfulness pixabay 12 14 17On Christmas day, were you present for the presents—really there, consciously engaged in the moment for the whole event? Psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University studied 5,000 people and concluded that adults only spend about 50% of their time in the present moment. Ugh! That leaves many of us severely distracted half of the time.

 

Furthermore, according to Killingsworth and Gilbert, we’re generally happier when we are fully engaged than when we are mentally checked out, even if the activity at hand isn’t one of our favorites. The good news is that our mental wanderings can be curtailed. The more we practice awareness, the more it will become a habit.

So, how do we practice awareness, being present in the moment?

For starters, consider wearing a watch! How often have you pulled out your smart phone to check the time and then decided to “take a moment” to check the news, your text messages, your social media outlets…Suddenly checking the time has taken a lot of time. The average American teen, according to Time, sends and receives more than 3000 text messages a month. Too many of us are letting too many moments slip away via those electronic rectangles. And when we have our eyes on a screen, we are no longer fully engaged in our present time and place. Perhaps we all need to scheduled screen-free breaks in our busy weeks.

Next, stop buying the lie that multitasking is the path to a productive life. When we mentally lean into the next task, (for example, sweeping the floor while composing a memo or mowing the yard while reviewing the day’s to do list) we lay ourselves open to anxiety  and stress while forgoing the happiness of completing a task. Boy am I guilty of that! Emma Seppala, PH.D., author of “The Happiness Track,”[1] teaches that multitasking, rather than helping us accomplish more things faster, actually keeps us from doing anything well.  Undivided attention, on the other hand, brings greater efficiency and a higher level of enjoyment. Worrisome thoughts may be one of our chief distractors, and Jesus plainly said, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?…Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.[2] Instead, we are told to pray. And that’s where we’ll pick up next week.

[1] HarperOne, © 2016.

[2] Matthew 6:27, 34