Imagine the raise-your-hands-in-air freedom in not having to suffer, complain or replay frustrations over and over in your head all day long? Wouldn't that be happiness?
One way to get there is doing a simple loving-kindness meditation every day. It sure seems to work for smiley Buddhist monks.
The potential gift in this simple seated meditation is a loosening up of habitual judgements ('She's a mess'. 'He's a loser') that, in most of us, have a death-grip on the natural human instinct to feel compassion. Just like when we wince when we see someone stubbing their toe. Or feel delight at a friend's joy in getting the big news they'd hoped for.
Regularly practising a loving-kindness meditation (explained below) not only causes measurable structural changes to the brain, strengthening the compassion area there and making it easier to feel compassion in the future, it also seems to improve the tendency to wish everyone well. And when we wish the best for people, we ourselves feel happier.
Peace takes over
"Instead of being stuck in feelings of fear, irritation or frustration which most people carry around with them every day, compassion takes over and peace sets in" says David R Hamilton PhD, a former scientist who gives inspiring talks all over the world based on his fascinating book Why Kindness is Good For You (£9.99, Hay House).
"As a result, when we're in a challenging situation, positive, helpful feelings come much easier than before."
We spontaneously recognise the underlying bigger-than-the-mind truth that the person who hurt us is probably themselves in pain and that's why they're behaving like they are. That it's not personal, they're suffering just like you. In that unifying recognition, you feel better, more yourself, more free.
In short, life becomes sweeter.
A loving-kindness meditation
1. Sit comfortably in a quiet place, close your eyes, and start by focusing on your breath, and gently expanding your awareness to feel your body where it meets the floor supporting it. Take slow, regular breaths.
2. Think of someone you care about and genuinely wish them wellbeing and freedom from pain and suffering.
"You can mentally use the words 'May you be well. May you be free from suffering' if you find that easier" suggests David. But the words aren't as important as the intention behind them.
3. Do this for a few people that mean a lot to you.
4. Start with yourself!
5. Keep practising. A 2009 study examining the impact of compassion meditation on chemical level of stress found that participants who attended the most meditation classes had the greatest reduction in interlukin-6, a substance involved in inflammation and too much of which can signal disease.
In time, you can extend your meditation to other people in your life who you're less close to but have an impact on your day. Work colleagues, for example.
Later you can extend this small act of love to those who've hurt you, and eventually wish the whole world freedom from suffering. Why not? We need it.