TRENTO, Italy – When people are dealing with depression and other challenges in their life, it seems like being happy is something that will never happen again. While some might think happiness is something everyone needs to figure out for themselves, a new study finds that people can actually learn to be happy. Researchers in Italy say that an intense program focused on happiness successfully increased the mental wellbeing of its participants.
The results show that people in the nine-month course experienced an increase in their life satisfaction, their perceived well-being, their self-confidence and their emotional self-regulation. Participants also had significantly lower levels of anxiety, stress, negative thoughts, and anger. The study’s authors stated that participants simultaneously experienced an improvement in positive well-being while negative emotions melted away.
“The training we proposed to participants was inspired by the idea, present in both Western and Eastern philosophical traditions, that happiness is inseparable from developing inner balance, a kinder and more open perspective on yourself, others and the world is connected to a better understanding of the human mind and brain. In this training process we need on the one hand the theoretical study of philosophy and science and on the other hand meditation practices, ”says Nicola De Pisapia, researcher at the Institute for Psychology and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Trento, in a media release.
What is the key to unlocking inner happiness? The study shows that meditation can help you get in touch with how your mind works.
What does it take to learn to be happy?
Participants in this experiment attended seven theoretical and practical weekends and two meditation retreats at the Lama Tzong Khapa Institute of Tibetan Culture in Pomaia, Italy.
During the theoretical weekends, the group attended a series of presentations and watched a series of video courses. They also participated in open discussions on psychology, neuroscience, the history of Western thought, and the philosophy of Buddhism.
The more scientific topics focused on the brain circuits for attention and wandering of mind, stress and fear, and pain and pleasure. The group also examined how their brain processes positive and negative emotions, desires and addictions, and empathy and compassion.
In the practical exercises, the participants dealt with various contemplative traditions from Western and Eastern cultures. This included meditation focusing on the breath, analytical meditation, and keeping a personal journal.
Researchers say that modern society sometimes confuses happiness with hedonism. However, their results show that meditation practices are key to creating a healthy mind.
“I believe that in times like these, which are full of change and uncertainty, it is of fundamental importance to scientifically examine how Western and Eastern philosophical traditions, along with the latest discoveries about the mind and brain, are mundaneously integrated into contemplative practices can . The goal is to give healthy people the opportunity to work on themselves to develop authentic happiness, not hedonism or superficial happiness. With this study we wanted to take a small step in this direction, ”concludes De Pisapia.
The study appears in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.