Mindfulness meditation and exercises and “living in the now” are often touted as helping people overcome mental instability and emotional challenges, and I can attest to that since mindfulness definitely helped me through a trying period in my life.
But what if you’re already happy? What if you don’t have any mental or emotional issues? Don’t answer that—it’s a trick question. (Everybody’s got issues.) But I’ve found that if I’ve had a series of “good days” and life seems to be generally rolling along with major hiccups, I tend to forget to keep up my mindfulness practices.
Here’s why I believe mindfulness is still valuable for people even when life is good and positive vibes are all around:
- Mindfulness is exercise for the brain. Just as you don’t stop going to the gym once you feel fit and hit some goal on the scale, you shouldn’t stop exercising your brain by practicing mindfulness just because you feel happy and alert. Research has shown that practicing mindfulness, even as a “beginner” for a brief period of time, improves visuo-spatial processing, working memory, and executive functioning—all while reducing fatigue and anxiety. In other words, mindfulness kicks your brain into turbo mode. I sometimes call mindfulness a secret weapon for this very reason.
- Mindfulness is disaster insurance. We’ve all had times in our life when this happens: you’re going along without a care in the world, minding your own business, when suddenly you receive some very bad news; news so important it will profoundly affect you for a long time to come. Maybe it’s the death of a loved one. Maybe it’s a job loss. Maybe it’s a serious relationship crisis you didn’t see coming. Whatever it might be, you’ll be much better prepared to weather the storm if you’ve already built up a habit of practicing mindfulness on a daily basis. You can’t take energy out of your emotional reserves if you haven’t already been depositing into them consistently.
- Mindfulness is clarity of identity. I know it sounds cliché, but I like to meditate in gardens. When I’m at home or in my office and having to deal with stuff (there’s always something), it’s so easy to get caught up in the cycle of expectations and disappointments. You’re upset about something, or someone’s upset with you, or both! After too much of this, you start to feel your identity slipping away. I work as a freelancer, which means I regularly have to contend with getting paid by clients, and it’s my least favorite part of my job. Too much worrying about money makes me feel like a troll. I have to take long walks and find gardens to meditate in just to feel human again, to feel like me . But what if I don’t have to wait for those troll-moments to meditate? What if I can practice mindfulness as a preventative cure? Being proactive means I am able to maintain focus on my values, my priorities, and my identity even in the midst of daily frustrations.
Here’s the thing: a few years ago, I felt like my default state of being was feeling depressed. And that fact alone was making me feel even more depressed. It seemed like feeling happy and contented required more effort than I could muster some days.
Mindfulness helped me navigate out of that place to where I am now: feeling like my default state is upbeat and excited about the future. I don’t want to slide back into depression and lose the gains I’ve made thus far, so for me practicing mindfulness isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s a necessity.
But even if depression isn’t something you struggle with, even if you’re just a happy-go-lucky individual, you can still reap the benefits of mindfulness to improve cognitive function, heighten your sense of purpose and identity, and build up resilience against any challenges life may throw at you. Don’t do what I did and wait until things get really bad to form a new habit. The best time to start is now.