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MindfulnessMany patients of mine come in to my office complaining that they never feel happy. They have financial security, a good family, and everything they ever wanted. Yet, they walk around feeling discontent.

One patient in particular, a very successful businessman, told me in the midst of a session that he was planning to celebrate the Jewish High Holy days by going to temple. I asked what he experienced when he went there and what it meant for him to do so. He responded by saying that it means very little to him other than it something he has always done and it is a way for him to behave like a good Jew. He said it was similar to other areas of his life where he went through the motions, doing what he was supposed to do, checking things off his to-do list, but not fully engaged nor feeling content with any of it. His response gave me pause.

I reflected on all of the rote behaviors that we regularly engage in as a matter of course without giving them a moment of reflection. We simply go through the motions.  Whether while eating, when engaged in sexual relations, going to church or temple, going to work, participating in a sport, you name it, we simply behave like automatons, robots, going through the motions without thinking.  I thought of the number of hours we spend mindlessly doing stuff, mindlessly saying stuff, thoughtlessly, mindlessly going through the motions of living.  And then we wonder, “why aren’t I happy?”  It is as if we believe that by merely following the rules, doing the right things, collecting stuff, somehow we will be happy. How can we expect to experience happiness when we live so much of our lives in such an automated way?

In the same manner that some activities in a work environment should be automated, there is no doubt that some activities in our daily life should be automated. It is more efficient and often more effective. However, if we automate the majority of our life, we will become nothing more than robots and sacrificing our humanity in the service of expediency, accomplishment, and accumulation.

Mindfulness

One of the unique qualities of human beings is consciousness, the ability to reflect upon our own existence. We can stand outside of ourselves and look at ourselves in our mind’s eye, and we can take more responsibility for who we become. Part of that consciousness is mindfulness. We can be mindful of how we engage in the world. We can focus on the present, becoming increasingly aware of our being-in-the-world. We can be mindful of what we eat, attending to the smell, the look, and the taste of our food. We can choose what we will eat and how the food was grown and whether we wish to support farms that pollute the earth with pesticides and other chemicals. We can choose those foods that will benefit our internal terrain, our bodies.

We can be mindful of how we engage with the world around us. We can ask ourselves, “am I living my life  as a steward of the planet?” “Am I living my values in each transaction with others?” We can reflect upon our behavior asking ourselves, “how can I be more in tune with my inner self and act in a way that resonates with being my most authentic self?”

Mindfulness allows us to live our lives more in accord with our highest values than with the mere acquisition of material goods.  And when we do seek to acquire material goods, we can ask ourselves “how can I do this in a way that honors my human values?” We can be mindful of how the products were made, under what circumstances, was the earth polluted in the process, were the people who made the product exploited. Are you indirectly supporting countries and companies that harm both the planet and the people; are the countries from which the products come run by dictators?

Think about how many aspects of our life we take for granted, not once giving thought to what we have to be grateful for. We take granted that have a car to drive on a crowded freeway as we go to work each morning without giving thought to millions or even billions of people who don’t have job much less have a car or the money to buy gas. I remember my father saying to me after I complained to him about the amount of taxes I have to pay, “You are fortunate to have job and have taxes to pay…there are many who don’t have food or shelter. You are a fortunate man, indeed.”

Purpose

The age-old questions of why we are here, what is the meaning of life, what is my purpose, have no absolute answers. However, since human beings do have the capacity to think of these questions and to reflect upon their lives, perhaps we should use that capacity to become more than lower animals who merely live their lives to survive. We can live our lives purposefully and let that purpose guide us as we put most of our energies toward that purpose.

For example, some people believe that human beings are on this earth to fulfill the mission of making this planet a better place for all people. They dedicate a portion of their lives to creating a more just society or toward insuring that this planet does not become uninhabitable, due to polluting our air and our waterways. Some people find purpose in expending their energies to feed the hungry or house the homeless or find justice for the disenfranchised. People who live purposefully frequently make their life’s mission wanting to make a difference in the world and in the lives of people.

Some people either find employment in with companies that also want to make a difference. Or they use their employment as a means for supporting their life’s purpose.

Living a purposeful life gives life meaning. Purposefulness requires that we pause long enough in our routines to reflect upon the fact that life is short and it is more important that we make a difference in the world than it is to accumulate possessions.

When we seek happiness through accumulation we will always come up short.  Material possessions can only bring us temporary happiness, just as when we were children and wanted a particular toy, once we received it and played with it for a week or month, the happiness dissipated. We then were onto the next thing that we coveted. In some instances material possession can make our lives easier or give us a degree of pleasure. But when accumulation of goods becomes an end in itself, we will find ourselves in state similar to that of the patient I mentioned at the beginning of this piece.

True and lasting happiness is the result of a life well lived. It is a consequence of how we lived our life, not to be directly pursued.  Happiness and fulfillment results from living our lives mindfully and with purpose. The more mindful we are and the more we develop a purpose for our life, putting energy and resources into fulfilling that purpose, the greater will be our ultimate happiness.

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[Dr. Dreyfus is a nationally recognized clinical psychologist, relationship counselor, sex therapist, and life coach in the Santa Monica – Los Angeles. The profits from his latest book, LIVING LIFE FROM THE INSIDE OUT along with his other five books, are being donated to charity through the website Book Royalties for Charity and can be purchased through Amazon.com. Please become a fan on his Facebook Fan Page by indicating “like” on the page by clicking here. You can also find more tools to help you experience a more fulfilling life by clicking here to visit his website.]