What do Oprah, LeBron James, Derek Jeter, Kobe Bryant, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ariana Huffington, Hugh Jackman and Phil Jackson have in common? They are all famous and rich? Sure, but a core component of their journey to success is their regular practice of mindfulness.
What makes a life successful? What are its component parts? There is birth, school, college, drugs, alcohol, money, vacations, sex, children, aging, grandchildren, death, and yet there is no recipe for combining all of these to assure a happy life. Deciding that you can know how you will live by defining the number of children you will have, exactly where and when you will vacation, how much money you will make, and what your profession will be is as futile as assuming that you will know how you will feel after eating a slice of orange cake simply by knowing the ingredients that went into the cake.
What matters far more than any one of these things is the quality of awareness that you bring into your life. When we mistake pleasure for happiness, we get caught in a trap of forever chasing pleasure by imagining that our life would be wonderful “if only.” And it is in this chase that we lose the very thing we are seeking.
By imagining that a particular thing or person will make us happy, we suffer when life doesn’t give us exactly what we want. The chase leads to a vicious cycle of desire, with short-term, intense emotional fixes leading to long-term disillusionment. No amount of money, clothes, fast cars or drugs will provide you enduring peace.
Joy that lasts only a moment or a day recedes quickly, like the momentary aftertaste of a delicious crème brûlée. This is not a philosophical, stoic perspective. Research shows that happiness is driven by the frequency, rather than the intensity, of positive emotions. When we aim for intense emotions and they don’t last, it is easy for disappointment and depression to set in.
For enduring happiness, the solution is to enjoy the pleasure in everyday moments. The way to get to there is through mindful awareness. This is the most effective path to enduring happiness. The alternative is a life stuck in the mindless repetition of habitual living. Mindful awareness means richer and healthier relationships, more clarity of thought and less reactivity to the buttons that trigger strong emotions.
Given the overwhelming scientific evidence that mindfulness is an effective way to improve physical health, provide ease of mind and focused attention, it is not surprising that so many of the aforementioned famous people are regular practitioners. But neither wealth nor fame nor station in life are needed to practice the mindful way of life.
When producer and director Larry Kasanoff asked me to be in a documentary on mindfulness, I was surprised, given that everything he had done to date were action and sci-fi films like “Mortal Kombat” and “Terminator 2.” And yet he gathered people from different professions, each of whom shared how they use mindfulness in their professional lives, to produce a documentary sewn together by the teachings of Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh.
“Mindfulness: Be Happy Now” has hidden lessons and perspectives that reveal themselves with each viewing, and each viewing has left me with new insights that motivate and invigorate. The documentary is a wonderful primer for what to do and how to start the practice of mindfulness; a core tool for the building of an essentially happy life.