5 Ways to Be Happier & Less Depressed Through Buddhism.

Via on Jan 18, 2013
concentration
Photo: Johnny Worthington

As a young child, I did not realize how fortunate I was to have a Buddhist mother.

I simply assumed that all children grew up with the gifts of wisdom, sound solace and a tangible sense of calm.

But after I flew the safe nest and breast of my mother, I learned that the rest of the world was not so quiet, not so reflective, and not very serene at all. I learned much too quickly that the world was often a bitter, ugly and angry place, and much too loud for my sensitive ears. But it was just that sensitivity that I learned from Buddhism that helped me through the pain and looming despair I would face.

Such painful periods included watching my infant daughter undergo open heart surgery, enduring an abusive relationship for years, and suffering severe injuries in a car accident.

There were also periods when I simply felt blue from the rigors that life can often have on you. These include the day-to-day experiences of relationships, work, having and raising children, trying to keep up or even find the Joneses, helping with aging parents, and the first years of early adulthood when one often feels so alone.

As I look back upon my life, and live each day with a brighter spirit as I have grown older and hopefully wiser, the words of my Buddhist mother always whispers gentle and soothing words straight into my spirit.

One core belief of Buddhism teaches that both happiness and sadness is the responsibility of each individual, which also means that we all have the complete control to change our lives.

What a refreshing and enlightening concept!

I know that the life lessons I have learned through Buddhism will continue to breathe life and breadth with their true strength and power as I face new fears, challenges and bouts of sadness that I now know are just a part of the natural human experience.

I hope that the following five pieces of Buddhist wisdom will find you well . . .

1. Meditation

Meditation is not easy, and if it was, it would not be able to deliver to you the peace and well-being that it does once you get the hang of it. Like all worthy endeavors, it takes practice, patience and even some had work in order to benefit from its invaluable gifts.

One of the oldest practices in history, meditation has been used for centuries to heal the human spirit, calm the mind and even cure and aid severe physical pain and emotional suffering.

In our fast-paced and violent-charged world wherein every segment of our population seems to be stressed out, learning how to meditate is one way that can help us heal and more importantly thrive and learn to be peaceful, even in the eye of a life’s biggest storms.

Part of the process begins with simply learning how to be still, quiet and truly relax. This can help anyone, whether suffering from depression, or longing for a more meaningful and well-intentioned life. The purposeful act or rather non-act of meditating is also a proven and highly effective way of helping people to manage severe emotional and even physical pain. This includes those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder from the effects of war and emotional turmoil which can include mental illness and clinical depression (see link at bottom).

There are countless ways to meditate, and no method is the only correct method for everyone. Many people fear meditation as they already make up their minds that they will not be good at it. That’s the whole point of meditation—to relax within yourself and put all negativity aside. The important thing to remember is to simply begin, and to try different techniques until you find the one that works for you.

How to Start

Read a few books, talk to people who meditate, find a class and learn about it.

Begin my practicing the simple act of sitting still for a few minutes a day and closing your eyes. Turn off all phones, your television, computer and even music so that you can feel and even hear your own breath. Do not give up if you feel nervous or anxious to begin with, there is no right way or wrong way to meditate, it is not a race or a contest. If you can only sit still for five minutes to begin with, at least you know you are on your way to a more authentic self, and hopefully a healthier you.

Above all, keep practicing. The changes you will see in your life will be mind-altering and will alter your life.

2. Begin Each day with a Positive Motivation

Rather than just hoping that you will have a peaceful day and have positive experiences, make it happen.

In other words, before stepping out from a deep slumber and going through the auto-pilot mechanics of your hectic life, take five to 10 minutes to think about some positive feelings and outlooks to set in motion. This will make it more likely that you will be able to experience peace for the coming day ahead, whatever the day might bring.

My own motivations and affirmations include:

I will attempt to be peaceful in all of my interactions with others.
I will be a conduit of calm, serenity and happiness in all things that I do.
I will attempt to gain positive enlightenment from my day and learn from others.
I will accept people as loving, peaceful and accepting as I am and will not judge.

The aim is to be the maker and creator of your first feelings of the day, which will undoubtedly effect the remainder of your day. The first feelings of the day are the most influential as to how the rest of your day will be. If you make an effort to make these thoughts a part of your conscious and subconscious awareness, you will not only have a more peaceful day, but effect others in the same manners as well.

3. Practice Mindfulness

The mind, the brain and our thoughts can be wonderful and glorious gifts we can give ourselves, if we use them right. But as we all know, our minds often lead us into destructive patterns of thought, extreme negative inner self-talk and self deprecation that can lead us into feeling pretty awful, if not downright isolated and depressed.

Many depressed people claim to feel tired all of the time, even those who have a relaxed schedule, as negative emotions are truly toxic and exhausting to the spirit, mind and the body.

Being mindful means that rather than simply going through the motions and reliving pain, you will become more aware of your feelings and thoughts, and therefore improve them. By becoming more aware of your feelings, you are more likely to think of actions and solutions as they relate to negative and toxic thoughts.

How to practice Mindfulness

Begin by becoming more aware of your feelings when you feel them, whether they are joy, pain, elation, ambivalence, fear or anger. Allowing yourself to feel your raw feelings when you feel them is truly the first start in being able to manage your emotions and find your way to peace.

Some of my spiritual epiphanies through mindfulness include:

My past suffering does not have to hurt me any longer.
I feel the joys in my life much more strongly than any pain.
I only have today and I can make it anything and any way that I want it to be.
I truly love my children, and when they experience pain or joy, I feel it too.
The pain I feel from childhood has made me the empathetic person I am today.

The goal is to cultivate positive energy toward the good feelings that we have as well as the bad. But we can only discover what those are if we are mindful.

Begin . . . just begin.

Peaceful Meditation free creative commons

4. Before you Eat, Offer your Food to Buddha

There is perhaps no other more automatic and mindless action that humans have than the act of eating, and yet, it is truly an act that can bring peace and serenity, while also making us more physically healthy.

Of course you might ask yourself, “How do I offer food to Buddha? What does that even mean?”

Start by imagining that all good food is made of a blissful nectar that increases all of your wisdom. Next, imagine that Buddha is lightness in your heart and that when you eat, you offer the blissful nectar to Buddha, as you are nourishing and filling up your own heart and soul. Visualize this thought and eat mindfully, feeling grateful for the act of eating and for the gift that it is giving us. This will also ensure that you will eat slower and help you to reflect about where your food came from, how it came to your table, to your mouth, and to your well being.

How I Offer my Food to Buddha

As I imagine Buddha within my body, I think of him or her as a kind and gentle child that I only want to nourish and keep happy.

When I prepare my food, I do it slowly, carefully and with mindfulness, cutting fresh foods beautifully and precisely and stirring cooked foods gently and patiently. Whether it be a salad, fish or just a piece of fruit, I imagine how much the Buddha within me will enjoy it much more if I take my time to eat it and enjoy it.

This careful act of eating has not only made the ritual of eating a positive one each every time, but it has also inspired me to eat healthier food and therefore, become a healthier being, inside and out.

5. Looking Back on Our Day

This is similar to beginning the day with a positive purpose and spirit of intent. When put into motion, it will create a more peaceful and fulfilled day, all around. But just as important as it is to have a positive start to your day, it is of equal importance to end the day with the same degree of mindfulness and reflection.

Rather than having thoughts ruminating in your head such as: “I am so exhausted and just glad the day is over,” or “Just another typical hard or boring day,” why not instead look back on your day with some gentle reflections?

One reason why many people are not happy or fulfilled in their lives is that they are either too hard on themselves or not conscious and aware of their own thoughts or actions. By being reflective about your day, you can give yourself the gift of not repeating the same mistakes or missteps, and by thinking carefully about how your day went and how you want it to be different, you can learn the art of getting to know your own mind and how you act and react in different circumstances.

You will also have more reflective, interesting and revealing dreams if your last thoughts before drifting off were thoughtful, rather than random and purposeless.

While knowledge isn’t always power, it can lead you to a more spiritual path that can make you happier, if you learn how to reflect upon your thoughts and actions.

How to Look Back on your Day

Sit down in a quiet spot, on your bed, a chair or anywhere you can be alone for at least 15 minutes.
Close your eyes and think about your day as if it were a movie or a book; notice the different scenes that you were a part of, the people you interacted with and the feelings that you felt. And now, just sit with those feelings and think about how you might wish to act differently and feel differently if you were faced with the same circumstances.

Questions to ask yourself:

Could you have been more patient, loving and kind in your interactions with others?
Were you authentic and truthful to yourself in all of your actions?
How might you be a more understanding and empathetic person to both yourself and others tomorrow?
What was wonderful and joyous about your day?
What are you grateful about?

And once again, the most important thing is to be loving and forgiving to yourself for your transgressions. Only when you are willing to forgive yourself first, can you forgive others.

The act of looking back upon your day will not only help you learn about yourself and hopefully help you to be a better person, a spiritual person, and a loving person to yourself and others, but be a happier person as well.

~

Note about author:

About me, I grew up with a Japanese Buddhist mother and a Russian-English Jewish father and I have explored many religions, customs and cultures throughout my life as both an individual person, mother, writer and truth seeker. I am now truly a happier person today as I come to accept myself and others for who they are, while also  realizing that each day is new and special, which I am eternally grateful for.

Some Links that may be Helpful:

How to Meditate: www.how-to-meditate.org
How to Mediate Video: www.youtube.com
A View on Buddhism and Depression: www.viewonbuddhism.org
The Basics of Buddhism: www.pbs.org
Stress Management and Meditation: www.mayoclinic.com
Meditation and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: www.meditation-ptsd.com

 

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Ed: Brianna Bemel

About Francesca Biller

Francesca Biller is an award-winning investigative journalist and has reported for print, radio and television for nearly twenty years. As a reporter, she has widely covered the issues of politics, the economy, women’s issues, families, race, the media, popular culture, children and a variety of other topical and timely issues. Awards include The Edward R. Murrow award, two Golden Mike awards and four Society of Professional Journalists First Place awards. Currently, she primarily writes political satire, op eds and essays with a focus on women, children, politics and pop culture for various blogs, websites and other media outlets. You can connect with Francesca on twitter @francescabiller and learn more about her at francescabiller.com.

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31 Responses to “5 Ways to Be Happier & Less Depressed Through Buddhism.”

  1. [...] relationships in my life revive my consciousness. I feel more, I listen more—I awaken. This realization is the force that gets me out of my solitary [...]

  2. Francesca Biller Francesca Biller says:

    I hope that each one of you will find more peace and joy after you read this.

  3. Amy says:

    I love your writing! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Remember my friends that the things that are most worthwhile in life are often what is hardest in the beginning. With Buddhist practices including meditation, there is no right or wrong way. Just begin and breathe :)

  5. Whitney says:

    I truly enjoyed this post. Thank you so much for the inspiration and relaxation that it brought

  6. stephanie says:

    authentic heartfelt guidance I can use RIGHT NOW. Peace.

  7. Cindy says:

    ~~so grateful for your open heart~~thank you for sharing

  8. Kay says:

    Wonderful suggestions to guide us through our days and lives! Thank you.

  9. [...] 5 Ways to Be Happier & Less Depressed Through Buddhism. [...]

  10. LynnBonelli says:

    Thank you so much for not only posting the ways to be happier but also for the how to's…they will definitely come in handy.

  11. Francesca Biller Francesca Biller says:

    Hi LynnBonelli, Thank you so much for reading my piece and that you will find it helpful! That makes me truly happy!

  12. [...] must silence ourselves and find stillness. This takes practice. And what helps us prepare for this? Tools like yoga and meditation, something that slows us down and allows for reflection. It may also come in other forms: a walk in nature, baking or cooking, writing in a journal, the [...]

  13. Jane says:

    I really like this article, thank you for posting!

  14. [...] 5 Ways to Be Happier & Less Depressed Through Buddhism. [...]

  15. Gabriela says:

    Wow! What a nice piece. Since I started meditating, I am also having very similar experiences with what you're describing.

  16. Hi Jane, thank you for reading my article. I hope that it helped!

  17. Hi Gabriela, Yes, meditation has really helped me, along with Buddhist practices. It has also helped with my writing. Thank you for reading my article!

  18. [...] 5 Ways to Be Happier & Less Depressed Through Buddhism. (elephantjournal.com) [...]

  19. [...] 5 Ways to Be Happier & Less Depressed Through Buddhism. (elephantjournal.com) [...]

  20. Zara says:

    I do have an interest in Buddhism (much more logical than other religions plus it vibes nicely with my atheistic views) and I do practice meditation (used to practice Zen quite frequently, recently started again with a once a week 35 minute session together with an acquaintance) yet there are some problems that cannot be solved this way. I know this will sound cliché and I know some people go through much worse but I really do not enjoy life (to put it mildly) and I don't see the point in continuing an existence that contains far more pain than happiness. I do believe meditation and a buddhist lifestyle is much more effective in combatting depression than western psychotherapy and farmacology. More people in the west should learn about this and avoid having to feed the greed of pharmaceutical companies and psychologists and psychiatrists who maybe learned men and women but usually don't posses one shred of true wisdom and compassion. True spirituality does indeed come from the east: ex oriente lux.

    What I am looking for now is ways to pacify my mind so I can pass on peacefully and with a clear mind hopefully avoiding karmic backlash in the next life if that is indeed what would happen. I'm most intrigued by Zen-buddhism since it's very practical and if it helped samurai face death on the battlefield then surely it can help me face my death composed and stoic.

    I'm reading jissei (death poems) written by Zen monks and samurai and the clarity of mind and beauty contained in it is astonishing. Truly they must have been enlightened and much more at peace with life and death than we materialistic and egotistic westerners. The one I like most is this:

    Holding forth this sword
    I cut vacuity in twain;
    In the midst of the great fire,
    a stream of refreshing breeze! (Shiaku Nyûdo, 1333)

    Truly this cannot be surpassed: to those in the greatest turmoil death is indeed the only and completely effective release.

    Anyway, sorry to have bothered you with this. I did like your article.

    Namaste

    Zara

  21. nice post. but if i am depressed, and i do all this, the part where i look back at the day, there is not much for me to look at since i have depression i tend to stay cocooned at home and isolate myself. if anything i meditate a lot when cleaning my place and petting my cats- doing each thing very focused. at times it feels almost like a vipassana meditation and i want to go screaming into the mountains bc i am at times lonely. then i try to meet people and i find no interest at all- too superficial etc.. so i return to my hermit life. maybe i am meant to live a solitary life and i am just getting used to it each time more. I can spend weeks now without talking to anyone, alone with my kitties and my beautiful flowers appreciating and merging with the surrounding nature. maybe that makes me unsociable in the eyes of others, but actually i am super sensitive and feel hurt so easily and feel i have no one to talk to that i can fully confide in since my best friend neighbor moved

    • David St. Michael says:

      I am a recluse, as well. I enjoy it very much and I'm very accepting of it. In fact, I insist upon it. I cannot force myself to like other people, places, and things. It's not right. But, what I can do is fully accept all of me as is and work from there. It may not be ideal for others, but it's my life and I'm doing the best I can with it. I wish you well. Namaste.

    • G F says:

      In a book about Catholicism, the author discusses relationships. He says something like: We don't have to have people around us. We should just strive to live as the "best version of ourselves". (And of course, he goes on to say we should model our lives after the saints and apostles). It sounds like you have a reverence for animals and nature– kind of like St Francis of Assisi.
      Not pushing religion here. It's just that we learn good things from many sources. So, carry on in your best version of you.

  22. Dan D says:

    Thank you.

  23. elephantjournal says:

    Linda K What if you are talking to people with mental health issues? How do you address that?

    David S Great question! I have lived with clinical depression my whole life (I am fifty). These last few years, I have turned to meditation and Buddhism for help. Second only to entering AA back in 1994, it's been the best decision I've ever made.
    There is no cure for depression, but there are helpful people, places, and things out there – and for me… this has really helped. Oh, how I wished medicine would do it, but sadly it doesn't in my case. I'll keep trying, though. Cheers.

  24. Blake says:

    This is just what I needed today! Thank you for this gift.

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