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The Secret to Happiness, Straight from a Former Monk

December 30, 2016

By Sarah McColl

When life becomes totally overwhelming, there is always this option—walk up the hill to a monastery, knock on the door, and ask for admittance to your new, stress-free monastic life.

“As ridiculous as that might sound, that’s exactly what you do,” writes Andy Puddicombe, the guy who, The New York Times wrote, “is doing for meditation what someone like Jamie Oliver has done for food.” He would know. He once knocked. Years later, he also scaled a huge stone wall in an effort to escape monastic life. “Stress-free,” as it turns out, wasn’t totally attainable—or even the real goal.

What Puddicombe discovered is that achieving a zen life doesn’t require dropping out, but tuning in, whenever and wherever we can. Specifically, Puddicombe wants us to put our phones down and simply sit for ten minutes. But he leaves the how, when and why up to us, which makes his new book The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness the “Choose Your Own Adventure” of meditation books.

“It doesn’t matter whether the point of focus is the taste of the food that you’re eating, or the movement of your arm as you open and close a door,” Puddicombe writes. “Awareness can be applied to every little thing you do—no exceptions.”

There’s something reassuringly realistic about knowing that what stands between you and happiness is not a laundry list of ways to live better. In fact, Puddicombe thinks we’ve all gone a bit happiness-crazy. Seeking constant joy isn’t easy. But making headspace—that’s doable. And you don’t need to do anything new to feel it, he says. You just need to really do what you’re already doing.

“The beauty of mindfulness is that you don’t need to take extra time out of your day to practice it. All it means is training your mind to be present with the action, rather than being lost in thought elsewhere.”

The way to get there: Just sitting, for ten minutes a day. That’s it. No magic wands, no chants, no life-imbuing tonics. Just sitting. (Puddicombe’s Headspace app—one of the most popular and best-designed meditation apps in the iTunes store—offers guided meditations.) The book also outlines mindfulness practices that can be dropped into everyday life while eating, brushing your teeth, or just sitting quietly somewhere to sense the feelings in your body.

Science is on the side of mindfulness, too. A raft of studies peppered throughout Puddicombe’s book, from  UCLA and the University of Massachusetts Medical School, show mindfulness reduces the intensity of negative emotions, alleviates anxiety and depression, and can reverse the physiological effects of stress.

The formal practice of sitting helps train our minds, but the awareness is available to us in any moment of any day.

“Remember, all it means is to give your full attention to whatever you’re doing, whenever you’re doing it.”

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