The Dalai Lama has given his blessing to a new course of mindfulness evening classes set to hit the UK this year.
The eight-week course, which will be delivered through local groups, aims to reduce our stress levels and increase happiness.
The course, titled Exploring What Matters, has been created by the organisation Action for Happiness and is largely based on the concept of mindfulness – a therapeutic technique based on the Buddhist practice of being aware of one’s thoughts and feelings in an intentional, non-judgemental way.
“As patron of Action for Happiness I am delighted to see the work being done by members of this movement to create a happier and more caring society,” the Dalai Lama said in a statement.
“I wholeheartedly support the Exploring What Matters course and hope that many thousands of people will benefit from it and be inspired to take their own action to help create a happier world.”
But why do we need lessons in happiness and is a good mood something you can really teach?
The Dalai Lama
Mark Williamson, director of Action for Happiness, believes our skewed definition of “success” is partly to blame for our unhappiness.
“All around us we’re sold bad ideas about what makes life good. We’re told it’s about earning more, consuming more and looking more perfect. But this shallow game isn’t making us happy,” he tells HuffPost UK Lifestyle.
“It creates stress and anxiety, it makes us selfish instead of kind and it leaves us feeling lonely and meaningless. We need to focus on the things that really matter.”
Arti Lal, co-ordinator of Inner Space meditation and self-development centre, agrees we need to alter our priorities and perspective if we want to be a happier nation.
“We need mindfulness classes – we don’t pause enough any more in our lives, especially in London,” she tells us.
“Because we don’t pause, we don’t have the time to replenish and refresh our minds with positive thoughts and positive feelings and we forget to enjoy the quality of our lives.
“We build up internal stress, and any level of stress for any period of time is going to cause unhappiness because it’s essentially exhaustion.”
Lal points out that we tend to focus on the negative aspects of life and constantly worry about what can be improved.
For example, when we walk down a busy street, we are more likely to feel stressed about being late for work, than feel grateful for being part of a community.
The new Exploring What Matters course aims to question our perspective in such situations and re-establish what we need to focus on in order to feel happy.
Under the course, which will be delivered by community volunteers with materials and support provided by Action for Happiness, local groups will meet for eight weeks, with each session exploring a big question.
Sessions explore themes around happiness and what really matters in life.
These topics will be followed by sessions on dealing with adversity, having good relationships, caring for others, and creating happier workplaces and communities.
Although Exploring What Matters will not be available to all until the end of 2015, Action for Happiness say participants who have trialled the course have reported increased levels of “life satisfaction, mental wellbeing, compassion and social trust”.
Jasmine Hodge-Lake was one of the people who tried the sessions. She joined the course after having suffered for over a decade with chronic pain which left her unable to work.
Describing her experience she says: “I found there were things I could do that would make a big difference and started to feel hopeful about the future.
“I still have bad days and life certainly isn’t perfect. But it has really helped me so much. Now I’m trying to be the change that I want to see.”
Lal is not surprised that a course based on mindfulness has had such a positive effect on an individual.
“How you perceive what you’re doing and where you’re at is going to either increase your energy or decrease your energy. You’re either going to enjoy the richness you’re experiencing or feel stressed by it,” she says.
“Not only does this change of perspective make you happier, it improves your immune system, it improves your health, it improves your wellbeing. You walk away from a mindfulness session feeling empowered.”
As the Dalai Lama has pointed out, happiness starts at the individual. If an individual is happy, their family is more likely to be happy. If a family is happy, they have more energy to make a community happy, and then a nation happy.
These new evening classes may not end sadness and suffering overnight, but who knows, they could be the first step in the right direction.