Mindfulness can help you experience everyday life

Mindfulness is a hot topic in the wellness world these days. What is all the fuss about?

According to Psychology Today, “mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present.” Mindfulness is paying attention to your life at any given moment. But is it that easy? One of the hardest challenges we face today is simply to live in the present. We’re so trapped in thoughts of the future or the past that we forget to experience — let alone enjoy — what’s happening right now. You’ve probably had the experience of driving along a highway only to suddenly realize you have no memory of the previous 15 minutes. Maybe you even missed your exit. You just zoned out. Or maybe it happens when you’re reading a book — “I know I just read that page, but I have no idea what it said.” Harvard’s Ellen Langer calls these moments mindlessness — times when you’re so lost in your thoughts that you aren’t aware of your present experience. As a result, life passes you by without registering. The best way to avoid these blackouts is to practice mindfulness — develop the habit of noticing new things in whatever situation you’re in.

Pay close attention to your breathing, especially when you’re feeling intense emotions. Tune into your body and really notice what you’re sensing in a given moment — the sights, sounds and smells. Psychologist Stephen Schueller found that when subjects in a study took a few minutes each day to actively enjoy something they usually hurried through eating a meal, drinking a cup of tea, taking a shower — they began experiencing more joy and happiness and fewer depressive symptoms.

Why does living in the moment make people happier? According to Dr. Elise Bialylew of HuffPost Healthy Living, “when practiced regularly, mindfulness can bring more calm and effectiveness into everyday life, reducing stress and enhancing mental capacity. Mindfulness can infuse our lives with gratitude and enhance our appreciation of the ordinary things which can so often pass by unnoticed.”

Here’s a great tip on how to live mindfully from Jay Dixit of Psychology Today — wear your watch upside-down or put a quarter in your shoe. When you notice it, let that serve as a reminder for you to notice your surroundings and bring your focus into the present. If you get to the point where you’re going entire days without noticing it, switch up the reminder.

In her book “Eat, Pray, Love” Elizabeth Gilbert writes about a friend who, whenever she sees a beautiful place, exclaims in a near panic, “It’s so beautiful here. I want to come back here someday.”

“It takes all my persuasive powers,” writes Gilbert, “to try to convince her that she is already here.”

Don’t wait until your life is almost over to realize how priceless the present moment is. The good life is here and now. Wake up. Pay attention. Breathe. Live.

Jeri L. Dreikosen RN, BSN, CWWPM, is the Sheboygan Area School District wellness coordinator and Sheboygan Well County Task Force member