How can eating mindfully lead to happiness? This was the question I was invited to address during a recent presentation at the World Happiness Summit in Miami.
Usually when I’m giving a talk about mindful eating, it’s for health reasons. But please keep reading for two ways to make a direct connection between your meals and your happiness.
When we eat mindfully, we bring all our attention, as best we can, to the sensations of eating. That might sound easy, but it’s astounding how infrequently most of us do it.
We live in a state of continuous partial attention, especially when it comes to eating.
We eat in our cars and at our desks while we’re working. Eating is a often social thing, so we’re eating and talking or watching TV or listening to music. We almost never just eat when we’re eating.
How could eating more mindfully lead to happiness? A Harvard researcher named Matt Killingsworth created an app called “Track Your Happiness.” He studied 15,000 diverse people from all walks of life and 80 different countries.
He would contact them randomly throughout the day to rate their happiness level. He also asked them several questions such as what they were doing, who they were with, and where their attention was; whether or not their mind was wandering.
What made people happy had far less to do with what they were doing, and significantly more to do with whether or not they were present or if their mind was wandering.
Even people who let their mind wander to pleasant things were not as happy as people who were in the present.
If the activity was unpleasant, people were still happier if they were engaged with it fully.
The average mind wanders 47% of the day. We’re missing out on many moments of our life. And a wandering mind is, for the most part, an unhappy mind.
Every time we sit down to eat a meal, it’s an opportunity to be present with our food. This will help us tune in more to cues of hunger and satiety, which contribute to health benefits. But mindful eating can also make us happier, simply by being in the present moment.
Our Choices Matter
The second way mindful eating can contribute to happiness starts when we choose our food.
Think about how you usually choose what you’re going to eat. It’s probably based on habit, or what you’ve decided tastes good, or what you think is good for you. If you’re lucky, these all overlap.
When we practice mindful eating, we take a moment to pause and recognize the interconnectedness of all beings.
We contemplate how the food got to our plate, what the implications are of consuming this food, not just for our individual bodies but for the collective.
We ask ourselves, is this the highest and best choice I can make, not just for myself? We widen our field of compassion to include all living things and the planet herself. And we make a fully conscious choice, not a habitual, conditioned choice.
This brings us to increased happiness by way of a concept called reciprocity. This is a concept from Shamanism.
Indigenous cultures understand this very well. Everything is alive and everything is interconnected. What we do to others and to nature, we are doing to ourselves.
How we treat nature is how nature treats us.
It is important to honor and respect the earth and the other creatures that share the planet with us. Most of us would say we want world peace.
But we disconnect from that intention when we sit down to eat our meals. The disconnect is between who we’d like to be, the world we want to see and the action that we’re taking when we choose to nourish ourselves via an industry seeped in violence, greed and destruction.
The sad reality is that modern day animal agriculture and factory farms, where the vast majority of meat and dairy products come from, are THE leading contributors to global warming and deforestation.
- Animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the combined exhaust from all transportation
- 2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce 1 pound of beef
- 55% of water consumed in the US is for animal agriculture
- Livestock covers 45% of the earth’s total land
- Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction
- We could see fishless oceans by 2048
- Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon destruction
Not to mention the immense suffering experienced by the animals themselves. It was different for our ancestors who only took what they needed, used meat sparingly, honored the animal and tried to use all of it.
When we consume animal flesh in this day and age, unfortunately, we are doing harm to the planet, to the other creatures, and to ourselves: both from a health standpoint and from a spiritual standpoint if we’re contributing to this supply chain of suffering and cruelty.
Be The Peace
What does this have to do with our happiness? According to the concept of reciprocity, the more you love honor and respect the natural world, the more the natural world loves, honors and respects you back! And you have a chance at each meal to take a stand for compassion and kindness, to make a choice that is peaceful and not destructive.
When we put suffering, despair and fear into our body, it literally becomes us. We lower our vibration, and it takes away from our happiness.
The good news is, that you have a chance 3 times a day to say, “I stand for love and connection. This meal is an offering to the greater good!”
Each meal can be a prayer, an offering to the universe that you don’t condone torture and destruction of our planet.
When you live your life this way, and string together many moments of stands for peace, according to the principal of reciprocity, your action is felt and known by the whole and you start being more supported and connected.
You might start noticing more synchronicity and ease in your life, you might start feeling like the entire world is conspiring to shower you with blessings!
We don’t make mindful food choices because we expect something in return. We don’t choose compassionately with a sense of lack or that we’re depriving ourselves. We can make kind choices with great joy.
To be our most compassionate self is a privilege and is it’s own reward.
The blessings, happiness and reciprocity that show up are just bonuses.
As international faith leader and mindfulness teacher Thich Nnat Hanh said in his address to the UN:
“There’s a revolution that needs to happen and it starts from inside each one of us. We need to wake up and fall in love with Earth. Our love and admiration for the Earth has the power to unite us and remove all boundaries, separation and discrimination. Cherishing our precious Earth–falling in love with the Earth–is not an obligation. It is a matter of personal and collective happiness and survival.”
I don’t expect everyone reading this to go entirely plant-powered overnight (although tremendous healing would start instantaneously if we did).
I encourage you to start taking small, compassionate steps when you make your food choices. If you do, don’t be surprised if one day you find yourself happier (and healthier) than you ever imagined possible.
Cheering you on,
With Dr. Saamdu Chetri, Executive Director of the Center for Gross National Happiness in Bhutan, and a fellow presenter at World Happiness Summit.
MINDFULNESS TEACHER TRAINING
Want to learn more about mindful eating and other mindfulness practices, and gain the skills and confidence to share with others? Join me for a 10-week Mindfulness Teacher Training! It’s a virtual class so you can join from anyplace, but there is an optional retreat at the end. The retreat weekend will be held in coastal Rhode Island, which is a gorgeous place to be. It would be wonderful if you could join us for that too!