Top tips for finding your inner 'happy place'
AS I spoke to Astrid de Ruiter she was sitting on her patio "appreciating the beauty of the flowers, the sun shining".
Astrid teaches mindfulness, and practices in everyday life.
"Bringing awareness to our senses can bring vividness to even small things we might normally not notice, have no felt feeling for," she explained.
She sees the practice of gratitude as having a special power as it can be so widely applied, but it helps to understand a few things about learning to feel more gratitude.
"Rick Hansen (a neuropsychologist and meditation teacher) compares training the mind to cultivating a garden," Astrid said.
"The first thing to do is learn to witness and see what's actually already here.
"Through mindfulness we learn how things are, to be with them, and learn not to resist experience. You need to accept where you are standing first before you can bring in anything else."
Astrid said if you were "feeling anxious or low mood, if you start to tell yourself 'I should be grateful I'm alive', that's exactly the mechanism people struggle with. Because the next thought that easily arises is 'I should feel grateful, but I'm feeling crap'. This then creates a negative spiral. Learning to tolerate experiences as they are needs to come first".
She said learning mindfulness "isn't that complicated, but it's not that easy".
"Some people make it seem that if you do a short bit of practice you will get the same kind of depth of changes as if you do an eight-week series of sessions with daily home practice.
"It doesn't work like that. Mindfulness works because it changes the brain.
"Neuroplasticity depends on repetitions. It's like mastering a skill, you need to put in time."
Astrid said that as you put in effort and start trying to notice pleasant events you will discover the mind has a strong negativity bias.
"The negative sticks, the good doesn't. To cultivate the capacity to more easily feel positive mind states like gratitude you need to make a conscious effort and pause with experience.
"To make it a felt experience, a warmth, an easing in the body. It takes time and practice for that experience to be absorbed and to go into long-term memory and you need to extend the experience for that to happen."
LEARN MINDFULNESS: Astrid teaches the internationally recognised eight-week MBSR course developed by Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn through Openground.com.au.
READ: Hardwiring Happiness - The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence by Rick Hansen PHD.