Two young girls enjoyng time on a beach

This article was first published in “Lifeline”, Issue 4/ 2016.


Many people believe they won’t find true joy until they acquire something they don’t have. This could be many things: A fat paycheck, good grades, someone to love, a baby... the list goes on.

While there is nothing wrong with working hard to achieve our goals, we are often so caught up in pursuing them that we forget to live for the present. One good way to change or reframe the way you think and approach life is to practise mindfulness—it’s easier than you might imagine.

“Mindfulness means paying attention to your sense of the present—choosing to put away distractions and being in the here and now,” says Dr P Buvanaswari, an associate consultant in NUH’s Department of Psychological Medicine.

“For example, I tend to eat quickly when I have lunch on my own, and I usually keep myself occupied by reading something on my phone. But not today. I put my phone away and practised mindfulness while I ate. I paid attention to the taste of my food, and I observed the trees rustling in the wind as I looked out the window. I focused on my breathing and my posture. When I returned to work after lunch, I felt relaxed and refreshed.”

According to Dr Buvanaswari, we can look after ourselves both physically and mentally by imagining that we all have an emotional and psychological “bank account”. “When we keep this bank account topped up, we feel that our lives are enjoyable and meaningful. So when there are ‘withdrawals’ due to negative experiences, such as getting retrenched or doing badly in an exam, our account will not get depleted.”

Related: Mindful about Mindfulness

Focus on the Good Stuff

A young woman in a hoodie enjoying the feel of rain on her face

How do we do it? By accumulating positive experiences, big and small. Even exercises in mindfulness that help us reflect and relax would count as a “deposit”.

This, in a nutshell, is what positive psychology is about. “It’s not just about avoiding the negative but moving into the positive, playing to our strengths as much as possible, such as having hobbies and engaging in our community,” says Dr Buvanaswari.

Research on positive psychology has found that the happiest people are good in something they enjoy, they use their skills in the service of a cause they believe in, and they are sociable, with friends and family to count on for support. So do something you love or find meaningful, not only will you reap the benefits of a positive mindset, you’ll find that joy isn’t elusive after all.

Related: How to Be and Stay Positive

Live It Up!

A group of friends hanging out in a cafe

Boost your mind—and emotions—with these simple activities:

  • Take up a favourite exercise such as yoga or walking in nature
  • Catch up with old friends and colleagues
  • Learn a new skill such as photography, or pick up a new language
  • Join an interest group or support group
  • Volunteer for a good cause

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