Being aware of the moments that provide serenity and cultivating them is the best way to move towards a more harmonious life.
Serenity is one of those emotions that seems to be ”in danger of extinction”. Our fast pace of life makes it difficult to find those moments of tranquility and peace of mind in which we feel relaxed and at ease with ourselves, but only from serenity can the good things in life flourish. Positive psychology offers us the tools to obtain our best harvest of serenity.
Serenity is, today, rare in our lives.
We have so much to do, so many activities and commitments, so little time, that tranquility seems a luxury, something reserved for some special occasions, for remote places or for enlightened people like yogis or saints. But both traditional wisdom and current science tell us that serenity and mental health is something very important for everyone and that we must cultivate it in our daily lives.
CAN WE ACHIEVE MOMENTS OF SERENITY?
Positive psychology studies the factors that allow people to live more fully. One of the most important researchers in this field is Dr. Barbara Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (USA). She has found that there are ten fundamental positive emotions that help people “flourish”, not only survive but function in extraordinary ways, both personally and socially. Serenity is one of them.
Dr. Fredrickson has observed that people experience serenity if their environment is safe and familiar.
Serenity is similar to joy, but it is calmer and occurs without trying to achieve it. We feel serene when resting after a day of work, taking a quiet walk in the countryside, snuggling by the fireplace to listen to our favorite music.
Barbara Fredrickson points out that serenity, peace of mind, makes us want to stay where we are and absorb the moment, savor our circumstances, and later integrate them into our lives more fully. The researcher comments that when we say to ourselves “I should do this more often”, probably what we are feeling is precisely serenity. And there are many things we can do in our day to day to be more calm. These are just a few:
- Exercise. Every day there is more evidence of the great benefits of exercise on our physical and mental health. The psychiatrist John Ratey, from Harvard University (USA), has found that exercise can have effects comparable to those of some drugs against anxiety and depression: it raises the levels of endorphins and dopamine in the brain that improve our mood.
- Live consciously. It is about putting our full attention on what we are doing, not getting distracted or trying to do many things at once. You cannot pay attention simultaneously to several activities. Even though we think we are multitasking, we are actually jumping from one task to another, rapidly shifting our attention from one place to another.
We are more productive and calmer when we attend to only one matter at a time and give it our full attention.
- To meditate. All spiritual traditions include a form of meditation, whether it is sitting quietly for a while, mentally repeating a prayer, phrase, or mantra, or observing our breath. Most of them involve fixing your attention on something and, at the same time, being open to the experience. The current neurosciences are corroborating the benefits of meditation, which some ancient traditions have known forever. Barbara Fredrickson has conducted several investigations in which she has found that people who meditate, even if they are beginners, experience more positive emotions, and that the more they meditate, the higher their levels of “positivity”.
- “Disconnect”. We can be in contact with dozens of people every day, have instant communication with people from different countries and be constantly aware of what is happening in the world. But this permanent connection also has its downsides. One of them is that we always feel on the alert, always available. Before, when you came home, you could forget about the office until the next day, but today our virtual offices never close and we have to make an effort to separate the spaces of our life and disconnect to recharge our physical and emotional batteries.
- Be in contact with nature. If I asked them to conjure up an image associated with serenity, they would probably think of a calm lake, a sunset in the country. It is proven that contact with nature raises our levels of “positivity”.
The researchers suggest that it is because its vastness fascinates us and completely occupies our attention, which helps us feel more serene.
- Learn to say “no.” Harvard University professor Dr. Ned Hallowell has studied the effects of our busy lives. Especially if we are very enthusiastic, we tend to accept all requests and, in the end, we overload ourselves. Learning to select allows us to focus on what we really want and can do.
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