Yes, meditation makes you happier. Research shows that participants in meditation programs report feeling happier, less anxious, and less stressed. However, meditation can take a long time to feel like it’s “working”.
Most people start meditating because they want to reduce stress and anxiety in their lives, and feel calmer throughout the day.
In short, they want to be happier.
Fortunately, if you’re in this camp, you’re on the right path. Meditation can help. You’ll still experience highs and lows, and meditation can take a long time to feel like it’s working.
But over time, you should find that your highs are higher, and that your lows are higher too.
So, does meditation make you happy?
Yes, meditation makes you happier.
Research on meditation that specifically measures happiness outcomes shows that participants in meditation programs report feeling happier, less anxious, and less stressed.
However, there’s an important asterisk to add:
Meditation can take a long time to feel like it’s “working”. And when it does work, you’re still unlikely to feel happy all the time. But you’ll probably feel measurably happier than you used to.
As Dan Harris says in his book 10% Happier, meditation isn’t likely to transform you overnight, but it might make you 10% happier. It’s worth a shot.
I happen to think that ballparking a 10% increase in happiness sets the right expectations for thinking about meditation, since it can be a slow process to see improvement in your mood, anxiety and stress levels. And even if Dan Harris is right about this low-ball estimate, that’s about as close to a secret to happiness as exists in our world.
But 10% still leaves plenty of room for unhappiness and challenges.
The effect of meditation on happiness
Significant research has been done on the topic of meditation, and some studies look at happiness specifically.
A study of 29 participants
A 2021 study took 29 participants through a 9-month program called the Art of Happiness. The program’s focus was meditation.
At the end of the program, participants had greater perceived well-being, increased levels of life satisfaction, less judgment of their inner experience, lower levels of anxiety, and lower levels of anger.
They also reported “increased positive affect” which, in psychologist-speak, means they felt happier.
An analysis of 1,267 meditators
An analysis of 1,267 participants from 2021 found that mindfulness and meditation are connected with enhanced happiness and reduced anxiety, as well as an increased sense of purpose in life.
How does meditation increase happiness?
The question “Will meditation make me happy?” maybe isn’t the ideal way to frame it. Meditation isn’t meant to make you happy, at least not directly.
It’s meant to chip away at your sources of psychological suffering by helping you appreciate the present moment nonjudgmentally.
So maybe an even better way to look at this question is this:
Meditation helps remove self-imposed obstacles to happiness.
One experienced meditator explained it this way:
“I feel more at peace and calm after my meditation than I do after I wake up. If I were to rate my mental arousal levels, 1 being perfectly serene, and 10 being panic attack, I’d say I wake up at a 3 out of 10. So my baseline is a 3, and as your day goes on, it slowly ratchets up… Hence why we have bad days that seem to get worse, and feel a need to wind down at the end of a day. When I meditate, it drops me down 1 or 2 points. So I wake [up at a level] 3, meditate shortly after, and now I’m at a 2 or even a 1. So then by the end of the day, instead of ending it at like a 6 or a 7, I’m at a 4 or a 5. So [in] my day to day, my mind is just calmer, it doesn’t amp up as high, the anxious and restless thoughts are down….
Meditation does not make me happy. Meditation alleviates all the things that get in the way of being able to find and appreciate happiness.”Source: Reddit
In my mind, this is one of the best ways to look at the effects of meditation on a day-to-day basis.
It helps to reduce your baseline levels of stress and anxiety so you’re able to experience a calmer, more peaceful day.
Why do I feel good when I meditate?
Meditation isn’t necessarily meant to feel good, or to make you feel better while you’re meditating. It’s really practice for “later”—so you’re able to experience more of your regular life observing the present moment nonjudgmentally.
Sometimes meditation is hard, but other times meditation feels good.
It’s complicated to untangle.
When meditation feels bad, it’s usually because you’re struggling to maintain your awareness on the present moment, and spend the session feeling like you’re not getting anywhere with your practice. It’s common to feel bored or exhausted by the attention that’s required to meditate. Also, you may feel physical pain from staying still for long periods of time.
When meditation feels good, you’re likely proud of yourself for meditating, and happy that you’re doing something that’s good for your mind and body. The fact that you’re taking time to be calm, still, and centered in the middle of a busy day can slow your heartbeat and calm your central nervous system, helping you feel less stressed. You may also experience a change in mental state from the experience of meditation itself, especially with longer sessions.
Whatever you’re experiencing within a meditation session, positive or negative, is an opportunity for nonjudgment.
If you’re feeling bad about how the session is going, remind yourself to observe it nonjudgmentally.
If you’re feeling good about the session, remind yourself to observe it nonjudgmentally.
Is meditation the secret to happiness?
We all have a happiness set point that we eventually return to, even after euphoric or difficult experiences. As Dan Harris, author of 10% Happier, says, with meditation “Your set point goes up…your overall level of personal satisfaction is higher.”
Meditation can make you 10% happier (anecdotally) and has been shown in multiple studies to improve happiness and reduce anxiety and rumination.
Meditation might not be the only path to happiness, but it’s certainly one of the most studied and most research-backed ways to feel more content and less stress.
Does that mean meditation is the secret to happiness?
But it’s one of the best tools we’ve got.
Frequently asked questions
How do you meditate to be happy?
There isn’t a specific way you should meditate to improve happiness. Meditation in general has been shown to improve happiness, reduce stress and anxiety, and increase feelings of peace and calm.
Simply picking a meditation technique that works for you is okay.
Does mindfulness make you happy?
Yes, mindfulness can make you happy.
In addition to meditation, which has been shown in studies to increase happiness and life satisfaction, other mindfulness practices like gratitude have been shown to improve happiness too. Gratitude, self-compassion and journaling can be powerful in conjunction with meditation.