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Training your mind to find meaning in everyday life

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When was the last time you felt truly fulfilled? When your life felt meaningful and rewarding, or aligned with some deeper purpose or motivation? Take a moment to really think about that and observe what comes to mind. Most of us remember specific events when we think of life’s meaningful moments: the birth of a child, a major accomplishment, a rare moment in nature when all felt right with the world. These are the peak moments of life, and it’s true that they are also often the times when we feel truly fulfilled.

But these moments are aberrations.

We remember…

The Nuance

Mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy, and other related practices all prioritize this form of ‘self-monitoring’

Illustration by Kieran Blakey for Elemental

The human brain possesses a remarkable capability that most take for granted and few fully appreciate: It can watch itself work.

With effort, you can observe what your brain is thinking about and also what it’s doing with those thoughts — the feelings, ideas, emotions, and urges it’s producing. This capability falls into a category that psychologists sometimes call metacognition. (Basically, thinking about thinking.) And there’s evidence that practicing this sort of mental self-awareness holds immense therapeutic power.

“Introducing this idea of self-monitoring is one of the first steps in cognitive behavioral therapy,” says Michelle Newman, PhD, a professor of…

My Therapist Says

Feeling antsy isn’t a character flaw but a sign

Illustration by Kate Dehler for Elemental

I’ve always considered myself a pragmatist — when facing a challenge, I often try to take a breath, go eat something, get some rest, and revisit with a fresh perspective in the morning. Don’t get me wrong — I make decisions based on gut feelings all the time. I just try to give it time to clarify and not make emotional decisions impulsively. Often it’s not a crisis; I’m just hungry.

But one day I came across a problem that no amount of snacking and waiting could solve: What should I do about my marriage? The question sat there like…

There’s a scientific rationale for why some people find swimming in the freezing cold to be so invigorating

Photo: Sergey Ryumin/Getty Images

In eighth grade, I accidentally bumped against a low-voltage cattle fence while pounding a posthole into the mud with an iron rod. It wasn’t until I began swimming in the bracingly cool waters of the Atlantic this autumn that I felt a similar electric jolt. My initial plunge sent a scream through my torso and limbs, down through the tips of my fingers and toes. It was a stinging, full-bodied smack—but then a pleasant numbness. I swam along the shore for a full 20 minutes. …

It may seem like a strange era to be mindful and present. But experts say it’s just the right time to meditate.

Close up of a young woman meditating at home.
Close up of a young woman meditating at home.
Photo: Marko Geber/Getty Images

A practice that makes a person more aware of what is happening in the world around them seems less than ideal when the world is on fire. However, many people are turning to meditation to cope with it all, with apps like Headspace, Calm, and Ten Percent Happier seeing a surge of new users turning inwards to create a sense of calm or inner compassion to help face the outside world. …

New research points to mental health benefits for the devout and agnostic alike

A man looks out at the sky and cityscape.
A man looks out at the sky and cityscape.
Photo: d3sign/Moment/Getty Images

Maybe you don’t believe in God. But could cultivating a relationship with God, despite your agnostic stance, make a difference for your mental health? As a philosopher of religion, this question is of great interest to me — and now a recent research trend suggests the answer might be yes.

For decades, researchers have wondered about the factors that account for the complex relationship between religion and mental health. Under certain circumstances, it appears that religion positively influences mental health — though not in all cases. …

Here’s how to manage it if you experience an adverse reaction

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One February night a few years ago, I sat on my bed and began taking deep breaths. Determined to finally get my escalating anxiety under control, I’d asked my therapist for the simplest path to mindfulness. She told me to start small, and that it was part of a practice. Which meant that it wasn’t an instant cure, but something that got stronger the more time you spent with it.

So I set my timer for about five minutes and vowed to stay in the moment. Eventually — whether over the next hundred seconds or several hundred weeks — my…

The connection between attention, awareness, and emotion

Photo: piranka/Getty Images

Imagine your doctor told you they had a magic pill that would make you feel much better. It would improve your concentration and sleep, improve your relationships, and generally make you feel happier and more content throughout the inevitable stresses and strains of life. There would be no negative side effects and it would be absolutely free. Would you take it? I’d bet yes.

Though not a pill, this hypothetical magic solution exists. It is called meditation.

Interest in meditation and mindfulness has increased steadily in the West for the last few decades. However, most people still report having only…

Illustration: Matija Medved

One Day at a Time

Daily insights on life in the face of uncertainty, by psychiatrist and habit change specialist Dr. Jud Brewer

Did you know that your eyes really are the window into your soul? Or at least a window into your current emotional state? By understanding how your eyes connect to your emotions, you can learn to tap into curiosity to help you let go of anxiety and fear.

Have you ever wondered why many professional poker players wear dark sunglasses during televised tournaments? It isn’t because of the glare of the camera lights. They do this so no one can read their eyes to gain an advantage over them. There is even a term for this: a “tell.” A tell…

Illustration: Matija Medved

One Day at a Time

Daily insights on life in the face of uncertainty, by psychiatrist and habit change specialist Dr. Jud Brewer

Have you been on an emotional roller coaster lately — irritable one minute and full of worry the next? Getting angry at the news but still addicted to knowing the latest and perhaps still panic buying more than you need?

In today’s column, I’ll discuss a common denominator that can help you work through whatever emotions are coming up.

In previous columns, I’ve discussed how to let go of anxiety so you can sleep, why scarcity mentality leads to panic buying, how to work with the fire of anger when it flares up, how worry and trying to feel in…


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