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Surprising Science

Is Buddhist Meditation Supposed to Make You Happy?

Author Robert Wright has found that while Buddhist meditation sets higher goals than achieving what we know as happiness, its effect is often a warm feeling toward others. 

What’s the Latest Development?

The goal of Buddhist meditation is something more involved than just being happy, and yet, says author Robert Wright, that is how it often works. Off on a recent retreat where silence and meditation were practiced, Wright says the goal of such gatherings is not to seek happiness: “Rather, you should just observe things. Observe your breath, your sensations, your emotions, sounds, whatever. And, as you observe these things, you’re not supposed to make value judgments.” In examining your emotions, the point is to recognize them as fact, which is neither good nor bad. 

What’s the Big Idea?

The process of examining your feelings without exalting or condemning them is known as self-distancing and it works by neutralizing emotions which can cause pain. What surprised Wright is the kind of warmth that results from a cooler examination of how one feels: “Maybe, though in theory you’re distancing yourself equally from positive and negative emotions as you meditate, you’re actually cheating, and doing selective distancing. Or maybe a feeling of affinity–with our environment, with other creatures–is a kind of default state, and we revert to it when more transient and superficial feelings, both negative and positive, are stripped away.”

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