A Buddhist Guide to New Year: The Secrets to a Successful 2024
- As the New Year 2024 is approaching, it is now a proper time to review with wisdom the year 2023 and to best prepare for the year 2024.
- New constructive resolution, determination and sheer willpower for a better life in the New Year 2024 may be a good idea.
- If resolution is a theory, then meditation is a practice – for happiness and success, as well as to create a kind and positive society.
- Let’s cultivate mental and emotional fortitude through meditation.
A New Year’s countdown in Bangkok (photo credit: https://bit.ly/3j0wSuE)
Last year, I wrote the article ‘Let’s Restart in 2023: How to look back at 2022 and the secrets to a successful and happy 2023’ to welcome the year 2023. For the year 2024, I would like to welcome it with this updated article – with the same aim-to help readers make a happy, prosperous new year again, as well as to help make the society kinder, safer and more just.
Looking back with acceptance and understanding
All of us have lived a life in 2022. Some of us may have lived a happy one, yet for some it might have been miserable. In our daily lives we experience both positive moments of satisfaction and negative times of dissatisfaction; our days are filled with good and bad, happiness and sadness. These ups and downs in life are an inescapable fact of life. As such, we should learn to recognize and understand moments as they are.
For the purpose of having a happy feeling, we should also train our mind to realize the nature of the worldly vicissitudes – changes that happen at different times during the life or development of someone or something, especially those that result in conditions being worse. We are bound to experience gains or losses, dignity or obscurity, praise or blame, and happiness or pain almost all the time. Realizing this, we should then be able to ride the waves of daily ups and downs constructively, that is, to reasonably feel happy with good things in life, and to “shorten” the period of sad time as much as possible, knowing that happy times will soon come.
For the year 2023, we should be satisfied with our life if we can be sure, in the Buddha’s words, “Done was duty, done is what to be done.” However, if in hindsight we saw some shortcomings in our life, we should recognize it for the sake of acknowledging a fact, but not to painfully blame ourselves for failing. In the Buddha’s words again,
“One shouldn’t chase after the past or place expectations on the future. What is past is left behind; the future is as yet unreached. Whatever one’s work is present, ardently do it today – do it right now. Whoever lives thus ardently, relentlessly, both day & night, has truly had an auspicious day (or time).”
We must know that we cannot change the past anymore, but we can always learn from it. Moreover, we must learn to live in the present. We must let go of what is not here and now – the past and the future.
Set New Year’s resolutions and be determined with sheer willpower to carry them out
The Buddha preaching a sermon in the 2nd century Gandhara school of art (photo credit: https://www.pinterest.jp/pin/444308319470779499/)
This year 2024, let’s make New Year’s resolutions and follow through with determination. Resolutions should not just be for us but also for the people around us.
Firstly, we may make practical use of the Buddha’s advice to cultivate four kinds of resolution in daily life, which are:
- Exercise wisdom: use your knowledge and experience to make good decisions and judgments;
- Be truthful: strive to be honest and not tell lies;
- Aim to be a giver: help and support those in need, as well as respect and accept others as they are; and,
- Cultivate emotional and mental fortitude: be calm and in control of your emotions.
Secondly, we may also try to exercise the Buddha’s “Four Great Efforts” (sammāppadhāna) in daily life:
- Restraint: learning how to restrain unwholesome feelings and thoughts that have yet to arise
- Abandonment: learning how to abandon unwholesome feelings and thoughts that have already arisen.
- Development: learning how to develop wholesome feelings and thoughts that have yet to arise
- Protection: learning how to protect and perpetuate wholesome feelings and thoughts that have already arisen
As you can see, 1 and 3 share similar characteristics in that it asks us to work on things that have yet to arise, while 2 and 4 asks us to work on the things that we already possess. When we possess unwholesome qualities, such as greed, hatred and delusion, we tend to hurt ourselves from the negativity, and therefore, we must learn to abandon them and find a way to restrain those feelings from arising again. If we can do this, we can break the cycle of negativity in our lives.
On the other hand, we should seek to develop and protect wholesome qualities, which include compassion, truthfulness, and mindfulness. These qualities keep us in a positive mental and emotional state.
Thirdly, we should as well resolve to observe the Buddhist “Five Precepts”, which comprise abstaining from killing, stealing, telling lies, sexual misconduct, and taking intoxicants. A recent scientific study found that Buddhist precepts reduce stress and buffer depression. Living by the precepts is associated with more robust self-control, lower levels of perceived stress, and fewer depressive symptoms. It also reduces the odds of feeling bad about oneself and has the potential to enhance overall well-being. Ethics and morality create a win-win individually and collectively. For society en masse, when large numbers of people live by a moral code, it makes the world safer, kinder, and more just.
Fourthly, we should resolve to meditate regularly to train our mind in order to produce happiness. The Buddha was quoted by Bhikkhu P.A. Payutto in his book The Nectar of Truth, p. 21, as saying, “Taming the mind to be effective is good (because) a tamed mind brings happiness” and the Buddha also showed how the mind can bring happiness or suffering, as quoted by Allan R. Bomhard, in the Path of the Dhamma (Dhammapada) that,
“All mental phenomena have mind as their forerunner; they have mind as their chief; they are mind-made. If one speaks or acts with pure intentions, happiness will follow, like a shadow that never leaves one’s side. On the contrary, if one speaks or acts with evil intentions, suffering will follow, just as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that pull it along.”
Thai happy families (Photo credit: https://bit.ly/3Wppzv0)
In addition to the intention for the above-mentioned daily good deeds, adopting a SMART approach—Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound—can significantly enhance your New Year’s resolution achievments. Combining SMART goals with the power of small wins can be a potent strategy for success. As you achieve these small victories, you’ll build momentum and strengthen your self-belief, increasing your chances of achieving your desired outcomes.
The two types of meditation and their benefits
Meditation is defined by Bhikkhu P.A. Payutto in his book Buddhadhamma, p. 1765, as “the state of focused attention on one object.” During meditation (or concentration) the mind is firmly established on one object; attention is not distracted and does not waver.
In more laymen terms, we usually think of meditation as a mental exercise that trains attention and awareness. Its purpose is to curb reactivity to one’s negative thoughts and feelings, which, though they may be disturbing and upsetting and hijack attention from moment to moment, are invariably fleeting.
Out of forty meditation subjects (Kammatthana), there are two meditation types of particular interest: mindfulness meditation, and Brahmavihara meditation. Mindfulness meditation is the one that most people think of when they think of meditation, requiring concentration. Brahmvihara meditation, however, requires the practitioner to not concentrate, but to cultivate feelings of friendliness (Metta), compassion (Karuna), sympathetic joy (Mudita), and equanimity (Upekkha). He or she then diffuses the feelings towards other human and non-human beings.
The objectives or benefits of the Buddhist meditation, in the Buddha’s words, are,
“This is the chief path for the purification of beings, for passing beyond sorrow and lamentation, for the disappearance of pain and grief, for the attainment of the sublime way, for the realization of Nibbana.”
On the benefits of mindfulness meditation, the Buddha was quoted in Buddhist Meditation in Theory and Practice, pp. 182 and 184, as saying,
“Monks, this mindfulness of breathing, which one has developed and made much of, has great fruit and great benefit. … perfect insight knowledge and liberation.” The Buddha even lived by mindfulness meditation as quoted in the same book, “Monks, I then used to spend most of my time in this practice of mindfulness meditation, and, as I lived practicing it, neither my body nor my eyes were fatigued. As the result of it, my mind was free from the taints (āsavas).”
(Photo credit: https://bit.ly/3BL8S5q)
As for the benefits of loving-kindness meditation, the Master was also quoted in Buddhist Meditation in Theory and Practice, p. 226, as saying,
“Monks, from the practice of mettā-cetovimutti,… eleven blessings are to be expected. What are the eleven? Happy he sleeps, happy he awakens; he does not have nightmares; he is dear to human beings; he is dear to non-human beings; celestial beings guard him; neither fire, nor poison, nor sword come near to him; quickly, his mind becomes concentrated; his complexion becomes clear; he dies with his mind free from confusion; if he realizes no further attainment, he goes to the brahma-world.”
Many modern scientific studies have confirmed the benefits of both mindfulness and Brahmavihara meditation, the latter of which is almost always referred to as “loving-kindness” meditation in the meditation community.
(Photo credit: https://bit.ly/3Ywgrq9)
Mindfulness meditation can help reduce stress, ease depression, and improve well-being here. It has been proven here and here to help treat people with specific problems including pain, smoking and addiction. Mindfulness can also significantly reduce relapse in people who have had previous episodes of major depression. Furthermore, mindfulness-based interventions can improve physical health. For example, mindfulness may reduce pain, fatigue and stress in people with chronic pain. Other studies have found preliminary evidence that mindfulness might boost the immune system and help people recover more quickly from cold or flu.
Mindfulness meditation may physically change numerous parts of the brain here and here. And it altered gray matter concentration within the left hippocampus, the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), the temporoparietal junction (TPJ), and the cerebellum. These changes in the brain were detectable after participating in a mindfulness training program for just eight weeks, and could theoretically impact cognitive faculties that include, “learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.” Samoon Ahmad, MD, said in his article on Meditation and Mental Health that mindfulness meditation can also improve sleep, reduce anxiety, and may reduce the density of the amygdala, a part of the brain integral to processing fear, stress, and anxiety.
Illustrative photo (credit: https://bit.ly/3PCVPso)
Meditation is also the secret to success. Many successful people practice meditation daily. Creator of the expansive Paul Mitchell hair product empire, billionaire John Paul DeJoria, begins his day with just five minutes of meditation. Tony Robbins, one of the world’s greatest motivators, claimed that his morning “hour of power” meditation routine dramatically changed his life. Prof. Dr. Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens, also discloses that he gains a lot of benefits from daily morning meditation, which made him a better historian.
Laura Staloch said in her article, “Study finds that even brief exposure to mindfulness meditation increases helping behavior” that researchers found the relationship between a brief exposure to mindfulness meditation and prosocial helping behavior toward a stranger. When participants experienced two brief mindfulness meditation sessions, they were more likely to intend to help a stranger than individuals who listened to music or heard a lecture. Approximately 20% more of the meditation group was willing to help. Loving-kindness meditation was also found here to increase social connectedness, which may help to increase positive social emotions and decrease social isolation.
(Photo credit: https://bit.ly/3hE7E54)
Barbara Koltuska-Haskin, Ph.D. said in her article Kindness and Compassion Are Good for Your Brain that kindness and compassion should be important parts of our everyday life. Research suggests that self-compassion may serve as a protective factor against stress-induced inflammation and inflammation-related diseases. People who practice self-compassion are more motivated to improve themselves.
It is certain from the Buddha’s words as well as the modern researches that these two kinds of meditation – mindfulness and loving-kindness (Brahmvihara) – can produce happiness, bring success, and make a kind, helpful society at the same time.
Yet don’t rush to believe it. Try it in practice first. If it leads to your physical and mental health and happiness, as well as of society, then and only then you should accept and keep practicing it. However, if it is of no use to you and society, don’t pay attention to it.
How to practice mindfulness and loving-kindness meditation
Mindfulness meditation uses only the breath, and thus can easily become a natural part of every person’s life. It can be practiced anytime, anywhere. All a practitioner needs to do is focus on the breathing, thus making this kind of meditation possible and even appealing to those who are tired or without equipment but desire the immediate effects of a meditation practice no matter where they are. It can be done in all four postures: seated, walking, standing, and lying down. For concise details on how to meditate with breathing, please see my article on Meditation in Thailand.
According to Buddhist Meditation in Theory and Practice, pp. 205-245, Brahmavihara, or “loving-kindness”, meditation encourages the cultivation of the emotional sentiment of good will, rather than focusing on the process of meditation. In the Buddha’s words quoted in The Life and Teachings of the Buddha, According to the Oldest Texts, p. 734,
“Just as a mother protects her only child, even at the risk of her own life, so should one cultivate boundless loving-kindness towards all living beings.”
One can practice loving-kindness meditation in at least two ways. One may do it in a sitting posture in the same way as when one practices mindfulness meditation, or one may generate love, kindness, compassion, and joy to everyone one encounters in daily life
To practice loving-kindness meditation in a sitting posture, one must first take up a comfortable seating position. Then, one should first prepare one’s mind, thinking upon the evils of hatred and the advantages of forbearance. One may silently repeat such sayings as:
“A man who is angry and whose mind is assailed by hatred may kill living things, destroy the happiness of others as well as himself.” and “Cultivate patience and forbearance for the happiness of ourselves and other beings…”
After that, one should begin by imagining being surrounded by the following beings:
- One’s father is on one’s right;
- One’s mother is on one’s left;
- One’s friends, companions, and relatives are behind one;
- Directly in front of one are those to whom one is indifferent;
- Beyond them are those whom one dislike or who have hurt one;
- And, extending in every direction, are all sentient beings.
Then one should generate a feeling of love in one’s heart, considering how nice it would be if one could extend love to all beings. Next, one should continue by fully accepting and loving oneself and by silently repeating the following verse:
“May I be happy; may all my thoughts be positive and all my experiences good. May I be free of problems, sickness, and sadness. May my lives be long and peaceful, and may I quickly reach enlightenment.”
One should always begin loving-kindness meditation with oneself as the subject, partly because oneself is the dearest subject of all and easiest of all persons to love, and partly because loving-kindness must be cultivated in oneself as a positive quality before it can be extended to other beings.
After having repeated the above-mentioned verse of goodwill for oneself, one should then turn one’s thought of loving-kindness towards one’s father (followed by mother, friends, etc. according to the list) silently repeating the verse:
“May he be happy; may all his thoughts be positive and all his experiences good. May he be free of problems, sickness, and sadness. May his lives be long and peaceful, and may he quickly reach enlightenment.”
One should practice loving-kindness meditation with a view to eradicating hatred and cultivating forbearance. Unconditional loving-kindness should be developed to embrace both human and non-human beings, high and low alike.
In the same manner, one should diffuse all-embracing compassion (Karuna), sympathetic joy (Mudita), and equanimity (Upekkha).
As for the occasional practice of loving-kindness meditation in daily life, whenever one sees, encounters, meets, etc. – or even hear the voice of – other human or living beings, one should generate one’s thought of loving-kindness to him or her or it, like
“May you be happy, healthy, prosperous and successful.”
Loving-kindness meditation is the first step in the direction of helping other human and non-human beings.
(Photo credit: https://n.pr/3WwxEhk)
Every time that one cultivates and generates Metta towards others, one can feel positive, and, in the Buddha’s words, one’s complexion becomes clear, and one is dear to human beings. A study entitled “Open hearts build lives: positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources” found that a practice of loving-kindness meditation produced increases over time in daily experiences of positive emotions, which, in turn, produced increases in a wide range of personal resources (such as increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, decreased illness symptoms). In turn, these increments in personal resources predicted increased life satisfaction and reduced depressive symptoms.
One should always try to have goodwill towards other human or other beings. The Buddha has disclosed this truth,
“Having traversed all quarters with the mind, no one can be found dearer to man than himself. Since each person holds himself most dear, let he who so loves himself bring no harm to other beings.” And he emphasized this, “Monks, it is not easy to find a being who has not been a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, a son, or a daughter in this endless round of existence.”
This being the case, the very person to whom one bears a grudge may have been one’s mother, father, brother, sister, son, or daughter at some point in a former existence. Considering this possibility, one may be able to suppress ill feelings towards others.
How often and for how long should one meditate?
Ideally, meditation should be practiced daily, regularly and at the same time, like advice given by Buddhist monk Henepola Gunaratana on meditation in everyday life, pp. 165-177 here.
The duration, however, varies, depending on the levels and purposes of practice. For example, as suggested in the “16 Health Benefits of Daily Meditation According to Science” here, in each session, it may be 2-5 minutes for a beginner, 4-15 minutes for an intermediate, and 20-30 minutes for a proficient meditator. CNN on the science behind meditation suggests at least 10 minutes a session here.
A beginner may, therefore, start with a 2-minute session, then, as the mind gets used to the practice, he or she could increase the time span by a minute or two each session, aiming for a final 30-minute session daily – for psychological and biological health as shown in ABC’s science of meditation here.
Next year, be more aware of life and its dichotomy, and embrace the transformative power of meditation
The Buddha outlined the “The Eight Worldly Conditions”: gain and loss, status and disgrace, censure and praise, pleasure and pain. All these conditions, as you can see, are opposites of each other, but all of them happen to all of us at some point in time. We should move forward in our lives by being aware of these conditions, that they are a natural occurrence of life. Meditation is a way to raise your mental and emotional fortitude so you may have the strength to be aware and persevere through these conditions. Moreover, meditation proves to be an effective tool for individuals striving to achieve their New Year’s resolutions. Engaging in regular meditation practice can foster mental clarity, positive thinking, self-control, self-compassion, improved focus and concentration, enhanced emotional regulation, stress management, and heightened cognitive function. These benefits collectively contribute to the successful attainment of goals.
Restart New Year 2023 by moving forward steadfastly like this New Year’s celebration photo in Berlin (credit: https://bit.ly/3uW0QTc)
Lastly, I wish that in the next year, you share your happiness and the fruit of your success with others to help make a kind, helpful society.
The Buddha has already shown us the Way and assured us,
“You are capable of doing good. Why do you look down upon yourself?” (P.A. Payutto. The Nectar of Truth, A Selection of Buddhist Aphorism. P. 16.)
Wishing you a very happy new year!
Author: Paitoon Songkaeo, Ph.D.
21 December 2022
Updated 18 December 2023
Articles and VDO clips on the internet:
- Turning Anger into Happiness – Here’s How to Make a Happy 2022. https://bit.ly/3V6FoWo.
- How Do You Live in the Present? https://bit.ly/3vbowDb.
- Meditation: Focus on the Present Moment in Early Buddhist Practice. https://bit.ly/3G66kBb.
- Day1 MN131 One Fine Night Ajahn Brahmali. https://bit.ly/3YEPAIu.
- Buddhist Precepts Reduce Stress and Buffer Depression: Study. https://bit.ly/3WwcEHD.
- Although the practices of mindfulness and meditation are thousands of years old, research on their health benefits is relatively new, but promising. https://bit.ly/3YGJlE7.
- Mindfulness meditation: A research-proven way to reduce stress. https://bit.ly/3G68dxL.
- The Meditating Brain – Pt. 2 with Dr. Andrew B. Newberg. https://bit.ly/3VhKHlU.
- Meditation and Mental Health. https://bit.ly/3PDF5Bn.
- Why Meditation Is the Secret to Success. https://bit.ly/3v2rA4C.
- Yuval Harari, author of Sapiens, on how meditation made him a better historian. https://bit.ly/3hDRrNc.
- Study finds that even brief exposure to mindfulness meditation increases helping behavior. https://bit.ly/3PIpGiZ.
- Loving-kindness meditation increases social connectedness. https://bit.ly/3VaUpXd.
- Kindness and Compassion Are Good for Your Brain. https://bit.ly/3j6r0Qz.
- Meditation in Thailand. https://bit.ly/3G6GAVk.
- Open hearts build lives: positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources. https://bit.ly/3VgAqGy.
- 16 Health Benefits of Daily Meditation According to Science. https://bit.ly/2M7zVP4.
- Meditation Can Change Your Brain for Better and Longer. https://bit.ly/3hBNUiD.
- What Can 11 Hours of Meditation Training Do? It Can Rewire Your Brain. https://bit.ly/3hDIKCK.
- CNN’s What’s the science behind meditation? https://bit.ly/3hBU1n3.
- ABC’s science of meditation | Catalyst. https://bit.ly/3G8q1Zd.
Books and E-books:
- P.A. Payutto. Dictionary of Buddhism. 45th published – 2019.
- P.A. Payutto. อมฤตพจนา พุทธศาสนสุภาษิต The Nectar of Truth, A Selection of Buddhist Aphorism. https://bit.ly/2JroAZO
- P.A. Payutto. Buddhadhamma: The Law of Natures and Their Benefits to Life. https://bit.ly/3Y7epgd.
- Bomhard, Allan R. The Life of the Buddha. https://bit.ly/3W5IQBE.
- Bomhard, Allan R. The Life and Teachings of the Buddha, according to the Oldest Texts. https://bit.ly/3FKoetq.
- Paravahera Vajiranana Mahathera & Bomhard, Allan R. Buddhist Meditation in Theory and Practice. https://bit.ly/3YqDmU7.
- Thomas, Edwards j. 2011. The Life of Buddha, as Legend and History. Motilal Banarsidass and https://bit.ly/3v4LJqD.
- Gunaratana, Henepola. Mindfulness in Plain English. https://bit.ly/3VaVv5h.