In the growing field of the science of happiness, sometimes referred to as Happiness Studies, there are countless books, journals, articles, and websites dedicated to the question of how to be happy in life. Even as much as 75 years ago, Viktor Frankl, founder of logotherapy and Holocaust survivor, gave some professional and personal insights on the question of how to be happy in his book Man’s Search for Meaning.
Frankl, who was an innovator in the fields of psychiatry and neurology, developed a method that was relatively straightforward: “happiness cannot be pursued, it must ensue” (Frankl, 1946). Essentially, Frankl wrote that when you find meaning in your life, happiness will follow.
This is a deceptively simple imperative. Many people find it hard to develop a sense of meaning and purpose with all the requirements of work and responsibilities related to everyday life. Add in all the changes required to navigate the restrictions and realities of COVID-19, and many people are left depleted, overwhelmed and without the energy to take on anything new.
Cleaning and Mindfulness: Finding Meaning in Everyday Activities
One option to help manage the overwhelm and add a sense of spaciousness is to include a mindfulness practice and make it part of a daily routine. Practicing mindfulness might include a sitting practice, but it doesn’t have to be restricted to the traditional image of a meditator sitting on a cushion with their eyes closed.
Some people use movement as meditation, including walking or engaging in a series of yoga postures. Many athletes report entering a meditative state when they are truly engaged in their sport. In some traditions, meditators are instructed on being mindful and aware in the present moment, and then to apply that present-centred attention to everyday tasks such as cleaning. Katie Shulist does just that with her Mindful Cleaning Method and Clear Mind course.
Mindful cleaning serves as a vehicle to mindfulness, the practice of which has many benefits. As mindfulness and its benefits to both physical and mental health continue to be explored by researchers in a variety of fields, perhaps most specifically psychology and neuroscience, an interesting theory has emerged—the Mindfulness to Meaning Theory, or MMT.
“Mindfulness facilitates flexible attentional selection of previously unattended contextual information, promoting the ability to see alternate perspectives and thereby fluidly reconstruct meaning from the encounter with life” (Garland et al, 2015). Mindfulness serves as a tool to help a person create deeper meaning in their lives, to “fluidly reconstruct” everyday experiences to help gain a better understanding of themselves and the world around them.
Mindful Cleaning: In the Words of Professional Cleaners
At Katie’s green cleaning company, Dhyana Cleaning, she instructs her professional cleaners in her Mindful Cleaning Method. It was here that she realized that the benefits of mindful cleaning didn’t need to pertain only to professional cleaners—they were principles that anyone could access, perhaps with just a bit of guidance and change of mindset.
Natasha Agius, a professional cleaner who works for Katie at Dhyana Cleaning says, “finding Katie at Dhyana cleaning was a beautiful gift. She understands that cleaning is a moving meditation, a means to focus in and yet get a physical, satisfying outcome.”
In addition, Natasha said that in the past, she had used cleaning as a way to escape her “thoughts and anxiousness” and that Katie’s mindful cleaning method had helped her to “grow and find [her] true self within the boundaries of self love and integrity” and that the method could easily be accessed by all.
Natasha became interested in yoga as a teen and how it could help “slow the mind” and “understand [her] self talk.” As mindful cleaning is a moving meditation, it serves as an extension of Natasha’s commitment to deepening her connection with both work and life outside of work as well as coming to know herself more clearly.
Stefan Lovecchio, also a professional cleaner working at Dhyana Cleaning, says that he “gains satisfaction in seeing a space transform; cleaning is an art form, in that sense.” In addition, one of the benefits of cleaning mindfully allows Stefan to develop insights that offer a thoughtful understanding of the work and services he provides as a professional cleaner. “A clear space allows an individual to have a much cleaner focus on their personal goals.”
Fluidly Reconstructing Experiences through Mindful Cleaning
This is the kind of ‘fluid reconstruction of meaning from the encounter with life’ referred to in the Mindfulness to Meaning Theory. By slowing down and attending to our own thoughts, sensations and experiences, we begin to connect more meaningfully with whatever it is we are focusing on.
In this way, cleaning becomes a tool through which we learn about the human condition from our immediate experiences and also how those experiences exist in relation to the experiences of others.
Like Stefan and Natasha, if we can find meaning in the work that we do, perhaps this is one of the ways we may find happiness to ensue from our own best efforts. Rather than searching for happiness, as Viktor Frankl reminded us so long ago, we can look to ways we can fluidly reconstruct our experiences to develop a sense of meaning in whatever tasks we find ourselves engaged in, and as a result may find happiness waits for us there.
Adrienne Kitchin is a freelance health and education writer as well as a Liberal Studies and Anthropology Professor at Humber College in Toronto, Canada. She can be found on LinkedIn .
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Frankl, V. E. (1946/1984). Man’s Search for Meaning. Simon and Schuster.
Garland, E. L., Farb, N. A., Goldin, P. R., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2015). The Mindfulness-to-
Meaning Theory: Extensions, Applications, and Challenges at the Attention–Appraisal–Emotion Interface. Psychological Inquiry, 26(4), 377–387. https://doi-org.proxy.library.brocku.ca/10.1080/1047840X.2015.1092493