The Real Happiness 28-day Meditation Challenge

Orange cover of book Real Happiness

Sharon Salzberg, a nationally renowned US based meditation teacher, has a new book out called Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation, A 28-day program. In coordination with her new book, a group of folks around the country are doing the 28-day challenge in the month of February.

Today is day one!

A few of the Feministing Editors (I’ll let them reveal themselves if they so choose) are also participating in the challenge, myself included.

I’ve tried meditation before. For over three years I’ve been trying to incorporate it into my daily life, mostly as a response to my struggles with anxiety. I have pretty major challenges with anxiety. I’ve struggled with it all my life, I realize now, but only was able to really name it about three years ago, when a pretty severe bout led me to therapy.

One of the first things that first therapist did with me was a guided meditation.

Subsequent therapists have told me that the only things that have been medically proven to help with anxiety (that aren’t prescription drugs) are meditation and exercise. I once heard this saying, which really stuck with as to why meditation can be really important. It also goes well with Sharon’s book title.

Depression is about living in the past. Anxiety is living in the future. Happiness is living in the present.

Meditation, I’m learning, is an exercise for the mind. It’s an exercise in letting go, in watching our thoughts without judgment, in relaxation. At least that is what the type of meditation I’ve practiced, mindfulness-based, is all about. It’s about watching, observing and listening.

It’s an ancient practice that has it’s strongest roots in Eastern philosophy and religion. It’s quickly being recognized globally for it’s positive impacts on people’s lives.

Sharon Salzberg has a very beautiful and accessible way of talking and writing about meditation. The experiment is to build up to a daily meditation practice (of 20 minutes each). Week one starts with just three sessions total.

The cool thing about the challenge is that those involved in it are also blogging and tweeting about their experiences. We’re an extremely diverse group–some seasoned meditators, many who are brand new. Diverse ages, backgrounds, careers, regions of the country.

You can follow along with the experiment at Sharon’s blog, where folks are already writing away about the challenge, or on twitter with the hashtag #realhappiness. You can also participate! The first chapter of her book as well as samples of the guided meditations that are included are available for download, free of charge.

I’ll leave you with a picture of the meditation corner that I just set up this weekend in my home office. It’s modest, but it feels good to have a dedicated spot in my home just for this.

Picture of corner of Miriam's office, with a blanket and two pillows

Join the Conversation

  • 43t9 fisl

    I’m a little bothered that a Feminist blog is promoting Oprah-esque magical thinking, and I’d think the title of “Real Happiness” would be vacuous enough to turn you all off to the idea of at least this particular program. Chanting and breathing to yourself silently is at best relaxing, at worst another illusion to keep people complacent and, I don’t know, buying things, like this book, or that blanket, or those pillows, of which you’ve already expressed insecurity as to their “modesty”. Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, etc.

    • Matthew T. Jameson

      There is also a hefty dose of misinformation in this post. It may be that the OP’s therapist told her that meditation is the only treatment for anxiety, but that is simply wrong.. In reality, meditation is NOT an indicated treatment for anxiety disorders, and several psychotherapy protocols have been demonstrated effective in treating those disorders (Cognitive Behavior Therapy, as well as contemporary “third-wave” therapist like Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, both of which incorporate mindfulness meditation in the context of cognitive-behavioral approaches).

      Once again, the need for a science editor on Feministing has been underscored. Please stop spreading misinformation! Even a simple Wikipedia search could have avoided this error.

      • Matthew T. Jameson

        See this link:

        It doesn’t say that meditation is harmful or necessarily ineffective, but that the research evidence is lacking beyond a few studies.

        • Miriam

          Yes, the therapist I reference recommended meditation within the context of cognitive behavioral therapy, which is a respected treatment method for anxiety.

          This was not meant to be a scientific post about meditation and mental health–it’s simply my personal experience as someone who has been working through my own anxiety challenges and used meditation as a tool.

          Apologies for not being more specific, but your response was also a bit overstated–“a hefty dose of misinformation” is a pretty aggressive statement.

          • Matthew T. Jameson

            I did not mean to be aggressive, just mindful of the fact that people reading this blog might be mislead by this statement:

            “Subsequent therapists have told me that the only things that have been medically proven to help with anxiety (that aren’t prescription drugs) are meditation and exercise.”

            This suggests that meditation, not other CBT components, are what people suffering from anxiety disorders should be seeking out if they don’t want to go the drugs/exercise route.

            We should be clear with folks that little research evidence supports the use of meditation in the absence of treatment from a competent cognitive behavior therapist!

            Again, I’m not trying to be aggressive or even dump on meditation. It sounds like it has worked for you, which is what’s important. However, it’s also important not to have people falsely believe that therapists think that meditation alone is the treatment of choice, since this is simply not in line with the research evidence.

            “The therapist I reference recommended meditation within the context of cognitive behavioral therapy, which is a respected treatment method for anxiety.”

      • Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

        I may also add, from a spiritual perspective, that some forms of meditation may unearth things in the psyche–one meditation I find good for anxiety is this Buddhist stilling meditation where you reflect on every object in your sight–but anyway…

        I just had a question about this one statement:

        “Depression is about living in the past. Anxiety is living in the future. Happiness is living in the present. ”

        What if your present is not an entirely happy situation? Of course the answer is to take action to change it, but I mean, doesn’t that suggest that the state of “happiness” is not as simple an equation as “living in the present”?

    • Miriam

      You’re making a lot of assumptions here, both about what this project is and about me.

      You make it sound like I ran out to buy special pillows and blankets to support some sort of bougey meditation project. Actually, I just pulled whatever I had out of my closet to create a space for this in my home.

      It’s fine if you don’t want to buy the book, or don’t like the title, or the project. But don’t make assumptions like that with no basis.

      Also, one of the great things about meditation (which is talked about in the first chapter of the book, available online for free) is that it doesn’t require any special equipment, outfits or tools.

      Meditation has existed for way more centuries than Oprah. Don’t oversimplify just to prove a point.

  • goddessjaz

    Thanks Miriam for sharing your experience with anxiety and depression. I have battled with those things too and meditation has helped me immensely. I got inspired by your journey and started today on my own 28-day meditation challenge. It’s not a formal program but more about doing some meditation every day. I feel the difference in my energy when I’ve stopped meditating consistently and feel like it’s one of the simplest things I can do to honor myself. Looking forward to hearing more about your journey :)

  • kaija24

    I used to have a distorted impression of “mediation” as this weird new age/hippie thing involving chanting and lots of woo and as an overly analytical scientist, when my therapist also recommended guided mediation for anxiety, I read up on the literature surrounding mindfulness-based meditation and the relaxation response. There is a significant body of scientific and medical research backing up the practice of quiet time, attention to breath, and mindfulness/thought-stopping/CBT strategies for mental and physical health. Meditation assists in activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which gives the “peace and sleep” feeling that you get after a good meal, after orgasm, etc. The opposite system is the sympathetic nervous system that sends the “flight or fight” signals that rev up your body to face stress (real or imagined). Many spiritual and religious practices through the ages have leveraged elements of mediation that trigger the parasympathetic nervous system, proporting that the peaceful feelings and relief of “letting go” are via divine intervention. As a nonreligious person, I much prefer the physiological explanation. Google “relaxation response” and you’ll probably get a ton of links to the Harvard professor who is has researched this topic throughout his career.

    My own experience with learning to manage my anxiety has come through exercise and meditation, so I appreciate this post and the news on the book and the series. I could never do the “empty your mind and sit quietly” thing, but guided meditation was a good way for me to learn how to quiet the constant chatter in my mind, reduce the self-criticism, and learn how to let go of obsessive or disquieting thoughts.

  • Courtney

    I have to say–it’s really disillusioning to see commenters jump on a very honest post like this one and respond with such a lack of empathy. It’s fine if you, personally, don’t feel that meditation is productive or healthy (there is a massive, massive body of scientific research that proves it is, but doubting or hating is your prerogative). What I find offensive is that you didn’t even first acknowledge that someone was sharing something personal and brave before jumping all over the methods of healing. I’m all for a discussion of meditation–it’s benefits, origins, and/or hype–but at least have the decency to give Perez props for being courageous and open before pouncing. Damn.

    I’m doing the 28-day challenge, too, by the way. I’m excited about it, not because I think it is an Oprah-manufactured cure all, but because I think it’s a cool way to learn more about how my mind works, manage my anxiety, and try something new. Hate away.

    • Matthew T. Jameson


      I can’t tell if this is directed at me, 43t9 fisl, or both, but I want to make clear that I really don’t have a problem with meditation at all. It is true there is ample evidence to support that it improves certain areas of functioning (less research has been done on using meditation alone as a treatment for anxiety disorders, as I noted, however). I also use it as part of my clinical work (I’m a psychology graduate student), when it seems appropriate and when my clients want it.

      My comments are not to hate on meditation, but to correct a factually incorrect statement that the OP attributed to her therapist (which she has since retracted). I am off that soapbox.

      Just want to make sure we’re on the same page!