Mar 122010

A wonderful talk on happiness by a very clear and lucid presenter who is completely new to me, Srikumar Rao. I’m certainly going to check out more of his material. I ran into this on, but the video there was of lower quality so I’ve linked back here to the original. This was apparently from a conference in Denmark, so don’t worry about the foreign language graphics at the beginning, the talk itself is in English.

Feb 092010

Today I wanted to inaugurate a new section of – our video theater. I have previously used video links in various sections and book reviews when available. Now I thought I’d devote a new section to inspiring video messages, beginning with this “Ted” talk by Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard on the Habits of Happiness

Jan 172010

Happy At Last – The Thinking Persons Guide to Finding Joy, by Richard O’Connor. I found this one in the “New” section of the library, but I was busy so I brought it home for my daughter to pre-review for me (the entry in the encyclopedia for “thinking person” has my daughter’s picture next to it). Well, now I’ll have to buy a copy, because three more people in the family are anxious to read it.  The book is, in a nutshell, a scientific explanation for why we are so often unhappy – and a detailed program to BECOME happy.

O’Connor is a psychotherapist, so he gets to see a lot of unhappy people. The book is extremely practical, down to earth, and well-researched. It begins with a history and explanation of how our brains, working with evolutionary goals in mind, trick us into making choices that can leave us unhappy. The research and the “tips” that O’Connor extracts from them are worth the price of the book. For example, your impression of an experience is largely governed by the LAST part of that experience. A wonderful dessert outweighs a mediocre dinner, to the brain.  Or the fact that we regret inaction more than action. We will think better for ourselves for a bad choice (at least I TRIED). But we will forever regret not taking a chance that we were too afraid to take. O’Connor also gives a blistering analysis of our modern culture of consumerism, advertising, competition and stress, and catalogs the damage that being raised in such a dysfunctional culture does to our brain.

Then we come to the part of the book that tells us how to fix ourselves. The good news is that by using relatively simple techniques, we can rewire our brain. The bad news is that it takes some time. But over the course of a few months, we can literally GROW our brains into a happier configuration. We can undo the damaged mental state we find ourselves in.

The rest of the book is crammed with techniques and exercises to make every aspect of your life happier. There is a meaty section on mindfulness meditation. There are cognitive techniques, inner dialogues, writing exercises. It’s like having a therapist coaching you into a happier life . Actually, that’s EXACTLY what it is. O’Connor, although an agnostic, does not fail to acknowledge the role of both formal religion and informal spirituality in mental well-being, and does an excellent job of directing the reader to finding your values and direction for life.

I particularly appreciated that the book is intelligently written and doesn’t patronize the reader. The last thing we need if we are having happiness issues is a shallow pep-talk or questionable methods. Pick this book up. If your  family is anything like mine, you’ll be reading it to each other and standing in line for your chance to read it yourself.

Aug 302007

I think I may have shared this once before, but why let that stop me? 😉

I remember one of the most miserable moments of my life. It happened about four years ago. I also remember one of the happiest moments of my life. It also happened about four years ago, about 15 minutes after the miserable moments. Here’s how it went…

We were selling our house. Finances were tight, but the proceeds from the house would remedy that. As we closed our suitcases, turned off the lights, and prepared to leave the house for the last time, we got a phone call. There had been a snag in the escrow proceedings. The buyers, who had wanted the proceedings hurried up and wanted us out immediately – now needed another week. All our furniture was in another state. The utilities were going off within hours. There was no real choice – we headed for the car and resolved to spend the week in motels.

The one week stretched into two. Our finances were at the limit. Finally, I was sitting in the bank on the morning the funds were promised to be deposited into our account. In the car outside I had five children, three dogs, a rabbit and a few birds with nowhere to go and no money to even grab a bite to eat. The hour arrived when the escrow funds were due in our account… and they didn’t appear.

I was utterly miserable. The worry was so intense that it was a physical pain. I felt my heart hurting. I just sat there in the bank groaning for fifteen minutes. Then unexpectedly, the funds appeared in our account. We were now quite well off. We had money to spare, and would be on our way to an enjoyable mean and a wonderful trip to our new home. I was ecstatically happy. I was so happy that, once again, it was almost a physical pain. I was in tears of joy.

After a moment, I suddenly realized that between the utter misery and the unbearable joy – nothing physical had actually changed. I was still sitting, as I had been the whole time, in a comfortable chair in an air-conditioned bank, free of illness and in no physical distress whatsoever. The only things that had changed were a few magnetic blips on a bank’s hard disk somewhere across the country – and my inner outlook. All my agonies had been caused by worries over possibilities that never materialized and probably never would have. After all, we had relatives who would certainly not have let us starve. We had a car that we could have used to secure a short-term loan. In the worst case, there we knew personally several pastors, charities and friends in the area who would have been glad to help us.

Whenever I get into a slump now, I just try to recreate for myself the feeling I had when the funds finally arrived at the bank that day.

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