Tag Archives: happiness

Thoughts on “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse” by Charlie Mackesy

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday. Mine was busy, but nice.

I had a couple draft blog posts on stuff I read toward the end of 2019, but I wanted to hold off on those and instead write about a book that I read which was so positive and uplifting. I’m thinking we need to start go into 2020 focusing on the things that are beautiful and inspiring.

While doing some holiday shopping, I saw this book on display. I had read online that Barnes and Noble awarded it their favorite book of 2019, so I had to pick it up for myself, and I am so glad I did. The book is simple and heart-warming, filled with inspirational messages that are down-to-earth and clear enough for anyone to grasp. It is a graphic novel wonderfully illustrated with humble sketches that add to the book’s overall charm. I was able to read it in about 15 minutes (my daughter read it in 5), but the imagery and emotions lasted with me for days.

I highly recommend that you read this book, even if you are not a fan of graphic novels. It’s a special book that transcends the genre, and I’m sure you will feel happier and uplifted after you set the book down.

To entice you a little more, I figured I would include a couple short quotes, so you have a sense of what you are in for. Thanks for stopping by, and have an inspired and blessed 2020!

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
“Kind” said the boy.

“Often the hardest person to forgive is yourself.”

“What is the bravest thing you ever said?” asked the boy.
“Help,” said the horse.

“When the big things feel out of control… focus on what you love right under your nose.”

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 52” by Lao Tzu

Image Source: Wikipedia

All-under-Heaven have a common Beginning.
This Beginning is the Mother of the world.
Having known the Mother,
We may proceed to know her children.
Having known the children,
We should go back and hold on to the Mother.
In so doing, you will incur no risk
Even though your body be annihilated.

Block all the passages!
Shut all the doors!
And to the end of your days you will not be worn out.
Open the passages!
Multiply your activities!
And to the end of your days you will remain helpless.

To see the small is to have insight.
To hold on to weakness is to be strong.
Use the lights, but return to your insight.
Do not bring calamities upon yourself.
This is the way of cultivating the Changeless.

I love this passage and read it several times today.

The first stanza expresses the interconnectedness between all beings. We are all born from the Earth, we all coexist upon the Earth, and in the end, we will all return to the Earth. It is only our egos which delude us into thinking we are separate. We are not. We are all one, all intrinsically connected, and should keep this in mind when dealing with each other.

The second stanza describes how meditation and contemplation are the paths to happiness, fulfillment, and ultimately, spiritual evolution. We all know that we must seek within if we seek the truth, or connection with the divine. The external is but a distraction. I believe it was Nietzsche who said something to the extent that wisdom comes in one’s stillest hour.

The third stanza sums everything up. Take time to notice and appreciate the small miracles happening around you at all times. Strive for simplicity, and avoid undue complexities that lead to stress and anxiety. Practice compassion, with others and yourself. And most importantly, take time for introspective reflection. Do these things, and happiness will flourish.

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“Hardwiring Happiness” by Rick Hanson, Ph.D.

So the problem that I have with the majority of self-help books is that they have a great idea that can be covered in a well-fleshed-out article, but they stretch it out with redundant examples to fill up the requisite number of pages needed to publish a book. Hardwiring Happiness definitely falls into this category. It is essentially a handbook on how to reprogram the neural pathways in the brain to create a more positive default response to stimuli. It’s a great idea and something I feel many people can benefit from, especially in our toxic fear-based society. I would have just preferred the Reader’s Digest version.

Hanson’s concept of hardwiring happiness is based upon the science behind neuroplasticity.

All mental activity—sights and sounds, thoughts and feelings, conscious and unconscious processes—is based on underlying neural activity. Much mental and therefore neural activity flows through the brain like ripples on a river, with no lasting effects on the channel. But intense, prolonged, or repeated mental/neural activity—especially if it is conscious—will leave an enduring imprint in neural structure, like surging current reshaping a riverbed. As they say in neuroscience: Neurons that fire together wire together. Mental states become neural traits. Day after day, your mind is building your brain.

(p. 10)

Hanson’s approach is based on a four-step principle which forms the acronym HEAL:

  1. Have a positive experience.

  2. Enrich it.

  3. Absorb it.

  4. Link positive and negative material.

(p. 60)

This approach reminded me a lot of EMDR, a type of therapy used to deal with issues of trauma (I can attest to the efficacy of this treatment). Positive experiences are embedded in the memory and strengthened. These positive mental states are then used to weaken the negative states associated with the trauma. HEAL is similar to EMDR, but used to promote general well-being and not intended to self-treat in situations where a trained therapist is needed.

As Hanson empathizes in this book, it’s important to address the brain’s negativity bias, where importance is placed on the negative instead of the positive (how our brains evolved in order to survive during harder times). But as is pointed out in the book, prolonged focus on the negative has lasting repercussions.

But when unpleasant experiences become negative material stored in your brain, that’s not good. Negative material has negative consequences. It darkens your mood, increases anxiety and irritability, and gives you a background sense of falling short, of inadequacy. This material contains painful beliefs like “no one would want me.” The desires and inclinations in it take you to the bad places. It can numb and muzzle you. Or it can make you overreact to others, which can create vicious cycles of negativity between you and them. Negative material impacts your body, wears down long-term mental and physical health, and can potentially shorten your life span.

(p. 126)

In an age where news and social media provide a constant stream that feeds the brain’s negativity bias, Hanson’s book offers some practical ways to deal with this. While it could have been shorter, the book is still worth reading for the simple steps provided for improving your mental well-being.

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“Sonnet 30: When to the sessions of sweet silent thought” by William Shakespeare

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unus’d to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanish’d sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor’d and sorrows end.

This poem is one of the “fair youth” sonnets. It essentially contrasts the emotional states associated with focusing on the past as opposed to the present.

The beginning of the sonnet is filled with the alliterative “s” sound, emulating the sound of a sigh, which is actually mentioned in the third line. The speaker is lost in thought about the past, obsessed with wasted time, failed endeavors, and lost loves. There is also a sense of mortality, as the person remembers the deaths of his friends and presumably contemplates his own. The focus on the past becomes so intense, that he is actually renewing and reliving his pain and loss. This is something I feel we have all experienced, at least I know for sure that I have. In my quiet times, it is easy for me to replay old tapes of the past and imagine what might have been, to mourn missed opportunities and lost friendships. This is exactly the feeling that Shakespeare is conveying in this poem.

But the last couplet provides a stark contrast to the prevailing mood of the sonnet. Here his focus shifts from the past to his current relationship with the fair youth, and you get the sense that the speaker is immediately able to let go of the past and appreciate what is truly important: the connection with people here and now.

We have a very limited time in our lives, and to waste that precious time obsessing about the past is a tragedy. To quote Ram Dass, we need to “Be Here Now.” We cannot change the past, and the future is uncertain. All we have is this moment. Take advantage of it and enjoy your connection with your friends and loved ones.

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“Sonnet 29: When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes” by William Shakespeare

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

As I read this sonnet this morning, I was reminded of a saying which I frequently tell myself: “Don’t compare your insides with another person’s outsides.” We all have a tendency to look at others and see those things that we feel we are lacking in our lives, and then amplify them to the point that we end up inflicting suffering on ourselves. It’s kind of an amazing human quality that we can look at almost any person and see something which we wish we had. But if we were to “switch lives” with that other person, we could not just cherry-pick the few wonderful things we desire—we would have to take the entire package. At this point, becoming that other person almost always loses its appeal.

Shakespeare realizes this and expresses it toward the end of the sonnet. Once he turns his focus away from others and looks within, he sees that he is blessed with a deep love. He is able to see that the king’s riches and the other writers’ successes come at a price, and that he would have to sacrifice the closeness and the connection he feels with his beloved. He is not willing to do that, and I can totally relate. While I would like to be financially comfortable, spend my time travelling the world, be successful playing music, the truth is, if it meant sacrificing the great things in my life, I could not do it. My relationships with my family and friends are way more important to me than all that external stuff.

Hopefully, this sonnet will help you appreciate the wonderful things in your life. Thanks for stopping by, and have a great day!

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How to Be Happy

behappy

I recently cashed in some frequent flier miles for some magazine subscriptions (use them or lose them). I ordered Wired and GQ was bundled with it. I really don’t care much about men’s fashion and the articles in GQ are mainly about things I couldn’t care less about, but then as I was flipping through an issue, I came upon an article about happiness which caught my eye.

Click here to read article online.

It was about a Buddhist monk who teaches the keys to happiness. In fact, the monk, Matthieu Ricard, even wrote a book called, appropriately, Happiness. Anyway, the article was written by a person who went to Nepal to meet Ricard and discover the secret to happiness.

“Happiness is a skill,” he wrote. “Skills must be learned.”

This kind of surprised me. I had always considered happiness to be a response to things internal or external, so the idea of happiness being a skill piqued my interest, because I can certainly learn new skills.

In the wake of recent events, I have made a commitment to try to turn off the external noise and focus on the positive. It seems that I am not the only person feeling this way right now.

…these past months had raised a bevy of stark questions about our own humanity. In Paris and Orlando, Nice and Istanbul, the center could not hold. We’d been tossed headlong into a new maelstrom of violence, both physical and verbal. I wanted to know: How could happiness flourish in a sucky world? And how could we find it again?

I have thought about this a lot recently, and as such, have limited my access to news, filtered certain people out of my social media feeds, and recommitted myself to regular meditation. Ricard affirms that this is the right way to improve my overall happiness.

“The search for happiness is not about looking at life through rose-colored glasses or blinding oneself to the pain and imperfections of the world…. It is the purging of mental toxins, such as hatred and obsession, that literally poison the mind.”

The author of the article cites some dismal statistics from the WHO:

The World Health Organization claimed that people in wealthy countries were more depressed, at eight times the rate, than counterparts in poorer ones. Living in affluence seemed to mean you never had enough. Professional status was one more ego-feed, and as useless as the number of likes garnered for posting a picture of your kid playing a piece of celery in the school play.

So does this mean our society is doomed, condemned to a permanent state of unhappiness? It seems that the answer is “No.”

But, I wanted to know, were we changeable, or doomed, in the end? Matthieu flashed a smiling impatience. Of course, we were changeable! We contained molecules of greatness, the possibility of enlightenment!

I am tired of feeling fearful, stressed out, anxious, and unhappy. This is not what life is about. And while I am not going to stick my head in the sand and ignore the world around me, I can make the conscious decision not to feed into the negativity that seems to flourish and instead spread some light and joy to those around me. Hopefully, that happiness will spread to others.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope your day is filled with happiness.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 9” by Lao Tzu

Image Source: Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

As for holding to fullness,
Far better were it to stop in time!

Keep on beating and sharpening a sword,
And the edge cannot be preserved for long.

Fill your house with gold and jade,
And it can no longer be guarded.

Set store by your riches and honour,
And you will only reap a crop of calamities.

Here is the Way of Heaven:
When you have done your work, retire!

This is very practical advice for living life in the material world. We are spiritual beings having an earthly experience, and we must work and do certain things to take care of ourselves in this life. But what Lao Tzu is saying here is that we should not let our earthly desires dominate our lives. We all must work, and we all need a certain amount of wealth in order to survive, but the key to happiness and the “Way to Heaven” is to be content with just enough, and not to keep constantly striving for more. When we reach fullness, it is time to stop and rest. When a bird has finished building a nest, it does not keep building other ones. Likewise, when the bird has eaten enough, it stops eating. If it were to continue eating after it was full, it would no longer be able to fly.

We can spend our lives chasing after things that mean nothing in the end, but will that bring us happiness? I personally do not think so. I encourage you to pause, rest, and reflect on what is really important in your life. I suspect that it will not be material gains.

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