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Happiness (203 posts)
Hm? She was talking directly to my soul, obviously, but also to the neuroscientist Richard Davidson, who has studied the way we can change our brains. According to Davidson: "based upon everything we know about the brain in neuroscience... change is not only possible, but change is actually the rule rather than the exception. And it's really just a question of which influences we're going to choose for our brain. But our brain is wittingly or unwittingly being continuously shaped." (For more of the scientific nitty-gritty, listen to or read the entire interview here -- you will not be disappointed. Even if you are the type of person who is wired for disappointment.) Davidson explains that in his work studying the brains of meditating Buddhist monks (and more recently, preschool-age children), he's learned that happiness and serenity can be learned, and that after enough practice, brains can actually be changed for the better. He says, "I think that's very important and I think that most people still don't think of qualities like happiness as being a skill rather than it's typically conceptualized as a fixed trait and some people have more of it; some people have less of it."
What works, according to Davidson, for Tibetan monks and preschoolers alike, is to practice meditation and mindfulness -- to cultivate self-awareness. I know that in my family we are having a lot of tantrums -- the preschooler; uh, her mother -- and the idea that we can step back, examine our feelings, and teach our brains to deal with them in more productive ways is intensely appealing. Happiness is a skill we could all stand to develop. It's like the old maxim goes: You can never be too happy or too mindful. (That's how it goes, right?)
Richard Davidson on Beating Anxiety and Finding Happiness
5 Things Every Happy Woman Does
Good new: all of us smile-hungry humans have been invited to be part of a worldwide interactive art work: just upload this app and smile and, well, the whole world will smile with you. Pretty much, anyway. Yoko Ono (yes, that Yoko Ono) has been thinking about this project since 1967, when she said, "My ultimate goal in film-making is to make a film which includes a smiling face snap of every single human being in the world.” She just had to wait a few decades for the world of social media to catch up. Now she's launching this #smilesfilm app, with the ambitious, crazy, and awesome goal of collecting every smile in the world. Happily, the smilesfilm website shows everyone who's uploaded a smile (and you can see where they're from on the interactive world map). It's like a trip around the world and an instant pick-me-up all in one. Convenient. Smile.
The Smile That Can't Be Stolen
6 Reasons to Smile Right Now
The Deutsch Blog shares an email from Max's mother, in which she writes about how Max (who is also a junior ambassador of Children's Hospital Los Angeles, where he has been treated since birth) was not only scared, "He was also very sad that summer would be in rest in recovery instead of playing baseball, golf and traveling. Around bedtime he asked if I would stay up with him and talk. He wanted to make a 'CAN DO' list. So we wrote out all the things he can do so he could focus on those. Then he said we definitely had to 'Fun Up' the house." You have to read the whole email for this family's list of ways to "Fun Up" their house -- surgery or not, these are some seriously amazing ideas. And I love the idea of a Can Do list. Instead of grumbling about how we don't have any friends inviting us to summer in the Hamptons (seriously, people, where are you?), perhaps we could all do to make our own Can Do lists. What's awesome about this summer? About this life? If you can't see the world before August, can you arrange for a visit to the sprinkler? Can you bravely conquer a reading list? Can you "fun up" your own house/office/existence? It's a pretend question. You can. You know you can.
And don't forget what Max told his mother: "I don’t have a choice. I have to go through it. I don’t like it and it’s still scary—but I have to. So I think I might as well go through it with a good attitude." We should probably all say this to ourselves every day. We should scrawl it on our front doors, to remind ourselves as we go out into the scary world every day: "I might as well go through it with a good attitude."
(PS - By all reports, the surgery was a success, and it looks like Max is going to be enjoying a pretty rocking summer in his Funned-Up House.)
How Positive Energy Can Change Your Life
Maintaining an Upbeat Vibe
An unforeseen consequence of becoming an adult (it occurred to me the other day while rocking out at the library sing-along) is that you must regularly act a fool. You HAVE to. And I'm not just talking about parents who find themselves running around as if lobotomized, belting out nursery rhymes into the faces of their fussy children in public. I'm talking about anyone who's ever had to present a possibly-genius-possibly-ludicrous idea in a meeting, give a toast at a wedding, or try out the colorful-skinny-jeans trend. Don't tell those preteens nervously giggling in a self-conscious huddle, but in adulthood, as it happens, you just have to give in and not worry about looking silly sometimes.
Which leads me to this video of Jimmy Fallon, Carly Rae Jepsen, and The Roots performing the song "Call Me Maybe," while playing classroom instruments. (It adds to my enjoyment of this that I have no idea of the context. To me, this appeared in my twitter feed as just some grownups stuffed into a room and rocking out.) No offense to third graders everywhere, but who knew kazoos, bongos, recorders, tamborines, triangles, and rainbow xylophones could sound so catchy? I can't stop watching this jangly, poppy, moment of pure fun. Who needs self-consciousness? We don't have time to try to play it cool. We're grownups. So grab a piano whistle...
The "Call Me Maybe" Cover That Started a Meme
Kwela Dance Video > Coffee
Mr. Rogers Remix
Passionate Gotye Lip Dub
The Most Fun Family Band
Catherine Shefski was one such perfectionist-procrastinator. An accomplished pianist, she realized that amidst teaching piano and living her life, she was overlooking her own piano playing. So she decided to start recording one piece of music every week, calling her project Go Play. The results are lovely bits of music (what is it about solo piano that always sounds so haunting, so perfectly happy-sad?) -- and to this (admittedly very untrained) ear, they sound, well, perfect. Shefski chronicles the process on her blog, where she's noted how nervous it makes her to post these songs, which are sometimes, surprise, just not as perfect as she wants. As she writes in one post, "It took a lot of will power this morning not to do 'just one more' recording of this Scarlatti Sonata... My goal was to finally learn this piece, since I’ve loved it for years. It’s not difficult by any means, but I’m never totally satisfied with the opening ornaments ...But there it is. I did it. It’s the best it is right now. And I’m putting it out there. I’m letting it go." The way Shefksi writes about playing piano makes me believe I love playing piano too, even though I've never mastered much beyond Chopsticks on a toy keyboard. But she loves what she does. And now, with this project, she is actually doing it.
You hear that, procrastinator-perfectionists? Put it out there. Let it go. And play.
Face Your Perfectionist
How to Reach Your Dreams
Not exactly, suggests Alice G. Walton in this essay for Forbes. Walton coherently runs down how some of our favorite methods of coping -- you know, smoking, drinking, hiding under covers while weeping (okay, she doesn't mention that one) -- actually engage our minds in negative feedback loops that feed the bad feelings. Annoying, I know. Drinks are so delicious. But according to Walton, researchers have found that unhappiness is directly related to a wandering mind. Which is to say they found that "if you’re awake, your mind is wandering almost half the time,[and] it also found that this wandering is linked to a less happy state." Darn it all, your yoga teacher is totally right when she reminds you to meditate. Which makes you think of how hard it is to meditate. Which makes you...right, the wandering. So, wait, why does a wandering mind lead to unhappiness?
A wandering mind usually wanders toward trouble: the unchecked items on the to-do list, the unpleasant interaction from earlier in the day, the dread of some unpleasant, unchecked thing ahead. And these things are all about the self, about you and your trouble, your own corner of the world. As this essay puts it, happiness is all "about shifting our tendency away from focus on ourselves." Of all our favorite coping techniques, meditation is the only one that quells the wandering, that helps us to look outside of our (no offense) piddly existences. Walton writes, "These findings may suggest that for people who practice meditation or prayer, the focus becomes less on the self as a distinct entity from the external world, and more on connection between the two."
I'd like to see a cocktail that could do that.
(No, really, I would. Then after that I would meditate. I promise.)
Don't know how to start meditating? Try...
Mini-Meditations to Clear Your Mind
The One-Minute Meditation Course
Oprah on the Power of Meditation
Jezebel shares new research that suggests the anxiety-ridden brain has to work harder to complete basic tasks, particularly in women. As Erin Gloria Ryan writes, "In fact, an unsettled mind trying to complete a simple task is the mental equivalent of setting the treadmill to the highest possible incline and trying to run the same distance as someone running flat next to you; you may still get to where you're going, but it's going to be a longer, much more exhausting process." In other words, when you worry, your brain has to work more, you waste your energy, and it takes you longer (and you have to work harder) to parallel park your car or complete a math quiz or what have you. And the researchers also found that women were more prone to worry than men. Which means we perform worse on tasks than men of similar intelligence. Which gives us more reason to be anxious, which...you get the idea.
Just another reason to learn to stop worrying and love the calm.
The Age of Anxiety
Break the Cycle of Anxiety
So, yes, things are pretty awesome. We get to be alive. We get to live in structures designed for living. Most of us even get to pick out stuff we like to surround ourselves with. We get to go do things. There are such things as free days at museums, libraries full of books, parks anyone can enjoy, machines that give you a big shiny sticker for a quarter. AWESOME!
But in case you are having one of those blah-days, or one of those blah-months, or blah-lives, when it's for some reason difficult to remember that things are indeed awesome, there is 1000 Awesome Things. Well, there was anyway. The blog, which has been counting down from 1,000 (Broccoflower) since 2008, has recently reached #1. Luckily there is a book version, and another book version, and yet another book version on the way. I did say we all needed these reminders, didn't I?
But of all the awesome things Neil Pasricha has reminded us to be in awe of, be sure to check out #2: Remembering how lucky we are to be here right now. He breaks it down: "You are the most modern, brightest spark of years and years and years of survivors who all had to meet each other in order to eventually make you. Your nineteenth century Grandma met your nineteenth century Grandpa down at the candle-making shoppe. She liked his muttonchops and he thought she looked cute churning butter." Awesome. He breaks it down even further: "On this planet Earth, the only one in the giant dark blackness where anything can live, we ended up being humans. Congratulations, us!" Seriously, awesome. Have you ever watched a slug slugging around a garden? They don't even get to drink coffee!
And what follows is the best reminder of all, the reminder we should all remember at least once a day: "You only get a hundred years to enjoy it." And that's if you're really super lucky! I don't know if it's because I read this right after having a (silent, inner) temper tantrum about having A/C window units installed before the super left town or what, but this post brought tears to my eyes. My goodness, how true it is! How awesome is all of this? So go ahead, read the whole post for Pasricha's funny, wry breakdown of everything that is awesome about existence. And hurry! As he puts it, "You'll never be as young as you are right now."
See the World With Fresh Eyes
Finding True Happiness
“Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry,
Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam
And clear dances done in the sight of heaven.”
"Who wrote that?" I asked her once.
She squinted at it and shrugged. "Someone who didn't do a lot of laundry, I'd guess."
2. Laundry is one of those household tasks that's so mundane, so repetitive and unedifying and, particularly if you have kids, so unending, that it's hard to find any joy in it. Cooking has gotten a bit sexed-up, what with food blogs featuring glamour shots of daily dinners. Getting organized looks awfully fun and pretty on Pinterest. But laundry? Laundry is just...laundry.
And yet, the blog Four Deer Oak has a nice post on laundry this week. Blogger Anna Camille writes, "I don’t mind doing the laundry. It sounds like a rather odd thing for a 21st century feminist to say, but I’ve realized this year that I like doing the laundry for my family. It’s a chore, sure, and a necessary one, but who doesn’t like to have clean, fresh-smelling clothes. I don’t mind doing it and as I fold the cleaned laundry, I think of my loved ones and the blessings we have."
Wait, I think she made a mistake there. I think she misspelled "as I fold the cleaned laundry I grumble about how little my family appreciates all the work I do around the house." Oops!
3. Still, I have to admit that my laundry situation has recently changed in a way that has made life much, much easier. As I take the warm clothes from the shiny new dryer, I actually am able to appreciate (almost all the time) how this is something I can do for the people I love, and how lucky I am that there are these nifty machines that do all the work for me, that the hardest part of the task is the soothing work of folding everything while watching mindless television. "Let there be nothing on earth but laundry" indeed!
4. So I was doing the laundry in this nice clean new laundry space and suddenly those words from my mother's laundry room came floating up into my head. I abandoned the almost-folded pile to google the poem.
5. Here it is: Love Calls Us to the Things of This World, by Richard Wilbur. It's just the thing for those moments when you are doing laundry or any mundane task at all and need a jolt of inspiration, a peek out of yourself, a reminder of the beauty of the every day, of the small journeys your soul can make while the rest of you is half-asleep, the joy of that stinking always-full basket... how "outside the open window/The morning air is all awash with angels."
(Whether or not Richard Wilbur did his own laundry, of course, is still up for debate.)
A Sign to Live By: Be Excellent To Each Other
A Magical Approach to Cooking
Hailey Bartholomew was feeling depressed. So she decided to remind herself of one thing she was thankful for every day, and to take a Polaroid photo of it. But it didn't work so she crawled under the covers and never came out again.
Wait, not really! What actually resulted was that this chore she'd created for herself became an incredibly life-affirming project. She began to notice the things she loved that she'd been overlooking -- most of all her marriage. Her relationships improved. Her health improved. Her spiritual life improved. And what's more, she found that her project was inspiring others to be thankful for everything around them, too. She's working on a documentary about how being grateful affected real change in her life, and you can watch a wonderful video about it here.
There are many ways to acknowledge our gratitude, but I love Bartholomew's unique angle of creating actual photographs, actual artifacts. The other day I realized my daughter had been a little too quiet for a little too long, and I peeked into my bedroom, where she was "having alone time." She looked up from the massive pile of photos I'd been meaning to put in an album, and smiled a guilty, mystified smile and said, "This is really interesting."
It is really interesting, isn't it, how we can hold a moment in our hands? We're so used to seeing pictures online that the actual photograph has become an object that calls attention to itself, that makes us pause, that induces us to actually look in a way we don't when clicking through a Flickr album.
What are you grateful for? Go on, snap a photo of it. And print it. And hold it in your hands.
Spread Gratitude With Oprah's Thank You Game