happiness

Why Meditate?

Why Meditate?

"Why meditate? As you suffer less, are more fulfilled, as you understand who you are, and as you have a handle on changing how you carry yourself, all of that sums up ultimately in how you contribute to making this world a better place." 

~ Shinzen Young

Liberation through Intimacy

Liberation through Intimacy

Transcendence isn't an escape plan, but an engagement strategy: liberation through intimacy. Transcending the self and the world begins with deeply accepting the self and the world. It grows naturally out of countless direct experiences of life as it is being lived and an intimate familiarity with how its composition constantly fluctuates.

Paradox of the Border

Paradox of the Border

"What is this addiction? We have destabilized much of the world with our addiction. We’ve created a drug economy in Afghanistan, in Thailand, in Bolivia and we’ve caused turmoil in Guatemala and now we have elevated thugs in Mexico to the status of billionaires with our despair. And yet, we are an optimistic people."

~ Richard Rodriguez

Your Story Was This

Baxter, June 7, 2014

It Was Like This: You Were Happy
by Jane Hirshfield [listen]

It was like this:
you were happy, then you were sad,
then happy again, then not.

It went on.
You were innocent or you were guilty.
Actions were taken, or not.

At times you spoke, at other times you were silent.
Mostly, it seems you were silent—what could you say?

Now it is almost over.

Like a lover, your life bends down and kisses your life.

It does this not in forgiveness—
between you, there is nothing to forgive—
but with the simple nod of a baker at the moment
he sees the bread is finished with transformation.

Eating, too, is a thing now only for others.

It doesn’t matter what they will make of you 
or your days: they will be wrong, 
they will miss the wrong woman, miss the wrong man,
all the stories they tell will be tales of their own invention.

Your story was this: you were happy, then you were sad,
you slept, you awakened.
Sometimes you ate roasted chestnuts, sometimes persimmons.

Some Unprotected Desire

Skybox Imaging HD Video of Burj Khalifa on April 9, 2014 (1080p) from Skybox Imaging on Vimeo.

Mergers and Acquisitions
by Edward Hirsch, from The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems

Beyond junk bonds and oil spills,
beyond the collapse of Savings and Loans,
beyond liquidations and options on futures,
beyond basket trading and expanding foreign markets,
the Dow Jones industrial average, the Standard
& Poor’s stock index, mutual funds, commodities,
beyond the rising tide of debits and credits,
opinion polls, falling currencies, the signs
for L. A. Gear and Coca Cola Classic,
the signs for U.S. Steel and General Motors,
hi-grade copper, municipal bonds, domestic sugar,
beyond fax it and collateral buildups,
beyond mergers and acquisitions, leveraged buyouts,
hostile takeovers, beyond the official policy
on inflation and the consensus on happiness,
beyond the national trends in buying and selling,
getting and spending, the market stalled
and the cost passed on to consumers,
beyond the statistical charts on prices,
there is something else that drives us, some
rage or hunger, some absence smoldering
like a childhood fever vaguely remembered
or half-perceived, some unprotected desire,
greed that is both wound and knife,
a failed grief, a lost radiance.


See also: Alfred A. Knopf's Poem-a-Day 2014

A Remote Faint Question

"A remote faint question, where I might be, drifted and vanished again in my mind. I found myself standing astonished, my emotions penetrated by something I could not understand.

I felt naked. I felt as perhaps a bird may feel in the clear air knowing the hawk wings above and will swoop.

I began to feel the need of fellowship. I wanted to question, wanted to speak, wanted to relate my experience. What is this spirit in man that urges him forever to depart from happiness, to toil and to place himself in danger?"

~ H.G. Wells

Narration adapted from the works of H.G. Wells. Excerpted from the following:

The Time Machine (1895)
The Island of Dr Moreau (1896)
The First Men in the Moon (1901)
In The Days of the Comet (1906)
The World Set Free (1914)

Qualities of Mind are Skills We Can Cultivate

"Evidence for the connection between happiness and attention is found in neuroscience: attentional control is located in the pre-frontal cortex. Those with a weak pre-frontal cortex also have an inability to inhibit their limbic system (to control their emotions).  Most major mental health conditions are associated with a weak pre-frontal cortex.

Neuroscience has also found evidence for 'experience-dependent neuroplasticity.'  In other words, our brains change with experience.  We get good at (and grow thicker neuronetworks to support) the mental activities we engage in repeatedly. The most powerful way to change your brain is not medication, but behavior, and in particular, mental behavior.

With physical exercise, we can tell which muscles have become the strongest through exercise. Our strongest mental habits are the ones most easily activated, that are quickly and effortlessly available to our consciousness...the good news from neuroscience is that positive qualities of mind such as attention, kindness, and compassion are skills we can cultivate through practice and training. Contemplative studies point to an array of these practices to grow new mental habits."

~ Carrie Heeter, from "Why A Neuroscientist Would Study Meditation," Jan. 12, 2014

See also: Britton Lab

What if we based education on the study and practice of being happy and healthy?

"What bums me out is to know that a lot of kids today are just wishing to be happy, to be healthy, to be safe, not bullied, and loved for who they are. So it seems to me, when adults say, What do you want to be when you grow up? they just automatically assume that you'll be happy and healthy. Maybe that's not the case.

Go to school. Go to college. Get a job. Get married. Boom! Then you'll be happy. Right? We don't seem to make learning how to be happy and healthy a priority in our schools. It's separate from schools and for some kids, it doesn't exist at all. 

But what if we didn't make it separate? What if we based education on the study and practice of being happy and healthy? Because that's what it is: a practice. And a simple practice at that." 

~ Logan Laplante, from "Hackschooling Makes Me Happy," TEDxUniversityofNevada

Aging Well

Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study

"At a time when many people around the world are living into their tenth decade, the longest longitudinal study of human development ever undertaken offers some welcome news for the new old age: our lives continue to evolve in our later years, and often become more fulfilling than before.

Begun in 1938, the Grant Study of Adult Development charted the physical and emotional health of over 200 men, starting with their undergraduate days. The now-classic Adaptation to Lifereported on the men’s lives up to age 55 and helped us understand adult maturation. Now George Vaillant follows the men into their nineties, documenting for the first time what it is like to flourish far beyond conventional retirement.

Reporting on all aspects of male life, including relationships, politics and religion, coping strategies, and alcohol use (its abuse being by far the greatest disruptor of health and happiness for the study’s subjects), Triumphs of Experience shares a number of surprising findings. For example, the people who do well in old age did not necessarily do so well in midlife, and vice versa. While the study confirms that recovery from a lousy childhood is possible, memories of a happy childhood are a lifelong source of strength. Marriages bring much more contentment after age 70, and physical aging after 80 is determined less by heredity than by habits formed prior to age 50. The credit for growing old with grace and vitality, it seems, goes more to ourselves than to our stellar genetic makeup."

Focusing on Direct Experience Leads to Increased Happiness

“People are less happy when they’re mind-wandering, no matter what they’re doing. For example, people don’t really like commuting to work very much. It’s one of their least enjoyable activities. And yet, they are substantially happier when they’re focused only on their commute than when their mind is going off to something else. It's amazing.”

~ Matt Killingsworth, from "Want to be Happier? Stay in the Moment"

It Must Ensue

It Must Ensue

"Success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself.

Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it."

~ Viktor Frankl

Small Wins and Deliberate Mediocrity

"Tiny goals, even absurdly tiny ones, can be an effective way to sneak under the radar of your mind, which always stands ready to procrastinate on, or otherwise resist, bigger ambitions: you might laugh at the idea of doing 15 seconds of exercise, but for exactly that reason, you’re also much less likely to resist it. (The next day, make it 20 seconds, and so on.)"

~ Oliver Burkeman

The Emotions Didn't Change

Brigham and Women’s Hospital Neurosciences Research Center, Boston, March 2012

Excerpt from "Looking Back: My First Year as a Meditation Practitioner," by Kenji, Unready and Willing, June 2012: 

Ever since I started meditating regularly last year, one question I continued to ask myself was: “Am I happier?”

For the first three months, my answer was “no.” Contrary to my expectations, I often felt more emotional turmoil than I had before. It seemed as though any event, no matter how trivial, would set off a wave of depression, or sometimes an unstable rush of euphoria, the comedown from which was never fun. I’ve always considered myself to be emotionally sensitive, but this was ridiculous.

The reason for this intensification of emotions was not apparent to me until just recently. Much of it had to do with the meditation techniques that I practiced, techniques which were supposed to raise my awareness of every physical and emotional sensation, thus grounding my attention in my body and in the present moment. As a side-effect, it also made emotions feel stronger, and thus much harder to ignore.

Most every day, sometimes for one hour, oftentimes for two, I would sit on a cushion with my eyes closed and attend to any sensation, be it painful or pleasant, that manifested in my body, and would endeavor to remain detached from them. If a certain area in my lower back ached, for example, I focused all my attention on the ache, and tried to experience the pain without labeling it as either “good” or “bad.” In the clearest moments, thoughts and judgments about the pain became hushed and subdued to the point that I could regard the pain as nothing more than what it was: sensation. Although it wasn’t the goal, the pain itself would often subside not long thereafter.

Because I worked to improve my awareness of sensation, it was only natural that the physical sensations that characterize emotions like anxiety, sadness, or melancholy would be felt much more strongly than they had been before. Sometimes some small misfortune would trigger an unpleasant emotion and because I was more sensitive to this emotion, I felt as though meditation, rather than improving my overall sense of well-being, worsened it.

In reality, the emotions didn’t change. What changed was how I experienced them. The more I practiced, and the more I read about the practice, I realized that meditation was not meant to purge our minds of negative emotions or thought patterns, but rather meant to help us experience them without judgment. We were to let go of our resistance to pain at the deepest level and understand that we suffer not because pain is bad, but because our mind labels it as bad.

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The Power of Negative Thinking

The Power of Negative Thinking

"Behind all of the most popular modern approaches to happiness and success is the simple philosophy of focusing on things going right. But ever since the first philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome, a dissenting perspective has proposed the opposite: that it's our relentless effort to feel happy, or to achieve certain goals, that is precisely what makes us miserable and sabotages our plans." 

~ Oliver Burkeman