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Monday, May 31, 2010

Cultivate Well-roundedness

Here we are: Number 365. And it's a doozy: Cultivate Well-roundedness, the fifth and last of our "Five Cultivates."

It seems the happiest people I know can whoop it up with friends on Saturday night and attend church with great conviction on Sunday.

They can chat with equal amiability with college professors and construction workers, with police officers and prostitutes, with ministers and mine workers.

They can have fun in a disco or on a mountain trail, can be at peace in traffic or in tranquility.

They are all things to all people.

They are, as the Tao recommends, as soft and yielding as water, yet, as it also says, their strength has no equal.

Anyone who sounds one note might not fit the bill.

And yet, in all these situations, happy people are always themselves, never sacrificing who they are for the sake of others.

They contain multitudes.

So that is the final Secret. Look back over the other 364, and find out what sides of yourself might need development. If you only have one tune, master some more. If you only have one way to deal with adversity, learn some others. If you only have one friend, make more!

And, for the last time: You'll be happier.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Cultivate Peace

This brings us to the fourth of our "Five Cultivates," Cultivate Peace.

In many ways, peace is both the end and the means of our quest. What I have been calling "happiness" for nearly a year is really a sense of peace, or well-being. It is a lack of turmoil, tsuris, dukkha.

And how do we attain it? We start with it. We end with it. Borrowing and adapting from a couple of traditions, let us say:

Peace before me
Peace behind me
Peace above me and under my feet
Peace within me
Peace around me, and in all whom I meet.

With peace may I walk.
With peace before me, may I walk.
With peace behind me, may I walk.
With peace above me, may I walk.
With peace below me, may I walk.
With peace all around me, may I walk.

It is finished in peace.
It is finished in peace.

Cultivate Peace, and you'll be happier.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Cultivate Gratefulness

The third of our "Five Cultivates" is Cultivate Gratefulness.

Yes, I've written about this before, but as we're in the Final Five, it bears repeating: The key to abundance, and therefore happiness, is to be grateful for everything you get. You may or may not get more as a result of this attitude; but if you’re truly grateful for what you have, who needs more?

I am what is known amongst English speakers in Asia as "a templer," one who visits temples (Buddhist, Daoist, etc.) fanatically.

When I visit, I "pray." When asked the gist of my "prayers," I can sum them up in two words: "Thank you."

Thank who? Whoever's listening. It's not the "receiver" that's important in giving thanks, it's the heart of the sender, the position of acknowledging our dependence on others, on the universe.

So give thanks. Be appreciative. Cultivate Gratefulness. Your life will be fuller and richer for it, and, yes, you'll be happier.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Cultivate Compassion

Here's the second in our series of "The Five Cultivates": Cultivate Compassion.

This word "compassion" is widely misunderstood. It's often thought to mean merely "pity" or "kindness."

It is so much more.

At its highest cultivation, compassion becomes an identity with those who are suffering. Lest you think this is some high-falutin' Buddhist idea, just remember the words of John Donne:

Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls it tolls for thee.

When one suffers, we all suffer.

So for pity's sake (!) Cultivate Compassion. You (and all sentient beings) will be happier.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Cultivate Mindfulness

As we come near the end of our 365 (this is number 361), I have been emphasizing a few points that have run through the series. Now I want to end with a "definitive" (ahem) list. Let's call them "The Five Cultivates" (a naming convention borrowed from China, where I live).

The first one is: Cultivate Mindfulness.

Be mindful of the people around you, of the places where you spend time, of the way you live your life.

Which ones are making you happy? Which ones are making you not so?

Be mindful of your attitudes, towards things, towards people, towards life itself.

What mental furniture makes you the happiest?

In short, pay attention.

Socrates said it: "The unexamined life is not worth living." I think he was talking about being mindful.

So there's Number One: Cultivate Mindfulness. And you'll be happier.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


It's standard wisdom in economics: Don't put all your eggs in one basket; instead, diversify.

So why wouldn't the same be true of happiness?

No less an expert than Sigmund Freud said, "Just as a cautious businessman avoids investing all his capital in one concern, so wisdom would probably admonish us also not to anticipate all our happiness from one quarter alone."

If there's someone (or something) in your life that constitutes your "everything," you run the risk of severe unhappiness in the case of loss. Think of it this way: As happy as that person or thing makes you, whatever heights you rise to, that's how low you'll go if you ever suffer a loss.

So spread those eggs around. Find multiple sources for the happiness in your life. Start a hobby, get a pet, create something, find a special place. But don't let all your happiness come from one source.

Diversify. You'll be happier.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Be Bold

British journalist Holbrook Jackson once wrote, "Happiness is a form of courage."

Conversely, I guess, those without the courage to take hold of happiness are doomed to be miserable.

If I have learned one thing in the past nearly-a-year of writing about happiness, it's that happiness is hard work. (If I've learned a second thing, it's that it's useless to actually work toward happiness. Which leads to a third thing: that virtually everything we say about happiness is paradoxical.)

Anyway, it's true that happiness is available only to those who have the courage to take hold of it. Some of my friends (and I myself, when I was single) plan their own birthday parties. If no one else does it, why not? It's a bold, and to some, self-serving, move. And yet, if it makes you happy, why not?

So grow some cojones. Have some nerve. Be bold and seize some happiness.

You'll be happier.