One simple step toward happiness every day for a year. Doesn't everyone want to be happy?
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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Resolve to Resolve

In my youth I was deeply involved with a wonderful bunch of evangelical Christians at a place called "The Canyon House" in Sierra Madre, CA. The best of them were wise in an earthy way, not given to "pie in the sky," but firmly rooted in the application of the Gospel to the demands placed on us by living in this world.

One of my favorite teachers was a humble man named Danny Burch. A flower-delivery driver by trade, there was no pose about this posy-pusher. He was the 100%-authentic real deal.

One of his cleverer tropes was the "Wanta Wanta Prayer." Let's say you knew that smoking was bad for you, but you just couldn't kick the habit. The Prayer would then go something like this: "Lord, I don't wanta give up smoking. But I wanta wanta give it up. Help me do the right thing."


Think of all the ways this could come in handy: intend to intend; desire to desire; resolve to resolve.

As you start working on your resolutions, think not only about resolving, but about resolving to resolve. That is, see down the road, to what the next step might be. If what you really want is too big a task, resolve a little, and resolve to resolve more later. Take small steps.

You'll be happier.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"Scratch" That Itch

The itch is the bane of the meditator.

On those (fairly rare) occasions where I have a chance to sit down and do Chan (Zen) with others (mostly monks), I barely get my spine adjusted when the sensations start, and they seldom stop until the session is over. Scratching is considered "bad form" by some masters, so the only option seems to be to not-grin and bear it, which totally defeats the purpose of sitting.

Itch is the devil's tool.

Now let's get metaphorical. What sort of "itch" is keeping you from concentrating on what's important? Buddhism often brings them down to three: Greed (or Desire), Anger (or Hatred), and Ignorance (or Delusion). But these manifest in myriad ways.

Is it that desire for more? Is it envy? Jealousy? Ambition? Pride?

How about a grudge? A lack of forgiveness? Aggression? Pure, unadulterated loathing?

Or maybe it's a misguided set of priorities. An inability to discern what's really important.

All of these can become a sort of "mental itch" that distracts us from our true purpose.

Well, friends, scratch that itch. "Scratch," as in erase, cancel, strike out, eliminate, annul, delete; not as in "give in to" or "satisfy."

Get rid of it.

You'll be happier.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Immerse Yourself in Love

At the age of 41, I acquired my first-ever passport and moved to Japan.

When my 42nd birthday arrived--the first of many in Asia--I called together a group of around 50 of my closest friends (heh) and had a massive birthday party in a park.

Selfish as it may seem, I had figured out that the only way to go through life's key moments--birthdays, holidays, etc.--was to immerse myself in the love of people I loved in turn.

The fact is, while there are times for self-reliance and rock-like independence, there are also moments where throwing ourselves into a sort of psycho-spiritual mosh pit is just what we need.

To tell the truth, I had been planning my own birthday parties for years before leaving the States. Some single friends in America, and any number of inveterate expat friends, do the same.

Why not? It's kind of like self-reliantly and independently leaning on friends!

So next time an important milestone--a birthday, a holiday, a Tuesday--is approaching, and it seems you may be spending it alone, call out the troops! Immerse yourself in the love of people who matter to you (not excluding the possibility of kindness from strangers).

You'll be happier.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Count to Ten (or a Hundred)

As I wrote recently, natural anger passes in the twinkling of an eye, as demonstrated by two cats who pass each other, let it out, and move on.

When it happens, you might want to practice the advice proposed by that Sage of all Presidents, Thomas Jefferson: "When angry, count to 10 before you speak. If very angry, a hundred."

I know that my "seeing red" phase rarely makes it past the ten-count before "the better angels of [my] nature" kick in (to quote another President/Sage, A. Lincoln). And if, after ten, there's still a crimson tinge to my vision, I try (oh, how I try) to keep counting.

I don't want to pretend that I'm good at this. But I'm proud to say: I'm getting better.

Experts say there are two things going on when we stop to count: first, the passage of time. Give the storm a chance to blow over.

Second, distraction. The act of counting can take our minds off of whatever ticked us off, giving "sweet reasonableness" a chance to sneak in.

It helps to breathe, too.

So whatever (or whoever) it is that's bothering ya, Bunky, give peace a chance. Count to ten (or a hundred).

You'll be happier.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Create Something

Remember those hand-print ashtrays you made as a kid? Or the tempera paintings?

Remember the pride with which you said, "Mommy, look what I did!"

And how, when you looked back on them later (maybe as a teenager), you were embarrassed about how bad they were?

How cool would it be to create again, and take as much pride in it now as you did back then?

But the inner critic will have none of that, huh?

As I've mentioned before, Jung liked to make things out of stones, just for the sheer pleasure of creating. Ever make a sandcastle?

Your creation doesn't have to be "great." Heck, you don't even have to show it to anybody. Just do it for your own pleasure. (Seriously, how often do you do anything for your own pleasure these days?)

I'm no Shakespeare, but I write every single day. It's kind of like what Rilke suggested to the "young poet" who solicited his advice: I write because "I must," not because it's making me famous or (gods know) rich. Just for the joy of organizing my thoughts and stringing words together to express them.

So do it. Use your "Paint" program, or PhotoShop. Write something. Compose a song. Make a video. Then, if you're inclined, post it on Facebook or start a blog and say, "Look what I did!" With all this technology, anyone can create, and share.

You'll be happier.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Don't Delegate Happiness

Who do you trust?

A friend of mine used to say, "A true friend is one that you could leave in charge of your wife and your money for a year, and when you come back, everything is in good shape."

Few and far between, I'd say.

Is there anybody in the whole world to whom you could say, "Here's all my money. Take care of it"? Or anyone you would trust with your kids' health and welfare? To whom could you hand over the keys to your car, or your house?

Such individuals are rare.

So why are we so trusting with our happiness?

Why do we guard our external things--money, car, house--so carefully, and yet let others be in charge of our most precious possession, our own happiness?

Let's not delegate that. Take charge of your happiness, and don't let it slip into the hands of others.

You'll be happier.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Ac-cen-tu-ate the Pos-i-tive

Speaking of Aunt Til: I used to go over to her house on weekday afternoons and listen to old records. Not old old records, like 78s; but her Reader's Digest collections of big band music.

As a trombonist, I needed more inspiration than just "Blood, Sweat, & Tears" and "Chicago." Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Jack Teagarden: these guys were my "rock stars."

I loved that old swing music with its corny old messages. One song that has always stuck in my head was both silly and deep:

You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between

Written by Johnny Mercer and popularized by Bing Crosby, it went on to cite examples:

To illustrate his last remark
Jonah in the whale, Noah in the ark
What did they do
Just when everything looked so dark?

Well, they said we'd better focus on the good.

In the lesser-known second verse:

You've got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium's
Liable to walk upon the scene

That's it! If you know it, sing it. And focus on success rather than failure.

You'll be happier.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Fish for Compliments

My Aunt Til was a genius of happiness.

A "maiden lady" and a "universal aunt," she used to keep a lawn chair in the trunk of her little Chevy, and on a whim she'd stop in Rosemead Park and read under a tree.

At her funeral, I learned a wonderful story. She and her younger sister and her kids would go to church on Sundays. When they got back to my younger aunt's house, Aunt Til would take the dog around the block in her car. "She's been locked up," she said, "and we had our time out. Now it's her turn."

She had her quirks, though. One of them that used to give us the giggles was when she'd blatantly fish for compliments.

We'd sit down to eat something she had cooked, potato salad, for example. And as we dug in, she'd say: "Good potato salad, huh?"

We joked about it, but you know what?

She was right.

If you've done something well, why not grab the glory? "Doing good and disappearing" is all well and good for some saints; but other mere mortals need the rush of praise to push them into their next product.

So find out who's supporting you. Solicit praise. Fish for compliments.

You'll be happier.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Give Gifts that Keep on Giving

What to give the person who has everything? Or, at least, most things?

We all know the feeling of giving a gift that's received with a smile and sincere thanks, all the while knowing it will be shoved away in a cupboard, or sold in a yard sale, because the person we gave it to doesn't really need it.

So what would be a really good gift for that person?

Well, the best thing (all right, the only thing) I've gotten so far this year is a subscription to Parabola Magazine. It's both a print and an online subscription, so I can read the issues as soon as they're available. The hard copies are sent to my parents' address (to save on international postage), and then I can pick them up on my yearly visit back to the states.

Few things feed my soul like Parabola.

How about the people on your list? What books, subscriptions, films, memberships, CDs would feed their souls?

Because a thing is just a thing, but an idea can reverberate through a life.

So put some thought into those last-minute purchases. Magazine subscriptions and site memberships can be arranged online in a matter of minutes, as can movie and audio downloads.

Or how about donations in someone's name to a cherished cause? Funding for research, for example, or support for a social program?

Give gifts that keep on giving, long after the holidays are past.

You'll be happier.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Fix the Problem, Not the Blame

I've been fortunate enough to hang around with some "Hollywood types."

Contrary to the cliched image of a bunch of shallow, self-centered misfits, I found that the creative community was incredibly deep, soul-searching, and wise.

For example, I used to hang around with a movie director, a guy who graduated from London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, directed Sophia Loren, worked with George Harrison as producer, and brought an Emmy-nominated production of a William Faulkner story to TV.

No slouch.

But I knew him as the father of one of my all-time favorite students, a great guy to hang around with in his Ojai house, and the source of numerous delightful bon mots. One of these was the repeated phrase: "Shame, Blame, and Regret."

This mantra was sort of like Buddhism's Three Poisons, a trio of mental dangers to be wary of.

I was reminded of this last week when I heard Sean Connery's character quote an (alleged) Japanese proverb in Rising Sun: "Fix the problem, not the blame."

Simple, clear, and incredibly to the point. We waste so much time trying to fix blame that we never get to the problem.

Whatever it is, get past "whodunit" and move on to how to solve the problem.

You'll be happier.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Schedule Me-Time

Especially now, in "the season to be jolly," a lot of us feel more frustrated than usual.

(I'm immune, living in a culture that doesn't participate in Holiday Madness.)

But for those of you in the thick of the most wonderful--and stressful--time of the year, this would be a good time to do something selfish.

A cup of coffee in a sunny place. Alone.

A walk in nature. Alone.

A hot bath. Alone.

Get back in touch with your better nature. Don't think about cards to write, gifts to buy, people to see.

There'll be plenty of time for that after you've recharged. Then you can re-enter the battle refreshed.

So schedule a little me-time.

You'll be happier.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Clear the Air

Raise your hand if you like pus. Anyone? Anyone?

The natural impulse of a wounded mammal, whether animal or human, is to clean a wound. Drain it (if human), lick it (if animal), but keep it from festering, keep the circulation going, aid the healing process.

Why, then, do we let negative feelings fester? Anger, bitterness, resentment. These are so easily dealt with, and so damaging if left to grow.

The Dalai Lama has been asked if he ever gets angry. Of course, he says. The feeling of anger is natural and unavoidable. But to let that emotion control us is another thing altogether. Natural anger lasts about five seconds; just watch two cats pass each other, hiss, and move on. If we hang on any longer than that, there's trouble.

So, what's eating you? Get together with the other party, talk, and work through the problem together. If you succeed, all is well; if you fail, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that you tried, making it easier to move on.

Do it.

You'll be happier.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Make Your Brain Happy

Joseph Campbell said that the brain is a "secondary organ." It doesn't get us nutrition, or circulate blood, or allow us to reproduce. Its job is largely to support those other, vital, functions.

Nevertheless, I couldn't help but identify with a quote I read recently. When Thomas Edison was encouraged to exercise more, he said, "The chief function of the body is to carry the brain around."

I live for my brain. I love my brain. Some lifters, they say, can become "muscle-bound." I may be brain-bound (a concept many religions would recognize, where the brain trumps the "soul" or "spirit").

Secondary organ though it may be, spiritual danger though it may be, when my brain is happy, I'm happy.

I love brain candy. A good puzzle, a whodunit, a trivia game, a complexly-plotted film. Studying Sanskrit for fun, or doing a geometry problem. One of the reasons I live abroad is that it challenges my brain every day just to take care of the basics of life. When you can't even read the characters of a language, let alone understand it when spoken...

The idle mind may indeed be the devil's playground. We are homo ludens, the hominid who plays. Culture itself may be a manifestation of that impulse to play.

So feed your brain. Challenge it. Mess with it. And make it happy.

You are not your brain. But you'll be happier.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Be a Rock

I've recommended that we learn to bend, like a supple tree in the wind.

On the other hand, there are times when we need to be unmoved.

One of my favorite poets, Robinson Jeffers, used images of nature from the spectacular Central California coast to explore ways of being human. In "Rock and Hawk," he contrasted the "fierce consciousness" of a hawk perched on a rock, the symbol of "final disinterestedness."

Here's how he described the rock at the end: "the massive / Mysticism of stone, / Which failure cannot cast down / Nor success make proud."

What a statement of equanimity! Can we develop ourselves to the point where failure does not cast us down, nor success make us proud?

It may be too much to ask, and may not even be desirable for many. But the happy few who can achieve it?

They'll be happier.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Get Some Distance

The "inner critic" is hard to shut up, especially when someone infringes on "I, me, my, mine."

Someone leaves a half-filled coffee cup on your desk. Someone borrows one of your CDs without asking. Someone disturbs you during your break. Someone cuts in line in front of you at the dry cleaners.

It's hard not to point an accusing fingers in cases like this. So here's a little tip: Learn to say (and think!) in terms of what's happening, not how you feel about it, or your rapidly-forming opinion of the perpetrator.

"There's a coffee cup on my desk," instead of, "Some idiot left a coffee cup on my desk."

"Someone has borrowed one of my CDs" instead of "I can't believe someone has taken my CD!"

Once you've mastered observing without judging, the next step is to see things from the other person's point-of-view: "Jane must really need my help if she's calling me during a break."

"This guy must be under some serious time constraints if he's willing to line-jump like this."

Getting this sort of distance helps us to avoid anger, one of Buddhism's "Three Poisons." (The other two, Greed and Ignorance, help explain a lot of the behavior we see around us, too!)

So learn to observe without judging, then to put yourself in the other guy's shoes.

You'll be happier.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"Do Good and Disappear"

I first heard the expression, "Do Good and Disappear," in the 1959 Audrey Hepburn movie, The Nun's Story. It is a fitting motto for the type of selfless service portrayed in the film.

In this age of publicists and "corporate social responsibility," the idea of the "lone do-gooder" seems dead.

Or is it?

Because the irony is, if someone really does good and disappears, we'll never hear about it.

A few years ago, there was a popular book called Random Acts of Kindness which spawned a movement of the same name. A blurb on the back of the book reads: "Imagine what would happen if there was an outbreak of kindness in the world, if everyone did one kind thing on a daily basis."


Can you do one today? And another tomorrow?

The opportunities are endless: paying for a stranger's drink in Starbucks, mowing your neighbor's lawn, bringing donuts to work (anonymously!), picking up litter, writing an anonymous "you’re great" note.

Find something to do for another today. Then, if possible, disappear.

You'll be happier.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Make Friends Online

OK, I have friends. In fact, I have solid cores of friends in several countries on both sides of the world.

But still, on a working day, I seldom see any of them. Heck, even my wife lives in another city, and we only see each other on weekends.

Enter so-called "social networking."

Friends, I'm here to tell you: Facebook, Twitter, Intent, Gaia, Beliefnet, and a host of others have changed my life. For the better.

In some cases, they've kept me in touch with the far-flung folks I love.

In others, they've allowed old friends to find me (most recently, one crazy Kooza clown).

But they've also broadened my "friend-base," bringing people into my life I never could have hoped to meet otherwise: rock-star philosophers, walking pilgrims, educators who are busting the walls of the institutions, and cousins I didn't know I had (and lord, do I love 'em).

I can honestly say my life has never been richer.

This is not a sad, social-misfit nerd talking here. This is a guy with plenty of friends, who now has plenty more, and is grateful for every single one.

So do it. Reach out and find someone who thinks like you, or someone whose thinking challenges you. Someone from an exotic land, or someone who shares an ancestor. Someone who sparks your imagination, or someone who busts your pretensions.

Because you just can't have too many friends.

Then, you'll be happier.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Be Authentic

When I was in high school, I was notably odd.

When others started smoking cigarettes, I started smoking a pipe.

While all my friends were getting cars, I didn't even get a driver's license until I was well out of school.

And I never conformed when it came to clothes. I wore hats. And sometimes I'd wear a tie to school. This was weird enough, but I might wear it with a barber-shop-quartet-style red-and-white-striped shirt. And cowboy boots.

I thought I was shockingly bizarre. But I had no idea what was around the corner. A few years later the punks came along, and then the Goths, proving that I was embarrassingly small-minded in my weirdness.

Still, we live in a culture of conformity. You don't have to pierce something, or tattoo your face, to shock most people. And anyway, I don't mean that we should go out and do things for the sole purpose of being weird. (Usually.)

What I mean is: Be yourself, even if it's out of the flow.

Wear what makes you comfortable. Of course, some trading-off is sometimes necessary: If you wear pajamas to a job interview, you may find yourself comfortably unemployed. So a little "inauthenticity" in dress may be in order from time to time.

But overall, don't be a slave to fashion, wearing shoes that pinch or dresses that cinch just because they're "in."

The same holds in other areas of "conformity."

The key? I am generally under-dressed, wearing sandals and dressing "baggy." When challenged, I tell people: "I wear my style on the inside."

So be yourself. Be authentic, inside and out.

You'll be happier.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Don't be Married to the Plan

A funny expression has become popular in recent years: "Ready, Fire, Aim."

A funny expression, yes. A rare phenomenon, unfortunately, no.

Lack of planning, under-preparation, "going off half-cocked," is an all-too-common occurrence.

But there's another problem just as insidious.

That is when the planning is so precise, so elaborate, that the planners refuse to adapt to changing situations. A wise businessperson might say, "It's a good idea, but I'm not married to it."

Others seem to be married for life.

So make your plan, and make it strong. Then, be willing to revise your course when obstacles are met, or conditions change. Take the temperature, and make adjustments. Go with the flow.

Be prepared; but be prepared to adapt.

You'll be happier.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Get the Facts

Suspicion, like "tolerance," is a kind of limbo-land.

Example 1: You suspect your significant other is cheating on you.

Example 2: You suspect your boss has established an unspoken limit on your advancement.

Example 3: You suspect that your neighbor is stealing your newspaper.

In all three cases, a relationship is frozen. You can't jump left or right, move forward or back, because of suspicion.

So what to do?

Confront, investigate, confirm. Clear the air. Get out and find the facts.

Often, there's something else going on, that a little bit of inquiry would bring out.

Your significant other is planning a surprise party; that explains the whispered phone conversations. Your boss is holding you in reserve for a much better position that's opening up next year. Your subscription to the paper has run out.

Or maybe, he/she is cheating. Your boss is holding you back. Your neighbor is snagging the paper.

Once you know, you can deal with it. But when all you have is suspicion, there's nothing you can do.

So get the facts, then act on them.

You'll be happier.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sing, Sing a Song

I was on a plane a while back, and the Carpenters version of the Sesame Street song "Sing" came on the audio program ("Sing, sing a song, sing out loud, sing out strong...") I've always loved the clarity, the purity of Karen Carpenter's voice.

Good advice that: Sing.

It doesn't really matter if you're Caruso. Just sing. Do birds think, "I wonder if they'll like it?" No, they just belt it out.

Just sing.

Once, in a restaurant in Tokyo, a woman rose up from her table and started singing an old-time tune a capella. I asked my friend, the restaurant owner, what was up. He said she was making pitch for customers.

She was a lounge singer, I asked? No, she was a karaoke coach.

A what?

It seems that some Japanese see the "karaoke box" as a source of social advancement. She would coach them in a song or two, so they could impress the boss, or the customer, or whomever.

How odd, I said. Wasn't karaoke supposed to be fun?

"Yeah," he replied. "When I go to karaoke, I just sing."


Try it. Just sing. Sing a song. You'll be happier.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Stick Your Head in the Sand

I've spent over ten years living in Asia. There are lots of pluses and minuses to the expat life, and many of the pluses go by unnoticed.

One that we seldom talk about is what I call the "news blackout."

When you can't read or understand the language of the country around you, you are isolated--some would say "insulated"--from the commentary, punditry, and brouhaha surrounding events in the news.

Oh, we get the basics from the internet. We generally know what happened, to whom, and when, and where. But the speculations on "why" and "how" don't always seep through.

"Did you hear what Commentator A said about Pundit B's comments on the editorial given on such-and-such channel regarding the president's speech?"

That's something you generally won't hear around a dinner table in South China. Even those with cable don't get the sheer mass of "opinion" received by those with the most basic service "back home."

Yes, I've been accused of having my head in the sand (or elsewhere). You know the image, right? It was thought long ago that an ostrich would bury its head in the sand (or hide it in some bushes) and imagine that its whole, gangly body was hidden, and it was therefore safe from predators.

Well, I don't know how safe the opinion blackout here leaves me, but it certainly leaves me happier.

So turn it off from time to time. Establish your own personal blackout. Stick your head in the sand, and stop the noise.

You'll be happier.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Don't Tolerate "Tolerance"

I have recently become intolerant of the word "tolerance."

I feel that we either need to embrace something wholly, or eliminate it entirely. Tolerance is lukewarm.

Example 1: He looks deeply into her eyes, and in a husky voice murmurs: "I tolerate you." Bosh. Love her or leave her.

Example 2: One religious leader says to another, "We tolerate your religion." Ridiculous. Celebrate it! Revel in it!

Example 3: You’re tolerating a toothache. Get it fixed!

The image I get of someone "tolerating" something is of tense neck muscles, gritted teeth, scrunched-up face. Someone poised on the edge of a scream.

Is that any way to go through life? Imagine a person in that condition in a dance competition, or in a sporting event. The best performances come from someone who is relaxed.

So find out what you’re "tolerating." Is it a good thing? Embrace it. Is it a bad thing? Eliminate it.

But don't tolerate "tolerance."

You'll be happier.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Talk All Night

Ah, the delights of youth.

Some of the best times I remember are when the conversation with a good friend went into a "zone," so that suddenly the sky was lightening up and the birds were waking.


It might have been in person, with a cup of tea (or a bottle of something stronger). Or maybe it was on the phone, in the dark, snuggled under the covers.

And some have taken place in cars or buses or trains on all-night journeys.

Some have been in sleeping bags under the infinity of stars in a moonless desert sky.

Others at a kitchen table.

But the key is the freedom to range wide, to lose the strictures of more formal situations, to get a little goofy toward morning. That's when talk transcends brains and starts to connect hearts.

Yes, more than once, these conversations were held with "new flames." But as I've said before, there's nothing wrong with falling in love with your partner or your friends all over again.

So reclaim your youth, and "pull an all-nighter." Not over the books, but over connection. Maybe even have the adult version of a slumber party, a "lock in" with a few friends.

You'll be happier.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Have an Exit Strategy

During my five years in Japan, I spent a lot of time seeking out temples in the countryside.

Not having a car (or even a license) to drive, and being something of a solitary explorer, I usually traveled on public transportation, which outside of the cities meant cranky old buses.

Pop quiz: What's the first thing you do when you get out of a bus in the countryside?

Answer: Walk across the street and check the departure time for the last bus! Sometimes it could be as early as 2 or 3 p.m.

In other words, you should always have an exit strategy.

What problems frequently pop-up in your life? Do you have a car that breaks down? A cranky water heater? An unreliable baby-sitter? Whenever possible, fix what doesn't work. When that's impossible, have a contingency plan.

Do you frequently get ticked off? Bored? Lonely? Learn the appropriate coping mechanisms.

Often misplace your keys? Forget your wallet? Get lost? Have a back-up plan.

You know you. Sit down and list the five things that most often spoil your day. Then work out ways to de-thorn those thorny problems.

Or as we said in my few brief months in the Boy Scouts, "Be Prepared."

You'll be happier.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Only Connect

At heart, I am a Neo-Perennialist.

This is a term I made up to describe my peculiar "twist" on the well-known Perennial Philosophy. Here's my formulation of classical perennialism:

1. There is something bigger than myself

2. I either am separated from it (in Western thinking) or seem separated from it (in Eastern thinking).

3. There are things I can do to become closer to it.

4. To the extent I do so, I will live a happier, richer, fuller life.

The implication in the usual concept of perennialism is that the "something bigger" is God, or Brahman, or Buddha Nature, or some other religious ultimate.

But some of us aren't ready to go that far. I envision Neo-Perennialism as a more "user-friendly" way. Here, the "something" can be one's family, one's culture, "Mother Nature," mental health, Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and so on.

In other words, if you're not ready for the "God thing," at least connect to SOMEthing bigger. See yourself in a context, in a web of relationships, as a "part of the whole."

When you can do that, you'll have that richer, fuller life.

And you'll be happier.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Remember "EGBOK"

When I was a school principal, there was this sad-faced little guy in second grade. Every day he showed up with dark circles under his eyes, and walked around slump-shouldered, staring at the ground.

His mom, on the other hand, was a great lady, vivacious and full of life.

One day, he showed up with a button pinned to his shirt. It said simply, "EGBOK."

"Justin," I asked. "What's this?"

"Egg bock," he mumbled.


"EGG BOCK!" he shouted, and burst out crying.

It turns out that this expression was coined by a couple of L.A. radio personalities, and his mother thought wearing the promotional button might help her son deal with the difficulties of life.

It stood for: "Everything's Gonna Be OK."

Justin didn't get it. I think he felt like it was one more burden to bear, and maybe even that it invalidated the way he actually felt--that everything was not going to be OK.

But those of us who are older and wiser, who have seen more of life than Justin had at that time, know that things usually work out (given enough time).

So remember, EGBOK!

You'll be happier.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Chat Up a Stranger

A gang of us were sitting around in Tokyo one day, and the subject came up of "what we missed most" from "back home." You know what we all agreed on?

Small talk. With strangers.

The supermarket checker. A mom in the park. The guy behind us in line at the bank. And that classic of all: the barber/hair dresser.

Language was one problem, of course; the Japanese skills of most of us just weren't up to it.

But more than that, Japan is not a culture where strangers strike up conversations. For a variety of social and linguistic reasons, they virtually can't. (It's complicated...)

Things are a bit more open here in China, but my Chinese is even worse than my Japanese was. So on visits back to America, the opportunity to chat with strangers is a real bonus.

Appreciate what you've got. Make the connection. Say "hi" to someone at random, and be ready for what happens next.

Don't know how to start? I find complaining always works. "Do you think this line will ever move?" "It's hotter than Hades out there." "This park could use more swings." The other person might agree with you, or disagree, but either way: you're off.

Oh, yeah, positive statements work too.

So chat up a stranger. Build a bridge. Maybe even make a new friend.

You'll be happier.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Give Something Back

It's become a cliche. A Hollyweird celebrity worth thousands or millions stands in front of a camera for 15 seconds and shakes the hand of a flood victim, or pats a cancer patient on the back.

In the following soundbite, he says, "Yeah, I just wanna give something back for all I've been given."

Big whoop, right?

But you know what? When's the last time a camera might have caught you "giving back"? It's easy to criticize the "celebrity do-gooder," but at least they’re doing something. Are you?

If not, you can start small. A donation to a charity, newspapers in the local school's collection bin, a box of cookies from the Girl Scouts (give and receive!)

Next, volunteer some time. Work in a soup kitchen once a month, read to a shut-in, sing to some seniors.

If you really catch the bug, start something. An event, a drive, a movement.

Because as a wise Galilean said, "It's more blessed to give than to receive."

Do it. You'll be happier.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Keep Your Promises

In Don Miguel Ruiz's book The Four Agreements, the first agreement sounds deceptively simple: "Be Impeccable With Your Word." Don Miguel's expansions of this include "Speak with integrity" and "Say only what you mean." In other words, keep your promises.

Simple as it may sound, many of us fail in this crucial area. There was a time when a person's word was all that was required to do business. No contracts, no written guarantees, no lawsuits. Just a promise, and a fulfillment.

How far we've "progressed."

I am a man with almost no regrets. But some of the few that haunt me have to do with broken promises, shattered pledges, unfulfilled vows.

It has become popular recently for "gurus" of one sort or another to get large numbers of people to make vows. "One million people for peace," "An end to poverty," and so on.

While the causes are often worthy, I have stayed off this bandwagon because of the carnival atmosphere that surrounds these "movements." A vow is a solemn thing; as the marriage ceremony says, it is "not to be entered into lightly."

So first, I'd say, be careful with your promises. Then, keep them.

Look back over promises you've made, and either fulfill them, or "get right" with those holding your promises.

Clear the decks, and in the future, hold true to your word.

You'll be happier.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Be a Bulldog for Happiness

You could say that a bulldog has a face only a mother--or an owner--could love.

Originally bred for bullbaiting, the infamous mug was designed to allow our dogged friend to continue breathing while attaining maximum grip on some part or another of an angry bull. So not only was the jaw strong, but with that breathing apparatus, the critter could hang on indefinitely.

You're way ahead of me, aren't you?

Sometimes it seems happiness isn't half as hard to find as it is to keep. We have to grab onto happiness with all our strength, and then hold on.

So find out what makes you happy and get a grip. Be a bulldog for happiness.

You'll be happier.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Anticipate Your Day

I hate waking up in the morning. Always have, probably always will.

But this reluctance to get vertical has brought about an interesting practice. I set the alarm a little bit earlier than necessary, then hit the "snooze" button. And in that liminal space, between the arms of Morpheus and the launch of the day, I like to go through previews of the coming attractions.

Who will I see today? What will I do? What is expected of me?

What am I looking forward to, and what am I dreading? And how can I maximize the one, and minimize the other?

Who can I help? Who can I call on to help me?

What and where will I eat? Is there something out of the ordinary that I need to take along today?

I find that "Forewarned is forearmed." The better prepared I am for the day ahead, the better my day goes.

Of course, there will be surprises; they're often the best part of the day. But if I'm ready for what I know will happen (or have strong reason to believe will happen), I'm better able to take the "glitches" in stride.

Try it tomorrow. Give yourself five or ten minutes to preview the day. Get ready. Get set. Then go.

You'll be happier.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Be a Prophet

In several of these "secrets" I've mentioned the boy who pointed out the that Emperor had no new clothes, that in fact he was naked.

Do you realize that this is the original job of an authentic "prophet"?

These days, we tend to think of the prophet as one who foretells the future. But this was only a secondary element of the prophet's role.

The main job of a prophet was to speak the Truth with a capital "T," God's Truth, in most historic contexts.

And how did people know which prophet to believe? That's where the "fortune-telling" aspect came in: the prophet who made a prediction which subsequently came to pass must be a true prophet.

To repeat, a prophet's primary job was to tell the Truth, especially when that Truth was "inconvenient" to the leadership or to the broader society.

Ever been there? Ever been the only one in a meeting to say, "That may make us money, but it’s not the Right Thing to Do"? Ever been the only one to say, "This may save our school's reputation, but it won't benefit the students"? Ever been the one to tell a spouse or loved one, "I know that you'd rather not, but the Truth demands that we must"?

That's the prophet speaking.

Make no mistake: prophets may be scorned, spit upon, even stoned to death, simply for stating the Truth. But that never stops them from speaking out.

If you love the Truth, be a prophet. Say what needs to be said. You may not win, you may not even survive, but in your heart of hearts, you'll be happier.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Do you know the myth of Sisyphus? He was a Greek king who, having offended the gods, was condemned to eternally push a large boulder up a hill. Not so bad, right? But the rock never stayed at the top, always rolling back down to the bottom, where Sisyphus had to start again.

This kind of futile, repetitious labor, without result, has given us an adjective: "Sisyphean."

Is your life Sisyphean? Do you find yourself stuck in the same old grind, day after day?

Well, cut it out.

There are two ways to deal with this. The first is to change what you do. If you’re stuck in drudgery, get out those classifieds and start job hunting.

The second (and I think more realistic) way is to change how you think.

There is no job that completely lacks value. Every job produces something. Find the value in what you do. No matter how repetitive it may be, some benefit must be coming out of it.

Or consider this: Albert Camus suggested, in The Myth of Sisyphus, that Sisyphus represents a sort of paradigm for the modern man, what he called an "absurd hero." Here's what Camus wrote at the end of that essay: "The struggle enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

Change struggles, or find joy in the one you have.

You'll be happier.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Be Arrested by "Useless Beauty"

The other Elvis (Costello) sings of "all this useless beauty." This sort of beauty is far from useless; it's an essential human need.

This is nowhere more clearly explained than in James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

There, Joyce distinguishes proper from improper art. Improper art is "kinetic." That is, it moves the viewer in some way. Joyce says art that draws you toward it, and causes you to desire the subject of the piece, is "pornographic." That which repels you, creating fear or loathing, is "didactic."

Proper art is neither pornographic nor didactic. Rather, it holds the viewer in "aesthetic arrest."

That's what I'm talking about. The kind of art that just elicits awe. And "ahhhhh."

The thunderous opening of Beethoven's Fifth. An Impressionist painting. Michelangelo's "David."

Few of us are lucky enough to have anything in our homes that elicits such responses (recorded music, as wonderful as it is, is no substitute for the "real thing.") So essentially, I'm suggesting that you make concerts, or art museums, or sculpture gardens, a regular part of your life.

I did. In the summer of 1979 I was carrying a double load. I was a full-time student at a community college in the morning, finishing my AA degree. Simultaneously, I was a full-time student at a state university in the afternoon, starting my B.A.

In the evening, I was spent.

So I went to the Hollywood Bowl at least two nights a week, and lost myself in the dark, listening to the greats and thinking about nothing. It was a remarkably healing experience.

Put yourself under aesthetic arrest. Experience some useless beauty. Get lost in a great work of art.

You'll be happier.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Celebrate Something

In Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll introduces a wonderful bit of silliness: the "unbirthday." As Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice, everyone has just one birthday, but 364 unbirthdays in a year, on which one receives "unbirthday presents."

Silly, yes. But not a bad idea. Isn't every day we're alive worth celebrating?

So what can you celebrate? Start with the basics: birthdays, anniversaries, public holidays. Don't let one go by without celebrating. (As I write this, it's Thanksgiving Day in America--a decidedly unholiday here in China. Still, I will acknowledge it at lunch with a friend.)

Next, a small victory by you, a partner, or a friend at work. Your child's grades (however high or low they may be.) A new purchase, like a car or house. The welcoming of a new pet into your home.

There are so many things to celebrate. In fact, seen rightly, life itself is worth celebration.

The story is told of a new monk in the scriptorium, where the monks copied manuscripts. He noticed that they were copying copies, and assumed that this had been the process for generations.

Approaching the head monk, he suggested that it might be better to go down to the basement and check the originals. The head monk agreed, and headed down the stairs.

As he was gone longer than expected, the new monk went down to find him. There was the head monk, sobbing uncontrollably. When he finally calmed down enough to answer the new monk's query, he cried, "The word is celebrate, not celibate!"

Find something to celebrate. You'll be happier.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Learn that "What Doesn't Kill You..."

There's a catchy, New Age-y expression that you've probably heard: "What does not kill me will make me stronger."

I wish it were always true.

Like many such expressions, it doesn't quite hold up under close examination.

I know lots of people, good people, spiritual people, who have been crushed by unfortunate events. They do not become stronger, but rather are defeated, and wither away.

The only thing we can say for sure is: "What doesn't kill you will leave you alive."

Yes, it's a tautology. But there's hope in its latter half. Because if you are alive, there is a chance, a glimmer of a possibility, that in fact you will overcome a tragedy and move on the better and stronger for it.

I guess what bothers me about the expression is that it makes this "benefit," this rising above the vicissitudes of life, sound automatic.

It's not. To use the vernacular, it can be damned hard work.

So remember when the stuff hits the fan that there is a chance of coming out better on the other side, but it may require some effort on your part. Sitting back and saying "Tra la la, I'm going to be stronger after this" is not necessarily the best way to grow.

Give it your all.

You'll be happier.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

You AREN'T What You Buy

My parents have lived in the same house since the early 1950s, just a few miles from Pasadena, California. Except for his years in the army, Dad has never lived outside of greater Los Angeles.

So he sometimes has a hard time understanding my choice to be "a perpetual expat." When I announced that I was moving to China, he replied that he just "couldn't see it." (I said, "Dad, you couldn't see moving as far as Pasadena!")

When I pressed him as to why living in China was unimaginable, he finally said, practically groaning, "It's a Communist country."

If only he could see it.

There is a rampant consumerism here that would put any Black Friday stampede to shame. "1.3 billion consumers can't be wrong!"

And so I was not surprised the other day to hear a new twist on an old idea. I was in a cab when a shopping-oriented program came on the radio. As the intro music swelled, an announcer intoned this dictum (in English):

"You are what you buy."

Ay caramba!

I thought, "Who would be so naive? Who wouldn't see through this?" The answer, of course, is most of us.

I mean, isn't this what Madison Avenue has conditioned us to believe?

So let me be one of the increasing voices crying in the wilderness: You aren't what you buy. Nor what you own, nor what you crave.

The many who have gotten past this programming have experienced great freedom, and if you've "bought" this lie, you can, too.

Then, you'll be happier.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Have a Happy Childhood

Pity the person who had an unhappy childhood.

Pity even more the one who suffers under the burden of that cliche.

Because the childhood is over. But the mental load lives on.

Drop it. Just drop it.

And have yourself a happy childhood, right now!

What was it you missed out on: parental love? Go re-parent. Find an older mentor and get that unconditional love you missed out on. Was your childhood all work and no play? Have some fun!

I don't mean to make light of the very real traumas that many have experienced.

But I do mean to tell you that, as an adult, you now have a chance to correct all that. Nothing knocks out the effects of a bad experience like replacing it with a good one.

So remember: It's never too late to have a happy childhood. Get out there and make it happen.

You'll be happier.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pass It On

I confess: I'm a junkie.

I have lots of junk that I just can't seem to let go of. I have a little hand mirror that's lived with me for two decades, in five cities (in three countries, two hemispheres, and countless houses).

As I sit at my desk, I look around and see books and knick-knacks that have followed the same route.

So the question arises: If I love them so much, how much joy would others get if I gave them away?

Wait a minute, I'm getting dizzy...

OK, I feel better now. But seriously, to give a prized book to someone who would really cherish it, or a statue to someone who might place it on their altar: wouldn't that be a rush?

And I don't mean the dumping of stuff when you move (as I have) from one continent to another, either. I mean a voluntary, heartfelt donation, an offering.

It's a way of non-attachment.

So take something you love, and give it to someone you love. Let it go, and let it carry your love with it.

You'll be happier.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


Here's one of those quotes that's been floating around the internet for a while. It's attributed to Mark Twain, but without further citation:

"The perfection of wisdom, and the end of true philosophy is to proportion our wants to our possessions, our ambitions to our capacities; we will then be a happy and a virtuous people."

Anyone know where it's from? It sounds more like the Buddha than Sam from Hannibal.

Let's chew on that for a minute. "... to proportion our wants to our possessions..." This is a precursor to the famous saying, "Happiness isn’t getting what we want; it's wanting what we get." If only we could learn to be happy with what we have, we'd be a whole lot happier.

And, to proportion "our ambitions to our capacities." I've seen the "C" student who was tied up in knots because he'd never get into Harvard. Or the kid who couldn't carry a tune and wanted to be in choir because "all her friends were." There's nothing wrong with ambition; but to "know ourselves" should include a healthy dose of reality.

If we can learn to be happy with what we have and with who we are, what could possibly stand against us?

Try it.

You'll be happier.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Set Your Own Standard

Once my friend Susie was working in a record company. A self-important visiting "big-wig" went on a tirade one day and yelled at her, "You’re just a short dumb blonde secretary!"

She pulled herself up to her full five-feet-one and yelled back, "I am not short!"

How short is short? How smart is smart? How pretty is pretty?

Who says the other guys get to set the standards?

It seems that much of the unhappiness I see comes from people comparing themselves--unfavorably--to others.

And even those who "win" such competitions will eventually be brought down when they meet someone "better" than them.

So here's a corny bit of wisdom: You are the best you that ever was.

It's ok to strive for improvement, growing in wisdom and compassion. But it shouldn't come out like, "Some day I'm going to be wiser than the Buddha and Jesus! I'm going to be more compassionate than Mother Teresa!"

It sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? But then why do we lament being "less" than others: less rich, less handsome, less tall, less slim, less blessed?


Set your own standard. And dare others to be as good a you as you are.

You'll be happier.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Find Some Money

When I was a kid, we were all so grateful that my dad was a "Pepsi-holic." Aside from the fact that we sometimes got to have a sip, from time to time we were allowed to return the bottles for the deposit.

That was "found money."

Where else can you find money? Clip some coupons, sell some junk.

Or, seal some leaky windows, fix a dripping faucet, swap out high-wattage light bulbs for energy-savers, turn the thermostat down, trade in a gas guzzler for an economy car. It's all found money (and good for the environment too).

More? Buy generic. Ride a bike to work. Use both sides of a piece of paper. Mend a piece of clothing. Use your cell phone only for emergencies. Vacation locally. Drink iced tea instead of soda. Wear glasses instead of contacts. Swap music and DVDs with friends. Use the library instead of the bookstore. Talk on Skype instead of the phone. Use rechargeable batteries.

Get interest on your checking account.

This is too easy. Every penny you save, every corner you cut, is "found money."

Go find some.

You'll be happier.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Generate Endorphins

What's an "endorphin"?

According to Wikipedia, endorphins are compounds

produced by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus in vertebrates during strenuous exercise, excitement, pain and orgasm, and they resemble the opiates in their abilities to produce analgesia and a feeling of well-being.

"A feeling of well-being"? Yup. A chemical high courtesy of your own endocrine system.

I think the list of endorphin triggers is fascinating. "Excitement" and "orgasm" on the one hand just don't seem to go along with "strenuous exercise" and "pain" on the other.

Pain? I guess John Mellencamp was right: It does hurt so good.

No, I'm not advocating that you go out and hurt yourself. Life brings enough pain without us seeking it. But exercise, excitement, and yes, orgasm, are all legitimate ways to flood the system with its own "joy juice."

So get out there and run that marathon, or get charged up watching a football game, or... well... you know...

You'll be happier.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Calibrate Your Moral Compass

Everybody knows that the needle on a compass points "north," right?

But is that north as in "the North Pole"?


In fact, a compass points to "magnetic north," a place around 500 miles from the north pole. (Why? It's complicated; let's not go into it now.)

So, depending on where you are on the earth's surface, your compass needs to be calibrated so you can orient your map to true north.

Now, we often hear talk about one's "moral compass." People seem to feel that the "moral compass" is a sort of scientific instrument, like the physical compass, that clearly points the way, no matter the situation.

For example, one website,, writes:

A compass … is a consistent and true indicator of physical direction. [The mental processes described by the words "moral compass"] are consistent and true indicators upon which personal belief and action can be based.

But as we've seen, even a real compass has to be calibrated for one's current position. So, while we may have some absolute principles regarding our own behavior, some "consistent and true indicators," those principles still need to be thoughtfully adapted to our current situation.

I won't even get into the fact that magnetic north moves around continually and unpredictably, meaning that a calibration that worked at one time may be entirely off a few years later.

Suffice to say, we all need to assess and reassess the application of our principles, depending on circumstance.

So get calibrated, and practice compassion.

You'll be happier.

Monday, November 16, 2009


In Mitch Ablom's novel, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, one character says, "That's what heaven is. You get to make sense of your yesterdays."

Why wait?

I know, we're supposed to live in the "now," but is there any harm in a healthy review?

First, look at all the great moments in your life. Savor them; enjoy them all over again. And then figure out how you achieved them.

Then, the not-so-great moments. Don't savor them, or get stuck back into their drama. Instead, figure out how you got to that place, and what you can do differently next time.

And you don't have to go back to childhood; what can you learn this evening from what you did today?

It never hurts to review.

You'll be happier.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Make a Plan

I've said it before: "First things first."

Recently, I've been working with a bunch of stories, called in Chinese "The Sutra of a Hundred Parables." There are only 98 (the first clue that there's something funny going on), and they "star," in every case, a "fool" who just doesn't get it.

I've been looking for common themes in these stories, and one that comes up over and over is the failure to put first things first.

For example, in one story, the king gives a fool a dead camel to eat. Before he butchers it, the fool discovers his knife is blunt, so he goes looking for a grindstone--which is on the second floor of his house. He sharpens the knife, goes downstairs, and sets to work. The knife gets dull again. So what does the fool do? He carries the camel upstairs. Here's a guy who doesn't know how to prioritize. What a fool.

But are we really any better?

How often do we set about to do things in B – C – A order, or C – A – B?

This is first and foremost a matter of mindfulness, taking that moment to stop and think: A – B – C.

So stop putting the cart before the horse, or traveling east to get west. It adds unnecessary stress to the necessary burdens of life.

Make a plan.

You'll be happier.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


I'm often reminded of the story, "The Emperor's New Clothes," called more bluntly in Japanese, "The Naked Emperor."

You know the story, I'm sure: Some con men convince the Emperor that they can make him a superior suit of clothes, and then hand him nothing, telling him how good it will look on him. He doesn't want to look stupid, so pretends he sees the clothes, "dons" them, and insists that everyone admire him. Finally, while he's parading through the town, one child--naturally, it would be a child--points out that he's naked.

A silly story, perhaps; or is it?

Here's a quote from the Jesuit priest Anthony de Mello: "There is only one cause of unhappiness: the false beliefs you have in your head, beliefs so widespread, so commonly held, that it never occurs to you to question them."

If this sounds like Buddhism to you, it's because Fr. De Mello lived in India, and followed his own advice, questioning "the beliefs in his head" and seeing truth in all religions.

So, about you: What is sitting there in your head, making you behave certain ways, say certain things, think along certain lines--and all the while preventing you from seeing that the Emperor is indeed naked? What assumptions, "widespread, commonly held," have you never even thought of questioning, that may be standing between you and happiness?

Find them. Deal with them.

You'll be happier.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Moving intercontinentally makes you realize that whoever said "You can't take it with you" was either talking about death, or airline baggage restrictions.

Back in the autumn of 2001, I started out on a three-month journey through Japan, mostly on foot.

As I was getting ready to go, I was also closing up my apartment, because I was going to return to the U.S. after the trip. That meant getting rid of over four years of accumulated stuff, and shipping the most precious things back to the states.

Still, the morning I set out, I was carrying 60 pounds (over 27 kilos) on my back.

The second day of walking (still not out of Tokyo), I contacted a friend, "Mr. K.," and asked him to come pick up some of the extraneous stuff. The third night, I slept at my friends Tom and Yuka's house, and left more things with them.

And so it went, down the road, like the pioneers crossing the prairies and dumping their unnecessary household goods--sideboards, armoires, pianos--along the way.

And you know what? The less stuff I had, the better, freer, I felt.

I think next summer I'll go to L.A. and clean out that storage unit I pay for every month...

So, think about it. At rummage sale time, one of my ministers used to say, "If you haven't used it in a year, you don't need it."

Take some time, sort through your stuff, and unclutter.

You'll be happier.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Write a Thank You Note

"Be grateful."

Everyone says it.

"Have an attitude of gratitude."

You know you should.

But "attitude" is a little tough to pin down.

A thank-you note is not.

Sit yourself down and write a thank you note right now.

Write it to your mom or dad, your old teacher, your first boss-and-mentor.

Write it to your mayor, governor, senator, or president. She or he may not see it, but it will count. And you'll see it.

Write it to the singer whose music has brought you joy for years, the comedian that cracked you up on TV last night, the author whose book changed your life.

Or, harder, write it to the boss that rides you every day, the ex-spouse, the grouchy neighbor.

Too much to handle? Write it to God, to the Universe, to Life, to the eco-system you live in.

But write it. Pen in hand. Paper. Envelope. Send it or not, but write it.

You'll be happier.