One simple step toward happiness every day for a year. Doesn't everyone want to be happy?
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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Improve Your Karma

You know what karma is, don't you?

Simply put, it's the idea that whatever you do comes back to you.

Sure, you can get all esoteric, and talk about rebirth and store consciousness and karmic bundles.

But it's simpler than that. When you smile at someone, they're more likely to smile back.

As those sixties sages the Beatles put it:

In the end

The love you take

Is equal to the love you make.

Smile. Talk nice. Do people favors.

As my dad says, "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." ('Though I never could figure out why you'd want to catch flies...)

Maybe take it up to the next level. Donate. Volunteer. Make sacrifices for others.

Or just be humane to that poor lady at the DMV.

You'll feel better about yourself, and people will probably be nicer to you.

And you'll be happier.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Buy a Hat (and Wear It)

You can tell a man by the hat he wears.

Cowboys wear cowboy hats, sailors wear sailor caps. What's a pirate without his hat? Or an English gentleman without his bowler?

If you get the right hat, you can be anyone.

It's a sign of our loss of imagination that the "Trucker Hat" (also called a "gimme cap" because they were originally given away as free advertising) has become the standard headwear for a generation. Where's the romance in a glorified baseball cap with air conditioning and a logo?

Give me a Stetson, a tam, a beret, a fedora.

How outrageous would it be to meet a friend wearing a Lincoln-esque stove pipe? Or a full-sized sombrero? Or a pith helmet? (I actually own one. And a yarmulke too.) How about a pointy wizard's cap covered in symbols?

Ladies: Something big, with flowers. Or a bonnet. A cowl. Or a ten-gallon (ma'am).

I'm prone to those canvas-y Indiana Jones items (not the felt ones--too hot).

The point is: get out of your rut. Spice up your life. Have some fun.

Make your friends say "what the...?"

The right hat will make passersby smile. (Or policemen stop you.)

Be whoever you want to be, even for one lazy Saturday afternoon.

You'll be happier.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Have a Picnic

In the northern hemisphere, things are warming up considerably. Summer is here. (To our antipodean friends: bookmark this for six months from now.)

It's time to call a few friends, and prepare a few favorite, portable dishes. Pack a basket, jump in the car, and go find a place to eat outdoors.

Parks are nice, and gardens.

But for the full effect, have your picnic in a natural setting.

Catch the view from a peak as you eat. Listen to a stream. Sit in a sunny glen in a shady forest.

This may call for a backpack instead of a basket.

But this is not a "nature trip." This is a feast.

Pull out all the stops. Stuffed olives. Five kinds of cheese, with crackers. Wine, if that's your thing. Gourmet goodies.

The best of foods taste even better when you eat them outdoors, surrounded by natural beauty. (The best picnic I ever had was by a stream in a cow pasture. Nature enough.)

So have some Great Hors-d'oeuvres in the Great Outdoors. Munch a Main Course in a Meadow. Have Dessert in the Desert.

You'll be happier.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Tickle the Ivories

Did you remember ever just sitting down at a piano and playing with it?

I don't mean banging out Scott Joplin, or nailing the Moonlight Sonata.

I mean Chopsticks. Or less.

Remember how happy it made you, and how it drove your mother or your teacher nuts? And they made you quit?

Well, no one can stop you now. Find a piano to play with. (If you actually play, go ahead. But I'm talking to the musically challenged.)

Hit the lowest note you can. Then the highest. Then go back and forth between the lowest and the highest really fast.

Do something that makes you go "Ahhhhh..." Then something that makes you go "Ewww..."

In other words, have fun like a kid.

Or find a harmonica, and just breathe in and out through it.

Or make a trumpet blat. Or a clarinet squeak.

No "real" instruments on hand? Turn over a wastebasket and have at it. Play along with your favorite dance tune.

Make a joyful noise!

You'll be happier.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Carpe Diem (Seize the Day)

Here's a joke I made up.

A man in his 40s isn't feeling great. He goes to the doctor for a general checkup.

After a thorough examination, the doctor tells the man, "I have good news and bad news."

"OK," says the guy, "What's the bad news?"

The doctor looks him in the eye and says, "You're going to die."

"AW, JEEZ, DOC!" the guy yells. "Just like that? No segue? Just 'You're going to die'?"

The doctor apologizes a little, then asks, "Don't you want to hear the good news?"

"Well, yeah," the guy says. "But what could possibly be 'good' after that?"

"Alright," the doctor tells him, "barring a terrible accident or the onset of a fatal disease, you've got at least another 30 or 40 years."

The moral: We're all going to die. But not yet.

If you've ever seen a painting where the main figure contemplates a skull, you've seen memento mori (meaning "remember, you shall die"). This is an artistic convention that's meant to remind us of our mortality.

Like anyone would forget.

But we do, and then the memory seizes us, and we freak out.

Just remember: yes, you're going to die. But meanwhile, you're going to live. (Some people consider that to be bad news!)

So die when you must, but live while you can. Carpe diem! Seize the day!

You'll be happier.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Walk Mindfully

I used to work in a temple.

The courtyard there was laid out in concrete squares, with grass growing between them. It was designed to resemble the pattern of rice fields often seen in the Asian countryside. Thus, walking up the courtyard could be a kind of "cultivation" (like growing rice, get it?)

This was accomplished by walking slowly back and forth up the courtyard, using it like a kind of labyrinth. It could actually take upwards of an hour to walk a very short distance!

One was to walk with hands folded in front of the belly, eyes downcast, at a Tai-Chi-like pace, placing the feet carefully and concentrating on every part of the body.

When you think about it, most of us walk in a kind of controlled fall. We lean forward, push off with the rear foot, and catch ourselves on the forward foot, before we fall on our face. Then repeat.

But walking can be much more. Right now, get up. Get ready. Breathe. Now take a slow step while you try to examine what each part of your body is doing.

Do you notice that if you, say, step out with your left foot, you have to lean to the right, putting your weight over your right foot?

Walking isn't as easy as you thought, is it? The first time I tried this, I fell down!

There are lots of organized ways to "walk mindfully": labyrinths, garden paths, temple courses.

But start by just walking slowly across your living room (without falling down).

Then try to be mindful whenever and wherever you walk.

You'll be happier.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Thank Someone Special

Gratitude is a powerful tool for happiness.

But it's not enough to just go around floating on clouds of gratitude.

A wise old man named William Arthur Ward once said: "Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it."

So single someone out.

Have you ever thanked your parents for everything they've done?

How about an old teacher, or a mentor at your first job?

Moms and dads: have you ever thanked your kids?

Call someone. Write a letter (not an email). Better yet, go in person, buy dinner, spend some time.

Deliver that present you've already wrapped.

You'll be happier.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Be Prepared

Life is full of surprises.

Some of them are wonderful. Some, not so much.

Those not-so-wonderful surprises might be a little less not-so-wonderful if we were prepared for them.

But first, start being prepared for the non-surprises. You know there are certain things that you have to do for tomorrow. A lunch needs to be packed, or clothes ironed.

Are you ready?

How about next week? Next month?

Now, think about the kind of surprises your life usually throws you. There are some "surprises" you can anticipate.

Your ride is often late. Carry bus fare.

You use your cell phone a lot, and the battery runs down. Carry a spare.

Then there are the true surprises, the ones that come out of nowhere. How can you be ready for those?

There are things you can do. I find there are few surprises I can't handle with a little ready cash (or an ATM card) and a cell phone, even in the "alien" environment I live in in south China.

Whatever you might need, figure it out, and don't leave home without it.

Have a plan. Run scenarios in your head. Be prepared.

And when life's little surprises come, they won't take so much out of you.

You'll be happier.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Count Your Blessings

Literally.

Sit down and make a list.

Start with the personal things about yourself: health, abilities, attitudes, all the good things about yourself that you're grateful for. Count them.

Now look around you. Friends, family, co-workers. Your home, your neighborhood, your city. Your job (or free time). Count them.

Go bigger. Your nation. The economy you function in. This precious planet. This glorious universe. Count them all.

Now, what about events? Kindnesses done, mistakes forgiven, errors corrected, gifts given. Today and all your life. Count them.

And you know what you're going to find?

I tricked you. You can't count them all.

Who among us can count to infinity?

But don't stop.

Keep counting.

You'll be happier.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Be Your Age

I didn't say act your age. That's a straitjacket, exactly the kind of thinking I hope you'll avoid.

I don't mean that you have to follow some "rules," or conform to some stereotype ("children shouldn't knit" or "old ladies shouldn't roller skate").

Instead, be your age. Whatever age you are, there's nothing you can do to change it.

So why not just be that age?

I mean, accept your age. Stop wishing you were older or younger. Because wishing won't change your age by one second.

That said, do whatever you want. Rejoice in where you are. Revel in your you-ness.

Let's say you're a teenager. There's a carnival in town. Your parents want to take you, and you know it would be fun, but someone says, "That's for kids."

Hey, newsflash: You are a kid.

Or maybe you're 62, and there's a golf tournament sponsored by the local senior center. You'd love to sign up, but senior centers are for "old people."

Well, guess what? You're old. Sign up.

You're always walking a tightrope. On the one hand, don't let anything stop you because "you're too old" or "you're too young" or "that's not appropriate for a person your age."

But on the other, don't deny that you are the age you are.

Go with the flow. Accept who you are. Be your age.

You'll be happier.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Slap Someone's Hand

Remember the silly old joke about the Boy Scout helping the old lady across the street, and then the old lady smacking him with her bag because she didn't want to cross the street?

We all know what it feels like to be meddled with, to be "helped" when no help is wanted.

It seems there's always some do-gooder ready to swoop in and save the day--uninvited.

Sometimes there are just too damn many Boy Scouts.

Often, the "Boy Scout" in our life is someone we love very much. There was an old Anacin commercial where the headachy gal snapped at her mom, "Mother, please! I'd rather do it myself!" (This was widely parodied at the time.)

So, because you love them, be gentle. But don't be afraid to slap someone's hand (metaphorically, of course) and say, "Don't touch that!"

Because sometimes people who want us to be happy have just the opposite effect.

Establish boundaries. Make it clear that you'd "rather do it yourself," and assure the well-meaning Boy Scout that you'll call on him or her if and when you feel it's necessary.

You'll be happier.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Go a Little "Martha Stewart"

I'm a simple guy.

You give me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a chair to sit on and I'm stylin'.

But sometimes even a simple guy needs more.

At times like that, I like to go for the little extras. Walnuts on my salad, fresh cilantro on my grilled cheese, a stick of incense, a seat by the lake near my dorm.

Sometimes I even pour water into a glass instead of just drinking it out of the bottle. Luxury.

When we get into a rut, we often think only something dramatic will get us out: a trip to Tahiti, a new house, a divorce.

But sometimes just going a little "Martha Stewart" makes all the difference.

Try it. You'll be happier.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Wait

Whatever is happening in your life right now, one thing is sure: it's going to change. (This goes for the good things as well, but never mind that.)

So sometimes, when things are cruddy, all we need to do is wait.

But there's an art to waiting.

Once, when I was younger, I had some medical tests. If the results were bad, they said they would remove my eye. (They didn't.)

But here's the ugly part: It would be two weeks before the results would be in! (Things were slower then.)

That's when a friend of mine gave me the best waiting advice I ever heard:

"Don't wait all two weeks at once."

Isn't that beautiful?

So whatever is going on, wait. And don't wait all at once; take it one click at a time.

You'll be happier.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Find a Way of Living

Last time I suggested that you lose your "religion."

"And replace it with what?" you might ask.

Many people think "religion" is for Sunday mornings (or Friday nights, or...)

What I propose here is that, if you have a religion, you allow it to invade your whole life.

And if you don't have a religion, be sure you have a lifestyle, a consistent worldview, that is fulfilling, that gives shape to your life.

In other words, if you're wandering aimlessly, stop it.

A few years ago I learned an interesting word: anomie.

The "a" means "not," as in "asymmetrical" (not symmetrical). And the "-nomie" is like the "-nomy" in "astronomy" and "economy." It means "law."

So the first meaning of "anomie" is that there is no law, at least as we perceive things. Anomie is "a breakdown or absence of social norms and values."

But anomie is more than that. It's the feeling of alienation, purposelessness, and DESPAIR that comes when one has a sense of order-less-ness.

Imagine a child who has been raised with no rules, no limits. Not only will he become a hellion; but he will also be a miserable hellion.

We need a sense of order, whether religious, social, or scientific.

If you don't have one, find one.

You'll be happier.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Lose Your "Religion"

No, I don't mean "stop believing."

And I'm not only talking to "religious" people.

We all believe in something. And belief can be a powerful tool, an ally in facing the struggles in life.

Belief can also hold us back, especially the sort of "acquired" belief that prevents us from examining things carefully for ourselves.

I once read a book by Bible translator J.B. Phillips called Your God is Too Small (now available online). Phillips wasn't suggesting that God was small at all. Rather, he meant that we had a series of concepts of God ("Resident Policeman," "Meek-and-Mild," "Perennial Grievance," etc.) that was too limiting, not allowing God to expand to His fullest capacity in our lives.

Fourteenth-century German mystic Meister Eckhart in his sermon "Riddance" wrote, "Man's last and highest leave-taking is leaving God for God." He explained that when "St. Paul left God for God...God remained to him in his essential self, not as a concept of himself...but God in his essential actuality."

Heavy.

We leave our concept of God to make room for the "real thing."

Now, what about people who claim no religion as their own, or even reject it altogether?

You, too, certainly believe in something. What is it? And is it working for you? Or is it holding you back?

"Religious" or not, sort this out. Embrace the empowering, reject the restricting.

You'll be happier.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Break a Bad Habit

I know a few happy smokers. But just a few.

They've done the research, assessed the dangers, and decided to accept the trade-off between immediate satisfaction and long-term health risks.

But that doesn't describe most smokers.

Most smokers know they should quit. So every time they light up, the pleasure of smoking is offset by the distress of knowing what they're doing to their bodies.

They wish they could quit, but they "can't."

Of course they can. Myriads have. It's just a question of how much they want to quit versus how much they want to smoke.

Until they reach the tipping point, they'll just remain human chimneys.

In addition to the health reason to quit, let me introduce the happiness reason: Quit now! Be free of guilt! Cut it out!

But enough about them.

What habit do you have that's making you unhappy? Lack of exercise? Bad eating? Too much TV?

(A quick look at the Seven Deadly Sins may help you focus: Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, and Pride.)

So find a bad habit that's getting you down, and replace it with a good one. Be free!

You’ll be happier.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Count Sheep

We all know the old cliché about "counting sheep" when we can't sleep.

But how does it work?

It's simple, really. There are two parts to it: "counting" and "sheep." Seriously.

This occupies two "sides" of your brain. (What keeps most people awake at night is too much "brain noise.")

Think of it as "verbalization" and "visualization."

Verbalization is that inner monologue (or dialogue) that seems to run constantly when we're awake. When counting slow moving sheep, we hold a number in our mind, crowding out words. (Monks count their breaths, or chant mantras.)

Visualization is the movies we run in our mind. If we replace them with something pleasant-but-boring, like sheep, the mind calms down.

"Counting" and "sheep," get it?

Of course, it doesn't have to be sheep. It could be classic cars, or pretty people, or dollar bills. Whatever.

Now, here's what makes this all special: it's not just for going to sleep!

Our monkey brains could stand to be stopped several times a day, just to give us a little peace.

Try it during a coffee break or at lunchtime (but be careful you don't fall asleep).

As the monks say, "Still the ripples on the pond."

You’ll be happier.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Build a Bridge

I suppose that loneliness is one of the leading causes of unhappiness. (Not being alone, but being lonely; there's a difference.)

And unless you live in a cave, or on an island like Robinson Crusoe (and even he had Friday), there's really no excuse for it.

There are people around you--at work, in class, at the grocery store, on the bus. Nearly six billion of them.

The problem is, someone has to make the first move.

There may be another person at a nearby desk in the office: same gender, about your age, seems pleasant. But all your talk is business, business, business.

Why not reach out? "What are you doing after work tomorrow? How about lunch next week? Do you have time for coffee Saturday?"

It's that easy.

What's stopping you?

Sure, work friendships can complicate things. But it can also make going to work a little more fun. Take a leap!

So look around. Find someone who looks simpatico. Screw up your courage, and build a bridge.

And if you strike out, try again. And again. Until someone "clicks."

You'll be happier.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Go to Starbucks

No, I'm not kidding.

I've never seen anyone walk out of a Starbucks saying, "This place is a madhouse!" (Well, except maybe in Tokyo.)

The whole place is designed to allow you to get out of the rat race.

Look around. There are people reading a book, scanning the paper, surfing the net, chatting with friends. And being around relaxed people is relaxing.

If you’re traveling (or live abroad, like me), Starbucks provides an oasis of familiarity. You can take a chance on a no-name place (some of them are great finds) where anything can happen. Or you can go somewhere that ensures a pleasant environment and better-than-local service.

The coffee? I don't know; I don't drink it. Some love it, some hate it.

But the coffee's not the point. We're talking "comfort" here.

If not Starbucks, maybe a favorite local "beanery" with big overstuffed chairs, books and mags, board games, knitting. Whatever.

So find a place to "chillax," as the kids say. Maybe make it a ritual--say, every Saturday morning with a few friends.

You’ll be happier.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Stop the Noise

I know people who wake up in the morning and turn on the TV. Walk in from work and turn on news radio. Even go to sleep with CNN on.

They can't stand silence.

It might force them to pay attention.

I don't know about you, but I get enough noise in my daily life "out there." (Here in south China it's usually construction or traffic: all rhythm, no melody.)

My home is a sanctuary, a quiet place where I can "hear myself think."

Look, if the TV or radio really make you happy, by all means, turn 'em on. But if it's just a habit, or worse, an escape from having to be with yourself, give it some thought.

Now, about that outside noise: a nice set of headphones connected to something soothing (or not) can create a sonic cocoon to protect you from the assault of the city.

I don't thing any of us knows the final effect of being jangled by barking dogs, jackhammers, or people shouting in our ears. We didn't evolve this way. And 'tweren't like this back on the farm (in the 17th century).

So get unplugged. Or plugged, depending on where you are. And kill the racket.

You’ll be happier.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Start a Collection

When you were a kid, did you collect anything? Seashells? Stamps? Baseball cards? Barbie dolls?

Didn't it make you happy?

You'd take your collection out, and look at the items, maybe count them. See if you had "the whole set." Trade duplicates with fellow collectors.

Why not do it again?

I come from a long line of collectors. People in my family have collected bronze figurines, power tools, Toby mugs, classic cars, baseball caps, Pepsi memorabilia, car repair manuals, and road signs.

And that's just my dad.

My weakness... uhhhh... passion is books (a strange love for a man who has moved across the world three times). At one time I had National Geographic Magazines going back to before I was born (got 'em on disc now).

I still go visit my storage every time I'm back in L.A. just to say "hi" to my old friends.

So gather some things you love, one of every type or just a few mavericks. Enjoy them. Commune with them. Maybe even collect the whole set.

You’ll be happier.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Create a Plan to Save Some Money

One of the greatest causes of stress in life is money. (Well, the lack of it.)

There are two ways to deal with this: want less, or get more.

We'll do "want less" another day.

One way to "get more" is to work more. But that can just cause more stress (and stress is the opposite of happiness).

So why not try holding on to more of what you already get?

Here are some simple ideas:

  • Make a budget (and stick to it)
  • Save any "windfalls" that come your way (gifts, bonuses, tax refunds, incidental income)
  • Bank 10% of everything you get
  • Cut corners (use coupons, ride the bus, watch TV instead of going to movies, cook at home instead of eating out) and put the difference away.

It's good to have a little "cushion."

But it's bad to be a slave to it. Don't make yourself miserable today so you can be less-miserable tomorrow. Live a little.

Be something between a grasshopper and an ant. A little cash in the bank can buy a whole lot of peace of mind.

Have a financial umbrella for that rainy day.

You’ll be happier.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Have a Mini-Reunion

A school reunion can be a great time, seeing old friends and catching up.

It can also be hell, especially when the cliques restart their machinations.

And again, for an official reunion, you have to wait five or ten years or more.

So why let the "soc" run everything? Start your own reunion! You can just invite people you like!

This could be as simple as dinner at an old hangout, or a picnic in a park near your school (with your kids and your friends' kids, too, if you got 'em).

Or do it up! Formals, corsages, tuxes, limos; book a hotel conference room, hire a band. Why not?

It's up to you.

The main thing is to bring together the good people from high school or college, an old job, or the army. Or maybe your old roommates, or people you traveled with on a tour. Whoever!

I trained with nine people in a Japanese company. Seven of us were Tokyo-based, and got together for birthdays, climbing Mt. Fuji, and a farewell party for those who left at the end of the year. (Several of us stayed on.) It gave us "family" in a foreign land.

So re-unite often. You know what you might discover? These are the good old days. This is the best time of your life.

You’ll be happier.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Listen to an "Old Favorite" Album or CD

Technology is a two-edged sword. It can make us miserable. (Think: Work invades your vacation via mobile phone.)

But it can also make us happy.

Example: Once, when I was a kid, my mom shared with me one of her greatest treasures: her Frank Sinatra scrapbook. Yes, Mom was a bobbysoxer. (You kids, go look it up.)

Now, she has multi-disc collections of "Ol' Blue Eyes" on CD.

Here in China, I've been finding the bands of my youth: Blind Faith, Iron Butterfly, and a complete set of the Beatles (I am not worthy) on mp3.

After a hard day's night there's nothing more relaxing than sitting back and listening to what made me happy when I was 15.

It makes me happy in a way that newer music, no matter how good, just can't. Call it "the Nostalgia Factor."

So go find an old favorite and stick it in your ears.

You’ll be happier.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Get a Kid

I don't necessarily mean have a kid.

I mean, spend some quality time with one, yours or someone else's.

There are lots of reasons to have your own (I mean, there must be; people keep doing it!)

But of course it's a high-risk proposition, a serious commitment. But once you have someone you can play with, there's a chance for joy, triumph, and growing up (on both sides of the relationship).

If you've already done it, spend as much time with your kid (whether four or forty) as possible. And if the relationship is rocky, fix it. (Glib, I know; but seriously. Fix it.)

If you don't have a kid, here's a great idea: borrow one. Take a niece or nephew, a little cousin, the child of a close friend or neighbor, a godchild, and go to the park. Or an aquarium. Or even just for shopping, lunch, or a walk through the neighborhood.

Choose your child carefully (a luxury parents don't have); get one with a pleasant temperament, keen observation skills, a good vocabulary, a sense of humor.

Oh, and don't forget to give the kid back.

Spend some time with a child, seeing the world through her or his eyes.

You’ll be happier.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Get a Bird

Most people love birds. (Not my wife--but that's another story).

They symbolize freedom ("free as a bird"), both the physical freedom (manifested by flight), and a metaphorical freedom (freedom from care, peacefulness).

I understand how some people might be depressed at the idea of sticking one in a cage.

Yet, throughout my life, I've been around birds of all kinds, and they always made me happy.

In my life, I've lived with chickens, geese, pigeons, even (for a short time) crows; canaries, parakeets, cockatiels, and finches.

If you want to know which of these made me happiest, I'd have to say the canaries. They're a bright, cheery yellow; they sing beautifully; and they make comparatively little mess.

If they have a drawback, it's that they're a little sensitive. A parakeet or cockatiel is much hardier, and can be let loose in the house. They can even be hand-trained to do tricks. One of my cockatiels used to take sunflower seeds from my mouth!

So live your life for the birds. They bring joy, beauty, and sheer delight.

You’ll be happier.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Find a Guru

No, I don't mean, "Climb to a mountaintop and find an old man with a flowing white beard and flowing saffron robes who can tell you the secrets of the Universe."

Unless you want to.

I mean, find a guide; follow a leader; get a mentor.

As the saying goes, "Why reinvent the wheel?"

But a "guru" does more than tell you what to do, or how to do it.

She or he helps you focus your thoughts, brings things to mind that you wouldn't have thought of, challenges fuzzy thinking.

You can do it online, or you can do it in person.

One online guru I'm fond of is Brian Johnson, a sort of "guru of gurus" whose newsletter has made me say everything from "hmmm…" to "What the…?" on many occasions.

And his PhilosophersNotes book series? Fabulous. And the podcasts. He's a one-man mindful media machine.

Brian is just one example of a guru that you don't have to go mountain trekking to meet. He's right there in that little box on your desk.

But if you can find a guru in person, someone in your life, so much the better.

Don't forget to look close to home. It might be an elder at work, or a teacher, or even family or friends (like my wife Lila, and my friends Alan and Stefano).

Find someone who can offer both slaps and hugs as necessary, and who knows when to give which.

You’ll be happier.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Get on Your Bike

We all know the health benefits of riding a bike. But can it increase our happiness?

Well, first off, being healthier usually does make us happier.

But it's more than that. Think about what you can see.

Do you drive a car? Getting on your bike will slow you down, take you out of your cocoon, allow you to really be there.

You'll see, and hear, and smell things you never knew were there before.

I don't think I need to belabor the benefits of bike over car.

But: Do you walk a lot? A bike will extend your range.

A typical walking speed is about three miles (nearly five kilometers) per hour. A typical speed for a casual biker is three to four times that.

Imagine ranging three to four times farther from home than you can on a typical walk! What can you see?

Try this: get a map. Draw a circle with a 1.5-mile radius (remember, you'll have to make a round trip in one hour).

Now draw a radius of five miles. What does it take in?

Exactly.

Oh, and to make it even better, go with a friend or two. You'll have more fun, and agreeing to meet someone can enforce some discipline on you.

So get on your bike and see (and hear, and smell) your world.

You’ll be happier.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Create a Bliss Station

One of my favorite teachers, Joseph Campbell, famously said, "Follow your bliss."

People often asked him to expand on the idea, and one of my favorite techniques Uncle Joe gave in answer is what he called "the bliss station."

I'll quote him at length: "You must have a room or a certain hour a day or so where you do not know what was in the newspapers that morning. You don't know who your friends are. You don't know what you owe anybody. You don't know what anybody owes to you. But a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. First you may find that nothing's happening there. But if you have a sacred place and use it and take advantage of it, something will happen."

Note that it's a place ("a room") or a time ("a certain hour of the day").

It's really that simple.

Sure, you could meditate, do yoga or tai chi, holy stuff like that.

But don't be scared by the word "sacred."

Your bliss station could be the daily cup of coffee on the balcony.

It could even be in the car on the way to work.

What's important is, as Campbell says, not to let the demands of the day intrude on your time.

Don't do, just be.

Once every day.

You’ll be happier.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Just Do It

It's a lazy afternoon.

You've found a comfy spot: a hammock under the trees, some pillows in front of the fireplace, an old chair on the roof.

You've just settled in, ready for that book, or that nap, or that daydream.

And you realize you're thirsty.

What do you do?

If you're like me, you try to quell the desire. "I'll get it later," you say.

But it nags, like an itch or a mosquito.

And you finally realize: You won't be happy until you get up and get that drink.

Learn from this. What's bugging you? Is your hair shaggy? Do you need to lose a few pounds? Do you need a different job?

As somebody said, when we're near the end, we won't so much regret the things we did, as the things we didn't do.

Whatever it is, from the small nag of a glass of water to the two-ton-elephant of a new job, just do it.

You'll be happier.