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

Eat Less Meat

I've been a vegetarian for over 15 years. I doubt I'll ever start eating meat again.

I'm quite sure that being a vegetarian has made me healthier and happier.

But I know that such a massive life-style change is not for everyone.

However, anyone can eat less meat. This is the idea behind all of the "meatless Monday" campaigns springing up everywhere (one of which I was running, until difficulties with my internet connection put it on "hold").

The idea is a simple one: If you eat meat (from mammals, birds, or fish) give it up for one day a week.

While the idea is simple, the reasons can be complex. Some do it to enhance their own health and stamina. Others do it as an act of compassion toward animals.

It's also a social justice issue: meat-eaters use far more than their share of the world's resources.

Then there's the impact on water, air, and land by the meat machine and its effect on our Mother the Earth.

And some do it for religious reasons.

But whyever you do it, do it. I guarantee that it will lead to greater peace of mind, and you know what that means:

You'll be happier.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Acknowledge the Elephant

In the past few decades, a funny expression has become popular, regarding the "elephant in the room."

According to Wikipedia, this is "an English idiom for an obvious truth that is being ignored or goes unaddressed."

Maybe the minister has dropped in for a cup of tea while out walking his dog, and now the dog is chewing up your new throw rug. You say to the minister, "Would you like more sugar in your tea?"

Or your boss is a raging alcoholic, and it is affecting not only his work, but that of the entire team. No one says a thing.

The essence of the "Elephant Syndrome" is that everybody knows what's happening, but no one's talking about it. The elephant can't be missed, but strangely, it's not discussed either.

The classic illustration of this is "The Emperor's New Clothes." Everyone knows the emperor is naked, but no one will say it--until "out of the mouths of babes" comes the truth: one little child spills the beans.

Why as it a child? Perhaps they haven't learned that "it's not nice to point out the elephant." Sometimes the filters installed by society lead to massive failures of common sense.

So find the elephant, and talk about it with those who can do something about it.

You'll be happier.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Buy 10 Items or Less

There are ways to streamline our lives that we don't even think about.

The "express checkout" lane at the supermarket is one of them.

And are you paying your bills online? Making installment payments three-at-a-time? (I used to do this sometimes when I had to stand in line for an hour every month to pay the rent.)

Do you subscribe to that paper you read every day, or the magazine you read every month? Or do you buy it at the newsstand, adding hassle to your day (and probably paying more)?

How about carpooling? It not only saves energy; it allows you to relax on the way to work when it's someone else's turn to drive.

We can't all move to Walden Pond, but we can all take Thoreau's advice to "Simplify, simplify."

So find the thing you like least in your daily routine, and find an easier way to do it.

You'll be happier.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Learn that People are More Important than Career

Does anybody remember Oliver Stone's Wall Street?

In it, young stockbroker Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) comes under the thrall of ruthless veteran Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). (We get a hint of Gekko's nature when we realize that his name is a homonym for a kind of lizard.)

Anyway, under Gekko's tutelage Bud happily breaks the law to get ahead--until he has to choose between his career and his father. In the aftermath, his career goes down in flames, but he remains faithful to dear old dad (played by Martin Sheen, Charlie's dear old dad).

Most analysis of the film concentrates on the Wall Street-y angle, but I think the simple moral lesson--that the people in our lives are more important than our careers--has been lost in the hoopla.

When a dad misses a kid's ballgame for a meeting, or a daughter fails to visit Mom in a rest home because of a business trip, and the reason given is "I'm doing this for my family," there seems to be a rather odd shifting of priorities taking place.

And of course, this concept extends beyond family, to other people we know, and even more we don't know. The fortunes built on the back of sweatshop workers would be one example.

To round out this little movie-based moral, let me recommend one more film: Elizabethtown. Chances are you haven't seen it, but everyone should. It shows how the end of a career can be the beginning of a real life. (And Susan Sarandon tap dances!)

See it, and remember to put people first.

You'll be happier.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Look Forward

I sometimes think that the purpose of holidays is not to have time off, but to give us something to look forward to. Because generally, the holiday experience is not as good as expected, but oh! those days before

It's sad but true that anticipation is often better than reality. Who hasn't felt a little let down on Christmas morning, compared to the excitement of the night before?

So why not take advantage of this phenomenon by giving yourself something to look forward to? Then you can savor the anticipation.

Here's a quote from A.A. Milne's "Bear of Very Little Brain." Christopher Robin had asked, "What do you like doing best in the world, Pooh?"

"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best," and then he had to stop and think. Because although eating honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called.

So make a plan: whether it's weekly lunch with the girls, or a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and then roll it around on your tongue in the days before it comes, milking every last sweet drop of joy out of the waiting. (And of course, don't forget to enjoy the event you're waiting for, too!)

You'll be happier.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Get Real

Does anybody remember Sophia, the straight-talking old lady played by Estelle Getty on "The Golden Girls"? Viewers found the character's honesty so refreshing that she went on to appear in two more series!

Something about being old gives one the freedom to speak one's mind. And boy, does it make old folks happy!

There's a person in my life (who shall remain unidentified for the sake of protection) who says whatever comes to mind, who speaks out on issues, who calls it as s/he sees it, and who frustrates the heck out of those close to him/her.

And writing to a mutual friend today, I expressed the sentiment that I wouldn't have it any other way.

In this age of political correctness, absurdly high expectations, close scrutiny of every move and every word, it's hard to find a 100% authentic original.

Someone who'll say what he or she thinks, even if it's not in line with current norms.

Someone who's honest.

The authentic person is one who knows him or herself, and acts from the heart. That's no excuse for being unnecessarily offensive; it comes from a different place, from the center.

And what the authentic person knows, the one who is real as real can be, that the rest of us don't know, is this: being real is a great source of happiness.

No mask, no pose, no need to pretend.

So get real.

You'll be happier.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Be Courteous

In researching this post, I was surprised to discover that an old friend can't be found online: Ron Barrett's "Politeness Man." An exhaustive search turned up only one presence, repeated numerous times.

He was the "super hero" star of a comic strip in the National Lampoon, a nattily dressed fellow who went around "correcting" people's behavior--and often behaving rudely to do so. His super-weapon was the "hanky of steel," which he'd fling at the courtesy-challenged and knock 'em on the head.

Well, his execution may have been off, but his intention was dead on: it's better to be polite than not.

I mentioned this before, when writing about karma: A smile is more likely to get you what you want.

When I was a kid, we were taught the magic words: "Please" and "Thank you."

(Once, in Japan, the assistant manager at the school where I worked wanted to get past me in the hallway. "Move," she said, so I asked, "What's the magic word?" She thought for a minute, then said: "Open sesame?")

Anyway, there are lots of reasons to be courteous, and getting what you want is only one of them, because after all: Courtesy is its own reward.

And besides, you'll avoid the hanky of steel.

So be polite. Please. And thank you!

You'll be happier.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Build Your Network

A few years ago, a buddy's life came down around his ears. The moment I heard I called him up and asked: "Do you have a support network?" He didn't; his behavior had broken the net.

So I became his network. He (and that's he, not I) rebuilt his life, and today we're the bestest of bestest of friends.

"A friend in need," they say, "is damned hard to find."

So build your friendships now, before life hits the fan.

And when you need the net, it'll be there.

Of course, the best way to have your net in place is to be a net for someone else.

Be a friend, build a net.

You'll be happier.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Write It Down

Long ago, my "uncle" (actually my dad's best friend) gave me a potted oak tree. It was several years old, and just a few feet tall.

When I marveled at his patience--so much work for so little result--he told me the secret: "They grow while you're asleep."

Lots of things happen a little at a time when we're not looking. With a tree, you can see the results of planting seeds (or in this case, an acorn) over time; other things are harder to observe.

So why not plant a seed for happiness?

It's simple: Sit down, right now, and write now. Do a brief "journal entry" of what you did today, who you saw, how you felt, what the weather was like. What shape is your home in? What is your family doing? Do you have pets?

Write it all down, and put it away.

Then take it out again in a few years. You'll be surprised at the people who have come and gone, the old habits broken (and new ones acquired), the changes in your hobbies and loves.

And when you look back a few years and see exactly how things were, I promise you:

You'll be happier.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Neutralize Poisons

I remember when I was a kid, watching B-grade cowboy movies. (The Western is still my favorite genre.)

A cowpoke, maybe a desperado or some kind of buckaroo, would walk into a bar, and the barkeep would look up from wiping the bar or drying a glass and ask, "What's yer poison?"

And every time, I'd wonder why anybody would want to drink poison.

Fast forward a few decades, to where I love my poisons, and am darned if I'll give them up for anything.

Buddhism defines three poisons: Greed (or Desire), Anger (or Hatred) and Ignorance (or Delusion).

Take away my desires? What would I have left? And don't you dare mess with the things that I hate! And Ignorance? Bliss!

But really, what would my life be like if I were to neutralize all my poisons, and live toxin-free?

According to Buddhism, I'd be a Buddha.

For sure, I'd be happier.

And I suspect you would be, too.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Get On a Bandwagon

When Lila and I were in the bus coming back from seeing Xi'an's Terracotta Warriors, we saw a billboard advertising Lishan, a local mountain paradise. There's a steep path leading up the mountain, and in the picture on the ad people were walking chest-to-shoulder-blades up it.

The "bandwagon fallacy" definitely sells in China.

But bandwagons have a bum rap. Sometimes the only place to be is on the bandwagon.

To paraphrase the old song title, "Fifty million happy people can't be wrong!"

Let's get (nearly) literal about this. Have you ever seen The Music Man?

It's one of my favorite movies. In it, a con-man comes to town to sell instruments and band uniforms for the purpose of forming a boys' band.

Make no mistake: It is a con. But the only unhappy people in the whole movie are the ones who resist it. Everyone else is "on the bandwagon" and having a ball. The nay-sayers come around in the end, and when they get on the bandwagon, they get happy, too.

So why not join the crowd? Jump on a fad? Go with the flow? Find something you like, that everyone is doing, and do it.

You'll be happier.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Kill a Vampire

We all know vampires.

Those people who, with the best of intentions, just drain us by their very presence.

This isn't a question of judgment, of liking or disliking someone. It's just a fact that some people take it out of us more than others.

It might be a very positive, upbeat, bouncy, puppydog of a person. Or it might be a mopey sad-sack. Either way, 15 minutes with that person seems like a lifetime. My friend once said of a small town, "I spent a week there one night." The same could be said of some people.

So herewith, the Handy Dandy Vampire Killer's Kit (stake optional):

There are (at least) three ways to kill an energy vampire: avoidance, conversion, and adaptation.

Avoidance is the easiest, and the one I find I most often choose. Sri Ramakrishna pointed out that God dwells in everyone, the best and the worst; but that doesn't mean we should associate with the worst. It's also true about vampires.

Conversion is where we take the vampire's energy and change it for good. Find ways to apply that person's draining aspects to some positive project.

Adaptation is on us. Sometimes, when the vampire cannot be avoided or converted (maybe an older family member, or a boss at work), we have to practice ways to see that person in a different light, and "learn to love 'em."

So: avoid, convert, adapt, it's up to you. But however you can, kill a vampire.

You'll be happier.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Practice

Here's another no-brainer, as deep and arcane as "Do something that makes you happy."

Ready? Here it is:

Practice being happy.

Seriously. When things are good, don't just take them for granted. Put some effort into your happiness.

This will get you ready for when things aren't so good.

Vaudeville joke: One guy walks up to another on the streets of New York and asks, "How can I get to Carnegie Hall?" and the other one answers, "Practice!"

How can we get anywhere unless we practice?

For a lucky, lucky few, happiness comes naturally. But many of us would agree with British polymath Sir John Lubbock (1834-1913), who wrote, "Happiness is a thing to be practiced, like a violin."

Amen.

So work those happiness abs. Practice those happiness scales. Run those happiness laps. Get in training, so when the Big Events come, your happiness muscles will all be in tune.

And when the stuff hits the fan, you'll be happier.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tell the Truth

I hate to lie.

Oh, don't get me wrong, I do lie. We all do. But that doesn't mean I like it.

A lie can be an innocuous thing, like telling someone you're "fine" when you’re really feeling terrible. (Yes, that's a lie. Anything that's willfully untrue is a lie.)

There are "white lies," like telling someone their new clothes look great when they don't. These are told to make people feel better. (In east Asia, it seems, harmony is more important than truth, so the "white lie" is a high art.)

And then there's the "noble lie," told for the benefit of a person or society. A Buddhist example would be telling your children there are things to play with outside, just to get them out of a burning house.

But I'm not OK with any of these. I've been accused of being "prophetic" (not as nice as it sounds) for telling uncomfortable truths. I just always find that truth, no matter how hard it is to tell, really does set people free.

The next time you’re tempted to tell an easy lie, ask yourself "Why?" Are you doing it because it’s easy? To make someone feel better? Or to get out of doing something?

Then ask yourself: Would the truth work just as well? Often it will, and you'll feel better for telling it.

So get a grip on the truth, and avoid the lie, whether big or little, whenever you can.

You'll be happier.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Give Someone a Compliment

Talk is cheap. In fact, most of the time, it's free.

So why is it that we hoard our kindest words, denying them to people who might need them?

Let's put the shoe on the other foot: How do you feel when someone offers a sincere, unsolicited compliment? Doesn't it change your day, at least a little? Put a smile on your face? A spring in your step?

So:

Look around at the people you meet today. Find something that one of them does well. Or find someone wearing a particularly nice dress, or shirt, or tie. Look closely at the work of a subordinate, or the management style of a superior. Pay better attention to the talents of your kids, or your spouse, or your parents.

And tell someone.

If you can back up your words with action--a bonus for an employee, ice cream for a kid--that much better.

Believe it or not (or maybe you know this), making other people happy usually makes us happy, too.

Try it. And you'll be happier.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Do Something that Makes You Happy

I know what you're thinking: "Duh!" This may be the dumbest sounding thing you've ever heard.

But wait, hear me out: How often do we deny ourselves the right to do something that makes us happy?

Sometimes it's because we "don't deserve it." Sometimes because of "the kids," or "Mom," or "the Boss." Sometimes because we "can't afford it" or it will "distract us from our mission."

But what mission is more important than being happy? And how much could it really cost? And will it really hurt others?

I'm not advocating that you run off and become irresponsible. But I'm sure there's something you can do that will make you happy without violating all those standards you've got for yourself.

Bottom line: We often prevent ourselves from doing things that make us happy because there's that little voice in our heads. The mind can be a powerful ally, but it can also be a powerful impediment to happiness.

So what is it? What could make you happier right now?

Do it.

You'll be happier.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Be a Producer

George Bernard Shaw said, "We have no more right to consume happiness without producing it than to consume wealth without producing it."

You want to be happy? Produce happiness.

Look at this (from The Sound of Music):

A bell is not a bell until you ring it.
A song is not a song until you sing it.
Love in your heart wasn't put there to stay.
Love isn't love until you give it away.

Ditto for happiness. You can't really be happy unless you're making others happy.

It could be a planned campaign to help someone in need. Or it could just be a smile to someone you see on the street.

But whatever it is, produce some happiness today.

And you'll be happier.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Go on Pilgrimage

When I lived in Japan, I discovered that the country was crisscrossed by a network of pilgrimages. Local or nationwide, Buddhist or Shinto, the Japanese mania for list-making ("the three most beautiful sights in Japan," "the 100 highest mountains," etc.) was either the origin of or the result of this tradition of making lists of temples to visit.

And I did a lot of them. The 33 Kannon temples of Kansai, another 33 in Kanto, 34 in Chichibu (making the "100 Kannon temples of Japan"); the 88 Temples on Shikoku; the Ten Shinto Shrines of Tokyo; I spent every weekend and long holiday ticking sites off on my lists.

When I got to China, I was disappointed to learn that, aside from a list of four Buddhist mountains and five Taoist mountains, there was no organized pilgrimage in China.

So I was stoked this summer when I found a list of 142 "key" temples designated by the central government way back in 1983.

Going after this list has been making me happy.

So let me recommend a pilgrimage. It doesn't have to be a trip to Mecca, or Santiago de Compostela.

It could be to your grandparents' graves, or to the house you were born in. It could be (as one friend suggested) to eat a hot dog in every major league ball park in America. Relax at every Club Med in the world. Drive every numbered state highway in your state. Anything.

Make a list. Make a plan. And go.

You'll be happier.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Be a "Family Man" (or Woman)

There's an old saying: "You can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family."

Hogwash.

I've been choosing my family for years.

Oh, I get along fine with my own family. But they're half a world away. In Japan for five years, and now in my sixth year in China, I find it's essential to develop deep, familial relationships with people nearby.

So what, exactly, is "family"?

When we look up definitions (beyond the literal meanings of blood ties and marriage) we find words like "sense of belonging," "identity," "support," "security," "care," and "trust."

Who, in your life, provides you with those things?

Do you offer them those things in return?

Then that's your family.

Next question: Have you told them that you value them as family?

By the way, it's entirely possible that the people we're talking about, the ones you can rely on for support, identity, etc., are your blood relatives or in-laws.

But you still need to tell 'em how you feel.

When you do, you'll validate the exchange that goes on between you, and strengthen your place in the "family," biological or otherwise.

And you'll be happier.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Learn that Life Isn't Fair

When I was a kid, I was blessed with a whole parade of smart, interesting, dedicated teachers.

And not a few of them were some pret-ty odd birds.

One of those was Mr. Kupper, my 10th-grade biology teacher.

He was a font of clich├ęs, having mastered the teacherly art of getting maximum response with minimum words.

One of my classmates, Stuart Seymour, was a bit hyper in class. (I've changed his name to protect him). Mr. Kupper could calm him with the simple phrase: "Sober up, Seymour."

But the phrase that really stuck in my mind was far deeper than that.

Remember, we were 15 or 16, and had that heightened sense of justice (or, more accurately, injustice) that comes at that age. More than once, I whined out "Mr. Kupper! That's not fair!"

And he replied with these soothing (?) words: "Nothing's fair, Jim. Nothing's fair."

Nowadays, I read Buddhism. And these words, verses by the Third Patriarch of Chan (Zen) stick in my mind:

The Great Way is not difficult
for those who have no preferences.

"Fair" and "unfair" often come down to a matter of preferences. Learn to let go of those, and guess what?

You'll be happier.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Fall in Love

I mean it. You may be a married person, but there's still room for falling in love.

Maybe you can fall in love with your spouse all over again. Or with one of your kids. Or with gardening. Or with Mayan architecture. Or with the life-cycle of the guppy.

But somewhere out there, there's a passion with your name on it.

It may be a person. It may be a place. It may be a thing. It may be an idea.

These days, through visiting temples, I'm working hard at falling in love with China again.

We all know that "the unexamined life is not worth living." But what about the passionate life?

So fall in love. Or fall in love again.

You'll be happier.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Learn Something New

Long ago (in another life) I met a great old Baptist minister named Ed. He was also the head of the school board in his small mountain town in Northern California, and a kind of all-around Renaissance Guy.

Once we were talking about the name of a plant, and trying to derive its meaning from Greek roots. Ed pulled out a dictionary and confirmed our guesses, then looked at me and, in inimitable Baptist style, said, "Isn't it just good to know?"

Yes, Ed, it is.

Knowing stuff boosts our confidence. It makes us more interesting. It makes us more flexible when new situations arise. It inspires creativity. It makes us better people.

I prefer to learn nonsense--uh, sorry--trivia. Others prefer something more practical.

But whatever your path, trivial or useful, it's a good idea to learn a little something every day.

You could start online. Lots of sites have subscriptions where you can have things sent to your mail. You can get spiritual stuff ("Daily Dhammapada," or "Verse of the Day"), or more mundane knowledge, like at Wikipedia, maybe, or Dictionary.com.

Learning doesn't have to be painful. Take it in small bites and you'll be surprised at how quickly you accumulate an arsenal of knowledge.

And don't worry about that "old dogs, new tricks" thing. The great scholar Mortimer Adler (who published his last book in his 90s) said, "Education is wasted on the young."

So go learn something new, starting right now.

You'll be happier.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Find Your Laughing Place

Back in the 90s, before I left the states, I included an M.D. in my circle of friends. Richard was an incredibly fun guy, but he was also an incredibly good family physician.

One day (over wine, I think) we were chatting about this and that, and I told him that right in the middle of something, my mind would suddenly slam me to a time and place far away, where I felt happy and relaxed.

"Wow," he said, "you must be under a lot of stress."

I was surprised. I hadn't realized I was stressed. But sure enough, upon reflection I realized that the sudden "mental excursions" were my mind's way of dealing with the fact that I was in trouble.

Since then, I've learned the story of Br'er Rabbit in Disney's Song of the South.

Br'er Fox had him tied up and was about to roast him when the trickster Rabbit started laughing. And laughing. And laughing.

When the wicked Br'er Fox asked him what was so funny, he replied that he couldn't help it: At times like that he just naturally went to his "Laughing Place."

And (along with some cleverness) it was this "Laughing Place" that got him out of his fix.

So: Find your "Laughing Place." Br'er Rabbit says everybody has one, and he implies that each person's place is different.

Find it. Memorize the directions. And next time trouble strikes, go there in a hurry.

You'll be happier.

[By the way: By my count, we have reached number 100 of our "365 Secrets of Happiness." Only 265 more to go!]

Monday, September 7, 2009

Do the Right Thing (and Hold Onto It)

Imagine this:

You're walking down the street, and you find a wallet with $250 in it.

What do you do?

Of course, the right thing to do is to turn it in. But you really want to keep it, don't you?

So turning it in is kind of painful. But being a good person, you turn it in anyway.

Doesn't it feel good to do the right thing?

Well, for some, maybe. For others, not right away. So here's the secret--hold on to what you did.

If necessary, tell others. Seek strokes. Get reinforcement.

Because, despite the temporary pain of giving up two hundred and fifty Simoleons, as time goes by, you really will feel good about it.

All you need to do is hold on.

Remind yourself from time to time of all the good things you've done in your life, even at some cost to yourself.

"Doing good is its own reward," they say. But sometimes we need to dwell on that a little bit, suck the juice out of our goodness, feel our heroism, before we move on with our "humdrum" lives.

So by all means, do the right thing. But feel free to milk it a little when you’re feeling down.

You'll be happier.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Be a Quitter

A recurring theme of these notes is to "stop the noise," simplify, slow down, decompress.

Sometimes, for very good reasons, we make commitments to causes. We join clubs, get into campaigns, try to "give back."

And at some point, we discover that it's driving us nuts.

Maybe the people involved aren't ones we'd choose to hang with, or other priorities have arisen in our lives.

But, since the commitment has been made, we feel we have to "soldier through" and keep on keepin' on.

Nonsense.

An old adage says "God loves a cheerful giver." And if giving has become a burden, we may need to re-think.

Now, I have nothing against sacrifice for a good reason. And heaven knows we may go through dry spells even in activities we usually love.

But I mean: If something good has become something bad, that may be the universe (or your gut) telling you something. It may be time to move on, find something you can be passionate about again, get the flame back.

Don't quit lightly, or out of pique or pride. Quit if it's the right thing to do.

And don't quit in the middle of something. If preparations are under way for the Annual Event, see it through, then resign at a time that's good for everyone.

Shed the things that hold you back, embrace the ones that propel you forward.

Be a quitter if it's the right thing to do.

You'll be happier.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Buy a Map

As the saying goes, "The map is not the territory."

But it is the map. And I love them.

It's been overused now, but I remember the first time I saw this:

I was standing in front of a professor's office door in college, and he had a poster of a galaxy in his window. A little arrow was pointing near the edge of the spiral, and on it was hand-written: "You are here."

That's what a map does for me. It situates me in the universe.

Do you know the astronomical symbol for earth? It looks like this:

Look familiar? A version of it is also in the logo for my pages.

Now, imagine yourself in a boat in the middle of the ocean. The horizon is a large circle. And you could plot every location within your view using an x and y axis (two lines running perpendicular to each other.) And where is the logical meeting point for these axes?

They run right through you.

When I look at a map, that's what I see. I see temples, and parks, and historic sites, and mountains, and train stations, and museums--all in relation to where I am.

So buy a map of your neighborhood, your country, your planet. Locate yourself, then locate other places in relation to you. (A globe works nicely, too--or Google Earth.)

Don't worry about where you're going; just find out where you are.

You'll be happier.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Read Aloud to Someone

09-09-04

Do you love to be read to?

The spoken word conveys a personal touch that plain old black and white can't touch. And sometimes people can't read for themselves; the spoken word is their only access to the printed page.

So, on the principle that "it's better to give than to receive," why not read to someone?

Charity begins at home: Is there a child you could spend some quality time with? (And don't wait for bed-time, when they're likely to fall asleep.) Or an older relative who would appreciate the effort? Or someone whose physical condition prevents them from reading for themselves?

If not, how about a neighbor, or a friend?

Failing that, there are always institutional opportunities: Reading to kids at a school or a shelter, or to older folks in a home, or to those in the hospital.

Now, about how to read: it's really up to you.

If you're most comfortable with reading in a natural voice, by all means, do. Just be sure to keep the volume at an appropriate level, and to speak clearly. Also, don't go too fast; it's sometimes harder to follow words that we can't see.

But, if you’re up for it, read with expression! If you’re reading a story, do character voices. (A little practice beforehand wouldn't hurt.) And if it's news or other non-fiction, try an "announcer's voice." (I have several.)

So grab something interesting, and find a willing listener, and read aloud.

You'll be happier.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Turn Off Your Computer

As I've noted before, I spend a lot of time with my eyes on a screen and my fingers on a keyboard (but not at the same time--I still have to hunt and peck, albeit quickly).

On my recent trip through eastern China, though, I spent less than an hour a day online. True, that's not no computer, but it’s a serious reduction.

And it was great.

Resources like Twitter and Facebook can be wonderful, but as my buddy Eric in Japan taught me long ago regarding email: These things are supposed to serve you; you're not meant to be serving them.

Just watch some of those Twitter users: posts several times an hour, all day long, and "from web," meaning they're typing those messages in real time, not scheduling them through a third-party like TweetDeck or TweetLater.

Junkies.

So turn off that computer. Or TV. Or radio. Or iPod. Or whatever electronic device is filling the space between your ears with noise.

Take a walk. Play fetch with your dog. Look at someone's face as you talk.

Get real, not virtual.

You'll be happier.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Learn to be Alone

When I was a kid, I was often unwell (my father called me "puny"). My older brothers were active, robust even, and loved to play ball, climb trees, and wrassle.

I, as my uncle repeatedly said, always had my nose in a book.

To this day, I prefer to be alone.

Oh, I'm garrulous alright. Can't stop talking when I'm with others.

And as a teacher, I find myself in front of groups of 35 or so on a regular basis.

But when I get home, and close that door… peace.

Sure, I'm tied to this here electronic box much of the time. But I just came back from 10 days travel--alone. Yeah, I stayed with friends a few nights, and chatted with strangers here and there (mostly in bad Chinese, so the conversations were short).

But in many of those conversations, I had to explain that yes, I was traveling alone, and uhuh, I was happily married, but my wife had to work, so…

The gregarious Chinese found this inconceivable.

I loved it.

All my life, I've been my own best company. I think, read, write, watch, or just do nothing. Alone.

It's part of the secret of my happiness.

I know people who can't take five minutes of their own company. They're out in clubs or with a gaggle of friends at all times, maybe afraid to hear themselves think.

If you’re like them, learn to be alone. Cultivate yourself. Take a trip, or at least a walk, and talk to yourself. Or just listen.

You'll be happier.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Just Dance

A few years ago, Lee Ann Womack made some intriguing suggestions in a song.

"I hope you never lose your sense of wonder," she said, and "May you never take one single breath for granted."

Then, she urged, "when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance."

Now, the song was clearly metaphorical, kind of a terpsichorean "Just Do It."

"Sit it out" meant withdraw, give up, quit; "dance" meant forge ahead.

But I wonder what would happen if we took the idea literally?

Stand up. Step away from the computer.

And just dance.

Don't wait for the right shoes, or the right time, or even any music. Don't worry what you look like. Don't think about being Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly.

Think more "Jerry Lewis."

And just dance.

Let the music in your head, in your body, express itself.

Fast or slow; jazz, ballet, or boogie.

Just dance.

There. Aren't you happier?