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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

De-Sisyphize

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 itself...is 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

Balance

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?

Hogwash.

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"?

Nope.

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, Vision.org, 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

Review

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

Question

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

Jettison

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.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Love You

No, I didn't say "I love you" (although I do, in an abstract sorta way).

I said, "Love you." As in "Love yourself."

I've said this before: When Jesus said "Love your neighbor as yourself," he assumed you loved yourself.

So how do you do it? (Following on the previous "Secret," in which I claimed to eschew "the loosey-goosey lovey-dovey New-Agey stuff," this might seem kind of funny to you.)

But you love yourself the way you love anyone else. Spend time with you. Send you thoughtful notes. Take a walk with you. Be sweet to you. Cook something nice for you. Let you listen to your favorite song, or watch your favorite show.

Buy you a present.

Let you know that you are important to you. It may seem selfish, self-indulgent. In fact, it is. But in a good way.

Love you like you've never loved you before.

You'll be happier.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

See the Change

As you know if you've been reading these "Secrets" for a while, I try to walk a line between the sort of hard-headed realism that says that "only what can be quantified is real" on the one hand, and the loosey-goosey lovey-dovey New-Agey stuff that threatens to turn the mind to mush on the other (sorry to "true believers" in both camps).

So if I tell you that I believe in "creative visualization," a practice known to be attached to New Thought and the "Think and Grow Rich" school, some of you may be saying, "Aha! I knew it! Mush-for-brains!"

But hang on a second. Do you know where creative visualization has really taken root? In the field of sports.

Yes, sports, where "winning is the only thing."

According to my "Bible" (Wikipedia),

In one of the most well-known studies on Creative Visualization in sports, Russian scientists compared four groups of Olympic athletes in terms of their training schedules:

  • Group 1 = 100% physical training;
  • Group 2 = 75% physical training with 25% mental training;
  • Group 3 = 50% physical training with 50% mental training;
  • Group 4 = 25% physical training with 75% mental training.

Group 4, with 75% of their time devoted to mental training, performed the best.

OK, I wouldn't swear to it. But I think there's something to it.

So here's today's "Secret":

Everyone quotes Gandhi: "Be the change you want to see in the world."

But I think before we can be the change, we have to see the change.

Visualize it. Live in it. Roll it around on your tongue. Savor it.

Then "be it" and "do it."

And you'll be happier.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Be an Island

Ralph Waldo Emerson is one of America's best-known original philosophers. And perhaps his best-known essay is "Self-Reliance." Published in 1841, it has contributed mightily to the shaping of that aspect of the American psyche known as "rugged individualism."

The idea is not without controversy. "Be an Island," the title of this "secret," alludes to John Donne's famous line, "No man is an island..." Certainly cooperation and mutual support, seeing ourselves as "part of the continent," are essential elements of happiness.

But there are times when it's just you staring down the barrel of a catastrophe, and you need to be ready to take care of yourself, "lift yourself up by the bootstraps," as they say.

I often remind my students that Bill Gates dropped out of university. The path of conformity can lead to happiness, true; but it seems that the greatest successes were gained by those who took to heart Emerson's dictum (in "Self-Reliance"), "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds..."

So dig down deep for that "pioneering spirit." As Emerson's pal Thoreau said, learn to follow the beat of your own drummer, and step to the music that you hear.

Or remember the words of Aristotle, who said, "Happiness belongs to the self-sufficient."

You'll be happier.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Bend

Here in China, most of the construction seems to be reinforced concrete and brick.

Coming from L.A., I'm a little sensitive about this.

Most of our houses are wood framed, with either drywall (in the less expensive homes) or lath-and-plaster (much more expensive).

The reason can be expressed in one word: earthquakes.

See, when the Big One comes, a wood-framed house stands a better chance of making it, because it can flex and bend. Masonry tends to remain stiff--and fall. My dad's school was one of the many brick buildings that went down in the Long Beach Quake of 1933; the California Legislature then passed the Field Act to ensure safer schools, and higher safety regulations were enforced overall.

End of history lesson.

Can you find the nugget of happiness in there?

Buildings that bend are more likely to withstand the stress of earthquakes.

And people that bend are more likely to withstand the stresses of life.

So learn to bend without breaking.

You'll be happier.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Have a Heart-to-Heart

Talk, talk, talk.

Or as we call it on this interweb thingy, "chat."

Chat, which Mr. Webster says is "informal," "light," and "casual" talk. From the Middle English "chatten," a synonym to "jabber," meaning "to talk rapidly in a foolish or purposeless way"; or, worse, "to utter a succession of quick, inarticulate, speechlike sounds."

Yes, a lot of us spend a lot of time doing just that.

But when was the last time you sat down with a like-minded soul and talked about things that matter?

I was leading a series of discussions in China a few years ago, and the first four were to be Love, Hate, Life, and Death. A Hong Kong man who thought he was an organizer (he wasn't) came to me and said, "Chinese people don't like to talk about death. Why don't you change the topic to, 'Why You Need Life Insurance'?"

Blech.

Needless to say, I stuck with my idea, and it was one of the most interesting discussions in the series. If death is greatly feared, then we need to talk about it, to process it together.

What are your fears, your hopes, your dreams? Find someone to discuss them with.

Less noise, more light.

You'll be happier.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Make Up Your Mind

Yup. It's as simple as that.

Happiness doesn't depend on what happens outside. It's a choice, a decision.

And so the great American sage Abraham Lincoln said, "Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be."

So make up your mind to be happy!

And you'll be happier.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Reach Out and...

The stereotype would have us believe that teenagers like to sit around and talk on the phone for hours.

Well, let me tell you, friends, I've never seen anyone use the phone like the older folks in my family.

My grandma and my older aunts and uncles, when they were still around; my parents now. They can stay on the line with one person for over an hour.

So what? It makes them happy.

It's a rare moment when I pick up the phone and call someone. (My circle communicates mostly by text here in South China.)

But sometimes that urge strikes and I, as the old commercial sang, "Reach Out! Reach out and touch someone"--by phone.

Yes, all those sappy old commercials of "Friends and Family" being reunited over the globe by phone hold some kernel of truth.

However, in this New Age of communications, the telephone is only one option.

I was trying to get an appointment to see an important guy last week here in China, and he said he was OK "before 11" because at that time he would be Skyping with his son in the states.

Yup, the age of free long distance via the internet is upon us, whether Skype or any of the many other "VoIP applications."

So there's no longer any reason to hesitate. Put on that headset, open that interface, and "Reach Out!..."

You'll be happier.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Know Thyself

One of the most ancient and mysterious of dicta, "Know Thyself" works on many levels.

Some think it means "understand yourself, your habits, your preferences." This is good, I think, but not enough.

Others go to the far extreme, and say the "Self" in this saying is the "true Self," the Logos, the Brahman, the Dao, the Buddha Nature. A tall order, beyond most of us in the "householder" life.

I vote for the Middle Way. I believe that "Know Thyself" means know your true self--not the mystical Higher Self, but the you that is truly You.

Hmm. I'm stumped about how to explain this.

OK, let's turn to my guy Socrates. He said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." To "examine your life" is a bit like "following your bliss." Look deep down in yourself, at "what makes you tick." Not just your preferences (which shift throughout your life) or your habits (which can be modified), but your motivations, your foundations.

The woman or man who knows what lies at the foundation can build a stronger edifice upon it. Jesus says that the fool built his house on shifting sands, but "the wise man built his house upon a rock."

Find your Rock, then. Find the core of your being. How? Through some sort of discipline (spiritual, athletic, academic, or social).

Once you know yourself, you can be true to yourself, and no one and no thing can shake you.

And, you'll be happier.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Go Wild

I have friends whose idea of "roughing it" is slow room service.

Laugh if you will, but how about those who go "camping" in a 40-foot motor home?

When I was a little-little kid, my family used to go camping in tents. Then Dad got a small pick-up truck with a camper shell. Then a bigger one, a "cab-over camper." Then a longer one, with a shower and built-in toilet. And finally a small motor home (but never a 40-footer: that was my brother's).

True, the comfort (not to say "luxury") was nice. But the more equipment we got, the less it felt like camping.

Until, in my 20s, I used to go backpacking with friends. And in my 30s, I'd head out to the great Southwest in my old Chevy Suburban, and sleep on the ground, cooking on a little Coleman stove on a picnic table or sometimes a rock.

Ah, smell that air!

When was the last time you slept on the ground? (I admit, since I moved to Asia, it's been quite a while for me!)

So go wild. Get out there and carry everything you need on your back for a couple of days. Look Mother Nature in the eye and give her a big hug (plus another, from me).

You'll be happier.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Remember There is Only NOW

Parallel quotations:

Kahlil Gibran: "Yesterday is but today's memory, tomorrow is today's dream."

Unknown: "Yesterday is history; tomorrow is a mystery; today is God's gift--that's why we call it the present."

Bob Dylan: "Yesterday's just a memory, Tomorrow is never what it's supposed to be."

Three ways of saying the same thing: There is Only NOW.

And what, you may ask, does this have to do with happiness? Just ask the Guru of NOW, Eckhart Tolle:

"You cannot be both unhappy and fully present in the Now."

One more quote, from the wonderfully quirky Ram Dass:

"Be Here Now."

You'll be happier.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Record Your Progress

When I was a kid, lots of people had a special spot in the home--a door frame, usually, or a place in a corner--where they recorded the children's growth.

You would stand against the wall, as straight as you could, and Mom or Dad would mark your height on the wall, and write the date (and your initials, if there was more than one kid) next to the mark.

Over time, you could look back and see how far you had come.

(See where this is going?)

As adults, some people keep records of earnings; others of milestones (babies' births, weddings, funerals). But very few record the "state of the person."

I confess, I'm a terrible journal keeper. I start a blog, pause, abandon, start another. Nevertheless, I can go back and read those old blogs (soon to be gathered in one place on the net), and see where I've been.

And it looks like I'm making a bit of progress.

Some old blogs contain gripes about a girl who left; now I'm happily married. Others are about a period of instability in my life; now I'm like Gibraltar.

Of course, progress is hard to define. Lots of people get shorter as they grow older; that's a kind of progress, too. (I wonder if they make marks on the walls?)

Then there's the case of "self-correction." C.S. Lewis said that if you’re going the wrong way, going back to the right path can be counted as a kind of progress.

In any case, find a way to record your progress, one that's comfortable for you. Then, later, look back and see how far you've come.

You'll be happier.