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

Resolve to Resolve

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

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

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


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

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

You'll be happier.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"Scratch" That Itch

The itch is the bane of the meditator.

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

Itch is the devil's tool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get rid of it.

You'll be happier.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Immerse Yourself in Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You'll be happier.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Count to Ten (or a Hundred)

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

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

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

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

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

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

It helps to breathe, too.

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

You'll be happier.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Create Something

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You'll be happier.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Don't Delegate Happiness

Who do you trust?

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

Few and far between, I'd say.

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

Such individuals are rare.

So why are we so trusting with our happiness?

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

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

You'll be happier.

Friday, December 25, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the lesser-known second verse:

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

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

You'll be happier.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Fish for Compliments

My Aunt Til was a genius of happiness.

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

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

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

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

We joked about it, but you know what?

She was right.

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

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

You'll be happier.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Give Gifts that Keep on Giving

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

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

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

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

Few things feed my soul like Parabola.

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

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

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

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

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

You'll be happier.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Fix the Problem, Not the Blame

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

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

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

No slouch.

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

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

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

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

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

You'll be happier.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Schedule Me-Time

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

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

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

A cup of coffee in a sunny place. Alone.

A walk in nature. Alone.

A hot bath. Alone.

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

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

So schedule a little me-time.

You'll be happier.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Clear the Air

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

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

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

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

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

Do it.

You'll be happier.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Make Your Brain Happy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 18, 2009

Be a Rock

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

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

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

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

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

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

They'll be happier.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Get Some Distance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You'll be happier.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"Do Good and Disappear"

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

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

Or is it?

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

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


Can you do one today? And another tomorrow?

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

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

You'll be happier.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Make Friends Online

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

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

Enter so-called "social networking."

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

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

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

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

I can honestly say my life has never been richer.

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

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

Because you just can't have too many friends.

Then, you'll be happier.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Be Authentic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The same holds in other areas of "conformity."

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

So be yourself. Be authentic, inside and out.

You'll be happier.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Don't be Married to the Plan

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

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

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

But there's another problem just as insidious.

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

Others seem to be married for life.

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

Be prepared; but be prepared to adapt.

You'll be happier.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Get the Facts

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

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

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

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

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

So what to do?

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

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

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

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

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

So get the facts, then act on them.

You'll be happier.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sing, Sing a Song

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

Good advice that: Sing.

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

Just sing.

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

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

A what?

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

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

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


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

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Stick Your Head in the Sand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You'll be happier.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Don't Tolerate "Tolerance"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But don't tolerate "tolerance."

You'll be happier.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Talk All Night

Ah, the delights of youth.

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


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

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

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

Others at a kitchen table.

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

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

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

You'll be happier.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Have an Exit Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You'll be happier.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Only Connect

At heart, I am a Neo-Perennialist.

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

1. There is something bigger than myself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And you'll be happier.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Remember "EGBOK"

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

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

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

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

"Egg bock," he mumbled.


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

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

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

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

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

So remember, EGBOK!

You'll be happier.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Chat Up a Stranger

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

Small talk. With strangers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, yeah, positive statements work too.

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

You'll be happier.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Give Something Back

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

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

Big whoop, right?

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

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

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

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

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

Do it. You'll be happier.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Keep Your Promises

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

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

How far we've "progressed."

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

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

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

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

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

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

You'll be happier.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Be a Bulldog for Happiness

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

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

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

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

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

You'll be happier.