Thursday, March 8, 2012

Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D. "Happier"

Finding Happiness in a Harvard Classroom

"My friend Kim and I walked around Privincetown, admiring the quaint shops on the main street, listening to the waves breaking on the rocks, breathing in the salty air, savoring that precious feeling of being outside of time that can come when one is in a small town of vacation.

At the time, I was a graduate student living in the competitive environment of the university. I told kim that as soon as I graduated, I wanted to move to a place like Provincetown. I thought that without the looming deadlines and the deadly pace, I would finally experience the calm I had been looking for my entire life. I had often thought about moving to a quiet place after graduation, but as the idea took on the form of words-became tangible - I felt uneasy.

Had I not just fallen into the trap of living in the future? Did I really have to wait until graduation? Kim and I had been working on this book together and were talking and thinking a lot about the question of happiness. WE had been talking about how, despite being in a competitive environment, with a great deal of work, and keeping a fast pace, we could still experience calm. Kim said, "The calmness has to be inside. If you're happy, that happiness in transportable-you take it with you wherever you go." She paused and then added, "Not that the external isn't significant but it doesn't make us happy."

We often imagine that when we reach some future destination, we will feel accomplished, calm, and ready for happiness. WE tell ourselves that, with the attainment of certain goals, we will finally find peace. We tell ourselves that this will happen once we graduate from college, or get tenure, or make enough money, or have a family and children, or - reach any other number of goals that will likely change over the course of our lives. Yet in most cases, shortly after reaching some destination, we return to our base level of well-being. If we are normally anxious and stressed, those fellings will likely return soon after reaching a goal we though would change our lives.

Much of the rat racer's tension stems from the need to feel control over the future. AS a result, she lives in the future. The rat racer lives by the "what if" rather than by the "what is" - in the tense hypothetical future rather than in the calm real present. What if I don't do well on th eexam? What if I don't get a promotion? What if I can't afford the mortgage on my new house? Rather than fully experiencing the here and now, she is, in the words of poet Galway Kinnell, "smearing the darkness of expectation across experience."

Then there are those who, stuck in the past, do not allow themselves to experience happiness in the present. They rehearse their unsatisfying histories, their attempts to live first as rat racers and then as hedonists; they brood over the relationships they tried to rekindle to no avail, the many jobs they worked at without finding their true calling. Always reliving the past, concerned with justifying their unhappiness, they forgo the potential for happiness in their lives. Rather than allowing ourselves to remain enslaved by our past or future, we must learn to make he most of what is presently in front of us and all around us.

This is it

One of the common barriers to happiness is the false expectation that one thing - a boook or a techer, a princess or a knight, an accomplishment, a prize, or a revelation - will bring us eternal bliss. While all these things can contribute to our well-being, at best they form a small part of the mosaic of a happy life. The fairy-tale notion of happiness-the belief that something would carry us to the happily ever after - inevitably leads to disappointment. A happy - or happier - life is rarely shaped by some extraordinary life - changing event; rather, it is shaped incrementally, experience by experience, moment by moment.

To realize, to make real, life's potential for the ultimate currency, we must first accept that "this is it" - that all there is to life is the day-to-day, the ordinary, the details of the mosaic. We are living a happy life when we derive pleasure and meaning while spenidng time with our loved ones, or learning something new, or engaging in a project at work. The more our days are filled with theses experiences, the happier we become. This is all there is to it."

Six Tips for Happiness

Advice from Tal Ben-Shahar.

1. Give yourself permission to be human. When we accept emotions — such as fear, sadness, or anxiety — as natural, we are more likely to overcome them. Rejecting our emotions, positive or negative, leads to frustration and unhappiness.

2. Happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning. Whether at work or at home, the goal is to engage in activities that are both personally significant and enjoyable. When this is not feasible, make sure you have happiness boosters, moments throughout the week that provide you with both pleasure and meaning.

3. Keep in mind that happiness is mostly dependent on our state of mind, not on our status or the state of our bank account. Barring extreme circumstances, our level of well being is determined by what we choose to focus on (the full or the empty part of the glass) and by our interpretation of external events. For example, do we view failure as catastrophic, or do we see it as a learning opportunity?

4. Simplify! We are, generally, too busy, trying to squeeze in more and more activities into less and less time. Quantity influences quality, and we compromise on our happiness by trying to do too much.

5. Remember the mind-body connection. What we do — or don't do — with our bodies influences our mind. Regular exercise, adequate sleep, and healthy eating habits lead to both physical and mental health.

6. Express gratitude, whenever possible. We too often take our lives for granted. Learn to appreciate and savor the wonderful things in life, from people to food, from nature to a smile.

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[I was looking at some of my past posts and this one from Jan 30th seemed sort of relevant...from "Happier" Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D.]

[I think this post (today), for me is like a carrying water thing...calmness and being present]



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