Tuesday, June 2, 2009

C'mon Get Happy!

It’s not caused by McCain or Obama
Nor passed down from Papa & Mama
Connection and fun after a fashion
And a purpose that stirs passion
Yields true happiness, says the Dalai Lama

Our current book reading is based on David Wann’s “Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in A Sustainable Lifestyle” (http://www.davewann.com/ ) Taking a page (leaf?) from the Slow Food movement, we’re using the Slow Read method, reading a few chapters per month of this book and bringing in related articles to discuss. Our first session, with required potluck, introduced to the book and posed the questions, What is true wealth, and What is Happiness, and why do people crave it? We had the opportunity to see the Dalai Lama when he came to Portland a few years ago, and his message was that the one thing all people want is to be “happy”. They just disagree in how to accomplish that.
Psychologist Martin Seligman, author of “Authentic Happiness” postulates that happiness contains elements of pleasure, engagement or connection with others, and meaning, such as altruistic or service related activities. Modern consumptive societal patterns tend to wade in the shallow end of this pool, trying to find happiness in “stuff” while deeper and more resonant results come from connecting with others and using your unique gifts and talents to benefit more than just you.
This topic came up in another context when I heard about the 72 year longitudinal study of Harvard students which was seeking to find the secret to what makes a “good life” 268 Harvard underclassmen, including many powerful people such as Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post, and JFK were interviewed, measured, and recorded throughout their lives and a review of the archives is fascinating. George Vaillant was the long time director, and his personal story shows the challenges of trying to find a simple answer to the question of what can we do to be happy. In the end though, it shows a mechanistic view of happiness or life in general can't explain the mystery (http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200906/happiness )

I reflected on these things after a number of relevant events in the last week. Dianna & I spent a thoroughly enjoyable Memorial Day weekend at Oceanside with Ted & Meg & Rick. We had great food; great weather, and great company. Rick & I even assisted Ted in some productive work. (You can see our "Pathway to Happiness" in the photo above)
I also got to see Sean and his band before they headed off on their 5 week 20 performance tour of the country and was reminded once again how pursuing your passion is priceless. Also, last night, I co-taught the last class of The Center for Earth Leadership's “How to Be an Agent of Change In Your Circle of Influence”, and was inspired by the creativity and enthusiasm of the participants. We went to see "Star Trek" tonight and the same message of fun, connection with others, and a higher purpose played out with great special effects and a clever nod to the memories of those of us who grew up inspired with Star Trek ideals....
I think among all the events, I had plenty of evidence to validate Seligman’s hypothesis.

In coming weeks, I’ll share more on any insights that come from our readings or any other randow nudges I get.

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