Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then,
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass;
I find letters from God dropped in the street, and every one is signed by God's name,
And I leave them where they are,
for I know that others will punctually come forever and ever.
I took this from the car on the way home from midnight mass, it's a terrible picture but that's not the point. This tiny little park at the north end of the Key Bridge in Georgetown. The wooden home of Francis Scott Key stood here for 150 years. The GSA, the federal government took over the land and carefully marked each piece of the house, dismantled it, put it in crates...and then lost it. They lost Francis Scott Key's house.
“If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate.
Give in to it.
There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still life has some possibility left.
Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happened better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case.
Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.”
“A sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ.” John Steinbeck
One of the saddest days of my life was when I finished reading all of John Steinbeck’s work. It was like saying goodbye to a good, humorous friend who was so full of life. I still read Travels with Charlie ever couple of years and its still a great book with every read.
Juggernaut (JUG-uhr-not) 1. Anything requiring blind sacrifice. 2. A massive relentless force, person, institution, etc. that crushes everything in its path. From Hindi jagannath (one of the titles Krishna, a Hindu god, has), from Sanskrit jagannath, from jagat (world) + nath (lord). A procession of Jagannath takes place each year at Puri, India. Devotees pull a huge cart carrying the deity. Some have been accidentally crushed under the wheels (or are said to have thrown themselves under them).
By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
When it comes to our self-critical thinking, Byron Katie has created a brilliant set of four questions to free us from our negative depressive minds. For example, if you say, “I’m such leavesinhandcrpd an idiot,” we ask 1) Is it true? 2) Is it absolutely true? 3) What happens when you believe that thought? and 4) Who would you be without that thought? The effect of this is that it objectifies the self-judgment, gives us freedom from it and opens us up to a sense of freedom that’s there. They can be really effective.
When it comes to overcoming longstanding emotional struggles we have to not only get space from the self-critical mind, but also encourage the positive beliefs about ourselves that the critical mind has buried. In one part of Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion I share the following four questions to work with in order to open us up to possibility, install these positive beliefs a bit more and even encourage positive neuroplasticity. In doing this we can become more confident in ourselves and ultimately more resilient (and a bit happier).
Four Questions for Uncovering Happiness
From time to time, you might notice a nourishing thought arise, such as “I’m good enough,” “Life is fine as it is,” “I’m worthy of love,” or “What a beautiful moment.” We can be on the lookout for these thoughts and fan the flame with a play on these same questions:
1.“Is it true?” Because of the strength of our inner critics, our minds are often quick to dismiss positive thoughts, so you may notice a quick “No, it’s not true. I’m not really beautiful, worthy of love, good enough [and so on] . . .”
2.“Is it possible that it’s true?” Here is where we open the door a bit and ask if there is any possibility that it’s true, no matter how small our minds may say it is. The answer inevitably here is “Yes, I guess there is a possibility.”
3.“If you step into that possibility for a moment, how does that make you feel?” Two things can happen here. You may find that fear arises: the fear of the unknown. This can be an opportunity for self-compassion. What would life be like if I stepped into this light? It reminds me of a poem by spiritual author and lecturer Marianne Williamson that starts, “Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” Remind yourself that it doesn’t serve you or the world to be in your small self. However, you might also experience a positive emotion such as joy, contentment, or confidence.
4.“Can I allow myself to linger in this feeling for a few moments?” When we allow ourselves to savor what’s good, our “good-feeling” neurons fire together. And as psychologist Donald Hebb put it memorably, “Neurons that fire together wire together,” promoting resiliency in the future.
What would the days, weeks and months ahead be like if you were more open to this possibility? Try this on right now with any potential positive belief about yourself and see what you notice.
The fact is, the belief we have in our negative thinking is one of our worst habits as a human species and often times doesn’t serve us. The positive belief in ourselves could go a long way and my hope is that Uncovering Happiness can help in awakening what I call our “Natural Anti-Depressants” and inspire the hope that having had emotional struggles in the past doesn’t mean you need to suffer from them in the same way in the future. There are specific seeds within each and every one of us that if we understand and water, we can literally create a more resilient and joyful life.
Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is author of the upcoming book Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion, The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler: Quick Exercises to Calm Your Mind, the premier eCourse Basics of Mindfulness Meditation: A 28 Day Program, the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations. Join The Now Effect Community for free Daily Now Moments and a Weekly Newsletter. Dr. Goldstein is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles.
This is the mantra for bad times “This too shall pass” not even the worst storm lasts forever.
Hold over making any big decision in a bad time, you may regret it later.
Talk to God, tell him what’s going on and ask for help (You should probably do this first)
and always remember, laugh and have fun, life is short, create happy memories
Impedimenta (im-ped-uh-MEN-tuh) Baggage, supplies, or equipment related to an activity or expedition, especially when regarded as slowing one's progress. From Latin, plural of impedimentum, from impedire (to impede), from im-/in- (in) + ped- (foot). Ultimately from the Indo-European root ped- (foot) which also gave us pedal, podium, octopus, impeach, antipodal, expediency, peccadillo (alluding to a stumble or fall), impeccable, and peccavi.
Spleen 1. An abdominal organ serving to clean blood. 2. Bad temper. From French esplen, from Latin splen, from Greek splen. Earliest documented use: 1300. In earlier times it was believed that four humors controlled human behavior and an imbalance resulted in disease. According to this thinking, an excess of black bile secreted by the spleen resulted in melancholy or ill humor. Also, spleen was considered to be the seat of emotions. To vent one's spleen was to vent one's ange
Mansuetude (MAN-swi-tood, -tyood) Gentleness; meekness. From Latin mansuescere (to make tame: to accustom to handling), from manus (hand) + suescere (to become accustomed). Ultimately from the Indo-European root man- (hand), which is also the source of manual, manage, maintain, manicure, maneuver, manufacture, manuscript, command, manque, amanuensis, legerdemain, and mortmain. Earliest documented use: 1390.
Century-old publishing house goes to auction
By Arthur Hirsch, The Baltimore Sun
The West Baltimore home of a defunct century-old book publisher that once commanded offices in Chicago and San Francisco will go on the auction block Wednesday — a casualty of Hurricane Katrina, technological change and even the "For Dummies" instructional book series.
What remains of the H.M. Rowe Co. — named for a man who was killed by his son in 1926 — straddles two addresses on North Gilmor Street in Harlem Park. Two three-story buildings joined together contain offices that were active with final orders only weeks ago, and a warehouse with a conveyor belt running from the basement to the third floor.
In July, the owner put the business up for sale, but there were no takers.
"Unfortunately for us, it was just dying," said Gail Willie, who inherited the business when her father, William E Steigleman Jr., died in 1999. The original owner, H.M. Rowe, was married to her great aunt, the former Jeannette Steigleman, who was in the room of the house when her husband was attacked on that May evening 88 years ago.
Willie, 60, who lives on a farm in Howard County, has been a nurse her entire professional life and now works at a school in Montgomery County. She left the publisher's day-to-day operation to a company manager who has been there for decades, but said she feels the loss of the business that's been in her family for about 90 years.
"It's been a grieving process to let go of a business that you've had so long," she said.
Three employees remained at the end, from a high of 15 during Willie's time as owner. As business declined, Willie said, new people were not brought in to replace older employees who left.
The company specialized in books sold to business and community colleges and vocational high schools to teach skills such as typing, shorthand, filing and business math. When computers arrived, the company tried to keep pace with instructional books on Windows and Mac applications.
The company suffered a serious blow in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, forcing many of the schools that were customers to shut down. Many never reopened. The company did business across the country, but Willie estimated that about 60 percent of their customers were in the South.
"We've been struggling ever since '05," she said.
The damage was compounded by technology, which made much of Rowe's material more easily available by download. Meanwhile, a series of instructional books with a catchy title covering everything from banjo playing to beekeeping grew more and more popular.
"When the 'Dummies' books came out — you can just learn everything from them," Willie said. "In hindsight, we should have diversified."
An only child, she was kept distant from the business as a young person, never groomed to take on a management role. She was also kept in the dark about how H.M. Rowe died.
"As a child, I always heard about 'the accident,'" she said. "It wasn't until I was a young woman in my 20s that I heard about the murder. I had no idea."
Harry M. Rowe, who once served as president of a young American Automobile Association, had co-founded the Sadler-Rowe Co. in 1898 to publish accounting textbooks. In 1907, Warren Sadler decided to withdraw from the business, selling his share to Rowe, who gave the enterprise his name a few years later when Sadler died.
On the evening of May 3, 1926, Rowe was in the library of the family home on Johnnycake Road near Catonsville with his wife, Willie's great aunt Jeannette, and his teenage daughter from a previous marriage. According to a Baltimore Sun account, based on Jeannette Rowe's description, Rowe's 38-year-old son burst into the room and "began beating his father in the head with a club."
Harry M. Rowe Jr. was Rowe's son from the first of his three marriages. The girl was from his second marriage. Willie's great aunt was his third wife, with whom he had no children.
Rowe, who was in his mid 60s, died six days later at St. Agnes Hospital. His wife and daughter also were injured in the attack but recovered. The police pursuit of the son ended May 15, when his body was found in the Severn River in Annapolis. According to a Sun account, police said he had apparently committed suicide.
Articles from the time said that about two years earlier, Rowe had fired his son from his job as secretary-treasurer of Carozza-Rowe Construction Co. when he was president.
The publishing business passed to Willie's great aunt, then to her grandfather, to her father, then to her. Willie said her son, the older of her two children, might have taken over, "but there's nothing to take over."
There are the two connected buildings near Harlem Park Middle School, a neighborhood of many boarded-up rowhouses. The place served as the company's home after its building on West German Street was destroyed during the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904. Property records date the buildings to 1910.
Auctioneer Charles Billig of A.J. Billig & Co. said two bidders have registered so far. He was asked if he thought the building — in fine shape on the outside, but which needs updates and water damage repairs inside — would be a tough sell.
"Not sure. I think we've got it attractively priced," he said.
Willie said she'll attend the auction to see how it goes.
"I'll be there crying," she said. "I never wanted this to happen on my watch, but it's happened."
Elijah Moment: Campaign Promotes Random Acts of Kindness
By Charlene Aaron
The holidays are a time for giving and sharing. That's why Rabbi Daniel Cohen and Pastor Todd Novotny of Noroton Community Church in Darien, Connecticut, are heading up what they're calling the Elijah Moment Campaign.
The campaign is named after the biblical prophet Elijah. Cohen and Novotny say a seemingly minor act of generosity can change a life and that every person can be an Elijah.
The campaign encourages people to think about ways to do random acts of kindness with just a moment's notice and can involve anything from sharing a kind word to paying it forward at a local coffee shop or restaurant.
The campaign began on November 23 and ends on January 1. Participants are encouraged to post their Elijah Moment on Facebook or tweet with the hashtag #elijahmoment to inspire others to do the same.
CBN News spoke with Rabbi Cohen about his hope that these moments of generosity will happen all across the country and spread beyond the holiday season.
John W. Tuohy llr book.com
CLASS OF 2014 SUCCESS STORIES: OVERCOMING ADVERSITY
Bowling Green State University / News / 2014 / December / Class of 2014 Success Stories: Overcoming Adversity
A story of courage, success and hope
By: Jacquie Nelson
He is quick with a smile, has the gift of gab and has never met a stranger.
His story began 23 years ago in the small Ohio town of St. Marys. Josh King entered the world two weeks late and pronounced clinically dead of meconium aspiration (the ingestion of fecal matter into the lungs). The whirlwind that followed included lifesaving acts by three doctors and six nurses that brought him back to life, followed by weeks in an incubator at Children’s Hospital in Dayton, Ohio, and a lifetime of challenges ahead. King’s ordeal left him physically disabled with a mild form of cerebral palsy and faced with an array of learning disabilities.
Now? He is days away from achieving a life-long goal.
The first-generation college student will soon be graduating from Bowling Green State University with a bachelor’s degree in sport management. King never dreamed of going to college, let alone graduating, but this December he will have achieved what many thought was an impossible feat.
Always interested in sports, King began working in his high school’s equipment room and although he dreamed of college, he had never considered it an option. Instead, he enrolled at a branch of Wright State University in his hometown to work toward becoming a police officer.
Continuing his work at the equipment room, he eventually realized it was a career in sport management that he wished to explore. He discovered the program at BGSU, one of the best in the country, so he applied and was accepted.
“I was given the opportunity to go to college, even given my challenges.” King said. “BGSU gave me this chance – I was still able to go to college!”
Over the course of his career at BGSU, King has taken advantage of all the programs and services that the University has to offer. He has a record 338 visits to the Learning Commons where he received much-needed tutoring; his exams were taken at Disability Services on campus where each was read aloud to him. In addition, he participated in a practicum with Brian Daniels in the football equipment room and Scott Jess with the baseball and hockey programs and was a member of the Sport Management Alliance Group for a year. All of this while managing to keep up his grade point average (three times on the dean’s list) and completing his internship in the athletics equipment room at Wilmington College on Nov. 23.
“Josh is a wonderful student to have in our program,”said Dr. Ray Schneider, sport management. “He is extremely passionate and engaged in our class material.”.
King credits his family, friends, mentors and heroes for providing support necessary to achieve this goal and realize his dream. Tragically, as he was completing his summer semester and fall internship, he lost two of his three heroes in a three-month span – his grandfather, who had been ill, and his father, who passed away suddenly of a heart attack. Through all this adversity, he continued his internship at Wilmington College so he would graduate on time, noting, “I had to complete my degree for both my father and grandfather, and I just took it one day at a time.”
In his limited free time, King enjoys football, playing video games, spending time with family and friends and all Pittsburgh sports.
“I have known Josh King since my arrival on campus three years ago,” said Mark Nelson, director of the Learning Commons. “He has taken full advantage of our services within the Learning Commons to the tune of 338 total visits. Over the past three years we have enjoyed sharing our love of sports, and I have enjoyed watching Josh grow and mature as he pursues his dream of becoming an equipment manager."
What is after graduation for King? A career as an equipment manager, of course, and he is approaching that search with just as much fervor as he did his collegiate career. To date, King has delivered his resume to all Division I, II and III universities, all major league baseball and all national football teams. King is approaching this next step of the journey as he has his life to this point. “Wherever I have to go (for my career) is where I have to go.”
King knows that life is a journey, and that all face obstacles. Those who know him well agree he has endured more than his share. Despite this, Josh King is a friendly, generous, hardworking, giving human being who is passionate about his career path.
He is also passionate about those individuals on campus who have mentored him, those heroes who inspired him, and all those who continue to support him.
Move over, GDP. Psychologists Shigehiro Oishi and Ed Diener say it's time to make room for happiness, the next big tool for evaluating public policies and social development in the U.S.
Scoff all you like, but after analyzing dozens of policy-related happiness surveys and studies in a new report called "Can and Should Happiness Be a Policy Goal?" Oishi and Diener argue that people's self-reported happiness can help gauge the effectiveness of a particular policy and promote national well-being. Take, for example, disability benefits — one survey found that severe disability hurts people's life satisfaction twice as badly as unemployment. Such psychological insights into populations, the authors say, could improve how we assess and make good policies in the future.
Oishi, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, believes in measuring what matters — and that people's happiness ought to be recorded as often as possible, quarterly or even monthly. Admittedly, "it all boils down to the cost here," he said. But he compares happiness measures to other regular data collections we perform, like unemployment and life expectancy.
He and Diener looked at surveys that measured happiness on several different scales, including Diener's own 1- to 7-point scale, which asks participants to rank statements such as "If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing" and "The conditions of my life are excellent." Sure, plenty of stuff can affect self-reported happiness — which is pretty much the most subjective thing you can ask about. Variables, as the tradesfolk say, abound: the day of the week the survey is taken, the weather, how someone reacted to previous survey questions … as a start. Oishi argues that's a reason to overinvest in multiple methods of tracking happiness.
Maybe he's onto something. According to the 2013 World Happiness Report, the U.S. tripled its per capita income over the last few decades but has seen "significant declines" in happiness levels over time. Moreover, some countries around the world already measure happiness, including Bhutan's erstwhile Gross National Happiness and the U.K.'s National Well-being Index. (Though Bhutan, in full disclosure, bailed on the happiness measure last year.) Yet some critics say that a happiness index is too "fuzzy" for serious policymaking. "We have more accurate tools of measuring depression than we do of happiness, unfortunately," said Mark Setton, founder of Pursuit-Of-Happiness.org. And the wording of the surveys is especially tricky, he explained, as many of them use different words to describe happiness.
So, maybe happiness won't exactly make the world go 'round, as Oishi and Diener would hope. But perhaps a dose of happiness policy could get Congress to do a little less ranting.
OZY is a USA TODAY content partner providing general news, commentary and coverage from around the Web. Its content is produced independently of USA TODAY
Generous Stranger Secretly Pays Off Every Layaway Account at Toys R Us
At the Toys-R-Us store in Bellingham, Massachusetts a complete stranger became an angel for 154 customers.
Around noon on Wednesday, a woman walked into the store and told a cashier she wanted to pay off a layaway balance. “Which one?” she was asked.
“All of them,” she replied. For a total of $20,000.
“I have no words. I can’t believe someone would do that, it’s so nice,” said one of the customers who had their balances erased.
By ALYSON KRUEGERDEC. 10, 2014
David Terry is 50 years old, H.I.V. positive and homeless. He spends his nights at Bailey House, a nonprofit in Harlem that provides housing for people living with H.I.V., and his days wandering the streets. “I get very depressed because it’s like I’m on the treadmill going 80 miles an hour with the brakes on,” he said.
But for one hour the other Sunday, life slowed down to a happy pace. Sitting on a park bench on the corner of East Houston and Chrystie Streets, Mr. Terry was getting a haircut from Mark Bustos, a professional stylist with a celebrity clientele.
“Can you believe this is happening?” Mr. Terry said, a white bib wrapped around his neck, cigarette in hand and Stevie Wonder’s “Conversation Peace” playing in the background. An hour later, he looked in the mirror, and saw that his messy mop was now a stylish flattop. “Yeah, baby, I’ve still got it,” he said, striking a victory pose. “I’m the king of the world.”
Every Sunday, Mark Bustos, 30, a hairstylist at Three Squares Studios, an elite salon in Chelsea that charges $150 to clients like Norah Jones, Marc Jacobs and Phillip Lim, hits the sidewalk and provides free cuts to the homeless.
Mr. Bustos often wanders around Union Square, the Lower East Side and Midtown, where he has gotten to know some of the homeless by name. “See that guy over there,” he said, walking down the Bowery. “That’s Cowboy Ritchie,” whose wife, Mr. Bustos added, “wants him to shave his beard off because it looks too good and the other women flirt with him.”
Other times, Mr. Bustos meets his unsuspecting new clients through friends and paying clients, who tell him about people in their neighborhoods. He does up to 10 haircuts a day.
He started offering haircuts to the homeless two years ago. The idea, he says, is to simply give back. “Whether I’m giving one at work or on the street, I think we can all relate to the haircut and how it makes us feel,” Mr. Bustos said. “We all know what it feels like to get a good haircut.”
In some way, Mr. Bustos, who lives in Jersey City, has always been generous about hairstyling, which he taught himself at a young age. When he was 14, Mr. Bustos set up a chair in his parents’ garage in Nutley, N.J., and cut friends’ hair for free, so they could pocket the barbershop money they got from their parents.
A 2012 trip to the Philippines to visit family made him realize he could do more. He was struck by the number of impoverished children and decided to rent a barbershop as his way of helping. “It made me feel so good,” Mr. Bustos said. “It was right to bring it home to New York.” Since then, he has spent most Sundays in New York, styling the hair of the homeless.
Mary E. Brosnahan, the president and chief executive of Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit advocacy group, said that a haircut is often more than a haircut. It can remind the homeless of who they once were, and offer a rosier version of their current, shattered selves. “It helps shift the gear out of survival mode,” Ms. Brosnahan said, letting them envision a better life.
Joi Gordon, the chief executive officer of Dress for Success, which provides professional clothes to homeless job seekers, has similar stories of transformation. “For most women, this is the first time that they’ve ever put on a suit in their lives,” she said. “That blazer really serves as a life jacket.”
Mr. Bustos tells a similar story of a homeless man who once looked in the mirror after a haircut, saw his fresh look and said: “Do you know anyone who is hiring. I’m ready to go get a job.” Mr. Bustos hasn’t seen him on the street since, something he considers a good sign.
His haircuts are always conducted on the street. If a park bench is not available, Mr. Bustos will find a milk crate or turn over a shopping cart. Rain or freezing temperatures do not deter him. (Since many homeless do not have regular access to washrooms, Mr. Bustos wears gloves, carefully disposes of hair clippings and disinfects his tools between every cut, just as he does with his equipment at work.)
“I do it on the streets, on the sidewalks, in the parks,” he said, “so people who walk by can find some inspiration in what I do.”
That is the same reason that Devin Masga, a street photographer, accompanies him and posts before-and-after photos to Mr. Bustos’s Instagram feed with the hashtag #BeAwesomeToSomebody. Mr. Bustos has more than 215,000 Instagram followers, some of whom donate supplies and gift cards, or ask how they can get help. “People ask me if I can come out with you or join your team,” he said. “My answer is just go and do it.”
“Just because they live on the street looking a little scruffy with their hair long doesn’t mean they can’t clean up and look great,” he added.
by Good News Network
Her car was barely drivable after multiple run-ins with deer on roadways. She covered two windows with plastic and cardboard and held together the front end with a strap.
Cindi Grady was depressed because this might be the second Christmas without a tree and few presents for her disabled son. As a server at the Cracker Barrel restaurant in Branson, Missouri, she didn’t know how she would pay for it all.
Then, while at work, she got a $20 tip — twice the normal size — and thought things were looking up. The couple at the table had been semi-regulars in the restaurant over the summer.
Suddenly Cindy’s boss told her to put down the tray and follow her. She was wracking her brain to figure out what she had done to warrant a conference with management, but instead of the office, she was led outside to the parking lot where the couple was standing next to a silver car with a red bow on it.
“They told me they had seen me come to work all summer in my shabby car and wanted to bless me with a 2008 Ford Fusion,” wrote Cindi on Facebook.
Gary and Roxann Tackett from Quitman, Arkansas handed over the keys and paperwork to the car they had just purchased especially for Cindy. “It’s not new, but it’s new for you,” the Gary said as he held open the door for her.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” she said through tears. “No way.”
“I’m still shell shocked,” she wrote later. “Now I can concentrate on catching up with my bills so my son can enjoy the upcoming holiday as well…This year is so much different thanks to the Tacketts.”
by Aisha Sultan
There are times when a foggy malaise can settle into a spot. Even when cracks of sunlight break through this vapor, a heaviness lingers.
Despite being a reporter -- a job where we're conditioned to notice and document what's wrong, unfair, tragic and broken -- I usually enjoy being a happy and positive person. But there has been so much striking and detailed pain on display in our world recently.
This summer, the gruesome images of the war in Gaza were soon joined by heartbreaking ones out of Ferguson. Couple this with the fact that my generation has entered that period of life when there's a steady stream of devastating personal news among our peers: Parents (or even children) die, alarming diagnoses are more common, and friends divorce.
We have been through cycles of tragedy, death and destruction before. But this prolonged dark period provoked a deeper anxiety in me. From the personal to the political, the onslaught of bad news has felt relentless.
It was in the midst of this run of gloominess that I decided to embark on a happiness project. Not happiness as in a constant state of chipper: Some of the most outwardly cheerful people I've known have been deeply unhappy inside. But happiness in the way that psychologists have defined it: the pleasure of feeling good; engagement in living a good life with family, friends, work and hobbies; and finding meaning in being able to use our strengths toward a greater purpose.
Is it possible to increase those pieces of happiness, thereby becoming happier?
There's an entire body of research that looks at ways to make people happier in life and work. I sifted through some of this positive psychology analysis and watched the most popular TED talk on the subject.
Positive psychology experts Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan have written extensively about the habits that can train our brains to think more positively, which they argue leads to our brains making us feel happier. Scientists say there's a biochemical process at work: Positive emotions like love and joy release dopamine and serotonin into our brains. This biochemical wash helps our brain process new information, think more quickly and creatively, and connect better with others.
Achor and Gielan suggest that incorporating these five daily habits for as little as 21 days can make us happier:
1. Write down three unique and new things you are grateful for every day. This teaches the brain to scan for new, good things.
2. Spend a few minutes writing down in detail the most meaningful moment from your day. This allows you to relive what made it meaningful for you.
3. Praise or thank a different person in your social network every day, either by email or phone, for something specific. This will remind your brain of the support around you.
4. Exercise for 15 minutes a day. The effects can be as powerful as taking an antidepressant.
5. Take two minutes to meditate and breathe. Pay attention to your inhale and exhale. It will focus your attention and lower stress.
I tried to do all five habits and recorded my efforts daily for 21 days last month. I just kept a log in a note in my iPhone where I documented results at night. The only ones I did religiously for three weeks were listing three new gratitudes each day, describing the most meaningful moment and thanking a person for a specific act each day. The 15 minutes of exercise was hit or miss. I completely failed on the meditating. That was very challenging.
About a third of my meaningful moments were with my children. The rest were through interactions at work, with friends or with people who were essentially strangers. It was revealing to keep track of which moments actually moved me during the day.
And, the researchers were absolutely correct. While I was committed to this task, I became more attuned to the good things, no matter how small. I spent more minutes in my day contemplating the positive. I felt more grateful and engaged with people and connected to the meaning in my life.
A few times, I struggled to come up with a meaningful moment or a different person to thank. On the days I was very tired, it felt like a chore. But overall, I think it lifted my spirit in a way that had been missing for a while.
When things looked especially bleak, this happiness project was an antidote.
The only defense we have against the at-times overwhelming and random pain in this life is belligerent happiness.
A few months ago, bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel had an essay in The Atlantic saying that, all things considered, he would prefer to die around age 75. He argued that he would rather clock out with all his powers intact than endure a sad, feeble decline.
The problem is that if Dr Emanuel dies at 75, he will likely be missing his happiest years. When researchers ask people to assess their own well-being, people in their 20s rate themselves highly. Then there is a decline as people get sadder in middle age, bottoming out around age 50. But then happiness levels shoot up, so that old people are happier than young people. The people who rate themselves most highly are those aged 82 to 85.
Psychologists who study this now famous U-Curve tend to point out that old people are happier because of changes in the brain. For example, when you show people a crowd of faces, young people unconsciously tend to look at the threatening faces, but older people’s attention gravitates towards the happy ones.
Older people are more relaxed, on average. They are spared some of the burden of thinking about the future. As a result, they get more pleasure out of present, ordinary activities.
My problem with a lot of the research on happiness in old age is that it is so deterministic. It treats the ageing of the emotional life the way you might treat the ageing of the body: As this biological, chemical and evolutionary process that happens to people.
I would rather think that elder happiness is an accomplishment, not a condition, that people get better at living through effort, by mastering specific skills.
I would like to think that people get steadily better at handling life’s challenges. In middle age, they are confronted by stressful challenges they cannot control, such as having teenage children. But, in old age, they have more control over the challenges they will tackle and they get even better at addressing them.
Aristotle teaches us that being a good person is not mainly about learning moral rules and following them. It is about performing social roles well — being a good parent, teacher, lawyer or friend.
IMPROVING WITH AGE
It is easy to think of some of the skills that some people get better at over time. First, there is bifocalism, the ability to see the same situation from multiple perspectives.
Dr Anthony Kronman of Yale Law School once wrote: “Anyone who has worn bifocal lenses knows that it takes time to learn to shift smoothly between perspectives and to combine them in a single field of vision. The same is true of deliberation. It is difficult to be compassionate, and often just as difficult to be detached, but what is most difficult of all is to be both at once.”
Only with experience can a person learn to see a fraught situation both close up, with emotional intensity, and far away, with detached perspective.
Then there is lightness, the ability to be at ease with the downsides of life. In their book, Lighter As We Go, Dr Jimmie Holland and Dr Mindy Greenstein argue that while older people lose memory, they also learn that most setbacks are not the end of the world. Anxiety is the biggest waste in life. If you know that you will recover, you can save time and get on with it sooner.
“The ability to grow lighter as we go is a form of wisdom that entails learning how not to sweat the small stuff , learning how not to be too invested in particular outcomes,” write Drs Holland and Greenstein.
Then there is the ability to balance tensions. In Practical Wisdom, Dr Barry Schwartz and Dr Kenneth Sharpe argue that performing many social roles means balancing competing demands.
A doctor has to be honest, but also kind. A teacher has to instruct, but also inspire. You cannot find the right balance in each context by memorising a rule book. This form of wisdom can only be earned by acquiring a repertoire of similar experiences.
Finally, experienced heads have intuitive awareness of the landscape of reality, a feel for what other people are thinking and feeling, an instinct for how events will flow.
In The Wisdom Paradox, Dr Elkhonon Goldberg details the many ways the brain deteriorates with age: Brain cells die, mental operations slow. But a lifetime of intellectual effort can lead to empathy and pattern awareness.
“What I have lost with age in my capacity for hard mental work, I seem to have gained in my capacity for instantaneous, almost unfairly easy insight,” Dr Goldberg writes.
It is comforting to know that, for many, life gets happier with age.
But it is more useful to know how individuals get better at doing the things they do.
The point of culture is to spread that wisdom from old to young; to put that thousand-year heart in a still young body.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
David Brooks, a New York Times columnist, is an author of several books.