Monday, December 16, 2013

Creating a Happy Life with a Compassionate, Wise Inner Being

"Entrusted" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
I've been paying quite a lot of attention to Paul Gilbert's Compassion Focused Therapy work in the UK this past week.  One thing that really stood out was a reference to some developmental work on altruism that Warneken and Tomasello have done.  The amazing thing is their videos on YouTube clearly show infant pleasure when being able to offer up acts of generosity and kindness to others.  Paul Gilbert suggests that we do actually get great delight when we can access that compassionate, wise part of ourselves that seems to be there from a very early age.

Actually Gilbert and others say that the affiliative activities involved in altruism and kindness are hard wired, that they are part of our primate brain.  When under stress though, we totally lose sight of this part of ourselves, and fall back on to the more primitive parts of the brain.  Modern life being what it is, culture making its increasingly strident demands on us, we tend to stay in the stressed out, more primitive mode a lot more than our ancestors ever did.  But when we are give a chance, we thrive on acts of kindness.

Here's an interesting video from Christine Carter and Kelly Corrigan where they discuss the growing materialism with kids and holidays.  It's worth a watch!

So if we take Gilbert's ideas along with Warneken and Tomasello's research, then we need to find ways to help ourselves and our children access the compassionate, wise, generous, affiliative part of our brains in order to have a happy life.  For example, Carter and Corrigan talk about taking toys to a homeless shelter, and distributing them.  But what if, instead, they were to take simple art making activities to a shelter and create a little art making workshop for the folks in the shelter.  I guarantee all would have a great time.  Especially if you are making some simple like sock puppets.  Then all participants have the pleasure of playing and working together, but they also have a toy they have made themselves.  How great would that be?

So that would be my #21 way to have a happy life, find a way to create some fun with others, and make sure to engage the affiliative part of the brain.

#22 is related.  One of Paul Gilbert's ideas is about creating compassionate image for you to work with and develop.  The more I read about this the more excited I got.  This is exactly what the folks I worked with in NYC did, in creating a Wise Old Woman character and puppet.  She embodied the groups' inner compassionate and wise beings.  (You can read more about the experience here.)  Everyone in the group, including therapists, projected all kinds of wonderful wisdom and good things like feeling cared for and cared about on to the Wise Old Woman.  She was loaded with the qualities that Gilbert says is so important: Wisdom, Strength, Warmth and Nonjudgement.

My #22 of 1000 ways to have a happy life would be to work on the Wise Old Woman and Gilbert's compassionate character some more, in my art and art journaling.  (Can't wait!)

Want more on holiday gifts?  Try the Minimalists.  Excellent ideas! (And thank you Huyen for pointing that one out!) 

Have a happy holiday and a happy life!  You all deserve that!

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Eleven More Ways to Have a Happy Life

"Beautiful Frolicsome Things" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
(Well, I must say, this is a fun task I seem to have taken on!)

So one of today's ways to have a happy life (#10 of a thousand) has to do with hugs and Dr. Paul Zak's "love molecule."  He believes we need 8 hugs a day to release the daily requirement of Oxytocin.  You can see a great interview with Rick Hanson here.  Nice, right?

I watched another one of these Rick Hanson videos (see below), with James R. Doty (neurosurgeon among other things) and WOW!  But in case you don't have time to watch the video, he describes his rather dire childhood and youth with an alcoholic father and suicidal, invalid mother.  He and his siblings were on life paths that could be called unhappy to the extreme.  His siblings didn't survive their life paths, in fact.  But James had an amazing experience when he was thirteen.  He walked into a magic shop when the owner was away.  The owner's mother was there, visiting for 6 weeks.  They got to chatting and she told James if he came back every day for the next six weeks she would teach him some things that could change his life.  He could sense her genuine concern and compassion for him, so he came back.  What she taught him was based on Eastern religion; meditation,  mindfulness training, visualization, a kind of positive psychology and some self-hypnosis techniques.  What he was able to to with these tools was amazing.

At the end of these interviews Rick Hanson always asks what one thing could viewers put into practice that would change everything for them and maybe for the world if enough people practiced it.  James said he has a little list of words he goes through every day, an alphabetical mnemonic, based on the letters C - L.  So these words will be #11- 20 of a thousand ways to have a happy life.

11. C- Compassion (show yourself and others compassion today)
12. D- Dignity (treat everyone you meet with dignity)
13. E- Equanimity (remember to use equanimity in your relationships)
14. F- Forgiveness (try forgiving someone today)
15. G- Gratitude (remember at least one thing you can be grateful for today)
16. H- Humility (try humility in your interactions today and see what happens)
17. I- Integrity (act with integrity)
18. J- Justice (encourage justice where ever you can)
19. K- Kindness (practice some kindness today)
20. L- Love (and of course if you practice all of the above you will be more loving and more likely to have a happy life)

And here's the video in case you have time for it:

Monday, December 02, 2013

Relax, Socialize and Be Happy (#'s 8 & 9 of a thousand ways to have a happy life)

"Tea Party" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
What I like most about searching out 1,000 ways to have a happy life is that I'm starting to realize what a complicated concept happiness really is... and how interesting... and it feels good to know that our happiness is really within our reach, that we really can have a happy life.

One of the big sources of unhappiness and discomfort in our lives is stress.  Our sympathetic nervous system gets all in an uproar and our cortisol production goes up.  We tend to feel like stuff is out of control.  And of course then as we try harder to assert control on things, we get even more stressed.  But there are things we can do.   #'s 8 and 9 of a thousand ways to have a happy life follow.

#8.  Over on they have some interesting research by "sound therapists," rating songs in terms of how relaxing they are and they've posted ten of the most relaxing songs, with Marconi Union's "Weightless", coming out on top.  They have the whole song for you to listen to,   with its continuous rhythm of 60 BPM, which they say is an ideal tempo for synchronization with the heart and brainwaves.  I gave it a listen, and I'm thinking I need to look into the album for my further study in having a happy life.

#9. Then there's neuro-scientist Matthew Lieberman, who has this great TedTalk about our social brain and it's superpowers.  If you watch it, I guarantee you will feel happy and hopeful!  He talks about the importance of building on our social intuition, how we can actually make ourselves smarter, happier, and more productive.  He describes groundbreaking research in social neuroscience that reveals that our need to connect with others is even more fundamental than our need for food or shelter.  Pretty basic, and it has to do with our long period of dependency on caretakers.

He also also talked about the fact that the social pain and pleasure we experience has just as much impact as physical pain and pleasure.  (In fact he can't tell the difference between MRI's of social pain or physical pain, suggesting we could take a Tylenol if we are suffering from social pain.) 

He points out that we learn better if we are learning in order to share with others, as apposed to learning in order to pass a test.  The social part of the brain is actually better at retaining information than the analytical part of the brain. 

He ends his talk with the importance of social connections as a predictor of future happiness that our happiness and well being is actually based on our social connections.  Although our culture values material goods and money over social connections, research and personal experience teaches us the truth, that our happiness is connected to our ability to connect. 

Here's a nice little happy social brain stimulating video.