The face of happiness was not in the mirror on Wednesday.
A cold, which I thought I defeated, came bounding back, both the cause and beneficiary of many hours of lost sleep. Because Tuesday saw some exciting developments in my happiness work, my mind was also very busy that night, leaping from idea to idea rather than settling into slumber.
Oh, yeah, and then there was that cup of coffee … espresso … sometime around 3:00 in the afternoon. I wanted that latte, so I convinced myself that this time the caffeine wouldn’t keep me awake …
All in all, Wednesday was not a good morning.
Which brings me to the topic of integrating our happiness efforts — body, mind, and spirit are all involved in this endeavor. Wednesday was an effective reminder that an unhappy body is a big hurdle for mind and spirit to overcome in their quest for a happy day.
I was also reminded of an Aspen Ideas Festival video I watched last week, a fascinating discussion on the neuroscience of happiness (http://www.aifestival.org/session/new-neuroscience-happiness). Kent Berridge, a neuroscientist who focuses on the brain’s pleasure centers, asked, what’s the difference between wanting and liking?
I know I wanted that latte, and liked it in the moment — but I didn’t like it much the next day! Perhaps a note to my brain might help avoid future replays? “Dear Pleasure Center, please remember, no lattes in the afternoon. Thanks for your cooperation!”
Speaking of brains (you can interpret that on multiple levels), Martin Seligman was on another Aspen panel, focused on increasing individual happiness levels (http://www.aifestival.org/session/improving-happiness-through-personal-practice). Seligman, one of the most prominent positive psychology researchers, shared four different practices to encourage a happier brain. I’ve started one of these practices; each night before going to bed, I write down three good things from my day and my role in making them happen. The idea is to cultivate optimism. My friend Liz Snell told me she’s been doing something similar for years — she calls it the TADA! list. Now it’s my TADA! list, too.
On the panel with Seligman was Matthieu Picard, who some happiness experts consider the happiest man on earth. Picard definitely radiated well being, compassion, and joy in his presentation on spiritual practices to build happiness. His focus was on a dedicated, consistent compassionate meditation practice to build deep reserves of internal happiness. “It’s like watering a plant,” Picard observed. To paraphrase, he said, you have to give the plant small doses of water regularly. You can’t just pour large amounts of water on the plant once in a while and expect it to live.
I’m begun practicing a loving kindness meditation daily. I expect to write some time later about how my attempts at building happiness are working.
Wait there’s more … We also need to integrate our happiness with the world around us. This could perhaps be the toughest nut of all to crack. That latte … was it fair trade? Probably, in this case, yes — but how often are our seemingly simple pleasures bought at someone else’s expense? It is a given for me that my pursuit of happiness should not lead to unhappiness for others, but I guess a) that’s a lot easier said than done and b) not everyone gives a hoot.
My eyes were opened to the morality of happiness thanks to yet another Aspen presenter, moral philosopher Sissela Bok (http://www.aifestival.org/session/new-history-happiness). I was so intrigued, I got a copy of her book Exploring Happiness: From Aristotle to Brain Science to dig a little deeper.
So, we need to integrate our mind, body, and spirit in the pursuit of happiness. And, we need to integrate our personal pursuits with those around us, near and far — because, really, how could we possibly experience enduring happiness in isolation?
Last Wednesday, when I felt so sick, I walked the 100 yards from my house to the general store, which was out of chicken noodle soup! My neighbor Kathleen Landry was at the store at the same time and saw my distress. She brought me a can of soup from her house — one of those simple yet profound actions that no doubt gave us each a happiness boost.
Writ large and small, we’re all in this together — all our body parts, and all of us bodies.