My friend posted this photo of himself on Facebook (yes, I got permission to use it..) with the comment “I swear, one day I will actually grow up. In the meantime …” 1456121_10102584665960503_629784259_n People started commenting “Yeah, never grow up..”, “Grownies are no FUN” etc. This just bugs me beyond believe. Displaying random silliness and not caring what others think about it, does not mean you are not grown up. On the contrary! And no, I don’t think never growing up is the coolest thing one can do.

Never wanting to grow up is the most ignorant and laziest life form there is.. Never wanting to grow up means not taking responsibility of your own life, it means not taking responsibility of your own emotions, it means not learning every day and growing every day.

Being an adult yet able to express childlike wonder, being able to be in the moment with so much presence only a child can muster, actually requires you to have grown up! It requires us to have gone through the motions of re-learning. We all get conditioned with “should be”, “must”, “have to”, “expected to”. We all get conditioned to worry about the future, most of us are shown how to ruminate in the past.

We have to GROW UP and re-learn, but this time with more understanding, rather than presence and innocence being the default state we are born with. Understanding our shadows, allowing and accepting all emotions and being able to let them be. Understanding we are not our emotions or our thoughts, understanding the wonders of life and the universe and therefore being able to be present like an innocent child.

I wish for a world where everyone takes the responsibility to grow up. For a world of love, innocence and silliness…

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Call me, if you care to keep in touch

We went from e-mail to text to Friendster to Facebook to Google+

Everywhere there are snippets of my friend’s lives

I comment on this picture or that activity

People text, because it’s convenient

You can just send that little snippet out there, but you don’t have to be present for the conversation

You can choose to respond or not

You can think about what smart thing to say

I believe in staying in touch IN PERSON, or, if that’s not possible at least in spoken word, on the phone

There is no safety net, no cushion of distance, that will protect you from awkward moments

Not knowing what to say, how to respond, fearing to ask

But being present with the conversation and not having that cushion is the only way to converse meaningfully

For every step down the technology ladder takes a bit of humanity away

Your conversation partner becomes a mere picture in your mind

Without their real emotions shown in facial expressions, body language, tone of voice

The latter is the last real bit we have in a phone conversation

Not an ideal replacement to face to face interaction, but at least a bit of a human connection,

that is uncensored, true and authentic

Text, e-mail, facebook.. lifeless letters on a page

Censored by your wish to appear cool, desirable, in control

If you want to stay in touch, call me, hang out with me…

The only way of true and authentic interaction

The beginning of the year I took part in a 9 week Stanford Study called “Cultivating Compassion”. The study was initiated by the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education and the idea is to find out whether specific compassion meditation will improve compassion in individuals.

Stanford Continuing Studies now offers a course on this subject. It is taught by my favorite professor Kelly McGonigal. The study session were led by her as well and I have known her from other Continuing Studies classes I attended at Stanford. I can only recommend both the subject matter as well as the teacher. In the continuing studies course she will probably combine the meditation practice with the scientific research studies on the subject.

I have taken her class The Science of the Calmed Mind a year and half ago and it was fabulous. She combined teaching different meditation practices with the latest research studies on meditation. I assume The Science of the Compassionate Mind will follow a similar structure.

Recently I went to a happiness conference at Stanford. A lot of great speakers were present, talking about numerous topics under the umbrella of Positive Psychology.

Happiness Within Reach I think was meant to say, that happiness is in reach for every human being. As described in my earlier post Are you happy, everyone has a “happiness set point”, however, we can increase that set point by changing our attitude and thoughts (not by buying cars, houses or achieving goals.. those are proven to only temporarily raise your set point of happiness by 10%, whereas we can influence about 40% by our attitude – Dr. Martin Seligman).

Many times things or achievements, that we think will make us happy, actually don’t. This happiness conference or Positive Psychology are also not about hedonistic behavior. In fact speakers at this conference talked about topics such as forgiveness, social connectedness, being of service, self compassion and acknowledging and being able to be with the entire range of emotions. However, happy people are said to get through set backs much faster.

Emma Seppala talked about belonging and connectedness being a fundamental human need, that increases psychological well-being as well as physical health. Whether we do have a feeling of connectedness and belonging is not by chance or dependent on external factors. We can very much influence it ourselves, as it is the perceived feeling of connectedness, it is an internal state, which we can control.

Kelly McGonigal gave a talk about self compassion. We often engage in self criticism and are harder on ourselves than others. Instead of listening to the “inner critic’s” voice or the voice of judgement, which can be linked to depression, eating disorders and anxiety, she suggests to write a one-paragraph letter to yourself about an upsetting situation. Think about what you would say to a friend in your position, or what a friend would say to you in this situation. You will realize, that we are often harder on ourselves, than we would be on a friend. Try to have understanding for your distress. Make sure this letter provides you with what you need to hear to feel nurtured and soothed.

Often we feel self compassion might make us weak, lose healthy self criticism and will have us drop our standards. Yet numerous studies show mostly positive results, which I will explore in a separate post to give this subject the deserved attention.

Another favorite speaker of this conference, whose afternoon workshop I attended, too, is Rick Hansen, who talked about the negativity bias of the brain. The human brain evolved from more primitive life forms and we still have 3 parts of the brain: the reptilian brain, the mammal brain (limbic system) and the Neocortex or human part of the brain.

The Triune Brain

The reptilian brain is wired to avoid hazards. Evolutionary that made a lot of sense, as we had to avoid predators and we had to constantly be on the watch to not become someone’s prey. In today’s world there are not that many predators, no tigers in the bay area, that might be hiding behind the bush.. However, the physiological responses to stress are still the same: cortisol is released into the bloodstream to provide a quick burst of energy, enhance immunity and lower pain sensitivity.

This is a good thing in case of a real threat, that we need to run away from or fight with. In the modern world though, we cannot run away from  or fight with the stressor, as it usually is not a tiger, but work related or emotional stress.

In order to re-train our brains from a negativity bias, always on the watch for threats and pitfalls, we have to focus on the positive, that tends to typically pass through the brain like water through a sieve, while the negative sticks to help us survive (although conditions have changed, the brain’s responses have not..).

Savoring positive emotions, being grateful, feeling connected are ways to increase the focus on the positive. Negative emotions do still have their place in today’s world as well of course: anxiety alerts us to inner and outer threats, Sorrow opens the heart, Remorse helps us steer a virtuous course, anger highlights mistreatment, energizes us to handle it (Rick Hansen, Feb. 12, 2011).

These were just my personal favorites and highlights of the conference, which offered so much more, that cannot be summarized into a short post.

Everyone would like to make their dreams come true, but we can’t always do it all alone. I am asking for 5 minutes of your time right now to check out my friend Sophis’ CD production project. You can click here to check it out.

Photo credit Ian Heimlich

Why, you might ask, would I care about someone else’s dream? Because if everyone helped each other out with little things, that do not have to cost much effort or money, the world would be a better place. And, because you would be making someone happy and research suggests happiness is contagious, so then if everyone helped to make someone happy, the happiness of that person will spread and then….. well, you get the idea…

To keep it short, I would like you to consider pledging $5 or more AND most importantly, forward this message to your friends to do the same, please! I’m not asking you to donate anything. A $5 pledge you will actually get access to video and photo updates on the progress of the record production as well as a digital copy of the final work!

So if you like the music, why not consider supporting grassroots production rather than having the big producers decide for us what we would like to hear? You can check out more about Sophis and listen to some of his tracks on his website. His music moves people in more than one sense…. it moves your heart and some songs will inevitable make your body move and get up and dance!

He is a fabulous performer, but most important of all he strikes me as someone honest and sincere, two traits I value most in people. His message comes from the heart, it’s not fake… Anyway, listen for yourself and please consider pledging or at least forwarding the message.

“All men who have achieved great things have been great dreamers.” – Orison Swett Marden.

By the way, my promotion of this project solely stems from my wish to help make a dream come true. The artist has nothing to do with this post, he created a lovely video for you, which you hopefully have checked out already. I encourage everyone to help friends or others in achieving their dream.

Hello Everyone… I know I am waaay overdue to submit another post.. I am working on it and it will be out soon. I am writing about attachment theory and what it has to do with compassion, so stay tuned….!

However, in the meantime I would like to let you know, that Stanford is offering its Choosing Happiness class again next semester! It is a great class for everyone who is interested in happiness and positive psychology. It is being taught by Laura Delizonna, who worked as a staff psychologist and was a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford’s School of Medicine. She received a PhD from Boston University.

I took this class a few years ago and my blog is in part inspired by it. It is largely based on Dr. Martin Seligman’s book Authentic Happiness, but Laura has developed her own “toolkit” of happiness habits. This coming semester it will be conducted on Wednesday evenings from 7:00 – 8:50 p.m. Take charge of your own happiness! I will also post about why I think pursuing ones happiness is not selfish or narcissistic… stay tuned!!!

There seem to be some people who are always happy while others have a bleaker outlook on life. We ask ourselves “Why is that?”.

For decades psychologists have only focused on mental disorders and how to better the lives of people affected. This is now changing. In the last decade or so a new movement, Positive Psychology, was born. Dr. Martin Seligman is one of the “forefathers” and an integral part of this new branch of psychology research.

Dr. Martin Seligman, Director of the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center

In his book Authentic Happiness Seligman talks about a Happiness Formula. He says Happiness is the sum of your Set range of happiness, the Circumstances of your life and factors under your Voluntary control.

H = S + C + V

He argues the set range of happiness of each person is genetically determined and makes up about 50%. This is based on twin studies, which I believe are referred to in the book. The circumstance in your life only make up about 10%, meaning whether you have that Ferrari or the bigger house or the yacht does only matter to a degree of 10% to your happiness.

That is, as long as basic human needs are covered of course. I’m sure you’ve heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Obviously, if you need money to put food in your mouth and a roof over your head, that percentage would probably be higher than 10%.  As soon as your basic needs are covered though, research suggests everything else matters only 10% with regards to one’s happiness. There are studies where lottery winners were interviewed, right after the win and at certain time intervals. Perceived happiness pretty much leveled back to what it was before, after the initial rush of course.

What makes all this really interesting though is not just the fact, that life’s circumstances only matter 10%, but the cool thing is that as per this formula about 40% are under our voluntary control! I find that fascinating! Now, one can argue how Seligman came up with the percentages. His arguments are based on research studies though and even if it were less than 40%: the fact, that anything is in our voluntary control with regards to how happy we are, is quite a promising statement.

Why does it matter to be happy you may ask… Well, research suggests, that happy people are more successful. Happier people are typically in a loving relationship and have more social connections. Though there is no research investigating the causal effect here yet… (are you happy, because you have many social connections or do you have them, because you are happy…??), I think striving for more happiness is good for the individual as well as for his or her surroundings, as happiness spreads among social networks.

Here is what Dr. Martin Seligman has to say about this:

” We’ve learned in 10 years that happy people are more productive at work, learn more in school, get promoted more, are more creative and are liked more. ” – Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D

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