Mankind has put science to use in lots of ways. Science has made us stronger and healthier, it’s taken us to the moon and beyond, it’s given us this chicken/fries/bowl/cup/straw combo. But one could argue that it’s still being underused in the most important pursuit of all; making us happy.
Inc.com brings us a list of 10 keys to happiness. Each is backed by scientific research demonstrating its effectiveness and most are things that you could put into practice today. So what are you waiting for? Although personally, being able to eat chicken and fries whilst drinking my favourite beverage is all the happiness I need.
As somebody who grew up with the original Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day, I never really had much choice but to love Bill Murray, but it’s reading things like this Rolling Stone piece about him that really underlines why he’s so wonderful. If anybody illustrates the principle of Wu Wei (effortless doing), it’s Bill. Take this story about a promotional film Bill shot:
In 2011, Murray filmed a promotional video for the Trident Academy near Charleston; one of his six sons was a student there. (Murray has been married and divorced twice.) Director David W. Smith was working on the shoot. “He came in hot and a little grumpy,” Smith says. “He was about 30 minutes late, and he complained that there were too many lights. He had a script, but he sat down in the school library and ad-libbed the whole thing. He got all these teddy bears and had a conversation with them. We’re looking at each other – this guy is off-his-face crazy – but there was a method to his madness.”
Murray loosened up as he played basketball with the school’s kids, and stuck around for lunch (his request: a tuna sandwich with no crusts), ultimately signing autographs and taking pictures. Smith recalls, “As the shoot went on, he became more and more like the guy that everyone thinks they know, which I guess is who he actually is.” Smith asked Murray if he would walk down the hall with the crew members so they could make a short film of it. Murray was confused, but he complied – when the camera cut, he kept walking, heading to his car without breaking stride.
The piece is filled with anecdotes about the weird and wonderful life of Bill Murray. He looks like he’s just messing around, but I really think he’s got something figured out.
“What if we could watch entire lives as they unfold through time? What if we could study people from the time that they were teenagers all the way into old age?”
That’s the question that Robert Waldinger wanted to answer when he became the director of the The Harvard Study of Adult Development. For seventy-five years this study has tracked every aspect of the lives of seven hundred and twenty-four men in painstaking detail. Their work, their home lives, their health, everything, all in the hopes of better understanding what are the components of a life well lived.
Maybe it will surprise you and maybe it won’t, but the lessons learned from all of these years, from the tens of thousands of pages of notes and hours of interviews, aren’t about wealth or fame. They aren’t about working harder and harder. They’re about the people we have in our lives:
The clearest message that we get from this seventy-five year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.
Most of us hope for some degree of wealth and success throughout our lives. Maybe we dream about being famous or influential. There’s nothing wrong with these goals of course, the tragedy is that so many of us pursue them at the expense of the one thing that is most likely to bring us true happiness.
We all spend at least some of our time searching for a sense of belonging. The roots of this instinct are deep within us, born in time when being alone was a serious threat to our survival.
Today, loneliness is still lethal, just not as immediately, but many of our feelings of loneliness are based on a misconception of what it means to belong.
In the divide world we live in, we’re often told that we belong in groups of people who look like us. Who share our gender or nationality or skin colour. Belonging is too often based on these secondary characteristics rather than the primary fact that we’re all human beings. We all want love, we all want happiness, we’re all capable of giving these things to other people given the opportunity.
Here, Sebene Selassie writes for Ten Percent Happier about how she came to gain a deeper understanding of the nature of belonging:
Belonging is my nature: therefore, I belong everywhere and so does everyone else.
Including you. Yes, you—with all your history, anxiety, pain. Yes, everywhere—in every culture, community, circumstance. You belong in this body. You belong in this very moment. You belong in this breath . . . and this one. You have always belonged.
When you don’t like the joke, you belong. When you’re the “only one” of your race, disability, or sexuality, you belong. When you feel hurt or when you have hurt someone else, you belong. When you are down to your last dollars and the rent is due, you belong. When you feel overwhelmed by the horrors of human beings, you belong. When you have a debilitating illness, you belong. When everyone else is getting married, you belong. When you don’t know what you’re doing with your life, you belong. When the world feels like it’s falling apart, you belong. When you feel you don’t belong, you belong.
Most of us go through life feeling like we’re in control. That we can choose freely from the options presented in life and make those choices according to our conscious feelings at that time. But this isn’t actually the case.
The vast majority of our behaviour is governed by the firs, habits and instincts of our subconscious mind. All things we have very little conscious control over, and need to expend significant conscious effort to change.
Aligning the desires of our subconscious mind with those of our conscious mind is considered to be the defining task of our lives according to psychologists like Jung. But there’s a problem; most of us are unaware of what those desires are:
Practices like dreamwork, hypnosis, meditation, visualisation and shamanic healing techniques, are all effective ways to bring the murky underworld of the subconscious to light. Because the subconscious often includes unresolved aspects of our personality, these practices can help us integrate these shadowy parts of ourselves, so that we can live a more fulfilled and equanimous life.
Why are we unkind to ourselves? Where does that voice that tells us that we’re not good enough or that we’re weak or stupid come from? That is truly the million dollar question. Indeed, many people have become millionaires by claiming that they have the answer.
But maybe it hasn’t come from anywhere. Maybe it’s just something that we’ve learned, the same way we learned to speak or to ride a bike. And when we learned it, it became similarly difficult to forget:
Children fluently pick up incredibly complex patterns of speech from listening to this around them ini the early years. A parallel emotional process is going on. If someone when we were little was speaking hate and shame and guilt to us, we will have started to speak like that ourselves. And it won’t be easy in adulthood to learn a new language. Let alone to come to speak it fluently to ourselves.
As The School Of Life suggests in the video above, the way to quiet this voice is to learn a new way to speak to ourselves. We can learn this language by listening to different messages around us. Messages that tell us that we’re valuable, that we’re worthy of respect, that we’re worthy of love.
But unlike when we were children, we can also learn this new language through our own study. We don’t need to only listen to those around us and absorb what they say, we can think about how the messages we receive apply to us. We can be intelligent about which we accept and which we decide we’d rather not have become a part of our vocabulary.
A huge part of our self image is forged when we’re too young to do anything about it. We’re moulded by the thoughts and actions of the people around us ways that are far too complex for us to understand. But part of learning to love ourselves is learning that we now have the power to mould ourselves. It won’t be easy, neither was learning to ride a bike.
We could all use a little wisdom now and then, so 68 pieces feels like we’re being spoiled. In honour of his 68th birthday, Kevin Kelly brings us 68 morsels of wisdom that he’s picked up over the years.
It’s positively brimming with things I wish I’d know 20 years ago like:
Learn how to learn from those you disagree with, or even offend you. See if you can find the truth in what they believe.
Everyone is shy. Other people are waiting for you to introduce yourself to them, they are waiting for you to send them an email, they are waiting for you to ask them on a date. Go ahead.
And of course, the truly indispensable:
Don’t trust all-purpose glue.