A week of filling up, of mind blowingly awesome information, of incredible moments of connection and the most amazing speakers. I am not doing it any justice, but a week at the Happiness and its’ Causes conference has left me brimming to the point of overflow.
Bring together the worlds leading experts in neuroscience, positive psychology and add in the likes of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and you are bound to be in for an interesting ride. And that we were. Learning about the potential of the mind and the ability to transform the mind is something I love. The science has caught up with the buddhists and the yogis’ and now we know the brain is plastic. So what does that actually mean? That we have the potential to change. Our mind and our patterns are changeable.
Our potential is infinite.
I don’t even know where to begin to capture the learnings from the week – from the micro moments of connection we can experience that allow us to build and broaden our positive emotions (Barbara Fredickson) to the ability of each of us to treat every human being with loving kindness (His Holiness the Dalai Lama) to the amazing work being done in schools to encourage children to be more compassionate. It was all pretty incredible and inspiring to see the research, but for me the real juice is the the outcomes of some of this work.
Perhaps the greatest thing for me to reflect on was the difference between hedonic happiness (think pleasure seeking and instant gratification and what you get from the world ) v’s eudaimonic happiness (derived from meaning and purpose and what you give to the world). We are so condition in the west to focus on the pursuit of hedonic happiness, build a career, buy a house, get a bigger car, tv, go on a holiday. Even in the wellbeing world you see the examples of “drink a green smoothie and find your happiness” – sure we all need to eat well, but does it really bring true long lasting happiness? A careful balance of nutrition, exercise and a good nights sleep certainly help. They can hinder you if not in balance in your other search for happiness in fact. But the core of the eudaimonic happiness, the deep sense of connection and meaning and purpose, comes not from the green smoothie or 5km run, it doesn’t come from the walk in nature or the snuggle in your lovers arms. It comes from a place that is driven by needs that are not your own. It comes from being of service to others, of giving rather than taking, of developing loving kindness and sincere compassion for other sentient beings.
It is not what we were are taught, hell it is not what it is even remotely valued in our world. But yet, the number of people that seemingly have it all, still seem to find a sense of discontent, of feeling not enough, that they want more. And there is the rest of us, that accept that we will never have it all and resign ourselves to feeling that this IS it, and we may as well suck it up and get on with it. But what if we could find true happiness, true joy, true purpose and meaning. By serving others instead of ourselves, could we perhaps get a taste of the goodness? I am not saying we all need to give up our day jobs and become Mother Teresa, but perhaps there is small ways that we can be more focused on the needs of others and developing loving kindness to our fellow sentient beings. So next time you are stuck in traffic and pissed that the guy in front didn’t let you in, or that cashier at the check out seems to be taking forever, or your favourite cafe stuffed up your coffee order, stop for a moment and think of the other person, send them some love, for whatever is going on for them right now, a bit of love never hurt anybody. And just notice how it might shift your focus, your day, and hey, the world might just be a better place if we stopped thinking I and me and started thinking we and us.