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Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! October 7, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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“… I’m running out of time
And it’s up to me to try and meet my fate with a smile
And it might sound silly, but I still will try

To be joyful, joyful
Joyful and happy, sunny and bright
To be joyful, joyful
Joyful and happy, just being alive.”

– quoted from “Joyful” by X Ambassadors

In English, we often say that this moment is a gift, that’s why we call it the present. I usually add to that the fact that one’s presence is also a gift. Remember, no one is guaranteed anything more than this moment in time: right here, right now. When you consider that today didn’t even exist for some people back in 1582 – when Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, and places like the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar and, therefore, skipped 10 days (October 5 – 14) – it seems like a good time to ask, “How could I spend my time?” We could even phrase it like one of Leo Tolstoy’s “Three Questions” and ask, “What is the most important thing to do with the time that I’ve been given?”

As I mentioned in July, Tolstoy’s short story confirms that “now” is the most important moment and that the most important thing we can do, in any given moment, is to something good for the person or people around us. What if, however, we are only around ourselves? How can we do our self good? We can very quickly come up with any number of things we can do to “treat” ourselves, but science shows that one of the best things we can do is be happy.

I know, I know, even as we enter the last few days of Sukkot, “The Season of Happiness, “The Season of Happiness,” it can seem a little odd to think about being happy on command. The suggestion (and even this week’s classes and blog posts) can seem especially tone deaf when taken out of the religious context and just viewed through the lens of all the unfortunate and tragic things currently happening around and/or to us. Yet, consider for a moment that even in the midst of despair people experience happiness. Our definitions of happiness may be different – for some it may be an ecstatic kind of joy, for others it is “not being miserable,” and then there is everything in between – but the feeling of well-being, safety, and security is part of being human. Being happy, regardless of your definition, is part of being alive.

“I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. From the moment of birth, every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering. Neither social conditioning nor education nor ideology affect this. From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment.”

– Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama in July 2015

Science has shown that our propensity for happiness is based on a cocktail of genetics, personality, and attitude. That mixture of elements combined with our circumstances creates what was referred to by Drs. Philip Brickman and Donald T. Campbell as a “hedonic treadmill” (or “hedonic adaptation”), whereby as our circumstances change our expectations (and desires) also change – creating a baseline for happiness. Accordingly, research in positive psychology shows that regardless of how extreme an event is (e.g., we win the lottery or experience a debilitating accident) people return to their happiness baseline (or “hedonic set point”) in a relatively short period of time. We just need recover time.

During that recovery time there are, obviously, things that promote good mental, emotional, and physical health. For instance, eating well, sleeping, staying hydrated, and exercise are always recommended. So too is acceptance and gratitude. We may or not feel grateful for what has happened to us, but not being grateful for something is definitely detrimental. Furthermore, science has shown that even thinking about something for which we could be grateful is beneficial.

“So the whole point of that is not, sort of, to make, like, a circus thing of showing exceptional beings who can jump, or whatever. It’s more to say that mind training matters. That this is not just a luxury. This is not a supplementary vitamin for the soul. This is something that’s going to determine the quality of every instant of our lives. We are ready to spend 15 years achieving education. We love to do jogging, fitness. We do all kinds of things to remain beautiful. Yet, we spend surprisingly little time taking care of what matters most – the way our mind functions – which, again, is the ultimate thing that determines the quality of our experience.”

– quoted from a Ted2004 talk entitled “The Habits of Happiness” by Matthieu Ricard

Matthieu Ricard is a French Tibetan Buddhist monk who has served as a translator for the 14th Dalai Lama and has been called “the happiest man in the world.” He is one of the monks whose brain has been observed and studied to learn the clinical benefits of meditation. What researchers have learned about M. Ricard’s brain, however, is about more than just mindfulness. While hooked up to 256 electrodes, the brains of Matthieu Ricard and the other mediators indicated that even adult brains have some neuroplasticity and, therefore, can be changed. The research shows that we can not only change our brains; it shows that in doing so we can change our baseline for happiness.

M. Ricard equates changing one’s baseline for happiness to training for a marathon. It’s about pacing and using the appropriate techniques. In the documentary “A Joyful Mind,” Dr. Richard Davidson, a psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, states that brain scans indicate someone new to meditation can meditate 30 minutes a day over a 2-week period and see a change in brain activity. If you specifically want to change your baseline for happiness, one of the most effective “training techniques” is cultivating benevolent thoughts – like meditating on loving-kindness and compassion (which takes us right back to Tolstoy’s answer of “do that person good”). Another effective method for changing your happiness baseline is giving thanks.

“Western society commonly perceives happiness as the outcome of what you achieve and acquire….

Happiness is not a happening. Happiness is a state of mind. You can have everything in the world and still be miserable. Or you can have relatively little and feel unbounded joy.

The Talmud says:

‘Who is rich? The one who appreciates what he has.’ (Pirkei Avot 4:1)”

– quoted from “Way #27: Happiness” in 48 Ways to Wisdom by Rabbi Noah Weinberg

Please join me today (Wednesday, October 7th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (Look for “Sukkot 3”)

“Misconception #2: ‘If I become content and satisfied with what I have, I’ll lose my motivation to achieve more.’

Happiness doesn’t drain your energy. It adds more!

Ask a happy person: ‘I have a boat. Do you want to go fishing?’
He’ll say: ‘Great! Let’s go!’

Now ask someone who is depressed: ‘C’mon, let’s go fishing!’
He says, ‘I’m tired. Maybe tomorrow. And anyway, it might rain…’

Happy people are energetic and ambitious. There’s never enough time to do everything they want to do.”

– quoted from “Way #27: Happiness” in 48 Ways to Wisdom by Rabbi Noah Weinberg

### today, yesterday, the possibility of tomorrow ###