Wednesday, 14 April 2010

DAY 40!! WHOOP!

OH jeeez!!! I can't believe it's over. It's been emotional guys.

This question of happiness - the science, the philosophy, the politics, and the whole crackpot industry making heaps of cash. 40 blog posts ago I had no fricking idea it was such a steaming pile of unbelievably fascinating baloney.


I have delved through the annals of self-help frivolity, wept in despair at new-age tripe, indulged in hedonism, escapism, and absurdism, fallen in love with elements of Buddhism and meditation, and paddled in the shallows of philosophical thought so mind-bendingly abstract my brain will never be the same again. But that's fine, because pretty soon there'll be a pill for that.

Events last year tore into every part of my life with such speed and INSANELY detrimental consequences. Everything I had held so dear ripped away and squashed beneath 5 pairs of faux-vintage brogues. It not only created the holy mama of tectonic shifts but manifested into the proverbial albatross about my self to fly ad infinitum. BUT, in a wonderfully twisted fashion, it did me a tremendous favour. To experience indescribable joy followed by earth-shattering pain and loss cast light on Those Who Matter, Those Who Don't, and fundamental realisation I was not and am not destined to while away my days in a riddled industry chasing butterflies....

The mad and bad philosopher Nietzsche, when not ranting like a madman and busily chastising Descartes, asked some pretty basic questions about values and truth. 'What really is it in us that wants the truth?' he asked! I don't know!! You tell me... well, partly, he did... We - you, me, and Gretchen - operate in the faith of antithetical values. Or series of opposites. SO truth vs. falsity, good vs. evil AND just throwing it in there, happiness vs. sadness. RIGHT. Nietzsche was generally not au-fait with such dogma and cast aside the polar opposites. Yep, don't worry if it's false or not - that's not the point - instead look for what is life-advancing, life-preserving, species-preserving.

He urged for an enjoyment of the frivolities in life, alongside the basic human determination not to be blind to 'what is really going on'. Above all, we are the creators of our values.

Not entirely sure where I stand on using ol'Niet as a font of advice for happiness... his was not a controversy-free or care-free life. Neither, I'm sure is this the most profound scholarly take on his musing... but I don't care, essentially it's all building up to Your Life and You're in Control. As much as I might DESPAIR at the relentless lists, talk of 'finding' happiness, promises of wealth, health, and perky breasts, happiness as a product shipped out to the commercially saturated masses... if it works for someone who am I to complain.

AND to conclude:

"If the world had any ends, British Honduras would certainly be one of them. It is not on the way from anywhere to anywhere else" Aldous Huxley

Happiness is British Honduras. Ha! Which is ironic, because British Honduras doesn't exist, per se. It's now Belize. Happiness is Belize.

Oh and a big thanks to Aymee Coget for being the first to write back. Kudos to you, Co Jjay. C'mon Gretch, I know you Google yourself...

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Day 39 Living in the Moment

PENULTIMATE BLOG! Almost there. I have taken great liberty with the 40 day time frame but hey, I've a (happy, positive, fulfilled) life to be leading! I also suspect a faint whiff of reluctance for this to end...


So before I wrap this whole shebang of a blog up and this corner of the virtual world can breathe a huge sigh of relief, I will indulge one last time. Sob. YEP! It's time, once again, for the oh-so-slovenly, impetuous assessment by yours truly of an American motivational speaker. I have fallen in love with them all. I also love how, in American legal terms, cases are referred to as US vs. xyz case. (Is it all cases or just the significant ones? Don’t know, don't care, bored of Googling). Which bring me to...


Rachel vs. Aymee Coget.


Where to begin! Firstly, please enlighten me as to what is wrong with AMY? Clearly a tad conscious of all things name related, Aymee begins her biography with 'Coget (pronounced Co jjayy)'. Oh purlease! Bow down to the Great Lord of Etymology. Co jjayy? Anyhoo, Aymmeeee Co Jjayy has devoted her entire life to heping MILLIONS of people live happier lives. Are you counting Aymee? I do hope so. Aymee's work in 'sustainable happiness' is 'being recognised as ground breaking'. Well that's a first... I've studied sustainable heritage, am acquainted with sustainable forestry for example, but wowsa, sustainable happiness. That's a new 'un.


Aymee is an author in a book series called 'Thank God I'. All titles within the series focus on achieving gratitude in the face of adversity. Aymee's particular story is - seriously - 'Thank God I was fat, ugly, poor, divorced, and live in chronic pain'. Catchy little title. SO, having hit the Treacherous Rocks of Bottom, Aymee embraced her inner happiness and set forth to get rich.


Aymee's website lists some intriuging tesitmonials. "I would recommend Aymee's Happiness Makeover (trademark) to the world". "Aymee must be another word for Angel" Err no. Aymee must be another RANDOM word for AMY.


Not only is Aymee super talented at making millions of people happy (and quite possibly super talented at making millions, full stop), she is also a Crystal Adult. Aymee wanted to know why she was 'different from the norm' by having such a clear focused goal in life. Apparently she is part of a generation born under the term Crystal and has a lavender aura. I can't be bothered to read the extensive list of crazy new-age attributes to what, exactly, a Crystal Adult is but I will provide a little taster:


When a Crystal looks at you, you feel as if they have penetrated your very soul.


Aymee's blog is littered with testimonials broken by the odd snippet of happiness advice. One, for example, features a photo of Aymee rather seductively eying up the camera... OH NO wait, my mistake, looking into my very soul. The post is about Living in the Moment. SO many people ask Aymee how she does it! Well folks, brace yourselves, here's a handy tip


If you notice yourself preoccupied with something in the past or future that is not an "action item" (???), then reel back your thinking like a fishing rod so you can be back in the moment.


Oh wonderful! The proverbial fishing rod of mental dexterity.


Aymee, thank you. As a final bow to the Great Gods of American Self-Help, you are up there with the best of them. I am going to spend my day using that ol' mental fishing rod and revel in the present moment... not that moment, nope too late. THIS moment right now... oh no, missed it again TOO GODDAMN SLOW. I will get every possible 'morsel of experience, thinking, or learning, whatever that moment has to offer' and let you know how I get on...



Saturday, 10 April 2010

Day 38 All About Laughter

I'd love to say I'm getting progressively closer to forming an opinion on what Happiness is, but I'm not. Neither am I shedding cynicism about the Happiness Industry.


The concept of a state of happiness is a nebulous, indefinable entity. Even that description in itself is a definition and up for debate. You can view the industry as a movement, or, as I prefer, a large ice-cream sundae. Lay the chocolate brownie foundations of philosophical musings – as equally questionable and up for scrutiny as the other layers. Yes Nietzsche, Kant, Mill and Bentham (JUST BURY YOURSELF BENTHAM)… no shelter under the fa├žade of profundity for you. Top with lashings of party political ice-cream nonsense about increasing happiness levels (happy people take less sick days = better for the economy. That's all folks), positive psychology theorizing, and add the caramel sauce of scientific testing to ooze between the layers. Finally, top with a frothy, creamy layer of fiscally motivated charlatans and self-appointed self-help gurus.


Indulge whilst gazing over the incessant photos of creepy looking middle aged men beaming their faces off (yes, you, Martin Seligman) and the Queen’s of Positivity struggling SO GODDAMN HARD to shift those botox’d wrinkles into something remotely smile-like (ahem, Louise Hay. And you know it’s coming Gretchen Rubin. If it hasn’t already. I can’t tell. Which probably means it has but by a very expensive New York surgeon)


Yep, for the most part, it is self-serving, egotistical nonsense. I will eat a self-help book, page by page, if I meet someone who successfully lives by Five Golden Rules To Happiness. HOWEVER, what I am beginning to see are the distinct lines of separation between this concept of happiness and that of well-being and peace of mind. Something I will spare you for now and save for Day 40!


ANYHOO. Back to the treacle topping of scientific studies. Day 38 is all about laughter.


As I am reliably informed by Bupa's Crack-Commando Health Information Team (I elaborate), laughter protects the heart by expanding blood vessels and improving blood flow. It boosts the immune system by increasing the amount of immunoglobulins (when they're not fighting Frodo in the fields of Mordor) that fight infection. Laughter reduces pain, reduces stress, reduces allergic responses, controls blood sugar levels, and lifts your mood. I love the comment after the final point - 'even if you have to force yourself to laugh'. I'm also particularly fond of their use of the words 'chuckle' and 'gaffaw'.


So a sunny day of laughing for me.



Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Day 37 Accepting Your Lot


I'm not a natural runner... or indeed, naturally good at anything remotely sports-related other than drunken darts. And I'm not even very good at that. So maybe if you're a natural runner, running makes you happy. Personally, it causes pain, stiff limbs, a blinding reminder of my innate clumsiness and a notable lack of running fashion sense. Holey leggings and an ancient Dire Straits t-shirt do not a sexy jogger make.

So, not only am I missing out on the heady cocktail of endorphins, I don’t even reach a blissful state of contentment whilst running. But it’s got me thinking about what the hell this inner peace malarkey; concept of contentment is that I’m blabbering on about? Who knows?! A brain-rotting side effect of 37 days exposed to the Happiness Industry? IS it reaching an emotional state of satisfaction, the veritable oasis of tranquility? OR plain old Accepting Your Lot? From what I can gather, it's not 'fighting' with yourself... it’s finding a balance, changing perspectives, realising that you're in control of your own boundaries, expectations blah SOMEONE BRING ME A PEN there's a superfluous self-help novel in this girl yet.


I love the phrase 'accepting your lot'... it makes me think of old 'uns, berating the yoof of today for craving iPods and laptops and violent films and e-numbers when in their day a cardboard box was more than sufficient fodder for entertainment. YOU KNOW IT. Accepting your lot. That acceptance is appropriate falls dangerously close to fatalism or defeatism, but I can't face delving into the isms right now. SO instead, I found a survey. WOOHOO! MATHS.


A while ago, I mentioned the BBC Happiness Formula program. As part of this, GfK NOP (what a catchy little name!) carried out a Happiness Survey and compared the results to a similar study in 1957. It would seem, broadly speaking, that Britain is less happy than in the 1950s, despite the fact we are three times richer. So wealth doesn't buy you happiness. But increased wealth is a product of what? Capitalism and consumerism? The more wealth we get the more we want? Ergo, less happy with the lot? Could I be asking any more questions in today’s blog? Is it simply that in post-war Britain they were so bloody grateful to not be at war, wealth and materialism didn't even get a look-in?


The rest of the questionnaire isn't tremendously groundbreaking. Social relationships, escaping the pace of modern life, a sense of community, being healthy all contribute towards higher levels of happiness. But to what definition of happiness? To what degree can an essentially subjective entity be assessed within the parameters of a survey? OK I'LL STOP. Today will be all about accepting ones lot and being content. YEP for 24 hours I'm not going to complain about anything. At all. Ahem.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Day 36 The Work Out

Ok as predicted, Easter weekend + detox = fail. Not a massive fail, but no resounding detoxifying success either. I do, however, like yoga.


So thus far, in the 36 days of Happiness, I am particularly fond of Absurdism, Buddhism, and yoga. Any similarities? Ignoring the rather anomalous first philosophy, the other two share calming, meditative states. Don't know about you, but this personally conjures up illusions of softly lit rooms, wafting scents of, err, lavender (??), and generally a vegetative (lazy) state. BUT ALAS! Apparently one of the most effective ways to achieve a meditative state is running.


Yep, I've avoided it until now. But here goes... EXERCISE. That blissfully sedentary lifestyle coupled with 'quick-fix' happiness solutions (more chocolate/wine/episodes of Come Dine With Me, yes please) just doesn't compare to an exercise regime (or regimen according to Our Friends across the pond) for long-term happiness. Apparently. Surely this is debatable.


RIGHT... so stress, anger, fear, and anxiety all produce cortisol, a hormone capable of extreme organ-damaging naughtiness if too intense. Exercise saunters in and gobbles it all up. As equally neurologically excellent, exercise nudges the ol' pituitary gland in the brain to release endorphins. Truly the great party animal of hormone molecules, endorphins shimmy through their hedonistic mission by quite literally parking on receptors and blocking the transmission of pain signals. All in all creating a wonderfully euphoric feeling.


It would seem such euphoria is elusive... to achieve the 'runner's high' and sudden release of endorphins you have to achieve anaerobic exertion. Basically, deprive your body of oxygen through such jovial activities as heavy weightlifting or sprinting, until your muscles are literally screaming their (puny, in my case) heads off for you to stop, chill out, and crack open a diet coke.


Either way, here we go. I haven't been for a run since I fell over (two weeks ago? Probable cause: tripping over my own feet). Much blood and bruising later, my knees are more than ready for the usual onslaught around the canals of Hackney and it is nothing but laziness holding me back. I'll stick with running for now but I'm mildly excited at the thought of combining this with early blog musings on Kriss Akabusi (MBE, by the way) and Mr. Motivator. 80's style leotard anyone?


Saturday, 3 April 2010

Day 35 Yogic Calm


So it would seem the infallible Gretchen Rubin (Day 27) has done a hop skip and a salutation pose across the pond. In Grazia magazine this week, Gretch has two pages dedicated to What Really Makes Us Happy.


I'm intrigued, firstly, by the photos. Polaroid 'snapshots' of Gretchen's wedding, house in the Hamptons, at home with the kids, and someone doing a yoga position. I say someone because I'm not entirely convinced it's Gretchen herself. Despite all the other pics depicting the Queen of Happiness, this one is p'haps incongruously featuring a slightly younger, more tanned being in white underwear by an infinity pool. But hey! Taking liberties with body doubles would no doubt bring me joy so who am I to comment.


ANYWAY. The article is pretty much along the same lines as her book. Gretchen has A Perfect Life and was Happy BUT in a moment of blinding enlightenment on a bus decided to become More Happy. Happiness just wasn't enough!! Oh no.


The article provides a bit more of an insight into Gretchen's campaign for happiness. For example, I have now discovered that to 'Expand her mind' Gretchen went to drawing class. Furthermore, due to the rather ambiguous statistic that people who have fun are 20 times as likely to feel happy, Gretchen started a children's book club. Because of course that's fun (my idea of a bloody nightmare). OH and prepare yourself for earth-shattering profundity - because 'a contented, positive attitude is so much better for happiness than a negative one’; Gretchen learned to 'admire' her friend's love of Barry Manilow.


Rest assured, Gretchen's Positivity Mission is still as deep as a puddle. However, in a vain attempt to cast aside my cynicism, I'm going to mull over one of her 'commandments' today:


To be happier, you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad and feeling right in an atmosphere of growth


I'm also going to muse on the ideological implications of applying terminology such as 'commandment'. All hail the Church of Happiness.


RIGHT


Inspired by yogic thoughts, I’m also going to delve into the relationship between yoga and a contented life. Ayurevda and the yogic approach to mind/body relationship particularly intrigue me. Surely NOTHING can be as criminally insane as Louise Hay's preaching on all things mind over matter. So, that's a start, plus a few yoga poses, plus MAYBE... just maybe a small detox. Ergh. It doesn’t take much to predict a tremendous fail with all-things-detox. Easter weekend and a toxin-free hiatus do not a blissful union make.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Day 34 Neg Nos

Right guys, glaze over those eyes and languorously gaze into the distance. This post is all about nostalgia.


The psychological particulars of nostalgia are surprisingly interesting. It derives from acute homesickness, yet is scientifically proven to be a mainly positive emotional tool. Nostalgia is sentimental longing… a wistful affection for the past.


Getting down to the basics, nostalgia is essentially a mental device to bridge gaps in your life. A huge part of understanding how it works is figuring out where you stand in the whole continuity or discontinuity of ‘self’ argument. I KNOW GUYS! You’ve spent most of your life pondering this little nugget of contention, trust me, I’ve been there. On one hand – you can side with the Plato’s and Hume’s of this school of thought and reject the concept of identity as a single and consistent entity over time. ALTERNATIVELY, it could be argued continuity is a presupposition of identity. Despite what happens to you and how you change, all experience is unified by the one entity ‘I’.


SO, in light of this, nostalgia could be perceived as a tool to achieve identity continuity. Great! Even better if, on the whole, it’s a positive tool. Heaps of research has found negative mood states encourage nostalgic episodes due to resultant positive feelings.


BUT… what happens when a Bad Event take place that ‘disrupts’ your identity. No matter how hard you try, you can’t muster positive nostalgia because the mother of emotional mountains blocks the road? This is what I feel and it creates a huMONGous abyss of separation between the person I used to be and the person I am now… (apparently this is diachronic disunity, but I’m already suffering Mushy Brain Syndrome).


SO now we’re dealing with negative nostalgia.


There is, of course, a considerable amount of thorough, scholarly, and scrupulous research on negative nostalgia. For now, I’m going to ignore it all because if this blog is about happiness, finding Barry Maher gave me no end of happiness...


Bearded Baz from Las Vegas is, according to his website, a “world-class” salesperson. He is also a consultant, motivational speaker, and author of such heady tomes as "Getting the Most from Your Yellow Pages Advertising" and "No Lie: Truth if the Ultimate Sales Tool.


HOWEVER!! It doesn't stop there! Oh no... I felt indescribable joy when I discovered that Baz has written (to quote again) a "mini-cult classic novel" entitled ‘Legend’. The protagonist is an archaeologist called Martin! Martin excavates a door that talks! This is, quite frankly, bordering on genius...


Near the end of a long day of site evaluation, the archaeologist discovered the door. He wasn’t surprised when it started talking; he’d often said that just as surely as primitive civilizations surrounded their cities with walls, “more advanced” peoples surrounded themselves with machines that talked. His old fingers fumbled briefly with the familiar switches on his computer before he managed to activate it and it began translating.

I know! How mean of me to tease you. If you’re currently treading water in the depths of despair, you can read the rest of Chapter One right here.

ANYHOO. Back on track, Baz warns of the perils of Negative Nostalgia. Punishing yourself with Neg Nos (like it??) will accomplish nothing. Ok, thanks Baz, that's a good point. Stop there. Now. Please stop there. OH NO...

"I don't care if you're Attila the Hun. I don't care if you're Adolph Hitler. I don't care if you're Satan. Did I state that strongly enough?"


WHOA THERE BAZ!


Then, as if that monumental statement didn't matter, it's back to


"Beating ourselves up over the past—negative nostalgia—is like any other form of nostalgia, in that it's not going to improve tomorrow, and it can divert our attention and keep us from taking advantage of what's going on around us today."


A statement I agree with. I'm all over the show with Baz, but, clutching at straws, I get his point and it's a good one. It just takes a bit of time to achieve…