There’s nothing I savor more than reading a well-written op-ed to wake me up and this recent one from Arthur Brooks at the New York Times activated all sorts of synaptic impulses (Pre-med Biology major, so please forgive me while I geek out) in my brain.
Mr. Brooks describes the concept of a “happiness sum” and by maximizing this, people can lead happier lives. I think we can all acknowledge that a domino effect of sorts can happen when one has a happy disposition. Consider the last time you had a great day, in which everything went just right – I think DC residents can relate and agree to the following list – a minimal wait time in the metro; a fully air-conditioned metro car and room to sit; acknowledgement for a job well done at work; an unexpected phone call from a good friend; finding street parking within a block away; and the list can go on. Essentially, everything seemed to fall in line and it seemed like the karma lottery jackpot was bestowed upon you. Wow, this is living! After the high levels off, you may find yourself a bit on the unhappy side. Why can’t this last longer?
Here’s where your mind literally implodes. I mean metaphorically! I’m glad I caught myself before being called out by John Oliver on his HBO show for misusing the word literally, which I conveniently linked here for your viewing pleasure. Back to science and research and the geek out. Mr. Brooks argues that we can lead happier lives with the power of our own minds. No way, Jose, you might say to me or Mr. Brooks. It’s hard to believe that we have everything we need to be happy right now. It is a choice, and it is the choice we have to make, one that we have to commit to.
I started doing yoga again recently at an awesome studio in the DC neighborhood, U St, called Buddha B. Taking these classes has opened up not only my awareness of self, but of my immediate surroundings, as well as the energy I’m projecting everyday. It’s also one hell of a workout – as in I’ve never sweat so much playing any of the more mainstream sports. There’s a move which I remember vividly, called a supported shoulder stand into plow.
Full execution of the move is when your feet touch the floor behind your head. I managed about 80-85% of full execution, leaving only about 8 inches from my feet touching the floor. Why was it so memorable, you ask? Well, since we had to hold this pose for 10 breaths, that was well more than enough time to watch the sweat build up on my shins and then proceed to fall like rain onto my face. Delicious. So not only am I physically and emotionally better than the previous week from Buddha B, but I also had a chance to view the documentary Kumare at a screening held at Buddha B. It’s like a one-stop shop, let me tell you. The film is very insightful and epitomizes the “look to within” approach and I feel more mentally sharp buff because of it.
Mr. Brooks describes happier people as having goals that are more “intrinsic” in nature. Intrinsic goals include, but are not limited to, pursuit of education and knowledge, self-improvement, altruism and the golden rule, treating others like you would yourself (in this case, you loving yourself, therefor loving others). “Unhappy” people tend to have goals more “extrinsic” in nature and resemble a thirst for approval from others. Examples include fame and material wealth. One of the most striking things Mr. Brooks lays out is that happiness and unhappiness are not mutually exclusive of each other; both activating distinct regions in the brain. A person who scores high on the happiness scale, can also simultaneously score high on the unhappiness scale, which is Mr. Brooks to a tee and proclaims himself a “cheerful melancholic.” So the key is to understand what makes us happy, what makes us unhappy and then figuring out how to maximize happiness over unhappiness. Easy enough. I’ll put that on my to-do list.
Here’s what I’m writing down on the top of my to-do list everyday, and I hope you do the same:
Mr. Brooks says, “it requires the courage to repudiate pride and the strength to love others — family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, God and even strangers and enemies. Only deny love to things that actually are objects.” When the impulse is to Love Things and Use People, make a concerted effort to flip the script – Love People, Use Things. And see where that takes you.