I missed the launch of Happy, the documentary film by Academy Award nominated director Roko Belic (Genghis Blues), when it was launched in the UK some months ago at an Action for Happiness event. This award winning documentary travels around the world looking at what makes people happy.
The organisation Students for Happiness will be screening The Happy Movie on Wednesday 21st November at The Bloomsbury Theatre in London. A ticket costs just £8 and any profits will be donated to the charity Mind. Watch the trailer and decide for yourself whether you want to go along. It will probably be £8 well spent. Click here to buy a ticket.
Have you ever wondered how you can change the world? Can anything which you as an individual do actually make a difference? I firmly believe that individuals can and do make a difference and am currently reading “How to change the World” by John-Paul Flintoff which is full of practical ideas and stories about doing just that. The book reminded me of a story in the Star Thrower – a book by philospher, Loren Eiseley. It is better known as the starfish thrower and was made into a children’s story called Sara and the Starfish. The story goes as follows:
An old man had a habit of early morning walks on the beach. One day, after a storm, he saw a human figure in the distance moving like a dancer. As he came closer he saw that it was a young woman and she was not dancing but was reaching down to the sand, picking up a starfish and very gently throwing them into the ocean.
“Young lady,” he asked, “Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”
“The sun is up, and the tide is going out, and if I do not throw them in they will die.”
“But young lady, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it? You cannot possibly make a difference.”
The young woman listened politely, paused and then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves, saying, “It made a difference for that one.”
If you would like to learn how to become a starfish thrower you might want to check out the event below which Jean-Paul Flintoff will be running at The School of Life on Thursday 15th November 2012. The course description states:
HOW TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE:
“Today, increasing numbers of people are seeking to impact the world around them, becoming change agents at a local or global level. If you want to start making a difference, how can you get to join this wave?
By the law of inertia, we tend to remain passive. Yet inspiring examples of change agents are all around us – from the retired social worker picking up rubbish in his hometown to the social entrepreneur building schools for girls in Afghanistan. As we too identify our personal values and desired level of social engagement, we can focus our passion for a cause.
In this class, we also examine cultural and social resistance we may encounter in innovating new solutions – and look at how we might overcome this. And we address the fact that seeking to make a difference involves carrying others with us. Drawing on the strategies of tacticians in community action, we learn how to attract support and impact the system.
Whether you want to make a difference to address an urgent social need or for personal meaning and purpose, this course aims to provide inspiration, a healthy dose of realism, and the practical tools to impact the world around you.”
My suspicion is that you have probably always had a secret desire to become a starfish thrower in some form or other but didn’t know where to start. The How to make a difference course might well be a good starting point for you – go on you know you want to.
Last night I went to see The Chekhov play Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre in London with the leading roles being played by Ken Stott, Anna Friel, Samuel West and Laura Carmichael.
Samuel West Laura Carmichael.
Vanya (Ken Stott), Yelena (Anna Friel), Astrov (Samuel West) and Sonya (Laura Carmichael) are all in love, with the past, with ideals and with each other. As their world changes around them they struggle to come to terms with their emotions and with the trials and tribulations of the human condition. I expected to enjoy the play given the calibre of the actors who played this subtle comedy to perfection, but I didn’t expect the play to remind me of an important positive psychology lesson and the next happiness experiment for you to try out.
As I was searching for reviews before I decided to book the play, I came across an article about Ken Stott’s insistence on living in the moment. Apparently a few year’s ago when Ken Stott had been acting in Arthur Miller’s play A View From The Bridge he halted the play during one performance, switching from the American accent of his character to his own Scottish accent, to reprimand a bunch of rowdy teenagers who were creating a disturbance. The play was stopped for 15 minutes while a stand off ensued between Ken Stott and the offending youths. The remainder of the audience sided with Stott chanting ’out, out, out’ until their embarrassed teacher removed them and the play continued. A similar scene apparently ensued on another occasion when a telephone went off in a seat in the stalls right in front of him. He initially ignored the interruption but when it happened again in the second act during a vital scene, Stott - who was playing a tragic Italian American longshoreman – gave a fierce glare and snapped. He told the offending member in the audience: ”Is that it now?’.
Ken Stott in A view from the bridge
I have to admit that I checked several times that my mobile phone was properly switched off before the play began as I had seats very near the front and did not want to incur Ken Stott’s wrath! Despite my pre-show nerves I have to completely agree with the point he had made to his previous audience. The actors in Uncle Vanya put every fibre of their being in to playing the characters they portray as passionately and genuinely as they can and are living 100% in the moment. Is it too much to ask that a theatre audience do the same? If you come to the theatre, be at the theatre and enjoy every moment of the play you are watching. Whatever activity you are pursuing, immerse yourself 100% in enjoying that activity instead of focusing on something you did in the past or will be doing in the future. I walked past the British Library the day before I attended this play and there is a huge sign at the front of it with the quote “Today is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present.” Any actor on stage is sharing with us the gift of their talent and is passionately dedicating their complete attention to giving us an enjoyable experience during a performance. We do not all have acting talents but we can all learn to live in the present and to give our all to the activity we are currently pursuing.
Living in the present is one of the simplest positive psychology ideas to try but can seem like one of the hardest to master. We are so used to having our minds preoccupied with so many thoughts at once that it can be hard to focus on what is giving us joy right now. So give Happiness Experiment No 12 a try and learn to: Live in the moment. Ken Stott will thank you for it and you will be grateful you have learned to master this technique. This Scottish video about mindfulness will give you some pointers on what is involved:
I would also recommend Uncle Vanya which runs at the Vaudeville theatre until 16th February 2013.
The Happiness Experiment blog posts have been focusing on resilience this week and I spotted this Resilience Workshop which will be run at The School of Life on 1st December 2012.
The course is run by Chris Johnstone whose book Find Your Power has been part of my resilience research this week. I’m sure the course will be interesting.
Resilience is the ability to withstand or recover from difficult situations. It includes our capacity to make the best of things, cope with stress and rise to the occasion. This one-day workshop offers a practical training in skills, strategies and insights that help our resilience grow.
Drawing on research from Positive Psychology and the plot structure of adventure stories, we will look at four key skills that raise our resilience:
• visioning skills that strengthen our sense of purpose by helping us see, and then head for, the outcomes that attract us
• creativeproblem-solving skills that help us find a path through the obstacles in the way
• positive relationship skills that enhance our ability to find allies and draw in the support we need
• emotional intelligence skills that raise our capacity to work with our emotions, so that we can benefit from the guiding signals and energy they offer.
The day will involve a mix of tutor presentation, personal reflection, guided exercises and group discussion. The goal is to increase each participant’s ability to draw upon the resilience they need in their lives.
Our intensive workshops provide an opportunity to work with leading members of our faculty over the course of a highly structured day session.
Sessions are limited to 18 participants and will be based at The School of Life. All food and drink is included in the ticket price.
Chris Johnstone is an author, trainer and coach for resilience, happiness and positive change. He is author of Find Your Power – a toolkit for resilience and positive change (Permanent Publications, 2010).
09.40 Tea, coffee and pastries served
10.00 Intro & morning session
13.00 Lunch provided
14.00 Afternoon session
The School of Life
70 Marchmont Street
If you are interested in attending this workshop click here for details.
Brené Brown talking about her new book Daring Greatly.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” US President Teddy Roosevelt
This quote, taken from a speech by US President Teddy Roosevelt, is the inspiration behind the title of Brené Brown’s new book Daring Greatly. I was fortunate to be at the UK launch of her latest book on Monday night at Conway Hall in London which took place at an event organised by the School of Life.
The sell-out event took the form of a conversation between Brené Brown and Roman Krznaric, a founding faculty member of the School of Life. Roman had prepared many questions to put to Brené but as she is such a wonderful story teller, conversation flowed very easily and Roman ran out of time to ask all the questions he had prepared. One of the endearing features of listening to Brené talk is the fact that she is very willing to share her own vulnerabilty and to share stories from her own personal life and experiences. She openly admitted at the beginning of the conversation that as a Texan she was nervous about talking to a crowd of British people famous for their stiff upper lip, but as the conversation unfolded her genuine charm, sense of humour and honesty disarmed the audience and culminated in a standing ovation from the crowd at the end of the evening.
So who is Brené Brown and what is so special about her? Here is the bio from her own website:
Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame.
Brené is a nationally renowned speaker and has won numerous teaching awards, including the College’s Outstanding Faculty Award. Her groundbreaking work has been featured on PBS, NPR, CNN, and has appeared in The Washington Post,Psychology Today, and many other national media outlets.
In 2007, Brené developed Connections, a psychoeducational shame resilience curriculum that is being facilitated across the nation by mental health and addiction professionals. The Connections Certification process was launched in 2012.
Brené lives in Houston with her husband, Steve, and their two children.
This bio gives you the basic facts but does not convey how well Brené connects with an audience (even a British one) and leaves everyone feeling inspired and uplifited. Her natural warmth and honesty shine through and as her conversation is backed up by over a decade of serious research in her field she is definitely someone worth listening to. The topics of shame, worthiness and vulnerability are not easy ones and many would prefer to sweep such concepts under the carpet. By giving voice to these topics and to previously unspoken experiences through her own unique blend of humour, research and storytelling, Brené demonstrates the importance of recognising feelings of shame and unworthiness and of accepting that we are not alone in having these feelings from time to time. Equally, she argues, it is by being willing to show our vulnerabilty that we are able to experience life to the full rather than building a wall to avoid feelings of discomfort.
Brené has subtitled her new book Daring Greatly, How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. She explains in her book why expressing our vulnerability is not a sign of weakness but of courage and may be one of the most daring acts we can make.
Brené Brown talking at TEDx Houston 201O: The Power of Vulnerability
Here are some quotes from Daring Greatly:
“Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.”
“When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make,” says Brown. “Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience.”
“Worrying about scarcity is our culture’s version of post-traumatic stress. It happens when you’ve been through too much, and rather than coming together to heal (which requires vulnerability), we’re angry and scared and at each other’s throats.”
“I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. With that definition in mind, let’s think about love. Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow — that’s vulnerability.”
“We judge people in areas where we’re vulnerable to shame, especially picking folks who are doing worse than we’re doing. If I feel good about my parenting, I have no interest in judging other people’s choices. If I feel good about my body, I don’t go around making fun of other people’s weight or appearance. We’re hard on each other because we’re using each other as a launching pad out of our own perceived deficiency.”
“Raising children who are hopeful and who have the courage to be vulnerable means stepping back and letting them experience disappointment, deal with conflict, learn how to assert themselves, and have the opportunity to fail. If we’re always following our children into the arena, hushing the critics, and assuring their victory, they’ll never learn that they have the ability to dare greatly on their own.”
Oliver gave us a brief introduction to some of the research he had undertaken when writing his latest book, having consulted the teachings of psychologists, Buddhists, business consultants and philosphophers who are all of the opinion that “if only we stopped trying so hard to be happy we could have a pretty good time”. (A quote which according to Burkeman has been wrongly attributed to Edith Wharton)
These great teachers argue that an alternative to the pressure to be eternally optimistic and to always look on the bright side of life is to follow a more negative route to happiness and success that involves embracing failure, allowing ourselves to be pessimistic and to feeling insecure and uncertain – the very things which we traditionally spend our lives trying to avoid.
He quoted American psychologist Albert Ellis who stated that “the worst thing about any future event is your exaggerated belief in its horror”. Ellis apparently advised Oliver Burkeman to try out this theory by travelling on the London underground and shouting out the name of every stop to the other passengers as the train arrived in each new station. Oliver did, in fact, try out this theory and although it was a horribly embarrassing thing to do it wasn’t nearly as bad as he imagined it would be and he didn’t die or get locked up!
Oliver mentioned the Stoic phiolsophers, Seneca and Epetitus who advocated ‘negative visualisations’ and ‘defensive pessimism’ as coping mechanisms. He also advocated experimenting with the Buddhist concept of “non-attachment” so that we learn to see our emotions as being no more significant than the weather.
He recommended building examples of our own mortality in to our life and looked at the practice of celebrating the Day of the Dead in Mexico (Día de los Muertos)which helps people to cope with the passing of loved ones as well as celebrate their lives. This point was illustrated with a well-know quote from Steve Jobs:
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” Steve Jobs
The journalist also argued that our constant striving towards a permanent state of happiness and perfection results in us perpetually beating ourselves up about our own inevitable inadequacies and failures. A quote from Anne Lamott’s book “Bird by Bird: instructions on Writing and Life” illustrated this point very well:
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”
It was a very interesting evening and I look forward to reading Oliver Burkeman’s new book with just enough negative anticipation to guarantee that I will find the reading of it a pleasurable and enlightening experience.
Until the Action for Happiness video of last night’s event goes live you could do much worse than watch this RSA talk which Oliver Burkeman gave about this previous book. I could be wildly enthusiastic and tell you that it is a very amusing, uplifting and informative talk which you are guaranteed to enjoy but then Oliver Burkeman probably wouldn’t approve of such unbridled positivity. All I will say is please watch the video and if you are feeling really enthusiastic you can also read his books and decide for yourself armed of course with just enough Buddhist ‘non-attachment’ to ensure that your judgement is not impaired.
As part of my experimentation with Positive Psychology I am always keen to go along to events and to listen to new ideas. I have just booked to attend the next Action For Happiness event with Oliver Burkeman which is detailed below. There are still tickets available so do join me.
If you would like a sneak preview of Oliver Burkeman take a look at this video of his RSA talk on “How to become slightly happier” which was the topic of his previous book.
I look forward to seeing you at the event.
ACTION FOR HAPPINESS PRESENTS…
The Antidote with Oliver Burkeman
Join us for a unique and thought-provoking evening as author and columnist Oliver Burkeman brings his refreshing perspective on how to lead a happy life without the need for constant positive thinking.
Oliver will share the insights from his new book The Antidote, which explains why embracing the negative aspects of life may in fact be essential for our happiness. It’s a fascinating and counter-intuitive message that turns self-help advice on its head and forces us to rethink our attitudes towards failure, uncertainty and death.
About Oliver Burkeman
Oliver writes This Column Will Change Your Life in The Guardian, where he regularly investigates social psychology, self-help culture and the science of happiness. His new book The Antidote will be in the shops from 21 June, but exclusive advance copies will be available at this event.
“On practically every page, Oliver Burkeman manages to be both hilarious and thought-provoking – a combination sure to make any reader very happy.” — Gretchen Rubin, author, The Happiness Project
“Addictive, wise and very funny. Burkeman never takes himself too seriously, but the rest of us should.” — Tim Harford, author of The Undercover Economist
“Burkeman proves an excellent guide, separating all the schmaltzy hokum on achieving inner bliss on your lunch break from the modest, but genuinely enlightening research on human happiness” — The Big Issue
Location and Timings
This event will take place at Conway Hall in central London on Thursday 14 June 2012. Doors will open at 18:45 and the event will start at 19:00.
This event is raising funds to support the work of Action for Happiness. We want to make it accessible to as many people as possible, so rather than charging a fixed fee we’re instead asking you to make a donation. It would be great if you could donate£15, but if you can spare more, or feel unable to give that much, then please give what you feel is appropriate.
All funds raised (beyond the costs of putting on the event) will contribute directly to Action for Happiness’ work relating to growing the movement, enabling local action groups and supporting activities relating to happiness and well-being in schools. Action for Happiness is part of the Young Foundation, which is a Registered Charity (274345) in England and Wales.
Any questions about the event please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.