So many interesting things to chew on here:
- Married people are 10% happier than unmarried people, but having a child reduces happiness by one-quarter of 1% on average. Hmmm… doing the math (tapping finger on temple).
- Happiness is maximized at, get this, 57 degrees Fahrenheit. Current outside temperature in Minneapolis is -11 degrees Fahrenheit. Do they even do studies measuring people’s happiness at negative temps?
- If 94% of people in Iceland say they are happy and the warmest day of the year on average is 57 degrees Fahrenheit, does happiness decrease at the same rate when the temperature increases or decreases by one percentage point?
- I’m writing this up at 2am because I can’t sleep. Would my questions be stated with more positive words if I read this infographic at 2pm?
- I’m way behind my 100 hours of service in the community. Time to get moving!
From the Tumblr desk of our executive editor trentgilliss.
I think there are a lot of misconceptions in society in general about what actually brings happiness, we’re caught up in all these ideas that having a lot of money or having somebody beautiful to have sex with or having some cool objects, having a cool car, cool stereo or whatever is gonna make us happy. And those things actually don’t bring us happiness. I’ve learned a tremendous amount about how compassion or altruism actually brings a person happiness and I think that’s a lot of what’s trying to be put forward through the concerts and it seems like the optimum way to put those ideas forward is through helping the Tibetans gain their freedom because those values are so inherent within Tibetan culture.
—Adam Yauch (1964-2012), MCA of the Beastie Boys, from the Frontline report "Dreams of Tibet"
Yauch, best known by his rap moniker MCA of the Beastie Boys and his activism for Tibetan freedom, died yesterday from a three-year battle with cancer. Jaweed Kaleem offers a fine round-up for The Huffington Post on how Buddhist spirituality permeated his life and music, noting that he was “born in Brooklyn, New York to a Catholic father and a Jewish mother, [and] had practiced Buddhism since 1994.”
In the photo to the right, Yauch speaks at a press conference on June 13, 1998 prior to the Tibet Freedom concert at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC.
(Photo by Stephen Jaffe/AFP/Getty Images)
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
The Relationship Between Happiness and Gratitude
by Susan Leem, associate producer
How we feel about where we are today affects how we remember and regret the past. The question illustrator Hanan Harchol is trying to understand: what is the relationship between happiness and gratitude? If you can feel gratitude for what you have, it can render those bad decisions unimportant, even not so bad.
And what does this do for regret? It can help you move on and stop ruminating about the “one that got away” or the job you should have taken, and make better decisions in the future.
In this animated video, Harchol shares a Jewish folktale in which a farmer complains about his home being too small. The cagy, local rabbi advises the farmer to bring goats into his small home for a while. Then, the farmer sees how small his home really could be.
Thankfully, we can replicate this advice as a thought experiment. This may sound like a grandma reminding us, “Oh, it could always be worse.” But it’s easier to realize how good life is once you imagine how hard it could be. Isn’t it easier to see a bronze medal as a gift rather than a failed attempt at a gold if you imagine that you might’ve come in 4th place? If the ability to feel gratitude is like building a muscle, maybe the workout starts here.
The Pursuit and Practice of Happiness Is an Awareness of the Suffering and Pleasure of Others
by Krista Tippett, host
A basketball court transformed by flowers and incandescent light. Four thousand people in attendance. Four global religious leaders. I have never concentrated as hard as I did in the two hours I spent on that stage. But it was, in the end, a delight. And it was fascinating as an encounter as much as a conversation. The Dalai Lama embodied joy, his radiant and playful presence, was as defining as the words he spoke.
The biggest challenge with discussing “happiness” in this culture might be finding our way back to the substance of the word itself — a substance that has been hollowed out by its uses in culture. I found myself planted in the definition of happiness that the French-born, Tibetan Buddhist scientist and monk Matthieu Ricard offered on this program. He defines happiness as “genuine flourishing” — not a pleasurable sensation or mood but a way of being in the world that can encompass the fullness of human experience, joy and pleasure as well as suffering and loss.
Muslim scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the Episcopal Church, and Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks of the United Kingdom all added to that definition as they laid out the virtues and habits, the spiritual technologies, that their traditions have carried forward in time. They all described corollaries, in a sense, to the Dalai Lama’s joyful yet disciplined teachings on cultivating compassion and calmness in the mind as way of flourishing in and amidst all of life’s experiences. But the most exciting part of interreligious encounter, for me, is not rushing to hear similarities but savoring particularities — the distinctive vocabularies of thought and practice, the beautiful and intriguing differences that come to light even as we may seem to be circling towards the same goal.
And so among my favorite moments are Professor Nasr’s explication of beauty as inextricably linked to virtue and happiness in Muslim tradition. Beauty, he says, makes the soul happy. Bishop Jefferts Schori talked about the long tradition in Christianity of practicing gratitude and “the presence of God” in the midst of ordinary activities of life. Rabbi Sacks evoked sabbath as a space to focus on the things in life that are “important but not urgent.” He described the extraordinary power of pausing to let life’s “blessings” — an awareness of the deepest sources of our happiness — “catch up with us.” Such reflections unsettle notions of happiness as a “right” and as something to be “pursued.”
A discussion of happiness is intrinsically serious, too. As we were also reminded in the course of this discussion, spiritual happiness is never merely personal in nature. It is linked to an awareness of the suffering and pleasure of others. And at the same time, it is something we cultivate in our bodies as well as our minds. It communicates itself in our very presence.
There was, fittingly, a great deal of laughter on this stage of religious dignitaries seated center court at Emory. There was a festive atmosphere in the room altogether. Listen, and watch, for yourself. Ponder, and enjoy.
Compassion Is a Skill to Be Developed Through Practice
by Krista Tippett, host
Matthieu Ricard looks on as Dilgo Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche makes a point to children in Vancouver, Canada. (photo: Linda Lane/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0)
The title we’ve given this week’s show, “The ‘Happiest’ Man in the World,” is slightly tongue-in-cheek. It appeared in a British newspaper after the publication of scientific study results on Matthieu Ricard’s brain. He dismisses this label and has issued many good-natured disclaimers. We’ve revived it here, however, because of the lovely way in which Matthieu Ricard fills that phrase with a whole new range of savvy, satisfying meaning.
I certainly found myself identifying with Ricard’s descriptions, in his own writing, of his youthful, worldly-wise dismissal of “happiness” as a goal. I too was dismissive, well into adulthood, of the very word “happiness” and its overwhelming associations with the dream-come-true state that ends movies, for example, or the happiness as “having it all” American way.
But Matthieu Ricard puts words to what I’ve learned as I’ve grown older. He accomplishes that as much with his ideas as with his presence. He is a slightly incongruous yet wholly comfortable Frenchman swathed in the lavish gold and red of Tibetan monastic robes, with practical shoes beneath. He is at once sophisticated and mischievous, intellectual and childlike — something, that is, like his teacher the Dalai Lama. It was a privilege to experience them both at a series of gatherings in Vancouver, British Columbia, where they were in conversation with Nobel laureates, scientists, social activists, and educators. We converted a tenth-floor suite at the Shangri-La Hotel, aptly named and somewhat surreal, into a production suite for this interview, which you can view as well as hear on our site.
I am fascinated by the way in which science is interwoven with Matthieu Ricard’s life story as well as his current work with the Dalai Lama and his very definition of the spiritual quest. He is one of those so-called “Olympic meditators" — people who have meditated tens of thousands of hours and whose brains have been studied and yielded important new insights into something called neuroplasticity — the human brain’s capacity to alter across the life span. This is a fairly recent and fairly dramatic — and not uncontroversial — discovery that came about as a result of research involving the Mind and Life Institute — a fascinating dialogue with scientists from many disciplines that the Dalai Lama has been hosting for many years.
Matthieu Ricard actually began his life as a molecular biologist, working with a Nobel Prize-winning biologist at the prestigious Pasteur Institute in Paris. His decision to leave France for a Buddhist monastic path greatly perplexed his father, Jean-François Revel, a philosopher who was a pillar of French intellectual life. But as he describes in a literary dialogue with his father that was published as The Monk and the Philosopher, Tibetan Buddhism was less of a departure in his mind than in his father’s.
He had become drawn to the spiritual masters, who would later become his teachers and eventually his peers, leading lives of integrity. And there was a very personal, full-circle integrity in his love of the natural world that had manifest itself in part in biological research — and in his appreciation for Buddhist spirituality as a life shaped by what he describes as “contemplative science.” I am utterly fascinated by the echoes between science and spirituality that Matthieu Ricard has continued to pursue and that we discuss together in this show.
Will neuroscience one day be able to not merely describe the movement of neurons and brain chemistry but add its own vocabulary to the meaning and nature of human consciousness, as related to or distinct from the brain? And how can we not be fascinated by the evocative echoes between the way quantum physicists have come to describe energy and matter and the way Buddhist philosophy has always described the interconnectedness and impermanence of human experience and all of life? Our understanding of the intersection of mind, life, body, and however you want to define the human spirit continues to unfold and develop, and is one of the most intriguing frontiers of this century.
Health is not a commodity. Risk factors are not disease. Aging is not an illness. To fix a problem is easy, to sit with another suffering is hard. Doing all we can is not the same as doing what we should. Quality is more than metrics. Patients cannot see outside their pain, we cannot see in, relationship is the only bridge between. Time is precious; we spend it on what we value. The most common condition we treat is unhappiness. And the greatest obstacle to treating a patient’s unhappiness is our own. Nothing is more patient-centered than the process of change. Doctors expect too much from data and not enough from conversation. Community is a locus of healing, not the hospital or the clinic. The foundation of medicine is friendship, conversation and hope.
Embracing Life’s Unexpected Gifts
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
"Finding happiness doesn’t necessarily follow from pursuing it. Sometimes the deepest happiness comes when you’re least expecting it."
Grazia Cesarini Sforza (pictured in red above) is one of the stars of Mid-August Lunch, a lovely Italian film about a middle-aged bachelor who takes care of four elderly women — each with distinct and sometimes conflicting temperaments — during Italy’s annual August holiday. Sforza, like most of the cast, had never appeared on screen before. Reflecting on the film’s success and her own experience being part of the production, she echoes Rabbi Sacks’ sentiment:
"The film was … one of life’s gifts that you don’t expect at the age of 90. At 90 what’s gone is gone. … And then the success that it’s had and the friends I’ve made, the people I’ve met is something really. I hadn’t imagined anything like that."
What experiences come to mind in when you think about an unexpected happiness that landed in your lap?