Live Long & Prosper

“Behavioral scientists have spent a lot of time studying what makes us happy (and what doesn’t). We know happiness can predict health and longevity, and happiness scales can be used to measure social progress and the success of public policies. But happiness isn’t something that just happens to you. Everyone has the power to make small changes in our behavior, our surroundings and our relationships that can help set us on course for a happier life.”

-Tara Parker-Pope, “How To Be Happy.” The New York Times.

Open Question: What does it mean to be “happy”?

In brief, the author seems to take the ideas of Blue Zones:, i.e., places where people tend to be exceptionally long lived, and flesh these concepts out with “happiness” research. The nine key ideas of Blue Zones:

  1. Move naturally, or have a lifestyle that incorporates movement without doing movement for movement’s sake, a.k.a. as exercise.
  2. Have a purpose.
  3. Downshift, take time every day, week, month and year to do nothing or be contemplative.
  4. The 80% Rule for eating. Eat until you are 80% full.
  5. Eat mostly plants.
  6. Drink alcohol in moderation, 1-2 servings a day.
  7. Belong to a community.
  8. Prioritize your relationships.
  9. Make sure the relationships are with good people.

The New York TimesHow to Be Happy” reframes these into categories: Mind, Home, Relationships, Work & Money & Happy Life. Then, it attempts to provide more detailed advice.

Mind

  1. Become acquainted with cognitive behavioral therapy, i.e., become proficient at managing negative thinking.
  2. Boxed breathing for acute situations and breath focused meditation to cultivate a more equanimical disposition.
  3. Rewrite your personal story, positive without the pedestal.
  4. Exercise.
  5. Make an effort to look for the positive in any situation.

Home

  1. Find a good place to live and a good community within it to be part of.
  2. Be out in a natural setting.
  3. Keep what you need, discard the rest.

Relationships

  1. Spend time with happy people. Conversely, avoid the unhappy and the unlucky, the stupid, Hoodoos, toxic people, psychic vampires, and associated others. Obviously, the negative formulation is a hot topic here at cafebedouin.org.
  2. Get a pet. [Editors note: Pets, children and other people aren’t going to make you happy, save you, etc.]
  3. Learn to enjoy being alone. In this historical moment, with fewer communities and relationships mediated through the Internet, it’s an important skill. If you can’t manage it, find ways around it, e.g., join an intentional community. If you are turning on the radio or television to hear human voices and escape your own thoughts, you might want to think about finding ways of being better company to yourself.

Work and Money

  1. Money isn’t going to make you happy. The more money you have past a certain threshold, the more problems you will have. But, being poor is no virtue and is its own source of suffering. Try to avoid the material extremes.
  2. The New York Times wants you to find your purpose at work. Right livelihood is important, but defining ourselves through our work is a major issue post-industrial age. When surnames became necessary, people chose their occupation. Think of all the occupational last names: Smith, Miller, Cooper, etc. The problem with finding purpose at work is it often turns into our life’s purpose. Our life should be about more than work.
  3. Find ways to reclaim your time, which I interpret to mean work less.

Happy Life

  1. Be generous. Show gratitude.
  2. Do things for other people.
  3. Stop being a judgmental prick to yourself and others.

Conclusion

Something about The New York Times presentation leaves much to be desired. Is it the focus on work? Is it because much of it seems like platitudes? I’m not entirely sure. The ideas aren’t bad, particularly the ones that stem directly from Blue Zone suggestions. But, the focus on “nesting” in the bedroom, volunteering (with the implication that it be the modern form and involve some kind of institution) and so forth managed to rub me the wrong way. But, most of this is good advice, when you get down to the nut of it.

Heaven & Hell

“Once a wise and holy old hermit was favored, for his piousness, with the visit of an angel who said it was sent to offer him a boon. The man thought and replied, “I have tried my life to know my Creator through his Creation. I hope that I have been worthy of going to Heaven, but fear as a sinner I merit only Hell. It bothers me that either way, I shall know one but not the other, and my knowledge of Creation will be forever incomplete. I would like to see both Heaven and Hell before I die, so that I will know the fullness of Creation.”

Very well, said the angel, who in a rush of winds seized the hermit up and transported him through the air.

The hermit found himself in a fine hall filled with people seated at a banquet. The hall was hung with the finest tapestries; the silver candlesticks held the finest candles. The people were dressed in clothes of silk, brocaded and jeweled, wearing gold jewelry and gems. They sat in carved chairs, seated at a great table with a feast set for them beyond imagining, with every delicious thing to eat or drink heaped before them. But their eyes were hollow and their hands gaunt, and they wept and moaned. The hermit looked more closely and saw that amidst their fine clothes, bands of iron held them in their chairs, and manacles of iron were on their wrists. And as he watched, he saw an astonishing thing: when any one reached for a morsel or a chalice, it could be grasped, but the moment it was brought to one’s lips, the chains to the manacles abruptly shortened, slamming their hands to the table, yanking their relief from their lips. All the host sat in utmost luxury before the great feast, and starved.

This, said the angel, is Hell.

The angel again seized him and bore him through the air. Again he found himself in a fine hall. It might have been a twin for the first: the tapestries and candelsticks, the fine clothes and gems, the magnificent banquet. But here, the rafters rang with laughter and song. Their eyes sparkled in flushed cheeks. The hermit looked more closely and saw, to his surprise, the same iron bands about their bodies, and on their wrists the same iron manacles. And as he watched, their hands reached out to the feast, pouring wine into chalices, spearing meat on their knifes, and grasping handfuls of bread and fruits, and they all turned to their neighbors, and raised the morsels each to their neighbor’s lips.

This, said the angel, is Heaven.

-siderea, “The Difference Between Heaven and Hell.” siderea.dreamwidth.org. August 13, 2021.

This version give me medieval vibes. The version I first heard was the Chinese version, i.e., hell is where there is only 6 foot chopsticks and no one can feed themselves; and heaven is where there is only 6 foot chopsticks and everyone feeds one another. Not as flowery (or Christian), but preferred.

The Referendum

“The Referendum is a phenomenon typical of (but not limited to) midlife, whereby people, increasingly aware of the finiteness of their time in the world, the limitations placed on them by their choices so far, and the narrowing options remaining to them, start judging their peers’ differing choices with reactions ranging from envy to contempt. The Referendum can subtly poison formerly close and uncomplicated relationships, creating tensions between the married and the single, the childless and parents, careerists and the stay-at-home. It’s exacerbated by the far greater diversity of options available to us now than a few decades ago, when everyone had to follow the same drill. We’re all anxiously sizing up how everyone else’s decisions have worked out to reassure ourselves that our own are vindicated — that we are, in some sense, winning….

….Quite a lot of what passes itself off as a dialogue about our society consists of people trying to justify their own choices as the only right or natural ones by denouncing others’ as selfish or pathological or wrong. So it’s easy to overlook that hidden beneath all this smug certainty is a poignant insecurity, and the naked 3 A.M. terror of regret.”

-Tim Kreider, “The Referendum.” The New York Times. September 17, 2009.

This is so good, h/t Austin Kleon. Also, this line: “It’s not as if being married means you’re any less alone.”

Hang In There Until You’re Sixty

“…try to hang in there until you’re sixty. Then you’ll find you don’t have to worry about what people say any more and, as a consequence, life becomes a whole lot more interesting.

Entering your sixties brings with it a warm and fuzzy feeling of freedom through redundancy, through obsolescence, through living outside of the conversation and forever existing on the wrong end of the stick. What a relief it is to be that mad, embarrassing uncle in the corner of the room, a product of his age, with his loopy ideas about free speech and freedom of expression, with his love of beauty, of humour, chaos, provocation and outrage, of conversation and debate, his adoration of art without dogma, his impatience with the morally obvious, his belief in universal compassion, forgiveness and mercy, in nuance and the shadows, in neutrality and in humanity — ah, beautiful humanity — and in God too, who he thanks for letting him, in these dementing times, be old.”

—Nick Cave, “I’m struggling a bit with the fact I’m turning 40 in a week. Some people say “You’re in the brightest part of your life”, others say you are an “old man”. What is your perspective on getting old?RedHandFiles.com. June 2021.

Play Your Own Game

1. Judge less.

At least half the people doing things with money that you disagree with are playing a different game than you are. You probably look just as crazy in their eyes.

2. Figure out what game you’re playing, then play it (and only it).

So few investors do this. Maybe they have a vague idea of their game, but they haven’t clearly defined it. And when they don’t know what game they’re playing, they’re at risk of taking their cues and advice from people playing different games, which can lead to risks they didn’t intend and outcomes they didn’t imagine.

-Morgan Housel, “Play Your Own Game.” Collaborative Fund. May 13, 2021

70 Over 70 Podcast

“You know those 30 under 30 lists that make you feel kinda inadequate and terrible? 70 Over 70 is the opposite of that. Max Linsky talks to 70 remarkable people all over the age of 70 about their lives — what they’ve learned, what they’re still trying to figure out and how they’re thinking about what comes next.”

70 Over 70

Julien Baker

Come for the music. Stay for the wonderful writing.

“Even the most minute acts of acknowledgment communicate to another person that they are seen, that they matter; to care for another person is to affirm their worth. In our simplest gestures we find ways to pierce the superficial exterior of an often callous and isolated world, to exercise the compassion that draws us together.

Through every small kindness, we form attachments, construct a web of human connection, however tenuous. Thinking of this web, I wondered how many gestures like this a lifetime might contain, and that was both moving and devastating. I imagined the delicate thread spun from the spool of a person, weaving a tangled and imperceptible network through towns and continents, leaving little knots at every point of contact that tug us closer to each other, that makes us feel incrementally less alone.”

-Julien Baker, “Tiny Changes to Earth.” Oxford American. January 9, 2019.

“From childhood we are instilled with the ethics of generosity and equality—taught to take turns, to share, and to advocate for the weak. Simultaneously, we are indoctrinated with the covert certainty that unsuccessfulness is the result of laziness. It is important to be kind, but  more important to be productive. Our culture criminalizes poverty and stigmatizes welfare, critiques the greed of the super-wealthy while disapproving of programs that redistribute that wealth to provide for its citizens because of the entitlement an entire class feels to their own wealth. I remember hearing relatives argue against public health care with a decontextualized reference to Thessalonians: “if you don’t work you don’t eat,” and wondering how this draconian detachment from the plight of the unemployed could coexist with a professed belief in the value of compassion.We are taught to value mercy and grace alongside fairness, forgetting that often what is gracious, merciful, or compassionate is often not what is technically fair, at least by the Hammurabian standard of an eye for an eye.

This dichotomy of belief forms a functional cynicism, something that we tell ourselves we need to survive but which allows our adversity to become something that breeds resentment for others’ hardship instead of sympathy for it, and makes us reluctant to challenge a dominant system.

–Julien Baker, “A Familiar Stranger.Oxford American. November 8, 2018.

“Because I am a human who, like most humans, often does not seek out discomfort, this mostly occurs when my well-worn preconceptions are unexpectedly disrupted by someone with whom I would prefer not to engage. Still, I understand that part of emotional education is choosing not to opt out of these opportunities, to endure the friction of opposition and find what lesson in humility can be extracted. So I try to engage…

…Ruminating on the particularity of queer experience reminds me that there is no uniformity of belief or experience, in the LGBT community or in any other, and that the work of empathy demands unraveling my own presupposed paradigms, forcing myself to see people as a collection of their experiences, not as an embodiment of an ideal or principle. Practicing this within the context of a community I belong to and sympathize with becomes a skill that can be repurposed as empathy for those with whom I lack the ability or desire to understand.

Every day we are asked to live through immense, painful, and causeless things as if it were not an incredible feat. Our mental apparatus, made up of all our ideologies, convictions, superstitions, and personal mythologies, develops out of necessity to make sense of those things that are beyond our capacity to comprehend. Identifying how that apparatus formed in another person cannot nullify pain or negate wrong, it can only give us tools to be more merciful in our interpretations of others.”

-Julien Baker, “Learning Mercy.” Oxford American. June 14, 2018.

Really, just read them all.

The Burrito Test

“The anti-psychiatric-abuse community has invented the ‘Burrito Test’ – if a place won’t let you microwave a burrito without asking permission, it’s an institution. Doesn’t matter if the name is “Center For Flourishing” or whatever and the aides are social workers in street clothes instead of nurses in scrubs – if it doesn’t pass the Burrito Test, it’s an institution.”

–Scott Alexander, “Book Review: The Cult Of Smart
Summary and commentary on The Cult Of Smart by Fredrik DeBoer
.” Astral Codex Ten. February 17, 2021.

World Wisdom Map

“The World Wisdom Map is a unique project to document the life lessons and stories of people from each of the 195 countries in the world. This consciousness project combines visual, and wisdom anthropology that exists in the world and further sparks awareness about the diversity of lifestyles, as well as the coping mechanism that people employ to create a meaningful life. Using the tool of technology, it is easier to connect and exchange information to ignite hope and global participation in an unbiased and creative way. This collation and exhibition of human wisdom invites you to engage, contribute and learn from in an artistic and interactive way.”

World Wisdom Map

If you are willing to dig around a bit, there’s a few gems in this World Wisdom Map. I liked this one:

“I’ve learned that how we choose to suffer makes all the difference. Suffering is, perhaps, inevitable, but I now see it as a cave that I learn to enter with courage, have tea with the monsters there, only to realize they aren’t monsters, they are parts of me [shriveled] from fear, that need to remember what light looks like. It takes time of just sitting with it, compassionately when possible.”

Sara Sibai (32), Lebanon