A Coursera Course Changed Everything

A new member of my MOST IMPORTANT BOOKS list.


As I have mentioned before, one of my favorite books is Thinking: Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (I’ve written about it enough that I now can spell that last name with double-checking). I love learning about cognitive biases and the mistakes we all make in decision making and thinking in general. But I also always wondered WHAT I WAS SUPPOSED TO DO ABOUT IT. I had the knowledge of the ways we make faulty decisions but never could figure out what to do with it other than trying to catch myself in the act. Same with other sources on decision making like one of my other favorite books, Anti-fragile or anything by Dan Ariely (he had a great Coursera course as well but I don’t see it in the catalog right now).

I had no idea that a Coursera class on Buddhism and Modern Psychology would answer this question for me. Or rather it would take everything I had already learned and flip it upside down. Because according to evolutionary psychology (the topic of the course), what we call cognitive biases aren’t mistakes in thinking but evidence of the real reasons why we do things (and not mistakes at all).

There are two ways to think about “reasons”: the underlying evolutionary reason and the proximate reason (the reasons we give when asked why we made a decision). An example of this given in the book The Rational Animal:

Consider the question of why birds migrate each year. The proximate reason is because days get shorter; day length is the immediate cue triggering the bird’s motivation to begin its journey. But the ultimate reason for the bird migration has nothing to do with day length. Instead, it has to do with the fact that the best food and mating sites change with the season.

Decision making in humans is informed by evolution, just like everything else. When you consider all of these errors and biases through the lens of evolution, they appear to make reasonable sense for a human animal designed to survive to reproductive age and then reproduce as successfully as possible. Traditional economics never considers these deeper reasons for behaviors, only the proximate reasons (the reasons we SAY we do things). They are missing the forest for the trees.

And not only that, cognitive biases are nothing more than an ever-increasing list of exceptions to a model of human behavior (traditional economics), suggesting that the MODEL IS WRONG. For me, it’s no longer a question of how to avoid cognitive biases or compensate for them. It’s all about understanding my brain through the lens of evolution. That means MANY of the decisions I make are made in parts of my brain (what this course calls modules) THAT I HAVE NO CONSCIOUS ACCESS TO. Yet when asked why I made those decisions my brain is DESIGNED TO MAKE STUFF UP that I am 100% convinced of!

The course details the principle theory of evolutionary psychology, which is that we do not have one true self in our brains but instead a number of modules that evolved to assist with certain evolutionary goals.  With the help of a great book, Why Everyone Else is a Hypocrite, the course does a great job of explaining how these modules work and detailing the evidence that our brains are designed to make some decisions without that information being available to us consciously or to other parts of the brain that would allow us to communicate our reasons accurately. Another way to describe the modules is “subselves”, of which the book book The Rational Animal lists the following seven:

  1. Self protection
  2. Disease Avoidance
  3. Affiliation
  4. Status
  5. Mate Acquisition
  6. Mate Retention
  7. Kincare

Depending on the situation, any of these subselves might be more highly activated than the others and calling the shots. You will make different decisions about similar situations depending on which subself is the most activated at any particular time. It’s all so amazing and makes so much sense to me. The difference between behavioral economics and evolutionary psychology is that the former believes that rational decision making means always doing what is in your economic best interest, while the latter believes rational decision making means doing what serves the subself that’s currently activated. The reason I am so blown away by all of this is because I finally have a model of behavior and decision making that MAKES SENSE to me. And that model is that we just make stuff up all the time while our brains do all the choosing and leave us out of it. I love it.

What Harry Potter and Donald Trump Have In Common

Watching the second presidential debate this past week, I found myself thinking about Donald Trump’s worldview, which apparently is shared by about 40% of my fellow Americans. In a nutshell: might makes right. The ends justify the means, and we will destroy anyone who gets in the way of our pleasant life. Doesn’t matter who gets hurt, what tactics are used, or what others think. With strength and power and bluster we can make America Great Again.

 

So then yesterday I read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. There is a point when Harry as a parent makes a choice to punish his son in a overly harsh way to “protect” him. He is impulsive and angry, a frequent fault of Harry’s (and Trump’s). We can see that it is fear and a feeling of powerlessness that makes Harry act in this way. In a moment of great stress he reverts to a less developed level and acts impulsively in an attempt to feel in control. His approach actually weakens his influence and control, alienating his child even more and making himself look foolish. Harry can’t help himself at the moment because he feels so out of control and has such trouble relating to his child. I think every parent can secretly relate to this, as we all can probably think of at least one time we overreacted to something because we ourselves felt shame or guilt and used anger to cover it up.

What Harry loses in his anger, fear and reactivity is wisdom, the trait that was always so visible in the calm and detached style of Dumbledore. Dumbledore managed to rarely react with emotion or take things personally. Everyone always respected him for that and listened to him. He never made it about him. He continually influenced Harry in this way, helping Harry to learn how to control his anger and to think before acting.

Apparently wisdom, prudence, self-control, and respect for self and others are no longer things we as a country value in ourselves or in our politicians. I can’t think of a good reason why this is so. I still want a careful, thoughtful, calm leader. I want a leader who isn’t overly confident and brash, who is mindful and rational, who treats all people with respect, who is fully aware of his or her weaknesses and strives to overcome them. I know I am not alone in this, but it really is terribly dismaying that so many of my fellow citizens no longer wish for these qualities in a leader.

So what do Harry and Trump have in common?  They are both Enneagram Eights. If you read about the levels of development with Eights you can see how Harry matured into his personalty type while Trump didn’t. Here is a description of a relatively healthy Eight, which sounds a lot like Harry Potter in the later books:

Level 3: Decisive, authoritative, and commanding: the natural leader others look up to. Take initiative, make things happen: champion people, provider, protective, and honorable, carrying others with their strength.

And here is a description of a relatively unhealthy 8, which sounds a lot like Donald Trump:

Level 6: Become highly combative and intimidating to get their way: confrontational, belligerent, creating adversarial relationships. Everything a test of wills, and they will not back down. Use threats and reprisals to get obedience from others, to keep others off balance and insecure. However, unjust treatment makes others fear and resent them, possibly also band together against them.

Harry Potter and Donald Trump both have fiery dispositions and get in trouble when they don’t think before acting. Over time Harry matures into a person who uses his anger as a way to protect the innocent while always being willing to put himself in danger or sacrifice his own happiness to protect others. Donald Trump has learned to use his anger, too, but for the opposite goal of meeting his own needs and putting himself first at the expense of the happiness of others. His anger still controls him. You never get the sense that he has any kind of self awareness or ability to manage his emotional states. And for some reason many people find this appealing.

I never could figure out why anyone would want to be on Voldemort’s side. There seemed to be no upside to aligning yourself with someone who so obviously didn’t care for anyone but himself. But now I see in real life how someone who desperately longs for power over people and is so obviously without any kind of wisdom or self knowledge can seem attractive to people. if they seem convinced enough of their own power. I don’t understand it, but I see it and can’t deny it. It seems that my fellow Harry Potter fans might be more immune to Trump, as a study found that HP fans are less likely to support him.  While Trump is more like Harry Potter than Voldemort in his basic personality type, I think us HP fans are inclined to see the exclusionary world vision of Trump as very Death Eater. And we just aren’t into that.

 

Fiction books that teach non-fiction material

a union of two soulsThis post contains affiliate links. If you click through a buy something, I make a small percentage as a referral fee. 

Ninety percent of the books I read are non-fiction. I like fiction and it is slowly creeping it’s way back into my life thanks to some great recommendations from podcasts, but right now my heart is with non-fiction. Recently, however, I’ve read two fiction books  that taught me about non-fiction subjects better than a non-fiction book ever could, and I am realizing that perhaps this a genre of books I’ve been missing out on.

I came across the first book, How Yoga Works by Michael Roach a few months ago at a used book store. I assumed it was a non-fiction book so I bought it since I was interested in any yoga books I could find and had already read everything my library had. I was surprised once I started reading it to realize that it was a fiction book! I kept reading and was delighted to discover that despite being a work of fiction, it was a special kind of book that could educate readers about a non-fiction subject. In the case of How Yoga Works, the fiction story is meant to convey the teaching of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and it does so much better than reading the Sutras themselves, especially for someone new to yoga. While the prose was not exactly literary quality, it was a really wonderful and helpful book for me. I learned a lot and added many new tools to my mindfulness practices.

The second book, The Course of Love by Alain de Botton, was recommended by Modern Mrs. Darcy. I’ve read non-fiction by de Botton before and the review for this book was so positive that I knew I would like it. Just like How Yoga Works, this beautiful book teaches us about important non-fiction topics in a way that cuts straight to our emotions and makes the subject matter so much easier to learn and absorb. In this case, the topic is marriage, love, and attachment styles.  de Botton takes us into the marriage of a couple for the course of 14 years, making the normal but never easy struggles of every marriage the star of the show rather than the focus on infatuation as love that we normally find in our culture. To de Botton, marriage is not the end to a love story but the beginning, where all the work and struggle and growth actually occurs. Throughout the book de Botton intersperses his own thoughts on the couple’s issues as the third party voice of the narrator, giving us perspective and reflecting on how each person in this marriage is managing or not managing their own issues and emotions. It’s really thought provoking and encourages entering into the inner world of those we are closest to with less defensiveness and more compassion. I would love to put this book into the hands of everyone getting married so they know that they are not alone, that every marriage is a struggle and a trial.

The fiction story as teaching aid is nothing new, of course. From Aesop’s Fables to Jesus teaching in parables, stories have always been the most powerful way to teach real human truths. It’s a lesson I was glad to learn with these two books and I hope my reading future brings me more of these gems.

My New Favorite Podcast

Fair warning: I will gush in the post.  I am really and truly and madly in LOVE with this new podcast I discovered through a Facebook group I am in. Never have I found a podcast that so perfectly combines things that I love in such a joyful, creative, and inspiring way. It makes me laugh, it makes me cry, and I eat up every last word. Ready for it? It’s called Harry Potter and the Sacred Text.

From the description:  

What if we read the books we love as if they were sacred texts? What would we learn? How might they change us? Harry Potter and the Sacred Text is a weekly podcast reading Harry Potter, the best-selling series of all time, as if it was a sacred text. Just as Christians read the Bible, Jews the Torah and Muslims read the Quran, we are embarking on a 199-episode journey (one chapter an episode, to be released weekly) to glean what wisdom and meaning we can make from J.K. Rowling’s beloved novels. We will read Harry Potter, not just as novels, but as instructive and inspirational texts that will teach us about our own lives.

Each episode has a theme, such as loneliness or commitment, that is explored through the chapter being read that week. It is simply amazing to think of Chapter One of Sorcerer’s Stone in the context of commitment and how the Dursleys demonstrate commitment to each other and to normalcy and to their son. Or Chapter Two (the zoo) through the lens of loneliness, with Harry and the snake both live in captivity and this very possibly being Harry’s first meaningful encounter with ANY person or creature since his parents died.  I can’t even! Ahhh! It is so perfect and delicious and intellectual and thoughtful! I love theology and religion, I absolutely LOVE Harry Potter, and I love the sincere and spiritual approach the two hosts bring to these topics.

Speaking of the hosts, they are both graduates of Harvard Divinity School working as spiritual leaders to non-religious folks. Um, that’s a thing. And I love that that’s a thing. I want to do that thing! I love that thing! But for now I will just continue to listen to these wonderful folks talk through 199 chapters of Happy Potter in their truly magical way.

I am so grateful for imaginative, creative, intelligent people for creating their masterpieces. This brings me so much JOY JOY JOY!

Moments of Joy

Joy

A few months ago I read something by Elizabeth Gilbert about writing a daily moment of joy on a scrap of paper and putting it into a “Joy Jar”. I adopted that idea in my journal and every day write one moment of joy. They are never momentous things. They are every-day moments like watching deer in the backyard or getting done with an audiobook and having 2 weeks of podcasts waiting to be heard or seeing Jack play with his grandparents. These are the moments that make life literally joyful, and they happen EVERY DAY.

Now more than ever I am reminded that these daily moments are important to hold on to as a kind of grounding in optimism. Life is full of opportunities to be present and mindful of joy yet until I started this journaling practice I was blind to them. With this simple practice I have had my eyes opened to a world I am living but which can so easily stay invisible, not brought into awareness and appreciated as they are happening. Knowing that I will have to write down one moment of joy every night, I am now watching for them and aware of them AS THEY HAPPEN. And that is a wonderful gift.

3 Habit Tools: Goals, Challenges, and Rules

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If there is one thing I’ve learned about being a happy and successful person, it’s that the most important skill we can develop is control of our impulses. So much of what we struggle with in life, from overeating, exercising regularly, being happily married, being present with our children, or sticking with a new project requires nothing more than an awareness of how we respond unconsciously to our wants and desires and a commitment to mindfulness. In the service of mindfulness, which is simply bringing awareness to our impulsive and mostly unconscious desires and thoughts, I have used the following three tools to great effect.

Goals. 

I use goals mostly to help me build momentum on an on-going project that doesn’t necessarily require developing new habits or skills. An example would be starting a new business. I am currently in the beginning process of this goal and the best way for me to move forward, considering one of my biggest stumbling blocks is taking action over the long haul, is to set measurable short term and long term goals. These don’t require me to learn new skills like using WordPress or marketing. I already have enough of that knowledge to move forward. What I need to the momentum and accountability that goals provide. Other goals I have set:

  • Complete an ultra-marathon
  • Get house ready to sell by X date

Challenges

A close cousin of goals is Challenges, which I tend to use much more than goals but which can eventually evolve into goals. I use Challenges to start or stop habits for specific periods of time. I’ve done so many of these I can’t count anymore but some examples:

  • no sugar for 30 days
  • meditate every day
  • make bed every day
  • gratitude journal
  • read 100 books in a year

The example of “read 100 books in a year” is a good example of how close a challenge and a goal can be. It could be either one but I count this one as a challenge because I didn’t need the motivation to START reading like I might need the motivation to START training for a race. I did need it to remind myself that I wanted to see what would happen if I read a lot more than before.

Challenges help me test-drive new things to see if they have a place in my life long-term, at which point they move over to goals or rules. Before I gave up gluten for good I did a 30 day gluten free challenge. Long before I gave up sugar for good I did numerous sugar free challenges of various lengths. For me, challenges can be stepping stones to lasting change in an area where I have some level of resistance. It didn’t take much to convince me to give up gluten, but it took many sugar-free challenges to work up the mental strength to give it up for good.

Rules

Rules are the scaffolding over which everything else can get built. If your rules are set and followed, life becomes much simpler and the good things that seem small but make a huge difference don’t require any effort at all. Rules help us replace our impulsive, poor choices with automatic behaviors that we intentionally choose. It’s mindfully replacing mindless patterns. Rules are extremely powerful once they are truly ingrained and can possible change the quality of your life more than goals or challenges. Here are some of my rules:

  • wake up at 6AM every day
  • upon waking, meditate for 20 minutes, make bed, gratitude journal
  • no sugar or grains
  • spend time outside daily

In the above, you can see that most of my rules relate to my morning routine, which I developed over time but have diligently stuck with for about 5 months now. It’s made a huge impact on my happiness level, especially over the summer when I normally experience stress and depression due to lack of routine. Just getting up every day at 6am has made more of an impact than I ever could have imagined. That’s the magic of rules. They seem so simple and boring yet when they stick they are incredibly powerful. I now spend NO energy making the decision to wake up at 6 and can use that mental energy and willpower on other things.

If you want to explore these tools, I suggest starting with a Challenge. Try something new or quit something you are tired of and see how it feels for 30 days. Don’t just jump into a rule of No Sugar, for example if you have never tried it as a challenge.  Use a challenge to gain evidence that the change is good for you, THEN consider making it a rule. For goals, think of something that requires more diligence or attention than it is currently getting. Work, marriage, parenting, fitness, etc. Set some goals that are broken down into smaller stepping stones and see what the higher level of effort and attention does for you.

I promise you that using these tools can help you replace mindless impulse and desire with mindful cultivation of the good life. And I also promise you that it feels wonderful to be free of compulsions that once shackled me, like an addiction to sugar or the depressing feeling of not wanting to get out of bed in the morning. It all boils down to helping yourself do things today that you won’t regret tomorrow.

 

 

On Suicide and Depression

I’m sitting at Starbucks and looking out the windows at the gray sky, feeling the wind on my cold fingers when someone opens the door. It’s a depressing morning. I’m lost in thought about a kind, lovely woman I know and her 18 year old son who killed himself when he returned home from his first semester of college last month. I’m lost in thought about the 8th grader at my kids’ school who killed himself in the fall. I’m lost in thought about a friend who lost her brother to suicide 5 years ago

I’m lost in thought about what it feels like to not want to live anymore. To believe something with all your heart that isn’t true, that your loved ones would be better off without you, that if you had real courage you would kill yourself and be done with it.

I’ve felt those things. I’ve believed those things. I know what it’s like to live outside of reality and truly feel like suicide is a viable and sensible option. I know what it’s like to not want to live. I know what it’s like to feel so tired and over it and completely DONE and without any spark of joy in your life. Life can seem so tiring, so without purpose. I know what it’s like to feel like you are actually MORE awake to reality now that you understand how ridiculous it is to be living and striving and caring and hurting when there is no point to any of it. You will die eventually anyway.

I survived my journey through that broken reality that my brain created. I read about suicide, I read about depression, I worked on getting better, I was trying to escape from my broken reality so I could return to my life and live it. Somehow I managed to always keep that thread to sanity intact enough to remember that no matter how much I wanted to be done with life, I couldn’t transfer my pain onto my loved ones. I didn’t truly feel and believe that truth, but I remembered that I once did and that was enough to keep my feet planted.

As I wrote that last paragraph, the sun came out and shined on my face. It’s still cold out, it’s still windy. But that sun felt so good. Then it disappeared again and I missed it. Then it came out again. And now I feel it fading away behind the clouds yet again. I can’t help feeling that this is exactly what depression is like in my life. It comes and goes. I can learn the conditions in which it tends to develop, just like a meteorologist can try to understand and predict the weather. But neither of us can change what is. Both of us can feel as if our knowledge is control, but that is an illusion. We can’t control it, and if we get lost in our false sense of control we can forget to prepare ourselves for when the inevitable happens.  I don’t want to be the meteorologist that doesn’t have milk and bread at home when the blizzard hits. I want to live in immense gratitude and joy when I am well and I want to be prepared if (when) I am unwell. I want to fully experience the moments when the sun shines on my face and the days when it doesn’t and all I have is the hope of sunnier days ahead.

What is completely tragic is the suffering that is literally inescapable for those who end their lives. It might have been a well-planned end of life. It might have been a completely spontaneous decision made more dangerous by the availability of a gun. It might have been the end to a lifetime of suffering or a brief moment of suffering. It might have been planned with ruthless “logic” or occurred in a fit of emotion. There is no one truth to suicide or one solution. It happens and it leaves a gaping hole in the world. It blows people apart, a nuclear bomb that incinerates everything that was. And we can’t figure out how to prevent this. We can’t figure out how to bring the invisible suffering into the light and bear it together. I’m 41 years old and I am still figuring out how to invite people into my suffering and ask for help. I feel lucky that my worst depressions didn’t occur when I was young.

What I can do is talk to my children honestly about what depression can say to us and how to hold onto that thread of truth that suicide is never the answer. I can’t control any outcome and that is terrifying. But I can talk and be honest and hope that makes the slightest dent in the fractured reality of depression for someone else.

 

My Last Book of 2015 Deserves It’s Own Post

If I had read this book sooner, it most certainly would have made the list of best self-help books I read in 2015. In fact, this is one of the best self-help books I have EVER read. It’s called Loving What Is by Byron Katie.

 

I first heard about this book around Christmas time when I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Sorta Awesome. The host recommended listening to episode 88 of the Lively Show. In that episode, Loving What Is was mentioned so I checked it out the next day from the library.

It’s a short book, and the actual meat of the book is not much more than 1-2 chapters. Katie describes a process called The Work that helps people detach from their thoughts and waken to reality. The process is simple but powerful. It involves writing down your thoughts in a certain way (she calls it the Judge Your Neighbor worksheet), then asking 4 questions about what you wrote, and finally turning the statement around to see if it’s more true when said in reverse.

The worksheet encourages you to think of a recurring stressful situation and write about it. Who did what, what they should do, what you need from them, etc. Then you inquire with the 4 questions:

Is it true?
Can you be absolutely certain it’s true?
How do you feel, what happens, when you believe that thought?
Who would you be without the thought?

Then you turn it around, to the self, to the other, or to the opposite and ask yourself if those statements are as true or more true than the original.

Here is an example based on something that happened when Andrew and I were having a spontaneous conversation about a particular aspect of our business recently:

Statement from the Judge Your Neighbor Worksheet:

I’m angry at my Andrew for not listening to me or respecting my opinion about work.

  1. Is it true? Does Andrew not listen? No.
  2. Can you be absolutely certain it’s true?No, I can’t absolutely know it’s true that Andrew doesn’t respect my opinion and I know he listens to me a lot!
  3. How do you feel, what happens, when you believe that thought? It makes me feel frustrated and sad and like my opinion doesn’t matter. I shut down and give up.
  4. Who would you be without the thought? I would just feel free and patient and giving.
  5. Turn it around:
    a. I don’t listen to myself and I don’t respect myself
    b. I don’t listen to Andrew or respect his opinion.
    c. Andrew DOES listen and DOES respect my opinion.

All of those turn around statements are AS TRUE or MORE TRUE than my original statement. Reality staring right back at me.I am 100% in charge of how I responded to that stressful situation and I created the belief that Andrew doesn’t listen and doesn’t respect my opinion when in reality those weren’t true statements. I’ve spent my whole life believing the things my brain thinks. This simple exercise helped me realize that and I can laugh at it and move on.

I can’t do this book justice without writing the whole book over again, but you can visit the website for The Work HERE and read up on it. Better yet, you can fill out a Judge Your Neighbor Worksheet right on your computer or iPad without printing anything out and try out the 4 questions yourself.

What this book is helping me truly see and accept more fully is what I have read a million times in a million different ways about mindfulness:

I create my own suffering by believing the things I think, which are not reality. If I realize this and I still cling to thoughts that create suffering for me, it’s important to ask myself what ulterior motive I might have for not taking responsibility for my own happiness. 

This book is nothing more than an incredibly simple and practical way to be a Buddha. I can’t tell you how many times I have read that we create our own suffering with our thoughts but couldn’t really GET what that meant or how to change it. This book is the how, and it’s easy enough for anyone to do if they dare wake up to reality!

For some it might seem completely insane to not believe what you think. But really any sense you have of being in control of your own thoughts is an illusion. They come and go without our volition and don’t listen to our instructions to stop. Try meditating for 5 minutes and tell me you have control over what pops into your head! It’s up to us to realize this and learn to shine some reality on our thoughts so we can stop our own suffering and learn to love what is!

P.S. I used an affiliate link in this post so if you click it and buy the book you will be supporting this blog.

My 2016 Theme

This year I don’t have any goals or resolutions. I just don’t like that approach as it always leaves me feeling like I didn’t do enough. It’s even worse, though, to look back at a year in which you didn’t set any goals at all and feel like you did nothing, which is what I ended up doing in 2015. It’s not true that I did nothing, but since I had no path to follow, it felt in a way as if I had not taken a single step.

So this year I am going to have a theme. Themes, to me, are guidepost ideas that I will use to keep me centered on important ideals and values that I want to live more completely. My theme this year:

Eudaimonia

So, this big wonderful word is from ancient Greece and means happiness, but in the sense of the kind of happiness that comes from living a good life. I like to think of it as flourishing. My guide in seeking eudaimonia is Aristotle, who believed that happiness comes from three things:

Virtue (knowing what it right, character traits like patience, temperance, generosity).

Practical Wisdom (knowing what is required to do well and meet goals and succeed).

Moral Strength (having the will to use your knowledge, virtue, and practical wisdom most of the time).

Most people I know have some virtue and some practical knowledge but everyone i know (including myself) lacks moral strength in some areas. We know what it takes to succeed at business or weight loss or training for a race or saving money for that vacation but the temptations of modern life always drag us away from our path. The donuts someone brought into work, the impulse shopping, the desire to binge watch something on Netflix instead of going for your run, all those things in the MOMENT feel good but in the long term do not serve us and lead us away from flourishing. We are not living a good life if we constantly give in to temporary pleasures that are not in our own best interest. And yet our modern culture is fixated on temporary pleasures, so it takes a lot of energy to avoid them all.

Another point to make it that Aristotle recognized that happiness is a temporary, fleeting feeling and can change from moment to moment, while eudaimonia is a characteristic of your life in sum. You can’t flourish one moment and not the next. Also, humans flourish when they are living in their true nature as humans, just as animals flourish when they are living their true animal nature (hence, why animals in captivity, despite having no stress over acquiring food or safe shelter often do not flourish but instead become mentally ill). Aristotle thought that a human’s most true nature, what set it apart from all other animals, was reason. So eudaimonia comes from using reason to act according to your virtues. That’s pretty simple, right?

Here are Aristotle’s virtues, which are always the mean between two vices. For example, courage is the mean between rashness and cowardice.

Courage
Temperance
Liberality (open-mindedness, charity)
Magnificence (spark, radiance, zest)
Pride
Honor
Good Temper
Friendliness
Truthfulness
Wit
Friendship
Justice

Now, back to me and how I am using this as my theme for 2016.  Aristotle pointed out that through habit will begin to act our virtues automatically, rather than through force of will. One of my favorite quotes ever is from Aristotle:
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is an act, but a habit.

My focus this year is on recognizing ways in which I frequently lack moral strength and make impulsive choices that are not in my overall best interest and to work on making better choices more frequently. Some of these are very small things, like staying on a low carb diet or exercising every day. Some of them are bigger, like not believing my own thoughts (try this for a day and you will see how many of our thoughts aren’t actually based in reality) or how I react when I feel anger. But they are all worth practicing and I look forward to using eudaimonia as my guide this year!

 

 

 

 

The Sauna Complainer

Over the winter I developed a routine of going to the sauna at the YMCA once a week. I really loved it and felt it helped keep my mood even over the winter months. I would sit and sometimes do loving-kindness meditation, generally directed at the loud-talkers in the hot tub and my fellow sauna-takers. Sometimes there were conversations going, sometimes you could hear the tinny music from someone’s headphones, sometimes everyone shut up and lived in their own bubbles.

But one day there was lifeguard training or something going on. Over the course of a couple of minutes, a bunch of young girls opened the sauna door about 5.3 million times to place their towels near the heat so they could retrieve them later and be warm and cozy. It didn’t phase me at all. Until one guy in the sauna with me started complaining about how every time the door opened it cooled down the sauna and weren’t those girls so RUDE?? Well, now that I think about it, yes those girls are so RUDE. Don’t they KNOW that they are lowering the sauna temp for us REAL sauna people? How selfish! And then I started getting annoyed by other people who would cycle in and out of the sauna and not realize that they were OPENING THE DOOR.

It didn’t take me long to realize that that one person’s negativity had infected me. But while I noticed this pretty quickly, it took MUCH LONGER for the negativity I felt about “rude sauna folks” to go away. There was no more loving-kindness toward the agitated, the loud-talkers, the tinny music folks. Awareness clearly doesn’t equal change.

The point is that every day we make choices about what we say. There is a saying that I try to remember:

You are either affecting people with positivity or infecting people with negativity. 

Sauna Complainer chose to infect with negativity and that infection takes a long time to heal. Think about that when you complain, bitch, or talk badly about someone. Do you really want to infect a loved one with negativity and bias them toward someone else? Think about what you spray out to the world on social media. You have the power to affect or infect hundreds or thousands of people in one shot. Use that power wisely. Challenge yourself to hold your tongue rather than infect. The bigger challenge? Actively affecting people with positivity. It’s a goal worth striving for.