The Secret to Happiness

Courtney Carver is author of the blog Be More with Less, and describes herself with “I have been too busy, too tired, too full, too stressed and too overworked for too long and I am changing my ways.” Courtney also runs the One Million for Good site, selling limited edition fine art prints in support of good causes.

I’d like to tell you a story…

A certain shopkeeper sent his son to learn about the secret of happiness from the wisest man in the world.

The lad wandered through the desert for forty days, and finally came upon a beautiful castle, high atop a mountain. It was there that the wise man lived.

Rather than finding a saintly man though, our hero, on entering the main room of the castle, saw a hive of activity: tradesmen came and went, people were conversing in the corners, a small orchestra was playing soft music, and there was a table covered with platters of the most delicious food in that part of the world.

The wise man conversed with everyone, and the boy had to wait for two hours before it was his turn to be given the man’s attention. The wise man listened attentively to the boy’s explanation of why he had come, but told him that he didn’t time just then to explain the secret of happiness.

He suggested that the boy look around the palace and return in two hours. “Meanwhile I want to ask you do do something,” said the wise man, handing the boy a teaspoon that held two drops of oil. “As you wander around, carry this spoon with you without allowing the oil to spill.”

The boy began climbing and descending the many stairways of the palace, keeping his eyes fixed on the spoon. After two hours, he returned to the room where the wise man was. “Well,” asked the wise man, “did you see the Persian tapestries that are hanging in my dining hall? Did you see the garden that it took the master gardener ten years to create? Did you notice the beautiful parchments in my library?”

The boy was embarrassed, and confessed that he had observed nothing. His only concern had been not to spill the oil that the wise man had entrusted to him.

“Then go back and observe the marvels of my world,” said the wise man.

Relieved, the boy picked up the spoon and returned to his exploration of the palace, this time observing all of the works of art on the ceilings and the walls. He saw the gardens, the mountains all around him, the beauty of the flowers, and the tasted with which everything had been selected. Upon returning to the wise man, he related in detail everything he had seen.

“But where are the drops of oil I entrusted to you?” asked the wise man. Looking down at the spoon he held, the boy saw that the oil was gone.

“Well, there is only one piece of advice I can give you.” said the wisest of wise men. “The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon”

The Alchemistby Paulo Coelho

This little story with a very big message from one of my favorite books begs the question, “Can we appreciate the beauty that surrounds us while staying focused on what is most important.”

Simplicity answers the question with a resounding “Yes!”

When life isn’t simple and you have to constantly think about

  • debt
  • shopping
  • catching up
  • spending
  • competing
  • appointments
  • health issues
  • falling behind
  • family conflict
  • clutter
  • stuff

then there is no time to appreciate the beauty or protect what is most important to you. There is no time to be happy.

Imagine dumping everything in your life that is meaningless. Everything that you don’t do for love. What would be leftover? It’s time to prioritize the “leftover”. Somehow those most important things, those things (which usually aren’t actual things) get shoved back behind all of the things we are “supposed” to be doing, buying, reading, worrying about.

This isn’t permission to shirk your obligations, but an invitation to put the most important thing in your life today at the top of your never ending to-do list. While everyone will have a different thing at the top of the list, clearing out, or making a plan to begin clearing out clutter/debt/meaningless stuff should be close to the top until it’s gone.

That said, even before you are debt free, clutter free, or free of whatever stands in the way of you and a happier life, prioritize the precioius oil in your life and start living, start enjoying immediately.

There is no doubt that clearing clutter will give you the time and space you need to fully embrace life, but you don’t have to wait for an empty drawer to get started. I know you think you will be happy when you are debt free, or happy when you fit into your skinny jeans, but I can tell you with great conviction that it’s time to be happy right now. You can be happy anytime.

You know me better to think that I am suggesting that you run around with a crazy smile on your face and rainbows shooting out of your pockets, but once you believe that happiness is possible, regardless of your current circumstances, things will start to change.

You will change.

Your life will change.

You will be happy.

Happy reading recommendations

What makes you happy right now?

Photo by Jonathon Benson via Flickr

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A Full Life

If you’re reading this sat glumly at your office desk you might want to spend a short while pondering this post.

Would you like to spend more time with your family and friends ?

How about more time pursuing leisure activities or keeping fit ?

Most of us could easily come up with a long list of enjoyable, useful, life affirming things we could do with more time – spend more time with the kids, get involved in our local communities, relax and unwinding, prepare better food and eat together as a family more, learn a new skill – or teach one, do something creative, or maybe even do some of that voluntary work or take part in civic society the way government keeps urging us all to do.

But instead we work long hours, both during the day and increasingly into the evening and at weekends, commute a few more and as a result feel under constant time pressure as we try to balance all the things we know we should be doing: help the kids with their homework, buy and cook healthy food, get involved with the community, try to keep fit, find time to see friends, not to mention finding time for ourselves and our own interests and relaxation. Modern life can be hectic.

Not all time is equal of course – we might have a couple of hours free before bed, but after our long work day, commuting and the necessary family and domestic duties, all we might be good for is veging out on the sofa in front of the TV or aimlessly messing with our social networks. Time is no use if you’ve got no energy left.

If this sounds exactly like your life, and you’re feeling sorry for yourself . . . wait a moment, because there’s another alternative.

Millions in our societies are also struggling with unemployment, and as economic austerity bites deeper, many have little optimism about their working futures – the young, the ‘more mature’, those with obsolete skills, those suffering from poor health or disability and those with other family care commitments, usually women.

The conventional economic cure for our current economic woes is yet greater efficiency – less people doing more work for less money.

Somehow, we’ve managed to build societies in which millions of people are unemployed, desperate for meaningful work – while simultaneously, millions of others work long hours in jobs they hate, and are too tired as a result. While some of us are overworking, over spending and over consuming, others can’t afford a decent quality of life.

There is a seemingly obvious solution every school table of six year olds would spot.

Why not share the work out more ?

Seems obvious doesn’t it. Reducing the working week, giving people free time to do ‘all that good stuff’ and creating jobs for more people appears to be a ‘triple-win’: good for the economy, good for our quality of life and good for the environment, as, it is argued, people will become less attached to status driven resource based consumption, deriving more enjoyment from their relationships.

A reduction in the working week to an average of 21 hours is being championed by the think tank The New Economics Foundation, as a way of breaking the live to work mindset, rather than working to live. Many other futurists have previously argued the same thing – assuming increasing technology would provide us with ever more leisure time, instead of driving a desire to do ever more work. Keynes himself imagined we would all be working a 15 hour work week by 2030 . . . probably not going to be one of his more accurate predictions.

But this seemingly obvious solution, of sharing the work out, has a couple of major obstacles – firstly working fewer hours means bringing in less money, and those on comfortable incomes may not immediately see the attraction of this, secondly it’s simply not reasonable to expect those on already low hourly rates to simply reduce their hours, so there would also need to be a corresponding increase in the minimum wage.

Will we see societies higher earners giving up a significant slice of their income in exchange for more leisure time, and a better quality of life ?

Sounds unlikely ?

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

For sure, not everyone agrees we should all be working less – another think tank is reported as recently proposed scrapping the UK’s bank holidays to boost GDP, but increasing numbers of people do appear interested in downshifting, simpler living, anti-consumerism, slow living and all aspects of sustainable living. Many also recognise the advantages having a more equal society would bring.

I don’t imagine our governments are about to institute 21 hour maximum work weeks any time soon – but those of us who are in the fortunate position of having options regarding our working week might want to give it some serious thought.

Many of us could get by just fine with a little less money, and would enjoy finding ways to constructively spend the extra time. I know I did, when I moved to a four day week a couple of years ago :)

Less work, consume less, for more jobs, and more time with your family and community – what’s not to like ?

I’d love to hear your views.

 

Photo from Seo2 via Flickr

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31 Reasons to be Cheerful

Sometimes the scale of the problems and injustice in the world can blind us to the fact that not only are many wonderful and amazing things taking place, but also that many things across the world have improved considerably over recent decades. From time to time we should pat ourselves on the back as a species and take encouragement from some of our successes.

1  The percentage of the world’s population living on less than $1.25 a day is falling

2   Energy efficient LED light bulbs are getting cheaper

3  More and more companies are embracing corporate social responsibility, like M&S’s Plan A

4  Global life expectancy has increased from 53 to 69 years since 1960

5  The volume of Fairtrade sales continues to increase despite the downturn

6  The world is producing more food every year

7  More women are involved in running the world

8  25,000 items are swapped daily on Freecycle - keeping 500 tons a day out of landfills

9  The UK opened the world’s biggest offshore wind farm in 2012, and plans to build more

10  The American Bison has been restored to a population of over 350,00 from only a few thousand

11  79% of people in the developing world now have access to a mobile phone, vital for communication in the absence of landlines

12  Though it might seem hard to believe, the long term trend is of fewer people dying in armed conflict year on year

13  2.2 billion people are now connected to the internet, with relatively free access to news, information and education

14  The world’s illiteracy rate halved between 1970 and 2005

15  Though the world’s population is still increasing, the rate of growth has been falling for 40 years

16  Thousands of efficient and less polluting cooking stoves are being provided across the developing world

17  The percentage of world population with access to clean water and sanitation increases every year

18  More and more people in the UK are growing some of their own food in their gardens or on allotments

19  1.8 million laptops have been provided to school children in the developing world

20  While still tragic, the percentage of children suffering from malnutrition in the world is falling

21  Despite set-backs, a record area of land was cleared of landmines in 2011

22  Despite the Feed-in-Tariff debacle, the UK Government still has ambitious plans for solar power - 22GW by 2020

23  The Southern White Rhino has been rescued from the edge of extinction to over 15,000 animals in the wild

24  Malaria eradication seems increasingly possible within a few decades

25  Rising numbers of people taking part in sharing and collaborative consumption groups like Getaround

26  The number of new HIV infections and deaths from AIDS has peaked and are now falling

27  Global GDP per capita is still increasing, despite the economic downturn

28  Europe’s fishermen no longer throw 80% of their catch back into the sea, dead

29  Solar panels are getting cheaper every year

30  Less children across the world are dying before their 5th birthday

31  The number of countries with endemic polio has reduced from 125 to 4 since 1988 – Something else Ian would be happy about . . .

 

Photo by Cheerful Givers, via Flickr

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Nature Deficit Disorder

Guest post by Maggie, who works as a writer for a reading glasses provider specializing in computer glasses. With an educational background in science, she enjoys staying abreast of the latest health and medical news and sharing that information; her latest project, The Eye Health Guide. Outside of work Maggie spends her time trying new restaurants, staying active, and traveling.

I think it’s safe to agree that children don’t spend adequate time outdoors.

For many families, video games, computer programs, and cell phones have quickly become the preferred methods of entertainment; the days of parents coercing their children to come inside for dinner are few and far between.  One expert found the consequences of this shift towards indoor child rearing to be so severe, that he named a new condition to describe the effects.

Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD) was a term (not a medical condition) coined by author Richard Louv to describe our society’s waning relationship to the environment. In his book, Last Child in the Woods, Louv discusses his concerns, noting that we’ve entered a period of suburban sprawl that limits outdoor play and encourages a plugged-in culture that attracts children indoors. Remember when children used to ride their bikes or walk to school? Today, the family piles in to the SUV and treks across town to school, playing video games all the way.

Some children adapt to the increased screen-viewing time and overstimulation that comes with these “gadgets”, but those who do not often develop NDD symptoms, like attention problems, obesity, anxiety, and depression.

What’s the Deal?

So is this really something that parents should be concerned about ?

According to the National Environmental Education Foundation, today’s children may be the first generation at risk of having a shorter lifespan then their parents. This fact should be enough to raise suspicions about the way we raise our children—something’s flawed.

Studies have linked NDD to behavioral problems including aggression and short-tempers, likely due to children spending increased time in confined spaces and the continual use of electronic devices. These behavioral issues can make educational progress difficult as they can lead to classroom interruptions.

Other studies have connected nature and behavior, discovering that children with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder need regular contact with nature to remain focused. In his book, Louv states, “We have to start looking at nature therapy” instead of, or as a compliment to, pharmaceutical drugs.

Finally, approximately 16% of U.S. children aged 6-19 are overweight or obese. The number of diagnoses of children suffering from chronic conditions—like asthma and diabetes—has grown dramatically and may lead to poor health in adulthood. Is it a coincidence that these numbers have grown as outdoor time and general physical activity have decreased?

How Do I Prevent NDD?

In the wake of this new research, some states launched programs to get students outdoors. In 2008 the US government began the “No Child Left Inside” initiative which provides information on NDD and funding for incorporating nature into education.

Parents must also make an effort to decrease their children’s screen-time and encourage them to head outdoors. A few tips include:

  • Follow the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for no more than 1-2 hours of quality programming (television, video games) a day.  Replace the time that would have been spent in front of a screen with an outdoor activity.
  • Reevaluate your children’s schedules. Many kids are so overscheduled with structured activities that there is no time to play outdoors.
  • Overcome “stranger danger.” Locking your kids indoors will harm their imagination and health. Controlling risk is the key. Go outdoors with your kids, but allow them explore unaccompanied.
  • Develop an appreciation for nature in your children. Teach them about our limited natural resources and start recycling in your home. Plant a garden and explain the benefits of your home-grown, organic fruits and veggies. Enroll them in nature-centered camps for a real “wilderness” experience.

Raising children to enjoy outdoor time and who appreciate the environment will ensure that your children grow to be environmentally savvy adults who will share the knowledge with their own children one day.

For more information on Nature Deficit Disorder, head to the No Child Left Inside website.

Photo by Miles.Wolstenhome, via Flickr

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8 Antidotes to Depressing Daily News

Ever feel the news is just too depressing ?

We need to be well informed about the world, but if all we ever see, hear and read about is war, terrorism, economic collapse, crime, poverty, famine, social decay, scandals, meaningless and empty celebrity culture and greedy lying politicians and public figures . . . it can be all too easy to start to imagine the whole world’s like that.

And it’s not.

It might be an idea to try to balance some of that bad news, with something a bit more uplifting.

1 – GIMUNDO

Dedicated to the belief that everyone needs a bit of good news to brighten up their lives each day. The site has no political agenda other than bringing the most inspiring news, stories and videos  - they say if they can make you smile every morning they’ve done their job. Recent articles include a video of the Khulu Happy Singers, an uplifting documentary about living with autism, and the story of Stanislav Petrov – the man who saved the world by doing nothing.

2 – POSITIVE NEWS

Focusing on solutions, the UK based Positive News site describes itself as the world’s original and leading positive source of news. It reports on people and initiatives that are creating a sustainable, just and fulfilling world, and hopes to inform, inspire and empower its readers. Recent stories include doctor Steve Fabes, who is cycling around the world for the charity Merlin, a journey that will take five years, the discovery of a healthy population of snow leopards in Afghanistan, and the production of a film documenting acts of kindness around the world.

3 – 1000 AWESOME THINGS

A weekly countdown of life’s heartwarming little joys – from optimistic nostalgia to laugh out loud funny. Sleeping in your own bed after a long trip, finding money you didn’t even know you’d lost, dropping your mobile phone on the pavement and finding its totally fine and when your computer fixes itself all make the list.

4 – ONLY POSITIVE NEWS

Dissatisfied with the increasing negativity and depressing nature of the news, Only Positive News provides daily positive and uplifting news stories, and is also dedicated to finding, celebrating and promoting people from all walks of life who are making a positive contribution, and making the world a better place. Recent stories have ranged from How to Stop Worrying, and Feeding those in Need in Washington DC, to lists of feelgood films and happy photos.

5 – POST SECRET

Postsecret was originally an community art project, where people anonymously mail their secrets on home made postcards for publication the website. It went on to become immensely popular, and joined-up with a suicide prevention charity in 2008, to help support student support hotlines on American university campuses. Note that not all secrets are always safe for work viewing.

6 – OPTIMIST WORLD

In a world that seems increasingly cynical and full of bad news, Optimist World chooses to offer an antidote of inspirational stories and positive news from around the world to show how good humankind can be too. Optimist World doesn’t wish people to bury their heads in the sand, but only to remember to also spend some time paying attention to some of the good things in the world. Recent stories include the rise in National Trust visitor numbers, an Optimist’s Tour of the Future, and Volunteering for Charity in Ethiopia.

7 – ALL THAT INSPIRES ME

A photo blog that offers no explanation of itself, but often manages to be, well, inspiring. Recent articles include Pay it Forward, Live-Laugh-Love, and Cartoon Inspired Street Art.

8 – THE DAILY GOOD

Positive and uplifting news delivered by a team on volunteers daily to over 100,000 subscribers – reminding us of the good in the world, the world’s true life heros and the multitude of positive things taking place. Recent articles include the Psychology of Love, a gentle story of a doctor confronted by his own death, and 29 Lessons from Travelling the World.

If I’ve missed any good sites, send in a comment.

Photo from nimish Gogori, via Flickr