Saturday, January 22, 2011

How to Get HAPPy? Adjust to Whatever HAPPens!

So there we were yesterday, ready for our second day of the new Happiness class at SUNY Albany and guess what HAPPENed?

As writer John Lanchester suggests in one of the readings we had for today (from The New Yorker, Feb. 27, 2006):

"...the oldest and most deeply rooted philosophical idea in the world and in our natures is

"SNOW happens."

(Actually Lanchester used the other S word but I am going to stick with snow!)

Lanchester quotes Darrin McMahon, a historian at Florida State University -- where I presume snow DOES NOT HAPPEN :) -- who has written a "heavyweight" study called "Happiness: A History." In that book, McMahon instructs us on the ORIGIN OF THE WORD HAPPINESS, which on this, the second day of class it seems to me to make sense to start.

McMahon: "Happ was the Middle English word for 'chance, fortune, what happens in the world, giving us such words as 'happenstance,' 'haphazard,' 'hapless,' and 'perhaps.'"
Lanchester's article argues that we are hard-wired to be scared and nervous. He presents us with two characters from 100,000 B.C. -- Ig and Og. Ig is the courageous hunter-gatherer who takes all kinds of chances, and Og is the scared one who freezes at the first sign of danger.
Which one, Ig or Og, is likely to survive? Which kind of behavior is likely to be passed on, the courageous free-wheeling IG behavior or the scared, anxious OG behavior?

Well, so back to HAPP and HAPPINESS and what HAPPENS. Happiness comes from accepting whatEVER happens in life and adjusting accordingly. It's a snowy day, the roads are horrific, and so, as much as I don't want to, and didn't anticipate this, I must do what I must do. So I cancel class. And we adjust by doing something right here on-line.

As soon as I started posting on-line, it occurred to me: there are people who keep saying they want to take this Happiness class (and they aren't about to enroll at the University this spring.)

So now I know how they can take the class:

Right here. Right now.

OK, folks the "assignment" for Monday, Jan. 24th which you can now do from the comfort of your couch. :)

1) Please watch this amazing YOU TUBE video in which University of Wisconsin researcher Dr. Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin who works with the Dalai Lama, explores the emerging field of “Contemplative Neuroscience.” Davidson is one of those suggesting that our mental activity, including mindfulness and meditation, can induce physical changes in the brain. This is also the subject of Sharon Begley's book, Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, so if you are inclined, pick up that book and start reading the first two chapters. (We will get to it a bit later in the semester.) Begley is a very gifted science writer for Newsweek and has explained the research with a storyteller's eye!

Davidson’s cutting-edge work, meanwhile, is influenced by the emerging fields of neuroplasticity and epigenetics: the first is that the brain is a flexible organism. The second idea, epigenetics, suggests that genes are regulated by the environment in which they reside; Davidson says the notion that our genetic structures are inalterable blueprints is “antiquated and Newtonian.”

2) Take a look at this article from The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. It's particularly appropriate to read this on a snowy day, as it discusses research that shows the "positive emotions" that emerge from meditation "compound over time" (i.e. they create a SNOWBALL EFFECT!)

3) Go out and play in the snow, or at least experience the snow in some direct HAPPY way :) I will leave the details of that up to your individual imaginations.

4) Write a snow poem, specifically, a SNOW HAIKU, (here is a link to the haiku form, the Japanese form of poetry very short but very powerful!) and I will publish them here!

So, in the spirit of WRITING THE HAPPIER SELF I offer you my own SNOW HAIKU:

All white all soft all
mounded and smooth, white and white
the nothing of quiet.

HAVE FUN with this Haiku, HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND and see you on Monday!

Other readings that we read for today (and will discuss Monday, Jan. 24th):

1) The short story, "Getting Closer," by Steven Millhauser, from The New Yorker, Jan. 3, 2011
2) Chapter One of Tal Ben-Shahar's book, Happier (buy yourself a copy!)
3) "Everybody Have Fun," by Elizabeth Kolbert, from The New Yorker, March 22, 2010

First writing assignment, due Monday, Jan. 24th: write a one-page typed letter to Jimmy, the boy in the story, "Getting Closer," giving him advice from the other three readings! Draw on your own experience trying to find happiness too!
Professor Ricci

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh, what I would give to be taking this class! Thanks for sharing all this info with us!