Posts Tagged ‘happiness’

Walking with my Dad tonight I found myself having to answer the most important question anyone ever asks.

“Why should I live?”

Dad is 80. He recently lost the love of his life – my Mum – after being with her for 62 years. Two weeks later he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given a year to live. Plus he has an advancing form of Alzheimers. A triple whammy if you like.

Next Tuesday he is moving out of our family home to a one bedroom existence in an aged care facility.

So, knowing all this, on our walk tonight he shared that there really is nothing else to look forward to other than dying. But he did say that he wanted to help some old people by pushing them around in their wheelchairs.

My comment was something that has given my life purpose recently.

It is …to be of service to another.

To be helpful.

To give and to see the effect of your effort on the face of another.

It’s a pity that this only enters our brain after a trauma and we are forced to re look at our life purpose. Or to find a purpose if our life direction has vanished.

But is this just my opinion? There seems to be some research into happiness that we are all aware of and it has been happening right under our noses for many years. We are reminded of it regularly in the news and it becomes the topic of our conversations for a period of time, then we slide back to our normal day to day life.

The evidence that I mention is the suicide rate of movie and rock stars comparative to those involved in community work or altruism.

Think about it. Recently we have seen high profile suicides – Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain and Avicii to name a few famous ones. It seems to hit the young and old, the male and female. The ones we think that would have it all to live for.

We are wrong. Accumulation of fame and wealth is not all it’s cracked up to be.

A life of meaning seems to be the way. It provides us with a blanket of emotional security that ensures that we are safe in the knowledge that we matter. That we are worthwhile. That tomorrow we will be of value to another.

And that is a reason that I used on Dad. He agreed and we walked home with a new plan starting Tuesday.

Good on you Dad.

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Either I’m happy or I’m not.

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Well it’s not that easy. There aren’t two destinations on this treadmill. And either end of the spectrum isn’t desirable or possible.

I mean, if you wanted to be 100% happy – REALLY happy – and couldn’t be calm until you got there, you would be a mess.

Firstly, 100% happiness is a myth. The people you think are happy – film stars, the guy who dates the pretty girl you look at, the best sportsperson in your area of interest – these people wake up some mornings and don’t want to get out of bed. I’ve asked them. It’s a universal truth. 100% happiness, 24 hours a day, is a myth.

So what is real? What is acceptable? What should you shoot for?

Here are some markers to hit on your journey:

  • Do you have a job? This gives you a reason to get up in the morning. Even if you don’t like your job, you are involved in something (hopefully) bigger than you.
  • Do you have friends? I know people who are depressed probably don’t attract vital, lively friends but there is a way you can work on this. Join a club, be a person who is like the friends you want, do a course, the list goes on.
  • Do you have a drug or alcohol problem? If so, get off it straight away. Hard advice for those that are addicts and easy for those that aren’t but the point is that substance addiction is a slippery slope that leads to depression and suicide and neither of those is fun.
  • Are you in an intimate relationship? Happily married people are less stressed and live longer. Enough said.
  • Do you exercise? I don’t mean the gym. Although that is fine, I mean somehow you have to let off steam and give your body a reason to go to sleep at night.
  • Do you sleep 8 hours a night and do you wake up early? Fatigue is a huge marker for depression along with a routine which means getting up early at the same time every day.
  • Do you make your bed? Now it’s getting weird I hear you say. Yes, this is one of those small things that tells your brain that you have got your act together. Plus it’s easy and it’s at the start of the day.  At least if it is the worst day ever, you will go home to a bed that’s been made.
  • Do you read? Do you educate yourself? Reading and education mean it’s impossible to get dumber as you get older. This means you will understand yourself more easily and probably find out about other highly successful people that you admire who also struggled. You might even realise that someone else was more unhappy than you and ended up smiling.
  • Do you have an area of your life that has meaning? If not, you can start by looking at the most depressing thing in another person’s life and start working to alleviate their suffering. You will be amazed at the rewards you receive by serving the needs of another.

Finally, if you start doing these, you will find that meaning in life is a form of happiness and in the end, happiness – any percentage of it – isn’t that important if you have a higher purpose.

Oh, one more thing that I borrowed from AA. It’s the last step in their 12 step process. It’s to help another person on their road. But get going yourself first.

Start with the easiest one.

Then make a routine of it.

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Some notes to reflect on:

I cried most nights for about a year.
There were times that I had to wait 5 or 6 days for a counselling appointment and struggled in the meantime.
Trying to work whilst dealing with the trauma of a broken marriage was incredibly hard.
Some nights after I finished work I would say goodbye to the staff, lock the outside door then go into my office and crawl under the desk and lie in the foetal position
I tried to self medicate but it didn’t work.

BUT:

My mum gave me the advice “one day at a time“ and that was exactly how I got through it.
I conducted myself in a way that made me proud in later years.
When my kids grew up they realised I was traumatised by the situation and now respect me for the way I handled myself. I have become a role model for my son.
I make much better decisions now.
My life and current level of happiness is much better than it was prior to the trauma.

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Plunge on my friend.

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The saviour of common sense.

A ritual. A daily routine. Regular tasks that set you up for success and a positive mindset.

Mine involves simple tasks that make me feel good about the start to my day. Here they are: (more…)

The Pororoca lives in my memory now. In Brazil however, twice a year, the wave rolls on. Sometimes ridden by an inquisitive surfer, sometimes with no one to watch it.

Every time it builds up, it passes São Luis – the bustling town that lies near the mouth of the river.

It rumbles through the region of Maranhao where population dwindles and buildings become huts. As it approaches narrow banks and shallow water it builds up and passes by the lives of local Brazilians regardless of their problems.

It twists as the river curves and finally nears Arari, the town I used as my base for the expedition that put my problems into perspective.

You see, nature continues as we experience the events that seem to matter so much. As each full moon waxes and wanes, the lives of every person on the banks of the river wax and wane too. As I write this, the full moon tonight is the same one that greeted me in my early morning trips up river to meet the wave of my lifetime. Tonight’s full moon however greets a different me. I’ve changed. I look different. I think different. I’ve grown.

But I’ve changed because I wanted to. I could have returned to my life and struggled but as Robert Frost said, I took, “the road less travelled”.

And like Frost, it did make all the difference.

Now I don’t try to beat the world’s longest wave. In many ways I took the Pororoca home with me. I’ve made decisions since then that have allowed me to ride more waves. I moved so that I am minutes away from nature and waves and forest. I watch the ocean, the wind, the swell and yes, the tide.

I’m happy doing that. I found that the waves I dreamt of as a teenager do exist. I went to the end of the world and found that happiness is under my feet. Do I still struggle? Yes, but that is just part of being human. 40 years of wanting to do something better than before led me back to the place where I don’t feel bad about standing still.

I went from a human doing to a human being. Feels better.

 

Choosing a surfboard for a wave in a river is difficult.

As a river is freshwater it is not as buoyant as seawater. A surfer needs more foam underneath him to keep him moving. This newly made surfboard was now sitting in the cargo area of a plane flight that had just delivered me to São Luis, a town near the banks of the mouth of the Amazon river. Although the exact time of the wave’s arrival was known, 7 AM on Saturday, exactly how it would break was not known. We would have to travel up river the day before with a stick to test the depth as the sand bar shifts as the river curves through the Amazon jungle.

The adrenaline was pumping and I was full of the wonder of being in a new country and preparing myself for the experience of a lifetime. Even though I didn’t speak the language I was learning Portuguese
bit by bit. One conversation I will never forget. As we were moving up river in the early morning before the wave, one of the tour guides taps me on the shoulder and points to the river bank and says ‘Jacare’. I followed his direction to a three meter crocodile lying on the muddy bank. My eyes open wide. I turn to him. All that comes out of my mouth is, “Crocodile”.

He smiles and looks at me nodding and repeats, “Crocodile”.

Even thought the wave is due at 7am, we can hear it at 6.45am. Standing knee deep in mud on the banks of a river, waiting for a wave is not something you would expect on a Saturday morning.

The surreal nature of surfing in a river with crocodiles, piranha and anaconda hit me full force. You see, it’s not the experiences we have in life that changes us. It is the moments in between the experiences when things sink in. Therapists call them ‘teachable moments’. Only problem is that they usually occur when there is not a therapist in sight. That leaves just one person to make sense of it. You.

The wave itself is a sight that leaves even the tour guides initially speechless. The water is the colour of iced coffee. Branches and debris are pushed in front of the wave making it twice as hard for the surfer to negotiate his line.

In the event of falling off, I am instructed to wave my board over my head as the Jacare may wander over to see this new Australian addition to their menu.

The wave lasts about 2 hours. It is rideable most of that time which means the time you stand on your board – when added up – means you surf for nearly an hour. This probably equates to a 10 kilometre wave. A novice could learn to surf in just one wave.

At one stage we are told to get in the boat as we have to negotiate around a whirlpool that has developed on the bend of the river. A whirlpool? No one told me about that.

I ride the wave past towns and local people who have lined up on the bank to see the twice yearly sight. I lift my hand above my head to wave. They wave back. I surf on. They return to their lives.

Rising early

Final part comes out tomorrow…

Ridding yourself of negative thoughts is impossible. As parents we know this when our child is crying. We make them laugh or show them something that interests them and within moments they are laughing. They have at least forgotten the trauma.Real mud

As adults we must replace negative distractions with positive obsessions. You see, by concentrating on defeating something like depression your focus increases the subject of your thoughts. That is, depression. It’s like trying not to think of your father. Instantly his face springs to mind.

To combat depression all you need is an idealistic goal to chase. Victor Frankl, the psychiatrist who found himself in a concentration camp, accepted his place in the world, he just didn’t focus on it. He focused on the difference he wanted to make. He looked at how he could make a difference even though he was confined to Auschwitz with death all around him.

Okay, you are not in a concentration camp. But as the saying goes, “Man can make a hell of heaven or a heaven of hell”. So it’s up to you. It’s up to what you concentrate on.

Mud

Do you see burnt trees or new growth? If you have read this far, you know that the intended answer is new growth. The trick is realising that the fire caused the new growth.

It’s all about perspective.

The way to make a massive difference in someone’s life is to give them good advice and to show you care.
Here’s an example…
I was witness to a serious case of bullying last year. Actually it was more of a full blown assault than simple bullying really. As I was the witness I was standing in the Principal’s office with the main offender. He had been caught red-handed. I expected the principal to show him the consequence of such a serious breach of school rules. I expected a dose of old fashioned discipline. 

What happened next showed me the power of personal relationships. The Principal looked at the boy and said, “Has your mum had the baby yet?” (He knew the boy’s mother was expecting.) The answer was, ‘Yes – yesterday.’ 
The Principal’s next reply was classic. He said, “When you leave for home today, take some roses from the school garden for your Mum.” 
The boy nodded. 
He then said, “Now, tell me what happened.”
Call this compassion, call this a pattern break, call it what you like. It worked. The boys tough exterior melted and he told the truth.

The Dalai Lama was right.

Nothing beats compassion.

The number of people who blame their childhood on their problems is huge. They say, “If I had a better start in life I wouldn’t have all these problems”. Well, every day you get a fresh start but it isn’t that easy. Our childhood trauma lingers in the form of memories that trigger the original feelings that we experienced. 
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In writing a book on Depression I have been comparing ancient wisdom – that of Buddhism, Bushido and Red Indian philosophy, with current wisdom from the last 100 years. The following section, compares the quest for happiness (Freud) with the search for meaning (Frankl). At this point, I turn the draft over to you for feedback. Sometimes the best ideas are yours as they rebound back at you. Please use the comment bar below to offer your response. (more…)