Thursday, July 17, 2008

"Your Unfinished Life".................. Chapter 1 Selection

Chapter 1
Kindness and Happiness

“People often asked me what is the most effective technique for transforming their life. It is a little embarrassing that after years and years of research and experimentation, I have to say that the best answer is - just be a little kinder.”
- Aldous Huxley (Quoted from The Power of Kindness - Piero Ferrucci ]

The search for happiness is a universal quest. It seems only logical it should center around us. Instead, it really centers around others. As English philosopher and social reformer Jeremy Bentham said: “Create all the happiness you can create, remove all the misery you can remove. Every day will allow you to add something to the pleasure of others, or to diminish something of their pains. And for every grain of enjoyment you sow in the bosom of another, you shall find a harvest in your own bosom; while every sorrow which you pluck out from the thoughts and feelings of a fellow creature shall be replaced by a beautiful peace and joy in the sanctuary of your soul.” (Quoted from Happiness: Lessons From A New Science - Richard Layard)

How often are people called to our attention and we think that somebody else will help or that it’s not really our concern? It can be as simple as giving or lending money, cutting someone’s grass or listening to a friend’s problems.

A decent, thoughtful man was walking home late one night and saw a pathetic drunk laying in the gutter. Suddenly, he found himself under a horrific attack of cynical thought and said to himself: “God, why do you let this man lie in shame. If you truly exist, why don’t you help him?” And into this man’s mind came this sentence: “I am helping him. I just brought him to your attention.” ( Power Thoughts - Dr. Robert Schuller )

Opportunities for kindness present themselves daily. By developing an enhanced sensitivity to our social environment, we’ll start to notice things we haven’t seen before. More people will be helped. And we’ll make ourselves more authentically happy people in the process.

How To Have A Happier Life
You are the prospective parent of your own fulfilled self and your happiness. Dr. Martin Seligman, Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, in his book Authentic Happiness says this about true happiness:

“The pleasant life, is wrapped up in the successful pursuit of positive feelings, supplemented by the skills of amplifying these emotions. The good life, in contrast, is not about maximizing positive emotion, but is a life wrapped up in successfully using your ‘signature strengths’ to obtain abundant and authentic gratification. The meaningful life has one additional feature: using your signature strengths in the service of something larger than you are.”

Mother Teresa was of the same mind: “I wouldn’t touch a leper for $1000, but I cure him willingly for the love of God.” It doesn’t necessarily have to do with God or religious faith. It simply has to do with doing something worthwhile for a higher purpose.

Benjamin Disraeli, former Prime Minister of Great Britain, who as a Jew faced great religious and ethnic discrimination, rose to the top by “climbing the greasy pole” as he described it. He noted: “Life is to short to be little”. We should focus on doing important things. How big or little is your life? What else could you be doing that is truly important? By changing our focus, we can change our life.

Students in Dr. Seligman’s classes wondered if happiness came more readily by extending a kindness or by having fun. They were asked to engage in one pleasurable activity and one activity involved with helping others. Dr. Seligman reported that “the pleasurable activity paled in comparison with the effects of the kind action.” Kindness or service is not the sole road to gratification, but it clearly meets the standards of being an important source of it.
To determine what your own personal strengths are, read Authentic Happiness and take Dr. Seligman’s VIA Strengths Survey. A version of the test is also available online at: Reading his book will provide an improved understanding of your strengths and how they may be best applied in leading you to a happier and more satisfying life.

Take the long term view. Robert Schuller said that we should plan as if we are going to live to be one hundred. Whether we get there or not, having a plan will help us maximize what we’re going to accomplish in whatever time we have left.

Kindness As A Strength
Kindness is an important strength all of us can practice. It allows us to focus on something outside ourselves, something larger than we are. Being kind usually isn’t difficult. It requires no special training or equipment. It only requires attentiveness and willingness to help.

While sixty, seventy or eighty years of life may seem like a long time, time for all of us is finite. Joel Osteen, pastor of the Lakewood Church in Houston notes: “Life is a mist. We’re here for a moment. Then we’re gone...Don‘t just make a living. Make a life.” We have limited control over how long we live, but we have a great deal of control over how we live.

Our own life, when compared against the expanse of eternity and the generations that have preceded us, is startlingly short, but nevertheless it can be productive. How productive have we been so far? How meaningful are we going to be in the time we have left? Are we going to leave a legacy worth remembering? Maria Shriver puts a fine point on it in And One More Thing Before You Go: “You want to feel good? Then do good.” Joel Osteen mirrors that thought in his self-help book, Live Your Best Life Now: “You will never be truly fulfilled as a human being, until you learn the simple secret of how to give your life away.”

Kindness produces insight and creates an improved sense of self-worth. Get to know the real you. As Dr. James Hollis says in Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: “Deconstruct the false self...Live your life to produce greater substance...Don‘t be afraid to be who you really are. Don‘t be a false self. Be authentic.”

Many self-help books, including the blockbuster best seller A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle, have emphasized the importance of living in the present moment because that’s also where our future lies. All of us should be challenged by “the fierce urgency of now” to produce the positive change in our lives that Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of in a different context.