Saturday, March 23, 2013

How to be happy: The UN celebrates its first International Happiness Day with a guide on being cheery

It can be easy to get a bit blue at this time of year.

Luckily, the good people at the United Nations have declared today their very first International Day of Happiness and have even provided some helpful tips on how to be joyful for those not in the spirit of the day.

As part of the UN’s Action for Happiness campaign they have compiled a list of the key elements to happier living, based on scientific studies and surveys of what makes people feel the most content and satisfied in their life.

The 10 essentials for happier living can be summed up as a GREAT DREAM as seen on the UN action for happiness website
The 10 essentials for happier living can be summed up as a GREAT DREAM as seen on the UN action for happiness website 

The ten keys to a more cheerful life have, rather handily, be condensed into the acronym GREAT DREAM: giving, relating, exercising, appreciating, trying out, direction, resilience, emotion, acceptance and meaning.

Unsurprisingly several of the tips focus on increasing the number and quality of relationships in our lives. 

Connecting with people both on a personal, and on a large societal level, is important to our happiness
Connecting with people both on a personal, and on a large societal level, is important to our happiness 

Connecting with people, both on a one-on-one basis, and feeling more connected with society as a whole has been show to increase our sense of well being.
We all know the warm feeling we get when we spontaneously reach out and help someone, or a stranger performs a random act of kindness, such as helping you carry your bags, or even offering a smile on a hellish commute.

A study published in the Review of Personality and Social Psychology, showed that helping others increases life satisfaction, provides a sense of meaning, increases feelings of competence, improves our mood and reduces stress and can help distract us from our own troubles.

The UN also point out that while connecting with friends and loved ones our hectic modern lifestyles mean that while we may constantly plan that long overdue catch up without it ever happening. 

The key to a happier you ...

1.Be part of something bigger

2.Do things for others

3.Connect with people

4.Take care of your body

5.Notice the world around you

6.Keep learning new things

7.Have goals and things to look forward to

8.Find ways to bounce back

9.Take a positive approach

10.Be comfortable with who you are 

Being connected to something bigger, whether it's society or something spiritual, has also been found to be a common trait of those with an omni-smile as it can make you feel like your life has a purpose - even when you are taking out the rubbish in the rain!

Other tips to a contented life are to take care of your body and to notice the world around you. 

While these might sound easy, a treadmill type life of work to TV to bed is all to common for many people, which doesn't only lead to a sluggish body and mind, but can make you feel downright blue.

Exercise will not only help you tone up, but releases feel-good endorphins to boost your mood and concentration.

Taking your workout outside will double its happiness boosting qualities as taking note of nature and being more mindful of what we are doing is shown to help our mood.

And its not just keeping your body in good shape that will help you keep smiling - your mind matters too: learning new things and having goals and things to look forward to also increases our happiness levels.

Feeling good about the future is important for our happiness so the UN suggest not only to keep learning new things, but also to have goals for the future.

However, it is probably best not to set a goal of becoming the next supermodel if you're 5ft 2, as unrealistic, unobtainable goals cause stress and can reduce happiness.
While following these tips should leave you beaming ear-to-ear most of the time, life may unfortunately throw a few rainy days your way.

In preparation for this eventuality, the UN says finding coping strategies for hard times to increase our resilience to them, is a key to remaining in good spirits.

Taking care of your body by exercising regularly, drinking plenty of water, having a good diet and getting plenty of sleep is essential to happiness
Taking care of your body by exercising regularly, drinking plenty of water, having a good diet and getting plenty of sleep is essential to happiness 

Approaching everything - including the negative- with a positive attitude is a trait found in happy people.

Research published in the Clinical Psychology Review has found that that positive emotions actually foster more happy emotions, in a phenomenon called the 'upward spiral.

In other words, if you think positive about a few things, you will be more likely to end up feeling positive about a whole host of other things too.

The final tip from the UN is an age old truth: be comfortable with who you are.
Accept your flaws, appreciate your good points, be kind to yourself if things go wrong, and try not to compare yourself to others!

Read more tips on being happy from the UN here

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Mindfulness means “paying attention in a particular way: On purpose, in the present moment, and without judgment” (Jon Kabat-Zinn). 

Much of our stress, pain, and suffering comes from being pulled away from the present moment, with regrets about the past, worries about the future, and judgments about the present.  Several mindfulness-based training programs have been shown to be effective for improving health and coping in clinical settings.  

To date, most mindfulness-based clinical programs have been developed for adults.  BC Children’s Hospital is currently developing youth-friendly adaptations of these programs for adolescents with chronic health conditions and/or depression.

Check out our new mindfulness video and mindfulness resources below.

Mindfulness: Youth Voices
This video features youth and young adults discussing their experiences practicing mindfulness, and how mindfulness has benefited different aspects of their lives. The video also features youth practicing mindfulness, and includes insights from a health professional and mindfulness teacher.

Mindfulness Audio Recordings
Drs. Dzung Vo and Jake Locke from BC Children's Hospital have recorded some of their mindfulness meditations that they have been using with their mindfulness groups. You can download these recordings and listen to them from your computer or mobile device. Access the recordings here.

Additional Mindfulness Resources

MindUP: A mindfulness school-based program


Healthy Living, Healthy Minds: A Toolkit for Health Professionals
This toolkit provides information and resources for health professionals across B.C. to discuss healthy living specific to child and youth
Healthy Living Toolkit for Families
The Healthy Living Toolkit for Families includes information on healthy living for families who have a child or youth with mental health

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The purpose of being human

As I mentioned in an earlier talk, you should know the meaning of your life, the reason you are alive, the purpose of having taken this precious human body at this time, especially this perfect human rebirth, which has eight freedoms and ten richnesses—you should know this, not just intellectually but deeply, so that you transform your attitude accordingly and live your life in harmony with that purpose. What is that? It is living your life for the benefit of others.

Therefore, compassion is the most important meditation, or practice, you can do. Even though the Buddha’s teachings talk about billions of different meditations, or practices, that you could spend your life doing, this is the most important—benefiting others; living your life with an attitude of compassion for others. This is the real purpose of life, the meaning of life.

If even you have only an hour to live, a minute to live, the purpose of life is still to live for the benefit of others, with a good heart, with compassion for others. Even if you have only a minute to live, only a minute of this precious human body left, the most important thing you can practice is compassion; nothing else.

The same thing would be true were you to have a hundred years to live, a thousand years to live, even an eon to live. To fulfill your life’s purpose, you would still have to live with compassion for others, for the benefit of others.

If you are enjoying a happy life, experiencing pleasure, in order for your life not to be empty, to be beneficial, useful, for others, you should practice compassion, live your life for the benefit of others. If your life is unhappy, if you are experiencing relationship problems, if you have cancer or AIDS, if you are depressed, if your life is uncomfortable, even if you are encountering so many hundreds and hundreds of problems— health, relationship, job-related problems—that it seems as if you are drowning in a quagmire of problems, you should also practice compassion for others. If you can practice compassion at times like this, you will still be making your life meaningful, beneficial for others, useful for others, and therefore—by benefiting others—you will be constantly making your life beneficial for yourself. Cherishing others is the best way of cherishing yourself.

Cherishing others means that you don’t harm others, and not harming others is not harming yourself. Even in terms of protection, this is the best way to protect your life. Similarly, when you cause others to be happy, you bring happiness to yourself. The karma created by making others happy causes you to experience happiness too; that’s the kind of karma that results in happiness. Even if you don’t want happiness, once you have created its cause, that’s what results.

If you plant a seed in the ground and all the right conditions are present, such as perfect soil, water, and heat—everything is together and there are no obstacles—then no matter how much you pray for the plant not to grow, it will grow. It will definitely grow because the seed planted in the ground has met all the conditions necessary for growth; the cause and conditions have met. Since it is a dependent arising, it is inevitable that that flower or fruit will grow, no matter how much you pray for it not to.

Similarly, if you lead your everyday life with compassion, bringing as much happiness to others as you possibly can, the natural result will be for you yourself to experience happiness, both now and in the future— there’s the immediate effect of peace of mind in this life and the long-term effect of happiness in all your future lives. All this is the definite result of bringing happiness and benefit to others.

Therefore, there is much to be gained by cherishing others, taking care of other living beings as you do yourself. Whether they are insects or humans, they are living beings just like you—wanting happiness; not wanting suffering. Just as you need the help of others to eliminate problems, so do they. Just as your happiness depends on others, so does theirs. Not only humans, but also insects need your help. Their freedom from problems depends on you; their happiness depends on you.

Why is cherishing others, taking care of others as you do yourself, not harming but benefiting them, the best way of looking after yourself, taking care of yourself? Because it is through having a good heart, cherishing others, benefiting others, that all your own wishes get fulfilled.

In general, in the world, when others see a person who has a compassionate, loving nature, who is good-hearted, they get good vibrations, a positive feeling from that person. Even when strangers meet that person on the road, in airplanes, in offices or shops, just the sight of that person makes them happy, smile, want to talk. Because of your good heart, good vibrations, positive feeling, you make others happy. Even their facial expressions change to reflect their happy minds. Even if you aren’t experiencing any problems, others keep offering you help.

When you have a good heart towards others, all your wishes for your own happiness get fulfilled by the way. Even though your motivation, like that of a bodhisattva, is only the happiness of others and you have not a single expectation of happiness for yourself, even if everything you do, twenty-four hours a day, is exclusively dedicated to the happiness of others with not a thought for your own, you yourself will experience all happiness.

Because of their realization of bodhicitta, the attitude of those holy beings, the bodhisattvas, is such that they totally renounce themselves for others; they have no thought for their own happiness but instead spend every moment seeking the happiness of others. So what happens? With bodhicitta, they are able to develop the ultimate wisdom realizing the very nature of the I—the self and the aggregates, the association of body and mind that is the base that is labeled I—and all other phenomena.

Because of their bodhicitta and the ultimate wisdom they develop, they are able to eradicate all errors of mind, the cause of all suffering—both the gross defilements, the delusions of ignorance, attachment and aversion, and the subtle defilements, which are in the nature of imprints left on the mental continuum by the delusions.

This, then, is the special feature of bodhicitta, because with its support, you can develop not only the wisdom realizing emptiness but can also stop the subtle defilements and thus become fully awakened, attaining the state of omniscience, the fully enlightened mind, knowing directly and without a single mistake, not only the gross karma but also every single subtle karma of each of the numberless sentient beings; seeing all their different characteristics, wishes and levels of intelligence; knowing every single method that suits the minds of all these different sentient beings at different times; and revealing the appropriate method that suits the mind of each individual sentient being at different times in order to guide that being from happiness to happiness, all the way up to enlightenment.

Thus, bodhicitta allows your wisdom to function such that it can overcome even the subtle defilements, making your mind fully enlightened.

In this way, bodhicitta allows you to become a fully qualified guide, a perfectly enlightened being, and therefore to liberate numberless other sentient beings from samsara, the ocean of suffering, and bring them into the peerless happiness of full enlightenment.

So from where does this achievement of all those infinite enlightened qualities arise? Even the bodhisattvas on the ten levels (bhumis) have incredible, inconceivable qualities. Just a first level bodhisattva is able to meditate in hundreds of different concentrations, go to hundreds of different pure lands, reveal hundreds of different teachings to sentient beings. I don’t recall exactly, but there are about eleven different things of which they can do hundreds. Then a second level bodhisattva can do a thousand different concentrations, go to a thousand pure lands, reveal a thousand different teachings to sentient beings, and so forth. Like this, as they progress higher and higher through the levels, they achieve more and more inconceivable qualities with which they can benefit other sentient beings. I don’t remember the terms for the ninth and tenth levels, but the bodhisattvas there possess inconceivable numbers of such qualities.

All these incredible qualities of the bodhisattva path, all the infinite qualities of the buddha’s holy body, holy speech and holy mind, come from the root, renunciation of ego and the thought that seeks the happiness of oneself alone, and generation of the good heart, the thought that seeks the happiness of only other sentient beings. All those qualities come from this. All the infinite good qualities of the Buddha, of the Dharma, the bodhisattvas’ path, and of the Sangha, those arya and even ordinary bodhisattvas, come from the incredibly precious thought, the wish-fulfilling bodhicitta—renunciation of the ego and the self-centered mind and the development of cherishing only others. They all come from this.

Those who can do this realize the best possible achievement. They renounce the self, they renounce the I, but they gain the best achievement, the greatest success. Not only do they find liberation forever from the cycle of death and rebirth and all the problems it brings, such as rebirth, old age, sickness, emotional problems and all other difficulties of life we experience, but they also attain everlasting liberation, everlasting freedom, everlasting happiness for themselves, and are able to bring skies of happiness to numberless other sentient beings. All this comes from the root, bodhicitta, that most precious holy mind, renouncing I, cherishing others.

We can understand how this is true from reading texts that tell the stories of Buddha’s previous lives and the lives of other bodhisattvas, but we can also understand how a good heart is wish-fulfilling for your happiness from simple examples from the ordinary lives of common people in the world—how those whose minds are more compassionate in nature, who are good hearted, have much easier lives.

For example, if you are experiencing serious health problems, like cancer and so forth, but you have a good heart, your mind will be happy and peaceful because your main concern is not for yourself but for others; your concern is for other sentient beings. Therefore, your mind is peaceful. Even if you are dying, your mind is not disturbed because your concern is for others, not yourself. Even at the end of your life, at the very end of your human life, your experience of death is a happy one because your attitude is one of concern for others, not for I, not the self-cherishing, self-centered mind.

Even though things don’t work out for you, you encounter many obstacles, your life is going wrong, none of this bothers you, your mind is undisturbed, always happy and peaceful, because the first priority in your life is the happiness of others. What concerns you most is others, not yourself. That’s your goal. This attitude brings so much peace and happiness into your daily life, gives you so much satisfaction. Even if other people are causing you problems, hassling you, it doesn’t bother your mind; your mind remains peaceful and happy.

In particular, with a good heart, compassion for others, whenever a problem arises, you experience it for others, on behalf of other sentient beings. If you experience happiness, you experience it for others. If you enjoy a luxury life, comfort, you dedicate it to others. And if you experience a problem, you experience it for others—for others to be free of problems and to have all happiness up to enlightenment, complete perfect peace and bliss. Wishing others to have all happiness, you experience problems on their behalf.

That gives you incredible satisfaction and fulfillment, but not only that. If you have that attitude, no matter how many problems you experience, when you encounter each one you feel like you have discovered a precious treasure. You see it as an incredible opportunity to dedicate yourself to others; a great chance to experience the sufferings of others, like bodhisattvas do, like Buddha did, like Jesus Christ did; to take upon yourself the suffering of others.

Even though others might find that problem unbearable, for you, who has this attitude, it’s not a big bother, you don’t find it particularly difficult, you’re pretty easy about it—because of your good heart, that pure attitude of life. This makes your entire life very easy, very happy.

Your heart is not hollow, not empty, but overflowing with fulfillment, brimming with joy. In this way, even should you encounter many problems, you live your life with joy. You enjoy your problems; you even enjoy your death. No matter what happens, you enjoy it with bodhicitta, the thought that cherishes others. What ordinary people might find undesirable, the person with the good heart, the attitude of cherishing others, finds desirable because that person can make problems beneficial for other sentient beings. The person with a good heart, a compassionate mind, the thought of cherishing others, the bodhicitta attitude, makes the problem useful, beneficial for others. In this way, this person’s experience of problems becomes a cause for the happiness of all sentient beings—not just temporary happiness but that of the highest, full enlightenment. Bodhicitta makes the person’s experience of problems a cause for the happiness of all living beings. How? By transforming problems into the path to enlightenment.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche