Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘happiness’

14 MARCH, 2012

The Secret

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“Two girls discover the secret of life on a sudden line of poetry.”

The secret of happiness — or of purpose, for the semantically scrupulous — is a kind of holy grail of human existence. We probe its science and psychology, scour its geography, go after it with empirical enthusiasm, seek it in the wisdom of our greatest heroes.

But might the faith that happiness is possible be the very secret to its attainment? This beautiful 1964 poem by Denise Levertov (1923-1997), entitled “The Secret,” makes me infinitely happy.

THE SECRET

Two girls discover
the secret of life
in a sudden line of
poetry.

I who don’t know the
secret wrote
the line. They
told me

(through a third person)
they had found it
but not what it was
not even

what line it was. No doubt
by now, more than a week
later, they have forgotten
the secret,

the line, the name of
the poem. I love them
for finding what
I can’t find,

and for loving me
for the line I wrote,
and for forgetting it
so that

a thousand times, till death
finds them, they may
discover it again, in other
lines

in other
happenings. And for
wanting to know it,
for

assuming there is
such a secret, yes,
for that
most of all.

“The Secret” comes from O Taste and See: New Poems, where you can find more of Levertov’s elegant and thoughtful poetry.

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14 MARCH, 2012

The Smiley Book of Colors

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The basics of optimism and color theory, with a nod to neuroscience.

When Freud came to believe he was going to die between the ages of 61 and 62, and subsequently began seeing the two numbers everywhere he looked, which only intensifying the urgency of his superstition, he came to observe the value of selective attention in focusing the unconscious. But what if we engineered this selective attention purposefully and aligned it with our emotional and mental well-being? That’s exactly what photographer, children’s author, and educator Ruth Kaiser did in 2008, when she began seeing smiley faces everywhere she turned. For the past four years, she has been collecting and sharing photographs “found” everyday smileys in the Spontaneous Smiley Project — an exercise in self-induced feel-goodness, inviting others to upload their own photos and donating $1 for each uploaded photo to Operation Smile, which provides free surgeries to children born with cleft lip and cleft palate.

Four years later, The Smiley Book of Colors was born, at once teaching (eternal) kids basic color theory and instilling in them the habits of optimism — a charming, light-hearted complement to the recent grown-up exploration of the science of smiles. The images are paired with simple, poetic meditations on the optimistic life — truths we may be tempted, through years of conditioned cynicism, to roll our eyes at, but ones that remain, at their heart, beautiful and true.

(Yes, let’s throw in a cat photo for good measure — after all, that’s the hallmark of curatorial achievement according to Jennifer Daniel over at BloombergBusinessweek. Wouldn’t want to disappoint.)

Skeptical, still? Let a neuroscientist elaborate on the optimism bias and its benefits.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/0375869832/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=braipick-20&camp=0&creative=0&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=0375869832&adid=02YXM5MD2VFTBCC5WMM6&Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

13 FEBRUARY, 2012

Elizabeth Gilbert on What the Porcupine Dilemma Can Teach Us About the Secret of Happiness

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On how to connect without getting pricked.

In January of 2010, PBS aired a fascinating series titled This Emotional Life, exploring cutting-edge insights from cognitive and behavioral science to explain some of the “why” behind a wide range of mental illness and mental health, from addiction to depression to resilience. The series featured a number of prominent authors, psychologists, clinicians, and other public figures, discussing the science and everyday grit of these complex issues.

Among them was Elizabeth Gilbert, who authored Eat, Pray, Love and gave one of the best TED talks of all time. Gilbert relays the porcupine dilemma made famous by German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer — a beautiful metaphor for how we choose to go through the world and relate to others, in a quest to master the intricate balance of protective self-containment and the vulnerability necessary for the warmth of true intimacy.

For a deeper dive, see Deborah Luepnitz’s Schopenhauer’s Porcupines: Intimacy and Its Dilemmas.

Thanks, Rachel; top image courtesy of Hkuchera

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