Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘happiness’

11 MARCH, 2010

Srikumar Rao on Hard-Wiring Happiness


Why success and failure are exactly the same, or how process supersedes perfection.

We’ve talked a lot about the origins of happiness and the various ways people go about pursuing it. And while all these lofty concepts and creative approaches have their place, it’s in the sore absence of happiness that we fully realize the importance of specific, powerful tools and steps to bringing all the theoretical stuff to life.

In this excellent talk at Columbia University, Srikumar Rao (of Are You Ready To Succeed? fame) offers precisely the kind of cognitive toolkit to combat our ingrained preoccupation with success/fail outcomes standing between us and our own happiness.

You have spent your entire life learning to be unhappy. And the way we learn to be unhappy is by buying into a particular mental models. […] The problem isn’t that we have mental models, the problem is that we don’t know we have mental models, we think that’s the way the world works.

Rao’s points about absolutism as the deadliest poison of emotional well-being poke brilliant holes in the very fabric of Western culture and its obsession with control, which yields only frustration and failed expectation.

We live in a world where what we think of, what we invest in, is the outcome. There is an alternative. You invest in the process.

Rao’s thinking reminds us of the slightly more life-coachish approach by Gay Hendricks in The Big Leap, a similar effort to dispell all the myths we keep perpetuating as we stand in the way of our own success and continue looking for happiness outside of ourselves.

Passion exists in you, not in the job.


via TED Best of the Web

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27 JANUARY, 2010

Live Now: In-the-Moment Inspiration


A true exercise in art therapy, or what all motivational posters should aspire to be.

It’s still January, and 2010 has already provided no shortage of loss, tragedy, and challenge. But amidst all of this digital distemper lies a website we love for its seemingly infinite supply of authenticity, hope, and optimism.

Live Now! is an art project whose mission is “powerfully pursuing the notion of ‘living now.’ Engaging participants to live meaningful lives & be happy!”

The homepage greets you with a lovely image reminding you of the importance of living in the moment. With messages like True happiness is giving it away and Practice happiness rendered in winsomely quirky typography, each click-through leads to another picture and message.

The images’ style varies, but they all share the kind of handmade energy in response to which you can’t really help but smile.

What confirms these sentiments as so much more than pablum — besides the artistry of their rendering — is the personal story of Live Now!‘s creator, designer and illustrator Eric Smith, who conceived of the project after being diagnosed with three different types of cancer.

Cancer changed the way I ate, slept, and most importantly the way I live. Before cancer I was like most folks, just cruising along. It was during my treatment, when starting to discover what cancer could give to me — the ability to absorb every moment as if each one were my whole life.

Since Live Now! launched, Davis has opened the experience to a host of other talented artists and designers (David Gibson, CD Ryan, and Kate Miss, among others); he also continues to take submissions. We were even more excited to learn that the project’s various messages are available in print form, allowing you to curate a changing rotation of inspirational messages for yourself.

Live Now! reminds us of another fantastic typographic project around personal growth and happiness, Things I Have Learned In My Life, by Brain Pickings favorite (and three-time TEDster) Stefan Sagmeister. Such collaborative initiatives augur an emerging pattern in graphic design work — call it the aesthetics of authentic life principles.

So put down the newspaper, close that Firefox CNN disaster report tab, let go of the earthquake hashtags, and swap them all for an early-morning shot of motivation and encouragement — because you can rarely have too much of either. To experience beautifully crafted messages of Carpe Diem visit Live Now!, well, now.

Kirstin Butler is writing an adaptation of Gogol for the Google era called Dead SULs, but when not working spends far, far too much time on Twitter. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA.

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30 DECEMBER, 2009

Tom Waits Reads Bukowski


On finding light in darkness, knowing chances and the ownership of life.

Short and sweet, our 2010 wish to Brain Pickings readers, from the lips of Tom Waits reading “The Laughing Heart” by the great Charles Bukowski.

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

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29 DECEMBER, 2009

The Happiness Project: Gretchen Rubin Spends a Year in Pursuit


A year’s worth of ideas, inspiration and innovation from culture’s collective brain.

Last week, we looked at Charles Spearin’s music-meets-philosophy experiment, The Happiness Project. Turns out, perhaps due to the universal relevance of the subject matter, that it has a doppelganger.

One rainy afternoon in 2006, New York magazine writer Gretchen Rubin was sitting on the bus, having one of those inevitable-for-everyone epiphanies about the fleeting nature of life, the importance of savoring the moment, and all that jazz. But instead of shrugging it off as a contrived existential truism, Rubin decided to undertake an ambitious task: To test the multitude of theories about what makes us happy, from ancient philosophies to pop culture prescriptions to the latest scientific studies, and to write about the experience. Her blog, clever and wryly written, full of weekly happiness tips, quickly struck a cultural chord and was syndicated across a slew of cultural merit validators — Slate, Yahoo, The Huffington Post, even Psychology Today.

Today, the blog congeals as The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun — a wonderfully engaging memoir chronicling the project.

With its eloquent charisma and wit, the book successfully dodges the preachiness bullet, offering instead a captivating journey into the greatest human pursuit and the many, often crazy, ways in which we go about attaining that elusive holy grail. Both enlightening and entertaining, it’s the kind of read that takes you on a relentlessly fun ride and drops you off at a place of great insight, leaving you to marvel at how you got there without trekking through a jungle of discomfort and doubt.

For us, The Happiness Project is solid proof of our own credo: Do something out of passion and curiosity, and the rest — the syndication, the cultural traction, the “success” — will follow. The best cultural artifacts — the most compelling art, the smartest books, the most interesting films — didn’t begin with a business model, they began with a great idea, which in turn came from exploring the fringes of curiosity.

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