Happiness Challenge: Day 4

March 28th, 2015 | Film Screening Oakville, ON Canada

Cameron Helps, Canada Feb 21
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October, 2015 | Speaking Event, Andover, MD

More details to be announced.
http://www.andoverp2p.com/

10 Things Creative People Do

Originally published in the Huffington Post – May 12th, 2014

Have you ever wondered why some people are more creative than others? Did you ever wish that you had more of that particular gene? The good news is that researchshows that happiness and creativity are not only related, they can be developed. Here are 10 ways to jumpstart your creativity, starting now:

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1. Listen In: Listen to your intuition and capture your new ideas. Whether from your morning shower, nighttime dreams, when running, in the car, or in nature, keep an idea notebook and jot it down.

2. Mind Your Mindset: When you start something new, you can either choose to put yourself down and succumb to the inner critic (fixed mindset) or enjoy the process of creation (growth mindset).

3. Get in the Flow: Focus on the moment rather than the goal. When you are totally immersed in a creative activity, when hours feel like moments, you open to tapping into something bigger than yourself. Let it flow through you.

4. Let Your Senses Come Alive: Notice not only how things look, but how they feel in your hand, how they smell, the sounds surrounding you, even the nuances of taste. Don’t forget to listen to your gut — that’s an important sense too!

5. Happiness Spurs Innovation: Sadness inhibits innovative ideas, causing people to exercise more restraint, but happiness expands creative thinking, fresh associations and new perspectives. Remember to take a break and make time for fun! You’ll come back refreshed.

6. Gratitude Rules: Being grateful for where you’re at and “taking in the good” helps sculpt your brain’s neural pathways to receive more of it. Imagine what you are creating. Like an athlete training for peak performance when you visualize something special, your can embody it even more.

7. Seek Out Challenging Tasks: Just for fun, challenge yourself with projects that don’t have solutions, like how to make a horse fly (no — we’re not talking unicorns) or build a perfect model of a part of the body. This opens the mind for all types of strategies, which helps generate fresh ideas.

8. Surround Yourself With Interesting People and Things: Spend time with diverse friends, listen to new music, see new exhibitions to broaden your horizons. Having unusual objects around you also helps you develop original ideas.

9. Learn Something New: By taking a class outside your typical area of interest, you can have a wider range of ideas to draw from and interconnect. Research shows that connecting in new ways is the basis for all creative thought.

10. Know Your Strengths and Passions: Get to know what makes your heart soar, what makes you feel most alive and energized, and use it as fuel for the creative process.

By nourishing your creative side, you’ll bring happiness not only to yourself but to those around you. You’ll also know what you had inside yourself all along. What do you do to tap into your creativity?

Conversation with Terri Feinberg, Educator – Agent of Happiness

Terri Feinberg is an Educator at Ohlone Elementary school in Palo Alto. Terri was instrumental in developing K-5 curriculum and for bringing the staff and administration at Ohlone together for implementation of the program. A psychologist by training, Terri believes that the basic building blocks of Project Happiness can bring a huge change to the lives of children and adults.
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Here’s a full transcript of conversation between Seema Handu and Terri Feinberg.

SH: How and where did you hear about Project Happiness? When did you first start working with Project Happiness?
TF: I got involved last summer, helping to develop the curriculum, which I really enjoyed. Then my 4-5th grade class piloted the PH curriculum last fall, which I also really enjoyed. It’s a good solid curriculum and I felt my kids really benefitted from it.

SH: Why is it important to promote lasting happiness?
TF: Specifically related to kids, (but also with adults), I feel like our internal happiness is basic to kids being successful or not being successful in life. Really, everything we strive for in our lives is because we feel we will be happier in the having of it.
Related to education, it is basic to the way the brain learns. Neuroscience has shown us that all information incoming into the brain first has to filter through amygdala/the emotional center; then, if it gets through the amygdala, the information can go on to other areas of the brain, where it is learned, assimilated, synthesized, memorized, etc.
So, to me, that means if there is something going on with a child at home or in school that is making them unhappy, and the social/emotional issue is not dealt with/acknowledged (or the amygdala is not managed), very little academic learning can go on because the child is all caught up in his/her emotional center. So, to me, dealing with the social emotional happiness of a child in the classroom, can, in a very real sense, cause more learning to occur….Grades and test scores and all those things we focus on in education, can rise.

SH: What is happiness for you?
TF: More and more, over the course of my lifetime, I’ve found that happiness has become about appreciating and being grateful for what I have.

SH: How do you imagine a happier world?
TF: With depression on the rise, I think using the basic building blocks of Project Happiness can make a huge difference in the world. It sounds simple, and maybe it is simpler than we make it, but living with a growth mindset, being mindful, having constant awareness of gratitude and appreciation, and giving back; all of these are antidotes to depression, unhappiness and sadness, and are applicable to all cultures and people. When we hear that happiness is ‘all in your mind’, well, a lot of it is.

SH: What are your most inspiring experiences in Project Happiness?
TF: Teaching my kids about a growth mindset was very satisfying. I felt like they really got it through these lessons, and now I often hear kids say things like, ‘I can’t do it, YET!’ or they have an attitude of, ‘This may be hard, but I can get it if I just practice.’
I also felt that Project Happiness is probably one of the best approaches to anti-bullying, which is a huge buzz word now in education. There are all sorts of programs out there, but this really gets to the heart of it. To see my kids take on an attitude of tolerance, acceptance of themselves and others’ differences, is huge. Bringing in Howard Gardner’s 8 intelligences model was a great lesson to help my kids to appreciate their own unique learning styles, as well as others. ? We referred to it all year.

SH: Would you share some of your experiences with children in your school? Do you think these programs have changed the outlook of children?
TF: I also enjoyed the lesson on empathy and ‘giving back’ as a way to have more happiness in one’s life. We decided that the way we wanted to give back was to take on writing to penpals in Haiti, who, we were told, had very little in terms of school supplies. The kids decided to have a bakesale at school, and use the money we earned to buy each penpal a backpack, which they desperately needed. We earned around $400, which also meant we could donate even more than we thought. The kids wrote their penpals letters, and were so proud of their work to help out.

In another instance, I was given a student who was quite shy, never spoke up, and was often in tears at the slightest little thing. At a conference with his parents, he spoke about how through the Project Happiness exercises, he understood when he was unhappy, what he was feeling, and what he could do about it. He might not have understood ‘why’ he was feeling the way he was feeling, but he could understand what the emotion was, and how to work with it. I was quite moved when I heard this, and decided at that moment to do PH again next year.

SH: How do you think Project Happiness can impact young children and adults?
TF: I think Project Happiness teaches about the structure of happiness. There are so many good pieces of happiness in this program, each with a good solid lesson to go along with it. If even one of these concepts are taken to heart, they could be life changing. The lessons are meant for kids, but are just as important for adults as well.

Conversation with Angel Gustavo Ruiz, Latin America Program Director – Agent of Happiness

Prof. Angel Gustavo Ruiz is the President and Founder of Circulo de Estudios del Nuevo Pensamiento AC and Program Director of Project Happiness in Latin America. Gustavo Ruiz also started International Day of Happiness (www.internationalhappinessday.org), a collaboration between Project Happiness and Club de la Felicidad, as a movement to promote happiness as a universal goal and aspiration in the lives of human beings around the world.

Here’s a transcript of conversation between Seema Handu (COO at Project Happiness) and Gustavo Ruiz:

SH: How and where did you hear about Project Happiness? When did you first start working with Project Happiness?
AGR: It was in November 2011. I was searching for ideas for a new program ‘Club de la Felicidad – Happiness at School’. Club de la Felicidad is part of Circulo de Estudios del Nuevo Pensamiento AC, an organization I founded to promote personal development. Suddenly I came across the Project Happiness website.

As soon as I read it, I felt connected with the goals of Project Happiness. Somebody was already doing what I was planning – bringing happiness to schools. I sent an email requesting for more information and Brian Rusch, former Chief Operating Officer, emailed me back. In less than 9 hours we had planned a screening of Project Happiness film and planned to have our organizations work together.

SH: Describe what you have been doing as a program director in Mexico.
AGR: I began to read and talk about Project Happiness programs by january 2012, but I felt disappointed when some teachers of the schools I visited didn’t show the same enthusiasm as me. So I decided to apply Project Happiness insights myself with a group of 7-14 year old children and show that happiness education really works. As Program Director I do a lot of things including, but not limited to, translate material into Spanish, administrate internet resources, create new materials, be a speaker, and so forth. I like all of these roles. I am always ready to share all these experiences.

SH: Why is it important to promote lasting happiness?
AGR: I think that every act of human being is motivated by a desire to be happy, even if some acts may be morally unacceptable. So, to discover what happiness really means, we have to bring this matter to the awareness of humankind and to include it into education. Happiness is a fundamental human goal and a birthright.

SH: The Project Happiness Handbook says we all have a story, what is yours?
AGR: Well, I think that many people don’t know that I went through financial troubles when I was a teenager. There was a time when I had no money to buy notebooks. I reused one-sided printed paper to make small notepads. I started working from the age of 13. But these difficulties were precisely what drove me to find ways to help others by creating a support group when I was about 16. We studied books and articles on self-improvement and I think that it was very useful for those who were participating. Personally I discovered my talent for public speaking.

SH: What is happiness for you?
AGR: I think happiness is a state of mind. But I think that it is not easy to know what may be included in this state, specially when something included creates a conflict with others or with ourselves. We all have to make a very personal journey to discover what must be included and when. Personally I think that in this journey we have to be open to self-reflection and to the experiences of others.

SH: How do you imagine a happier world?
AGR: Within me I am an idealist. But as a teacher, I don’t hope a perfect world but only an awakened world where people will be open to understanding each other as much as possible, open to learn, open to be in harmony with nature and open to become better.

SH: What are your most inspiring experiences in Project Happiness?
AGR: Until now, I really enjoyed translating the Project Happiness Handbook. I learnt a lot during this process. I remembered the time of my adolescence. And I was impressed to find out a lot of contents that I had read before like Compassionate Communication, Dalai Lama’s teachings, Aikido’s philosophy, Nonviolence, Bioethics and Positive Thinking.

SH: Would you share some of your experiences that you have had with children in your schools? Do you think these programs have changed the outlook of children?
AGR: I have a lot of touching experiences, for example when a kid carried his sister on arms because she wanted to help to erase the blackboard and she was frustrated because she was not tall enough; or when another kid took a piece of paper and wrote to me: “thank you for giving hope to us”; or when two girls shared what they learned with their friends who cannot come to my class. Children that attend our Circle of Happiness meetings are not considered extraordinary people, some of them don’t have the best conditions at home; however they are extraordinary people in a way – they are open to learning about happiness and as a result they have the opportunity to change their lives by themselves.

SH: What do you expect for Project Happiness in Latin America?
AGR: Latin America is a very diverse region and although there are many common threads, various countries have their own separate culture. I hope that Project Happiness will become an enthusiastic and organized movement. I would like to create task forces in each country that apply curriculums and programs and a support network that helps these groups in their tasks and tracks the results.

Happiness Now: What Do the U.N., Pharrell and Ellen Have in Common?

Originally published in the Huffington Post – March 19th, 2014

From Pharrell William’s song “Happy” at the top of the Billboard chart, to Ellen’s “I am Happy” hoodie, worn backstage at the Oscars, happiness is in the news. Thursday, March 20 is the second official U.N. sanctioned International Day of Happiness, andpeople all around the globe are taking the opportunity to focus on happiness. From Nigeria to Mexico, from Australia to the U.K., just to name a few… individuals, families and communities are jumping on board in ways that can be really simple and surprisingly fun. How are you celebrating?

Why Is Happiness Important?
For those people who may have a bias against the word happiness, the version we’re talking about does not have to do with seeing life through rose-colored glasses, or escaping into pleasurable pursuits at the expense of creating a meaningful life. With the alarming worldwide rise in anxiety and depression, developing the skills for emotional resilience is more important than ever.

As the stresses of society approach critical mass, and conversations like The Third Metric gain momentum, even entire countries are adopting measures for well-beingand gross national happiness. Join the global movement to expand the happiness in your life and in the lives of those around you. Here are three easy ways to start:

1. Be inspired by the song “Happy:” unnamed

Post a youtube video of yourself demonstrating your happiness to Pharrell’s Happy track with the hashtag #HAPPYDAY and submit it to 24 hours of happiness. On International Day of Happiness, the best submissions will be spotlighted.

2. Take the pledge: 
At Project Happiness, we teach students across the world the Science of Happiness so that they can learn the skills to generate happiness from the inside. Sharing happiness spreads it, and people have more influence than they know. This is a conversation that crosses all borders. Join us in the pledge:

“Happiness is contagious. I pledge to proJECT happiness forward.”

Even a smile can change someone’s whole day. The movement is clearly growing. In just a few years, what started as a film to help my own daughter, has expanded to educational programs in over 80 countries.

3. Share a happy moment:
Help celebrate International #happinessday: Share a photo of something that makes you happy, using #happinessday. We are partnering with Action for Happiness along with 40 other organizations to share a more authentic view of what happiness is all about.

These are just a few ideas: celebration, like happiness has many forms. This International Day of Happiness, make the choice for happiness now. While you’re at it, why not extend it even longer? What we focus on grows. By acknowledging the little things that we are grateful for, the moments that are memorable, and the good that is all around, everyday can present a new opportunity to experience enhanced well-being, connection and happiness. We can all proJECT happiness forward — it’s easy. This is an invitation to rediscover something that can be a game-changer — you have everything you need inside of you.

On International Day of Happiness or any day, what do you lean into: a happy song, connection with friends or family, being in nature — this list goes on! What ignites your happiness and how do you spread it?

Conversation with Hector Estrada – Agent of Happiness

Hector Estrada is a true Agent of Happiness. Born in Mexico, he arrived in the United States with only a dream. He wanted to express his authentic self and create beauty. Against all odds, he started a life and step by step gained confidence, skills and a community. From the start he gave back, through volunteering. Dealing with his own early trauma and challenges only strengthened his desire to be there for others.

We are grateful to Hector for sponsoring a screening of the film Project Happiness to a packed house at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, to spread the message that everyone deserves happiness, equality and love. Here’s a transcript of Randy’s conversation with Hector.

_DSC8176RT: Hi Hector, it is a pleasure to talk with you today.
HE: Oh thank you. Me too.
RT: The first question I have for you is, “Why did you decide to become a volunteer with Project Happiness?”
HE: I decided to become a volunteer with Project Happiness, because when I was a kid I discovered two things: beauty and that I was gay. And, it was very difficult to express myself with these two things, with my family and other people. And, Project Happiness is about expressing yourself and connecting with people. When you can express yourself, you can communicate with a lot of people. This is why I chose Project Happiness…because it is about connection, understanding and being together.
RT: How did your childhood relate to your interest in happiness?
HE: I was born in Mexico, in the state of Nayarit. It was a very tiny town and at that time we did not have access to a lot of things. Even so, I remember when I was a kid, I was naturally happy. But, when I discovered that I liked beauty, my parents did not support me. They did not accept that I was gay and interested in beauty. It was hard to express myself in my town, because it was unusual to be that way.
RT: So you really had no permission to be your true self, your authentic self?
HE: No.
RT: And later on, you made a decision to leave home at an early age?
HE: Yes, I made the decision to leave home at a really early age, after high school, so I could be myself and express myself. And, though It was difficult to leave my culture and family, I made the decision to come to San Francisco. I had difficulty financially and not knowing the language. I didn?t have any idea of what the U.S. was like, but I decided to take the adventure and move, to be myself…to be able to be gay and to be in the beauty industry. I had a lot of struggles financially, with the language and dealing with tragedies that happened in my family back home. I went through depression and was angry. And, I was very scared because of all these things I went through.
RT: You are in a very different place right now, obviously. You are very interested in supporting education and happiness. What made the change?
HE: After everything I went through, I started looking for hope and for people who would believe in me, trust me and support me emotionally. And, I started to find people who did, which gave me happiness. I feel like I am part of the world now.
RT: And, what would you say is happiness for you? How would you describe happiness?
HE: Happiness to me, is to be myself, to express myself, to be free, humble and honest and to be able to do what I like to do. For me, I knew that I liked beauty at a very young age. And, I had to fight very hard to express myself and develop my skills. Now, I have my career and it has opened so many doors for me. It allows me to be myself and to meet so many interesting, wonderful people. And, I discovered that being able to do all of this, being able to follow my dream, has brought me a lot of happiness.
RT: And, you are also giving back in so many ways. Can you talk about that?
HE: Yes, this is the second time I chose to work with a non-profit organization. Before, I volunteered with Project Open Hand. I then decided to work with Project Happiness, because I wanted to work with an organization that is committed to connection and communication, because for a long time I was very shy and didn?t know how to express myself. And, I think that everybody deserves to express themselves and to be free. What inspires me now is to connect people, to create communication, trust, humbleness and freedom.
_DSC8178RT: Is this why it was important to you to take it upon yourself to sponsor the screening of Project Happiness at the Castro Theater, on Halloween?
HE: Yes. I really wanted to show to people, through the screening, things that I really believe in, that I learned at a very young age, but could not, at that time, share with others. Like to have communication, to express myself and do what I liked to do.
RT: To be able to do what you are passionate about, to gain your freedom and respect?
HE: Yes.
RT: If you were to send a message out to people around the world, what would you want to tell them or share with them?
HE: To have compassion. To accept others. To have communication and help each other. And, to love each other.
RT: To love each other, true. And you are helping a lot of people already. If there is one thing that you could tell your younger self, what would you say? What would you say to help the Hector who was 15 years old and really felt alone and scared?
HE: I would say to have strict discipline, to have good communication with others. Everyday things happen, but these are only moments. Tragedies happen, but they are only moments and they pass by. It is not the end of the world. Life continues and in life it is possible to be free and peaceful.
RT: And, it is possible to learn the strategies to do that.
HE: Yes, and to be clear about all the options.
RT: Which is what we do at Project Happiness and which is what you do in your own life. Any last thoughts that you would like share?
HE: I feel that Project Happiness is about gratitude. I am very grateful to have the opportunity to be in this country, to be openly gay and discover beauty. I really want to give back through education to everyone. I really, really believe in this and I feel that this is how I can give back. This is why I believe in and want to participate in Project Happiness. Because education, love, understanding and togetherness are very important foundations in life. My vision is for everyone to have more peace in life, to have more hope, happiness and freedom.

Making New Year’s Resolutions: Tap Into the Power of Intention

Originally published in the Huffington Post – December 31st, 2013

Have you ever set your New Year’s resolutions only to find a few months after that you lost interest, moved onto something more urgent or just ditched the idea altogether? It’s not enough to set goals — what’s missing is tapping into your intention. Here are five ways to help you achieve your resolutions, and enjoy the journey along the way.

The Myth of New Year’s Resolutions
A new year indicates a new start, and it’s easy to get excited about that. Out with the old patterns that did not move us forward and in with brand new goals that will change everything. What is often overlooked is that the reason resolutions often do not work is because you are starting out from a place of frustration or judgment about the situation you wish to change. “I want to lose 10 pounds… and I’m so fed up with how bad I feel in my clothes, and how I can’t resist eating late at night.” Every new year, while there’s often a honeymoon period where your motivation is high, when the inevitable challenges or setbacks appear (life happens), the critic’s mind is primed to chime in with negative messages. “I knew you couldn’t do it, there are too many distractions, it’s too hard…” What is really hard is fighting back the discouraging and constant messages of the inner critic. That’s where intentions come in.

Why Intention Matters
Your intention is far more than the goal or objective you have set. It also includes how you want to feel along the way. Let’s say your goal is to finish a marathon next year. Your intention could be to make the training fun and social. If your goal is to learn a new sport or instrument, your intention could be to feel alive and joyous just because you are making time to practice it. Ask yourself: What kind of experience do I want to create as I’m moving towards my goal? Can I be on the lookout for my own self-critical messages and set it up so that I appreciate just showing up, which is half the battle anyways? Here are five steps to move forward:

1. Accept where you are
When thinking of a resolution, self-acceptance goes a long way. Instead of coming from a place of judgment and pressure, come from a place of curiosity and meaning. “What would it be like if… This matters because…” Instead of making lofty and long-term goals that are not sustainable, set up some baby steps which allow you to feel good about being in the process of moving forward. Focus on something for a month or two. Some research says it takes 21 days to change a habit, some suggests 66 is the magic number. The point is, you get better at whatever you practice. Give yourself some love for even little victories.

2. How you want to feel inside yourself
Deliberately set an intention of how you want to feel while moving towards your resolution. Realize that challenges are part of the journey. What will you say to yourself when they come up? Do you want to focus on and appreciate your efforts, rather than only your results?

3. How you want to feel with others
How you interact with the people around you, also contributes to how you will feel while you are working towards your goal. If there are other people around, set your intention for the kind of interaction you would like to have with them. (calm, harmonious, fun, etc.) What would that look like?

4. A tip from top athletes 
Top athletes are taught that doing their physical practice sessions is not enough. They have to visualize themselves doing their best and actually experience how they would feel in that state. They are encouraged to run a mental movie of what they would be like as they work towards and finally achieve their goal. Imagine yourself achieving your goal. In your mental movie, how do you feel? What would you say to yourself in your mind, what emotions would you experience in your body? Research from University of Chicago has shown that athletes that visualized their progress had very similar results as those who physically practiced. Visualization activates new neural pathways. This is powerful!

5. Relax in your intention
We’ve all heard that it’s the journey, not just the destination. While goals can be specific and set, intentions should be more fluid and relaxed. Create your intention, the way you want to feel while moving towards your goal, and let it go. You are setting an energetic foundation for progress. By building in your intention with your goal, you give yourself a huge advantage in reaching it. If you can detach yourself from the minutia of reaching that resolution, and surrender to the feeling of achieving it, you may be surprised at how easy it becomes.

Choosing Happiness When Living With a Brain Tumor

Project Happiness supporter Rebecca Acquisto recently shared with us how she finds happiness in the face of the most difficult life circumstances. May we all draw inspiration from Rebecca’s story and choose happiness, daily. 

How to be happy when living with a Brain Tumor

Before September 3rd 2013, I was a 54-year-old widow living alone and working full time as a lead therapist at a local community hospital.  My children were grown and living on their own.  I had a lovely life with friends, a boyfriend, and many activities I enjoyed doing. I had just returned from a two week vacation with a good friend to the Olympic Rainforest in Washington State, which we had affectionately named, “Grand Adventure 2013.”  On September 3rd I was diagnosed with a brain tumor and on September 6th I had a stroke.

I’ve shared my story below and some key choices I’ve made which have helped me to find happiness in the face of serious circumstances.

Choice # 1: Go with the flow

I am a planner.  I used to plan everything.  I have been known  to have my whole year planned by February. I had planned Grand Adventure 2013 with my dear friend Libby down to the last detail.  Yet from the get-go, it quickly became apparent that the trip plans were falling by the wayside.  I had a choice – normally I would have doubled up efforts to get back on the plan, but this time I made a choice to go with the flow…what followed was nothing less than magic.

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Floating in Salt Lake, Antelope Island

On the first night of the adventure, we camped at Salt Lake on Antelope Island.  I woke up to free-range buffalo walking and eating around our campsite while the sun rose over the lake.  I sat on a picnic table and just marveled at the beauty.  My ‘plan’ was to leave soon after we eat breakfast to get on the road again.  Instead we went on a hike and then swam in Salt Lake.  In the lake, due to the density of salt in the water, one can only float.  So I floated, I was totally held by the water.  It is what I imagined being born and dying is like – totally supported.  I floated for a long while, soaking the feeling of support deep into the cells of my body.  This was only the beginning of a string of magical moments that ensued on the rest of our adventure. Take home lesson: Go with the flow.

 

Choice # 2: Attitude is more important than facts

When I returned home and got back to work on September 3rd, I noticed some weakness and lack of coordination in my left arm and leg.  Being a therapist I knew something was not right and was hoping for a little stroke, but the MRI revealed a tumor deep in the center of my brain sitting in the thalamus. A biopsy was planned for later in the week and I went home. I was scared and cried a lot. The hardest part was calling my children – after losing their father, their greatest fear of their mom being sick was coming true. I used the week to ‘get my affairs in order’ and spent time with my loved ones. 

After the biopsy on September 6th I had a stroke, which left the entire left side of my body paralyzed. I remember being in the ICU thinking, “Okay, so what are you going to do with this?”

I realized I had a choice.  I could feel sorry for myself or I could accept what happened. There was nothing I could do to change the circumstances of the tumor or the stroke. The only thing I had/have control over is my attitude.  My late husband used to say that attitude is more important than facts. So, just as I had on the Grand Adventure, I choose to control my attitude rather than try to control my external circumstances. I started looking for things to be grateful for. My family was with me, I was breathing, I could talk, I could eat, I could think. These are all good things.

Choice # 3: Focus on gratitude and love

Arizona Sunset

Arizona Sunset

My primary care doctor and a good friend got me an appointment at one of the premier brain tumor centers in the world, Barrows Institute in Phoenix, AZ. So my ‘team’ and I headed to Phoenix, where we met with the smartest neuro-oncologist surgeon in the world (according to me) and a surgery to remove my tumor was scheduled for a week later.

We spent the week ‘vacationing’ in a condo in Phoenix. My children, boyfriend, extended family and friends worked together to help take care of me.  I worked on finding the beauty in the Arizona sunrises and sunsets, developing gratitude in my heart, and focused on spreading that gratitude to my loved ones as they cared for me. The night before surgery we celebrated. It was a lot of fun and the air was filled with laughter and love.  I wasn’t scared because I was too ‘filled up.’

Choice # 4: Have a Sense of Humor

The surgery happened and went well, no more significant physical deficits occurred. After several days I went to acute rehab for therapy, where I experienced the healing effect of keeping a sense of humor, for both me and those caring for me. I’ve realized I can spread misery, self-pity, and anger, which helps no one. Or I can spread laughter and joy in as many moments as possible. Everything goes so much better with a smile and laughter.

So how is it possible to be happy when living with a brain tumor and stroke?

I’ve come to understand that while we cannot always choose our external circumstances, we can chose to nourish our ‘internal world.’ This is my day to day job now: I work as hard as I can in physical and occupational therapy to heal my outer body, while simultaneously keeping my inner well ‘filled up’ by, 1) going with the flow, 2) keeping a positive attitude, 3) focusing on love and gratitude, and 4) laughing. A lot.

These choices make for a happier me and a happier world.  And really, isn’t that what we as humans are supposed to do – make our world a happier place for all of us?

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Rebecca is currently going through treatments in Arizona. We are so grateful that she chose to share her story with us in hopes of uplifting and encouraging others.  

Thank you, Rebecca. Your courage and wisdom are inspiring and we will continue to surround you with healing thoughts!

The Healing Power of Nature

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“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” -John Muir

In my last blog on the growing numbers of kids being diagnosed with ADHD, I wondered out loud about the potential negative effects in our modern culture of things like: too much time spent indoors, too little sun and exercise, too many electronics, and not enough sleep. Rather than dwell on the causes of our problems, let’s consider what we can do to reduce the impact of stress on the lives of both adults and children. Not from a medical psychiatric perspective, but from the perspective of everyday life.

Ask yourself this question: Do you or your kids suffer from Nature-Deficit Disorder?

This wonderful name was coined by journalist Richard Louv with the publication of Last Child in the Woods. His newest book, The Nature Principle: Human Restotion and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder, offers a new vision of the future, in which our lives are equally immersed in nature and in technology.

What do we already know about the positive effects of time spent outdoors, immersed in nature?

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Rachel and Stephen Kaplan, environmental psychologists from the University of Michigan, are internationally known for their research on the effect of nature on people’s relationships and health.The Kaplans got involved in studying the effects of nature back in the 1970s, and since then have done extensive research on “restorative environments” to understand the psychological benefits of time spent in nature and what types of natural environments stimulate health and reduce stress.

In order to work or study efficiently, we need to maintain focused attention on the task at hand–something that everyone struggles with–most especially those with Attention Deficit Disorder or ADHD. Too much focused attention can lead to mental fatigue and increased stress. One remedy for this fatigue is exposure to nature. The wilder the better, but even a little bit helps. Office workers with a view of nature are happier and healthier at work; kids do better academically; hospital stays are shorter with windows to nature; exercisers who walk outside in pleasant environments walk longer.

Positive Effects for Kids with ADHD

P1020285ADHD kids who participate in activities conducted in natural outdoor environments concentrate better and show less impulsivity. Published in The American Journal of Public HealthFrances Kuo conducted a national study comparing the effects of after school activities conducted in green outdoor settings versus those conducted in both built outdoor and indoor settings. Controlling for the amount of physical activity, type of activity, preference for nature, or timing of medication, they concluded that time spent in nature reduces ADHD symptoms.

The authors concluded that, “While medications are effective for most children with ADHD, they are ineffective for some, and other children cannot tolerate them…and a green dose or series of green doses might conceivably reduce the need for medication by 1 dose per day, allowing growing children to recover their appetites in time for dinner and get a good night’s sleep. These studies, and hundreds of others, add to the growing body of literature that shows how exposure to nature has profound effects on the health and well being of children and adults alike.

The Benefits of More Time in Nature for Children:

1. Kids get along better.  Research has found that children who play in nature have more positive feelings about each other. There is something about being in a natural environment together that stimulates social interaction. Another study showed how play in a diverse natural environment can reduce or eliminate bullying. In several studies, researchers have found that some of the kids who benefit most are those with attention and learning challenges.

2. Imaginative processes are enhanced.  Early experiences with the natural world have been positively linked with a sense of wonder. Children are more likely to use their imagination outdoors.

file18912836590923. Cognitive development is improved. Curiosity and wonder are strong motivators that make children more eager to learn. When children play in natural environments, their play is more diverse. Creative play, in turn, nurtures language and collaborative skills. Spending time in natural environments helps improve their awareness, reasoning and observational skills.

4. Physical health is improved. Children who play regularly in natural environments show more advanced motor fitness, including coordination, balance and agility. They get sick less often. Just getting their hands in the dirt can bring exposure to “good bugs” that stimulate the immune system.

5. Kids are less stressed out. Nature buffers the impact of life stress on children and helps them deal with adversity. The greater the amount of nature exposure, the greater the benefits. Nature helps children develop powers of observation and creativity and instills a sense of peace and connection to the planet. Haven’t you noticed how kids can do whatever they need to do when they are out in the wild? They can just sit and stare at bugs or scream at the top of their lungs.

file000202384719-150x1506. Kids are more psychologically mature.  A boost in maturity comes from the increased independence and autonomy that free play in nature encourages. Children with more contact with nature score higher on tests of concentration and self-discipline. The more green, the better the scores. In a study of kids with ADHD, it was found that those who played in windowless indoor settings had significantly more severe symptoms than kids who played in grassy outdoor spaces. School classrooms with outdoor views even help.

7. Kids are more likely to love and protect the environment. When people like John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt spent time in places like Yosemite Valley, they realized that these wild places were “America’s treasures,” needing our stewardship and protection. In order to teach children how to treasure nature, kids must be allowed to explore it in their own way, and be given the time and opportunity to “dig in” and immerse themselves in its mysteries. Like a perfect mother, the earth welcomes us all with open arms.

– See more at: http://howsyourfamily.com/the-healing-power-of-nature/#sthash.XT1vIoX4.dpuf

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Authors: Don MacMannis, Ph.D. & Debra MacMannis, M.S.W

Don and Debra are a team both at home and at the office. Husband and wife for almost thirty years, they have simultaneously served as directors of the Family Therapy Institute of Santa Barbara, a nonprofit organization. In this capacity they oversee the clinical work of fourteen therapists providing help to hundreds of clients each year. They are authors or coauthors of numerous articles on parenting and clinical issues. In 2009, Don won the title of “Best Family Therapist” in a poll taken by SBParent.com. In 2010, Debra was honored with an Award for Service to the Community by local therapists and the Mayor of Santa Barbara “for 30 years of inspiration, leadership, and training provided to thousands of clinicians, and the devotion exemplified in?consistent visionary work for the community.”

– See more at: http://howsyourfamily.com/about-us/#sthash.ShKdbXRb.dpuf

 

Cyberbullying Apps — Why Are We Allowing Anonymous Cruelty?

Originally published in the Huffington Post – September 18, 2013

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Last month, 12-year-old Rebecca Ann Sedwick jumped from a platform at an abandoned cement factory to her death after being tormented online and through cellphone apps. Suicide victims are getting younger all the time. What will it take for us as a society to take responsibility, rather than blaming bullies, apathetic schools or clued-out parents? This is a systemic problem and we are all contributing: either by our silence or by even unintentionally playing a part. Here are some factors to consider:

1. It’s easy to be cruel when what you say is anonymous:
In many apps and websites there is no identification or accountability for who says what. This can and does bring out the worst of human nature. Do we need yet another death to understand that words can kill? Whether the aggression is direct such as verbal abuse and threats, or indirect through exclusion, ostracism or spreading rumors, it wears down the victim, decimating their self-esteem and suffocating vestiges of hope for a positive future. Rebecca was barraged by messages on her phone including, “Go kill yourself,” and, “Why are you still alive?”

2. There’s a pervasive fear of being the next victim:
Because the attacks can be so vicious, many teens are afraid to speak out or stand out from the crowd even if they do have some sympathy for one being “called out.” In a survey done in Palo Alto, California, teens interviewed revealed that the anonymous questions posed on ask.fm included: “How many times have you hooked up this summer?” to, “Hottest girls in school,” with responses like, “I think _____ is too ugly, fat and gross. Like why do you even say, ‘Hi,’ to her?” to, “How many times have you attempted suicide?” It’s hard enough to be a teenager in these stressful times. When teens and adults believe, “that’s just the way it is,” cruelty becomes the new norm. It’s time to ask ourselves is it really OK to demean, put down, humiliate and disempower other people? By overlooking this assault of “microaggressions” that people experience on a daily basis, we are propagating a culture of fear laced with apathy and it’s taking a toll at every level.

3. The attacks are often well disguised: 
As teens get older, they are increasingly technologically adept and socially skillful about at hiding their identity and intention. In communities that are academically competitive, students know that cyberbullying would be considered “a black mark on their school records, and they have developed underhanded ways to avoid detection or blame for mean acts.” Often these campaigns of cruelty are covert and unnoticeable by teachers, but loud and clear to both victim and their “frenemies.” How is this different from gossiping about “friends” over lunch, or about co-workers by the water cooler? If anything, this behind-your-back meanness is a recipe for mediocrity rather than greatness. Notably, it’s not just the “bad kids” or bullies who are causing this escalation.

4. “Social combat” is on the rise:
Sociologists Robert Faris and Diane Felmlee in a study for Anderson Cooper and CNN found that “kids are caught up in patterns of cruelty and aggression that have to do with jockeying for status.” Bullying can no longer be simply pinned on troubled kids; it’s often “typically highly, well-liked popular kids who are engaging in these behaviors.” Often those who have experienced bullying, can become the bully. One student who at one time had been bullied states, “Once you start realizing that you can have higher social power by putting other people down… that’s, like, how people are moving up and that’s how they’re gaining respect.” This is a minefield where disempowered and power-hungry kids alike think they must steal power from others, by disempowering and shaming them. No wonder stresses are escalating — it’s a virtual war zone. With over 80 percent of incidents never reported, has “social combat” become the new norm? And this is just in the schoolyard. Perhaps we should also turn our attention to the home, social settings, the workplace and even global dynamics. What ‘s the solution for “social combat?” Maybe we need a new definition of power: not as something that comes at another’s expense, but as something that is generated from within each person, giving people of all ages the confidence to be kind, the empathy to support each other’s dreams and the wisdom to align with why we are here.

5. Anonymity and the greater good:
As a culture, let’s really look at why we are accepting of “confession pages,” and the proliferation of apps such as ask.fmspring.mekik and voxer that make it easier than ever for social cruelty to spread like a cancer into the hearts and minds of young people. High school cliques have always been an issue, but now they have a weapon in their hands that can and does kill. One could argue that technology is neutral; it is how people use it that makes it good or bad. Yet, if anonymity brings out the worst in people, then is it wise to condone and passively support technology that facilitates social toxicity? The Huffington Post made a decision to ban anonymous comments. Other companies can follow suit. More can be done to prevent these problems at a design or concept level. This is a direct challenge to all the Venture Capitalists who fund these social platforms/apps and to every user who keeps them thriving.

6. The issue of popularity: 
As a society, let’s look at why “popularity” is the measure of a person’s success and social status. Many kids and adults are crafting bigger-than-life personas on Facebook, posting all sorts of things to generate more,”likes,” yet feeling, “less than,” because of comparison envy. It’s hard to be immune. How many people do you know who are addicted to social media? Let’s not forget that reaching out to others, and the ability to give to others is one of the most important elements in building a satisfying and meaningful life. Arianna Huffington, in her Third Metric project, is now highlighting this perspective. Helping others has additional benefits. One study of nine 11-year-olds shows that on top of boosting wellbeing,kindness makes kids popular. Imagine if that became contagious…

What can be done? Educating for change:
We see time and time again that treating the symptoms and aftereffects of bullying doesn’t work. With the proliferation of bully programs in schools, the problem is still escalating. We can no longer wait for the symptoms of suffering to show up in middle and high school. We have to insist that educational programs, which include: empathy skills, compassion and emotional resilience be included in the curriculum… and the younger the better. One example, Project Happiness, which I founded after my daughter suffered from a period of stress and bullying, provides programs which address the root causes rather than the symptoms, and helps kids build on their strengths to create a more civil society. In over 75 countries, it sends a message that wellbeing and happiness do not come from external sources, through the senses alone, or at the cost of either people or the planet. Wellbeing is tied to meaning, self-knowledge, emotional management, compassion for yourself and others and the permission to share your unique gift. We are moving towards the tipping point. Tragically, Rebecca will not experience it — though her story and those of others will inspire a change. In May of 2013, Congressman Tim Ryan introduced the Social and Emotional Learning Act to promote these types of approaches. What will it take before we all can agree — it is time.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on cyberbullying and on what could help. How do you feel about anonymous posts and the apps that support them?

The First-Ever Happiness Conference in Romania

On October 5th, Randy traveled to Romania to speak at the very first conference on happiness in South-East Europe, in Bucharest! Below she shares a small snapshot of her experience teaching happiness enhancing techniques to a room of 300+ attendees: 

When I was invited to speak at the first-ever conference on happiness in South-East Europe, I did not have an idea what Romania would have in store. The warmth, professionalism, and sense of openness that greeted me was incredible. Malina Chire and team put together a fabulous conference. The room was packed with young professionals who were ready to know more. I had brought one of my favorite pieces of music with me, and played it to start the session. What can I say; it just made me want to dance…and seconds later there were people joining me on stage…at the start and at the end of my talk. Really – at a conference – this was something entirely new! That was just the beginning. The content was designed to be interactive and fun, but the degree of engagement and enthusiasm was off the charts. I was happy to reconnect with old friends like Vanessa King from the UK’s Action for Happiness and meet new friends too. I’ll have to save  Drakula’s  Castle for another trip, but one thing I know for sure – Romania knows how to do happiness.

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Pictured Above: Vanessa King from Action for Happiness, and Wenceslao Unanue, a speaker who’s doing groundbreaking work on happiness and environment.

Pictured Below: Malina Chirea, President of the Association Initiative for Happiness, and her husband Andrei, both founders of the conference.

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April Fools’ Day: Your Excuse to Lighten Up!

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-clowns-image20117272Originally published in the Huffington Post – April 1, 2013

What if April 1 was more than a day to do pranks on others; what if it was a reminder to laugh at ourselves? How many people deal with the pressure to be perfect? That can be a big burden that proves unsatisfying even when we get close to the “goal.” When people take themselves so seriously, they shut down a vital part of themselves. April Fools’ Day provides the perfect opportunity to lighten up! Here are three ways:

Be Amused

Laughing at yourself is

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Project Khushi – Muskaan and Arpana Trust partner to bring Project Happiness to India

khushi1Everyone deserves to be happy. No matter what background, religion, country we belong to; we all basically want the same things to make us happy. Project Khushi uncovers the potential for happiness in us all.

Arpana Trust, a reputed NGO that runs educational and health programs for children and adolescents, wished to offer additional inputs to adolescents for soft skills. Keeping this in mind, a meeting was held between Vibha, the founder of the NGO, and Aruna Dayal and ushma Agarwal, both of Arpana Trust. During the course of discussion the objective became clearer and Vibha proposed to design a project on the theme of “Happiness”. A partnership was agreed upon and a decision was made to offer sessions to adolescent boys and girls from grade 11th and also their teachers, using the Project Happiness program as the framework.

khushi2The purpose of the project has been to reconnect

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Common Ground Magazine Sings Praises of Project Happiness

When Randy Taran’s eldest daughter was a teenager, she approached her mother with a very serious concern: she was stressed out, and while she wanted to be happy, she didn’t know how. Taran, heartbroken and unsure of how to respond to or guide her daughter, first sought the guidance of experts and soon ended up as a visionary leader in the happiness movement.

Her pain as a bewildered parent ultimately led her to found the Palo-Alto-based nonprofit Project Happiness which, through educational programming, guides students and adults alike on the path toward happiness.

Taran has since dedicated her life to this Herculean task – the pursuit of world happiness – and her journey led her to find a way to communicate how to thrive and be happy not only with her daughter but also with young people throughout the world. Extensive research led to the creation of Project Happiness, one of a growing number of educational programs focused on giving young people the tools they need to first find happiness in their lives ad then to share that happiness with the world around them. Project Happiness programs are now in place in thousands of schools in 48 states and 52 countries.

At the heart of Project Happiness is a simple message:

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Mother’s Day: Gifts from the Heart

Have you ever received gifts that were fun in the moment but lost their allure almost as fast as you unwrapped the package? Material gifts may satisfy short-term desires, but it is the human connection that leaves a lasting impression. Instead of going to the store to buy Mom another bottle of perfume, think about creating a memory instead. Here are three easy ways:

1) The gift of experience

A sure-fire happiness amplifier is to create a time when you do/experience something together with your mom. Make this something she enjoys doing, even if it’s not really your thing. You can ask your mom what she enjoys or surprise her. Some ideas are: a walk in nature, making something creative together, joining her to see the film she’s been longing to check out, or even listening together to her favorite music and dancing up a storm — bonus points for laughing out loud. I still smile when I think of the dance lesson my kids gave me. They worked hard that day!

2) The gift of time

Most people feel that they have too much to do in a day, so consider giving your mom the gift of time — that is, time to take care of herself. That could mean anything from offering to cook dinner to doing the dishes or taking the dog for a walk. It could involve arranging for a friend to babysit while mom takes a hike or takes that course that she has signed up for. I still have some hand-made coupons from my kids for a shoulder massage that I look forward to enjoying! The criterion is that it should be something that soothes your mom and gives her a chance to tune in to herself — what a concept!

3) The gift of appreciation

Moms always do for others and often don’t even realize the effect they have on their families. One great approach is to put together a booklet of photographs and drawings that remind you of special times with your mom. Extra bonus points for including a letter of gratitude to let her know a few things you love about her, perhaps the most important lesson you have learned from her, and how much that means to you. I’d love this gift for Mother’s Day — hint, hint.

Finally, celebrate the quality of motherhood within yourself. You don’t have to be a mother to do this. Consider who or what you care about most and focus your energy and support in that direction. Be there for someone else, and don’t forget to take care of yourself — Mother’s Day is just the beginning!

Why is Mother’s Day special or not special to you? What are the most memorable gifts you have received?

How can you find happiness in times like these?

I have spent a ton of time lately thinking about how to find happiness in times like these.

I think about all the different situations that surround so many people in my life. So how can you find happiness when: you’ve lost your job, you’ve lost your house, your child is dying, your child has an incurable condition, you have cancer, your parent just died of cancer, or you are getting divorced? Those are just some examples.

How can you be happy amidst all the insanity that envelopes your life when you are dealing with just one of those things, let alone multiple things?

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5 Steps to Happiness

From the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-taran/steps-to-happiness_b_957876.html

Some people set New Year’s resolutions, but I find this season, as school starts again, to be a perfect time for new beginnings. Right now I am thinking of setting some intentions, and I invite you to do the same.

As the autumn leaves fall, consider shedding old habits that no longer serve you. It’s a great time to focus on who you are and what practices will grow your happiness. What are the attitudes that will move you along? Here are five ideas that can make a difference:

1. Choose something you want to focus on. It could be getting more exercise, connecting with nature, taking a course you’ve been interested in or making regular time to connect with someone you love. By the way, that someone could be you. What are you longing for?

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TONIGHT! California Film Institute presents Project Happiness!!!

We are thrilled to premiere the Project Happiness film at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Theater tonight in San Rafael, California! Tonights presentation is sponsored by the California Film Institute and will include a Q&A with Project Happiness creator Randy Taran as well as some very special guests.

We hope to see you there! You can still get tickets by visiting the California Film Institute’s web site or you can purchase them at the box office tonight. Here are all the details you might need:

Christopher B. Smith Rafael Theater
1118 Fourth Street
San Rafael CA 94901
Showtime: 6:30
Program length: 90 minutes
(415) 454-1222

Hope to see you all there!

Mother’s Day Gifts from the Heart

From The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-taran/mothers-day-gifts-from-th_b_858350.html

Have you ever received gifts that were fun in the moment but lost their allure almost as fast as you unwrapped the package? Material gifts may satisfy short-term desires, but it is the human connection that leaves a lasting impression. Instead of going to the store to buy Mom another bottle of perfume, think about creating a memory instead. Here are three easy ways:

1) The gift of experience

A sure-fire happiness amplifier is to create a time when you do/experience something together with your mom. Make this something she enjoys doing, even if it’s not really your thing. You can ask your mom what she enjoys or surprise her. Some ideas are: a walk in nature, making something creative together, joining her to see the film she’s been longing to check out, or even listening together to her favorite music and dancing up a storm — bonus points for laughing out loud. I still smile when I think of the dance lesson my kids gave me. They worked hard that day! (more)

The Advantages of Adversity

Lance Armstrong survived cancer and went on to win the Tour de France seven consecutive times.

Adversity is critical to growth and happiness for so many reasons. First, adversity provides variety in life. See, from a broader perspective, there really is no bad weather. There may be lots of clouds one day or no clouds at all, the sky may be gray or it may be a brilliant blue, the sun may be shining or it may be raining. But there are pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages, good things and bad things about all kinds of weather conditions. The same is true of your life.

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Self-Compassion 101: Rethinking the Golden Rule

From the HuffingtonPost: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-taran/self-compassion_b_832602.html

Is it selfish to have compassion for yourself?

On an airplane, you are asked to put the oxygen mask on yourself first, so that you can help other people. Self-compassion is like that too. If you don’t take care of yourself first, you won’t be fully equipped to help others.

Doing a sport you love, enjoying nature, exploring your creativity or connecting with others are all paths to self-compassion. But let’s look under the surface. The “critic’s voice” (the one that says “I’ll never be good at that,” or, “I look so bad today,” or, “They probably think I’m a…”) is within all of us, and it’s sneaky! What to do?

Here are seven easy ways to get started:

Be a Detective. Catch yourself if you are:

  1. Comparing yourself to others and putting yourself down
  2. Giving up on doing something because you feel it’s hopeless
  3. Worrying about what might happen in the future
  4. Being a perfectionist
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Project Love – “Love is in the Air” – Valentine’s Day at Stanford

“Love is in the Air”- Valentine’s Day at Stanford

By Lauren Linsmayer and Andrew ‘Phoenix’ Dao

Got love? On Valentine’s Day, the answer was a resounding “yes” in White Plaza, the student quad at Stanford. Project[Love], a student group committed to fostering compassion on campus through random acts of kindness, turned a day which is typically about buying expensive flowers and writing love sonnets for one person into one about spreading joy and love to all. The idea was simple but profound: Give out heart-shaped balloons with sharpies attached and the simple assignment of writing a few kind words on the balloon before passing it on to a friend or stranger.

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Want to get your kids into college? Let them play…:)

The power of play as an academic advantage?  A Harvard team says Yes! 

Here’s a thought provoking article:

http://www.cnn.com/2010/OPINION/12/29/christakis.play.children.learning/index.html

Want to get your kids into college? Let them play…

By Erika Christakis and Nicholas Christakis, Special to CNN
December 29, 2010 7:57 a.m. EST

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Erika and Nicholas Christakis says they see students at Harvard who have trouble getting along
  • They say kids better equipped to learn, interact, if taught using play-based curricula
  • “Drill and kill” skill-based learning, requires more social isolation, they say
  • Writers: Play-based learning builds empathy, better self-control, and problem solving skill
  • Editor’s note: Erika Christakis, MEd, MPH, is an early childhood teacher and former preschool director. Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD, is a professor of medicine and sociology at Harvard University. Together, they serve as Masters of Pforzheimer House, one of the undergraduate residential houses at Harvard College.
     
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    Got Happiness? 10 Easy Ways to Make Your Goals Stick

    From the Huffington Post   http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-taran/got-happiness-10-easy-way_b_818519.html

    Want a happier year? Having goals can fast track you there. Yes, sometimes life can get in the way; old ingrained patterns can infiltrate good intentions. What to do? Here are 10 easy ways to help rebuild those neural pathways, so that the new goals on your happiness journey can stick.

    1.  Have a Big Enough Reason:

    The “why” you are even undertaking a goal has to be important. It’s not enough to say “I need to drop some weight.” Saying “I am in the process of improving my HDL cholesterol to be around for the people I care about” is way more powerful. Think of the benefits of what you want, and say it in present time (I’m in the process of…).

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    Upcoming Stanford Conference: Happiness within Reach

    Participate in Stanford’s first conference about cultivating emotional well being.

    Learn the science and art of awakening deep happiness, love, compassion and vibrant health.

    Speakers include:  Paul Ekman, Randy Taran, Jim Doty, Rick Hanson, Fred Luskin and other luminaries in the fields of neuroscience, psychology and the arts.  Everyday People too!http://www.stanford.edu/dept/rde/scs/happiness_conference/happinesswithinreach/Welcome.html

    Randy on College Bound and Determined

    Catch a recent interview in which Randy discusses applications of social and emotional learning for families with college bound kids!

    http://webtalkradio.net/2011/01/31/college-bound-determined-%e2%80%93-how-to-build-the-foundation-for-a-solid-college-search/

    From Huffington Post: Cyberbullying: Strategies to Take Back Your Power

    Cyberbullying on Huffington Post

    Cyberbullying, is defined by the Cyberbullying Research Center, as “willful and repeated harm” inflicted through phones and computers.

    The statistics:

    • 42% of kids have been bullied while online.
    • 35% of kids have been threatened online.
    • 53% of kids admit to having said something mean or hurtful to another person online..
    • 58% have not told their parents or an adult about something mean or hurtful that happened to them online. [i]

    I once heard the quote “bullying in school… that’s just part of growing up.”  What does that imply – that it’s OK to be a bully or to be bullied, or that humiliating others is just the way it is?  The scars to self-esteem can have lifetime repercussions. “One teenager stated: “It makes me hurt both physically and mentally. It scares me and takes away all my confidence. It makes me feel sick and worthless.” Victims who experience cyberbullying also reveal they are afraid or embarrassed to go to school. In addition, research has revealed a link between cyberbullying and low self?esteem, family problems, academic problems, school violence, and delinquent behavior. Finally, cyberbullied youth also report having suicidal thoughts, and there have been a number of examples in the United States where youth who were victimized ended up taking their own lives.”[ii]

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    Happiness Flourishes in Nigeria

    Emmanuel Ivorgba, Founder of Creative Minds International Academy, has brought Project Happiness to over 600 students in Nigeria. We are so grateful for his commitment and dedication! Project Happiness is being used as part of the values education class in CMIA and as an after school program in multiple schools, 9 so far! Emmanuel was an important member of the founding group of schools who met in India to have a private audience with the Dalai Lama on the nature of happiness. (See film trailer) Thank you Emmanuel for all you do to give young people in Nigeria a foundation in inner happiness and character building that will stay with them long after the sessions are done.
    Who inspires you in your life?

    From Huffington Post: Want to Stop the Bullying? It Starts at Home

    Parents, it’s time to smell the coffee. We’re trying to get the schools to teach our kids not to allow bullying, but the problems are escalating; it’s no longer enough to leave the responsibility in the schools’ hands. No parent wants their child to be bullied. And, no one intentionally teaches their child to become a bully. We all want the best for our kids. This is why it’s interesting to take a look at the subtle bullying messages that can come to them on two levels. Here are two powerful and often hidden ways to help nip the problem in the bud — right at home.

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    5 Happiness Tips that Every Student Needs to Know

    I founded a Project Happiness to provide young people with the skills to live happier lives. In the wake of the uproar around the state of education, here are 5 Tips that every student and parent needs to know. These simple points can help any student right now.

    1. Academic intelligence is great, but emotional intelligence allows you to ride the ups and downs of life. There’s a call today to radically transform education, by fixing schools and hiring better teachers. This is good, but it ignores an important fact. Even though academic intelligence is very important, it by itself does not guarantee a happy life. There are many students who make it to college only to find the situation there so stressful that they don’t make it through. Though the emphasis has been to do well on tests, it’s no longer enough to be just book smart. The real tests in life involve being able to manage emotions, understand what messages they are giving and then build the skills to cope with whatever comes up. Emotional intelligence (which research shows increases academic performance by up to 10%) can be taught in schools, and I believe that it’s just as important as learning math, science or English. In many ways, this is a foundation for success in school and in life.

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    Happy Schools = Healthy Kids

    We’ve had a busy summer here at Project Happiness — we created THREE (yes, 3!) articulated programs to go with the curriculum, did our first teacher training, and taught our first CEU. But we’re not the type of people to rest upon our laurels (and, honestly, who’d want to? Have you seen laurel bushes? They do not look comfy!), so we’re off to our next challenge.

    And that challenge is to bring many of the resources from Harvard’s most popular class, Positive Psychology — ‘the science of happiness’, to all students. And this isn’t just because we think it’s fun (and it is!), but because learning the kinds of social and emotional skills involved in positive psychology has really practical benefits: it improves academic performance (and test scores), reduces stress levels, and helps students be more resilient: more able to cope with ups and downs.

    These benefits are already available to most schools, but for high needs schools Project Happiness has something special.  We’re offering our first-ever scholarship program! We’re looking for 3 high-needs schools who want to dive into the science of happiness with Project Happiness. Just fill out the scholarship application by November 15th and, if selected, you’ll get our premium package: Project Happiness Handbooks for each student in class, our full range of supplementary materials, a 2-hour teacher training, online CEU opportunities, parent trainings, and personal help applying for future program-related grants.

    It’s a wonderful time to get your school involved! Our brand-new curriculum package is poised to jump into your school and empower students to create their own happiness. Benefits: improved academics, better school climate, happier life!!

    First-Ever Project Happiness Continuing Education Course!

    Project Happiness is thrilled to announce that, in partnership with Alliant University, we are launching an online continuing education course on July 12th entitled “Exploring Positivity in Classroom Management: A Curriculum of Wellness.” This course (2.5 CEU’s) will give teachers — new and old teachers, Project Happiness facilitators and others, science and art teachers, public and private school teachers — a chance to enliven their teaching practice with the positive psychology, mindfulness and wellness practices that Project Happiness does so well. If you’re interested, take a look here for more details and then click here to REGISTER through Alliant University.

    Reflecting on Struggle: Reaching out to those with depression, Part 3

    RedScriptAlt-64

    Rewriting Your Script to Prevent Depression

    I have to say this is my FAVORITE part of the discussion with Nina, because it’s here where we explore the relationship between the illness, ‘depression,’ and the wellness practices of Project Happiness. Here’s how Nina (who knows a LOT about psychology, as you’ll see if you listen!) lays it out:

    • Learning to be aware of your emotions, to regulate your emotions, and to separate your emotional response from reality are critical skills for depression PREVENTION and depression RECOVERY.
    • Learning to know when to reach out for professional help — for yourself or someone you care about — is critical for those with SEVERE DEPRESSION, particularly teens.

    Take a listen to the podcast episode HERE

    Here is one of my favorite Project Happiness methods for getting a handle on where you’re at emotionally and moving in a positive direction:

    Rewriting Your Script (Taken from the Project Happiness Handbook, p.47)

    1. Close your eyes and try to picture your current situation (your feelings, your interactions, your choices) as a film. Who are the characters on the screen? What are they doing, thinking and feeling? In particular, what is the protagonist (you!) doing, thinking and feeling?
    2. Sketch out this movie in words or pictures.
    3. Now…remember that you are the writer, actor and director in your movie: rewrite the script! What could the protagonist do to reach for joy and connection? Could you take some of those steps in your world?

    And remember to always practice SELF-COMPASSION; your runaway ‘monkey mind’ (check out p.48 in the Project Happiness Handbook) may be telling you that your friends and family don’t have the time or energy to ‘deal with’ your feelings, but that is probably the farthest thing from the truth. REACH OUT and let someone else help you figure out the next step.

    Day 10: What’s making you happy?

    Challenge Day 10Doing Sunday dinner dishes.

    I read somewhere it takes 30 days to create a new habit…but when I find great ice-cream, like Bi-Rite’s salted caramel, it just takes one scoop or less. But let’s be rational, ice-cream breaks a lot of rules and although we all want more happiness in our lives, negativity is like Velcro fastening itself to our thoughts. Neuroscience gives us a strategy with this bit of wisdom, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” In other words, happy thoughts create happy brains. Join me in this 30 Day Challenge to rewire my brain for more happiness.

    Reflecting on Struggle: Reaching out to those with depression, Part 2

    In the second installment of our podcast series on reaching out to those with depression, Nina Poe (see her blog on her own depression journey here) talks about her journey as a teenager struggling with depression. It was in fact partly this teenage experience that motivated Nina to start her blog. In ‘coming out of the closet’ as someone who has suffered from depression, she hopes to get people – parents, teachers, doctors, friends – to talk about depression, take the signs of it seriously, and be an advocate for depressed teens so that they can get medical help.

    –> To hear Nina and I talk about this journey, click HERE.

    Here are some resources that weren’t there for Nina or her parents 15 years ago, but are here now:

    • Pre-eminent depression researcher, Dr. John Greden, discussing the progression of depression here.
    • Here’s some great info on childhood and adolescent depression from the Michigan Depression Center’s website (run by — you guessed it — Dr. Greden!)
    • Nina’s favorite mental health charity and advocacy organization, NARSAD, is available here.
    • This is a list of some warning signs teens with depression might exhibit.
    • And, of course, the Project Happiness Handbook, available on Amazon, is a great resource for helping parents, teachers and kids be aware of their emotions so that they can show compassion to themselves and others and reach out when they need help.

    Day 9: What’s making you happy?

    Challenge Day 9Early symptoms of World Cup fever.

    I read somewhere it takes 30 days to create a new habit…but when I find great ice-cream, like Bi-Rite’s salted caramel, it just takes one scoop or less. But let’s be rational, ice-cream breaks a lot of rules and although we all want more happiness in our lives, negativity is like Velcro fastening itself to our thoughts. Neuroscience gives us a strategy with this bit of wisdom, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” In other words, happy thoughts create happy brains. Join me in this 30 Day Challenge to rewire my brain for more happiness.

    Day 8: What’s making you happy?

    Challenge Day 8Dancing on Friday night!

    I read somewhere it takes 30 days to create a new habit but when I find great ice-cream, like Bi-Rite’s salted caramel, it just takes one scoop or less. But let’s be rational, ice-cream breaks a lot of rules and although we all want more happiness in our lives, negativity is like Velcro fastening itself to our thoughts. Neuroscience gives us a strategy with this bit of wisdom, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” In other words, happy thoughts create happy brains. Join me in this 30 Day Challenge to rewire my brain for more happiness.

    Day 7: What’s making you happy today?

    Challenge Day 7A friendly & kind shop clerk :-D

    I read somewhere it takes 30 days to create a new habit but when I find great ice-cream, like Bi-Rite’s salted caramel, it just takes one scoop or less. But let’s be rational, ice-cream breaks a lot of rules and although we all want more happiness in our lives, negativity is like Velcro fastening itself to our thoughts. Neuroscience gives us a strategy with this bit of wisdom, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” In other words, happy thoughts create happy brains. Join me in this 30 Day Challenge to rewire my brain for more happiness.

    Day 6: What’s making you happy?

    Challenge Day 6

    A stranger becoming my friend.

    I read somewhere it takes 30 days to create a new habit but when I find great ice-cream, like Bi-Rite’s salted caramel, it just takes one scoop or less. But let’s be rational, ice-cream breaks a lot of rules and although we all want more happiness in our lives, negativity is like Velcro fastening itself to our thoughts. Neuroscience gives us a strategy with this bit of wisdom, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” In other words, happy thoughts create happy brains. Join me in this 30 Day Challenge to rewire my brain for more happiness.

    Day 5: What’s making you happy?

    Challenge Day 5A handful of almonds!

    I read somewhere it takes 30 days to create a new habit but when I find great ice-cream, like Bi-Rite’s salted caramel, it just takes one scoop or less-let’s be rational, ice-cream breaks a lot of rules. And although we all want more happiness in our lives, negativity is like Velcro fastening itself to our thoughts. Neuroscience gives us a strategy with this bit of wisdom, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” In other words, happy thoughts create happy brains. Join me in this 30 Day Challenge to rewire my brain for more happiness.

    Day 4: What’s making you happy?

    Challenge Day 4

    A Sunday promenade in Berkeley.

    I read somewhere it takes 30 days to create a new habit but when I find great ice-cream, like Bi-Rite’s salted caramel, it just takes one scoop or less-let’s be rational, ice-cream breaks a lot of rules. And although we all want more happiness in our lives, negativity is like Velcro fastening itself to our thoughts. Neuroscience gives us a strategy with this bit of wisdom, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” In other words, happy thoughts create happy brains. Join me in this 30 Day Challenge to rewire my brain for more happiness.

    Day 3: What’s making you happy?

    Challenge Day 3

    A freshly, washed and cleaned car. What a difference!

    I read somewhere it takes 30 days to create a new habit but when I find great ice-cream, like Bi-Rite’s salted caramel, it just takes one scoop or less-let’s be rational, ice-cream breaks a lot of rules. And although we all want more happiness in our lives, negativity is like Velcro fastening itself to our thoughts. Neuroscience gives us a strategy with this bit of wisdom, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” In other words, happy thoughts create happy brains. Join me in this 30 Day Challenge to rewire my brain for more happiness.

    Day 2: What’s making you happy?

    Challenge Day 2

    The great cup of coffee I had this morning was bliss. Bliss, I tells-ya!

    I read somewhere it takes 30 days to create a new habit but when I find great ice-cream, like Bi-Rite’s salted caramel, it just takes one scoop or less-let’s be rational, ice-cream breaks a lot of rules. And although we all want more happiness in our lives, negativity is like Velcro fastening itself to our thoughts. Neuroscience gives us a strategy with this bit of wisdom, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” In other words, happy thoughts create happy brains. Join me in this 30 Day Challenge to rewire my brain for more happiness.

    Day 1: What’s making you happy?

    30 Day Happiness Challenge

    Knowing I’m a father-to-be is making my heart

    glow!

    I read somewhere it takes 30 days to create a new habit but when I find great ice-cream, like Bi-Rite’s salted caramel, it just takes one scoop or less-Let’s be rational, ice-cream breaks a lot of rules. And although we all want more happiness in our lives, negativity seems to have Velcro fastening itself to our thoughts. Neuroscience gives us a strategy with this bit of wisdom, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” In other words, happy thoughts create happy brains. Join me in this 30 Day Challenge to rewire my brain for happiness.

    Reflecting on Struggle: Reaching out to those with depression, Part 1

    Reach out for help to get your brain moving againIn this second series of podcasts, I interview Nina Poe, the author of the blog “Reflection on Depression”

    (at reflectionondepression.typepad.com). As readers of the Project Happiness Handbook know, there is no magic bullet for happiness and this is doubly true for those suffering from clinical depression. But as compassionate people — whether we are friends, parents, teachers or mentors — we can reach out to those struggling with depression and help connect them with the professional resources to heal. And if you are struggling with depression, reach out to those around you and start down the road to happiness and wellness that Nina talks about here.

    Click HERE for Reflecting on Struggle: Podcast 1

    And here’s a list of Nina’s favorite resources for depression:

    • http://moodgym.anu.edu.au/welcome — Mood Gym is a cognitive behavioral therapy site. It’s free, consists of several different modules, and walks the participant through CBT techniques. It’s not a replacement for live therapy, but it’s a good start.
    • http://www.narsad.org/ – NARSAD is my favorite mental health charity, and always gets me excited about the scientific and medical progress we are making in understanding mental health disorders. Also, 100% of donations go to research.
    Books on Depression
    • Unholy Ghost:  Writers on depression, Edited by Neil Casey

    Australia’s Social and Emotional Learning Advocate

    An update on happychild.com.au’s Yvette Vignando: she managed to secure herself a visit with the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, during which she made her case for more Project-Happiness-type social and emotional learning in Australia’s schools. Go to http://ow.ly/1A292 to hear an interview about her visit with the prime minister on ABC Newcastle. We at Project Happiness are so grateful for her tireless work on behalf of Australia’s students — go, Yvette!

    Happier Kids in Australia - Coming Soon!

    Happier Kids in Australia - Coming Soon!

    How Teachers Can Tame the Elephant in the Room: Dr. Brooks on Resilience, Part 5

    In this installment, Dr. Brooks helps teachers tame the elephant in the classroom: fear of making mistakes and being humiliated. This fear is so strong that it can severely interfere with learning. Dr. Brooks offers a proactive resilient approach in which teachers address these fears directly and lead students in problem-solving to make the classroom a safe space. He also gives some tips on true discipline as discipleship/teaching: using his latest book (‘Raising a Self-Disciplined Child‘) as a touch point, he talks about how discipline can engender resilience, not resentment:

    Click here for Robert Brooks, Part 5

    After listening, think about what a safe and nurturing classroom space feels like to you. Take a look at this website for some welcoming and open classroom designs. And then share some ideas for your dream classroom on Twitter — how would you makes space for that elephant with unlimited time and budget?

    Why are Resilient People Usually Happy?: Dr. Brooks on Resilience, Part 4

    Here Dr. Brooks and I finally make the connection between resilience and happiness. Some of the key components of resilience — identifying and displaying your strengths, helping others, and solving problems — are also things that bring satisfaction and long-term happiness.

    [podcast]http://www.projecthappiness.org/wp-content/uploads/brooksfourthinstallment.mp3[/podcast]

    Project Podcast: Take-Aways for Parents and Teachers

    After listening to the podcast, fill out our ‘Mentoring Resilience & Happiness’ questionnaire. And keep working on appreciating your gifts and appreciating children’s gifts. Compassion for yourself and the kids in your life can only make you and those around you happier and more resilient.

    We All Have “Islands of Competence”: Dr. Brooks on Resilience, Part 3

    Swimming for Our Islands of Competence

    Swimming for Our Islands of Competence

    *******

    In the third installment of our resilience podcast series, Dr. Brooks explains his powerful metaphor, islands of competence (see this article on his site for a powerful story about a parent applying islands of competence in her life). As a strength-based model of psychology was starting to emerge, Dr. Brooks began to think about helping parents and children in terms of leading them out of the “sea of self-perceived inadequacy” onto an “island of competence.”

    Dr. Brooks’ Podcast on “Islands of Competence”

    Project Podcast: Take-Aways for Teachers and Parents

    After listening, ask yourself:

    • What are my islands of competence? How can I change what I’m doing at home/in the classroom to highlight these strengths?
    • What are my kids’/students’ islands of competence? How can I change what I’m doing at home/in the classroom to highlight these strengths?
    • Share your ideas and plans for finding your and your kids’/students’ islands of competence through the “comments” function below and we can all learn from each other

    In Search of the Charismatic Adult: Dr. Brooks on Resilience, Part 2

    In this second installment of our podcast series on resilience, Dr. Brooks and I discuss the importance of the “charismatic adult” in a child’s life (a term coined by Dr. Julius Segal — see this article or check out his Amazon bibliography for more info): that adult who believes in and stands by a child through adversity. Dr. Brooks traces his career path as he began to ask, “Why do some children who grow up under poverty and racism, undergo trauma, or face some other kind of adversity do well while others don’t?” In other words, he was shaping the science of resilience.

    Click HERE for podcast: brookssecondinstallment

    Project Podcast: Take-Aways for Teachers and Parents

    After listening to the podcast, take a moment to ask yourself these questions:

    • Who was the charismatic adult in your life? A parent? A teacher? A family friend? Several adults?
    • Are you a charismatic adult for the children in your life? Do you say and do things that make children feel stronger or depleted?
    • Have you observed — like Dr. Brooks — kids who have undergone adversity yet remain happy and well? How can you help other children in your life develop those traits of resilience?

    For more in-depth discussion of how to raise resilient children, check out this article on Dr. Brooks’ website!

    Project Happiness’ Podcast Kick-Off

    Welcome to our very first podcast. This series of podcasts will give parents and educators tips for leading a happier, healthier life. And we’re starting with Dr. Robert Brooks (see his website for an archive of helpful articles, info on speaking engagements, and lots of resources for parents and teachers), a psychologist on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, a world-renowned expert in childhood resilience, a national and international lecturer, and respected author of some extremely helpful and hopeful books (which you should check out!). Here Dr. Brooks talks a bit about his definition of resilience and why it is available not only to those who have been through traumatic events, but to everyone.

    [podcast]http://www.projecthappiness.org/wp-content/uploads/brooks-podcast-1.mp3[/podcast]

    Project Podcast: Take-Aways for Teachers and Parents

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    Putting Out the Fire of Parental Anxiety: Happychild.com.au’s Supportive Community

    yvettepic

    Like most of us (post-?)modern parents, Yvette Vignando expected to see her influence – genetic and environmental – play out relatively clearly in her children. If Yvette’s Australian high-school experience was anything like my experience in the States, she heard a simplified story about a tug-of-war between nature (a combination of Mom and Dad’s genes) and nurture (a combination of Mom and Dad’s parenting).

    What Yvette probably didn’t hear about was the stunning range of temperaments we find in our kids. And what Yvette got was 3 boys who are utterly different temperamentally, emotionally and socially. Meanwhile, traditional parenting books tend to focus on the negative – ‘solving’ disciplinary ‘problems’ – instead of the positive gifts our children bring to the table.

    But Yvette didn’t give too much credence to these books and, a decade later, her journey as a parent and a professional has led her to create happychild.com.au – a website providing resources and support to parents on raising kids with Emotional Intelligence. Like the Project Happiness Handbook, happychild.com.au focuses on building social and emotional skills. And (also like Project Happiness!), happychild.com.au is not about what parents are doing wrong, but about supporting parents as they do their best to raise happy children who will live up to their full, bright and wondrous potential.

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    10 Juicy* Happiness Tips

    Project Happiness Founder & CEO

    Project Happiness Founder & CEO

    Stress Less, Enjoy more! Have you or someone you care about ever wanted more happiness in your life?

    Here are 10 tips that can make a real difference:

    1. Hug someone or be hugged, pet your pet, hold hands, cuddle.

    2. Ask  1 or 2 people who know you well and care about you what they see as your 3 greatest strengths. Do the same for them.

    3. When something bad happens you can choose to put yourself down or look into what there is to learn from the situation. Let’s say a presentation did not go well. You can say either, “I’m always lousy at this type of thing” (Carol Dweck calls this the fixed mindset) or “Next time I will give myself the time to prepare more.” (growth mindset) What perspective will you choose?

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    365 Days of Happiness: Serendipity 40 Years in the Making

    365 Days of Happiness 1970

    Over the weekend, I experienced a moment of serendipity. It was 40 years in the making. My mother often recalled the summer World Cup of 1970 on the streets of Guadalajara, Mexico, when a stranger with tears streaming down his face walked-up to her and embraced her. He held her tight and cried. And then she cried. And then he was gone.

    Over the past weekend, I met a very nice man from Brazil.

    “Bon-jia!” I greeted him.

    “Brazilero?” he replied with enthusiasm.

    “No,” having reached the limits of my Portuguese, I turned to English, “I am actually from Mexico…Guadalajara.”

    “Guadalajara,” he replied thoughtfully and then with musical intonations spoke about how his father had driven from Salvador, Brazil’s 3rd largest city, to Guadalajara in 1970 to watch the World Cup. The trip took him 28 days, which he completed in a new automobile he had volunteered to test-drive. (How cool is that!)

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    365 Days of Happiness: Thailand-Knowing Happiness and Living Happiness

    365 Days of Happiness Thailand

    Living in San Francisco’s multi-cultural kaleidoscope has a way of inducing a sense of familiarity with the unfamiliar. The ubiquitous Thai restaurants in San Francisco gave me a false familiarity with Thailand. I left feeling excited and confident but by the second day in Bangkok I was experiencing a crisis of sorts.

    I wandered through the narrow streets, without a map, comforted only by the knowing that a Tuk Tuk could ferry me back to my luggage—the only anchor I had. I didn’t have anything to compare the delightful sense of displacement. My experiences and my thoughts were in a bouncy castle of sorts—jumbled-up fragments collided happily with the smiles of strangers, spices, and frenetic colorful movement. I tried to jot down several sentences but these were too frail to sustain the enormous excitement and bewilderment.

    The most unsettling thing is how everyone I encountered made deep eye-contact with me, saying, ‘Sawadeekha’  with a gentle bow. Each time a sense of honor and humility was draped over me. It was at once a blessing, an acknowledgement, and simple ‘hello.’

    The typical Western custom of a handshake seemed primitive and crude. In essence when I shake hands with others…I am acknowledging our utilitarian need for each other. In other words, “I value your hands, for they symbolize work and ideas you contribute to our community.” I am being poetic, I know, but poetry seems to be the only theory that can make sense of this.

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    365 Days of Happiness: Happiness, Haiti & Chile

    365 Days of Happiness Earthquake

    The philosopher Emmanuel Kant spent nearly 11 years thinking about experience. His master work, Critique of Pure Reason, is often condensed into brief lectures that deal with the relationship between the spectator and the spectacle.

    Haiti. Chile.

    For the last month I have been a spectator. The earthquakes that have devastated so many lives did not happen to me and yet it did. In the days and weeks immediately after each earthquake, the media industry became relevant. The apparatus that brought incessant coverage of Balloon Boy and Tiger Wood’s unraveling are suddenly effective and relevant. The sounds and images whizzing across the digital outlets that surround me filled me with complex emotions: empathy, compassion and…love. I feel part of the rallying call for unity that for brief moments fulfill Walt Whitman’s vision:

    I celebrate myself
    And what I assume you shall assume
    For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
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    356 Days of Happiness: Winter Olympic Blues

    365 Days of Happiness Winter Olympics

    The Winter Olympics seem to trigger very complex emotions, more so than other major sporting events. I wonder if it’s the long winter, the cold rain, or holiday echoes that predispose me to glistening eyes and pangs of melancholic joy.

    I was not a Winter Olympics fan. Four years ago my sweetheart forced me to watch the opening ceremony of the Turin games. I complained until the Chinese figure skaters Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao took the ice. Her decision to continue after the hard to watch fall set of the water works. I watched the rest of the games with glee! Now “Remember the Winter Olympics!!!” is her rallying and final/closing argument whenever she’s talking me into something I don’t want to do.

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    Why Linoleum is a Good Role Model for Kids Today: NOTE CHANGE IN WORKSHOP TIME TO FRIDAY A.M.

    parentworkshopflyer4 To accomodate interested parents’ schedules, we have switched the workshop to FRIDAY MORNING. E-mail abby@projecthappiness.com and get signed up for a fun and innovative program!

    Baby Feet on Linoleum

    WHAT’S AHEAD: How are a resilient child and resilient flooring similar and how can Project Happiness help parents increase kids’ happiness and health? Here’s a blog about our upcoming parent workshop (See above) and advocating the ‘linoleum-ization’ of our children!

    When I was a kid, linoleum must have experienced some giant technical breakthrough because I remember my mom and her friends talking about how good it looked and how resilient it was as they all remodeled their kitchens. Until coming to work for Project Happiness, that was my experience of resilience: really sturdy flooring.

    But how quickly we all get used to the language of our surroundings! Because as we were designing our upcoming parent workshop I didn’t even question the use of ‘resilience’ to describe healthy, happy, kids who have the tools to overcome life’s obstacles. It took a few confused looks as we distributed the flyer to remind me that many parents might think we were advocating preparing kids for heavy foot traffic and frequent spills.

    In some odd sense though, we are advocating the linoleum-ization of our children. Compare these 2 definitions of resilience from Dr. Brooks’ and Dr. Goldstein’s Raising Resilient Children site (check out their resilient parents quiz!) and the wiseGEEK flooring site respectively:

    • Resilience: “A quality…that facilitates the ability to overcome adversity.”
    • Resilience: “…designed to be durable, resistant to stains and water, and comfortable to stand and work on.”

    Perhaps it’s the blizzard raging outside here in Maryland, but the 2 definitions of resilience here complement each other nicely:

    1. Resilience is a quality, something inherent in a person, but it’s a quality that the person has to design, to engineer, to create in herself. And we all want to help our children design that quality for themselves.
    2. Resilience facilitates getting through tough experiences, making one durable and resistant to the potential harm these experiences can bring (like big spots left over from spilled milk). But it doesn’t make someone bulletproof. And we don’t want that for our kids – we want experiences to get through to the inner core. Because that means the good experiences get in there, too.
    3. Resilience means the ability to overcome adversity while remaining comfortable to stand and work [on]. Okay, so this last one needs a tweak, removing the ‘on.’ Overcoming adversity is getting back to a comfortable standing and working state. To be resilient is to eventually get out of bed and go back to being comfortable in your day-to-day life after a devastating experience.

    Resilience is a key component of both long-lasting happiness and long-lasting flooring and parents are in a unique position to be able to help their kids develop this quality.

    If you’re interested in parent workshops on happiness, resilience, mindfulness, plasticity, either look into attending the upcoming workshop or download a brochure outlining how to bring Project Happiness into your school.

    Notes from the Education Desk: 5 Ways to Reduce Brain Dead-ness[1]

    I had started a blog on the clean slate, the promise, and the possibilities that the New Year bring. But then I just didn’t have the brain power to finish it….

    I’m hearing similar complaints of brain dead-ness from facilitators, friends, family and even my 4-year-old daughter. Holiday travel and socializing can be incredibly rewarding and fun, but even that positive energy expended is energy nonetheless and a lot of us are heading into 2010 with our tanks moving towards empty.

    To make matters worse, many of our students are in the same boat. It may be a new semester and a new year, but the ground is still hard and cold, the leaves are still gone from the trees, and we are still faced with many of the same obstacles to overcome. All of this makes it hard to jump into new academic territory.

    To ease the teacher and student zombie plague that may be going around your school, here are 5 Project Happiness Tips for greasing up those neural circuits and getting your brains running again:

    1. Practice gratitude. Use the Facilitators’ Guide (p. 60-64) to find the ‘Waves of Appreciation’ moments throughout the Project Happiness Handbook and spend 5 minutes in class thinking, writing, talking or drawing about the positive things in your life. Alternatively, check out Gratitude Log, a cool website that not only provides you with opportunities to show appreciation, but lets you send others virtual gratitude ‘gifts.’ Gratitude Log will even remind you when you’ve gone a few days without being grateful so there’s no slacking!
    2. Reset your mindset. Using ‘Changing our Mindset’ on p. 50 of the Handbook as a guide, focus on effort and the distinction between the “why bother?” mindset and the “growth and learning require effort” mindset. Start out with some physical effort. Take a class walk, do some jumping jacks, or put on a song and dance (might I recommend ‘Party People’?…). Once you’ve got those endorphins going, have everyone think of one area in their lives where they’d like to apply more effort and then take a class pledge to put that effort in this week. With the support of each other, you might be able to get over that low energy hump.
    3. Take the ‘How Full Is Your Cup?’ survey on p. 118 of the Handbook. After adding up your scores, give yourself and the class 5 to 10 minutes to add just a little bit of self-compassion to your cups. Sit and stare out the window, doodle, bring in some fun magazines to leaf through, watch a silly video, or do the meditation on p. 31-32 of the Facilitators’ Guide.
    4. Shake the zombie blah’s by reaching out. Work through ‘Finding Happiness…Sharing My Piece’ on p. 165-166 of the Handbook and then send students (and yourself!) out to commit a random act of kindness. Declare a homework holiday for a day to give everyone more incentive. If you want to get really fancy, print out Smile Cards for students to give to the recipients of their kindness.
    5. Lower your standards! Teachers – and students – often have ridiculously high standards, particularly at portentous times like New Year’s, birthdays, graduation, etc. Discuss ‘Reflecting on Guilt’ on p. 88 of the Handbook and then extend that discussion from guilt about the past to what I like to call generalized anticipatory guilt[2]: that feeling that you already know you’re overcommitted and you already know you’ll ‘fail’ someone or something, you just don’t know what. Afterwards do a basic meditation in which you breathe in your own goodness and breathe out the murky feelings of guilt. You can even try the guided meditation below.

    Take advantage of the new year to not have to ‘TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE NEW YEAR!!!!’: renew, rest, relax and enjoy a zombie-free 2010!

    The End of Guilt Meditation Technique:

    (adapted from the Meditation Society of America’s Meditation, with several changes to make it secular and more accessible to adolescents)

    Sit in a position of comfort. Relax your mind, body, and emotions. Allow your breath to flow at its natural pace. Refocus your attention on your breath if you get distracted from your meditation. In your mind’s eye, visualize a figure of love in your life. It could be a parent, a friend, a relative, or even an author or thinker you admire. See that person in as great detail as possible.

    Now place yourself in front of and facing your figure of love, in a sitting or standing position. Visualize yourself covered with many, many layers of ultra-fine energy, much like the layers of skin on an onion. Each of these layers were created by the process of labeling your actions as “bad” or “wrong”. In reality, nothing you’ve ever done has been either “good” or “bad”, “right” or “wrong”. They have just been things that occurred in your life. If they could be labeled or judged, what they would be are opportunities to appreciate your humanness, your similarity to everyone around you.

    With every breath you take, picture this figure of love offering you forgiveness, with kind words, a hug, or simply a nod.
    Now visualize your guilt coatings melting off and the forgiveness healing the wounds and pain they caused.

    As the final layers are peeled away, you realize that there is nothing left within but your own perfect self, as it was meant to be. Allow yourself to experience acceptance, love and joy.

    Smile and breathe.

    [1] I’m referring to figurative brain death, of course. And, yes, as a linguist I am fully certified to make up new words…even if they are silly.
    [2] Again, I am fully licensed to make up not only words, but whole syndromes – don’t worry!

    The Handbook: How Will You Use It?

    Tracy Tracy Bianchi, School Counselor/Faculty Member
    Menlo School
    Menlo Park, California
    A recipient of Project Happiness’ 2009 Radiant Heart Award for outstanding teaching, Tracy makes use of her dual roles as teacher and counselor to give students tools for resilience, self-awareness and wellness. Her positivity and energy are infectious, creating a school climate of acceptance. Adolescence is a time when one’s self-esteem can be greatly influenced.  Tracy is using the Project Happiness Handbook to make sure this peer influence positively supports students, nurturing confident and compassionate leaders.

    Read More

    Cirque de Happiness…The Celebration Continues

    What an evening! The colors, the food, the wine…and better yet, the company! Thank you everyone who attended Cirque de Happiness. We celebrated the culmination of a spectacular year while setting the stage for another year of greater health and happiness.

    Since initiating our pilot program in fall 2008, over 1,500 young people have participated at elementary, middle, and high schools.  The demand keeps growing as teachers, parents, and individuals from all walks of life and all parts of the world are realizing that happiness is a practice accessible to all.

    We are deeply grateful to you…the Project Happiness Community for believing and supporting the notion that by empowering yourself you empower others. By living this ideal we ensure a bright, happy future.

    Happy holidays!!!

    Randy & Team Happiness

    PS- There was so much happening all at once. Please share with us your highlights from the evening below!

    Radiant Heart Awards

    Educating the Heart; Educating the Mind
    Educating the Heart; Educating the Mind
    The Radiant Heart Awards are yearly awards given to two select individuals whose contribution to the education of our youth includes compassion, kindness, and love. These year’s honorees are Oram Ramirez and Tracy Bianchi.

    Oram Ramirez Oram Ramirez is a teacher at Marshall Elementary in San Francisco’s Mission District. We honor his commitment to educating global citizens; introducing young minds and hearts to themselves and guiding his students through the discovery of greater possibilities. Oram introduced Project Happiness to his 3rd grade class once a week on Friday mornings. Closely working with the Project Happiness team, the curriculum, intended for teenagers, was easily adapted for younger children. By helping Project Happiness pioneer its programs in elementary grade-levels, he made it possible for countless other teachers and students to take part in this movement promoting individual and social well-being and greater happiness.

    Tracy Bianchi

    Tracy Bianchi is very familiar with the challenges facing young people. As the head counselor of Menlo School, she has put together a key volunteer team to be on call in case of any emergency, such as the types we are hearing about widely, from unprecedented stress to suicide. The great news is that the model she is creating can be replicated in any community. It brings community together with the experts to make a difference. This is innovative thinking at its best, and it is a blueprint that leads to deep and lasting change. Tracy is bringing Project Happiness to her school and empowering students to develop the positive practices that promote authentic happiness.

    Appreciating as an Action

    elliewithhandbook

    TRUE APPRECIATION: CELEBRATING THE NEW HANDBOOK'S ARRIVAL!

    rowithhandbooks
    ellieandrowithhandbooks

    So, no surprise that on Thanksgiving, as on any other day, I was caught up in the language of the occasion. In particular, I began wondering about the name of the holiday itself, Thanksgiving. Even someone without a degree in linguistics could tell you that it comes from giving thanks.[1] But the general public might not know how much complex appreciative action is hidden inside this humble noun (in addition the action of removing toddler-sized cranberry sauce prints from your sweater, of course…):

    First, there is the action of giving, giving thanks. And hidden in there somewhere is someone or something that you’re giving that thanks to – perhaps your parents, your friends, your partner, your religious institution, or maybe the universe. Either way, there is a hidden recipient in there that bears pondering.

    Second, there is the action of thanking. And, again, there is a missing recipient – thanking someone or something. Further, there is a hidden cause for thanks in there: you are thanking someone for something – health, friends, family, laughter, etc., etc. As I hope many Project Happiness students are learning this year, engaging in the action of thanking – appreciating – actually changes your brain, turning it towards the positive. So this action isn’t really new for Project Happiness fans.

    Finally, there are, oddly, some historical connections of the word thank to the actions of thinking and feeling. These may seem far removed from thanking, but they are all what some linguists refer to as mental processes: things that go on inside your head (or heart!). These same linguists often chunk mental actions up even further into the actions of perceiving, thinking and feeling. I would argue that thanking involves all 3 of these. To thank we must first practice mindfulness so that we can perceive the things around us we appreciate. Then we need to grapple with understanding these things using our intellect and, finally, we must hold them in our hearts to experience the feeling of thankfulness.

    All in all, then, the noun thanksgiving is action-packed. This week, as you pursue your own mindfulness practice and encourage the mindfulness practices of your students, children, friends and colleagues, think about some of the actions hidden in the nouns in your lives[2]:

    School –> to school

    Whom? In what?

    Food –> to feed

    What part of yourself? With what?

    Friend –> to friend/to befriend

    Whom? How?

    Work –> to work

    With what materials? By what methods?

    Class –> to classify

    Whom? By what standards?

    Homework –> to work at home

    On what? To what end?

    So here’s my challenge: verbify the positive things in your world. Take just 5 minutes out of class, a busy work week, or a homework session with your kids. Ask your students/colleagues/kids to name some of the most important things in their lives – the things they value. Then work together for a couple minutes working out some of the actions behind those things, using the columns above as a starting point. Share some of those verbified values as comments on the blog and perhaps together we can come up with a grammar of appreciation.

    Giving thanks for all the amazing people in my life who have given me the occasion to create a grammar of gratefulness,

    Abby


    [1] For those of you desperate to learn more, more, more about word structure, here are some other fun facts about the word Thanksgiving:

    • Giving is a present participle (or a gerund…it depends…)
    • Participles come from verbs but they, themselves, are officially nouns
    • The verb to give takes 2 objects: the thing given and the person who’s receiving
    • The second object of give (the receiver) is missing in Thanksgiving
    • Thanks is itself derived originally from a verb, to thank
    • To thank originally comes from a waaaay old form, tong (this form is Proto-Indo European if you really want to impress people at parties)
    • Tong originally meant to think or to feel, not to thank

    Okay, I could give you a lot more linguistic tidbits, but if I did that, there wouldn’t be anything else for linguists to do!

    [2] For you grammar mavens out there: these are NOT all legitimate etymologies – just
    fun with language!

    A Challenge Worthy of One’s Gifts

    mister_rogers

    While I still have to remind myself to take a deep breath and calm down, I think I do pretty well when faced with challenges these days. The other day I managed a work phone call while assisting my 3-year-old on the potty and making sure my 1-year-old didn’t unroll the entire toilet paper roll (half, maybe…). So I think I’m doing pretty well.

    But as an adolescent I did not respond well to challenge – I saw it as a test and, thus, as something I could fail. My parents were sensitive to this anxiety and realized early on that indirect requests worked much better than direct challenges. But then school started and, well, you can’t avoid challenge there.

    My first catastrophic response to a challenge came in elementary school when we were challenged to use our bodies. My body was not then, nor is it now, up to any kind of challenge involving coordination. I once crashed my bike into our neighbors’ yard because I couldn’t figure out how to pedal backwards (luckily, the neighbor was a doctor, and I got some free medical help). The big game they loved to have us play in elementary school was kickball. I was always among the last 2 or 3 children picked for a team, which didn’t do much for my self-confidence going in.

    One day, after I caused our team a few outs, the teachers couldn’t find me when it was time to go back in to class. My response to the challenge had been simply to walk home. I remember my thinking: “Hey, my mom is just a few blocks from here. This game stinks. Why don’t I just go home?” My mother had been putting my sister down for her nap and she heard the front door shut. When she came downstairs she found me relaxing on the couch watching Mr. Rogers. Of course Mom brought me right back to school. And the next week a fence appeared around our playground – no more escape from kickball!

    Although I was a pretty smart kid, I didn’t respond well when challenged to use my mind either. Once, after what I perceived to be an embarrassing performance in math class, I tried again to leave the school. Unfortunately, this was after the advent of fences around school yards and I was inside the school and this was my middle school, located about 10 miles from home – all factors working against me getting home for a nice, relaxing afternoon with Mr. Rogers, his comfy sweater and his friend, Henrietta Pussycat. But I did try to escape, resulting in the principal having to physically restrain me and an (I still claim inadvertent) kick in the principal’s shin (a few days’ suspension for that one).

    Thanks to my parents, my teachers and patient administrators (like the one with the bruised shin), I made it through secondary school and into college. I learned how to manage my emotions and deal with academic and (minor) physical challenges. But it wasn’t until college that my school institution challenged me to use my gifts for personal connection. The Tucker Foundation (the college’s volunteer organization) challenged me to direct and further develop the Adopt-A-Grandparent program, pairing college students with elderly men and women who needed help and community. Phi Tau, my co-ed fraternity, challenged me to work with my peers to create a fair and comfortable community. And my supervisor at the Beth Israel Hospital in Boston challenged me not only to interpret for the hospital’s Russian patients, but to make them feel part of our community.

    What I responded to as a young person, and continue to respond to now, is a challenge to create community. And this is what we are challenging you and your classes to do: to use your individual gifts and talents to create community, however you define it: you classroom, your school, your neighborhood, your city, your country, or your world. We have created a 7-step project (to go with the 7 chapters of the Handbook) that culminates in the germination of a plan, a plan for your students to bring more happiness to their community using their gifts. This challenge to community can be found in chapter 8 of the Facilitators’ Guide (let me know if you still haven’t received one – I’ll send you one via e-mail ASAP), but I’ve reprinted (sadly devoid of the lovely orange background — too technologically complex for me!) below:

    A CHALLENGE

    I. Ask students to interview a community member using the “Exploring in My Community” activity on p. 14. Share your results as a class and try to find commonalities. What have you learned about your community that you didn’t know before?

    II. After reflecting on “My Defining Moments…” on p. 35, find people in your community who have suffered and struggled and ask them to share their defining moments with the class.

    III. Have students reflect on “Ideas about My Gift” on p. 67. Then have everyone share their greatest gifts with the class (it can be anonymous) and compile a list. Ask students to show the list to 3 community members and interview them about how they feel these gifts might relieve suffering in the community.

    IV. After learning about active listening (pp. 102-3), explore resources for those suffering in the community (counseling, state resources, etc.). Do those resources provide true listening? How do they work to relieve suffering? Is there anything missing?

    V. After writing or talking about “Reflecting on Compassion” on p. 113 and summarizing what you have found out about the community, begin to brainstorm about how compassion in action could be applied in your community.

    VI. After reading about “Interdependence…With Others!” on p. 145, guide your students in tracking the ways people suffering in your community are interdependent, looking at family, business, government, schools, media, crime, etc.

    VII. After reading about the young social entrepreneurs on pp. 167-168, use all the information you have gathered to create your own social entrepreneurship, either as a class or individually.

    And there will be an incentive (beyond the rewards of community building). The class that comes up with the most amazing social entrepreneurship (as judged by our expert staff at Project Happiness headquarters) will receive a prize to be announced in next week’s blog. So, stay tuned

    And I still think Mr. Rogers’ words are some of the best advice to someone panicked by challenge: “I like you just the way you are.” We all have gifts and struggles and we are all truly good, just the way we are.

    Implementing Project Happiness: Paddling Downstream

    (See the end of the post for important Handbook ordering info!)

    September 21, 2009

    By now almost everybody is back at school (including those people on the quarter system who like to make everyone else feel jealous in August and early September!) and in the thick of things. I am incredibly pleased to report that we have more than twenty schools using The Project Happiness Handbook so far and that there are even more getting ready to take the plunge. Meanwhile all of us on the Project Happiness team are gearing up and are excited to take the plunge right along with you!

    As many of you know, however, our curriculum isn’t quite in yet… (I put that in a smaller font hoping it might get less notice!) Our Assistant Director, Rolando Sandor, has been hard at work for several months polishing the Handbook, from fixing typos to improving the layout to making it easier to reference different sections. The good news is that the Handbook is a lean, mean happiness machine! The bad news is that it will not arrive in our offices until some time later this week.

    I have received e-mails from many of you and have talked to others, so I know that this is a bit of a setback. Moreover, it is difficult for me to dive in and help in the way that I want when you are not all up and running with a physical textbook. But, following the curriculum’s advice, I have decided to paddle downstream and try to go with the flow.

    So as the school year gets started, here are some things I can do for you:

    • Look at your objectives/goals for a class and make detailed suggestions about Project Happiness activities that might be the right fit.

    • Help you brainstorm extension activities that work for your program.

    • Provide you with excerpts from the first chapter to get you started.

    Connect you with other like-minded facilitators for collaboration.

    • Help you develop a fundraiser to raise money for the curriculum.

    • Point you to resources on social and emotional learning, mindfulness and active listening.

    • Even engage in geekiness around writing, language and Project Happiness as a fellow linguistics enthusiast!

    And to facilitate my role facilitating the facilitators (!) I am establishing regular virtual office hours. From 1:00PT/4:00ET to 2:30PT/5:30ET on Mondays and Wednesdays, I will be available to talk. And, to make sure everyone gets to communicate with their favorite distance tool, there are three ways to connect with me:

    • Via phone at (650) 833-3882 (I can call you back in the continental U.S. and Canada)

    • Via Skype with the user name abbykonopasky

    • Or via Google chat with the user name abby@projecthappiness

    You can e-mail me ahead of time to let me know you’d like to talk or you can just go ahead and contact me. Also, if those times are inconvenient, just contact me and we can set up an appointment that works for both of us. I can’t wait to hear how things are going and how I can support your vision for Project Happiness.

    Abby Konopasky
    (650) 833-3882
    abby@projecthappiness.com

    Important info on Handbook preordering

    Order the Handbook Now








    Japanese School Teaches Compassion

    Buffets Call for Mindfullness Education in Schools

    Technorati Here We Are

    Technorati Profile

    YOUR turn!

    logo_mkHI EVERYONE! WE NEED YOU! It’s time for Project Happiness to have its identifying catch-phrases, taglines, descriptions, etc… and we want you to help us decide which ones are best! We are looking for… CATCHY (grabs people in) and CLEAR (describes what we’re about) and FUN!

     Follow this link to a quick 30 second survey (made on surveyMONKEY, which is so fun btw, see little surveymonkey icon to the left) to help us decide HOW we project ourselves out to the world- it’s a fun and easy way to be part of this movement… this HAPPINESS MOVEMENT! Pass it along to your friends too!  THANKS!

     

    Get happier and help others get happier in 30 seconds by taking this survey!

     

    HUG it out!

    img_5165_2Last week Rolando and I went to Marshall Elementary in SF’s Mission District to work with the 3rd graders like we do every Friday. Our topic was acceptance. We showed them the video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vr3x_RRJdd4 to introduce them to the idea of accepting of each other, of welcoming everyone, and of connecting with each other. After showing this clip, we talked about how hugs are a good way to show acceptance and to connect with other people.

    Three of little boys who often try to act ‘too cool’ were snickering together. So I asked them what they were talking/giggling about, and one boy said, “We hate hugs. They are gross. We would never give a stranger or even a friend a hug.”

    These three 3rd grade boys are not atypical in disliking hugs (my little brother would rather get a punch from his brother than a hug from either of his sisters- see pic). So we pointed out all the ways in which hugging is good/ ‘cool,’ like between mother and son or brother and brother or teammates after they score, etc. After a long talk on hugs and opening up and accepting each other, it felt like we had gotten through to them a bit. But one never knows… until…

    Our session ended, we said goodbye to the classroom, and as we were walking out the door that little boy who was the ringleader of the hugs-hating-club ran up to me and gave me this HUGE, LONG HUG, didn’t say a word, and then just ran back to his seat. It was precious! Making a difference one hug at a time…

    http://www.smart-heart-living.com/hugs-and-heart.html

     

     

     

     

    Field Report: In the Trenches of Social Networking

    If ending our face-to-face interactions were as simple as it is in the digital sphere. I guess one can say that the ‘Talk to the hand’ fad predated the ‘un-friend’ option on Facebook. The velocity of the people we come in contact online with is so great. It’s a bit like standing on the train platform and knowing a bit about each person that passes.

    Twitter's Fail Whale

    The latest social networking site to explode into the scene is Twitter. FYI: The day Oprah joined, traffic jumped by over 40%, leading some users to see beyond the Fail Whale’s cuteness and express irritation. But who can stay angry at that cute whale? For the uninitiated, the cascading Tweets seem to come from a ‘room full of monkeys on type writers.’ With experience though, natural instincts begin to emerge and adapt to identify human characteristics.

    Factors like frequency, DMing, retweeting, @ing (you might be witnessing the creation of a new word!) and the thumbnail used are all great indicators of personality. And just as important are the Tweets: quotes, news, and ideas, funny, sad? To be or not to be, that is the question but keep it under 140 characters or less!

    The thing is…we haven’t reached the limit of what we know about each other because we create and recreate our experiences. After a while, all the chatter becomes part of an integrated dialogue, patterns emerge, common interests create digital chemistry and before you know it, you really care about that person.

    The magic with Twitter or social sites is that weather you are selling handcrafted pecan treats, promoting a book, or promoting peace, we all depend on each other and now more than ever.

    Transcending the Intellectual

    Over the weekend, a notion that has intrigued me ever since I read “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle, now, nearly four years ago, re-introduced itself in my thoughts. It is on the necessary step to transcend the intellectual ideas about peace and enlightenment to embrace the experiential.

    I was fresh out of Berkeley when I read the Power of Now, and the descent from the Ivory Tower into working life was very rough. I was experiencing extreme disillusionment by what I felt was the devolution of applying extremely refined intellectual skills into the Microsoft holy trinity; Excel, Word and Outlook.

    I was experiencing the quarter life crisis but with all sincerity I could trace that crisis throughout high school and possibly even in middle school. The crisis in effect had been postponed at each successive advancement in my education. At the core of the crisis was simply the fear of withdrawing from institutionalized methods of defining identity.

    I’ve found it’s easy to identify where individuals sort of reached their life’s crescendo when they say something along the lines of, “High school years are the best time of your life or there’s nothing like college life.”

    Though my time in college was a monumental assessment and re-assesment of the social and individual ideas that defined my identity, in reading The Power of Now, I realized I had only engaged these ideas intellectually. It was not until I was out of the academic treadmill, that I had the opportunity to experience and implement ideas about justice and injustice, that I realized how unprepared I was.

    Life is an experience, why shouldn’t education be experienced? This is the essential thinking behind project based learning, which the foundation of Project Happiness’ social emotional curriculum. Learning and teaching should not be intellectual pursuits but trans-disciplinary experiences. Take compassion for example, it must be experienced to truly be known.

    The Alchemist: Susan Boyle

    The Alchemist: Susan Boyle

    Even the name, Susan Boyle, when I read it on someone’s Facebook profile, caused an automatic disinterest, when I learned she was somehow associated with Britain’s Got Talent show, I downright crumpled the notion of following the link and wasting my precious time. The constant mentions in various media outlets, reinforced my interest. By mid-afternoon, as my second cup of coffee wore my mind into a modicum of unproductive window screen shuffling, I logged onto YouTube. The video viewer counter was at nearly 5 million views.

    As the show’s quick editing flashed her eschewed smile, broken bird’s nest hair style, and British 1980’s mannerisms, I expected another cruel lynching. Here, once more, a video to lampoon the sweet well-intentioned that reality TV talent shows depend on. I braced myself for another William Hung moment I thought.

    But the rest is history. WATCH THE VIDEO ON YOUTUBE

    As she delivered her notes, my emotions cascaded and invigorated the recess of my childhood memories. The moment was inspiring and humbling. It was the rupture of my cynical expectations and a recommitment to my species and to the possibilities within me.

    It was a thrilling experience and one that I can only compare to the sensation of watching an impossible maneuver that changes the dynamics of a soccer game. But in my psyche, I am only able to compare Susan Boyle’s feat to the anonymous man who blocks the path of tanks during the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. That iconic video, defines the end of the end of the Cold War, with its militarized suppression of individual rights.

    The malaise that Susan Boyle ends is the personal/individual and collective cynicism, so vivid and vast in our imaginations, that we’ve started to tend to it as if it we were a prime flower in our gardens. At this time, with a global crisis rooted in apathy and cynicism, Susan Boyle has done more to revive optimism than a trillion dollars has done and this is true alchemy.

    My Quick Strategy for Happiness

    My Quick Strategy for Happiness

    Recently when I am feeling a bit sluggish or contemplating the darker spectrum of things, I like to log into youtube and listen to these songs. I move on after a few weeks. For example a few months ago during Christmas, I was listening to American Boy by Estelle featuring Mr. West. 2008 Holiday memories are forever laced with that tune.

    Human by The Killers: “Are we human or are we dancers?” I love the proposition each choice is awesome!

    WATCH IT ON YOUTUBE

    Don’t Panic by Coldplay: It’s so soothing. The lyrics can cut through some of the densest fog that descends over my mind.

    By the way…I get extra jolly when I turn on the radio in my car and the song is playing! So rare when that happens these days.

    Cassandra’s Curse

    Cassandra’s Curse

    The dreaded doomsday scenario is now. Each day, by the hour, reports confirming the warning scientists and environmentalist have made for decades are broadcasted to populations and individuals responsible for and experiencing the consequences of our inactions or rather our bizarre actions.

    The late George Carlin said it best when he poked fun of the sudden and immediate need to carry bottled water. Several years later and millions of pounds of plastic in landfills later, well here we are. It’s not like we didn’t know…the knowing is what makes it so tragic.

    The ancient Greeks gave us a firm warning about this ‘quirk’ in human reason through Cassandra. Apollo grants her the gift of prophesy and when she shuns his love he cursed her so that no one would believe her. In the Oresteia by Aeschylus, as Agamemnon returns triumphantly after sacking Troy, he is already dead, for Cassandra’s warnings are no match to Clytemnestra’s revenge. Cassandra herself enters and accepts Clytemnestra’s wrath, knowing she has no other fate.

    The tragedy of knowing, yet being unable to change the future plays out magnificently in the film 12 Monkeys. If you haven’t, check it out. The plot functions around a time-travel loop between an apocalyptic past (our current present) and a subterranean future. Cole played magnificently by Bruce Willis, is the only rational intelligence but is physically confined in both the past and the future. The break in the loop comes with…just watch it.

    George Carlin, Aeschylus, 12 Monkeys? Well, we all know the future and still seem unwilling to do anything about changing it. The magnitude of the tragedy we are writing, filming and talking about seems to be part of our human psyche, and so is our ability to endure it otherwise, our response would not be so apathetic.

    Never Let a Crisis Go to Waste!

     

    img_01841 While flipping through “Ode” magazine last night (a magazine on positive change- http://www.odemagazine.com/), a title of an article caught my eye, “Never let a crisis go to waste.”

    I didn’t even read the article. The title alone had a strong impact on me. Seeing those words, “Never let a crisis go to waste,” reminded me of something I truly believe, which is: opportunity comes in the face of crisis.  

    What opportunity can a crisis bring you? Opportunities to change, to learn, and to grow. Challenges and crises present the opportunity to search for new answers for ourselves, to take a step back, and to do some self-reflection. But this isn’t always easy. The only way I’ve ever experienced opportunity in the face of crisis is if I am looking for it, if I am open to see the good that can come out of the bad. This awareness of and openness to the opportunities that crises and challenges present is a practice- a practice anyone can choose to start right now!

    There are two quotes that help my own practice, both from Jack Kornfield’s book, The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace

    “Our problems become the very place to discover wisdom and love.”

    “One mistake after another is really one opportunity after another.”

    So look for the good, even in the bad, and look for opportunity, even in the face of challenge… this way you will “never let a crisis go to waste.”

     

    Is it magic?

    My mind is still tickled by this. One of the kids at Marshall elementary when asked to draw doing that will bring her great happiness, drew a soccer ball, net and goalkeeper. The score board in her picture was 4-2. As we reviewed the pictures with the entire class, one of the kids pointed to her picture and said, “That was the score for your game!”

    It took a few seconds for the other kids to realize what was going on. “It is magic?” Someone asked. Truthfully I was as astounded as they were. The teacher was also impressed. I replied, “I don’t know if it’s magic or not but do you think that what she drew on the other half of the paper will also come true?”
    marshall-xenia-gol
    On the other half of the paper she drew herself at a university.

    What’s Your Recipe for Happiness?

    The cold that warms

    Last Friday the Happy Squad; Kristen, Ellie, Rolando, and I went to Menlo Atherton for what was definitely one of my favorite classes.  It started with a hands-on activity from the Project Happiness handbook, which I hope everyone takes the time to try.

     

    Hold a cube of ice in your palm for as long as possible, and whenever you decide, drop it. Even though the idea sounds simple enough the quagmire of emotional learning that it enables you to see is amazing. For instance, due to peoples’ competitive nature, most students, including myself, held onto the ice even though it was inconvenient simply because they didn’t want to show weakness and be the first to drop it. I was also reconnected with the very stressful high school sports mindset; the idea of “no pain no gain” and “playing through it.” It was then that I realized all of the students were very passionate about these recreational activities, which are there to form character, but in reality every student gave them much more weight and influence on their lives and emotions. The idea of pain isn’t a foreign concept to people but because of their natural inclination to suppress it, the word itself has turned into an uncomfortable “trigger” word. Personally, I have had the most trouble trying to find a way to convey types of pain, emotional and physical, to people without expressing a level of vulnerability that I am scared to let people see. Because of that fear, the pain itself became more bearable than the idea of talking about it.

     But what about when everyone experiences this pain together? Thankfully that was the ice cubes’ job. Because we were all experiencing the similar sensations at the same time, it made the class as a whole feel more comfortable to share. My hand felt numb throughout the class but I didn’t really notice it ‘til afterwards. To me the other students’ stories and the chance to be able to share my feelings my body felt was more important than the pain itself. Until now I always felt that my life was basically a version of Pink Floyd’s song “Comfortably Numb,” but now I am hopeful, and believe living a life with as little fear as a possible puts you in the driver’s seat to finally be the star of your own life story not just feeling like you are an onlooker trapped in a one way mirror. Sure I’ll still be afraid of mice and the boogey man, but now I feel that I can step out of the mirror and gaze on my true, emotional self.

    Noticing thoughts, feelings, actions

    CB003752The other day we went in to the Menlo-Atherton Junior/Senior Leadership classroom, like we do every week. This time our topic was “THINK, FEEL, ACT.”

     How do thoughts influence feelings? How do feelings influence our actions? How do actions influence our thoughts? Basically, we looked at how they all affect each other, in what order do they affect each other, and when is one (thinking, feeling, or acting) more predominate? And most importantly, do we notice how they all interact and affect us? We looked at them as GEARS (the way our handbook describes it), for they are all interconnected and influence each other.

    We did a little activity and then discussed this with the high school class. A lot of impressive insight was shared…

    First we talked about the difference between ‘acting’ and ‘reacting.’ We differentiated the two by ‘acting’ is more mindful and intentional and ‘reacting’ is more like being on autopilot.

    I asked my group of students, “Out of thoughts, feelings, and actions (acting or reacting), are you experiencing one more than the other today? If so, why?”

    One boy explained how he had been in ‘reaction mode’ all day. He reflected on how he entered ‘reaction mode’ that morning when he had written an essay test in first period that was purely regurgitation of facts, very little thought had to go into this essay test, and he said he was definitely not aware of any feelings that went into it. In fact, he was just reacting to a prompt instead of mindfully participating in the act of writing an essay. The rest of the day since that essay test first period, he’d been in ‘reaction’ mode. He said he hadn’t realized this until right then.

     I thought this was an incredible realization on his part. He was able to look back at his day and understand what mode he had approached it from- a reaction mode, without much thought or feeling, or at least not much awareness of his thoughts and feelings, or even his actions for that matter. Being able to recognize this, even in hindsight, is so insightful, for it prompts future awareness.

    After some of the students shared how they often experienced one of the three gears more predominately than the others at a given time, I asked my group of students, “Can you think of a time when all three gears- think, feel, act- are all equally engaged?”

    One boy instantly said, “A rollercoaster.” I asked him to elaborate. He explained that when you are deciding to ride a rollercoaster, obvious high levels of thinking, feeling, and acting are all part of the decision. He said, “When you are deciding whether or not to ride a rollercoaster, you FEEL nervous and maybe even slightly shaky, because your THOUGHTS are running wild, ‘what if it breaks? What if I get sick?’ And then you ACT, you either ride it or you don’t.” All the other students listened intently and then reflected… they all agreed, in any big decision all three gears are in play, it’s just a matter of whether or not we notice them all.

    We left each other with the decision that we would all pick one distinct part in the rest of our day or night to pay particular attention to how our thoughts, feelings, and actions play out and affect us. 

    Viva La Music

    Germart: Planet Booty

    Germart: Planet Bootie

    A few months ago as I wrote a personal meditation, I reached a moment of clarity about the forces that rule my life. I was writing on the essence of time and space. I was writing the lamentations uttered by many before me when I realized there was something missing in my thought process.

    I was thinking about how reality and these two forces orchestrate and organize our experience. Time and space, really, if you think about it, organize the jumble of stuff that happens within our minds and outside. They are the framework in which we experience this world. Most of the thrills we seek are ways to shift our perspectives on time and space. Imagine a roller coaster; it’s really a function of time and space simply moving through it as fast as possible. I can go on and on about this and many have but what I feel was missing in my self-reflections is considering individuals as another force that shapes my experience.

    For more than a year, I have been visiting my favorite café in the world: Mission Beach Café. (Ernest Hemingway had the Deux Maggots in Paris, but I have Mission Beach in San Francisco’s Mission District, and I am willing to wager a dinner, that I am eating much better.)

    Back to my opus…just last week, Dylan one of the great people at the café catches me up on his music and points me to his website http://germart.org/. On the homepage, I find the song that I wish I could sing to my mother, impossible because of two factors; my mom passed away and my voice will convey more of a street cat’s desire than anything else. Either way it was a moment of discovery that created a surreal experience of mystery and awe for my fellow friends on this earth. I felt the fabric of my life shift, expand and essentially grow. In other words, my perspective had shifted. It’s not like the shift of perspective one gets on a roller coaster but something much deeper. Because I know that every person has something to share, this kind of experience is possible with anyone, and yet it took a little more than one year and three months of nearly daily exchanges for me to experience Dylan’s creative power.

    It Begins in Your Heart and Radiates Out

    Field Report: Marshall Elementary

    Marshall Elementary

    It Starts In Your Heart

    Our visit to Marshal Elementary on Friday morning was, one of my most significant moments since joining Project Happiness. Ellie and I were there promptly at 8:30 and enjoyed the school’s Friday morning assembly that included singing and general fun. From the announcements, it was clear that the economic crisis is wreaking havoc on the community. Teachers wore pink in solidarity with the 25,000 teachers who have received pink slips so far in the state of California.
    The principal, Mr. Ayala, asked for a moment of silence to pay tribute to his best friend’s father whose life was recently taken in Oakland. He said this was a sacred place for him and with so many bright beautiful faces, I could not disagree.

    After the assembly was dismissed, Ellie and I knew we wanted to shift the attention back to the student’s minds and brains. The Project Happiness handbook relies heavily on the ground-breaking research by leading neuroscientists to promote healthy emotional living. Richie Davidson director of Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin is featured both in our documentary and handbook. The problem is that neurotransmitters and brain cells are not topics that 3rd grades would grasp or let’s be honest, care about.

    We started the morning with a question: What does the brain do? All the kids had an idea about the brain’s function. We then presented the question: If the brain controls the body, then who controls the brain? It is an interesting question for anyone to attempt to answer.

    For third grades it involved a bit of giggling and joking so we shifted to mindful breathing and did a gentle breathing circle that worked very well. Some of the kids got it right away. After working through some disruptions, there was a sense of ease and calm. Project based learning all about self-discovery through trial and error. Within a few moments, they made the connection that it felt better when everyone was focused.

    We asked, “Can you control someone else’s focus?” The answer was clear. No.
    The circle was very comforting and nurturing. Sitting with kids and talking about life and problems is so straightforward. They have a very playful approach to everything! Most yoga teachers encourage playfulness to break the rigid austerity of disciplined adults. Engaging with our minds should always be playful and beautiful and after this session, I am completely convinced that the earlier this begins the better it is for kids and for our community, especially when we depend on each other for so much.

    Kristen Top Played Music.

    Music is the vernacular of the human soul. – Geoffrey Latham

    Music is the shorthand of emotion. – Leo Tolstoy

    I want to share with you my favorite songs. I really believe that music is one of the greatest influences on your happiness and emotions. These songs are not necessarily “happy,” but to me they are so beautiful that they are worth listening to. When I listen to these songs, they bring me back to times I have listened to them and was happy. These songs make me feel happy. 

    Read More

    Glimmers of Happiness

    Writing for me is painfully embarrassing I know that I’m no Shakespeare or Thoreau, yet I keep typing and try to channel Carrie Bradshaw, from “Sex and the City”, because in some way I hope that honesty and my public display of writing insecurity can affect at least one person.  

    My happiness inquiry of this week is the notion of how happiness resonates differently for people. For me lasting happiness is appreciating the little things in life that we always take for granted. For instance, every day that a person wakes up it is an accomplishment in itself, not dying not giving up on life.  Finding the happiness hiding in everyday life keeps me both entertained and chipper. Think about it, even when skies seem to be a constant overcast, the sunshine only peeking out between cars during traffic, behind grumpy employees at the office, or the sporadic spots on your windshield  a bird didn’t decide to poop on; something is always there just waiting to be appreciated.

    So, I want to ask you readers to take an extra moment, hold your life’s soundtrack for a beat because life is meant to be appreciated. Time is the most precious commodity that we know because it is ample but the allotment that we are given is fixed. If “a smile is a light in the window of the soul indicating that the heart is home” then hopefully we can all take some time to be like lighthouses guiding people’s hearts back to where they belong; centered between our will to think and the action taken.

    Happiness is everywhere!

    img_46683Project Happiness is everywhere BECAUSE happiness itself is everywhere.
    I went to the grocery store the other day to buy food and supplies- you know, the weekly stock up. Nothing exciting. Tissues were on my list. Buying tissues isn’t normally a noteworthy experience; it’s just part of the routine that goes along with perpetually bad allergies.
    This time was different.
    I went to the tissue aisle to grab whichever box had the most pink on it (my usual strategy), but this time one particular box jumped out at me! It was this beautiful, bright-colored box with flowers on it. Bold. Bright. Colors. I loved it because it instantly reminded me of our 7 Doors’ colors! And in that moment I thought, “Wow, Project Happiness is everywhere. Not because we have gotten our message out everywhere (yet), but because happiness itself is everywhere!… or at least you can find it anywhere!”
    Each side of the tissue box is a different fun color with a different color flower, so now as I sit at my desk I am staring at the turquoise side. But every day, I rotate the box, getting to see a different color scheme each day. I like to look at it as seeing a different side to happiness each day.
    Anyway, who knew buying tissues could be such a happy experience!
    Look for it… happiness is everywhere!

    Hey everyone!

    cimg26723Hi everyone! I’m Ellie. I just joined the Project Happiness team, after moving to California a couple months ago- I’m from Michigan but just graduated from college on the East Coast. When people ask me why I moved to California, my first reaction is always… I don’t know! I just had a sense, a gut feeling I guess you could call it, that there was something for me out here that I wouldn’t be able to find where I was.

    I was searching. The problem was that I didn’t have any clue what exactly I was searching for. When you don’t have an X-marks-the-spot, it makes your treasure map quite confusing. That’s how my life has been since my graduation in June- a winding, unexpected, confusing treasure map with some unknown X at the end. And directions and maps have never been my thing. So since I didn’t have a plan, I just decided to follow my instincts… and my instincts brought me across the country to San Francisco.

    Where did these instincts arise from? I was not exactly sure at the time. That’s what made them ‘instincts’ instead of ‘reasons,’ I think. And I’m still not exactly certain, but since moving, I have been able to recognize some of the forces that were pulling me out here.

    My discovered passion in college was psychology- I became fascinated with the mind, studying the way people interact, and helping people. Throughout my education in psychology, a particular frustration kept resurfacing over and over: why are all the awesome discoveries made in science, in psychology, focused on treating people, on addressing their problems, to helping the unwell get back to baseline? Why do we have to wait until there is a problem to do something good for ourselves? Why is it that only in the face of a crisis do we seek help? I kept feeling that there must be another piece- the flip side to psychology. What about using science to help ourselves not just go from bad to fine but from fine to even better? Why isn’t psychology utilized as a preventative tool to the extent it is used as a treatment tool? These were the questions, the frustrations, that arose again and again for me in college.

    Then I discovered a relatively new area of psychology called “Positive Psychology,” which explores positive emotions, good feelings, personal growth and development, how to make life more fulfilling, etc.. It is exactly the sort of psychology that was trying to answer my questions and frustrations. As I explored this area I found that, in general, the places I was looking for answers were much more traditional, and that I craved a more open-minded, creative atmosphere… and something was telling me that I could find that out West. Since coming out here, I have found exactly that atmosphere- a very friendly, very creative, very open energy that I’m loving! For instance, discovering a organization like Project Happiness exists has just been awesome, as it is built around the ideas of positive psychology that I find so totally fascinating, important, and helpful. So I am really excited to be out here in California, to be exploring new areas of psychology, to be part of the Project Happiness team, and to share my experiences here with all of you!

     

    Celebrate the Distance

    Project Happiness Weekly Meditation: January 19-23

    Today we will listen to one of Lorraine’s mediations. Lorraine Rushton is one of the many angels that has visited and committed to supporting Project Happiness with her many gifts. The meditation is 8 minutes long so make yourself comfortable.

    Enjoy n’ share!

    Before we break and resume our duties I will like to share a quote from Rainer Maria Rilke, a German poet who is, in my opinion Rumi’s spiritual sibling…but aren’t we all?

    He writes, “Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky.”

    In loving the distance between each other, in other words our differences, our inherent skills, talents and quirks…we thrive. We are working together closely, each and every day; we spend more time with each other than with other people in the entire world. I wish to celebrate your presence. I am blessed to be in your company and I am pleased to be part of your drive to change the world.

    This meditation created for me a great distance between my surroundings and a distance from my own internal experience. I was lead, gently and softly, to create a soothing environment and then expand into a manifestation of happiness. The return was sweet. It was definitely not an escape but a reminder of our birthright as human beings.

    Each week the Project Happiness team will practice and highlight a team building activity. We believe that work, the activity which supports provides for ourselves, family and society, should also nurture our spirit. We are honored and grateful for joining us in this practice.

    No Direction Home?

    countryside1

    When I was a wee boy I couldn’t spend enough time with my dad or my mom. I remember crying during a field trip with my kindergarten class. It was a surprise field-trip that took us just beyond the fields behind the church, a boundary my mom explicitly set. I grew up in the countryside around Guadalajara, Mexico, so our town was a giant playground complete with ogres and trolls. Anyways…I digress…

    Something about crossing that boundary created a huge distance between my mother and I, which really scared me. I wasn’t given a gold star that day, but I could’ve cared less, I was thrilled to go home. It was such a sweet return home. My mom was waiting for me with my afternoon snack. I was extra good for about five minutes and I can’t vouch how I behaved after my nap.

    I guess part of growing up is learning to deal with so many different sorts of distances. There are geographic, cultural, and linguistic distances (the list goes on) and the going back home is just as sweet and yet so different.

    For me, ‘home’ has changed many times and often because of the distances. For example, I am a thousand miles from my home town, in Mexico, and my mother died over 18 years ago and so many of the people I love are so far away and always busy like little bees.

    Sometimes I get the sweet sensation of returning home when I get a great email from one of my friends or when I meet them for a quick bite to eat, or even a nice note through facebook. Lately I’ve gotten a kick out of the free hug videos on youtube. From those early moments of going back home to now, I’ve crossed many difficult boundaries and there is always a sweet return home sensation, which makes me think there is no going home without crossing barriers.

    I’ve shared my going home thoughts now tell me yours. What is home for you? What barriers have you crossed that have been followed by a sweet return or celebration?

    Welcome

    Welcome to the Project Happiness blog.