Mother’s Day: Lessons From a Very Difficult Year

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photos-mother-s-day-girl-image4967073Originally published in the Huffington Post – May 9, 2013

As Mother’s Day comes around again, I am struck with what has changed for my mother from this year to last. Last year, my father was still alive, albeit struggling with escalating health issues. It got to the point that my mom, in her caregiver role, was rushing him to the hospital every two weeks. Being a caregiver is not easy: She slept with one eye open, listening for any changes in the sound of my dad’s breathing, trying to get him to eat when he no longer had the will, and being the face of calm when his body was no longer his own. Tough stuff. Watching a loved one suffer is

Read More

The Good News About Stress and 5 Ways to Cope

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-stress-image1035525Originally published in the Huffington Post – April 16, 2013

“If you’re not stressed, you’re not working hard enough.” More and more this mantra seems to be woven into our cultural dialogue. Stress may be considered the new “normal,” but it doesn’t have to be that way. Simple shifts in attitude and practices can yield big benefits. April is National Stress Awareness Month, which gives us the opportunity to look at both negative trends and some signs of hope. Here’s the bad news, the good news and how

Read More

The Alphabet of Happiness – D

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-images-letter-image12412219Originally published in the Huffington Post – March 14, 2013

Happiness comes in many forms. The more we reflect on happiness, the more we will notice it in day-to-day life. The more focusing on happiness becomes a daily habit, the faster we train our neural pathways to make happiness our default setting. Sound good? Here are three ways to increase your happiness now, all starting with the letter D.

Delight
Dedicate yourself to the good you deserve and desire for yourself. Give yourself peace of mind. You deserve to be happy. You deserve delight. — Hannan Arendt

The potential for delight is everywhere. Just as a beautiful landscape delights the eye, and songs universally delight the ear, you are wired to be

Read More

Seeing Happiness in Ambiguous Facial Expressions Reduces Aggressive Behaviour

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-images-young-criminal-subway-image8350879Encouraging young people at high-risk of criminal offending and delinquency to see happiness rather than anger in facial expressions results in a decrease in their levels of anger and aggression, according to new research from the University of Bristol.

The study, led by Professor Marcus Munafò and Professor Ian Penton-Voak, explored the relationship between

Read More

The Alphabet of Happiness: ‘C’

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image28641259Originally published in the Huffington Post – February 20, 2013

The Alphabet of Happiness is a reminder of the many ways to access happiness in your life now. Though at times it may appear to be elusive, happiness is all around you — especially if you know where to look! The good news is that the more you focus on happiness, the faster you can activate the neural pathways that bring you more. Here are three ways to explore your own happiness that start with the letter “C.”

Choice

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” — Victor Frankel

While we cannot choose the challenges that life presents, we can choose

Read More

Project Happiness and Native Cry Team Up To Tackle Depression and Suicide On Reservations

SONY DSCBy Lynn Armitage

Sadly, people all over the world suffer from depression. According to the World Health Organization, depression will be the second most debilitating disease after heart disease by the year 2020; and unless something is done about it, by 2030, it will be the No. 1 health issue throughout the world.

It’s especially troubling when our own children battle the blues. More than 10 years ago, after Randy Taran’s then-14-year-old daughter said to her one day, “I want to be happy, but I don’t know how,” Taran soon learned that depression, stress and bullying run rampant among teens everywhere. Determined to help her daughter and others like her find happiness, Taran launched a global movement that went in search of it called Project Happiness.

“My background was in film, so that’s where I started,” explains Taran, who assembled a group of 25 teenagers from three different parts of the world—Santa Cruz, California, Nigeria and India—to make a documentary that tackled the seemingly impossible question, “What is lasting happiness?”

The students’ quest for answers led them to iconic thought leaders, such as director George Lucas, actor and humanitarian Richard Gere, and neuroscientist Richard Davidson. Their journey culminated with a group visit to the XIV Dalai Lama in India, a spiritual leader who is supposed to have all the answers.

With that concept in mind, Project Happiness has grown from an award-winning documentary that has been translated into seven languages into a handbook and educational curriculum that combines positive psychology, mindfulness and neuropsychology, and is available, free of charge, to schools and other educational institutions all over the world. Currently, the Project Happiness curriculum is being taught in schools in more than 55 countries.

Naturally, it was only a matter of time before Rayna Madero and Taran crossed paths. Madero, a Quechan native who lives in Las Vegas, founded Native Cry Outreach Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to suicide prevention within the Native American community.

Suicide rates in Indian Country are jaw-dropping. Read more at Indian Country Media Network.

7 DOORS: ONE STUDENT’S JOURNEY TO HAPPINESS – DOOR SIX

Last year, students at the University of Southern California piloted a new program from Project Happiness called 7 Doors to Happiness. The program was created as a resource for adults to access their own happiness and to share it with others. One of the USC students, Mecca Moore, blogged about her experience with the 7 Doors to Happiness and asked if she could share it on our site.

This year, this online course is once again being used at the University of Southern California and has expanded to be included in the Science of Happiness courses taught at Stanford University and Tennessee State University. The 7 Doors to Happiness is available to everyone. If you would like to sign up for this online course, please visit http://7doorstohappiness.com.

The next door of happiness, Door 6, explores interdependence, or mutual dependence. I take tons of pride in being able to take of myself as a generally independent person, but I also never forget how so much of what I do is thanks in large part to the kindness and generous actions of others, like my friends and family. Door 6 explains that everything we do, our thoughts, our actions, our interaction with others, and even our interaction with the environment, can affect our happiness. In America there’s an old phrase, “No man is an island.” That’s true for everyone, man or woman, and it means we don’t move through life completely alone. Everything and everyone is connected as a link to something or someone else.

Creating a sense of

Read More

Thanksgiving: Gratitude for Even the Hard Stuff

Originally published on The Huffington Post – November 18, 2012

As Thanksgiving rolls around, it always puts me in a reset mode — time to remember what I’m grateful for. Usually, it’s the good stuff: moments of joy, new adventures, fun-filled moments. This year, however, is different: My father just passed away, my dog may have to be put to sleep any day and my dear friend who is a LOT younger finds herself in the last stages of cancer… and I generally write about happiness.

There is a shroud of disbelief and grief around me, but I know that there’s something powerfully transformative in this space. Rather than destroying my gratitude, this period is rekindling it in an even deeper way.

Some people are born optimists. My father was one. Up until the week before he passed, he believed he would live to 100. Denial kept my dad going for years. When the nurses came around, he would always say, “I’m GREAT!” which made everyone chuckle. Was this some kind of brilliant strategy? For some people, their will to live can and does produce the miracle. The biochemistry of hope can be powerful.

Yet when all those cycles have passed, when destiny catches up with desire (like being back in the hospital every two weeks), rather than dance with denial, I prefer to know

Read More

Finding Happiness with a “Big H” – The Project Happiness Interview with Richard Gere

Richard Gere is known as much for his award-winning work as an actor as well has his global impact as a humanitarian. He is a founding member of “Tibet House,” a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of Tibetan culture and has been an active supporter of “Survival International”,a worldwide organization supporting tribal peoples, affirming their right to decide their own future and helping them protect their lives, lands and human rights. Richard Gere stars in the recently released thriller, Arbitrage with Susan Sarandon.

Richard Gere sat down with students participating in Project Happiness for the award-winning documentary, Project Happiness. The following is the full interview containing his thoughts on lasting happiness and making contributions to the world. This interview has been been edited for space and flow.

Richard Gere

RICHARD GERE: You know, there was this thing that I had thought about doing at the Millennium which was connect the wisdom cultures of the world, most of which we know because they’re part of who we are. Buddhism is known now a lot more. But there are wisdom cultures that are deep in Africa, deep in the Andes of South America, and elsewhere that we don’t know about that are ancient and powerful and have their own idea of what a successful human being is, what a successful culture is, what a successful society is. These are all relevant. We all learn from each other.

All of our ideas about happiness, we all have very, very subjective ideas about what these things are. So I suppose you’re probably trying to find some common denominators every place you go. What have you found so far?

PROJECT HAPPINESS: Well we’ve been e-mailing back and forth with the kids in Nigeria and in the Tibetan Children’s Village in India. We’ve been asking each other questions. What has interested me the most is the cultural difference and what we find to be meaningful in our views of happiness and what makes us happy. And just how diverse all of our views are. It’s just really powerful to

Read More

7 Doors: One Student’s Journey to Happiness – Door Three

Last year, students at the University of Southern California piloted a new program from Project Happiness called 7 Doors to Happiness. The program was created as a resource for adults to access their own happiness and to share it with others. One of the USC students, Mecca Moore, blogged about her experience with the 7 Doors to Happiness and asked if she could share it on our site.

This year, this online course is once again being used at the University of Southern California and has expanded to be included in the Science of Happiness courses taught at Stanford University and Tennessee State University. The 7 Doors to Happiness is available to everyone. If you would like to sign up for this online course, please visit http://7doorstohappiness.com.

Door 3 tackled one of the hardest subjects anyone – especially college students – will face: knowing one’s self. Who am I? How can I discover who I am? I’d often wondered how those darn self-reflective people seemed to answer these questions with ease and clarity. Door 3 let me in on the secret of these self-reflective folks. The secret? Self-reflection isn’t innate. Self-reflection is in the mind. You can train your mind to be self-reflective; it’s not character-based.

Read More

Big Bird and the Halloween Challenge

Photo copyright Sesame Workshop

Originally published on The Huffington Post

Halloween is coming. It’s a time for costumes, masks and trying out new personas. Here’s a challenge. In our everyday lives, we all wear masks to some extent or another — we all play some type of role to ease the way. What if you considered taking off the mask, and having the courage to live as your authentic self?

Sometimes, it’s hard to even keep track of the masks we wear — they can be expressed in so many ways

Read More

Native Cry Outreach

Earlier this year, I learned that my grandmother had been keeping a family secret. Her mother, my great-grandmother, was full Cherokee but she and my great-grandfather had hidden this fact to better fit into the world that they lived in at the time. This information fascinated me, not so much because I felt a burning connection to the Cherokee Nation, but because I was curious how being identified as non-white could have such a stigma attached to it.

I have spent the last few months looking more into the modern history of Native Americans and specifically, the situations that are facing the tribes today. On a daily basis I review statistics on depression and suicide in the U.S. and abroad and they are, in a word, heartbreaking. This is why I almost couldn’t believe it when I saw these stats as they apply to Native youth are exponentially worse. Native American and Alaska Native commit suicide at a higher rate than any other ethnic group in the United States. The suicide rate for Native youth aged 15-24 is 3.3 times higher than the national average and young people make up 40% of all suicides on tribal lands.

After giving it some thought, I realized that because of Project Happiness

Read More

What Do We Do in the Face of Senseless Tragedy?

Last week, in Aurora, Colorado, we witnessed one of the largest tragedies of its kind in U.S. History. 12 people died and 57 were injured, and it leaves us wondering, WHY? What propels an individual to be so tortured to resort to mass murder of innocent people in a public place? And how do we cope with the aftermath – the sorrow, the trauma and the sense that you never know…

In an odd replay of fiction come to life, so many of the characters in the Batman movie are flat out insane – disconnected from their community, their own inner compass and their very hearts. It’s one thing to watch that on the screen and another to see it acted out in real life with real life consequences. But where do we draw the line?

There is no denying that we are all influenced by the people and the emotional atmosphere we are surrounded with, whether positive and uplifting or harmful and toxic. In Aurora, 70 people have suffered because one person was at the point of no return. Let’s be clear that there is NO excuse for harming anyone. The challenge is what can we do as individuals and communities to try to plant new seeds so this tragedy has less of a chance of erupting again. We can point fingers to one young man who was so sick that he became a mass murderer. But that will not solve the core of the problem. The call to action is for each of us to look at our own lives, attitudes, choices and actions. The question is: can we make any internal changes that can help, both for us and the next generation? From this tragedy of lost lives, hopes and dreams, here are 5 ideas worth considering:

Read More

Is School Harming Our Kids?

From the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-taran/standardized-testing_b_1466236.html

I just got off the phone with my sister. It is almost the end of the school year, and the students at her daughter’s elementary school have a week of testing ahead during which they’ll take the Standardized Testing and Reporting, or STAR, tests. My niece, aged 10. is staying up till 10 pm most every night to study, and she is stressed out. What is wrong with this picture?

br>Our kids are under increasing pressure to do well on these standardized tests and teachers are also under pressure to have their kids perform at high levels. My niece was told that in preparation for the STAR testing, the school was taking away vocabulary and spelling homework and replacing it with a substantial packet of tests to take home and study. This is on top of her already rigorous homework schedule. What is the reason for this? My sister believes that it is not for the students’ education necessarily — it is to make the school look good. The question is — at what price?

There are plenty of parents who are not happy with what is going on. Children and teens are increasingly sleep deprived, overscheduled and ceaselessly connected on social media. This, apart from the regular stresses, creates

Read More

Happiness Lost: When Kids Take Their Lives

From the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-taran/teen-suicide_b_1381062.html

I visit a lot of schools and communities with a documentary I produced called Project Happiness. The idea is to remind people of the happiness that we were born with and how to re-access it, no matter what the external circumstances. I am grateful for the profound appreciation coming from audiences; yet the reason troubles me to the core. Why in so many cities, across the country, am I hearing again and again of kids taking their lives?

What is the feeling of utter hopelessness and isolation that prompts such an action? If you would ask most parents across the globe what they want most for their children, it is to be happy. And most people want to live a meaningful life. How did we get from there to here?

The statistics are down right shocking.

Read More

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?

Read More

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.

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.”