Happiness Project. Pay Attention. Mindfulness.

Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Chapter 10. Pay Attention. Mindfulness.

GR Quotes and my notes

…I (GR) didn’t feel much deep connection to Buddhism, which at its heart, urges detachment as a way to alleviate suffering. Although there is a place for love and commitment, these bonds are considered fetters that bind us to lives of sorrow – which of course they do. Instead, I’m an adherent of the Western tradition of cultivating deep passions and profound attachments; I didn’t want to detach, I wanted to embrace; I didn’t want to loosen, I wanted to deepen… Nevertheless, studying Buddhism made me realize the significance of some concepts that I’d overlooked. The most important was mindfulness – the cultivation of conscious, nonjudgmental awareness. – GR

I am on the same side of the fence with Gretchen on this one. I’m choosing happiness by embracing and deepening in the here and now, not detaching from the here and now. I know that detachment is somewhat easy for me, it spirals into apathy and disconnection. It’s not great for my relationships and happiness. At the same time, loving people dearly comes at price.

Mindfulness brings many benefits: scientists point out that it calms the mind and elevates brain function, it gives clarity and vividness to present experience, it may help people break unhealthy habits, and it can soothe troubled spirits and lift people’s moods. It reduces stress and chronic pain. It makes people happier, less defensive, and more engaged with others. – GR

Although GR wasn’t able to stomach meditation, I find meditation very helpful. Thinking slowly and deliberately about one thing at a time. I’ve been trying a lot of yoga lately. It really helps everything, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Coming from a Christian background, meditation comes easy with years of prayer. However, I have to take meditation in moderation. Too much meditation and I start detaching in the form of zoning out and thinking in my head about all the situations instead of participating and speaking during the situations.

Meditate on Koans

The aspect that intrigued me most, however, was the study of Zen koans (rhymes with Ben Cohen’s). A koan is a question or a statement that can’t be understood logically. Zen Buddhist monks meditate on koans as a way to abandon dependence on reason in their pursuit of enlightenment. The most famous koan is “Two hands clap and there is a sound. What is the sound of one hand?”… A koan can’t be grasped by reason or explained in words; meditating on koans promotes mindful thinking because it’s not possible to comprehend their meaning with familiar, conventional logic.

GR’s personal favorites:

Robert Frost: The best way out is always through.

J.M. Barrie: We set out to be wrecked.

Saint Therese of Lisieux: I choose all.

Because koans forced me to challenge the usual, straightforward boxes of meaning, they pushed me to think about thinking. That in turn brought me the delicious intellectual happiness that comes from grappling with an expansive, difficult question.

Examine True Rules

Although they might not fit precisely into the definition of “heuristics,” I had my own idiosyncratic collection of principles – which I called “True Rules.”

My children are my most important priority.

Get some exercise every day.

Whenever possible, choose vegetables.

I know as much as most people.

Try to attend any party or event to which I’m invited.

The True Rules that I listed above are ones I find true for me too. I have a few of my own.

Enjoy where you are at, and enjoy who you are with right now.

No regrets. Don’t worry about it and move on.

Rephrase the negative until it’s positive.

If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.

Stimulate the Mind in New Ways

GR tried hypnosis and laugh therapy. She tried writing mindful notes for each room, such as “Quiet Mind” in the bedroom, and “Enthusiastic and Creative” by the office. She tried a sketching class.

I stimulate my mind in new ways by trying different physical training exercises. Lynda drags me along on crazy expeditions. I remember the first few events, I would seriously doubt my sanity or my personal safety and survival. One particular trail run BullDog 25k was 100°F plus, the trails were poorly marked, aid stations were not sufficiently stocked. I overheated, I felt lost in the woods, I was dehydrating because the aid stations were out of water and ice. I was suffering so badly. I figured if I survive that, I can pretty much survive anything. But, more than physically, I learned about my mental state. I became a fighter and a survivor. There was a huge feeling of accomplishment finishing the really hard races. Bulldog 25k the following year was cool and cloudy. I finished no problem. I also felt that it was less of an accomplishment, in some twisted fashion.

I also like to stimulate my mind by flipping through blogs and reading about interesting people. I like the blogs where a person really shares what he was thinking and feeling at the time, not the preachy, pithy saying with perfectly photo-shopped pictures. Last year I tried improving my sketching skills too. While I’m no Rembrandt, I’m no Picasso either.

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