Being Happiness Podcast 5 – What the World Needs.

Ben looks at purpose anxiety and possible solutions, and how to feel like the king of the world!

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman

Things mentioned in today’s episode…

2 episodes from the Tim Ferriss show:

A.J. Jacobs — 10 Strategies to Be Happier Through Gratitude – The guy who thanked everyone for his coffee.

How to Make a Difference and Find Your Purpose — Blake Mycoskie – Founder of Tom’s shoes.

Plus…

Patrick Collison — CEO of Stripe – Not mentioned in today’s episode, but incredibly interesting on many levels. Fascinating to hang out with a very bright mind for an hour or so…

Being Happiness Podcast 4 – Too Many Cows

In today’s episode Ben talks about how our body can let us know when we are doing the right thing or not, and tells a favourite tale from long ago that can help us enormously to see what we might better be focusing on in life.

Mentioned in today’s episode:

The One Thing by Gary Keller

Please do subscribe to the Being Happiness podcast in Apple Podcasts/iTunes. If you rate and review the show there too, it’ll help more people find it. Thanks!

Being Happiness Podcast 3 – What Fulfills Us

In today’s episode Ben talks about a surprising day where he learned a lot about what leads to fulfillment in life, how easy it is to abandon our needs in favour of achievement-seeking, and how to reconnect with what those needs really are.

Things mentioned in this podcast

– Ben’s blog post: Dear Mum, I can’t change the world

– Non-Violent Communication, by Marshall Rosenberg: This workshop video on YouTube is pretty comprehensive. If you prefer just audio I also very much like this 2 hour, 2 part audio program from Sounds True, Speaking Peace. If you want the most complete experience, the original 5 hour Non-violent Communication audiobook is wonderful.

Non-Violent Communication has completely changed the way I communicate with and listen to my wife and kids, all to the benefit of our relationships. More on that in another episode…

Being Happiness Podcast 2 – Look After Today

In today’s Being Happiness podcast, ‘Look After Today’, Ben talks about the origins of his interest in mindfulness, trips to Plum Village, and the importance of looking after every day as the best way we have of taking care of the future.

Links to books and podcasts mentioned in this episode:

Peace is Every Step – Thich Nhat Hanh – The book that introduced me to mindfulness and led me to Plum Village.

Being Peace in a World of Trauma – On Being podcast with Police Officer Cheri Maples and Thich Nhat Hanh – ‘I know that if you know how to handle the present moment right, with our best [intention], then that is about everything you can do for the future. That is why I’m at peace with myself.’

‘10% Happier with Dan Harris’ and George Mumford – The mindful sports coach – ‘Manage this moment and then that will affect the next moment. Manage this day and it will affect the next. It really is as simple as that’.

Please do subscribe to the Being Happiness podcast in Apple Podcasts/iTunes. If you rate and review the show there too, it’ll help more people find it. Thanks!

Being Happiness Podcast 1 – Planet Earth is Still Wonderful


Welcome to the first episode of the Being Happiness podcast, I’d love it if you listen and leave me a comment. In this show I look at the idea that beyond today’s media, if we listen to the voices that show human life is improving, and look at the beauty of the world around us, we can find great happiness and meaning in our lives.

Please do subscribe to the podcast in Apple Podcasts/iTunes. If you rate and review the show there too, it’ll help more people find it. Thanks!

About starting this podcast (and anything new).

I set about starting this podcast a year ago, recorded an episode, became filled with doubt (‘is it the right thing to do with my time right now?’) and imposter’s syndrome (‘who am I to talk about such important things as meaning and happiness?’), and shelved the idea. Now I’m ready to do it, and perhaps that’s just the way life works, but I also realised a few important things in the past week or so:

1. There is no point in not doing something because it might mean I don’t do something else I’m not doing either.

2. If I don’t do something, I can’t find out where it might take me.

3. Doubt and imposters syndrome are negative mental constructs that are not self-serving or in any way interesting if you want to pursue an interesting, meaningful life. They are to be gotten over!

And with that, here is the first episode of the Being Happiness podcast. Please subscribe in Apple Podcasts/iTunes if you use them, do leave me a comment, and let’s see where this goes.

The book mentioned in this podcast is Enlightenment Now by Stephen Pinker.

A New Kind of Yardstick for Life

Images in this post: Shape and Light and Moment in Madrid

Did I do something to relax today?

Did I take it slowly instead of rushing at some point today, just once?

Did I do something playful and purposeless today, perhaps reading, biking, playing with the kids?

Did I look after my body, even doing something nice for it for 2 minutes, today?

Did I smile at someone today? To myself?

Did I wish myself happiness, ease?

If I did any one of those things I can count this as a wonderful day. And if I didn’t, and I notice, and I smile at myself for noticing and think, ‘doesn’t matter at all’, then I can still call it a wonderful day.

None of this was taught to me as being important, I was taught to look at other yardsticks in measuring my success in life: ladder-climbing, being recognised as being incredible in some way or another, getting on in the world, earning lots and having lots, striving away tirelessly, on and on and on.

This left me with a peculiar sense of ‘purpose’, a need that can drive me into turmoil, wanting to do great things, wanting to do more than ‘enough’. A sense of purpose that I can also be very grateful for, as it’s helped me enormously to achieve things that make my life wonderful in so many ways. Without our purposeful striving and effort, my wife and I wouldn’t have our business – Notes in Spanish – that pays the bills and makes lots of people happy as we help them to learn Spanish. Without the hard work and skills and yardsticks I learned at school, I wouldn’t have the free time to write this post.

But my purpose-yardstick is way out of proportion to a happy life. It always asks too much of me, which is what leads to the inner turmoil. I think I can calm it down enormously, so it looks more like this:

Did I do something that fulfils even in the tiniest way my need for meaning and purpose today? Perhaps work a little on our business, write a little, share something wonderful, do something for the family or be a good husband or dad? Just put one foot forward in any of those directions? Any of the above will do, even just 2 minutes of a single one of them. That’s enough. And if I didn’t, I can smile at myself again for noticing and think, ‘doesn’t matter at all, you are only human’, or ‘it’s fine, you’re on holiday!’ and I can still call it a wonderful day just for having been alive in it, and to have experienced this great life passing by.

Selfish walking meditation photography

After loving photography for most of my childhood and adult life, I sort of gave up a few years ago, put off by the amount of time it was bringing me back to the computer – where I was spending far too much time for work already. But recently that has changed…

I bought a new camera to make videos for our Spanish learning website, and it has got me back out onto the streets again….

I’ve also been inspred by a couple of photographers I discovered randomly on the web, Mattias Burling, and Eric Kim, especially his posts on Selfish Photography and Walking Meditation in Street Photography

So I’ve been spending a lot of time walking the streets of Madrid and El Escorial (the first three pictures in this post), taking Selfish Photos – photos I like, rather than thinking how many likes they may get on Instagram…

I was particularly keen on getting an umbrella photo…

I love this one, ‘greeting the chef…’

This dog on the train, such doleful eyes… so loving…

A wonderful building rising from the trees like a great ship…

Eric Kim says it takes 100,000 photos to get a good one, and he may be right. I took these last two about ten years ago, and I think they are my current favourites of all time. From the streets of Cordoba, and Madrid.

I’m thinking it’s worth far more to get out onto the streets of Madrid to do something that makes me happy, than to be thinking about happiness all the time 🙂

What’s the most important thing to remember?

If someone asks what is the mark of enlightenment or illusion,
I cannot say – wealth and honour are nothing but dust.
Ryokan*

Set store by your riches and honour,
And you will only reap a crop of calamities.
Lao Tzu*

What’s the most important thing to remember?

Wealth and honour, recognition and reputation, are nothing but dust. Too much doing will lead to my undoing, as there is really nothing to be done. Nothing to be done but to live happily in the present moment, and to remember this again, and again, and again.

What does today have to offer? A sunny autumn day. A blue sky. People walking in the park. The smiles of my family. There is nothing so important as being in touch with all these wonders. Anything I hope to achieve… dust in comparison to living in touch with what is in front of me in the here and now.

May I remember this every day of my life.

(*1 – Ryokan, from ‘One Robe, One Bowl’, translated by John Stevens.
*2 – Chap. 9, Tao Teh Ching, Lao Tzu, Shambala Dragon Editions.)

 

 

Being a Barrio Bodhisattva

I love the idea of the nice elderly lady, or man, who lives just down the road, who everyone in the neighbourhood, or village, knows to be a really nice, generous, warm, caring, loving person. Not a historical saint from the pages of a book, not famous beyond her or his immediate surroundings, just helpful, loving and kind to whoever comes across their path.

I love the idea that doing small things in your daily life, in your small corner of the world, is already enough to change the world, by improving the lives of those right next to you. Just tiny things, right where you are. No need to be Mother Teresa, or Ghandi, or Einstein for that matter.

When I take my toddler daughter for a walk around our Barrio, or neighbourhood, in Madrid, she beams at every single passer-by, young, old, men, women, and salutes them all with a loud, delighted-sounding ‘HOLA!’ This happy, smiling, and totally genuine ‘Hello!’ stops everyone in their tracks. No matter if they are rushing along, looking grumpy or sad, or just plain distracted as they think their way down the street, my daughter brings 95% of them to their senses immediately and when they look down and see who has said hi to them so happily, their faces light up in a huge smile of their own.

So she’s wandering round our neighbourhood spreading happiness with nothing more than a happy ‘Hello!’ It made me think of all the times I walk into shops and say hello, or pass people in the street and bid them good morning, with all the intention of having a happy smile on my face, but most of the time all I can muster is a sort of polite overly-British tight-lipped and slightly guarded version! Well, my daughter has taught me how to smile genuinely to everyone I meet, and that there’s a chance it will improve their day – now all I have to do is practice.

Of course to have this sort of smile on my face, I’ve got to be as happy as she is. Like all toddlers she’s happy with whatever crosses her path in the present moment. No need for special plans or treats, no ambitions or lofty desires, life is already gloriously enough for her already! In my case I find a similar level of happiness with a bike ride, or a walk around the big boulders in the Sierra hills. I imagine these things put me back in the same child-like state that she lives in every day, and once I’m there, it’s likely to overflow to other people on it’s own.

The other night my wife and I went out to supper and she told me that I had sparkling happy eyes, that she hadn’t seen me so happy for a long time. I tried to work out what it was that had put me into that state, and came to the conclusion that it was most likely the 90 minute bike ride I’d been on earlier around Madrid’s wild Casa de Campo park on that beautiful, warm, sunny autumn evening.

As I’ve learned from my daughter then, being in a good mood, taking that out into the world, can already be enough to lighten up our small corner of the universe. To change people’s days, even if just for a moment. She spreads happiness with nothing more than a genuine, smiling greeting to strangers. Think how we can do the same with tiny acts of generosity, selflessness, quietness, compassionate listening, expressions of gratitude, offered help, all right where we are. There is no need to set out to change the whole world.

For some reason the phrase ‘Barrio Bodhisattva’ popped into my head recently to sum this up. A Bodhisattva is like a Buddhist saint, someone who is enlightened but stays around on earth to bring happiness and enlightenment to all the people who are still here suffering away. So the Barrio (neighbourhood in Spanish) Bodhisattva is the quiet saint down the road that will never make it onto the Pope’s list of future canonisations, but who is every bit as saintly as Mother Teresa, or Saint Francis of Assisi. How many there are in the world! We pass them every day and never know, and so easily we can join them by letting go of all our self-exhausting desires and projects and plans and just living happily in the present moment, and spreading that happiness in endless possible tiny ways to those that we meet with every day.

I don’t think that being a saint or a Bodhisattva has to be any more complicated than that. What’s more, as well as the changes we might affect in others with these small, local acts of smiley-ness, or generosity, or help, or listening, or being there, all these will light up our own lives far more than any of the great self-centred plans we had to get ourselves noticed out in the great wide world.

But don’t forget that bike ride, or walk, or time with a book, or ten minutes of silence on the sofa before everyone else wakes up. You need to look after your own peace and happiness too before taking it out into the world.