Spontaneous Happiness – this is the season

How are you?  Are you Happy?  Would you like to be?  Looking like a modern Santa Claus with a full white beard and perpetually smiling face on the cover of his latest book – Spontaneous Happiness –  Andrew Weil, the prolific Harvard educated medical doctor, offers his recommendations for overcoming depression –  a common ailment during the holiday season.

Known for his involvement in integrative medicine and his healthy lifestyle regimen – good eating, exercise, change of lifestyle, etc. – Weil’s caution that pills are not the path to happiness is no surprise.  In the book’s first section, Weil offers evidence that the “biomedical model now dominant” neither cures nor prevents depression and just offers easy access to medication with a promise for treatment.

If you are already convinced that your life would be better if you could follow a naturally healthy path, you might skip directly to section two with his specific recommendations…

“…designed to increase your emotional resilience, alow you to move your emotional set point toward more positive moods, …that come from within… always available…{and} does not depend on external circumstances or the vagaries of fortune.”

No surprises here: take vitamins, especially Vitamin D; add fish oil to your diet; exercise; sleep well.  Weil adds a few that have made recent health news:  find ways to satisfy the need for physical touch; meditate and practice mindfulness; stop dwelling on your problems (negative thoughts) by using positive psychology (write down three things that are going well each day; do volunteer work).  By using his own struggle with dysthymia – “a chronic type of depression in which a person’s moods are regularly low or sad, with symptoms not as severe as with major depression” – Weil focuses on how his “anti-inflammatory” diet and lifestyle can cure depression and anxiety disorders, and  he includes extensive case studies and medical research to support his recommendations.

His description of the “mantra” surprised me.  I had heard of the practice of silently repeating in the mind’s ear, certain Eastern religious sounds, but Weil adds Western religious phrases to the mix – using the Roman Catholic rosary as an example.  I  remember the nuns’ suggestion in elementary school to revert to repeating “Holy Spirit, enlighten me” whenever experiencing test anxiety – and it usually worked;  maybe Weil would consider that a successful application.  In his “secular spiritual approaches to emotional well-being,” he also adds non-religious avenues for connecting with nature, including pet therapy, laughter, forgiveness, and avoiding all those people who bring you down with their pessimism – “emotions are contagious.”

In his last section Weil offers a plan with questionnaires and specific action to address the answers – taking into account each of the subtopics he previously addressed in the book.  The plan is simply stated – with bulleted lists – and includes progress report self-evaluations as well as his famous anti-inflammatory diet in the appendix.  Weil tacks on suggested readings, websites, and other useful resources at the end – a complete encyclopedia of advice for improving your well-being.

The book is organized like a well-written text, with clear subheadings and a summary of important points at the end of each chapter.  You could read the summary first and then go back to fill in the information you want.  If you are an advocate of Weil’s healthy lifestyle, the book offers a quick reminder of all that you are supposed to be doing; if you are new to the plan of giving up junk food, smoking, and blind allegiance to the television tube, you might find some useful pointers for starting.  Despite his tendency to be preachy, Weil’s Spontaneous Happiness combines all his experience from years of trying to be good, and welcomes you to join him.

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Don’t Slam the Door on Your Way Out

Speculation on why the flight attendant jumped out of the airplane will be fodder for David Letterman and John Stewart soon.  If you haven’t heard the story, it’s no joke. Read the New York Times article “Fed-Up Flight Attendant Makes Sliding Exit”…

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/10/nyregion/10attendant.html?th&emc=th

Soon we might hear how the stress of the job and caring for his ailing mother added up to the moment when a passenger provided the straw that broke Steven Slater’s public persona of politely gritting his teeth.  A friend once told me he saw a professional pour a pot of coffee over a  colleague – so much for that career.  Maybe you’ve witnessed moments of insanity  – or clarity?

Sometimes it’s hard to get that Ayurvedic balance, no matter how much green tea you drink and imaginary red roses you smash.  Sylvia Boorstein’s Happiness is an Inside Job cleverly uses humor in her own experiences with everyday annoyances, and without preaching,  applies  a simple three-step Buddhist call to mindfulness, concentration, and effort.

It might have taken a moment for Boorstein to find humor in a passenger’s luggage clocking the flight attendant’s head – maybe this anecdote  relates: an encounter with a French elderly entrepreneur who blatantly overcharges for a mattress responds to the buyer’s anxiety and demands with a shrug and –   “these things happen.”

“That’s life (says Boorstein).  Let’s (move on)…to the lamp store and look at end tables.”

Sometimes, slamming the door on your way out just feels good, but it’s hard to slam the door on the way out of an airplane.

The Pursuit of Happiness – from Sandra Bullock to…

Happiness is a warm puppy? The David Brooks article in the New York Times offers a reminder that “…most of us pay attention to the wrong things…” Starting with the “Sandra Bullock Trade” – now the entertainment news focus – Brooks outlines recent research on the state of happiness.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/30/opinion/30brooks.html?th&emc=th

What does it take to be happy? Evidently, not money or fame – although many find that hard to believe. Brooks refers to two books that honor the philosophy that money isn’t everything – policy wonk David Halpern’s The Hidden Wealth of Nations and former Harvard president Derek Bok’s The Politics of Happiness.

So where do you find happiness? Eric Weiner, self-proclaimed grump and correspondent for National Public Radio, goes on an easy-to-read journey in his Geography of Bliss to find it – “…where we are is vital to who we are…” This is all about the people he meets – a satisfying and humorous saga that takes you from Bhutan to Iceland – yes, America is in the mix. You may be surprised at the happiest places to live.

Of course, it all depends on how you define happiness. Charlie Brown found it with Snoopy, but Charles Schulz never did, according to the David Michaelis’ biography Schulz and Peanuts.

Good grief!