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Some Thoughts

I’ve had a very unhappy week and so it has been hard for me to bring myself to post about happiness (and the search for it). But reading The Art of Happiness has reminded me of some of the reasons why I started exploring happiness.

Probably the first thing that really got me started thinking about the search was my physics class Sophomore year of college. On one of the first days of class my professor told us in some clever way that science isn’t the be all end all. It’s not the “truth”. Well, this blew my mind. I had written off religion pretty early in my life for the sake of science. This quote from the introduction immediately brought that day to mind: “Scientific knowledge is a dynamic, living thing-and scientific theories are always being refined, modified, or revised as we gather new data.” Obviously this makes sense, but I don’t think I would have realized for quite some time if I hadn’t taken that course. I also never would have been open to exploring religion last spring if I hadn’t of had that course.

Sometimes I wonder what the me of three years ago would say about the things I have been reading (and am reading) for this exploration of happiness.

(from Anne:) So I was quite taken with The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living. I’ve been quoting it left and right, and I even shared a chapter with my faculty working group on assessment. This turned into an amazing experience: it took our discussion of evaluating student work to a whole new level. We began to re-imagine assessment as a spiritual practice: training students in a tool they can use forever, teaching them self-awareness, the practice of watching what arises for the self, and an appreciation for the unfinishedness, uncertainty, and unpredictability of life.

While I was reading this book, I also had a lot of questions about the implications of this practice for social change: if one accepts suffering–indeed, accepts all that is–then how does change happen? But when Alex and I got together to talk about the handbook, and began to think about applying it directly to situations in our own lives (in particular, to people whose behavior we find destructive–trying to think compassionately about them), I began to see the deep possibilities here.

Also, in the context of one of the courses I’m teaching this semester, on Exploring the Significance of Diversity, I was particularly struck by the Dalai Lama’s explanation (on p. 90) that he always approaches people “from the standpoint of the most basic things we have in common… rather than emphasizing secondary differences such as the fact that I am a Tibetan, or a different color, religion, or cultural background…. relating to others on that level makes it much easier to exchange and communicate with one another.” Perhaps I have been valorizing (=over valuing) difference?

I feel quite primed, now, for our next text, Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, which seems to be filled with lots of concrete exercises to help me work on this practice. I’m ready!

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