It’s Fun to Be Silly

by Jeremy on 09/27/2013

 

Father and son making faces

“If people never did silly things nothing intelligent would ever get done.”
–Ludwig Wittgenstein

I could go into the health benefits of laughter or the developmental role of play, but I won’t. That’s too serious for now. My message is simpler: being silly is fun.

How can you add the enjoyment of silliness to your life? Tiny Buddha, as usual, has enumerated ideas. I doubt you need them; being silly is easy. It doesn’t need any goopy string or goopy, um, goop. The recipe for silly calls for just three everyday ingredients:

  1. An open attitude
  2. Active observation
  3. Giving yourself permission to do things wrong

Correctness is the domain of seriousness, not silliness! Correctness is confining; there’s usually only one “right” way to do something, while “wrong” can take infinite forms. That makes for myriad opportunities to be silly.

Here’s a classic example: there’s one “right” way to walk. But see how many silly walks there are?

I dare you to try a silly walk and not have fun.

 

Notes

Photograph by Gerry Thomasen

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Smiling is good for you

by Jeremy on 09/25/2013
Happiness

Photo credit: Wikipedia

If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. If we really know how to live, what better way to start the day than with a smile?
-Thich Nhat Hanh

Smiling is the easiest way to get a quick happiness boost – and it’s good for you. Even if you have to force one, a smile helps decrease stress. It could also make you more productive and improve your self-esteem. It can even help heal your heart.

If you want to kick-start your smile, Tiny Buddha has 51 things to help and Thought Catalog has another 18. There are also blogsReddit forums, and a slew of Pinterest boards designed to induce smiles.

For double the effect, smile at someone else. Have you ever felt ten times better after someone smiled at you? You never know when a simple smile can make all the difference. Plus smiles can be contagious, so you might start a chain-reaction!

You can also bring smiles to others through acts of charity. Donating to Operation Smile helps fund free surgeries for children with facial deformities. If you don’t have the means to send money, send a card – Send a Smile 4 Kids  collects handmade greeting cards and sends them to hospitalized children.

Smiling may not stop wars, but it’s hard to beat the results for such a small investment of time and energy. Try to make smiling part of your daily practice for six days and see if you notice a difference.

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Perspectives Can Change

by Jeremy on 01/20/2013

Do things look bleak? Try a new point of view.

Mission: Earth, Voyage to the Home Planet

“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.”
-Neil Armstrong [source]

In many ways, our perspective determines the kind of world we live in. I’ll let Uncle Bob explain.

A healthy perspective (or “reality tunnel”) can make the world look bright and exciting; an unhealthy one can make a minor obstacles seem insurmountable. I know what it’s like to be stuck with a dismal, self-defeating outlook. But I’ve also learned it doesn’t have to be that way.

Our perspectives aren’t set in stone. We can widen, shift, and alter them. If we can change our point of view even slightly, our experience of the world can be profoundly enriched. With practice and an open mind, we can even try out completely different perspectives, each of which can teach us something valuable.

Let’s start with the easiest thing to take for granted: our own existence. The probability of you being you or me being me is staggeringly teensy. If you’re even around to read this, that means we both won the existential lottery. Hooray for us!

Yeah, I know. That doesn’t magically make your problems vanish. But the fact that we’re around to have problems in the first place is worth appreciating.

Our Slender Slice of Space

“The fact that we live at the bottom of a deep gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away and think this to be normal is obviously some indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be.”
-Douglas Adams

Shifting our perspectives can also show us just how subjective some things are. Like size. On one hand, our entire solar system – not to mention our big-screen TVs – may seem profoundly tiny from a cosmic perspective.

On the other hand, there are whole worlds we’re just too big to see. Some things that seem boring or ugly are actually incredibly beautiful if you look close enough. Like ocean sand.

If you enjoy exploring the subjectiveness of spatial dimensions, just wait ’till you ponder the temporal one(s).

Our Stupid Sense of Time

In the brief 200,000 or so years we’ve been around, we’ve managed to figure out a few nifty tricks. Running water. Sewage. Medical science. Ben and Jerry’s.

A pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream

Our greatest accomplishment to date?

Not bad for the cosmological equivalent of infants.

You see, the most basic life on earth appeared about 3 billion years ago, making it a fairly late development in a ~13 billion year-old universe. And on the timeline of life on earth, homo sapiens just showed up.

It’s natural to dismiss this longer-term view of time as somehow less real than our own perception. But, considering the passage of time is subjective, it’s a meaningless objection after all. Years and seconds might be a fairly objective way to measure time, but how long a year feels is not.

What if we could perceive time differently? What amazing things might we discover that we couldn’t see before because our perception of time wasn’t just right?

How about the beauty of a single drop of water?

This glorious display of fluid dynamics happens all the time when it rains. It’s just too fast for our brains to process.

On the other side of the spectrum, the flowing movement of clouds is hauntingly gorgeous, but we ordinarily perceive time too quickly to notice.

The growth of a tree is easy to take for granted. But speed it up so we can watch it happen and a sprouting oak seed becomes awe-inspiring.

Bottom line: all we’re capable of experiencing is an infinitesimal sliver of what actually exists, and our tools for experiencing things in the first place are fundamentally limited.

The Real Value of Perspective-Swapping

As authoritative theories of everything, our perspectives are all worthless.

There are more knowable things about one mote of dust than we could glean from a lifetime of study. Furthermore, according to our current best theories on the physical operations of the universe, it is fundamentally impossible to know everything about the teensiest bit of matter.

Infinite lifetimes spent studying the simplest object could never yield perfect knowledge, so what could possibly justify certainty in any existential or metaphysical speculations based on a single lifetime of inquiry? Should we call it pride, madness, arrogance, sin nature, cognitive bias, or just the human ego at work? Doesn’t matter. We’re all pretty sure we’re right.

If we, instead, regard everyone’s perspectives (especially our own) as cursory observations of a vast mystery, every perspective would actually have value.

How do we learn more about a vast mystery we can only observe cursorily? If we have any respect for the empirical approach, we keep observing. If we’re wise enough, we also pool our resources and share our observations. We test the observations of others by looking from similar angles, poking with similar sticks, testing under similar conditions. Then we compare the results. And we don’t do it just once. We keep observing, sharing, and comparing without end because, little by little, we get a slightly clearer view of the big picture.

Contrast this with adhering to a single observation and rejecting the validity of any others. Which method is likely to reveal more accurate data about an object of study?

In other words, the less we cling to one perspective and the more we open our minds to new ones, the better our understanding of the great mystery will probably be. If your current perspective is making you unhappy, why cling to it anyway?

Of course, cynical or depressed personalities may believe their bleak view is the “real” or most accurate one. Maybe it is, maybe not. But I’m not asking anyone to give up their perspectives. I’m arguing against closing oneself off to exploring the alternatives. Try looking through someone else’s eyes, see if you can see what they see, and then decide. Even if you still think your perspective is more useful or accurate, it will probably be enhanced by the experience.

Make your world more beautiful

Luckily, it’s never been easier to try new perspectives. We’ve seen how our natural perception of space can be extended with microscopes and telescopes, and our experience of time can be augmented with time-lapse and high-speed photography. So too communication technologies (e.g. language, the Internet, blogging) allow us to swap perspectives on life, the universe, and everything. And the more we learn from the perspectives of others, the more things we can learn to love and appreciate, which makes our view of the world more beautiful.

What makes yours beautiful?

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10 Minutes Can Make You Happier

by Jeremy on 12/5/2012

Readers seemed to like the last technique I wrote about, so I thought I’d share my favorite, time-tested technique for cultivating happiness and tranquility. And it’s still not booze.

“The art of living… is neither careless drifting on the one hand nor fearful clinging to the past on the other. It consists in being sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive.”
―Alan Wilson Watts

Anxiety of daily consciousness

Life can be stressful. Especially around the holiday season. But even in the quiet times, our minds are prone to wander off and get lost in internal mazes of unreality. We either revisit and reanalyze increasingly inaccurate memories of the past, or we fantasize about the future or our desires. Our attention jumps from one arising thought to another, loses interest, and then does it all over again. In doing so, it sacrifices awareness of the present moment.

It seems our brains evolved to busy themselves, so this all happens automatically. It’s quite natural, and in some cases even beneficial.

Except when it hurts us. When we continually lose sight of the present moment – the only thing we’re actually alive to experience – we become unhappy.

Meditation

But it’s OK, because there are ways of slowing the racing mind and practicing awareness of the now. It’s pretty easy to get started. You don’t need a Guru, a yoga mat, a 10-week intensive course, a $1500 weekend retreat, or any bells or whistles. If you’re reading this right now, you have everything you need to get started.

Does it work?

Absolutely.

How to meditate

  1. Find a quiet place
  2. Sit down
  3. Breathe naturally
  4. Focus on your breathing, either on the movement of your abdomen or the sensation of the air moving through your nostrils
  5. When you notice your mind wandering (as it will), gently and lovingly guide it back to your breathing

Start with just 10 minutes. Or 2 minutes, or whatever you can do. Don’t push yourself too hard. If it helps, try counting your breaths up to 10, then starting again at 1. It may surprise you how difficult counting 10 breaths can be. Or, if you want to keep the verbal center of your brain occupied, try mentally asking yourself “What is this?” on one breath, then reply “I don’t know” on the next.

If you’re going to make this a daily thing – something I’ve found enormously helpful – avoid setting your initial goal too high. This should be something you look forward to, not a chore you dread. If you make it too difficult, you’re more likely to just stop doing it. But if you make your goal attainable, you’re likelier to maintain your practice, and you may feel like going further.

Meditation is one of those things that can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. If you’re interested in this kind of thing, there’s plenty more to read about. Here are a few great starting points:

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