There can be little question that the person who drew the largest applause at the 2,000+ attendance Happiness and its Causes conference last week in Australia was the Dalai Lama. Interestingly, His Holiness was only one of a luminary line-up of speakers that included Jane Goodall and B. Alan Wallace, among others.
As you might expect there were a number of standout moments during the conference. Here is a recap of just a few highlights:
1) Academy Award nominated director Roko Belic presented his new movie “Happy” (www.thehappymovie.com) with a brilliant talk about his world travels. Among the most interesting comments he offered related to his interview of historian Howard Zinn. Roko asked Mr. Zinn, “You have looked at social movements throughout the ages…is there a single thing you can point to as a mechanism for success in transforming society?” Roko half expected Zinn to shrug off the question as too nuanced or complicated. Instead, he answered, “There is one thing. The voice of each person matters. Every great social change movement has occurred because a neighbor turned and expressed discomfort with an idea; and that their neighbor told someone else and on and on it went until change was affected. Yes, each individual voice matters.”
2) Da Vinci expert Michael Gelb offered seven tips for “thinking like Da Vinci.” It turns out we don’t all have to bring the qualifications of artist-inventor-anatomist to the table to live a full and—indeed— amazing life. Although Gelb offered some basic fare such as use curiosity and enjoy sensory pleasures perhaps my favorite tip was “Dimostrazione” which, in essence, is a “commitment to test knowledge through experience, persistence, and the willingness to make mistakes.” Gelb particularly advised that we actively cultivate a habit of seeing situations from multiple angles, just as Da Vinci himself often drew flowers or other still lifes from multiple views. This technique can be used for relationships, problem-solving, creativity, and even enjoyment of a meal! Truly a path to happiness.
3) Buddhist monk Mathieu Ricard offered a single piece of emotional advice that struck home with me, especially in light of the growing collective anxiety we see in society. He spoke about our emotions as if they were the faucet on a sink. “You cannot have hot water and cold water running out at the same time. If you do,” he cautioned, “you will get neither hot nor cold, but only warm.” He went on to say, ” if you spend time generating one emotion– such as love for others– then you will have that running through the faucet and there is little opportunity for anxiety to run through the faucet.” Fortunately, this metaphor translates in to usable real world action. Ricard demonstrated that it is absurdly easy to close your eyes and focus on those you love– a child, a spouse, your parents—and actually generate in-the-moment feelings of goodwill and compassion. You can even widen the social circle to include friends, acquaintances, and strangers! Although the practice itself takes only a handful of minutes the carry-over effect lasts much longer, buffering you against unhappiness for a surprisingly long time.
I hope these short pieces of advice are as useful and inspiring to you as they were to me.