Tuesday, 27 March 2007

earth hour

This Saturday evening, March 31, in Sydney Australia at least, many of us will be marking "Earth Hour" by turning off our lights between 7:30 pm and 8:30 pm, as a sign of our commitment to reducing glonal warming.

In a way it's only a token, but the public and political recognition of the reality and consequences of global warming has jumped in the past year, no doubt due to Al Gore as much as anything else, so Earth Hour helps keep the issue in the public mind.

Monday, 26 March 2007

the happiest person in the world?

Neuroscientists believe they can measure how happy a person is by measuring the activity in the left and right cortex of the brain. Heightened activity on the left is associated with pleasant emotions, but on the right indicates negative emotions.

Of the few hundred people tested so far, the scores generally ranged from +0.3 (negative emotions) to -0.3 (happy). However one man has scored -0.45, making him the happiest, or most peaceful, person tested so far. He is French Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, he has just released a book titled Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill, and you'd have to think he may know something about the subject. I haven't read the book, but I've read a few newspaper interviews and reviews.

Ricard distinguishes between happiness (which we might also call wellbeing, and is a fairly settled state of mind) and elation (which is more transitory and related to pleasure), and says that developing happiness is a skill we all can learn. Keys to happiness include:

  • don't allow circumstances or other people to determine your state of mind;
  • avoid anger - "anger is a destructive emotion";
  • practise meditation, or, as Ricard prefers to call it, mind training, daily and learn to manage your thoughts - think about past happy occasions and identify what it was that made you happy;
  • if necessary, participate in a program of stress reduction.

Cynics and critics argue that being happy isn't very interesting or challenging, and a life of peaceful acceptance doesn't provide the energy to change things in the world that should be changed. But Ricard seems to have a strong sense of social justice and contibutes the profits from his writing to charities.

Although Ricard is a Buddhist, believers in other religions and non-believers should not ignore his insights. Some people believe Christian prayer, acceptance of God's will and forgiveness have a similar effect as meditation, and secular "positive psychology" teaches similar approaches to being happy.

Perhaps the biggest question I have is whether we should make happiness in life our goal, or whether our aim ought to be something, or some cause, greater than ourselves, which positive psychology says is the greatest single factor in a happy life. But I feel Ricard would agree with that.

Sunday, 25 March 2007

a smoother pebble or a prettier shell

"I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me." Isaac Newton

inner and outer space is one person's response to the "great ocean of truth" that lies before us all. There is so much I would love to know about and explore, but realistically, I must settle for pebbles and shells. Here aresome of the smoother pebbles and prettier shells I will be diverting myself with:

  • the latest discoveries in the amazing cosmos in which we live,
  • the human brain and the mystery of consciousness and free will,
  • human society - the good, the bad and the ugly; the serious and the silly,
  • the world around us and how it works together to sustain itself, if we will only let it,
  • the spiritual - God, Jesus and the alternatives.

That should keep me going for a while! If you too would enjoy such explorations, I'd love you to join in.