I've got another nomination for President of the World. And the nomination is (drum roll please):
He's a guy who made a monumental mistake, admitted it and now is spending the rest of his life trying to make up for it.
And if his discovery about reversing desertification is a fraction as great as he suggests and if it's not too late already, he may just have saved our climate and ourselves from ourselves.
Have a look at his bravely honest and refreshingly insightful TED talk and see what you think.
I found it hugely inspiring and uplifting to see this guy turn what was a terrible mistake into hope for all.
That there is always hope, even when the day seems impossibly dark...
He likes to sleep on his back and, if it's too light for him, he hides his eyes behind his paws.
Big bear's paws.
He is the biggest cat I've ever seen and he turned up at our house one day and decided to stay. He'd sleep under our van and used to eat Spot's leftovers.
At first, we used to shoo him away, because our cat, Spot, has a very nervous nature.
But we noticed that Spot quite liked Tommy. They would sit together outside.
Never seen her act like that before.
We'd joke that he was like Kevin Costner to her Whitney Houston in "The Bodyguard". He became her rock and she felt safe outside when he was around.
She even started chasing after intruding cats herself - finally got herself some brazen courage!
We put an advert on the internet in case someone was missing Tommy. We even had a lady come round to see if he was her lost cat "Vega", but Tommy legged it down the road and hid until she left.
We were worried that we'd never see him again, but he came right back as soon as her car turned the corner.
He wasn't going anywhere.
So Tommy joined our family and now another 3 stray cats have adopted us at our new home in the countryside - it's a crazy cat-filled life!
Spot & Tommy - sleeping like two book-ends!
Having a companion animal can also ensure we live longer and reduce stress - see this article about the health and even social life benefits!
And if we can adopt a homeless animal, then we're doing something really amazing.
Here's a short, but unforgettably wonderful clip about the rescue, rehabilitation and re-homing of a stray, blind dog they named "Fiona".
Brings a happy, hopeful tear every time I watch it.
Us humans can be amazing animals too, can't we?
Amy Cuddy is cool.
She's come up with something really simple to help us when we need a little boost to our self-confidence when faced with a difficult task such as going for an interview or telling someone something they won't want to hear.
All we need to do is go somewhere private and adopt a confident pose (e.g. hands on hips like "Wonder Woman" or shoot our hands in the air like we've just won the 100m sprint) for a whole 2 minutes.
Then we go and do that thing we have to do, feeling much more confident.
See the TED talk here.
Martin Seligman is the guy famous for working on the early positive psychology research i.e. what it takes for us to be happy and not just how to stop ourselves feeling depressed; he found that we have to actively work on both, if we want to be truly happy.
His latest research says that we need to use our signature strengths as much as possible in our daily life and then we'll achieve "flow" (where time stops for us) and we'll be the most content we can ever be.
It fits well with my view that, to be truly fulfilled, we should only focus on what we're good at and not on what we don't do so well (just let someone else, who's good at it, do that stuff). It's like being made to work extra hard at maths at school when all you want to do is be an artist. Why not work less on weaknesses and work harder on strengths? I say do the bare minimum of maths and do much more art! Less stress, more fun and more success.......
On Seligman's website are lots of interesting questionnaires relating to happiness that you can take for free. And you can save your results and retake the test again and again to see how you are changing your outlook on life over time.
If you don't already know your strengths, do the VIA signature strengths test on Seligman's site (register first and then you'll find it under "questionnaires") or else have a look on "Action For Happiness" which has a wonderful article about how to work out your strengths - click on "Where To Start" and take the survey.
Whichever test you take, I think the "Action For Happiness" instructions on how to use your results are the better ones to follow.
Anyway, I did Martin Seligman's signature strengths test and got the following top 5:
1. Industry, diligence and perseverance.
At first I was really disappointed with my number 1. "That's just REALLY BORING" I said to myself. But then I thought more about it and, although this is where my crazy, bad perfectionism used to be rooted, it is also where my ambition and success came from. I NEVER give up and that is my strength. It has also been cited as a key requirement for living a contented life, so maybe I am on the right track. However, all this persistence has to be tempered by my husband's realism - he will not continue flogging a dead horse (when I'd keep focused on the goal, never sidetracked, but also never looking sideways for a better way). Still, I'm at peace with this one now.
2. Love of learning
I can't quarrel with this one. I just love learning new things. It's my biggest passion. I need newness and this can be rather obsessive. I will read a book and underline lots of things to remember, but then I don't want to pick it up again to really, deeply understand what I've read. It's a battle for me to go back to something like that. So now I am learning to focus and dive deeper on learning. And forcing myself not buy a new book until I've done my learning on the last one........work in progress!
I also eventually realised that I love passing on what I've learnt on to others - hence why I started my practice. And this blog.
3. Fairness, equity and justice
I realised long ago that life is not fair; whoever said it would or should be anyway? It is what it is. So for me, this is about empowering others - I want to help those who can't help themselves and give them a chance to live an extraordinary life. I have supported charities such as "Free The Slaves" (did you know there are 27 million people in slavery in the world right now and these people free them, at great risk to themselves, and put them back on their feet?) and local animal shelters which underlines how important this is to me. Freedom is one of my key values.
4. Capacity to love and be loved
Enough said. Pretty important ...........
5. Forgiveness and mercy
Maslow said that all people are born good and it's life that turns some people bad. I believe this to be true. I tend to assume all people are just like me and it always surprises me when some people turn out to be less than honest. And then I still just try to see the world from the other person's point of view and not judge them. It's not always easy, but I'd rather be naive than become jaded and cynical. Some would see this as weak - I see it as keeping a positive outlook. Part of my persistent nature, I suppose - refusing to be changed by others.
I found this quite a revealing quiz to do, but even if you can't be bothered to fill out the long questionnaire (I think you need to rate high on the perseverance scale!), do check out the Action for Happiness website for many other fabulous tips on how to live a happy life.
It really is a goldmine.
I can recommend the Tony Hawks talk (he's the "hitching around Ireland with a fridge" comedian). It's long, but well worth every single minute - hilarious, heart-warming and with some deep insights about the meaning of life. I also recommend the talk by Oliver Burkeman.
Oops! My love of learning is keeping me up late again...............time for bed.
Whenever we went out for a drive with our parents, my sister and I would shout out for them to stop by any playgrounds we saw on the way.
"Look! Swings and things!", we would cry.
Sometimes Dad would stop the car and they'd wait patiently while we slid down hot metal slides with water and leaves and mud at the bottom. Or caught our fingers in the chains holding the swings. Or grazed our hands and/or knees falling off the climbing frames. Or got splinters from the wooden roundabouts.
And then there was Grandad's old hangar at the bottom of his garden. It was a massive, old, metal agricultural shed and it could only be accessed by picking our way gingerly through a mass of stinging nettles, that were as tall as we were. And there, inside, was a piece of old rope attached to one of the metal rafters; strong and well attached, but there was no easy way to reach it.
So my sister, our cousins and I built a platform of old breeze blocks - we didn't have many and so they had to be stacked tall and thin. The platform was as wobbly as a newborn calf! Then we'd climb up the platform and stand on our tip-toes to grab the rope and swing out into the barn and back again. Over and over.
The trick was to know when to stop and head back to the blocks, because if you left it too late you were stranded, hanging, with too big a drop to just go for it. We had scrapes and scratches galore to add to the nettle rashes, but what fun it was!
Such fond memories and an essential part of building friendships and growing up - where would we be without them?
I loved this amazing post (number 980) about fabulous, dangerous playgrounds on the Awesome blog. Some of the comments are pretty awesome too.
And Gever Tulley makes a case for letting kids do some dangerous things in this wonderful TED talk.
Is it really such a shocking idea? It kinda takes the stressful pressure off parents to be perfect and frees them from having to protect their kids from a single bacterium on the kitchen work surface, let alone a splinter from touching a tree.
Children and adults alike need to take risks to grow and have an exciting life. Stepping out of the comfort zone is the thing we should be teaching.
That's where real life is.
I just love this posting by Dr Ben Kim.
We often think that some problems in the world are so big that we're powerless to do anything about it. But we can.
Everything we do does make a difference - maybe not a BIG difference, but it DOES MAKE A DIFFERENCE. It's just up to us whether the difference we make is a positive or negative one.
Whether it's sharing a smile with a stranger and making their day, or deciding to buy a more ethical product, the change will be noticed in the world, because everything is connected with everything else.
So, if there's something we care about, then we need to try to do something, anything about it. No matter how small. It'll make us feel better and waves will follow in its wake; something will change.
We'll be making a difference.
The Tom Shadyac film "I am" in Ben Kim's post, is really worth watching - I found it very moving. It rambles at times but the message is right on. And it comes from someone who has "lived the dream" and realised it was just an empty promise. He found that what really mattered was connecting with people, not just amassing more stuff.
And I just loved the amazing experiment where he shows we can communicate our feelings to yoghurt .......!
We CAN buy happiness but the key is not to spend the money on something, but to spend it on someone.
Nothing we could buy would make us happier in a year from now than we are already. We could win the lottery tomorrow and be no happier in a year - conversely we could end up being paralysed tomorrow and still be as happy, in a year's time, as we are today. It's a proven fact. Our level of happiness is basically ingrown and we need to work out how to be content with what we have right now, or we'll never be happy.
And "happiness" is a relative term. Some people are very happy, just being grumpy. It all depends on our viewpoint.
Founder of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, says that as long as we have enough money to barely get by, the only things that will make us happier are; using our "signature strengths" in our daily life, being grateful for what we've got, being optimistic in our outlook on life and doing stuff for others. And that's it. Sounds simple enough and totally possible to achieve, but it's not easy......it takes effort and will.
And today, in the spirit of "Pay It Forward" day, see this TED talk about how we can buy happiness by doing stuff for others.
I love the idea of teachers being able to ask for donations to help them buy props and equipment for their lessons - the feedback from the kids would be wonderfully motivating to make us want to do it some more.
When we donate our hard-earned cash, we want to support specific projects and feel part of the change; to feel like we've really made a difference.
And the simple message here is that helping others, helps us even more.
To quote Martin Seligman from his book "Flourish":
"Find one wholly unexpected kind thing to do tomorrow and just do it. Notice what happens to your mood."
On Thursday 26 April it is "Pay It Forward" day.
If you've never read the book or seen the film "Pay It Forward", it's about a kid who invents a simple way to make the world a better place.
It goes like this - help someone in need and ask for no payment - they just have to pay it forward by helping 3 other people and asking those 3 people each to do the same for 3 more people. And on it goes - saving the world, one good deed at a time.
It's a wonderful story (but with a tearjerker ending) and has inspired a movement in its name. Here's a taster of the film:
Every year the PIF foundation names a day to encourage us to help strangers in need; to help us connect with each other. Maybe we'll find out that the Dalai Lama is right after all when he says that everyone just wants to be happy and not suffer. That they're just like us.
Now no one's saying we should give our car away - maybe just hold open a door for someone, make a homeless person feel like they're not invisible, give someone a compliment, forgive a debt or buy someone a coffee or just share a smile with someone. Try to make someone's day.
Call it an investment in our present and future wellbeing; if we help someone today, we'll feel great right now. And the feeling stays with us. And with them. And with others who simply witness it. For ages.
For people we know, one of the very best things we can do, for their happiness and ours, is this:
The Gratitude Visit
1. Think of someone who has made a big difference in your life but whom you have never really thanked.
2. Write them a letter saying how they've helped you and the reasons that you're grateful and how you feel about them.
3. Contact that person and arrange to visit them (without explaining exactly why).
4. Visit and read them the letter. Face to face.
Yes, it's a little cheesy and it's not easy to do, but it can make the most wonderful difference to the lives of both parties.
I can imagine how I'd feel if someone did this for me. It's something I'd never forget. To feel like I'd made a positive difference to someone's life would be quite an astonishing gift to receive.
I admit that I haven't yet done this, but I did find my old primary school teacher on "friends reunited" recently. So I contacted him and just thanked him for being a great teacher and told him how he'd inspired me, one day at school, to take up chemistry as a career.
I remember the moment really clearly - I was 7 and sat in class. He asked us to put up our hands if we wanted a bag of carbon dioxide. We all put up our hands , although none of us had a clue what carbon dioxide was! He then took a paper bag and blew into it and gave it to the kid next to him. We were confused and amazed. He then proceeded to tell us about all the different gases the air we breathe was made of. I was absolutely hooked and gave up my idea of being a fossil-hunting, paleontologist right there and did indeed go on to get that chemistry degree.
And that "thank-you" I sent, made my old teacher's day!
But that's the sum total of my special thank you stories so far. Rather on the thin side, I'm afraid. But I plan to improve on this. I do have a doctor that I need to tell that I've forgiven him.................maybe one day I'll get around to it. Will keep you posted on progress......
Little "thank you"'s are really easy, but the big ones tend to get forgotten - maybe because they're so hard to verbalize - just TOO big, maybe? But we need to try anyway. If not, we'll likely regret it if we leave it too late.
And maybe next time we do a good turn, it could be for a complete stranger and the only reward we'll ask for is for them to pay it forward. Even if it's just to one person, it just might catch on.
And then, one day, a stranger could pay it forward right back to us. Just when we need it most.
What a world that would be......
My first post was about Neil Pasricha and his fabulous blog; a countdown of 1000 Awesome Things.
Well, this week he got to number one and said a fond farewell. But they're still there - all 1000 of them and if you haven't yet done so, have a dip.
One of my favourites on his Awesome blog was when the paper lines up to make the perfect pattern, when you're wrapping a present. I really identified with that one, but then I am still erring on the awkward side of perfectionism...............
We made his blog a daily viewing and now, when awesome moments arise in our lives, Ron and I point them out to each other. My most recent; I was cutting floor tiles and I found a piece already cut that fitted the space I had to fill perfectly. It's the little things that can make the happiest moments....
If you don't want to read them all, just have a look at Neil's no 2 and no 1 posts. They say it all....
Rock on Neil and thanks for everything.
"We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing."
George Bernard Shaw
There's even a word invented for it; Neoteny - keeping childlike and immature in adulthood. Is it that rare that we need a special word for it?
I remember a particular step aerobics session when the steps were unavailable for some reason. So the instructor improvised and we spent the hour running around the room playing silly games like we used to as kids. I've never laughed so much and worked so hard at an exercise session. It was wonderful. And I found myself thinking, why can't all exercise be this fun?
I have a dream that when we finally get to make a home of our own, I want to make a playground. For me and those who want to come and play too! It'll have big slides, rope swings on trees, a climbing frame and a tree house. Minimum.
I also want to make a disco room (maybe will have to double as the bedroom...) where I can play my favourite music really loud and just dance and sing and lose myself for a while. Just like I used to.
Why do we ever stop doing these things we love?
And what about work? Steve Keil puts forward the case for play in the workplace - he's transforming businesses in Bulgaria by making work a fun place to be. What a fantastic boss he'd be.
Play is proven to be better for our health and wellbeing.
So why not look stupid once in a while?
Let's jump up and down and dance and feel better!
Let's be the Tigger, not the Eeyore!
Sod what the others think, let's play before we forget how..............
"... outstanding in the field of self help ..."
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