What is happiness, and how can we all get some?

There’s good and bad news when it comes to happiness. Photographer and author Matthieu Ricard, who left a career as a molecular biologist to become a Buddhist monk, has devoted his life to the question of how we can train our minds. His answer is influenced by his faith as well as by his scientific turn of mind: We can train our minds in habits of happiness.

He doesn’t ask that you just take his word for it, either. He participated in a 12-year brain study on meditation and compassion led by a neuroscientist from the University of Wisconsin, Richard…


Only about 15% of people actually are self-aware.

If you’ve only just begun the self-knowledge journey, you may be surprised to learn that it is incredibly difficult to know yourself. Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher, who lived in the 6th century BCE, wrote: “He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” Similarly, Carl Jung said: “Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”

The sum total of philosophic inquiry is said to have been summarized by Socrates who said, “Know thyself.” Plato similarly phrased it, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Why would these revolutionary thinkers give so much status to achieving…


And why you still need to make your own luck.

A funny thing happened on the way to the Enlightenment. More access to published material led, over a few brief centuries, to a revolution of social and cultural forces. All of which contributed to the vocation myth: You should know what you’re going to do for the rest of your life early in life.

When it comes to individual freedom this is great news. For the first time in human history, you could follow “who you truly are” and pursue fulfillment. Who wants to be a baker or a cobbler or a farmer just because it’s what your ancestors have…


Learn to Follow Your Desire All the Way to Fulfillment

We have things we love to do. Are they the things we’ll love to do once we start doing them every day? We want to attract good things into our life, but we work within the limits of our finances, opportunities, and the prescribed roles others often put on us.

This is why pursuing your desire is so powerful.

On the road to fulfillment, we are faced with choice after choice and not all the choices are well-marked. People talk about listing goals, but get overwhelming fast, and you don’t connect with lists on an emotional level. Goals are only…


And why you should start right now.

For years now the media has thoroughly covered how Millennials are driven more by purpose than money. Ninety-four percent want to use their skills to benefit a cause. Half value a career aligned with their values enough to take a pay cut.

But many of us — regardless of our generation — wouldn’t know our purpose if it slapped us on the back and said hello. How do we know how to live this value-filled life if we don’t know what our purpose is in the first place?

Many in their 20s, 30s, and even 40s, feel a keen desire…


This may get ugly before it gets better

“The truth is that life will break us and burn us at some point on the journey. This is not pessimistic or cynical but descriptive of the geography of being alive. It is part of how we are transformed by the journey. Yet when we’re broken or burned by events, we feel betrayed by God. When we’re broken or burned by people, we feel betrayed by other souls.”

The point is to live in expectation, not only in the hope of more goodness to come but also in the reality check that hard things are very much on their way…


And how self-doubt is the sign of a leader

“Self-doubt in moderation is animating and motivating, not paralyzing. Leaders who have purged themselves of all self-doubt will not be leaders for long and, in my view, are dangerous while in command. I learned, over time, that self-doubt is my friend, and arrogance my enemy.”

This also reminds me of the famous quote by Lord Acton from the 19th century, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Self-doubt keeps us honest to ourselves. No one has all the answers. Humility is, ironically enough, what the greatest humans possess. Arrogance is always a form of insecurity.

Doing Justice: A Prosecutor’s Thoughts…


Yeah, but who wants to change?

“Early on in my tenure, I was given a cartoon that circulated widely at the UN. The cartoon showed dozens of people listening to a speech. In the first panel, the speaker asks, ‘Who wants change?’ and all audience members enthusiastically raise their hands. In the second panel, the speaker refines his question, asking, ‘Who wants to change?’ This time, each audience member looks toward the ground, demurring.”

It’s human nature to want things to be better, to ask for more of this and less of that. It’s also human nature to expect someone else to do the work. Sometimes…


They miss a double opportunity to grow

“When parents don’t take responsibility for their own unfinished business, they miss an opportunity not only to become better parents but also to continue their own development. People who remain in the dark about the origins of their behaviors and intense emotional responses are unaware of their unresolved issues and the parental ambivalence they create.”

So many parents sideline their own growth for so many reasons. Sometimes we feel that we don’t have time because we’re simply too busy providing and tending and maintaining. Other times we feel that we are now living for our children and we lose our…


Madeleine L’Engle on seeing yourself more clearly

“A self is not something static, tied up in a pretty parcel and handed to the child, finished and complete. A self is always becoming.”

Because we are always in process, always growing, always becoming. Unless of course, we’re not, which would mean we’re foreclosed and we’re already unconscious and dead to ourselves.

A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle is the memoir of a woman — an amazing writer with a successful career — who has reflected deeply about her life, her family, her writing, teaching, and her place in the world. And there is careful thought here, about…

Chad Prevost

Big Self Podcast host. Creative Writing Ph.D. I write on Self-Improvement, Mental Health, and Psychology. Join us at bigselfschool.com. @bigselfschool

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