Friday, October 1, 2010

Happiness is a consequence

It's the early 1940's. A train rattles its way northward through southern Poland along tracks barely able to hold the weight of the "passengers" above. The mass of flesh mashed into the cattle car contained a young Psychlogist named Viktor Frankl. As suddenly as each member of this transport was plucked from whatever amount of freedom they enjoyed before, all hope of their fate faded when a passenger caught a glimpse of their destination..."Auschwitz".

Viktor Frankl was admitted to the concentration camp, and during his imprisonment, every aspect of his life was controlled. He was told when to eat. When to Sleep (or more often when not to), when to go to the bathroom. His name had been reduced to a number, yet even in this environment, he maintained control of one thing. His ability to choose how he reacted to these physical horrors.

I know that you must be thinking that I chose the wrong title for this post - What does a Nazi concentration camp have to do with Happiness? Well, the very thing that kept Viktor Frankl alive is capable of keeping us happy. You see, happiness actually has very little to do with your life situation. The way you react to your life situation is a far greater factor in determining whether you will have happiness or not. I use a working definition of happiness that may be different than what you are used to. Happiness usually conjures up images of smiling faces, uplifting personalities, and joyful occasions. But I believe that happiness represents something more enduring - A result of some key behaviors.

The first behavior that I believe produces happiness in great measure is self-control. We all need to have self-control in order to live within our society. Dr. Stephen Marmer said that a key component of maturity which comes as a result of self-control is what he describes as capacitance. This means the ability or capacity to endure discomforts, and challenging life situations. If you have children, you have no doubt experienced a child's lack of capacitance. For example, when a young child is tired, they may whine excessively over having to walk back to the car from dinner. Self-control is a major value that parents are required to teach children.

Another key element to happiness is a strong value system. What this really means is that you intuitively know what decision needs to be made without having to ponder the implications. For example, Dennis Prager often describes how broken our value system is with a simple question. "If a stranger and your beloved pet dog were both drowning, and you could only rescue one of them, which would you rescue - you know nothing about the stranger." If you have a strong value system you will know exactly what to do. Strong value systems are created when you think deeply about moral issues often. When you have this strong value system, your self-control will be even more effective at producing happiness, because you will know which obligations you have in order to be true to your values. If you have the self-control to fulfill your obligations, you will be living in alignment with your values.

Finally, gratitude is an essential component of happiness. People who cannot feel grateful to the worker at the coffee shop for making their drink limit their ability to feel happiness because they live with an expectation that they are entitled to the drink which the worker is producing. Such an expectation can cause frustration and anger if the worker fails to mix in the correct ingredients. Robert Emmons writes in his book "Thanks!" about a concept called "Glad Dependence". This idea can be very powerful in your life. The more complex that the world becomes, the more we depend upon others in order to design and maintain the things that improve our lives. For example, I am typing on a keyboard such that when a key is pressed, and electrical contact is made which sends a signal through a maze of technology that I do not fully understand, the result is data being displayed on this page and ultimately in front of you. I am grateful to the creative people who originally thought of this idea, and those who have developed and improved it throughout the years. Although gratitude is a human trait and available to all, those with a religious background tend to have deeper understanding of the importance of gratitude. It will help your happiness to seek out the institutions in your society that inculcate gratitude. Attendance of a Church, Temple, Synagogue or Mosque would likely improve your ability to feel a deeper sense of gratitude. I do not actively practice in any religion so I ache for a secular institution that promotes behavior such as saying grace before a meal.

In conclusion, my greatest hope for you is to improve your self-control, strengthen your values, and feel a heartfelt sense of gratitude. If you do these things, it is far more likely that happiness will result than if you are distracted by any other method to obtain happiness.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Depression Treatment - Gratitude

Before I get started, I need to tell you that I am not a medical Doctor. Any medications or treatments that you are currently using should not be stopped unless you are directed to by your physician or therapist. If you suffer from severe depression, be sure to review my technique below with your physician or therapist as a possible supplement to relieve depression symptoms.

I received the call at 7am. It was a normal school day and a normal work day and I had just dropped my daughter off at high school. There on the other end of the line was my daughter who was having a bad day. She was having issues with her friends, her schoolwork, and the impending doom of final exams and felt as though the entire weight of the world was bearing down on her. Knowing that she was not going to get anything accomplished at school, I picked her up and we went to go have a coffee and chat. So for about 15 minutes I listened attentively to what was happening in her life at that time, and many of the issues were real concerns. So at a point when she was taking a breath from her troubles, I spoke. "Christy, it sounds like you have a lot going on in your life right now. For a moment, I would like you to try something for me. Can you tell me what you are thankful for?". She paused, possibly a bit taken aback by the question, and then proceeded: "I am thankful that my parents listen to me, and understand me. I am thankful for the house that we live in. I am thankful to be able to go to such a great high school...I am thankful for our new puppy!" and at that moment a broad smile swept across her face. What did I do that enabled her to be able to change a dreary mood that had been plaguing her for hours and possibly even days in just minutes? I helped her with gratitude.

There are a few key points regarding how gratitude that will help you understand why this state of mind is so powerful. The first point is that it is one of those unique and rare states of mind that is mutually exclusive. It does not allow other negative emotions to operate simultaneously. It is possible to be happy that you are going on vacation, but sad that your grandfather just died at the same time. It is not possible to give true, deep, heartfelt appreciation that your neighbor just brought you some hand-me-down clothes for your son and at the same time feel another negative emotion. It pushes out all other feelings when you are engaged in it.

Another point to mention about gratitude is that we are all dependent upon others to have the life that we have. The computer your are reading this on right now was engineered by countless scientists all building upon those technologies developed by still more scientists. There are countless opportunities around us to practice "Glad Dependence" as coined by Robert A. Emmons in his great book that is simply titled "Thanks". This idea is profound, because it allows us to feel good about depending upon others. Now don't get me wrong. Self-sufficiency is a major factor in creating maturity which breeds happiness. However, even the most independent among us must drive a car! Ironically, it may actually be easier for the highly self-sufficient to understand Glad Dependence, as they themselves have likely produced businesses, products, and services that others rely on.

Finally, I recommend that you seek out the institutions in our society that inculcate gratitude. Although I am not a practicing Christian, I acknowledge that The Church is a major player in fostering gratitude among our citizens. I can't think of another social institution that is so tuned into how important it is to be thankful. The religious say Grace before meals, and humble themselves before God at least once a week at Church. The secular do have access to these techniques, and they are very effective. At our dinner table, we all say what we are thankful for before we eat, very much modeled after the way that Christians say grace. It is an effective technique to prevent the dinner table from becoming a complaint-fest.

In closing, I hope that you can remember to temper your bad moods with gratitude the next time you feel that the world is closing in on you.

Thank you,
Craig Glendenning

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Google Did Good today

I remember explicitly thinking last year on 9/11 why Google puts up special icons and notations on insignificant days, but on 9/11, there was no mention of 9/11 whatsoever. This year, there is a red white and blue ribbon displayed on

Thank you Google for helping us remember.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A reminder of who we are fighting

Jonah Lehrer, in his excellent book "How We Decide" said that "A surplus of information creates a deficit of attention". One possible reason that we have an attention deficit regarding the reasons why we are fighting for a free Iraq and Afghanistan is our round-the-clock news coverage of everything political and economic. Today's news prompted me to re-iterate who we are fighting in the Middle East, which should make the reason why we are fighting obvious.

Today, members of the medical team that brought the first toothbrushes and eyeglasses that their rural Afghan patients had ever seen were murdered by gunfire by the Taliban. I wish I could stop there. I wish that the power of that short description of what happened would be enough for you to re-kindle that "Quiet, un-yielding anger" that President Bush mentioned in his address to the nation on September 11th, 2001. However, I know that you may still be convinced that America's intentions in the Middle East are to acquire oil, rather than protect our country and help Afghanis and Iraqis in the process.

Here is a brief description of five of the ten people who have been identified at this early stage that were murdered in the shooting:
(Excerpts from the Associated Press)

"Dr. Thomas Grams, 51, quit his dental practice in Durango, Colo., four years ago to work full-time giving impoverished children free dental care in Nepal and Afghanistan". says Katy Shaw of Global Dental Relief. Khris Nedam, head of the Kids 4 Afghan Kids in Livonia, Mich., which builds schools and wells in Afghanistan says
"He trained them how to brush their teeth, and you should've seen the way they smiled after they learned to brush their teeth."

Cheryl Beckett spent six years in Afghanistan and specialized in nutritional gardening and mother-child health. "Cheryl loved and respected the Afghan people. She denied herself many freedoms in order to abide by Afghan law and custom," her family said in a statement.

The family of Glen Lapp, 40, of Lancaster, Pa., learned of his death Sunday. "Where I was, the main thing that ex-pats can do is to be a presence in the country," Lapp wrote in a recent report to the Mennonite group. "Treating people with respect and with love and trying to be a little bit of Christ in this part of the world."

Officials have said the victims also included team leader Tom Little, an optometrist from Delmar, New York, who had lived in Afghanistan for about 30 years. Little had been making such trips to Afghan villages for decades, offering vision care and surgical services in regions where medical services of any type are scarce.
"They raised their three girls there. He was part and parcel of that culture," said David Evans of the Loudonville Community Church, New York

According the AP report, also among the murdered was "Dr. Karen Woo, who gave up a job in a private clinic in London to do humanitarian work in Afghanistan."

The complete list of the murdered has not been released, pending formal identification of the bullet-riddled bodies. U.S. Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton, whom I disagree with on just about everything, should be commended on her accurate portrayal of who we are fighting:

"Its [The Taliban] members have assassinated tribal elders and thrown acid in the face of young girls. Earlier this summer, they accused a 7-year-old boy of spying and hung him," Clinton said in her statement today. "With these killings, they have shown us yet another example of the lengths to which they will go to advance their twisted ideology."

When President Obama urges us to use restraint in our responses to such attacks, I can't help but feel restrained. It is actually a good thing to be angry at these attacks, and to want to destroy the perpetrators of these evil acts and the death-loving ideology that bred them. If you think I am being a knuckle-dragger by allowing my emotions to overwhelm my ability to reason and use nuance then consider for a moment the number of times that President Obama has been "outraged" at the obsesses of Wall Street for creating the economic crisis of recent years. Why is it intellectually insightful for him to be angry at those involved in credit default swaps, yet regressive and primitive for me to be angry at murderers?

It is my opinion that the families of those murdered should be angry, for every breath that the murderers take is an injustice of catastrophic proportions to those who sacrificed so much for Afghans to be left to struggle for a final breath. A quiet, un-yielding anger is exactly what we ought to feel.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Cognitive Dissonance Creates Irrational Behavior

It was Gerald Schroeder in his book "The Science of God" who brought to my attention that the last words of Charles Darwin's "Origin of Species" is almost never accurately re-printed.

The original closing statement from Darwin in even the last (1876) revision according to reads:

"There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."

Here is a screenshot from the last sentence for your convenience, so you don't have to download the 100Mb pdf like I did:

In Schroeder's example, he was referring to Stephen Jay Gould's omission of the phrase "with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that...". Having sufficiently confirmed for myself that Schroeder's depiction of Darwin's closing words was accurate I then sought to find whether most modern publishers properly include this quote, and I have found that most do not.

Here is an example from "Red and Black" Publishers:

And another from Nabu press (2010):

You may be wondering, with all of the other topics in the world to consider, why this one I took time to write about. The answer is in the destructive power of erasing and manipulating history. No other scientist in modern history that I am aware of has had their work contorted, mis-interpreted, filtered, and inaccurately extrapolated into non-truths as much as Charles Darwin. The reason for this mainstream manipulation is to make Darwin fit into a clean, clear-cut ideology with a primary aim to discredit the existence of a creator to the universe. The Darwinists who are uncomfortable with the truth that Darwin himself believed there was a "Creator" do not strike me as scientifically sound people. Scientists often have to address conflicting facts about nature, and many of the greatest discoveries in science have come from sound science that acknowledges these conflicts and tests theories to resolve them. It is very difficult to acknowledge and publish the truth when it does not fit your world view. Publishers that omit information so that they ensure that their books will continue to be ordered by Federally-funded universities have a dilemma. They know that they are publishing a non-truth, but the alternative is to lose, or possibly go out of business. It seems like a simple choice to omit a few words - hey, everyone else is doing it - we don't want to look like the ones publishing mis-information, and be branded as a "Creationist" publisher, no no no. That would be the end of us. So it continues...the lie propagates, until someone actually has the stones to remember and stand up for the accurate re-production of historical works. Then, with great time and patience, a greater number may follow the brave few as the weak follow the flock back to the direction of the truth only when it is comfortable and safe to do so.