The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World (Part One)

I loaned 11 disc audio book from the library and immediately felt overwhelmed about its size. Where would I find time to listen to it all? Maybe one hour per day after work. I knew listening would be different from reading and I’ll not be able to mark pages and highlight sentences, but at least I thought I could get a gist of things. After fifteen minutes of listening I jumped off my couch and rushed to get a pen and paper to write main ideas down as they were too important not to be captured. Over the course of next two weeks I took 24 pages of notes. In my opinion, this book is the best on humanity’s problems and potential and must read for all.

When Dalai Lama spoke about common bond as human beings over commonalities, I felt he was talking about the happiness formula, something that will unite people in spite of our differences. For example, two people could be from different countries, with different education levels, different age and gender, but both like tea or both are survivors in car accidents. So in spite of their differences, they have something in common! If Marcians invaded our planet, all humans would unite based on our sense of brotherhood.

To achieve that without Marcian invasion we need to cultivate awareness of interconnectedness. Once people have deep conviction that interconnectedness is good, they would analyze it until it becomes basic outlook, then change their behavior. But first they investigate it, think it over and over, which takes an effort. Reading, learning, hearing, then reinforcing affinity and connectedness to others. We exaggerate our differences/uniqueness and underestimate similarities.

We should focus on similarities. People like to divide themselves into groups – biological, psychological, social. There are “in group” and “out group”. And of course, people identify with the group that is successful.

It takes place because our brain categorizes in groups and does it to simplify information: social categorization, judging, classifying. “Does this person belong to us or them?”

Stereotypes (beliefs about groups) are shortcuts telling us how to behave. So we don’t assess every situation as if it is unique, but assume that our shortcuts help us. This is the evolution of the human brain, ie “catastrophic brain”. It evolved to max our odds of survival against attacks, predators and resource shortages. Brains are hardwired to have group preferences, to find special affinity is important for survival. But at the same time we might ignore good things or assume bad things.

It is not difficult to favorite our group, we have automatic positive bias for our group, but we have negative bias towards other groups (Just think of sports teams). We are positive toward friends and negative towards foes. Prejudice was an ancient conflict resolution technique, but not today.

Prejudice is an instinctual automatic bias based on fear and hostility. It is a belief in superiority of “in group” and inferiority of “out group”. But it is changing now as thousands of organizations donate supplies to help people in need, whether it is earthquake, famine or war victims in other parts of the world.

Dalai Lama says that collectivism and individualism could be balanced. And it is possible to have a sense of uniqueness and belonging to the group at the same time. Three steps to understand interconnectedness are to explain benefits of it, create awareness and action. Finding similar interests and what unites us with other people is easier than we think.

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