Hello, I’m Happiness

If you read this letter – it means I have come to you. And now I’ll start to grumble, because there is something to grumble about! It hurts, you see:

I am ancient – I do not even remember how old I am. I guess I always was. Therefore, I have accumulated a lot of observations of mankind. Have you ever tried to put yourself in my shoes? No? Too bad! It would be very useful and informative:

That’s all they say: “happiness, happiness is”. Rushing about, looking for, dreaming about me. While I, by the way, didn’t leave or hide! And I do not run! I am always near and waiting to get noticed. But how do I get noticed, if the majority does not know what I look like? That’s funny: they look, not knowing what for!

Most often, I do not get noticed because everyone has his own idea of me. For someone I am a chocolate cake, for other – spending time in nature, for another – world fame, and to someone happiness is another person’s disaster. Believe it or not!

Incidentally, I’m homeless and I wander around the world, seeking shelter. I would be glad to stay with someone, I knock on all doors, but people don’t always let me in. Unhappiness is all at once recognized, but I’m not – for some reason!

I know that many are also looking for me, sometimes just to bump up my nose, but most usually pass me by without noticing. Or not recognizing? Or maybe just looking for me in wrong places. For example, many are looking for happiness in marriage. Or at work. Or in children. Of course, I am also side by side with you there! But then it turns out that if marriage or work, or children are taken away from you, I disappear with them. And you will be miserable: And this is wrong! Happiness is the natural human state, so that you know.

Many like to look back: “Then, they say, were the happy days!”. But if you recall how they behaved back then, it is a lie! They even in those happy times were dissatisfied with something, something was missing. Only over the years have they realized that I was there! But only it is too late: now they sit and indulge in memories.

But others are dreaming of what they do not have to be happy. One – apartment, another – car, someone else – a million dollars or the ideal love. Well, I can tell you that there is always something missing to a man. Give him all at once what he was asking and he will be glad for a week or two, and then get used again and starts to wish for something else for full happiness.

Oh, it’s hard for me with you, folks! How much nonsense you piled up around me! “Happiness is to be useful to others”. Beautifully said, but it is not totally correct. To be useful to people: and yourself? Give yourself away grain by grain, but will not know happiness: It is good to care about others but do not forget about yourself! When you are happy, then happiness light spreads around you! How much of me will you share??

Or here: “My happiness is in children”. Grown children have their own families, their nests, but mother still climbs to them, intervenes, and is offended that she is sidelined. Why? Because with her children and I left, as she originally lodged me in them. And what about her now, without happiness? So I say – you should have your own happiness, independent.

And then they say about misfortune: “Would not it be a blessing in disguise” (There will not be happiness unless misfortune helps). What are you people, crazy? Why do you definitely need to get hit with a brick on your head to understand that happiness was always here but you just didn’t notice it?

Do not be offended by my grumbling, I warned you that it hurts me: You better listen to me, your happiness, see what is useful and take notice.
If you only knew how often I stood at the bedside when a person really goes away, tears welling, and It is only then he realizes that it was happiness, but was so overlooked, could not see it, did not notice!

Here is a man climbs a mountain to the summit, climbing, panting, throws his fingers into the blood. And all for what? To get on top and feel the happiness! Well, me, that is. Happy moment! Flight of the soul! But then, he would still have to go further. Descend to climb again. The eternal pursuit of happiness: And you do not realize, people, that as long as you getting somewhere, I’m behind you, sit in a backpack. Or pocket. Or just fly near, whispering: “Stop, my friend! Look around! I am here, it is your happiness!”. But very few people can hear.

I’ll reveal my main secret: I am linked to time. I am not in the past – this is just the happy picture. I am not in the future – it’s just sweet dreams. I’m always in the present! Heard the song – “There is only a moment for you to keep”. Here, it’s just me! Each of your moment – is happiness. Of course, if you are at this moment not fallen in the past or future. You usually regret about the past, and worry about the future. And where regret or anxiety, I do not live – we are not compatible, what can you do?

I’ll tell you what! If you’re reading this letter – it means that you have eyes and they see it. Is this not happiness? If you are blind and someone reads the letter aloud – but you have a friend! What a joy! Breathe, walk, love, look, touch and smell – it’s all happiness! Yellow leaves flew – the beauty and happiness! Snow fell to the ground – light, clean and happy!
Streams began to flow, grass breaks – is not happiness? And when the season for berries and mushrooms comes and you can swim in the river – pure excitement!

I ask you one thing, people: do not hold me! Don’t catch my wings! Because I am mobile, I like to fly! If I lose my flight, then I’ll turn into a memory. Like the dried leaf, that your grandmother brought from Evpatoria in 1968. It, of course, pleases the soul, but it was when X?! You better remember: “Happy people don’t count time”. And why not? Because their every moment is happiness, why look at the clock? They have neither past nor future, but only a present moment!

In general, I appeal to you, people! Let me in: I am tired of wandering through the world without shelter. Let us live by the law: “man is the master of his happiness!” Well I just dream about it – to come to somebody and make him happy for life. Just stop for a moment, stop your eternal race, look around – and you will see me.
If you read this Happiness letter, send it to your friends! Those who are especially dear to you. Let them hear my desperate cry! You will do good work, and they will be happy. And who knows, maybe they will look closely and listen, and I finally get noticed. And all of us will be happy.

Written by Anonymous, Translated from Russian by Google Translate with my help

Ten Years Ago I Had a Dream

Fall 2000-Spring 2001 I was in NYC, struggling to adjust to new culture and find ways to go to grad school. In the summer of 2001 I made a friend, who got killed two months later in a car accident. When I learned about her death, I was in California, on a spontaneous trip from San Fran to Los Angeles. Running out of money, I couldn’t continue my trip even further, so I remember getting to the Los Angeles Airport and buying a $100 ticket in cash to New York, where I still had some of my stuff. It was the 10th of September 2001.

What is really strange, I remember being on the plane and having the feeling of detachment and emptiness. I wasn’t afraid of anything happening on the flight, as I had nothing to lose, I thought. In a way I didn’t see any meaning in my life. I was just passing by.

When I arrived in New York, I went straight to my friend’s place, who lived in Brooklyn. In the morning of Sept 11, I was still sleeping when the land line phone rang. I didn’t want to pick it up but to continue sleeping. The answering machine was on and I heard my friend saying: “Marina, wake up, wake up, the war has started”. I immediately picked up the phone and still not completely awake tried to understand what she was saying. She told me about the first tower going down. And then I turned TV on and learned the whole story: the terrorist attack on America. My friend’s apartment was in the basement of a small house, the owners, an Orthodox Jewish family, lived upstairs. According to their religion they didn’t watch TV, but on that day, the couple came to watch TV too. We all wanted to know what will happen to the country, to us, to the whole world. We felt horror, grief, shock and fear. We felt compassion for all. As I stepped outside the house, in the middle of the day there were no sun, only grey clouds covering the sky and pieces of ash falling down on us. It did look like the end of the world.

I was scared and wanted to escape, to go back to Massachusetts, but couldn’t do it for several days as all public transportation was shut down between cities .When I finally made it back to the Vineyard, I met up with a friend of mine who knew Lena, the one who died in the car accident. That friend said that we should not worry about Lena, as she definitely went to heaven, not hell. Still horrified by the latest events, I was thinking too much about Lena, the victims of 9/11 and myself… How unfair their deaths are. Who decides who will die or who will live? Are we worth living?.. And right after our conversation I had a dream:

I’m in the office, there are people around me, who are working. I’m doing something as well, probably, work too. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, a man dressed as a government official comes to me and says: “Your time is up, you have to go.” Taken by surprise I couldn’t help but ask in return: “Already? And who decided? Where, to hell?” He doesn’t answer, which I interpret as “not heaven”. I try again by asking: “Is it final?” He quietly says: “Yes”. All I could say is “I don’t agree, I demand to see a decision maker”. He, definitely surprised by this turn in our conversation, pauses but then gives me a sign to follow him. I enter some private office, the messenger man leaves and the door closes behind him. And in there I see another man, more established, in gray suit, sitting at the desk. He doesn’t speak, because he knows that I asked for this audience and I’m the one who will be speaking.

I don’t even remember how but I sat in a chair in front of the table and full of emotions I started my emotional speech.”Why do you think that it is my turn that came? Is it because I didn’t do any good deeds in this lifetime? Because I only wasted my time given to me? If I haven’t done anything so far, that doesn’t mean that I will not do anything in the future. You are supposed to give everyone a chance. There are circumstances and a person may experience difficulties, but that doesn’t mean that she is not capable of anything good. I know that I have a lot ahead of me. And may I ask what kind of right do you have to deprive me of my life, when my parents are alive? My mother told me that she will not be able to survive the death of her children. Did you think about consequences of your decision? That by ending my life you will end the life of my mother?”

All that time the man in gray suit, who was the boss of that department or the chief of death, and on whose decision depended whether I’ll live or die, didn’t look at me even once. He was busy writing something in his notebook. I couldn’t see what he was doing exactly or what his was writing. Maybe he was taking notes about my life, or was studying my life case. I was scared as I thought he was calculating and weighing what I’ve done more in my life – good or bad. In every moment he could stop me and say “Enough, your case is closed, not sufficient evidence to let you live…”

And suddenly, I saw him put his notebook on the desk and I peeked in it. In front of me in this whole grayish setting I saw on the paper a big red heart that the man drew while I talked. And in that moment I realized that I’m allowed to live more but under condition that I create more good things in my lifetime. And I woke up.

The Happy School Program

A Project on Positive Education in Spain

Ricardo Arguís Rey C.P.R. ‘Juan de Lanuza’, Zaragoza, Spain

The “HAPPY CLASSROOMS” Program is a pioneering and recent project in Spain, which attempts to provide teachers an educational program based on Positive Psychology. It’s designed for students in Preschool, Primary and Secondary Schools (children and youth between 3-18 years old). The two axes of the Program are: mindfulness and the education of character strengths (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). It has two fundamental objectives: enhancing the personal and social development of students, and promoting the happiness of students, teachers and families.

This Program is situated within the framework of the Key Competencies of the current European educational systems. Specifically, it allows teachers to work the three more transversal Competencies: autonomy and personal initiative, social and civic competence, and competence of learning to learn. It can be developed in all areas of school curriculum, as well as in tutorial action and values education. Th is project is the result of two years of work by a team of advisors and teachers linked to the Teachers’ Center “Juan de Lanuza” in Zaragoza (Spain). The authors -SATI Team- have grounded the program on the most recent contributions of Positive Psychology, and off er general proposals and more than 200 activities for students.

The Program is posted online from October 2010 and in coming months it will be published in printed version. Currently, SATI Team promotes teacher training to implement the HAPPY CLASSROOMS Program in schools in Spain. In June 2011, we will have some data that will help to evaluate its application, as a basis for designing future research on the effectiveness of the Program. At present, the Program is only available in Spanish. Its distribution is gratuitous and completely free. The authors allow its diffusion and reproduction, but always without commercial purposes and citing the original source. It can be downloaded at the next website: http://catedu.es/psicologiapositiva

Conference on Kindness in Australia

Last weekend two great events were held on two different continents in two different hemispheres: Time for Renewal Conference in Sydney, Australia and the Second World Congress on Positive Psychology in Philadelphia, US. It is amazing that people so far from each other care about similar things. Year of Kindness blog has a post about the Australian event:

“This weekend I was lucky enough to attend a conference called Time for Renewal: The World Can Only Change From Within. It was held by Wake Up Sydney!, whose mission is to inspire a kindness revolution for ourselves, each other and the natural world. It was two days of music, inspirational speakers, meditation, and workshops focusing on how to be kinder to ourselves. It was a truly amazing experience for me to discover a whole “kindness community” I never even knew existed and to realise I really seriously need to start doing more kindnesses for myself. Here are the biggest lessons I took away from it all …

Don’t wait for a Big D.
Big Ds are the life challenges that everyone is faced with at some point – death, diagnosis, disaster, divorce, depression, disease, downturn, destruction… They are things that rock us to the very core, make us question who we are and why we are here. If we survive these Big Ds, we are forever changed. The suffering they cause breaks us open to answer the greater questions of our existence. If we had not experienced them, we would not have been forced to get to face truths about ourselves and our lives. They require us to develop new ways of being in the world. Hopefully they make us live a more grateful, more purposeful, more kindful life. But why wait for a Big D to live this way? Why not be consciously aware each day of the preciousness of life? Why not start thinking right now about what we want to achieve in our lifetime and how we want to be remembered?

Live all the seasons.
Everyone wants to be happy. But even the happiest of people experience anger, sadness, frustration, regret … Just like summertime comes and goes, so too does happiness. No one can live a summer life all the time. We must accept negative emotions for what they are and think about what we can learn from them.” Read more

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

I was lucky to get tickets to The hedgehog movie during French movie festival in Boston’s MFA this summer. The movie is very new and was not shown in the States before. I wanted to see it because the movie is based on the book The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. I read the book and I loved it. It is so special to me that I even participated in defending the book against harsh critics back in Oct 2010. I simply felt I had to do something after I read complete book’s review here http://www.complete-review.com/reviews/popfr/barbery.htm#ours. So I wrote:


I just read your review of the Elegance of the Hedgehog book by Muriel Barbery. I’m stunned – whoever wrote the review overlooked two important things that happened at the end of the book and kind of gave it the whole meaning. They are:

1. Paloma realized why she wanted to commit suicide: she didn’t want to be like her parents in their social class who are miserable and the most important that she couldn’t help them to be happy (her feeling of not being useful),

2. At the same time the death of Renee taught her and us, readers, that we do not have to die to find true value and beauty of our lives and the world around us, because Rene was doing it every day: appreciating little things and whatever we never thought was enough. We don’t have to die to learn to love life and people around us, even better – we can improve it by being kind to others.

I just want to mention that your review and rating (B. Had some appeal but annoyingly simplistic and reductive) seems simplistic to me.

Sincerely, Marina.”

“Dear Marina:

Thank you for your interest in the Complete Review, and for your comments.

I don’t know that Barbery conveyed those lessons very well: killing off Rene seems like far too easy a solution, and the character of Paloma was weakly written (of course her suicide-ambitions were all teenage melodrama — surely no one ever expected her to really kill herself). And Barbery’s obnoxious class-consciousness confuses the issue too: good and bad are painted far too black and white throughout the book, without any surprises (and finding ‘purity’ and nobleness in the exotic (the Japanese) also seems a terrible over-simplification).

Sincerely yours,

Michael Orthofer

Managing Editor, at the Complete Review and its Literary Saloon”

To find out if you agree with Michael or not, read the book and watch the movie, but the lessons I learned from both of them are:

  1. Try to appreciate life’s beauty in simple things
  2. Make sure you are useful and help others feel useful too
  3. We all are hiding, but want to be discovered and appreciated for what we are, start your discovery! 🙂

Blog Transition

Dear Friends,

I’m finally transitioning all the content of this blog to its domain http://theultimateanswer.org

Please, read new posts at new location! Last weekend I summarized all feedback on the happiness formula from independent testers and already scheduled its publishing. Check it out!

Have a happy version of reality!

Marina 🙂

Shared Wisdom and Resources

I’ve been looking for websites about happiness and self-improvement. Those who seek shall find. While I was sitting at Peet’s Coffee&Tea  in Santa Monica I noticed a man next to me creating an elaborated chart, looking like a fishbone in Corel which reminded me  a cause – effect tool from my consulting life. I asked him what it was. Charles told me that he is working  on the website Keys to self-motivation. He just started this website and the fishbone is one of his ideas to be posted soon. As Charles explained he has 20 years of experience in construction and he saw many men floating through life like lost boats, living day by day without having concrete goals not only career-wise but in other aspects of their life. So the fishbone is to create more structure and direct people where they want to go. Charles’ wife also has a website Detox Vortex, it is about living healthy.

We had a very interesting discussion and shared our knowledge on the topic. One of the websites Charles suggested is Self-growth. The site has numerous resources for those who have the time and interest to learn different techniques. We both appreciate Steve Pavlina blog, which has thousands of great posts (it’s been around since 2004).

I told Charles about his potential competitor My life list and about Daily feats, a site that suggests good deeds for you and gives you points for completing them.

A friend recommended to me a site about how to get over difficult time in one’s life Out of stress. Through I’m happy project I connected with Rachel, who has a website Undercurrent coaching. I mentioned before Ricky’s site Life long happiness. Subscribe to blogs you like, find inspiring quotes about life, love and helping others. Visit Quote Garden.

If you are very depressed and want help, try Depression Support Help and Psychology Info. I recently found National Empowerment Center (NEC) website. There are many depression and suicide prevention organizations… Just type the words “depression help”… and there will be a list to choose from.

What I recommend the most is…  go and volunteer… You will learn everything in comparison: your pain, their pain, the world’s pain. You’ll see how making other people happy will make you feel. Don’t expect to get anything in return for your help to others. Just do it. Ad you will see the difference soon… “One must really have suffered oneself to help others” ~Mother Teresa.

If you want to start your own project and need fundraising or want to invest into somebody’s project, check out Crowdrise, Kiva, Profounder, Kickstarter and Donorchoose.

There are lots of interesting meet-ups about how to become happy. One of them is run by Dr. Amy Coget in San Francisco. I never met Amy but her positive attitude is contagious. She runs The San Francisco Happiness Club.

This year on the International happiness day, July 10, she created Smile Mob Event: “We will be giving away free smiles and free hugs too!  If you wanted more happiness in your life and to celebrate your own and others happiness then join us at the SF Happiness Club.  After participating in a smile mob this past week, I guarantee you will gain a great happiness boost!”

And finally, there will be another group testing of the happiness formula in Cambridge, MA on Aug 10 at 7 PM in Algiers Café in Harvard Square. All participants will be able to try the latest version of the tool,  create their own happiness formula, help others to increase their happiness and provide feedback. Everyone is welcome to attend!

Great Life Happiness Manual

I met Ricky a couple of days ago at “I’m happy project” meet-up in Santa Monica. I learned about his website, which I studied thoroughly and I found a lot of great quotes, posts,  audio and video material. This one is my favorite:

It reminded this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTJ7AzBIJoI. The lyrics are taken from a famous essay — written in 1997 by Mary Schmich, a columnist with the Chicago Tribune — which gives some amazing advice for life, highly recommend everyone to watch the video or read this http://tinyurl.com/schmich-sunscreen!

Live Group Testing of the Happiness Tool in Boston

In spite of rain, four people showed up for the testing last Wednesday: two men and two women. I only knew one person out of four, the rest were from I’m Happy Project Meet-up group.

We met in the courtyard of the Boston Public Library, which has a beautiful fountain. I briefly gave an overview of the project. It is interesting that one of the attendees was a Sociology professor who is going to write a book about happiness. After I distributed the forms to the attendees and explained the rules, we moved to one of the rooms in the library and the participants took seats at different tables. The point was to simulate isolated environment and be anonymous as if we were home completing forms online, not next to other humans present.  

After participants completed the forms anonymously they dropped them in the bag and I rated the forms via the tool I have in Excel and wrote their ratios of happiness on the forms. While I was rating, participants formulated two questions about their obstacles to happiness and wrote them down (also anonymously) on the second form. We rotated the question forms between 4 tables, and everyone had a chance to answer other people’s questions and got answers to their own questions. They also recorded their high and low points… of the day (or of their life as of today). The whole exercise took about one hour.

At the end we briefly discussed the session. Participants felt that their ratios were about right. And it turned out that everyone enjoyed writing answers for others even more than receiving answers to their own questions… And one person mentioned “I felt closer to you than before, even though we are strangers… As if we are close friends, we shared very important things with each others.”

There will be two more live sessions in San Fran and LA over next two weeks, I will also summarize feedback from individual testers in other posts. Thank you to all testers!



A Graduation Speech

I received an invitation to my 5 year graduate school reunion. What I remember the most about my graduation is the graduation speech and not by some honorary guests, but by a student. I went to school part-time and at the graduation ceremony I hardly knew anyone because the majority of grads were from the full-time program. It was my first graduation in the States and I felt both excited and scared, because I had no idea about – what is next? Back then sitting among 900 graduates I had fear of not finding a job, never mind finding a great job. I still don’t know who that student was, but I remember what he said.

The speech was about some person: after the war he was a graduate student in anthropology and worked as a journalist at the city News Bureau of Chicago, then he worked in public relations and was a technical writer for General Electric, later a volunteer fire-fighter, teacher at the University of Iowa Writer’s workshop, and a manager at the first Saab dealership established in the US…  

I was thinking: “Who could be so scattered and unfocused?” To my amazement, it was my favorite writer Kurt Vonnegut, the author of one of the best American novels of the 20th century “Slaughterhouse Five”.

The speech continued and its main message was to not be afraid of not finding your passion, you just need to try different things and stay true to yourself, and then you will eventually find your calling, as Kurt Vonnegut did by becoming a writer.  That graduation speech gave me hope.  

Kurt Vonnegut passed away 10 months later at the age of 84. He was known for his humanist beliefs and was honorary president of the American Humanist Association.  Vonnegut considered humanism to be a modern-day form of free thought, and advocated it in various writings, speeches and interviews. In 1992, the American Humanist Association named him the Humanist of the Year. In a letter to AHA members, Vonnegut wrote: “I am a humanist, which means, in part, that I have tried to behave decently without expectations of rewards or punishments after I am dead.”

Kurt Vonnegut is my inspiration and his books helped me to stay positive even during difficult times in my life. His contagious black humor and compassion for imperfect humans made my life better. Here are some of my favorite quotes from his books:

“I was a victim of a series of accidents, as we all are”

“I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center”

“If you can do a half-assed job of anything, you’re a one-eyed man in a kingdom of the blind”

“The bounties of space, of infinite outwardness, were three: empty heroics, low comedy, and pointless death”

“When you get right down to it, everybody’s having a perfectly lousy time of it, and I mean everyone. And the hell of it is, nothing seems to help much”

“The worst thing that could possibly happen to anybody would be to not be used for anything by anybody. Thank you for using me, even though I didn’t want to be used by anybody”

“I found me a place where I can do good without doing any harm, and I can see I’m doing good, and them I’m doing food for know I’m doing it, and they love me, Unk, as best they can. I found me a home”

“The Earthlings behaved at all times as though there were a big eye in the sky—as though that big eye were ravenous for entertainment”

“New knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth. The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become”

“A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved”

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