December Story

So the world didn’t end on Dec 21, 2012 as someone predicted, and the story below is a good reminder on what is important in the rules of living:

“There was a man who spent his whole life robbing banks. He was a criminal genius who could easily break through the most sophisticated security systems. When he died an angel greeted him and showed him around. the man thought, “Wow, this is a great place! there is food; there’s a spa. Nice sleeping accommodations. There is everything I could ever need.”

But eventually he became bored.  He sought out the angel and said, “Angel, can you help me out? I’d like to rob a bank.”

The angel said, “Sure. Which bank would you like to rob?”

“You see that bank over there? That’s the one I want to hit.”

“What time would you like to do so?”

“Three this afternoon.”

“How much money wold you like in the safe?”

“Two million.”

“Perfect, two million dollars will be there, waiting for you. Here are the plans of the bank layout. Just walk in and take it.”

The man said. “No, no, no, no. You don’t understand. I want to plan this. I want to bypass the alarms and security on my own.”

“You can’t do that.” The angel told him. “Now that you’ve died, things are a little different. You just tell us what you want and we provide it for you.”

“But I’m the greatest bank robber the world has ever known. There is no thrill in doing it this way. What kind of racket do you have going on here in heaven?”

The angel looked at him gravely and replied: “Who said this is heaven?”

When you are a bank robber or a philanthropist, satisfaction comes from overcoming a challenge and thereby earning the sense of accomplishment. When we don’t feel challenged or don’t feel any sense of having earned something, we slip toward chaos. But when we earn, overcome or change an aspect of ourselves for the better, we experience the heavenly energy of Light.

It is the possibility  of losing against an opponent that gives fulfillment to winning.”

From “The Power of Kabbalah”  by Y. Berg.

The Quest for Personal Significance

Another topic I was interested to learn more about is what drives terrorism? At the 119th American Psychology Convention there were several lectures on terrorism and I attended one of them, here are my notes:

In most cases, terrorism is not a psychological disease; it’s not conditioned by economic factors or political oppression. Personality and situational factors are related to terrorism. Key words are dogmatism, rigidity and dependency.

Behavior is goal driven, and it could be explained by:

1.Psychological state – the tipping point (black widows of Chechnya)

2.Theologies (sacred values)

3.Social networks

Slippery slope, love, risk and status, unfreezing, group grievance, personal grievance…

Some need to do more about emotions. Humiliation is significance suffering.

So is it all about emotions or meaning or beliefs?

Action and opinion pyramid:

– At the top of the opinion pyramid – people who feel they have to act,

– In the middle – those who have opinion (they justify),

– And in the bottom – those, who have no opinion.

At the top of the action pyramid are the most violent, then activists, then supporters, then in the bottom those who do nothing, and it is all conditioned by beliefs and attitudes.

The quest for personal significance:

– Loss of significance (loss of honor, exclusion, humiliation,)

– Threat of significance (loss, kamikaze)

– Significance gain (quest for immortality)

You feel part of the group and regain significance due to collective shift:

– Personal failure and collectivism

– Less fear of death if collective

– If failure then identify aim interdependence

Insignificance issue is when you feel sinful compared to your values/beliefs.

Right after that lecture I went to the Crime and Punishment museum, I liked the exhibits, but what I thought the museum needs is deep analysis on why people commit crime, especially murder. The majority of killers are not psychologically sick, more often they have experienced some trauma in the past and were not able to recover, as they lack resilience, so they suffer and try to get revenge, or in their words to gain significance. That would also explain instances of teenagers killing their classmates – lack of personal significance according to their values.

Let’s now go back to suicide. From Martin Seligman lecture, we remember that suicide is linked to the lack of meaning in person’s life. What about depression? It is the same. When you have nothing that drives you and fulfills you, nothing that makes your day worth living for, you lose interest in life, and everything turns in black and white movie that you have no control over, you are just a by-stander hoping it all passes soon.

So there are four main components people may struggle with and need help:

  1. Values/Beliefs – should be achieved through education
  2. Resilience – need to teach resilience at schools, as we all in our lives encounter some problems, even traumas, but we need to know how to overcome them
  3. Personal Significance/Meaning – need to teach how to recognize and engage in meaningful activities in our lives
  4. Social Support – need to create and teach social support groups

So the moral of the story: don’t commit suicide or kill others, just discover your life’s meaning, and believe me, it is not that difficult to do, you just need to start searching.

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 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!


Those, who don’t have the time for a whole week of audio course about Life of Purpose or don’t have the money to do Tony Robbins training, which I was told costs about 10K, but still want to learn about purpose and how to apply it to their lives, should try for free what I did last year at the Strategic Volunteering Workshop. It works!

It was one of those Mondays when you don’t want to get out of your bed, especially when you are not employed. I still made an effort and took the train to Downtown Crossing to attend Strategic Volunteering workshop at the Work Place.  I didn’t have any expectations, just signed up because I truly believe in volunteer work, to me  it means not giving something away but sharing and enriching ourselves and the world around us. I was curious to see what others have to say about strategic volunteering.

The instructor Mark McCurdy, also Founder and President of The Nonprofit Career Coach, delivered an interesting presentation to 10 participants. Main idea was to follow your heart, find what you love to do and focus on it… You would say that we all know this concept as it was mentioned in many philosophical schools, religions and books like The Alchemist and The Monk who sold his Ferrari, etc. True, but the twist is that you apply this concept to volunteering, meaning – not necessary leaving your current day-time job and switching to something else right away.

Volunteering is a way to connect you with your passion, which at the end may lead you to your perfect job you just don’t know how to find yet … As often we have one idea of what we want to do but in reality it may become  something different. As Tony Robbins said “Sometimes you need to lose your dreams to find your destiny”.

I also liked how Mark explained the process of finding what you love to do and implementing it, that is how to connect several elements which are  Passion+Purpose+Strategic Volunteering +Focus

Very often we only focus on passion or purpose but never connect both, never mind applying them to reality by doing volunteer work or seriously focusing on it. So here is what I got out of this workshop:

What is your passion/favorite hobby/interest or what are you good at? I like to ask questions and connect to people through conversation/story, also I’m interested in volunteering.

What community/population do you like to serve? To help unhappy lost people.  Because I was depressed myself in the past, I want to help unhappy people.

How do you think you combine the two into strategic volunteering?  Besides doing this blog and telling about volunteering, I may want to reach out to whole communities of depressed people and write newsletters for them about ways to get involved in volunteer work,  create workshops and events for them.

Focus on what you defined – narrow your goal and be consistent… I spoke to Mark that instead of general population I should focus on non-profits and groups that support communities of depressed people/victims of depression. Mark mentioned that “Collaboration is King” (not cash anymore). He also suggested doing video/audio interviews of volunteers/non-profits for, which is almost like TV show about volunteering world. All I have to do is to focus on these ideas and act upon them – be proactive and reach out to those organizations/communities and create samples of my work.

Imagine that you were at the same workshop, what would you come up with? How many people do you know who decided to do something they are very passionate about even though it was not their profession and they became very successful by eventually pursuing it?

People Ask for Life Purpose

I just found this post Living Your Life Purpose from Steve Pavlina from June 2 and want to share it with you:

“You may recall that a few months ago I did a survey to see what kinds of products people would be interested in seeing me create. Among other insights this provided, it helped me see what the most requested topics are. Where do people need the most help?

One of the top requests in that survey was for a product on the topic of Life Purpose. In reading through the many hundreds of comments, it became clear that a lot of people still feel they’re drifting, and they need more help bringing a sense of purpose to their lives, so they can feel centered and at peace with themselves — and so they can feel they’re on a path to making a meaningful contribution instead of being stuck in unfulfilling situations.

Another thing that stood out was that people want more than how-to information. They need help motivating themselves to go through the process. So even though I’ve written a good deal about life purpose in the past, and many people have found it extremely helpful, it isn’t enough to get everyone to the place they’d like to be — the place of having a deep-rooted connection to one’s life purpose.

I started working on a product along those lines because it seemed like a good place to start. Many other aspects of self-development stem from clarifying your life purpose. I completed the product outline, which I expected would become a 6-10 hour audio program. But when I reviewed the outline, something didn’t feel quite right about it to me. It didn’t feel like this was really “my product.” I felt like I was using a semi-forced process that wasn’t my normal process for creating inspired content.

I acknowledged to myself that I was out of flow, so I put the product on hold for a while, worked on other projects, and took a weeklong road trip through California, intending to come back to the project a little later with a fresh perspective. I pondered whether I should take the product in a different direction. I didn’t want to scrap it because I know there’s a need for it, but I’ve learned over the years that it’s important to trust my intuition when it comes to such matters.

During this time I received an email from Dr. Brad Swift about a new product he was releasing on the subject of… you guessed it… life purpose. I was already familiar with Brad’s work because I reviewed his book Life on Purpose: Six Passages to an Inspired Life in 2007, and we’ve kept in touch over the years. Life on Purpose is simply the best book on life purpose I’ve ever read, and it deserves the rare honor of maintaining a solid 5-star average rating on

There is also a series of 3 short videos that will introduce you to his Life on Purpose process. These videos are free to watch and don’t require signing up for anything. Watch the videos here: A Life That Matters

Once you’ve watched the first video, follow the link at the end of the text below the video to view the next video in the series. There are 3 videos in total, and each one is a little over 10 minutes long.

These videos will give you a good overview of the more detailed process you’ll experience in the Life on Purpose Virtual Video Coach program that helps you discover your life purpose and begin living in alignment with it.

If you feel you’ve been drifting lately and would like to have more meaning, focus, and centeredness in your life — or if you’ve been thinking about a career change to do work that’s more aligned with who you truly are — these videos are a good place to begin.”

The Ups and Downs of Life

Recently I saw a Russian movie based on the book Eternal Call by Anatoliy Ivanov. My mother asked me if I knew biography of the actor Peter Velyaminov in that movie. I didn’t, so found his life story on Russian Wikipedia  and to say the least, I was shocked, but couldn’t help admire his attitude to life and happiness.

Peter Velyaminov was born on December 7, 1926, in Moscow, the son of a hereditary military from an ancient noble family. Among his ancestors listed as gentry many famous personalities. Most titled of them was the founder of the beginning of XI century who became at the head of three thousand militia to serve for Yaroslav the Wise. He was a nephew of King Norway – King Hakon II. Velyaminovs were among the contenders for the Zemsky Sobor in 1613 to the Russian throne, along with the Romanovs.

Peter’s father – Sergei Velyaminov was hereditary military. Before the revolution he graduated from Pavlovsk Military School in St. Petersburg in 1918, he joined the Red Army, was a member of the High Command of the Red Army. Was arrested in 1930 and held in camps for 17 years, mother lived in exile.

In March 1943, 16-year-old Peter was arrested on charges of “participating in anti-Soviet organization” Revival of Russia “, was sentenced to 10 years hard labor and sent to a transit camp in Kotlas. According to one source, who was under investigation in the Lubyanka prison, Peter was arrested in one case with his father – former tsarist officer.

In the camp Peter received the news of the arrest of his mother. He was so shocked by the news that cut his veins, but they saved him. In 1952 he was released (in the camp spent 9 years and 9 days). After the liberation of the camps Velyaminov three years he worked in Abakan Rafting.

He began playing in amateur theater, where he sang, recited poems and played his first role – Maxim Koshkin of “Spring Love.” From 1952 – Actor Drama Theatre inAbakan, 1955 – Tyumen Oblast Drama Theatre. He has also worked in theaters Dzerzhinsk, Novocherkassk, Cheboksary, Ivanovo, Perm and Sverdlovsk. It is in Sverdlovsk Theater Peter saw Valery Uskov and Vladimir Krasnopolsky and was invited to appear in multi-part film “Shadows at Noon”  in the role of the collective farmer Zahar Bolshakov.

In 1972, after the success of the film “Shadows at Noon”, Peter Velyaminov became famous nationwide and  moved to Moscow, where he joined the troupe of the Contemporary Theater. In the Contemporary Velyaminov played in the first directorial performance Galina Volchek “Climbing Mount Fuji”, and many other productions. In 1974 he joined the studio theater.

Despite the national recognition through the movie, the authorities did not forget about his past. So, in 1979, he was not allowed into France with the delegation, which carried the film “Shadows at Noon”. In 1983, actor was rehabilitated. In 1990, he became a full member of the Russian Nobility Assembly, receiving a diploma number 20. In 1994-1997 he was Vice-marshal of the St. Petersburg Assembly of the Noble, and in May 1995 led a delegation of St. Petersburg of the Noble Assembly of the IV All-Russian Congress of the nobility.

His own words:

“I am a happy man, because a difficult situation did not break me. Up to the 50s in the camps, there was no division on the criminals, deserters and political. But it so happened that next to me was always someone who helped me. When I got in the Urals for the construction of Hydrolyzed plant in juveniles, criminals, gang, I have finally exhausted – weighed 47 kilograms (103 lbs). With Dystrophy I was placed in the infirmary. Hospital boss, too, was a Muscovite, and as it turned out, her daughter was studying with me at the same school. Thanks to this woman I did and survived. I have worked on Rafting, foreman of carpenters, setter. Norm setter Karmazin, who “held” in the camp the entire mechanical plant, told me: “Well, then you go to this jazz? Songs to sing “Goodbye, Mama, Do not Cry”? Engaged in this profession, and thou shalt be fed and drunk. “But I went to the orchestra, which accompanied the prisoners to work, to play drums. Music education there – four years of musical school in violin.”

Since 1995 Velyaminov lived and worked in St. Petersburg, he died at the age of 82 a happy man.

Testing the Happiness Calculator

Before all categories in the tool were finalized, I was very curious about my own ratio of happiness and categories in the formula. I predicted about 5 categories in mine, but as I went through the first exercise, that was not the case.

On Day 1 my happiness ratio was 85%, which was higher than I expected. I thought that one category that I’m not satisfied with would outweigh others, but it didn’t because I value several other categories just as high in priority. Even though sometimes I grouch about something, it means that I keep forgetting how blessed I’m with other things in life and I can’t take them for granted.  

I took a moment and imagined some scenarios… I would not be as happy if that one category was high on my satisfaction scale, but low on priority, or if some other categories were low in satisfaction, because I know they are my high priorities, like friends, health, environment, etc. My results varied slightly daily, and I’m sure that they would vary more if I measured my happiness monthly! At the end of the week I got really curious about my feelings on the days of measurements, and I reconstructed my activities that week.

On Day 1, my ratio was 85% and I worked at home all day and didn’t even have time to go out.

On Day 2 , though, I interacted with a lot of people: went rollerblading with a group of friends and had a nice dinner, laughed a lot, but my happiness ratio went down to 82%, and I think mainly because there were moments  of melancholy that day when I thought about that one damn category.

On Day 3, I went to work and after work I wrote a blog post and worked more on promoting the meet-up event in Boston on June 22, contacting some people and … my happiness ratio was at 87% that day. I didn’t work out, I didn’t have good food, I didn’t’ spend time with friends or family,  I just worked on my Project after work and that gave me my boost of happiness.

On Day 4, I played with the tool by building constraints and expanding limits. I decided to only include 5 categories in my formula, so I picked 5 the most important ones.  My happiness ratio plummeted to 69%. I changed importance scale from 0-4 to 0-5, so I had to answer all questions again.

There were some shocking results. (When I answer questions , I hide previous answers, so that I don’t get distracted by my old answers). My happiness changed in just 5 minutes by +1%! Just in minutes my importance of hobbies to my happiness went  down by 66%! It is funny, that I changed my mind about some categories so quickly and I didn’t remember how I rated them only minutes ago.

Main lesson learned: try to be as honest as possible when answering questions, because your mind will play games with you, so listen to your heart.

Lastly, I was curious to create graphs for each category, and I did it. On Day 6 I wanted to know why I felt one way or another and wished I wrote down my thoughts on low points and highlights of categories…

Three types of life

The idea of categorizing our lives is not new, it was done by many: from Aristotle to Dr. Martin Seligman. I find it very helpful for understanding the world and our place in it. Here are three types in short:

1.Life of pleasure/pleasant life
2.Life of practical activity/good life
3.Philosophical life/meaningful life
And here is more description:
1.Life of consuming and taking, when we try to get as much as possible for our own pleasure. Think of any leisurely vacation you’ve taken, eating good food or watching TV.  It it natural to pursue this kind of life mainly in the early stage of your life. Think of a baby who consumes all the time. This type is easy as it doesn’t require much effort, it is self-serving, and it has mostly short-term effect which means diminishing returns (you need more or better of what you consume to be happier next time, otherwise you’ll get disappointed).
2.Life of doing or producing. It could be either work or hobby, when we try to excel at something by learning, or improving our skills. Sometimes we get into flows, when we are engaged in some activity and lose track of time, because our strengths match the task or challenge. People may experience flows while they do reading, running or working on a project they like. This type is not easy, as it requires effort, but it is still self-serving, and it usually has medium effect. Of course, people are happy with their hobbies and their work accomplishments but as at some point they reevaluate results of their activities/success and get a feeling that is not enought.
3.Life of giving or making positive effect on others and the world around us. This type means serving others or making them higher priority than yourself. It could be volunteering, helping those in need, making product that improves quality of life, leading an organization with some high purpose or defending somebody’s rights. This requires more effort that othere two types, it is not self-serving and it has long-term effect.

 Happiness is a combination of all three, combinations differ for different people, but the most long-lasting happiness is derived from type three, so make sure you have type three activities in your life.

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