Happiness? from outside or in?

You’ve got to hand it to the editors at The Guardian/Observer, they have provided argument and counterargument to debate this weekend: about whether happiness comes from external things or from inside us.

Firstly, the Guardian’s Saturday section Weekend provided “If you want to have a good time, ask a Buddhist“, in which the Buddhist they asked (or quoted), Ayya Khema, said: “We may believe that it’s the quality of the sunset that gives us such pleasure, but in fact it is the quality of our own immersion in the sunset that brings the delight.”

Secondly, the Observer Magazine gave us “Reasons to be cheerful: why we should look outside ourselves to find joy” and the author, Ingrid Fetell Lee, spent some time showing us how things, like colours, could give us joy, thereby refuting her statement that “The teachings of Buddha advise that happiness comes only from letting go of our attachments to worldly things.”

Ms Lee is a designer and founded The Aesthetics of Joy as a website “to shed light on the relationship between our environment and our emotions”, being “devoted to a simple, powerful idea: that our greatest source of joy is the world around us”.  There is a book coming out in September 2018. The Guardian columnist also has a book out on the topic but doesn’t advertise it in the column.

My conclusion is that they are both right!  Good design, well executed, and the external environment, be it man-made or natural, do give us moments of joy and support our overall wellbeing.  However, I find Ms Lee’s dismissal of Buddhist teaching too simplistic, her stance undermining her main argument.  As the Saturday article explains, the idea is to recognise moments of joy or happiness, however fleeting and wherever they arise, and to focus on the feeling.  Focusing on the feeling helps us remain happier longer and will increase our wellbeing more than focusing only on the specific thing that created the emotion in the first place.

So, bring on the joy-bringing design, Ms Lee, and then let’s focus on the joy and create a joyful life!


Swimming update – 31 May 2013

I’ve not been very diligent with my swimming during the last month.  But, now I’m back in London, I’m going to restart with renewed excitement!

When I first came back, I tried swimming session 8 of the programme but I wasn’t up to it.  I think I need to build up my fitness again.  I had thought I might go back and re-do the Get Toned programme.  However, the pool in my health club in the UK – Virgin Active – is 20m, the same as the one I was using in Australia.  Therefore, I have decided I shall just restart the Get Fit programme.

So far, I’ve redone sessions 1 and 2.  They went well and I felt pretty good about my fitness and about my swimming style.  I’ve really learn a lot over the last six months.

I’ve now swum 2232 lengths.  I finished up to Get Fit session 7 and am now repeating those first seven sessions.  I’m up to session 2 on the re-start.

Swimming update – 29 April 2013

For these updates I ask myself: how’s it been going with swimming?  And the answer today is: it hasn’t!

I have just not managed to get myself back into the habit of swimming after the break for the family holiday.  I’ve allowed lots of things to put me off ever since the last time I swam on 12 April.

However, today I have finally got back in the water!

As it turned out I completed the full programmed session, 78 lengths, with little trouble and with all three strokes working well. I am pleased with myself.

I’ve now swum 2,028 lengths and I’ve finished up to Get Fit session 7.

Now to work out how to keep myself swimming.

Learning different strokes – breaststroke

I have blogged elsewhere about my swimming to get fitter. One benefit of this is that I’ve been able to improve my technique in my three strokes. I thought the things I’ve learnt might interest you. First, what I’ve learnt about breaststroke.

In my other blogs, I’ve explained that the Swimfit programmes, Get Toned and Get Fit, ask swimmers to use their favourite, second favourite and third favourite strokes. My favourite stroke was, and remains, breaststroke. I thought I could swim it quite well. Even so, I noticed improvements.

Firstly, I can’t recommend enough the use of goggles. Ever since I’ve had them I’ve found it much easier to put my face in the water and make a cleaner stroke. As a bonus, they are tinted so they are also good for sun glare at the beach!

Secondly, I used the “training camp” videos on the Swimfit website to learn better techniques.  Find the training camp here.

The highlights were:

  • Unlearn my efforts to pull at the same time with my arms and legs!
  • To achieve the goal of moving forward all the time, learn to let my legs lead the stroke. Then as I close my legs stretch out with my arms so they are then ready to pull in their turn.
  • Focus on lifting my shoulders, rather than my head, out of the water to take a breath. It helps prevent back ache.
  • The one-armed drill made me realise that my stroke was pushing water sideways. As a result I was wasting energy, each arm pushing against the other. I changed the way I was pulling so I was pulling myself forward instead.

During the course of the 30 sessions of the Get Toned programme these improvements meant that I was able to swim much harder using breaststroke than before. I actually got my heart rate 20 points higher than at the start. I’m not sure whether I was faster or not. Towards the beginning I timed a slow length at 40 seconds and a fast one at 30 seconds. Later I did two lengths including a twist turn in 1 minute and 2 seconds so that may be slower!

All in all I feel pleased that I’ve improved even my favourite stroke.

Learning to meditate III – a taste of Get Some Headspace

A few weeks back I followed up on an old idea and blogged about meditation apps.  That turned out to be a spur to try on the habit of meditation.  After various experiences in February, I read an article about GetSomeHeadspace.com and embarked on their Take Ten taster.  This blog recounts my experiences.

Headspace is “a project designed to demystify meditation”.  The website, which you can find here, is fresh, modern and exciting with a mixture of science and practice.

It’s also, for those of you who are interested in this kind of stuff, a powerful example of content marketing.  They give you the Take Ten taster and they send emails to encourage you and also to offer you discounts on the full year’s subscription.  Very nicely played, Headspace!

You access the programme via the website or via the apps, after you create an account.  As you might imagine, I have the App.  It is on both my iPhone and my iPad.  The App on each iDevice updates itself as you progress.  It is very effective.

There are some cute animations to encourage you to meditate and to stress the key messages like effortlessness and the accessibility of calm and happiness.   The Blue Sky animation is particularly important.  It illustrates that meditation isn’t about achieving anything.  It is about waiting for the clouds to pass to reveal the blue sky that was there all the time.

The Take Ten programme asks you to complete a session a day for ten days and each session takes ten minutes.  You can download the sessions and play them back later or listen to them on-line.  I did very well for the first 8 days, completing a session every day.  Then I had a day that I missed when I went out and had a houseguest as well.  These are my observations:

  • I liked not having to choose which meditation to do every day.  I also liked the relaxed style and the English accent of the guide, Andy Puddicombe.
  • The sessions have a regular format: deep breaths to start; awareness of the body on the chair; scanning the body; counting breaths up to 10 and then starting again; and, finally, letting the mind run free.  I found that I couldn’t remember the sequence without playing a session but that’s OK Andy is always there to guide me!
  • As early as day 6, I noticed that when we got to the part about letting the mind run free, I felt like I was lifting my face up to the stars.  It was lovely.
  • A couple of days I was very tired when I meditated.  My limbs were restless and they hurt.  I think that is tension releasing itself.
  • Paying attention to breathing is common to all the mindfulness meditations I have undertaken.  What I’ve noticed is that I can’t feel the breath.  I very rarely notice things like the breath on the way in being cooler than it is on the way out.  What I notice is the effect of the breath: the up and down of the chest, well, not even that unless I’m lying down; more the expanding of the abdomen or, sometimes, the rib cage, or the lifting of the shoulders.  I think this is fine – it is just how I am – but some meditation guides seem to expect me to do more.  Take Ten didn’t expect that.
  • I like the analogy Andy suggests for thoughts.  He says not to try to stop them but to observe them like traffic passing in front of you when you are on the side of the road.

Anyway, you can tell that I enjoyed the programme because I bought the 365-day programme.  It really doesn’t cost much and I like the format of it.  I’ll keep you updated as I move on to the next programme: Take 15.

Swimming update – 15 April 2013

I’ve now swum 1950 lengths and I’ve finished up to Get Fit session 6 –

But I’ve not done a lot recently.  When the family were visiting, I was too exhausted – not their fault at all but we toured them all over the city and the area and exhausted everyone.

I did an 82-length swim before they arrived and then an 58-length swim, 17 days later, after they’d left and I’d had two nights’ sleep!

I’ll not do more until the weekend now because we are away.

I find the swimming OK but this Get Fit programme has sessions that are a lot longer.  I find this really puts me off because I feel I need to carve out more time to do them.  Next week I’ll see if I can fit sessions into my day.  I may have to adapt the programme to keep swimming regularly.  We will see how it goes.  Back in 11 days or so.

The Swimfit Get Fit Programme!

I used my recent gardening leave to swim, rather than to garden.  I have blogged elsewhere about the Swimfit Get Toned programme that I have been following.  Read about it and the Swimfit website here.

After finishing the Get Toned programme, I took a moment to celebrate, and then I moved on to the Get Fit programme.

Get Fit is a “structured Swimfit Motivate programme with 30 sessions for the swimmer who wants to improve fitness and stamina”.

I started the programme on 14 March 2013.  I see it as quite a challenge.  The sessions are much longer than those of Get Toned.  The shortest is 36 lengths and most sessions are around the 70 to 80 lengths mark.  One is even over 120 lengths!  Apart from anything else, it takes longer to complete so makes more of a dent in the day.

My objective is to complete half the sessions before we leave Australia towards the beginning of May.  This is a stretch target, given the entertaining, sightseeing and packing that we have scheduled.  It will be an achievement.

When I arrive back in London, I’ll be using a much longer pool.  I’m thinking of going back to the beginning of Get Toned and using a proven programme to build up my stamina slowly.

Anyway the next few weeks will be the Get Fit programme.  It follows the same pattern as the Get Toned programme:

  • Warm up – quite long sections
  • Skill development
  • Main set – lots of interval training as well as days where there are just long endurance swims.
  • Swim down.

There are just more lengths in each section.  Well, I now have three stroke strokes to deploy.  Here we go!