Saturday, November 6, 2010

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Over the past year, I've had the opportunity to learn a lot about developmental challenges and what are frequently referred to as learning disabilities. I've talked to lots of experts, broadly recognized and self-proclaimed. As is often case with experts, the ones with whom I've spoken have been highly specialized, each viewing her area of study through the lens of a well defined and tightly focused paradigm, often to the exclusion of other paradigms.

When I speak to medical doctors about autism, many acknowledge the existence of therapeutic interventions, but know little about them. When I talk to play therapists, many know about diet and nutrition and can recite lists of foods belonging to specific protocols, but they don't know how to go about determining what would be best for a given child. Occupational therapists recognize the value in sensory integration, but typically understand little regarding its basis in neurology.

Generally speaking, neurologists see autism as a neurological disorder, doctors as a bio-chemical disorder, play therapists as a relationship disorder, psychologists as a behavioral disorder, and so on. They're all right. And, they're all wrong. They're characterizations are accurate, but incomplete.

This morning, I woke up thinking about the comments Kristoofus and Sree wrote regarding Brother Can You Paradigm: Choosing Happiness III, and it occurred to me that over the past few years I've been largely limiting my view of happiness to a single paradigm, a philosophical one, and that there is much to be gained by looking at happiness more holistically.

I'm attracted to the philosophical paradigm because I find it the most powerful; to me, mastery of one's happiness through the discipline of applied philosophy creates a happiness that is not vulnerable to the perturbations of time and circumstance. Contrarily, diversifying one's happiness program, making it dependent upon other factors such as healthy eating habits or daily exercise or adequate sleep or meditation or therapy sessions or supplements, leaves one vulnerable to any of those dependencies. To that end, I've shunned the need for acknowledgment and affirmation, help and support, eating well, therapy and even sleep. In short, I've been a happiness-paradigm-purist, which is, well, stupid.

Sure, there are things that you can achieve through a single-minded, purist approach that you can't when you diversify. However, the discipline is unnecessarily stringent and in many instances, suboptimal.

Fertile Ground
Last night I was talking with a fellow musician who is extraordinarily talented and yet is constantly second-guessing himself. We've spoken frequently regarding the attitudinal components of playing well, of belief and anticipation, of being present and focused, and so on. He's cognizant of these concepts and can even explain them. Still, his hesitation and lack of confidence are palpable.

No that's not it. It's not that he lacks self-confidence; it's that he exudes self-doubt. Despite his undeniable and considerable talent, he's drenched in the stuff.

As we talked, my friend frequently referred to guidance he'd received from others regarding his approach to music, all of which was cautionary if not alarmist, and it occurred to me, "Wow, he spends his life surrounded by people who with the best of intentions are doing everything possible undermine his belief in himself!"

So this morning I decided, "Screw it! Forget about this single-paradigm stuff and start thinking more holistically. I'd never consider using a single paradigm to help a child with autism, why would I do it to help someone become happier?"

How Does Your Garden Grow?
So, while I remain a strong advocate for virtues of applied philosophy, I think it can be useful to conduct an overall inventory of the happiness/unhappiness factors in your life. It's not that you need to get them all in line. However, if you're aware of uncontrollable factors that mitigate against happiness, then you can compensate by beefing up the ones under your control. You can achieve an overall happiness equilibrium.

Here goes.
  1. On a sheet of paper, draw two columns. In the left column, list the activities that you conduct regularly that are happiness-neutral or happiness-negative (don't contribute to or detract from happiness). In the right, list the activities that are happiness-positive (even if you don't do them regularly or haven't done them in a long time).

  2. Walk down the left column and identify the activities that you're going stop, cut back on, or delegate to others.

  3. Walk down the right column and identify the activities that you're going to activate, promote or reinforce.

  4. Share your list of with someone who will check in with you regularly to see how you're doing and provide encourage and support.

  5. Now, do the same thing with people.

    In the left column, list people who are happiness-neutral or happiness-negative. Remember that we're using happiness as a proxy for all positive emotion. In the right column, list the nutritious, happiness-positive people. (Note: there may be some people who fall into both columns depending on context. If so, place them in both identifying the context.)

  6. OK, now here comes the hard part. Whatcha gonna do with the left column? You can do anything from maintaining the status quo, to talking to them about how you'd like to be supported, to cutting back on time together, to moving on.

  7. Identify the people in the right column with whom you want to spend more time. What is it about them that makes them happiness-positive? What's your currency of exchange with them?

  8. Now do an inventory of your best days over the past month. Close your eyes and put yourself there again. What made them so good? A long night's sleep or staying out all night? Eating "healthy" food or junk food? Hanging out with friends or spending time alone? Relaxing or working hard?

  9. Look at your list of factors that contributed to your best days. What can you do to bring more of those factors into your life?

  10. One more. In the left column, list all the people to whom you are happiness-neutral or happiness-negative. (I know, you can't "know", but take a guess.) In the right column, list the ones for whom you are happiness-positive. Whatcha gonna do about it?

Hmmm... this is all new for me, but I kind of like where it's going.

How would you create the most fertile garden for your happiness to bloom?

Happy Saturday,


  1. I didn't get far:
    On my list of things which are NOT happiness producing is: Making and maintaining lists!!!

    When I had stress / burndown I created a list to make sure that I prioritized happiness producing activities.

    And I realised that doing /producing stuff from happiness list creates much less happiness than doing whatever I feel like.

    To me the single most happiness producing thing is to stop, ask myself: if you had no schedule today, what would you be doing? and then adjust my schedule according to whatever came up as an answer.

  2. I hope you don't mind that I sent this post to the Seers and Seekers Yahoo group


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