Happiness and the Present Moment

This Raymond Carver poem entitled “Happiness” was the opening to my women’s writing group this past week:

So early it’s still almost dark out.
I’m near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.
When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.
They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
The are so happy
they aren’t saying anything, these boys.
I think if they could, they would take
each other’s arm.
It’s early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.
They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.
Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn’t enter into this.
Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.

It is not a complicated poem — the moment it describes is quite ordinary, really — but this poem generated about an hour of conversation. What is happiness? When do we feel the most happy? Why do we struggle to find, recognize and keep those moments? What are some things we can do to maximize our opportunities for true happiness?

As you might suspect, these are universal questions that extend far beyond one poem, or one class. For many of us, these questions emerge in one form or another almost daily. I heard from some of you last week, and two things really struck me about your thoughts on being present: 1.) Every person associated real happiness with very simple things, and 2.) those flashes of pure joy, pure calm, pure bliss all came from paying attention to and naming the small details in those simple moments.

Those precious experiences included a list of things that would make lovely poems in and of themselves: a morning cup of coffee; a bowl of chocolate ice cream; listening to a cat purr while curled up contentedly on the couch; going for a walk in the evening and watching the sun descend slowly; a mother noticing the warm smell of the top of her baby’s head; and catching the second when friends are seated around the dinner table and noticing three things — the candlelight flickering on people’s faces, the sound of utensils clinking on plates, and the comfort of familiar voices and laughter.

We do not live in a culture that readily acknowledges the urgent value of the present moment. We tend to be obsessed with the past or to fixate on the future — both realms over which we have no control. And of course, it isn’t the things themselves — in the past or future — but our addiction to trying to control or change them that cause the suffering.

The 13th-century Sufi poet Rumi had this to say about recognizing the sacredness of each moment by letting go of what we cannot control and embracing what we can:

Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to.
Don’t try to see through the distances.
That’s not for human beings.
Move within, but don’t move the way fear makes you move.

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty & frightened.
Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.

There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that we often attach an idea of happiness to a quantity of things that could or might happen — I would be more happy if… — but the moments that we recognize as actually making us happy are pedestrian and predictable. The sun sets every night. Cats sleep on couches every day. We eat a meal every day. But we never say stuff like, “I would be truly happy if the sun would set tonight.”

If we did that, then, really, what excuse would we have left for not being content, for not being madly in love with the hours given to us?

So perhaps what we are missing in our quest for happiness is just the willingness to stop and call out the names of the ordinary things that are filling us with true joy. The study of our brain’s chemistry tells us that when we do this, we are simultaneously releasing a whole raft of chemicals that help us to ward off things like depression and anxiety and we are training our brains to think that way again and again by growing new connections that reinforce the activities that bring us pleasure and contentment. Our lives tell us that it isn’t even the moments themselves but our attention to them that really opens us to the experience of happiness.

Presentations – 3 Fail Save Tips

Many people say they would prefer to go to the dentist and have a drilling without anaesthetic, be locked in a box full of spiders or sky dive with the person they would most like not to be with rather than make a presentation.

Of course we all have phobias and things we convince ourselves we can’t do. Mine is picking up the telephone to sell and I’m sure you can tell from the language I use that I have a set of assumptions about ‘selling’ and more importantly the likely outcome. In short, fear of rejection.

And it’s the same with presentations. You may be talking to a number of different people (internal v external) in a number of different circumstances (formal v informal) to deliver a number of different outcomes (information v commitment).

It may, of course, just be to entertain but this is usually the realm of more experienced speakers.

So, fear of presenting is not a trivial issue. Here are 3 Fails Safe Tips.

1. Take the Angst out of it

• What’s going through your mind here?
o I haven’t done it before;
o I have done it before and I didn’t feel it went well
o People were so patronising with their feedback.
o Actually I didn’t want to ask them!
• So what’s likely to be overwhelming you at the moment? It’s your emotion isn’t it?
• And we all know that we are our own worst critics. Do you have some one or something – say a parent or parrot – on your shoulder – saying don’t, can’t, failure, you’ve done it before and it was rubbish!
• So do all of us! So park this stuff.
• Think positive. Be a footballer and imagine scoring the winning goal.
• People coming up to you and saying:
o That was something I’ve been struggling with for ages – thank you for helping me out;
o I really enjoyed the energy and commitment you put in to your presentation;
o I could never do that – tell me what I need to do to be like you.
• This can be really difficult, but in addition to practising your presentation in front of the mirror and recording it, you really ought to trial it in front of somebody who you know will give you constructive feedback.

2. Attend to the Practicalities

• Having done the ‘hard’ work in shaping and preparing your presentation, on the day there are some practicalities you need to take control of.
• Yes, I mean take control of, because no matter how exquisite your speech preparation has been, there are some really practical issues if not addressed can literally destroy your presentation.
• So what might they be?
o Can people hear you? – do a sound check with the people at the back of the room;
o Lighting – are you visible for everybody in the room? Are you moving between light and dark patches?
o Are your slides visible to everybody? – are you getting in the way of people seeing the slides?
o Are the slides too busy?
o Are you using the slides as your script?
o If you want to facilitate people talking amongst them selves does the room layout support this?

3. Believe you’re the ‘Expert’ for the Day

• And of course you are.
• It doesn’t mean you know more than anybody else in the room – and if you don’t they’ll probably let you know.
• But if your presentation is well prepared with robust factual evidence then you’re on the high ground.
• If you want to express an opinion then make sure you label it clearly – my view is that…
• You can acknowledge different points of view – on the one hand/on the other hand.
• But don’t be wishy washy in terms of your outcome – express a view, evidence it and be prepared to learn!

Finding an Excellent Present For a Baby Shower

A dear friend is expecting a baby, and the least you can do to congratulate her is by giving an excellent baby shower present. But how can you come up with such present? While there are unlimited baby shower gift ideas available out there, finding the excellent one can be a bit tricky sometimes. However, if you appreciate a baby gift basket, then your dilemma has been solved. A baby gift basket can make a special gift for your expectant friend. With such present, you can show your care both for her and her upcoming baby.

Baby gift basket ideas are endless. There are so many sources where to find and purchase such baby shower gifts, like online stores. With the advent of the Internet, your shopping option will no longer limited to local gift shops. Many people nowadays opt to shop online as it is more easy and quick. It is a very convenient alternative for those who don’t have time to drive and roam all around the town, and will just found out that there’s only a limited selection, which often priced way expensive than items sold online.

Baby gift baskets are both beautiful and practical. Beautiful in the sense that they are usually adorned with attractive flowers, ribbons, bows and other fancy accents. They are also practical because they are designed to carry useful items that parents will need as soon as their child arrives. So, when selecting a baby basket, you have to keep in mind the essential things that the mother will need to care her baby. Consider yourself as a mother. By doing that, you are placing yourself in her shoe, and that can actually help you generate ideas for your baby gift basket.

Meant to be filled with lots of essential baby gifts, gift baskets are probably the most delightful present you can give to your expectant friend. They come in various selections of themes and designs. There are baskets that specialize on baby bath products such as baby shampoo, soap, lotion, oil, towels, rash cream, rubber duckies and the likes. While others offer baby sleeping essentials, play-time toys and even nursery room items. Of course, it would be nice to choose a gift basket according to the sex of the baby, provided you are really certain about such. Otherwise, there are gender-neutral gift baskets that are safe both for baby boys and girls.

If you want your gift to be more personal, you can make it at home. Get creative! Making baby baskets yourself is a creative way of honoring the expectant mom. You don’t have to spend too much when making a homemade present either. Remember, it is the thought that counts, and not the cost. By do-it-yourself ideas, personalized baby baskets were born. Again, the Internet is a huge source of personalized baby gifts, including personalized baby baskets. That is if you don’t have time to make your own present at home.