–by Ocean Robbins, Oct 30, 2013
Our world is pretty messed up. With all the violence, pollution and crazy things people do, it would be easy to turn into a grouchy old man without being either elderly or male. There’s certainly no shortage of justification for disappointment and cynicism. But consider this: Negative attitudes are bad for you. And gratitude, it turns out, makes you happier and healthier. If you invest in a way of seeing the world that is mean and frustrated, you’re going to get a world that is, well, more mean and frustrating. But if you can find any authentic reason to give thanks, anything that is going right with the world or your life, and put your attention there, then statistics say you’re going to be better off. Does this mean to live in a state of constant denial and put your head in the sand? Of course not. Gratitude works when you’re grateful for something real. Feeling euphoric and spending money like you just won the lottery when you didn’t is probably going to make you real poor, real quick. But what are you actually grateful for? It’s a question that could change your life. Recent studies have concluded that the expression of gratitude can have profound and positive effects on our health, our moods and even the survival of our marriages. As Drs. Blaire and Rita Justice reported for the University of Texas Health Science Center, “a growing body of research shows that gratitude is truly amazing in its physical and psychosocial benefits.” In one study on gratitude, conducted by Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., at the University of California at Davis and his colleague Mike McCullough at the University of Miami, randomly assigned participants were given one of three tasks. Each week, participants kept a short journal. One group briefly described five things they were grateful for that had occurred in the past week, another five recorded daily hassles from the previous week that displeased them, and the neutral group was asked to list five events or circumstances that affected them, but they were not told whether to focus on the positive or on the negative. Ten weeks later, participants in the gratitude group felt better about their lives as a whole and were a full 25 percent happier than the hassled group. They reported fewer health complaints, and exercised an average of 1.5 hours more. In a later study by Emmons, people were asked to write every day about things for which they were grateful. Not surprisingly, this daily practice led to greater increases in gratitude than did the weekly journaling in the first study. But the results showed another benefit: Participants in the gratitude group also reported offering others more emotional support or help with a personal problem, indicating that the gratitude exercise increased their goodwill towards others, or more tehnically, their “pro-social” motivation. Another study on gratitude was conducted with adults having congenital and adult-onset neuromuscular disorders (NMDs), with the majority having post-polio syndrome (PPS). Compared to those who were not jotting down their blessings nightly, participants in the gratitude group reported more hours of sleep each night, and feeling more refreshed upon awakening. The gratitude group also reported more satisfaction with their lives as a whole, felt more optimism about the upcoming week, and felt considerably more connected with others than did participants in the control group. Perhaps most tellingly, the positive changes were markedly noticeable to others. According to the researchers, “Spouses of the participants in the gratitude (group) reported that the participants appeared to have higher subjective well-being than did the spouses of the participants in the control (group).” There’s an old saying that if you’ve forgotten the language of gratitude, you’ll never be on speaking terms with happiness. It turns out this isn’t just a fluffy idea. Several studies have shown depression to be inversely correlated to gratitude. It seems that the more grateful a person is, the less depressed they are. Philip Watkins, a clinical psychologist at Eastern Washington University, found that clinically depressed individuals showed significantly lower gratitude (nearly 50 percent less) than non-depressed controls. Dr. John Gottman at the University of Washington has been researching marriages for two decades. The conclusion of all that research, he states, is that unless a couple is able to maintain a high ratio of positive to negative encounters (5:1 or greater), it is likely the marriage will end. With 90 percent accuracy, Gottman says he can predict, often after only three minutes of observation, which marriages are likely to flourish and which are likely to flounder. The formula is that for every negative expression (a complaint, frown, put-down, expression of anger) there needs to be about five positive ones (smiles, compliments, laughter, expressions of appreciation and gratitude). Apparently, positive vibes aren’t just for hippies. If you want in on the fun, here are some simple things you can do to build positive momentum toward a more happy and fulfilling life: 1) Keep a daily journal of three things you are thankful for. This works well first thing in the morning, or just before you go to bed. 2) Make it a practice to tell a spouse, partner or friend something you appreciate about them every day. 3) Look in the mirror when you are brushing your teeth, and think about something you have done well recently or something you like about yourself. Sure this world gives us plenty of reasons to despair. But when we get off the fast track to morbidity, and cultivate instead an attitude of gratitude, things don’t just look better — they actually get better. Thankfulness feels good, it’s good for you and it’s a blessing for the people around you, too. It’s such a win-win-win that I’d say we have cause for gratitude…
New research shows that helping others may be the key to happiness.
By Lisa Farino
Few of us are immune to the frustrations and challenges of daily life—family problems, conflicts at work, illness, stress over money. When we get depressed or anxious, experts may recommend medication and/or therapy. But a newly emerging school of thought suggests that a simple, age-old principle may be part of both the prevention and the cure: Help others to help yourself.
There’s no shortage of research showing that people who give time, money, or support to others are more likely to be happy and satisfied with their lives—and less likely to be depressed. Could helping others be the key to weathering the inevitable storms of life?
Carolyn Schwartz, a research professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, didn’t start out looking at the value of helping others. Instead, she wanted to see if receiving monthly peer-support phone calls from fellow multiple sclerosis sufferers would benefit others with the disease. But over time, a surprising trend emerged. While those receiving support appeared to gain some mild benefit, the real beneficiaries were those lending a supportive ear. In fact, those who offered support experienced dramatic improvements in their quality of life—several times more so than those they were helping.
The benefits of giving aren’t limited to those who are ill. When Schwartz later looked at more than 2,000 mostly healthy Presbyterian church-goers across the nation, she found that those who helped others were significantly happier and less depressed than those who didn’t.
This phenomenon is nothing new. Paul Wink and Michele Dillon found a similar pattern when they looked at data collected every decade on a group of San Francisco Bay Area residents beginning in the 1930s. Those who volunteered and engaged in other forms of giving when they were adolescents were much less likely to become depressed, even as they got older.
New research suggests there may be a biochemical explanation for the positive emotions associated with doing good. In a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, participants’ brains were monitored by MRI scans while they made decisions about donating part of their research payment to charitable organizations. When participants chose to donate money, the brain’s mesolimbic system was activated, the same part of the brain that’s activated in response to monetary rewards, sex, and other positive stimuli. Choosing to donate also activated the brain’s subgenual area, the part of the brain that produces feel-good chemicals, like oxytocin, that promote social bonding.
Why doing good works
These results may seem surprising, especially since our culture tends to associate happiness with getting something. Why should we humans be programmed to respond so positively to giving?
“As Darwin noted, group selection played a strong rule in human evolution. If something like helping benefits the group, it will be associated with pleasure and happiness,” explains Stephen Post, Ph.D., a research professor of bioethics at Case Western Reserve University who co-authored the book Why Good Things Happen to Good Peoplewith Jill Neimark.
While evolution may have primed us to feel good from giving, it may not be the only reason helping others makes us feel better. Since depression, anxiety, and stress involve a high degree of focus on the self, focusing on the needs of others literally helps shift our thinking.
“When you’re experiencing compassion, benevolence, and kindness, they push aside the negative emotions,” says Post. “One of the best ways to overcome stress is to do something to help someone else.”
Even better, feeling good and doing good can combine to create a positive feedback loop, where doing good helps us to feel good and feeling good also makes us more likely to do good.
“Numerous studies have found that happy people are more helpful,” says Dr. David Myers, a social psychologist at Hope College and author of The Pursuit of Happiness. “Those who’ve just found money in a phone booth are more likely to help a passerby with dropped papers. Those who feel successful are more likely to volunteer as a tutor.”
When giving isn’t good
While doing good is generally good for the doer, Post stresses that there are two important caveats. First, the caregiver can’t be overwhelmed. There’s ample research showing negative mental and physical consequences for givers who are overburdened and stressed by their duties—or who do so much they don’t have time to have fun and take care of themselves.
In addition, while helping others can be a great antidote to the mild depression, stress, and anxiety that is a normal part of the ups and downs daily life, Post emphasizes that it’s not a cure for severe depression. “If you are clinically depressed, you need professional help,” Post says.
But for people who aren’t severely depressed and who give within their limits, helping others can bring joy and happiness—and better health and longevity too.
Some people wonder if these positive benefits make helping others an ultimately selfish act. “If the warm glow and ‘helper’s high’ that people experience when they help others is selfish, then we need more of this kind of selfishness,” says Post.
How to help others—and yourself
Incorporating kindness into your daily life isn’t difficult. Here are five easy things you can do to help others—and yourself:
- Volunteer. Research shows that people who volunteer just two hours per week (about 100 hours per year) have better physical health and are less depressed. To find volunteer opportunities in your area, visit Volunteer Match or contact your local church or school.
- Informally offer help to family, friends, and neighbors. Lend a needed tool, bring dinner to someone who’s sick, feed pets for neighbors on vacation, or offer a ride to someone who lacks a car.
- Donate. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money. Toss change into coffee cans at cash registers or support local organizations by buying a raffle ticket. Look for opportunities to give within your means. You’ll help make the world a better place and make yourself feel better too.
- Listen. Sometimes all others need is someone to lend a sympathetic ear to make them feel heard, cared for and loved.
- Make other people (and yourself) smile. The easiest way to make other people happy is to act happy yourself, even if it’s not how you feel. “Sometimes we can act ourselves into a way of thinking,” says Myers. “So like the old song says, ‘Put on a happy face.’ Talk as if you have self-esteem and are outgoing and optimistic. Going through the motions can awaken the emotions.”
Are you Interested in Helping? Here’s Opportunities in SM!
Click Here for Volunteer Opportunities in SM
Read the sentence starter on the right of the picture, and finish the short article with examples from your own life. Try to make references to the idea of lemons and lemonade if possible.
Here’s an Example of how to relate the photo to the idea of making lemons into lemonade by sharing your own personal experience.
Advances in Neuroscience Reveal Fascinating Details About How the Brain Works
Guest Blogger: Dr. Bill Conklin
The heart has long been considered the seat of emotion. Several familiar expressions prove it. When faced with an interpersonal loss, it is said that someone is “broken hearted.” When a person is overly-emotional we say that he “wears his heart on his sleeve.” When someone is overjoyed, she might say that her “heart is about to burst.” Yet, over the past century, science has taught us that the brain is the true home of our feelings.
Advances in the field neuroscience have revealed fascinating details about the workings of the brain. Over the centuries, the 100 billion neuron mass of tissue in our skull has evolved. For descriptive purposes the brain can be divided into different areas based on function. Two basic divisions are the lower brain (also known as the reptilian brain) and the upper brain (known as the mammalian brain). The mammalian brain – as the name suggests – is present in mammals but to a proportionally greater degree in humans. As the human species has developed, so too has the mammalian brain.
Another name for this area of the brain is the neo cortex. The neo cortex is itself divided into sections. These areas have come to be called the “lobes” of the brain. There are four large lobes: the frontal, the parietal, the temporal, and occipital lobes. The frontal lobes are used most in higher level thinking. The parietal lobes are used mostly in movement. The temporal lobes are involved in hearing and speech. And the occipital lobes are involved in sight.
The reptilian brain contains several structures comprising the limbic system. Thirty years ago brain scientists believed that this area of the brain was exclusively dedicated to the processing of emotions. Yet now we know that the limbic system has intricate connections with the frontal lobes.
The work of Dr. Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin has been particularly valuable not only in the traditional field of neuropsychology but also in the new field of positive psychology. In his book The Emotional Life of Your Brain (2012), Davidson describes the biochemical interaction between the limbic system and the frontal lobes. To simplify his findings, the frontal lobes are involved in both higher level thought and emotion. This fact suggests that our thinking affects the way we feel and vice versa.
The implication is that we can use our thoughts to change our feelings in a very important way – that is toward happiness. For me, this is the essence of positive psychology. The power of positive psychology lies within the process of intentionally using thought to change emotion.
Through functional MRI (fMRI) technology, Davidson demonstrated that the left side of the frontal lobe – known as the left prefrontal cortex – is more active when people feel happy. In contrast the right side of the frontal lobe –the right prefrontal cortex – is more active when people feel sad. Thus, by learning what stimulates the left prefrontal cortex we can encourage or even train people to be happier. Similarly, by learning what calms the activity in the right prefrontal cortex we can discourage or train people to reduce sadness.
Does this sound far-fetched? I’m guessing that it might. But consider the state of the art treatment for anxiety and depression. Research has proven time and again that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective intervention for treating anxiety and depression. Simply put, what CBT tells us is that we can change the way we think through repeated exposures to thinking healthy thoughts, avoidance of unhealthy thoughts, and engagement in healthy behaviors. Doing these things strengthens the left prefrontal cortex – the feel good center of the brain.
Davidson tells us that other things can facilitate the activity of this positive neural network. Meditation (especially mindfulness meditation) can both strengthen the activity of the left prefrontal cortex and reduce the activity in the right prefrontal cortex.
Both fun and social interaction impact the function of the brain. Enjoying pleasurable activities, doing something that seems to make time stand still, spending time with loved ones, pursuing meaning in its many forms, and celebrating accomplishments stimulate the activity in your left prefrontal cortex.
Finally, physical exercise can strengthen the feel good centers of the brain including those in both the mammalian and reptilian brain. In particular, exercising in new and different ways has been found to stimulate the release of natural feel-good chemicals (neurotransmitters).
By doing any or all of these activities, you are literally changing the way your brain works – and by doing that you can change your life for the better – not just for today, but for years to come.
Dr. Bill Conklin is a psychologist practicing in East Tennessee. Bill has applied the principles of positive psychology since the late 1990s. He has coordinated the development of A.P.T. – Automatic Positive Thinking™ a group positive psychological intervention. For information:
Questions for you:
- Why are we here?
- What is our purpose?
- Why do people act the way they do?
- Have you traveled much? If so, where?
- What is your purpose in life?
- What is the secret to happiness?
- What is Nirvana?
- What is Enlightenment?
(in Buddhism) a transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self, and the subject is released from the effects of karma and the cycle of death and rebirth. It represents the final goal of Buddhism.
a state of perfect happiness; an ideal or idyllic place.plural noun: nirvanas“Hollywood’s dearest dream of small-town nirvana”
Nirvana is a place of perfect peace and happiness, like heaven. In Hinduism and Buddhism, nirvana is the highest state that someone can attain, a state of enlightenment, meaning a person’s individual desires and suffering go away.
The origin of the word nirvana relates to religious enlightenment; it comes from the Sanskrit meaning “extinction, disappearance” of the individual to the universal. Achieving nirvana is to make earthly feelings like suffering and desire disappear. It’s often used casually to mean any place of happiness, like if you love chocolate, going to Hershey’s Park would be nirvana. On the other hand, if you’re a Buddhist monk, it may take you years of meditating to reach nirvana.
“An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?”
(Was ist Äufklarung?)
(30 September, 1784)
Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is man’s inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another. This immaturity is self-imposedwhen its cause lies not in lack of reason but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere aude! “Have courage to use your own reason!” — that is the motto of enlightenment.
Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why so great a portion of mankind, after nature has long since discharged them from external direction (naturaliter maiorennes [those who come of age by virtue of nature]), nevertheless remains under lifelong tutelage, and why it is so easy for others to set themselves up as their guardians. It is so easy not to be of age. If I have a book that understands for me, a pastor who has a conscience for me, a physician who decides my diet, and so forth, I need not trouble myself. I need not think, if I can only pay — others will easily undertake the irksome work for me. That the step to competence is held to be very dangerous by the far greater portion of mankind (and by the entire fair sex) — quite apart from its being arduous is seen to by those guardians who have so kindly assumed superintendence over them. After the guardians have first made their domestic cattle dumb and have made sure that these placid creatures will not dare take a single step without the harness of the cart to which they are tethered, the guardians then show them the danger which threatens if they try to go alone. Actually, however, this danger is not so great, for by falling a few times they would finally learn to walk alone. But an example of this failure makes them timid and ordinarily frightens them away from all further trials.
Thus it is very difficult for any single individual to work himself out of the life under tutelage which has become almost his nature. He has come to be fond of his state, and he is for the present really incapable of making use of his reason, for no one has ever let him try it out. Statutes and formulas, those mechanical tools of the rational employment or rather misemployment of his natural gifts, are the fetters of an everlasting tutelage. Whoever throws them off makes only an uncertain leap over the narrowest ditch because he is not accustomed to that kind of free motion. Therefore, there are few who have succeeded by their own exercise of mind both in freeing themselves from incompetence and in achieving a steady pace.
But that the public should enlighten itself is more likely; indeed, if only freedom is granted, enlightenment is almost sure to follow. For there will always be some independent thinkers, even among the established guardians of the great masses, who, after throwing off the yoke of tutelage from their own shoulders, will disseminate the spirit of the rational appreciation of both their own worth and every man’s vocation for thinking for himself. But be it noted that the public, which has first been brought under this yoke by their guardians, forces the guardians themselves to remain bound when it is incited to do so by some of the guardians who are themselves capable of some enlightenment — so harmful is it to implant prejudices, for they later take vengeance on their cultivators or on their descendants. Thus the public can only slowly attain enlightenment. Perhaps a fall of personal despotism or of avaricious or tyrannical oppression may be accomplished by revolution, but never a true reform in ways of thinking. Farther, new prejudices will serve as well as old ones to harness the great unthinking masses.
Nothing is required for this enlightenment, however, except freedom, and indeed the most harmless among all the things to which this term can properly be applied. It is the freedom to makepublic use of one’s reason at every point. But I hear on all sides, “Do not argue!” The Officer says: “Do not argue but drill!” The tax collector: “Do not argue but pay!” The cleric: “Do not argue but believe!” Only one prince in the world [Frederick II (the Great) of Prussia] says, “Argue as much as you will, and about what you will, but obey!” Everywhere there is restriction on freedom. Which restriction is an obstacle to enlightenment, and which is not an obstacle but a promoter of it? I answer: The public use of one’s reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among men. The private use of reason, on the other hand, may often be very narrowly restricted without particularly hindering the progress of enlightenment. By the public use of one’s reason I understand the use which a person makes of it as a scholar before the reading public. Private use I call that which one may make of it in a particular civil post or office which is entrusted to him. Many affairs which are conducted in the interest of the community require a certain mechanism through which some members of the community must passively conduct themselves with an artificial unanimity, so that the government may direct them to public ends, or at least prevent them from destroying those ends. Here argument is certainly not allowed — one must obey. But so far as a part of the mechanism regards himself at the same time as a member of the whole community or of a society of world citizens, and thus in the role of a scholar who addresses the public (in the proper sense of the word) through his writings, he certainly can argue without hurting the affairs for which he is in part responsible as a passive member. Thus it would be ruinous for an officer in service to debate about the suitability or utility of a command given to him by his superior; he must obey. But the right to make remarks on errors in the military service and to lay them before the public for judgment cannot equitably be refused him as a scholar. The citizen cannot refuse to pay the taxes imposed on him; indeed, an impudent complaint at those levied on him can be punished as a scandal (as it could occasion general refractoriness). But the same person nevertheless does not act contrary to his duty as a citizen, when, as a scholar, he publicly expresses his thoughts on the inappropriateness or even the injustices of these levies, Similarly a clergyman is obligated to make his sermon to his pupils in catechism and his congregation conform to the symbol of the church which he serves, for he has been accepted on this condition. But as a scholar he has complete freedom, even the calling, to communicate to the public all his carefully tested and well meaning thoughts on that which is erroneous in the symbol and to make suggestions for the better organization of the religious body and church. In doing this there is nothing that could be laid as a burden on his conscience. For what he teaches as a consequence of his office as a representative of the church, this he considers something about which he has not freedom to teach according to his own lights; it is something which he is appointed to propound at the dictation of and in the name of another. He will say, “Our church teaches this or that; those are the proofs which it adduces.” He thus extracts all practical uses for his congregation from statutes to which he himself would not subscribe with full conviction but to the enunciation of which he can very well pledge himself because it is not impossible that truth lies hidden in them, and, in any case, there is at least nothing in them contradictory to inner religion. For if he believed he had found such in them, he could not conscientiously discharge the duties of his office; he would have to give it up. The use, therefore, which an appointed teacher makes of his reason before his congregation is merely private, because this congregation is only a domestic one (even if it be a large gathering); with respect to it, as a priest, he is not free, nor can he be free, because he carries out the orders of another. But as a scholar, whose writings speak to his public, the world, the clergyman in the public use of his reason enjoys an unlimited freedom to use his own reason to speak in his own person. That the guardian of the people (in spiritual things) should themselves be incompetent is an absurdity which amounts to the eternalization of absurdities.
But would not a society of clergymen, perhaps a church conference or a venerable presbytery (as they call themselves among the Dutch), be justified in obligating itself by oath to a certain unchangeable symbol in order to enjoy an unceasing guardianship over each of its numbers and thereby over the people as a whole, and even to make it eternal? I answer that this is altogether impossible. Such contract, made to shut off all further enlightenment from the human race, is absolutely null and void even if confirmed by the supreme power, by parliaments, and by the most ceremonious of peace treaties. An age cannot bind itself and ordain to put the succeeding one into such a condition that it cannot extend its (at best very occasional) knowledge, purify itself of errors, and progress in general enlightenment. That would be a crime against human nature, the proper destination of which lies precisely in this progress and the descendants would be fully justified in rejecting those decrees as having been made in an unwarranted and malicious manner. The touchstone of everything that can be concluded as a law for a people lies in the question whether the people could have imposed such a law on itself. Now such religious compact might be possible for a short and definitely limited time, as it were, in expectation of a better. One might let every citizen, and especially the clergyman, in the role of scholar, make his comments freely and publicly, i.e. through writing, on the erroneous aspects of the present institution. The newly introduced order might last until insight into the nature of these things had become so general and widely approved that through uniting their voices (even if not unanimously) they could bring a proposal to the throne to take those congregations under protection which had united into a changed religious organization according to their better ideas, without, however hindering others who wish to remain in the order. But to unite in a permanent religious institution which is not to be subject to doubt before the public even in the lifetime of one man, and thereby to make a period of time fruitless in the progress of mankind toward improvement, thus working to the disadvantage of posterity — that is absolutely forbidden. For himself (and only for a short time) a man may postpone enlightenment in what he ought to know, but to renounce it for posterity is to injure and trample on the rights of mankind. And what a people may not decree for itself can even less be decreed for them by a monarch, for his lawgiving authority rests on his uniting the general public will in his own. If he only sees to it that all true or alleged improvement stands together with civil order, he can leave it to his subjects to do what they find necessary for their spiritual welfare. This is not his concern, though it is incumbent on him to prevent one of them from violently hindering another in determining and promoting this welfare to the best of his ability. To meddle in these matters lowers his own majesty, since by the writings in which his own subjects seek to present their views he may evaluate his own governance. He can do this when, with deepest understanding, he lays upon himself the reproach, Caesar non est supra grammaticos [Ceasar is not above the grammarians]. Far more does he injure his own majesty when he degrades his supreme power by supporting the ecclesiastical despotism of some tyrants in his state over his other subjects.
If we are asked, “Do we now live in an enlightened age?” the answer is, “No ,” but we do live in an age of enlightenment. As things now stand, much is lacking which prevents men from being, or easily becoming, capable of correctly using their own reason in religious matters with assurance and free from outside direction. But on the other hand, we have clear indications that the field has now been opened wherein men may freely deal with these things and that the obstacles to general enlightenment or the release from self-imposed tutelage are gradually being reduced. In this respect, this is the age of enlightenment, or the century of Frederick [the Great].
A prince who does not find it unworthy of himself to say that he holds it to be his duty to prescribe nothing to men in religious matters but to give them complete freedom while renouncing the haughty name of tolerance, is himself enlightened and deserves to be esteemed by the grateful world and posterity as the first, at least from the side of government, who divested the human race of its tutelage and left each man free to make use of his reason in matters of conscience. Under him venerable ecclesiastics are allowed, in the role of scholar, and without infringing on their official duties, freely to submit for public testing their judgments and views which here and there diverge from the established symbol. And an even greater freedom is enjoyed by those who are restricted by no official duties. This spirit of freedom spreads beyond this land, even to those in which it must struggle with external obstacles erected by a government which misunderstands its own interest. For an example gives evidence to such a government that in freedom there is not the least cause for concern about public peace and the stability of the community. Men work themselves gradually out of barbarity if only intentional artifices are not made to hold them in it.
I have placed the main point of enlightenment — the escape of men from their self-imposed immaturity — chiefly in matters of religion because our rulers have no interest in playing guardian with respect to the arts and sciences and also because religious incompetence is not only the most harmful but also the most degrading of all. But the manner of thinking of the head of a state who favors religious enlightenment goes further, and he sees that there is no danger to his lawgiving in allowing his subjects to make public use of their reason and to publish their thoughts on a better formulation of his legislation and even their open-minded criticisms of the laws already made. Of this we have a shining example wherein no monarch is superior to him we honor.
But only one who is himself enlightened, is not afraid of shadows, and has a numerous and well-disciplined army to assure public peace, can say: “Argue as much as you will, and about what you will, only obey!” A republic could not dare say such a thing. Here is shown a strange and unexpected trend in human affairs in which almost everything, looked at in the large, is paradoxical. A greater degree of civil freedom appears advantageous to the freedom of mind of the people, and yet it places inescapable limitations upon it. A lower degree of civil freedom, on the contrary, provides the mind with room for each man to extend himself to his full capacity. As nature has uncovered from under this hard shell the seed for which she most tenderly cares — the propensity and vocation to free thinking — this gradually works back upon the character of the people, who thereby gradually become capable of acting freely; finally, it affects the principles of government, which finds it to its advantage to treat men, who are now more than machines, in accordance with their dignity.
See the letter below as a formula for writing your own letter to Rick Penny. Use google docs and choose a Letter Template. Then, use the ideas you see in this sample letter to write your own letter to Rick Penny about how he should use the Zorro Circle to achieve his goals.
Paragraphs in the Essay:
Paragraph 1: Type Rick Penny a letter. Explain how he should use the Zorro Circle to accomplish one big goal of his.
Paragraph 2: Explain how the Zorro Circle has helped you reach one of your goals.
Paragraph 3: Finally, give Rick Penny encouragement and remind him what you suggested he should choose to focus on for his Zorro Circle, and then tell him one last positive word of encouragement.
Excerpts from Walden Pond:
…Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind. With respect to luxuries and comforts, the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meagre life than the poor. The ancient philosophers, Chinese, Hindoo, Persian, and Greek, were a class than which none has been poorer in outward riches, none so rich in inward. We know not much about them. It is remarkable that we know so much of them as we do. The same is true of the more modern reformers and benefactors of their race. None can be an impartial or wise observer of human life but from the vantage ground of what we should call voluntary poverty. Of a life of luxury the fruit is luxury, whether in agriculture, or commerce, or literature, or art. There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers. Yet it is admirable to profess because it was once admirable to live. To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically. The success of great scholars and thinkers is commonly a courtier-like success, not kingly, not manly. They make shift to live merely by conformity, practically as their fathers did, and are in no sense the progenitors of a noble race of men. But why do men degenerate ever? What makes families run out? What is the nature of the luxury which enervates and destroys nations? Are we sure that there is none of it in our own lives? The philosopher is in advance of his age even in the outward form of his life. He is not fed, sheltered, clothed, warmed, like his contemporaries. How can a man be a philosopher and not maintain his vital heat by better methods than other men?
When a man is warmed by the several modes which I have described, what does he want next? Surely not more warmth of the same kind, as more and richer food, larger and more splendid houses, finer and more abundant clothing, more numerous, incessant, and hotter fires, and the like. When he has obtained those things which are necessary to life, there is another alternative than to obtain the superfluities; and that is, to adventure on life now, his vacation from humbler toil having commenced. The soil, it appears, is suited to the seed, for it has sent its radicle downward, and it may now send its shoot upward also with confidence. Why has man rooted himself thus firmly in the earth, but that he may rise in the same proportion into the heavens above? — for the nobler plants are valued for the fruit they bear at last in the air and light, far from the ground, and are not treated like the humbler esculents, which, though they may be biennials, are cultivated only till they have perfected their root, and often cut down at top for this purpose, so that most would not know them in their flowering season.
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor
did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
Still we live meanly, like ants; though the fable tells us that we were long ago changed into men; like pygmies we fight with cranes; it is error upon error, and clout upon clout, and our best virtue has for its occasion a superfluous and evitable wretchedness. Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb- nail. In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion. Our life is like a German Confederacy, made up of petty states, with its boundary forever fluctuating, so that even a German cannot tell you how it is bounded at any moment. The nation itself, with all its so-called internal improvements, which, by the way are all external and superficial, is just such an unwieldy and overgrown establishment, cluttered with furniture and tripped up by its own traps, ruined by luxury and heedless expense, by want of calculation and a worthy aim, as the million households in the land; and the only cure for it, as for them, is in a rigid economy, a stern and more than Spartan simplicity of life and elevation of purpose. It lives too fast. Men think that it is essential that the Nation have commerce, and export ice, and talk through a telegraph, and ride thirty miles an hour, without a doubt, whether they do or not; but whether we should live like baboons or like men, is a little
uncertain. If we do not get out sleepers, and forge rails, and devote days and nights to the work, but go to tinkering upon our lives to improve them, who will build railroads? And if railroads are not built, how shall we get to heaven in season? But if we stay at home and mind our business, who will want railroads? We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us. Did you ever think what those sleepers are that underlie the railroad? Each one is a man, an Irishman, or a Yankee man. The rails are laid on them, and they are covered with sand, and the cars run smoothly over them. They are sound sleepers, I assure you. And every few years a new lot is laid down and run over; so that, if some have the pleasure of riding on a rail, others have the misfortune to be ridden upon. And when they run over a man that is walking in his sleep, a supernumerary sleeper in the wrong position, and wake him up, they suddenly stop the cars, and make a hue and cry about it, as if this were an exception. I am glad to know that it takes a gang of men for every five
miles to keep the sleepers down and level in their beds as it is, for this is a sign that they may sometime get up again.
I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.
I desire to speak somewhere without bounds; like a man in a waking moment, to men in their waking moments; for I am convinced that I cannot exaggerate enough even to lay the foundation of a true expression. Who that has heard a strain of music feared then lest he should speak extravagantly any more forever? In view of the future or possible, we should live quite laxly and undefined in front, our outlines dim and misty on that side; as our shadows reveal an insensible perspiration toward the sun. The volatile truth of our words should continually betray the inadequacy of the residual statement. Their truth is instantly translated; its literal monument alone remains. The words which express our faith and piety are not definite; yet they are significant and fragrant like frankincense to superior natures.
Some are dinning in our ears that we Americans, and moderns generally, are intellectual dwarfs compared with the ancients, or even the Elizabethan men. But what is that to the purpose? A living dog is better than a dead lion. Shall a man go and hang himself because he belongs to the race of pygmies, and not be the biggest pygmy that he can? Let every one mind his own business, and endeavor to be what he was made.
Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
Remember my friends, Meditation is about not thinking. So sit back, relax, and as thoughts come into your mind on your in-breath, gently release them and only hear the sound of your out-breath. Calmly, and slowly, let your face let go, let your arms dangle down by your sides, and let your legs just fall.