Monday, June 29, 2015

Nonfiction | How to Be Happy, in 22 Easy Steps!

The Read Harder Challenge lists a "self-improvement" book as one of its categories. Erm, self-help? Not really my cup of tea. Self-reflection is great and all, but I'm certain there are more theories on how to live than there are people who are living. When it comes to advice, everyone's got an opinion. How can one generic way of living work for everyone when we are all so uniquely individual?

I understand that is probably not the point of self-help books. I understand the advice shared by all these "expert" authors is adaptable and may not be 100% applicable to every life. But, I still just try and figure things out for myself and base my life's direction on experience or the experiences of my nearest and dearest. I thought the quest for a book to fit this category would be difficult, but I was pleasantly surprised in stumbling upon Linda Leaming's A Field Guide to Happiness: What I Learned in Bhutan about Living, Loving, and Waking Up.

Happiness is probably the number one thing I strive for—the attribute at the top of my "values" list. The same apparently goes for Linda Leaming. She pared down her cluttered, stressful, American life and embraced a rugged, simplistic one up in the Himalayas. In Bhutan, there is less stuff, fewer stressors, and a general positive vibe; it is the place, after all, that puts a higher premium on its Gross National Happiness than its Gross National Product.

Leaming shares with the reader 22 short snippets of advice—the answers she has found through her experiences in Bhutan that will, if followed, leave us healthy, relaxed, and appreciative. Ultimately, these things are necessary for happiness! Simple formula, yes? 

The author's list spawns from experience and is shared through anecdotes. The inefficiency (by American standards) of bank transactions forced the author to "Calm Down;" "Kindness Will Save Us" and our patience when dealing with customer service during infuriating situations; additional contributions from strangers in a store after purchasing a homeless man clothing proves that "Generosity is Contagious." 

The good thing about Leaming's advice is that it's not so much a specific way of doing things; each chapter highlights a small shift in thinking that Leaming believes will balance one's mental state and lead to a happier state of being. It's clear her experiences in Bhutan were real eye openers. To be out of one's comfort zone and away from the usual way of doing things—whether it be in a new office environment or overseas in an entirely different culture—is to experience life with fresh eyes; it often takes such a jolt to recognize those norms we take for granted. While Leaming's advice is based on the lifestyle differences she noticed living in Bhutan, ones deeply tied to the country's Buddhist mindset, they are universal. Once recognized, you can take them anywhere.

I have to say, I really enjoyed this jaunt into the "self-help" realm. I've found myself referring to the counsel Leaming preaches, not only in my own musings but in real-life situations that have arisen. I imagine a cynic could read this as an ostentatious statement on how we're all "doing it wrong" over here in Western culture, but that angle is one of arrogance (Chapter 21: "Check Your Ego"). The whole point of this book is that we can learn from each other, our neighbors near and far. And if we remove ourselves, however temporarily, from our normal way of thinking, we may discover something new that can change us for the better.

Other than the small pieces of advice I briefly mentioned above, I decided to jot down my biggest takeaways, because great power lies in awareness. (And maybe if they're summarized, they'll be easier to remember.)

Kari's Abbreviated Guide to Happiness:
  1. Think about the unthinkable; embrace your fears and move beyond them.
  2. Never stop; let it flow.
  3. Embrace equanimity; move to the middle path.
  4. Wake up; see things as they really are.

No comments: