The Happiness Curriculum

If I’m honest, I was never a big reader. That might surprise some folks that know me because my undergraduate degree is in English Literature which, by definition, requires a great deal of reading.

College made me appreciate it, I guess, and it stuck, though I rarely prioritized it. That was the case until I took a job years later that involved a 30-45 minute commute. Every good multitasker will tell you that you can make good use of that time even if you’re driving. For me, it was to sneak a few good books in with my subscription to Audible.

That’s what started the consumption of great titles, but it doesn’t explain the subject matter. I, of course, had read a self-help book on occasion. Clearly, nonfiction is not nearly as exciting as something fictional on the drive to a day packed with meetings and onerous tasks. But something lit a fire one day as I was trying to make sense of stories in my own life and wondering why, despite all of the relatively good circumstances I enjoyed, I wasn’t happier.

My first clue began back in 2004 when I first read the Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. It was a difficult read, and I’m not sure I finished it, truthfully. But in 2012, I watched an interview with him on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, and I was mesmerized. I decided that he had to be the happiest person in the world, and I determined to read the book again. This led me down a road that crossed paths with many of the same authors that would appear on Oprah’s series. And some of the authors I found while listening to interviews on podcasts I subscribed to — Rob Bell’s Robcast, for example, or Dan Harris’s 10% Happier podcast. Others came out of Ted Talks or Twitter follows. At times, I felt like the universe was conspiring to make me happy or at least lead me to people who could show me the way.

Before I explain further, take a look at the list of titles that helped me get acquainted with happiness:

  1. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle
  2. Moments of Forever: Discovering the True Power and Importance of Your Life by Bill R. Path
  3. The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work by Shawn Achor
  4. Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace You Who Are by Brene Brown
  5. The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin
  6. Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington
  7. You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero
  8. Discovering Your Soul Signature: A 33-Day Path to Purpose, Passion & Joy by Panache Desai
  9. 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story by Dan Harris
  10. Rising Strong by Brene Brown
  11. How to Be Here: A Guide to Creating a Life Worth Living by Rob Bell
  12. Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living by Shauna Niequist
  13. Real Happiness at Work: Meditations for Accomplishment, Achievement, and Peace by Sharon Salzberg
  14. Be Happy! Release the Power of Happiness in YOU by Robert Holden
  15. Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits–to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life by Gretchen Rubin
  16. Essential Zen Habits: Mastering the Art of Change, Briefly by Leo Babauta
  17. Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness by Sharon Salzberg
  18. The Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success
  19. Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection by Sharon Salzberg
  20. The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams
  21. Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness
  22. Unwind! 7 Principles for a Stress-Free Life by Michael Olpin and Sam Bracken
  23. Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn

[Note: Can we talk about subtitles? I’m looking at you, Gretchen Rubin. :)]

[Second note: Can we talk about exclamation points in titles? The imperative here seems unnecessarily judgy or preachy. If I could do what you’re exclaiming, I wouldn’t be reading your book!]

In my future posts about each of these, I intend to offer an explanation for their inclusion. In my curriculum, I’ve blended a few ideas — as I started looking into happiness, mindfulness showed up on the reg. These two things are well connected through research. Good habits are also a prevailing theme. You might notice repeated authors because if they’ve written one successful book on the subject, they have probably found an area of expertise in the happiness realm. Or, as in the case of Sharon Salzberg, she’s just a rock star, and you should probably read anything she has written.

There are a few duds, too, as I will explain later. Whether it came to me as a recommendation or I stumbled upon it in my partner’s library, I still included it as a guidepost if nothing else.

This is, by no means, an exhaustive list. I’m sure to find more and will add accordingly. I will gladly consider additions to the list. I am certain to be criticized for leaving off seminal works that are obvious to all. I get it. Also note that these are more practical works which incorporate science but are not academic. There were definitely points along the way that turned me on to some of the research, but I was satisfied by the author’s incorporation of the data without sliding into yet another rabbit hole.

But listen, there are tons of self-help books out there, and apparently the pursuit of happiness is more than just an inalienable right declared in our independence from British tyranny. It’s a real thing with which Americans still struggle even through they are usually the ones sabotaging themselves in mediocre servitude. This list of resources is what I stumbled upon which helped me gain some sort of clarity or inspired a level of introspection that I couldn’t unlock before. I hope it’s helpful as I read them again and post my key takeaways that may inspire others to do the same.

 

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OKC Remembered – #DiscoverOK

It’s only been a few months since I made Tulsa home, and it’s time I start exploring. I’m beginning a new series of posts called #discoverOK where I will share the experience. What better way to start than with a place that matched up with the appropriate occasion: the Oklahoma City Memorial over Memorial Day weekend.
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Granted, most of these photos are of the park, but if you go to only the outdoor portion of the site, you’re missing out on the raw emotion captured in the museum’s storytelling. It had been a long time since I even thought about the OKC bombing, and I found the experience just as disturbing as it was meant to be.

It is a heart-wrenching multimedia drama— from the audio of the explosion in the beginning to the end when the shadow of a building was demolished and the last remaining bodies recovered. Except that it was real. This happened. And you’re left to consider what kind of monster would inflict such human suffering— what calloused heart could kill like this.

And you will walk away with no answers at all.

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Joplin

Over the weekend, I drove up to Joplin to see my parents. I chose a different exit this time, deliberately choosing the path through where the tornado had made its mark this time last year. The hospital still looks like something out of 1980s Beirut.

My family was very lucky last year, their homes untouched. Still, they can tell some horrible stories. Driving through it again this weekend and seeing signs of new life, new development was encouraging and still heartbreaking.

It’s hard to believe how different the landscape is now. My dad said that for days it was nearly impossible to get your bearings. There was a scramble to somehow label streets because it all seemed indistinguishable… same devastation, block after block. It’s still like that. I get to a certain point, and without a street sign, it’s very easy to get turned around.

You know I used to tell people that I was from Joplin, and nobody knew where that was. Now, when I say I’m from Joplin, I get the same question every time. “Family affected?” Thank God the answer is no. Ironic that a tornado figuratively put Joplin on the map while literally wiping whole sections from it.

Moving

I know, I know. It’s like tumbleweeds around here. But I’ve experienced A LOT of changes over the last few months, and it’s time I addressed them here. File this under “things I would not have predicted six months ago.”

For context, changes in relationship status are difficult to address. Especially when a 10-year-old partnership comes to a bitter end. Looking at this particular digital record of greatest hits was painful, and it was easier just to ignore it.

When things changed for the better (like they always do), and suddenly I found myself on a brand new course, I was gladly caught up in that ensuing whirlwind. Documenting it became secondary to actually living it.

See, freedom to love again is a powerful thing. It will change every little thing you do, feel, see, and believe — for the better. If it’s done right, it’s also challenging. Scary. Some have even said crazy.

At this stage in my life, I’d like to think I still have more years ahead of me than are behind me. I’m still young enough, arguably naive enough, to make bold choices some would call risks. As one of my favorite songs says, “Love’s for fools wise enough to take a chance.”

This move is not without precedent. In 1994, I moved to the Little Rock area not knowing a soul. I was 22, and I was free. Talk about best of times, worst of times. I learned something worth passing on: do things in life that scare the hell out of you. It’s character-building, and you’ll find your soul exactly when you need to.

And I decided back then that if I ever became so firmly planted in one place that I am no longer a flight risk, you might as well just bury me. I don’t want to be complacent. I don’t want to be tied down.

It’s time for me to literally and figuratively move on. So I’m selling my things, packing what’s left, and moving to Tulsa. I’m sad to leave one of the best jobs I’ve ever had with colleagues who’ve been my surrogate family. (If you’re looking for a web content job, you should explore this.) However, I deliberately chose a public relations gig at a Tulsa university because of this great network of high ed web professionals I also call friends.

Yeah, so I’m moving for love. Some have scoffed at that. To them I say this, if you’re not willing to move for love, can you be moved?

I don’t know a single reason that’s better than this one.