Tuesday, November 16, 2010

MAKING AUSTRALIA HAPPY ... MINDFULLY AND OTHERWISE

“Eight volunteers. Three experts. Eight weeks. One vision.”
Last night I watched the first episode Making Australia Happy on ABC-1 ... and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Here’s the link to the first episode.
For the first time ever, in Making Australia Happy the latest and most fascinating research from the science of happiness has been compiled, consolidated and taken for a test drive on the suburban streets of Sydney. Three of Australia’s leading experts have agreed to “take” eight people from what is said to be "Australia's unhappiest area" - Marrickville, in the Sydney metropolitan area - and “give” them the necessary living tools to empower them to become happier.

As Dr Norman Vincent Peale used to say, we are all in the "manufacturing" business ... each of us, each day, manufactures our own happiness or unhappiness as the case may be. This TV program, along with other writings, talks about the "science of happiness". To me, it's all about "altered attitudes" and "choices" ... no matter what happens to us. Easier said than done, of course.
The eight volunteers, from all different walks of life, all live within the Marrickville area but were unknown to each other prior to being selected for the program. Individually and collectively, these eight people represent a range of ages, backgrounds and life circumstances. What they share in common was the desire to get happy. After screening for clinical depression and mental health issues, the producers selected eight individuals who were "relatively unhappy but ready for change".

Heading up the “team of experts” is Dr Tony Grant, who is an academic and a practitioner and international pioneer in the fields of coaching psychology and positive psychology. he makes the interesting point that an "attitude of gratitude" - familiar to those involved in Twelve Step programs - has been shown to have lasting psychophysiological effects for up to 6 months. Amazing! So, be grateful ... again, no matter what happens.

Then there’s Dr Russ Harris, a Mindfulness expert and the author of the international bestseller The Happiness Trap.

Finally, there is physiotherapist and mind-body specialist Anna-Louise Bouvier. She’s there to attend to the bio-physical needs of the volunteers.

After explaining what Mindfulness is - “paying attention with openness, curiosity and flexibility” was the description given - Dr Russ Harris engaged the eight volunteers in two Mindfulness exercises. The first was “the sultana bit” ... sounds, at first, like the old burlesque routine known as “the lemon bit”, but it's altogether different. You take just one a sultana and look, smell, touch, feel, fondle, listen (!), taste, etc, the sultana for 5 minutes, before ultimately swallowing the sultana.

For those familiar with the writings of the celebrated Zen master and author Thich Nhat Hanh, he, long ago, recommended that you put just one raisin in your mouth and, without doing anything, let it dissolve. Sultana, raisin, orange ... it doesn’t matter.

The sultana exercise was followed by an exercise in Mindful Listening in which volunteers, in pairs, faced each other, taking turns to listen mindfully ... without interruption or commentary ... to each other tell the other person about a happy incident and then a most unhappy incident in their life. All very moving.

I was greatly impressed by the way the volunteers responded to the use of Mindfulness “techniques” (I know I shouldn’t use that word). Mindfulness made a big impact on the way they started to feel about themselves, assisting them to develop empathy and understanding for others as well as learning to stay focused in, and curious about, the present moment.

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