Tag Archives: Action for Happiness

Altruism – the wish that other people may be happy – Matthieu Ricard

This week I went to the Action for Happiness talk with Matthieu Ricard, Buddhist Monk, Photographer and Author.  He is on his book tour talking about his new book  Altruism: The Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World.  I was very excited to have the opportunity to see him in London and I even got a photo with him at the end :))  Most people bought the book and had it signed, I decided at the end I wanted a photo, I like to be different!


I waited alone in the queue of 800 plus people waiting to go in to see Matthieu Ricard.  I thought I might see a few people I know (most of the people I did know where inside volunteering, Shamash Alidina, Manuel Kraus, Jo Marshall).  I waited and what struck me, me included was that nobody was talking to each other.  I thought people at an event on happiness and altruism might be a bit more friendly and talkative.  I was wrong most people looked tired and serious.  Until I spotted one person I met 2 weeks ago at the Wake Up and Heart of London Sangha event for entrepreneurs.  I invited him to join the queue with me and he offered me his tea, which was very kind I thought because I did actually want some tea.

There were a lot of people at the event, people needed to be seated upstairs in the venue.  The sound upstairs was not working so people came downstairs.  An observation I made was, again this was a talk about altruism, helping others.  Most people seemed to be in their own worlds, a few people a guy that volunteers for Positive news and another lady were bringing chairs out for extra people to be seated.  I decided to help them and ask people to move inside to the sides to make more room.  Leadership is something you do before waiting to be asked to do it, I was not asked to help, but I could see there was a need to make people more comfortable.  Most of us are so absorbed in our own problems, inner world, we do not see around us.

This week I am going to be a little lazy and share the transcript with you from Matthieu’s Ted talk, he said some of the same stuff at the talk I went to.  I have highlighted some key points in bold if you want to scan the transcript.


So we humans have an extraordinary potential for goodness, but also an immense power to do harm. Any tool can be used to build or to destroy. That all depends on our motivation. Therefore, it is all the more important to foster an altruistic motivation rather than a selfish one.


So now we indeed are facing many challenges in our times. Those could be personal challenges. Our own mind can be our best friend or our worst enemy. There’s also societal challenges: poverty in the midst of plenty, inequalities, conflict, injustice. And then there are the new challenges, which we don’t expect. Ten thousand years ago, there were about five million human beings on Earth. Whatever they could do, the Earth’s resilience would soon heal human activities. After the Industrial and Technological Revolutions, that’s not the same anymore. We are now the major agent of impact on our Earth. We enter the Anthropocene, the era of human beings. So in a way, if we were to say we need to continue this endless growth, endless use of material resources, it’s like if this man was saying — and I heard a former head of state, I won’t mention who, saying — “Five years ago, we were at the edge of the precipice. Today we made a big step forward.” So this edge is the same that has been defined by scientists as the planetary boundaries. And within those boundaries, they can carry a number of factors. We can still prosper, humanity can still prosper for 150,000 years if we keep the same stability of climate as in the Holocene for the last 10,000 years. But this depends on choosing a voluntary simplicity, growing qualitatively, not quantitatively.


So in 1900, as you can see, we were well within the limits of safety. Now, in 1950 came the great acceleration. Now hold your breath, not too long, to imagine what comes next. Now we have vastly overrun some of the planetary boundaries. Just to take biodiversity, at the current rate, by 2050, 30 percent of all species on Earth will have disappeared. Even if we keep their DNA in some fridge, that’s not going to be reversible. So here I am sitting in front of a 7,000-meter-high, 21,000-foot glacier in Bhutan. At the Third Pole, 2,000 glaciers are melting fast, faster than the Arctic.


So what can we do in that situation? Well, however complex politically, economically, scientifically the question of the environment is, it simply boils down to a question of altruism versus selfishness. I’m a Marxist of the Groucho tendency. (Laughter) Groucho Marx said, “Why should I care about future generations? What have they ever done for me?” (Laughter) Unfortunately, I heard the billionaire Steve Forbes, on Fox News, saying exactly the same thing, but seriously. He was told about the rise of the ocean, and he said, “I find it absurd to change my behavior today for something that will happen in a hundred years.” So if you don’t care for future generations, just go for it.


So one of the main challenges of our times is to reconcile three time scales: the short term of the economy, the ups and downs of the stock market, the end-of-the-year accounts; the midterm of the quality of life — what is the quality every moment of our life, over 10 years and 20 years? — and the long term of the environment. When the environmentalists speak with economists, it’s like a schizophrenic dialogue, completely incoherent. They don’t speak the same language. Now, for the last 10 years, I went around the world meeting economists, scientists, neuroscientists, environmentalists, philosophers, thinkers in the Himalayas, all over the place. It seems to me, there’s only one concept that can reconcile those three time scales. It is simply having more consideration for others. If you have more consideration for others, you will have a caring economics, where finance is at the service of society and not society at the service of finance. You will not play at the casino with the resources that people have entrusted you with. If you have more consideration for others, you will make sure that you remedy inequality, that you bring some kind of well-being within society, in education, at the workplace. Otherwise, a nation that is the most powerful and the richest but everyone is miserable, what’s the point? And if you have more consideration for others, you are not going to ransack that planet that we have and at the current rate, we don’t have three planets to continue that way.


So the question is, okay, altruism is the answer, it’s not just a novel ideal, but can it be a real, pragmatic solution? And first of all, does it exist, true altruism, or are we so selfish? So some philosophers thought we were irredeemably selfish. But are we really all just like rascals? That’s good news, isn’t it? Many philosophers, like Hobbes, have said so. But not everyone looks like a rascal. Or is man a wolf for man? But this guy doesn’t seem too bad. He’s one of my friends in Tibet. He’s very kind. So now, we love cooperation. There’s no better joy than working together, is there? And then not only humans. Then, of course, there’s the struggle for life, the survival of the fittest, social Darwinism. But in evolution, cooperation — though competition exists, of course — cooperation has to be much more creative to go to increased levels of complexity. We are super-cooperators and we should even go further.


So now, on top of that, the quality of human relationships. The OECD did a survey among 10 factors, including income, everything. The first one that people said, that’s the main thing for my happiness, is quality of social relationships. Not only in humans. And look at those great-grandmothers. So now, this idea that if we go deep within, we are irredeemably selfish, this is armchair science. There is not a single sociological study, psychological study, that’s ever shown that. Rather, the opposite. My friend, Daniel Batson, spent a whole life putting people in the lab in very complex situations. And of course we are sometimes selfish, and some people more than others. But he found that systematically, no matter what, there’s a significant number of people who do behave altruistically, no matter what. If you see someone deeply wounded, great suffering, you might just help out of empathic distress — you can’t stand it, so it’s better to help than to keep on looking at that person. So we tested all that, and in the end, he said, clearly people can be altruistic. So that’s good news. And even further, we should look at the banality of goodness. Now look at here. When we come out, we aren’t going to say, “That’s so nice. There was no fistfight while this mob was thinking about altruism.” No, that’s expected, isn’t it? If there was a fistfight, we would speak of that for months. So the banality of goodness is something that doesn’t attract your attention, but it exists.


Now, look at this. So some psychologists said, when I tell them I run 140 humanitarian projects in the Himalayas that give me so much joy, they said, “Oh, I see, you work for the warm glow. That is not altruistic. You just feel good.” You think this guy, when he jumped in front of the train, he thought, “I’m going to feel so good when this is over?” (Laughter) But that’s not the end of it. They say, well, but when you interviewed him, he said, “I had no choice. I had to jump, of course.” He has no choice. Automatic behavior. It’s neither selfish nor altruistic. No choice? Well of course, this guy’s not going to think for half an hour, “Should I give my hand? Not give my hand?” He does it. There is a choice, but it’s obvious, it’s immediate. And then, also, there he had a choice. (Laughter)


There are people who had choice, like Pastor André Trocmé and his wife, and the whole village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon in France. For the whole Second World War, they saved 3,500 Jews, gave them shelter, brought them to Switzerland, against all odds, at the risk of their lives and those of their family. So altruism does exist.


So what is altruism? It is the wish: May others be happy and find the cause of happiness. Now, empathy is the affective resonance or cognitive resonance that tells you, this person is joyful, this person suffers. But empathy alone is not sufficient. If you keep on being confronted with suffering, you might have empathic distress, burnout, so you need the greater sphere of loving-kindness. With Tania Singer at the Max Planck Institute of Leipzig, we showed that the brain networks for empathy and loving-kindness are different. Now, that’s all well done, so we got that from evolution, from maternal care, parental love, but we need to extend that. It can be extended even to other species.


Now, if we want a more altruistic society, we need two things: individual change and societal change. So is individual change possible? Two thousand years of contemplative study said yes, it is. Now, 15 years of collaboration with neuroscience and epigenetics said yes, our brains change when you train in altruism. So I spent 120 hours in an MRI machine. This is the first time I went after two and a half hours. And then the result has been published in many scientific papers. It shows without ambiguity that there is structural change and functional change in the brain when you train the altruistic love. Just to give you an idea: this is the meditator at rest on the left, meditator in compassion meditation, you see all the activity, and then the control group at rest, nothing happened, in meditation, nothing happened. They have not been trained.


So do you need 50,000 hours of meditation? No, you don’t. Four weeks, 20 minutes a day, of caring, mindfulness meditation already brings a structural change in the brain compared to a control group. That’s only 20 minutes a day for four weeks.


Even with preschoolers — Richard Davidson did that in Madison. An eight-week program: gratitude, loving- kindness, cooperation, mindful breathing. You would say, “Oh, they’re just preschoolers.” Look after eight weeks, the pro-social behavior, that’s the blue line. And then comes the ultimate scientific test, the stickers test. Before, you determine for each child who is their best friend in the class, their least favorite child, an unknown child, and the sick child, and they have to give stickers away. So before the intervention, they give most of it to their best friend. Four, five years old, 20 minutes three times a week. After the intervention, no more discrimination: the same amount of stickers to their best friend and the least favorite child. That’s something we should do in all the schools in the world.


Now where do we go from there?




When the Dalai Lama heard that, he told Richard Davidson, “You go to 10 schools, 100 schools, the U.N., the whole world.”


So now where do we go from there? Individual change is possible. Now do we have to wait for an altruistic gene to be in the human race? That will take 50,000 years, too much for the environment. Fortunately, there is the evolution of culture. Cultures, as specialists have shown, change faster than genes. That’s the good news. Look, attitude towards war has dramatically changed over the years. So now individual change and cultural change mutually fashion each other, and yes, we can achieve a more altruistic society.


So where do we go from there? Myself, I will go back to the East. Now we treat 100,000 patients a year in our projects. We have 25,000 kids in school, four percent overhead. Some people say, “Well, your stuff works in practice, but does it work in theory?” There’s always positive deviance. So I will also go back to my hermitage to find the inner resources to better serve others.


But on the more global level, what can we do? We need three things. Enhancing cooperation: Cooperative learning in the school instead of competitive learning, Unconditional cooperation within corporations — there can be some competition between corporations, but not within. We need sustainable harmony. I love this term. Not sustainable growth anymore. Sustainable harmony means now we will reduce inequality. In the future, we do more with less, and we continue to grow qualitatively, not quantitatively. We need caring economics. The Homo economicus cannot deal with poverty in the midst of plenty, cannot deal with the problem of the common goods of the atmosphere, of the oceans. We need a caring economics. If you say economics should be compassionate, they say, “That’s not our job.” But if you say they don’t care, that looks bad. We need local commitment, global responsibility. We need to extend altruism to the other 1.6 million species. Sentient beings are co-citizens in this world. and we need to dare altruism.


So, long live the altruistic revolution. Viva la revolución de altruismo.

If you do not have time 30 second sketch note of his talk –

Matthieu in his talk this week shared data of how crime has gone down over the years.  However, people are more afraid now to let their kids play in the street than 30 years ago.  The media mostly shows the dark side of humanity and what has gone wrong.  We are afraid to talk to strangers and help each other.  The statistics show a different story.  If you do not believe the statistics, then maybe we need a middle ground.  I like what Adam Grant said at a previous Action for Happiness talk, he said to imagine that people have your best interests at heart and they want to help you.  He calls it Pronoia “the delusional belief that other people are plotting your well-being.”  We are so used to paranoia, that people are against us.


With everything there can be a lot of talk, scientific evidence, intellectual debate, we can go round in circles with this.  Thinking we are better than others.  We are important etc etc.  For me the end of his talk was a little wow moment, how he with a group of volunteers shows compassion in action.  He showed us the work of the charity he has founded Karuna-Shechen  , this is what matters most to me, how we help ourselves and each other.  He is using his knowledge and wisdom to directly help people suffering.  For example, during this months book tour all money Karuna-Shechen receive this month is going directly to help people in Nepal.  I have donated a monthly amount.  If you want to donate please do 100% donations go to their projects.

I will leave you with something you can practice if you want to wish that other people be happy.  This comes from Meng who works at Google and runs the Search Inside Yourself programme.  He encourages you to spend 10 seconds an hour, silently wishing happiness for others around you.  Try this for a week, beginning with 10 seconds a day.  There are limitless places to practice this.  I like the suggestion I got from Nathanael Wolfe, to practice sending people compassion when you are in the park and walking around.

Happy weekend to you all 😉

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

The kindness of strangers and the possibilities for new connections this opens

It is with deep gratitude I write this post to the people I met in California during my time there from February to March 2015.  Most of us only appreciate people when it is too late.  At funerals, I wish people would have said how great someone was to them and not afterwards.  In this vain I want to mention quite a few people for their kindness and generosity, especially in offering me a place to sleep during my trip.

I travelled with my friend Shamash Alidina for the second time to California, to attend the Wisdom 2.0 Conference.  During our visit he met up with his friends from Awesomeness Fest, Mark Duncan was one of them.

IMG_3027-MOTIONHe invited us to a Oneness Blessing somewhere close to San Jose I think, we went to a beautiful house, where Olga Llerena leads a weekly meditation group on a Monday evening.  While we were meditating there was a film crew filming us for a documentary they were making on meditation in California around the bay area. IMG_6362








While I was there I encouraged Olga and her daughter to go to the Wisdom 2.0 conference as they knew one of the organisers and lived so close by to it.  To my surprise during one of the Wisdom 2.0 pre parties Olga’s daughter Mali came up to me to say hi, I was like hi and surprised to see her.  She asked me:  “where are you staying tonight?” I said: “I don’t know, probably in the car.” I checked with my friend Shamash and we did not have a plan of where we were sleeping on that night.  I was amazed by the kindness of Mali Llerena someone I had met 3 days before offering us a place to stay.  We ended up sleeping on 2 of the sofa’s, a little bit like coach surfing I think which I have not done yet.  We also got to hang out a little during the conference, where she gave her time to volunteer at the conference.


Another friend Nathanael Wolfe who I met at the party during Wisdom Week at Happy hour at Zynga  who is co-founder of an app called Mindfulness Daily and randomly friends and co-founder with Walter, who I met the year before and who was a regular at my google mediation hangout.  He offered us a place to stay at his place in Oakland.  On the news in the US Oakland is portrayed negatively and shown as a place not to visit.  I was surprised by the beauty of Oakland when I visited and the diversity of the people that live in Oakland (which locals are proud about), plus the beautiful lake and architecture.  I am grateful for Nathanael taking the time to show us around his neighbourhood and we also visited the Oakland Art Murmur, a collection of galleries and mixed-use venues displaying art, music and spoken word on the first friday evening of the month.

We also got to meet Nathanael’s roommate Jared Peters co-founder of Origami Robotics.  This blew me a way, the creativity of two app guy’s sharing the same space. The robot had been designed to help therapists/educators with Autism therapy and language learning.  We watched this video below together:


Jared in his role as an educator working with Autistic kids realised there was a gap in the market for usable, friendly, affordable robots to help kids learn how to develop human relationships.  He showed us the robot and shared with us that is hand-made and he is currently raising funding while doing a million other things, so if you work with Autistic kids or know of anyone that does please share his work with them and help more kids have access to this robot technology that can change a child and their families lives for the better.

I hope this shows you how being open to new possibilities and saying yes can bring you a lot more knowledge, wisdom and love into your life.

If you want to increase your giving skills you can watch Professor Adam Grant’s talk on his book ‘Give and Take’ where he shares what successful givers do from his research:

One thing I took away when I attended his talk was the Recipriciocity Ring Exercise.  I have used this a few times when I have facilitated groups and seen the power that it can create, when we give and share.  Thank you also to Evelyn Sabino from Catylst Creativ who shared her template with me on how to do this in large groups, which she uses in the events she runs in downtown Las Vegas.  Yesterday during the London Wisdompreneur meetup that I lead we used this exercise towards the end of the meetup and it created new connections and possibilities, where we have committed to helping each other succeed. 11156245_10153104223001141_7337800368597149681_n So I encourage you to think about what you can give to others, be it your time listening to them with your heart, a skill or strength that you are good at, a book, the list is endless.

Tagged , , , , , ,

What is mindfulness? And why more people are becoming interested in this practice – my mindful March experience

g055-tnh-mindfulness-is-a-source-of-happiness-09_largeIn the last couple of weeks, I have been practicing mindfulness during my daily life. I have been recently attending a weekly mindfulness group in Richmond, which has encouraged me to practice mindfulness during the two hour group meeting and in between the meetings.  They say when you set an intention and focus on a particular area, you become surrounded by information in that area.  This is certainly true in my case for mindfulness.  Glow at work ran a masterclass on Mindfulness at Work with Gary Born, where we gave some people an opportunity to practice mindfulness for the first time and explore ways to apply mindfulness to the workplace.  In the weekly mindfulness group I have been attending, the number of people interested in attending has doubled, which has resulted in another group being set up in Twickenham.  There definitely is more information out there for the general public on mindfulness and its application’s are being seen in Government, Schools, Prisons, Workplaces and Healthcare settings.  My week ended with a mindful birthday dinner with Maneesh who I connected with at the first Mindfulness at Work conference and Shamash who has written the Mindfulness for Dummies book; the applications are endless.

Jon Kabat-Zinn was in London and I was really excited to see him, with approximately a 1,000 other people.  The queue outside Friends House was similar to a concert queue, everybody eager to hear Jon speak about Mindfulness.  The evening with Jon Kabat-Zinn was sponsored by Action for Happiness.  Baron Layard shared that he recently took the first mindfulness course for parliamentarians from the Oxford Centre for Mindfulness.

Jon is famous for bringing mindfulness in a non-secular form, from the east to the west 30 years ago.  His definition of mindfulness is regularly quoted:

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way;

On purpose,

in the present moment, and


The setting was Friends House in London Euston, where all the chairs face each other and famous people like Gandhi have also spoken.  Jon wanted the evening to be about communication and connection. He said mindfulness has the potential to move the bell curve of world wellbeing. It allows us to have a wise relationship with suffering and happiness in the world.  Suffering and happiness are a part of life and mindfulness helps us to acknowledge and accept this.  Mindfulness gives us the tools, for example the focus on our breath, which we carry  everywhere we go and we can learn to use more consciously.  It grounds us into our present reality and gives us regular opportunities to practise mindfulness.  He said it is a muscle that cannot grow without a certain amount of resistance.  It involves a certain  amount of discipline and hard work.  The beauty is that we can use anything that arises in our lives to grow these muscles and allow it to shape and develop us.  It is important to recognise that it involves daily practice, similar to how we eat , brush our teeth and shower each and every day.  We can even use these daily activities to practice, it is as simple as saying to yourself I am eating, thinking about the process of eating, I am brushing my teeth, I am in the shower (your mind may have wandered to already being at work).  These daily mundane activities, can easily reconnect and train our minds to check in and practice mindfulness.

When you look at people meditating you may think they are wasting their time doing nothing when there are so many useful things they could be doing.  In reality it is a process of ‘non-doing’ (waking up, being present, not trying to get anywhere) that can help us in so many ways with our health and wellbeing.  In the last decade there have been 1,000’s of studies demonstrating the science behind the positive changes that occur in our brains when we meditate. For example, neuroscience findings show us the benefits of mindfulness for focus and concentration.  A lack of focus and concentration can really undermine your work performance.  Practicing mindfulness can improve your focus and concentration, even when in a busy or stressful environment.

  • Research into mindfulness in a work context suggests that mindfulness widens your attentional breadth, allowing you to be aware of a lot of things simultaneously (Dane, E, 2010).
  • A recent study conducted in the US Marine Crops investigated the impact of mindfulness training on working memory capacity.  The study suggests that mindfulness training may improve working memory in a stressful environment (Jha Ap et al, 2010).
  • Researchers at Harvard used MRI scans to look at the brains of people who had practised mindfulness meditation for many years, and found that areas of the brain associated with attention and sensory processing were thicker than in people who had never meditated. (Lazar S et al, 2005).

In all Asian languages the word for mind and heart is the same, the chinese character for ‘mindfulness’ combines the ideograms for presence and heart.  In the west we separate the two words and worlds.  The eastern definition is about attention, that you can call affectionate attention.


Jon came to mindfulness at 22; “Wow this is what I have been looking for my whole life. It’s a way of being, a technique, that involves practice and cultivation.”

He shared his daily practice with us, this involves taking his seat early in the morning,  to check in and cultivate the seeds for the day. He see’s it as a radical act of love not just a discipline. It is a time for ‘being’ and not ‘doing’. We live in a world of to do lists that are endless. And mindfulness helps us to stop and take a moment to get away from this never ending treadmill of actions and tasks, to focus on who we really are, providing insight to work on what is really important to us as human beings.

Endless words of wisdom from Jon on mindfulness:

– It’s a radical act of love and self compassion.

– It is much about nothing but it is just about everything.

– The thinking mind cannot understand it.

– You can turn the sound down and watch the thoughts – become transparent to your thoughts, they come and they go, like weather patterns

– You’re perfect already – when did you thank your liver for what’s it’s doing right now?

– There are many things we have to live to learn with.

– Do not take things personally, there is very little that is personal.

– Happiness and sorrow go together – they are intimately related and how the heart and mind are related.

photoThe best reason he says to meditate is that you feel integrated, we call ourselves human beings and we act more like human doings. If you want to create anxiety, just think about your emails or constant connection with your smartphone.  Maybe we need to apply this connection or obsession we have with being connected to the external world (I struggle without WiFi) to how we connect with ourselves, like GPS for the soul, how regularly do you check in with yourself?  Say where am I? Who am I with?  Am I paying attention? Is my breathing relaxed or stressed?  Just noticing your surroundings.

I will end with closing words from Jon: “Live life as if it really matters. Real meditation is how you live your life, moment to moment with huge self compassion.”

Written by Harpal Dhatt, CEO & Occupational Psychologist  @Glowatwork

More information on the science of mindfulness-

– The science is showing us when we mediate, we are becoming more compassionate and it is changing the structure of our brains.  There are 600 research studies into mindfulness on the mindfulnet website http://www.mindfulnet.org/page4.htm#RMINDFULNESS, they have also produced a business case for mindfulness document.  Mindfulness in the workplace case studies can also be viewed on the Mindfulnet website http://www.mindfulnet.org/page9.htm

– John Teasdale, the founder of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, has done a lot of work on how mindfulness transforms suffering. There is 1000’s of years of wisdom behind mindfulness, you do not have to be a Buddhist to do this. The Buddha was not even a Buddhist, it is a European term. It’s a practise open to all.


Action for Happiness-  http://www.actionforhappiness.org/about-us/an-evening-with-jon-kabat-zinn (watch video of an evening with Jon Kabat-Zinn)

Business case for mindfulness in the workplace http://www.mindfulnet.org/page35.htm

Dane, E. (2010)  Paying attention to mindfulness and its effect on task performance in the workplace.  Journal of Management.

Davidson, R, Kabat-Zinn, J et al (2003).  Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation.

Jha Ap, Stanley EA, Kiyonaga A, Wong L, Gelfand, L. (2010)  Examining the protcetive effects of mindfulness training on working memory capacity and affective experience.  Emption 2010.

Hunter, J & McCormick, D (2008).  “Mindfulness in the Workplace:  An Exploratory Study”  Paper presented at the meeting of the 2008 Academy of Management Annual Meeting.  Anaheim, CA.

Lazer S et al. (2005) ‘Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness’, Neuroreport 16 (17): 1893- 97

‘Citizens and Governance in a Knowledge Based Society’: Understanding and Responding to Societal Demands on Corporate Responsibility (RESPONSE)

Tagged , , , ,