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The Art of Happinessthe Dalai Lama (XIV) and Howard C. Cutler

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  1. “The Art of Happiness” by the Dalai Lama (XIV) and Howard C. Cutler

    This has easily been the most inspirational and influential book I have ever read. It has completely reshaped the way in which I view myself, others, and the world in general. If you approach this book with an open mind and a willingness to change your current way of thinking then I think it will have a similar affect on you.

    The book is comprised of a series of interviews conducted by a “western” psychiatrist, Howard Cutler, that expose the Dalai Lama’s views on life. The Dalai Lama does not try and push a Buddhist agenda, but just gives straightforward and, in my opinion, common-sense guidelines. He focuses on the power of the human brain and how with training, we can bring more happiness into our lives.

    The 3 main things that I took from the book were (1) immediately confronting and analyzing my anger when it arises and if it’s justified (and for me, 100% of the time the event does not justify me losing my cool and therefore does not dampen my mood) (2) having and showing compassion for others and (3) really trying to see things from other people’s perspectives. Constantly training your brain to use these tools will produce more happiness. Of course these do not produce instant results but are things you constantly and consistently have to work on. I strongly urge you to read this entire book, but I have included some of my favorite passages from it:

    “All negative mental states act as obstacles to our happiness, but we begin with anger, which seems to be one of the biggest blocks. It is described by the Stoic philosopher Seneca as “the most hideous and frenzied of all the emotions.” Of course, one doesn’t need scientific evidence to realize how these emotions can cloud our judgment, cause feelings of extreme discomfort, or wreak havoc in our personal relationships. Our personal experiences can tell us that”

    “It seems that often when problems arise, our outlook becomes narrow. All of our attention may be focused on worrying about the problem, and we may have a sense that we’re the only one that is going through such difficulties. This can lead to a kind of self-absorption that can make the problem seem very intense. When this happens, I think that seeing things from a wider perspective can definitely help … If you only look at that one event, then it appears bigger and bigger. If you focus too closely, too intensely, on a problem when it occurs, it appears uncontrollable. But if you compare that event with some other greater event, look at the same problem from a distance, then it appears smaller and less overwhelming.”

    “In thinking about anger, there can be two types. One type of anger can be positive. This would be mainly due to one’s motivation. There can be some anger that is motivated by compassion or a sense of responsibility. Where anger is motivated by compassion, it can be used as an impetus or a catalyst for a positive action. Under these circumstances, a human emotion like anger can act as a force to bring about swift action. It creates a kind of energy that enables an individual to act quickly and decisively. It can be a powerful motivating factor. All too often, however, even though that kind of anger can act as a kind of protector and bring one extra energy, that energy is also blind, so it is uncertain whether it will become constructive or destructive in the end”

    “The destructive effects of hatred are very visible, very obvious and immediate. For example, when a very strong or forceful thought of hatred arises within you, at that very instant, it totally overwhelms you and destroys your peace of mind, your presence of mind disappears completely. When such intense anger and hatred arises, it obliterates the best part of your brain, which is the ability to judge between right and wrong, and the long-term and short-term consequences of your actions. Your power of judgment becomes totally inoperable ”

    “. . . And then when a situation does arise that makes you angry, you should directly confront your anger and analyze it. Investigate what factors have given rise to that particular instance of anger or hatred. Then, analyze further, seeing whether it is constructive or destructive. And you make an effort to exert a certain inner discipline and restraint, actively combating it by applying the antidoes: counteracting these negative emotions with thoughts of patience and tolerance”

    Content: 5/5

    Readability: 5/5

  2. Guns, Germs, And Steel by Jared Diamond.

    There’s no other way of starting a review of this book than with the word WOW. This book does a great job of explaining the complexity of human society as well as how much of a role the environment played in its development.

    From an early age we’re all taught that every human being is equal to every other human, and there are no superior or inferior races. However, when we study ancient history, we read that Europe was the hub of human accomplishments and thought. If we’re all so equal, why wasn’t this happening everywhere in the world at the same time? Why was Europe discovering the Americas and not the other way around? Jared Diamond does an excellent job of offering explanations to these questions.

    I cannot stress how important the role the environment played in the development of early human civilization. Our environment directly determines how we live and what we can do in a specified area. The Fertile Crescent (present day Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria, etc.) is where everything took off. This area contained a high diversity of crops and animals that humans were able to utilize. Diamond writes:

    “The Fertile Crescent portion, possessed at least five advantages over other Mediterranean zones. First, western Eurasia has by far the world’s largest zone of Mediterranean climate. As a result, it has a high diversity of wild plant and animal species, higher than in the comparatively tiny Mediterranean zones of southwestern Australia and Chile. Second, Western Eurasia experiences the greatest climatic variation from season to season and year to year. That variation favored the evolution, among the flora, of an especially high percentage of annual plants. Among the world’s thousands of wild grass species, out of the 56 with the largest seeds, the cream of nature’s crop, virtually all of them are native to Mediterranean zones and overwhelmingly concentrated in the Fertile Crescent (32/56).”

    So why the Fertile Crescent and not other areas along the Mediterranean zone? The first birthplace of homo sapiens has been determined to be in Ethiopia. The migration out of Ethiopia went north, and the Fertile Crescent was the first habitable location for human civilization.

    Having an abundance of food allowed groups/tribes to shift from hunter-gathers to sedentary food-producers. A sedentary society gives rise to larger populations and higher population densities. Sedentary societies rely on a portion of the populace to produce enough food for everyone, while the remaining portion are free to explore other endeavors, such as becoming priests, scientists, bureaucrats, philosophers, etc. The human brain is an incredible tool and allowing an increasing number of them the freedom to study other facets of life, advances in technology and thought were capable.

    So why didn’t all hunter-gathers become sedentary food-producers? For one, many areas just did not have crops useful to humans. Get a picture of a map handy and look at it. Now read this:

    “The answer depends partly on the east-west axis of Eurasia. Localities distributed east and west of each other at the same latitude share exactly the same day length and its seasonal variations. For example, Portugal, northern Iran, and Japan all located at about the same latitude but lying successively 4,000 miles east or west of each other are more similar to each other in climate than each is to a location lying even a mere 1,000 miles due south.”

    Now humans are smart, but we love copying each other. If the Fertile Crescent is considered the birthplace of the development of human society then you can see how ideas and crops could travel east and west, and north and south (to a limited extent) via trade routes. Now think about Africa. There’s a huge desert that runs through Africa, followed by a jungle, and then you get back to a Mediterranean-like zone. How would crops and domesticated animals travel that distance during those times? Very, very, very slowly. It’s so easy for us nowadays to say, “oh, they could just do this or do that” but we need to take into consideration what life was like back then and then determine whether or not that would really be feasible.

    I also found it interesting the explanation Diamond gives for how modern food production arose. I always thought it was a conscious choice, but after reading Diamond’s explanation, I see how foolish of an idea that was. Diamond writes:

    “The early unconscious stages of crop evolution from wild plants consisted of plants evolving in ways that attracted humans to eat and disperse their fruit without yet intentionally growing them … As parts of the fruit that we actually take into our mouths, strawberry seeds are tiny and inevitably swallowed and defecated, but other seeds are large enough to be spat out. Thus, our spittoons and garbage dumps joined our latrines to form the first agricultural research laboratories … At whichever such “lab” the seeds ended up, they tended to come from only certain individuals of edible plants – namely, those that we preferred to eat for one reason or another. From your berry-picking days, you know that you select particular berries or berry bushes. Eventually, when the first farmers began to sow seeds deliberately, they would inevitably sow those from the plants they had chosen to gather, even though they didn’t understand the genetic principle that big berries have seeds likely to grow into bushes yielding more big berries … You prefer large berries, because it’s not worth your while to get sunburned and mosquito bitten for some lousy little berries. That provides part of the explanation why many crop plants have much bigger fruits than their wild ancestors do.”

    The germs carried by Europeans that were so devastating for the newly encountered areas came predominately from the domesticated animals Europeans had adopted from the Fertile Crescent. Many of the animals in the Americas and in Africa were not capable of being domesticated and thus, the people in these areas were never exposed to these diseases and were susceptible to them.

    There’s no way I could ever do a proper review of a 440 page book, but I think (hope) you get the idea. It’s a wonderfully informative book that allows you to finally breathe a sigh of relief that those racists were in fact, just ignorant racists. This book also does a good job of bringing it all home and showing how the Fertile Crescent lost its dominance in the world by committing ecological suicide. If we commit ecological suicide on a global scale, we’re ALL in trouble.

    Content: 5/5

    Readability: 5/5

  3. The Protestant Work Ethic & The Spirit of Capitalism
    By Max Weber
    Published in 1905

    “Remember that time is money. He that can earn ten shillings a day by his labor, and goes abroad, or sits idle, one half of that day, though he spends but sixpence during his diversion or idleness, ought not to reckon that the only expense; he has really spent, or rather thrown away, five shillings besides.

    Remember, that credit is money. If a man lets his money lie in my hands after it is due, he gives me the interest, or so much as I can make of it during that time. This amounts to a considerable sum where a man has good and large credit, and makes good use of it.

    Remember, that money is of the prolific, generating nature. Money can beget money, and its offspring can beget more, and so on. The more there is of it, the more it produces every turning, so that the profits rise quicker and quicker. He that kills a breeding-sow, destroys all her offspring to the thousandth generation.

    Remember this saying: the good paymaster is lord of another man’s purse. He that is known to pay punctually and exactly to the time he promises, may at any time, and on any occasion, raise all the money his friends can spare. After industry and frugality, nothing contributes more to the raising of a young man in the world than punctuality and justice in all his dealings; therefore never keep borrowed money an hour beyond the time you promised, lest a disappointment shut up your friend’s purse for ever.” (Benjamin Franklin)

    In my analysis of the issues plaguing American society, greed plays a significant and influential role. But as the sociologist, Max Weber, wrote in 1905 in the Protestant Ethic & The Spirit of Capitalism, “People do not wish “by nature” to earn more and more money. Instead, they wish simply to live, and to live as they have been accustomed and to earn as much as is required to do so.” So then, where does this quest for personal wealth come from? The Protestant Ethic & The Spirit of Capitalism explains how personal wealth became, to the faithful, actual evidence of their salvation status.

    I’ll let some selected quotes tell the story of how I interpreted the book:

    “In these cases the causal relationship is undoubtedly one in which a learned inner quality decides a person’s choice of occupation and further course of occupational development. And this learned inner quality is influenced by the direction of one’s upbringing and education, which in turn is influenced by the religious climate in one’s native town and one’s parental home.”

    “Admission to the congregation is recognized as an absolute guarantee of the moral qualities of a gentleman, especially of those qualities required in business matters. Baptism secures to the individual the deposits of the whole region and unlimited credit without any competition. He is a “made man.” Further observation confirmed that these, or at least very similar phenomena, recur in the most varied regions. In general, only those men had success in business who belonged to Methodist or Baptist or other sects or sectlike conventicles. When a sect member moved to a different place, or if he was a traveling salesman, he carried the certificate of his congregation with him; and thereby he found not only easy contact with sect members, but above all, he found credit everywhere. If he got into economic straits through no fault of his own, the sect arranged his affairs, gave guarantees to the creditors, and helped him in every way.”

    “The striving for riches becomes suspect only if carried out with the end in mind of leading a carefree and merry life once wealth is acquired. If, however, riches are attained within the dutiful performance of one’s vocational calling, striving for them is not only morally permitted but expected.”

    “According to all experience there is no stronger means of breeding traits than through the necessity of holding one’s own in the circle of one’s associates. The continuous and unobtrusive ethical discipline as rational breeding and selection are related to ordering and forbidding.”

    “Again and again, that which is always and universally the result of such a ‘rationalization’ process occurred: whoever did not follow suit had to suffer loss and destruction as the consequences. The comfortable old ideal collapsed and crumbled in the face of a bitter competitive struggle. Considerable fortunes were won, yet they were not simply taken to the bank to earn interest. Rather, they were continuously reinvested in the business. And the old leisurely, easygoing approach to life yielded to a disciplined temperateness. Those who consumed little and wanted instead to acquire and earn rose to the top, and those who remained stuck in the old ways had to learn to do with less.”

    “As the sources indicate, on the occasion of the death of wealthy people quite considerable sums of money flowed from their pockets to religious institutions as ‘conscience money.’ In some cases this money even moved back to former debtors as compensation for sums unjustly taken as ‘usury.'”

    “From John Wesley [Anglican cleric and Christian theologist]: ‘I fear, wherever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of true religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches. How then is it possible that Methodism, that is, a religion of the heart, though it flourishes now as a green bay tree, should continue in this state? For the Methodists in every place grow diligent and frugal; consequently they increase their possession of material goods. Hence they proportionately increase in pride, in anger, in the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life. So, although the form of religion remains, the spirit is swiftly vanishing away. Is there no way to prevent this continual decay of pure religion? We ought not to prevent people from being diligent and frugal; we must exhort all Christians to gain all they can, and to save all they can; that is, in effect, to grow rich.'”


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