Thursday, January 01, 2009

Wishing you a happy and meaningful New Year

You read it here first two years ago (New Years Resolutions - you must be nuts) , but the BBC now agrees that New Years Resolutions are Bad for your Health. According to Mind chief executive Paul Farmer,

"We chastise ourselves for our perceived shortcomings and set unrealistic goals to change our behaviour, so it's not surprising that when we fail to keep resolutions, we end up feeling worse than when we started. In 2009, instead of making a New Year's resolution, think positively about the year to come and what you can achieve."

Sound advice, but how can you best think about what you can achieve?

A very simple yet very useful and profound distinction is in thinking about both what can make you happy and what will be meaningful.

If you focus just on happiness, you may be setting yourself up for a mid-life meaning crisis - and such a crisis can occur well before middle-age. So think about where you can create more meaning in 2009 - in intimate relationships, friendships, with children, parents, work, hobbies or altruistic activities, for example. These don't have to be big things - just things that mean that when you tot up what your life adds up to, it adds up to something that feels meaningful to you, and provides you with a purpose.

Yet focussing just on meaning and purpose isn't such a good idea either. Research suggests that the happier people are, the more altruistic they are, the healthier they are, the longer they live - the positive spin-offs from happiness are many. What's more, if you imagine a life which is very meaningful but isn't enjoyable, or one that is both meaningful and enjoyable, which would you choose?

Sometimes there's a clear choice between the meaningful and the enjoyable - but that needn't always be the case. One answer is to find activities that you find both meaningful and enjoyable.What would that be for you? Another is devote a certain amount of time to purely meaningful activities, another portion to enjoyable activities.

If you are reading this on or near New Year's Day, how about writing down a list of activities and goals for 2009 under two headings

1) Goals that will lead to me finding 2009 meaningful

2) Goals that will lead to me enjoying 2009

Then go about fulfilling them, and have a truely happy and meaningful 2009

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Beefy, Compassion and the Road to Meaning

Whilst probably not 500-1 - the odds offered against England winning the 1981 Headlingley test before Botham's heroics - the chances of Ian "Beefy" Botham becoming a knight of the realm must at one time have been rated as pretty slim Even his own autobiography [2000 edition] describes itself as "an intriguing cocktail of sex and drug allegations,personal upheavals [and] confrontations with his peers" - as well as "remarkable achievements both on and off the field"

Today few would deny the merits of Botham's knighthood. Raising over ten million pounds for leukemia-related children's charities far outweighs what are now discounted as minor blemishes. Yet the misdemenours didn't seem so out of character at the time. If you had to compare Botham to a Shakespearian hero, it would surely be that epitome of out-of-control hedonism, Sir John Falstaff. As Michael Henderson wrote back in 2000 :-

Watching [Botham] in his pomp must have been like eavesdropping on Falstaff in an Eastcheap tavern, as he feasted on sack and capons - though even the Lord of Misrule might have struggled to keep up with Botham on a heavy night.

falstaff ianbotham

I'd wager that Sir John didnt get his knighthood for good deeds. Whilst it's not too much of a stretch to imagine Falstaff flaying opposition bowlers to all parts of the ground like the village blacksmith, I doubt if would have got past the first inn on the John O'Groats-Lands End road. So what started his twentieth-century counterpart on his unlikely trajectory ? One word - compassion. Botham was passing through a hospital ward for some treatment to a broken toe, when he saw some pretty-normal looking children sitting around playing board games. "You know those children won't be here in a few months" commented his medic. They had terminal leukemia, and couldn't expect to see their next Christmas. Botham was so moved he began to donate money for parties for the children, then began doing sponsored walks until eventually he was organising and taking part in mammoth fund-raising events.

Compassion - a feeling of sorrow and pity for someone in trouble - changed the life of Botham himself and the many others helped by him. When Botham visited that Taunton hospital ward, the success rate for treatment leukemia in children was 20%. Now it is 80%. Of course, Botham cannot be held solely responsible for this incredible improvement - but what a legacy!

Buddhists have long argued that compassion isn't just good for other people, it's good for you too.

"If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion." proclaims the Dalai Lama .

After his knighthood, Sir Ian may agree.

bothamolder dalailama

So does the mature Sir Ian now resemble the Dalai Lama (above) more than Falstaff? Probably not. I suspect that the Falstaffian side of his character is still very much to the fore. Botham is no saint. But, guided by compassion, he has used his celebrity status to make a huge positive difference to the world. However problematic celebrity is in the modern world, it can be put to good use. Celebrity plus compassion equals meaning. So, what odds will anyone give me about the latest celebrity, Katie from the Apprentice , eventually using her celebrity status to help those in need? Anyone give me 500-1?

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