Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Accidentally Stumbling into Happiness

The Declaration of Independence

The pursuit of happiness is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, along with Life and Liberty, as the foundational rights we should have as Americans--and a good reason to rebel against the English King. 

Pursuit of happiness, like pursuit of wealth, is not the same a having it.  Annie Grace, author ofThis Naked Mind helps people get alcohol out of their lives and live happier lives as a result. She is brilliant and very much data oriented. When I heard about her, I was impressed. So who has a happy life?  

It turns out that the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence were doing many of the things that lead to real happiness. They were committed to a cause bigger than themselves; they had strong relationships (a real possibility of "hanging together" as Benjamin Franklin famously said); each one had a goal in life; and they were helping others. In their pursuit of happiness, they were doing the things that actually make people happy.

Annie Grace puts exercise and meditation at the top of her list of things that lead to true happiness and she uses a lot of data and brain science to show why this is true. Since I did not hear about Annie Grace until this week, I had not plan to follow her advice, but it turned I am doing most of the things she says lead to a happy life.

According to Grace people who have a happy life:

1.     Exercise, not just exercise but exercise with others toward a personal goal. Most of my rides are training rides with other racers.  When I was in the Army, I went to crowded gyms and trained to score high on the fitness test.
2.     Meditation. I started meditating this year. The program I use calls meditation, “a vacation for your mind.” They are right.
3.     Strong relationships.  It has been my immense good fortune to have a variety of strong relationships. I have Army buddies I am still in touch with from both the 70s and recent years. I have a wonderful family. I have friends from racing and friends who are as intensely into books as I am.  Recently I have added friends who share an intense interest in politics. I hang out with some of my former co-workers more than three years after I retired. Social media keeps me in touch with people I only rarely see in person.
4.     Having a goal in life. From the time I left home at 18, I have joined groups with shared goals and had goals of my own. In each of the four military organizations in which I enlisted, I was part of the mission. My professional jobs were in communications—my mission was to tell customers and other influential people that the place I worked is wonderful. I did far and away my best work when the communication goal was clear.
5.     Gratitude. Annie Grace recommends a gratitude journal, writing down five things I am thankful for each day. I am going to start.
6.     Helping others. I don’t do enough of this.
7.     Active leisure: Do sports, don't watch sports, at least while the sun is up. I am a member of book discussion groups and even had a couple of book groups in Iraq. My current college course is learning Modern Hebrew. 
8.     Belonging to something bigger than us. In real life, the Lone Ranger was miserable.

I really do have a happy life, but it’s nice to have data that confirms why I am happy.

I didn't start meditating or Yoga until this year. It's never too late to make changes. 

Friday, October 12, 2018

Marc Abrahams Turned Strange Science into an Event Known Around the World

Marc Abrahams, Ig Nobel emcee, 
Illumination by Human Spotlight
Marc Abrahams is the editor and founder of the Annals of Improbable Research and the co-founder and Emcee of the annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. Both the Ig Nobel Prizes and the magazine are approaching their thirtieth year of making people laugh and then think.

I met Marc Abrahams in 2006 when the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting was in St. Louis.  The AAAS meeting is always over President’s weekend in February.  During that weekend in 2006, the temperature in St. Louis never got higher than ten degrees Fahrenheit.  

We were introduced in a crowded bar in the conference hotel by the science writer Katharine Sanderson, then a science writer for Chemistry World magazine in the U.K. Sanderson had written about the history of the chemistry museum I worked for and thought Marc would like it.  

I had never heard of the Ig Nobel Prizes, but loved the idea from the moment Marc began explaining them.  The ten annual prizes mirror the actual Nobel prizes, though not strictly.  They are awarded for actual published scientific research about strange topics.  For example, this year, the Medicine Ig Nobel Prize went to a Japanese doctor who published a paper describing a self colonoscopy. 


The winner of the 2018 Ig Nobel Prize 
in Medicine for Self Colonoscopy

Another 2018 Ig Nobel laureate received the prize in the Nutrition category—not a Nobel category. He showed from research based on DNA from three millennia ago that a cannibal diet is not as nutritious as diet based on eating other animals and plants.  His findings show it’s better to eat with your neighbor than to eat your neighbor.

The Ig Nobel Prizes are bestowed on the winners by actual Nobel laureates. People, who have been honored in Stockholm by the Swedish Academy for brilliant research, laugh along with everyone else as they hand out prizes for research on bras that become gas masks or frogs that levitate in magnetic fields. They even help to sweep up the paper airplanes.

This year, the woman who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry told Ira Flatow on Science Friday that she wanted an Ig Nobel Prize! It seemed as she was also quite happy with the Nobel Prize.

Since 1991, Marc has donned a tux and top hat and acted as emcee for this annual ceremony that includes a comic opera and, to add nerdiness, a blizzard of paper airplanes.  

Paper airplanes fill the air in Sanders Theater

After the September ceremony in Sanders Theater at Harvard each year, Marc travels the world talking about the Ig Nobels.  This year he was in a festival in Japan just a week after the ceremony in Cambridge.  He also puts on an abbreviated ceremony at the annual meeting of AAAS—the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which is always held on the President’s Day weekend in February. Sometimes the AAAS meeting also conflicts with Valentine’s Day and with the Daytona 500.  What this says about scientists, I leave to others to decide.
Marc speaks to audiences around the world.

My first volunteer job with the Ig Nobel was ushering at the Ig Nobel ceremony at the AAAS meeting beginning in 2006.  However, after I returned from Iraq in 2010, Marc added me to the volunteer staff in Cambridge as a press wrangler. Each year I escort reporters in and out of the ceremony. Because of copyright and legal restrictions, broadcast reporters are limited in how much time they can record.  My particular job is to escort the reporter and cameraman from Channel One (ПервыйКанал) in Russia.  Camera crews from many countries have filmed the Ig Nobel ceremony over the years, but Channel One Russia and NHK Japan have been there every year since I have been a volunteer.

This year, for the first time, I was able to attend one of the Ig Nobel picnics. The picnics bring together volunteers who are running past each other on the day of the event. This year I arrived early enough to hear practice for the Opera. In addition to playing at the Ig Nobel ceremony and the picnic, one of the pianists, Ivan Gusev, will be playing a solo concert at Carnegie Hall next month.  

One of the best pieces of career advice I have ever received said that happiness at work depends more on who you work with than on what you do.  Marc Abrahams took this one step further: he created a ceremony that became an institution that attracts people who laugh and think and who want others to join in and do the same.


Accidentally Stumbling into Happiness

The Declaration of Independence The pursuit of happiness is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, along with Life and Lib...