UN – World’s Happiest Countries 2017

The United Nations came out with its annual report on the world’s happiest countries. There is a new number one, with Norway upsetting the defending champion Denmark.

 

The rankings are based on survey participants answering a simple question: “Please imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?”

The average score around the world is a 5.3, right in the middle of the happiness ladder. Norway is at the top with a 7.5. So what makes these Nordic countries so happy?

The factors the researchers found to influence happiness were GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and freedom from corruption. The Nordic countries excel in these qualities, while American happiness has dropped in recent years due to decreased social support and increased corruption.

Within countries, much of the happiness between people can be explained by physical and mental health and social relationships.

 

 

Tantric Buddhism

For the past few weeks I have been visiting a nearby Tibetan Buddhist temple, where I have been getting instructions in the preliminary methods of Vajrayana Buddhism, which is a form of Buddhism practiced in Tibet that uses Tantric techniques. This is the style of Buddhism practiced by the Dalai Lama, although the temple I go to is in a slightly different lineage.

I know what you are thinking: Wait, the Dalai Lama practices Tantra? I thought tantra was some kind of weird sex thing?

Actually Tantra doesn’t have a clear definition, but in the case of Tibetan Buddhism, tantra refers to techniques such as Deity Yoga, complex visualizations, the repeating of mantras, as well as secret practices that must be learned directly from the guru, or else risk harm.

Vajrayana Buddhism is one of the three vehicles of Buddhism. They are called vehicles, because they are the paths to enlightenment. The word ‘yana’ means vehicle. They are the Theravada (School of elder monks), Mahayana (Great Vehicle), and the Vajrayana (Diamond Vehicle).

Theravada Buddhism is commonly practiced in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and Burma. It is the oldest school of Buddhism and most closely resembles what the Buddha taught. About 35% of all Buddhists practice Theravada.

Mahayana Buddhism is the most popular form of Buddhism and is practiced in China, Japan, Korea, Indonesia and Vietnam. About 53% of all Buddhists practice Mahayana. The most common form of Mahayana Buddhism is Zen.

Then there is Vajrayana Buddhism, as practiced by 5% of all Buddhists and practiced mostly in Tibet and Bhutan. Vajrayana Buddhists are sometimes thought of as a subsection of the Mahayana, but they add Tantric techniques on top of the Mahayana teachings.

In Tantric Buddhism, there is an underlying philosophical belief that we all already have the ability to be enlightened. That we all have what they call “Buddha-Nature”, we just can’t see it. The goal then of tantric techniques is two-fold. To clear our minds of the misconceptions that don’t allow us to see our Buddha-Nature, and to align ourselves with this Buddha-Nature.

Tantric techniques ask us to imagine Deities (These are imaginary meditation deities that possess desirable qualities) or past Guru’s (past meditation masters that have qualities we want to have) so that we too can take on these qualities. The techniques are called deity and guru yoga, and they involve repeated visualizations such as imagining that we are unifying ourselves with these desirable qualities like enlightenment and compassion.

But before anyone can engage in these complex practices, one first has to learn the preliminary practices, called Ngondro, which are meant to motivate the mind to become Awakened. For without proper motivation, one will not dedicate themselves to the path of enlightenment.  Ngondro will be the subject of my next post.

 

The Stages of Enlightenment

In Theravada Buddhism there are four stages of enlightenment. They were originally couched in the language of how many more lifetimes one would at most need to reach Nirvana, along with the psychological descriptions of each state. We can dispense with reincarnation nonsense and just stick to the psychological descriptions of enlightenment. They are often described as different paths, the 1st path is the first stage of enlightenment, the second path is the second stage of enlightenment and so on.

 

1st path:  One is no longer deceived by perceptions of self, and self-existent reality outside the mind. There is less attachment, less suffering, less craving , more inner peace, more love, more generosity. Obtained through the direct experience that the reality we see is largely a manifestation of our mind. The most common event that triggers this insight is called a cessation.

What is a cessation? A cessation is an event  that occurs during meditation where the mind completely shuts off and reboots. Consciousness disappears, and then reappears. This is often referred to as a ‘blip’. A cessation deeply imprints into the mind that the reality we see has always been at least in part a creation of our own mind, including our sense of self.

2nd Path: Desire and aversion, while not completely extirpated, have vastly diminished and only appear when tired, or unmindful, and are easily overcome when they do arise with a little mindfulness.

3rd Path: One becomes completely and totally free from the compulsions of desire and aversion and their manifestations — greed, hatred, anger, jealousy, and sadness.

4th Path: The meditator has completely overcome the conceit and restlessness associated with “I” and has put an end to suffering.

Air Pollution Kills 200,000 Americans Every Year.

          I was listening to Tim Ferris’s podcast with Arnold Schwarzenegger where the Terminator mentioned this stat, saying it was by far the biggest environmental problem we face today and his current mission to help stop it. He wasn’t making these numbers up. Air pollution kills through lung cancer and heart disease. For those that don’t die, air pollution is also responsible for a huge increase in asthma nationwide.
         “Researchers from MIT’s Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment have come out with some sobering new data on air pollution’s impact on Americans’ health.
          The group tracked ground-level emissions from sources such as industrial smokestacks, vehicle tailpipes, marine and rail operations, and commercial and residential heating throughout the United States, and found that such air pollution causes about 200,000 early deaths each year. “
 The smog of pollution over LA.
How deadly is this?
To put this in perspective, during the Civil War 155,000 Americans died per year. During WW2 80,000 Americans died per year. So air pollution kills almost as many Americans per year as WW2 and the Civil war combined.
Worldwide air pollution kills up to seven million people per year, making it one of the biggest killers in the world.

Simple Meditation Instructions For People with ADHD

“I can’t meditate! I have ADHD! I tried! It’s too hard and I suck at it!”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this excuse from people with ADHD as to why they can’t meditate. But this is just an excuse, I know because I’ve been diagnosed with ADHD myself, so I know what’s like not have an ounce of concentration. But through meditation, your concentration can be vastly improved. I did it, and so can you. Anyone can meditate, no matter how bad your concentration is.

How Long?

The key in the beginning is to just do short periods, many times. Try 5 minutes. But commit to those 5 minutes. Do no get up before those 5 minutes, no matter what. Aim for 20 minutes a day (eventually longer), and do 4 sessions of 5 minutes. Then when you get better , 2 sessions of 10 minutes, and then finally one session of 20 minutes. When you can do a 20 minute session, that is when you will really notice the benefit to your day.

How To Meditate?

Now sit down in a chair, keep your back straight and just watch your breath. If thoughts come in, that’s ok. Thoughts are always going to be there unless you are an expert meditator. The goal is to just keep focusing on your breath and let your thoughts do whatever they do. Thinking is not a problem, it’s only a problem if you forget to follow the breath as you think. Of course..in the beginning this will happen quickly and often..

Maybe even after one or two breaths, your thoughts will carry you away and you will forget that you are supposed to following the breath. You will be lost in a daydream. That’s fine. When you ‘wake up’ and notice that you were lost in thought, go “aha”, congratulate yourself for noticing that you have forgotten the breath and go back to following the breath. Always positively reinforce that ‘wake up’ from daydreaming. That way your brain will want to ‘wake up’ and will do it on it’s own. Your goal in the beginning is to have as many “aha” moments as you can. To simply reduce the time you spend daydreaming and not following the breath at all.

You can also try counting the breath. Breathe in, breathe out (never forcing the breath, just letting the breath be) “1”, breathe in, breathe out “2”. Go up to 10. Can you make it to ten? Start back at one. Got to ten again. Forget what number you are on? Lost in a daydream? Start back at 1.

Over time you will get better, enjoy it, and can’t believe you spent so much of your life not meditating.

Stop Trying to Find Happiness..

People often tell me that they are trying to find happiness. As if happiness were some lost treasure. If only it could be found, maybe in another country, another relationship, another job, then they might have it.

Happiness is not something that can be found. It is not something you need to search for, it’s not under your mattress. Thomas Jefferson was wrong too, happiness is not something to be pursued. Happiness is having a fit and healthy brain. It’s similar to having a healthy, fit body.

Would you ever say, I’m trying to find a fit body? I’m searching for a healthy body? Of course not, those statements are ridiculous.

Saying that you are trying to find happiness is just as preposterous. The key to happiness is proper diet, exercise, quality sleep, sunlight, nature, friendship, meditation. Happiness is not something you find, it is something you do.

Tom Brady and Gisele’s Diet — Pretty Paleo

An interview with Tom and Giselle’s chef at boston.com revealed their diet. Here is the chef in his own words.

Campbell: So, 80 percent of what they eat is vegetables. [I buy] the freshest vegetables. If it’s not organic, I don’t use it. And whole grains: brown rice, quinoa, millet, beans. The other 20 percent is lean meats: grass-fed organic steak, duck every now and then, and chicken. As for fish, I mostly cook wild salmon.

It’s very different than a traditional American diet. But if you just eat sugar and carbs—which a lot of people do—your body is so acidic, and that causes disease…Sugar is the death of people.

What ingredients don’t you use?

Campbell: No white sugar. No white flour. No MSG. I’ll use raw olive oil, but I never cook with olive oil. I only cook with coconut oil. Fats like canola oil turn into trans fats. … I use Himalayan pink salt as the sodium. I never use iodized salt.

[Tom] doesn’t eat nightshades, because they’re not anti-inflammatory. So no tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, or eggplants. Tomatoes trickle in every now and then, but just maybe once a month. I’m very cautious about tomatoes. They cause inflammation.

 

Other than the whole grains, they follow the strictest Paleo advice, including the ban on nightshades, which only the most hardcore Paleo eaters adhere to. They also stay away from coffee and dairy.

Paleo Diet Better than ADA Diet for Type 2 Diabetes

A recent Study Published in European Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared two groups of diabetic patients over the span of a few weeks. One group was given a Paleo diet to eat, comprising lean meats, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. The other group was given the diet recommended by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) which contained low-fat dairy, whole grains and legumes. The results? Paleo won.

Results:

Both groups had improvements in metabolic measures, but the Paleo diet group had greater benefits on glucose control and lipid profiles. Also, on the Paleo diet, the most insulin-resistant subjects had a significant improvement in insulin sensitivity (r=0.40, P=0.02), but no such effect was seen in the most insulin-resistant subjects on the ADA diet (r=0.39, P=0.3).

Conclusions:

Even short-term consumption of a Paleolithic-type diet improved glucose control and lipid profiles in people with type 2 diabetes compared with a conventional diet containing moderate salt intake, low-fat dairy, whole grains and legumes.