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Mik’s New Year Blog
New Year Greeting
from Gordon Street, Sydney,
Australia, the Other Side of the Globe
One morning you wake up listening to rain drops on the window pane, it is still dark outside because the sunlight doesn't come though the grey clouds covering the sky until after 8 o’clock.
The next morning you wake up listening to the singing of tropical birds. Yellow light from a low morning sun hits the tall green trees and red roof tops under a clear blue sky. It comes through the open window and lights up the wooden wall in the room where I lie in a wide double bed looking at my little family who sleeps next to me: Deb, and 5-month old Alexander. There is a smell of summer in the air.
It is December, and on the 15th, we flew from one side of the Globe to the other from deep dark winter to bright warm summer.
(Question: Why do birds fly south in the winter? I'll give you a moment to think about it...)
On this morning exactly two years ago, the 18th of December 2003, Deb was sitting at her office desk in Brisbane, sending off an email which would turn out to have a greater effect on our lives than either of us could ever have imagined.
The power of dreams
I am afraid it is beginning to sound like a thick cliché... Nevertheless, to me, looking back at 2005 is like looking at one long line of “dreams-come-true”:
Our honey moon in Goa in January, wedding in February with the dream woman of my life, the birth of our son in July, followed by five months of experiencing him turn into the most beautiful and cute little dream baby with a life and a personality of his own. (Al’s weblog)
Dreams remain being a centre focus point of my life, privately as well as professionally. I am still in the process of developing and enhancing a multimedia presentation on dreams for students at folk high schools, as well as for employees in companies, in an attempt to turn them all into ‘Qualified Dreamers’, taking them fhrough tests to find out whether they are optimists or pessimists, and things like that. I also keep collecting material for a series of articles and a tv documentary about this subject. (dreamer.dk)
A dream of mine in the field of music, more than 20 years old, is about to come true. 2005 has been occupied with the work on finishing 14 tracks for our debut album of a duo I have formed together with a friend from highschool-days, Torsten. We go under the name ‘Travelog’ and had our first prerunner, a track entitled ‘Zonga’, out among 16 tracks which were nominated as ‘Track of the Year’ at the yearly Danish World Awards. The album has been underway for three years now, and we just finished the first prototype demo last week. We’ve entitled it ‘Balad Djemil’ which means ‘Beautiful Country’ in Arabic. (mildrecords.com)
Understanding issues of the Middle East
The day before flying off for Oz, we sent the 55th issue of Djembe Magazine off to the printer with a theme about Arabic culture in Denmark, including a chronicle on the fear of terrorism, and consequently Westerner’s fear of Muslims, which has become probably the hottest issue of present time in our corner of the world about how it affects our freedom of thought, and not to mention how it affects the billion of peaceful, moderate Muslims in this world.
As we arrived here in Sydney, thinking we'd be strolling off to the beach every morning to swim and play frisbee, we have come to learn how this issue of cultural confrontation between the West and the Middle East has turned into a global phenomena: Here, all the way out here, down under, a stretch of 200 kilometres of beaches around the area of Sydney have been closed off this weekend by police because of violent fighting between Middle Eastern second generation immigrants, primarily Lebanese, on one side, and young “Aussies”, including skinheads and neo-nazis, on the other. Again and again, the same mechanism allowing a tiny groups of extremists taking centre stage and stealing front cover headlines, affecting the lives of all the rest of us.
Workwise, the main headline of 2006 for me appears to be the Middle East not only because of the global developments, but specifically because of an approaching ‘Images of the Middle East’ festival which is due to take place in Denmark in August-September with 500 artists and intellectuals from the Middle East visiting the country to perform, talk and write. Among other things, I will be producing a series of in-depth radio programmes for DR, the Danish Broadcasting Corporation, on the subject of Arabic culture and music. This includes a research trip to a couple of Middle Eastern countries, probably Lebanon and Egypt.
As I have also expressed it in my editorial of the recent issue of Djembe Magazine, I believe that an important agenda of 2006 is that each one of us must begin to spend more time adressing the ‘Muslim issue’ and understanding the mechanisms which are affecting or manipulating us all. To find ways to overcome this new tension and fear of terror which is so dominating at this point as with so many other global issues the starting point is knowledge and insight at an individual level.
Web and radio
Working with the international organisation Freemuse became an exciting new element of my working life in 2005, assisting them in informing the world about how musicians are struggling, imprisoned and even killed because of their music, or, most frequently, because of their expression of controversial viewpoints through the song lyrics they sing. It all boils down to insisting that playing music is a human right, and worth fighting for. In November 2006, Freemuse plans to organise a world conference on freedom of musical expression in Istanbul, Turkey, and I plan to take part in making a video documentary on this. (My “second wife”, the Sony videocamera, has been kind of inactive for much too long!)
2005 did, however, bring me back in the business of radio production, from an unexpected angle. Employed by the record label CMC, I have been doing a series of cosy half hour interview programmes, syndicated to local radio stations nation-wide, with best selling artists of this country, such as Brødrene Olsen, Amin Jensen, Linie 3, Simone, and DR Big Band.
The middle path
The new role which I have entered here in 2005 as a father of a now five-month-old son is something that makes you think ...about how you’d like to see this little bubbha grow up ...about what it takes to give this boy the best foundation for a good and happy life.
Secure frames, a nice place to live, love... oh yes, all this of course! But I’m thinking more in the direction of: what will be a good school for him? What is a good school? Which skills should be trained? Which knowledge and wisdom is important? How can Deb and I, through the way we live our lives (“Don’t tell it, show it!”), be a good example to him?
This summer, while on self-financed maternity leave (the bureaucratic Danish welfare-system doesn’t think that independent professionals should be eligible to receive the same support as others in the working field do, so that they can be with their new born children... grumble-grumble) I read a book about prince Siddhartha Gautama the man who became known as Buddha some 2,500 years ago. He lived 563-483 B.C.
In his search for enlightenment, Siddhartha had left the lavish palace where he grew up and instead lived with the Ascetics, the Indian holy men, and sat under a tree meditating for a long time. One day, Siddhartha overheard a musician who was instructing a pupil of his, saying: ‘If you make the string too tight, it will break. If you make the string too loose, it will not play.’ Eureka! In this statement Siddhartha found the wisdom he had longed for. Siddhartha, now Buddha (which means the ‘Enlightened One’) understood that the path to Nirvana was through moderation in all things: The middle path. Not the bare-bones survival of the Ascetics, nor the lavish lifestyle of kings, but something between.
Or, in modern terms, what Buddha realised already 2,500 years ago was that, relax! making it to “the top” and becoming No 1, becoming the new, say, the new Bill Gates or J. K. Rawlings, is not likely to make you a happier human being than you already are. It will give you priviliges and make you a member of a certain elite group or high society, sure but happier?
I suppose it is a natural tendency within us to be competitive and always compare ourselves with others, (“Bianca got more ice cream than me....!”), focusing on what we don’t have, what we have not yet acchieved, and envying those who have “made it”.
An Australian tv documentary about people who had won in lotto discovered that two out of three people who had won a lot of money later on said that they actually wish that they hadn't won because of all the complications that evolved from it.
My personal interpretation of what Buddha taught his followers about ‘The Middle Path’ is to realise that in most cases you can actually be happy with what you already have enjoy the things that you are in the middle of striving for balance rather than to go overboard in one direction or the other, knowing that wealth, career-success and fame also has its downsides, and that a life filled with truly happy, uncomplicated moments is most likely found within the “middle path”.
Happiness is a butterfly
that perches on the shoulders of those
who turn their attention to other things,
but elusive to those who pursue it
Nigerian proverb, according to O. E. Anthony
Optimism: worth gold
In our ongoing pursuit of “the good life” we often forget that the feeling of happiness is exactly that: a feeling. Rooted in your own brain, involving hormones and how your brain is put together rather than things that come from somewhere outside yourself. Your thoughts determine your quality of life.
In his book ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’ (Avon Books) social psychologist David G. Myers from Michigan goes as far as saying that happiness equates to possessing three traits: self-esteem, extroversion, and optimism. (davidmyers.org how to be happier)
Now, if that holds true, does that mean that if we are able to nurture our little son's self-esteem, show him the benefits of being an optimist, and teach him how to manage in this world of extroverts, (even if he shold turn out be an introvert, like his parents) then he will at least have a solid platform to start from? The question to follow is then of course: How does one do that?
Well, maybe to be read here in a following New Year Blog around here. ;-)
For now, here is an e-mail about confidence which I picked up somewhere along the line of 2005.
(For Danish-speaking only:) A symphatic young Dane, Freddy Frandsen, wrote a quickly read book about his life and about how he learned the “tricks” concerning how to acchieve confidence and self-esteem, and to live out your dreams. In Freddy Frandsen’s words: “The basic problems in your life are often exactly what is going to show you a way forward.”
His book, published in 2005, is entitled ‘Become the Chauffeur of Your Own Life’. (lytoglaer.dk freddyfrandsen.dk)
There is a big market for this kind of books. Australian author Andrew Matthew and his wife Julie wrote a tiny book on 80 pages entitled ‘Happiness in a Nutshell’ which has become immensely popular, apparently, translated in more than 30 languages. (seashell.com.au)
Professor Martin Seligman, founder of the concept ‘positive psychology’ and author of the book ‘Authentic Happiness’ says: “We need to train ourselves not to make a big deal of trivial little hassles, to learn to focus on the process of working towards our goals (not waiting to be happy until we achieve them) and to think about our blessings (making a habit of noticing the good things in our lives).”
Dr. Martin Seligman’s research “has demonstrated that it is possible to be happier to feel more satisfied, to be more engaged with life, find more meaning, have higher hopes, and probably even laugh and smile more, regardless of one’s circumstances...” (authentichappiness.org)
Scientists are convinced that happiness can be measured. In the BBC Series 'How To Be Happy: Making Slough Happy', the happiness levels of the 50 volunteers from the Berkshire town Slough was measured before, during and after the end of the project to assess whether the team's methods had been effective. The group's overall shift in happiness from the beginning to the end of the project revealed a 33 per cent upward shift.
I find the book that came out of that BBC tv show, (with the same title: 'How To Be Happy'), to be one of the most recommendable I have seen / read among the lot of 'how-to-be-happy' books. (More info about the tv series, and about the book 'How To Be Happy').
It is not something you'd notice in the streets or in the shops while in Denmark, but Danes are actually supposed to be THE happiest people on Planet Earth, according to the World Database on Happiness gathered by researchers at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. They record a variety of scores on satisfaction with life, and these measures are then expressed on a ten point scale and in rank order, along with the year of study. Recently, Danes ranked top of the global happiness charts with a score of 8.3 of of ten. (worlddatabaseofhappiness.eur.nl)
Speaking of happiness and it causes, here is what I’d consider a very
reasonable excuse to finally make a trip down under: “the First International Conference on Happiness and Its Causes” is
held in Sydney on 1-2 April, 2006. Among the speakers are Dr Timothy Sharp, founder
and “chief happiness officer” at the Happiness Institute. Sounds like a joke,
I know but they are actually quite serious about it.
Some researchers have found out that children don't make you happy. Well, if children don't make us happy, then who do? Here are some answers, in Danish.
“If you wish to be happy yourself, you must
resign yourself to seeing others also happy.”
You will find much more “happiness study links” out there if you start looking.
For instance, you could start with those collected by Will Wilkinson who writes the blog happinesspolicy.com. Will is a policy analyst at the Cato Institute in Washington, USA, and works on finishing a paper entitled ‘In Pursuit of the Policy Implications of Happiness Research’.
“It’s ancient wisdom to note that the surest way
to make happiness elusive is to pursue it.”
Raimond Gaita, professor of philosophy
The American psycologist Sonja Lyubomirski has published the book ‘The how of happiness a scientific approach to getting the life you want’. It is promoted with the slogan: ‘The recipe for happiness decoded, scientifically...’ and it is allegedly in the pipeline to be translated to Danish.
Sonja Lyubomirski writes: “Studies show that 50% of individual differences in happiness are determined by genes, 10% by life circumstances, and 40% by our intentional activities.” (thehowofhappiness.com)
“The way to happiness:
Fill your life with love.”
The other night, I cracked a New Year’s cracker, and inside was a little note which read:
“The greatest mistake you can make in life
is to be continually fearing you will make one”
Practising in the traffic
“Optimism and positive emotions such as happiness and love aren’t just a result of life going well. They actively cause it to do so,” says Nick Baylis, the author of the book ‘Learning from Wonderful Lives’ (nicksbook.com)
As far as optimism is concerned, I find that driving in the traffic can be a good place to train or to test yourself and find out how you are going in that field. For instance, while driving, you constantly meet up with red lights. Noticing your red-light-reaction-pattern of the day is a thermometer of your present state of being.
Are you able to not just cope with that, but actually develop an ability to enjoy or make use of those breaks which the red lights force you to make?
All of sudden you are stopped by police and confronted with a speed bill. How do you react towards the police officer? Or when someone honks at you?
When you are fined with a parking fine?
The true optimist knows how unimportant and inevitable everyday obstacles are.
In my Qualified Dreamer workshop I try to make the students see the benefits you get from taking obstacles for granted and instead focusing on how to maintain optimism. For instance when people 'attack' you, and you are able to greet those people with a smile. The more optimistic your approach towards them is, the more likely it is that you will achieve surprisingly positive results from it. You might even be able to talk your way out of having to pay that speed bill or parking fine.
Finding a key to optimism is the answer to a lot of complicated, sad or irritating questions.
Most of us these days neither reap or sow, but nevertheless, there is still a good amount of wisdom in the old saying:
“Don‘t judge the day on what you have reaped
but on what you have sowed”
Following our little Alex as he grows up, it is such a pleasure to experience how optimism and a joyful mood clearly is the basic foundation deep inside such a little new human being that is of course when he is not 1) hungry, 2) tired or 3) needs a nappy-change. Our task as parents is not to teach our child about optimism, but simply to try if we can preserve, maintain, nurse and secure it as he goes along.
Like the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard once said, it can be an advantage if we, from a start, learn to live with the fact that life constantly is going to confront us with problems:
“Life is not a problem to be solved.
It is a mystery to be lived.”
The world will end one day, and life is short. To the optimist such facts create a good excuse to make sure to make the most of it while we still can.
Happiness is not a station at which you arrive,
but a way of travelling
I will put an end to this New Year’s Rambling of mine with a warm thank you for all the Christmas and New Year's letters which have landed in my mailbox it has been good to hear how you are doing and have an update on your whereabouts.
Signing off from the Antipodes with an optimistic wish to all of you for a prosperous and dream-fulfilling 2006.
May life be good and may your dreams be with you!
(So... Why do birds fly south in the winter? Because it is too far to walk.)