Mindful Monkey.

Who can we lean on when times are hard?

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Based on figures released by the NHS Information Centre some newspapers reported ‘A rising tide of Depression’. The detailed figures are alarming to read.

Prescriptions for drugs such as antidepressants and sleeping pills have jumped 20% in just three years, according to new figures.  The Press Association: Use of antidepressants ‘is soaring’.

In 1999 the World Health Organisation, the global monitor of health in the world, stated that, Depression was the world’s fourth most debilitating human condition, behind heart disease, cancer, and traffic accidents. It also predicted by 2020 depression will have risen to become the second most common cause of human suffering worldwide. In 2006 the WHO predicted that in high-income countries, depression would become the number one cause of disease burden by 2030.

I guess whatever we are doing in our society isn’t making us happy! And the evidence for help from antidepressants is questionable. So what works? Well it seems that mindfulness skills can help. The evidence for its effectiveness in helping with depression is growing and NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence) guidelines on the treatment of Depression now include Mindfulness based approaches.

The Mental Health Foundation produced the Mindfulness Report in 2010, and ran the ‘Be Mindful‘ campaign. Their summary of the evidence for Mindfulness goes well beyond depression to many other areas of well being.

We will be running Mindfulness Courses in 2011, watch this space. In the meantime feel free to try out my short guided mindfulness download called the Breathing Space which is described in an earlier post

Health, Happiness and Age


Inspiration can come from many sources and if a story can lift the spirits, I am all for it. A story about a 100 year old man appeared in the media (Guardian 20.10.11). He is Fauja Singh who, at 100, has recently run a full marathon (and he did not come last!). He was setting out to beat the record of the previous oldest man completing a marathon, a 98 year old Greek athlete. Yet, it is not so much the running but what Mr Singh said about his attitude towards life in general that caught my attention.
Firstly, he said something many people who may be struggling to achieve what is important to them need to hear:

“That anything worth doing is going to be difficult”.

Running 26 miles certainly takes some doing. However, so many things people set out to achieve require staying power. What if the secret is to keep going while reminding oneself that perhaps things don’t always need to be easy? Maybe difficult is OK. There is an idea that often people gave up on a project or their dream without realising just how close they came to a breakthrough. (A little known documentary called “Three feet from Gold”( Click here for a trailer) may have this as a theme. It interviews many people who have achieved success but the focus is on how they coped with the tough times. It is easy to be happy when things are going to plan. The film (and book) sets out to look at how they kept going in the face of adversity. Many of them insist it would have been easy to quit but somehow they kept going until a breakthrough happened. This struck me as important in such tough economic times.
What Mr Singh said also was that he leads a simple life, eating when he feels hungry but never so that he feels too full. While he has chosen running as the focus in his life that gives him a sense of peace and “keeps the engine going” many people will find other things that matter to them enough that it provides a deep sense of purpose. That greater sense of purpose can help us through tough times. Perhaps a sense of purpose and intention can help us attract the things we need. For Mr Singh, his trainer works with him for free, a sports company sponsors him and he mostly gives his money away. All kinds of people are interested in getting to know him. What is also refreshing is that here we have a far better idea as to what constitutes getting older. I leave you with another of his quotes:

“I don’t stress, you never hear of anyone dying of happiness”

The thing you are looking for is already within you

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A good few years ago someone said to me that ‘ the things you are looking for are already within you, just look inside’. I didn’t really understand the significance of this sagely sounding advice at the time but have since come to realise just how many levels it works on. For example, next time you have misplaced something and are getting wound up looking for it but not getting anywhere, try this: Just stop, sit down take a slow breath, relax and wait ‘without attachment’. Soon an image or sense of where to find the thing will appear. The more you let go and relax the sooner it will happen. This is a skill and gets better with practice. I have lost count of how many times I have ended up smiling when I could have been stressed or anxious or frustrated.

Why Love Matters

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This was a book title I saw while browsing in my local bookshop. It seemed to echo what I felt as my core value, so of course I brought it home to read. It might also have something to do with the fact that I had just become a dad and my little baby boy Ethan was teaching me some important things about these sorts of things. It strikes me that Love creates the world.

In the first few years of life, food, water, air, shelter enable us to grow, our bodies are made of these things. Yet who we are is literally made of Love. Simple as that, and when we feel a lack it is really because we are trying to make up for something in these early years. Over all these years of working with people, whether in addiction or with other issues, it seems to boil down to this: Love matters, because we are as people made of the love we have received. Our society seems obsessed with buying things, or consuming things when the space in us can only be filled by…

What is Happiness? And do we Have a Say in How Happy we Can be?

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In his book “Affluenza” Psychologist and author, Oliver James argues that there are certain factors in our society which increase the chance of creating unhappiness and emotional distress. Included in the types of emotional distress are the obvious issues of anxiety, depression and substance misuse and addiction. However, more than that, he also explores the concept of “ennui” and that sense of lack. It is curious how at a time of unprecedented wealth and economic growth, more and more people are unhappy, worried and stressed.

The author points to the English speaking countries, in particular, where he argues the people have come to place too high a value on money, possessions, celebrity and the desperate need to look good in front of others. By asking a series of questions early on in the book he outlines the symptoms which he describes as if it were a virus, the “affluenza virus”. It is the affluenza virus then which, increases the chances of a person experiencing a variety of modern ills and distress. Constantly comparing ourselves with others (usually in an unfavourable way) and feeling cut off from others promotes a sense of alienation. He identifies nations where things are different, notably Denmark and New Zealand and gives explanations as to why. He laments the rise of narrow materialistic ideas, particularly in the US and Britain.

What is particularly interesting about the book is that most of the material is aimed at what can be done to put things right (‘vaccines’ against the ‘Affluenza’ virus) . The author offers solutions which are different from the usual ones present in much of the current “self help” literature. Rather than the usual stuff about positive thinking he offers ideas about becoming more tuned in to our genuine needs and taking a long hard look at our priorities. One idea would be to reorder the education system, which he argues is based on passing exams and becoming good consumers, rather than about learning and growing. This is where the book is at its best, offering practical and creative ideas which can be cultivated by anyone interested in improving their emotional well being.

A book review in the New Scientist (27.1.07 “Rich in misery”) argues that “Affluenza is closer to a sermon than it is to science” because it lacks research in parts. Although they still recommend it as an interesting read, and broadly agree with its direction. For me, the journalistic and angry style is what makes it more readable and powerful. Also it is not recommending we all drop out of society, but rather work toward what we need in a different way, hence the complete title includes the lines “secret of being successful and staying sane”

In a consumer age of advertising, people often end up feeling insecure and worried. In the west there is the general view that happiness comes from events and things outside, while the eastern traditions, such as Zen Buddhism, focus on happiness from within. It may be that we need a combination of the two.

For instance, consider the view that happyness brings success more often than success bringing happiness. The research done by Professor Diener and Lyubonirsky (universities of California and Illinois) questions the assumption that things like material wealth and possessions create happiness. They found that it may be the other way around, so that prosperity is in fact caused by happiness. Cheerful people are more likely to try new things and challenge themselves.

This then ends up reinforcing positive emotion, better results at work, fulfilling relationships and better health. There is compelling evidence that happiness leads to more sociable, generous, productive people with stronger immune systems.

So if you are going through life saying things like “I can’t be happy until… I get a particular car, clothes, house or job…” It may be time to stop and change tack. Radical economists have shown how as incomes rise to $15000 happiness rises but then further increases do not automatically lead to more happiness. A study by the New Economics Foundation and Green Peace created a “happy planet index” which looked at: life expectancy, human well-being and damage done via a country’s environmental foot print. It found the tiny island nation of Vanuatu came top as the happiest country in the world. Zimbabwe was at the bottom, UK 108th, USA 150th (out of 178), Guatemala and El Salvador were in the top 10! A spokesman for Vanuatu stated life here is about community, family and good will to others, it is NOT a consumer driven society and people generally do not worry too much (apart from the hurricanes).

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