Happiness and its Causes
28 May 2008
Heather Hitchen writes about this year’s European Conference on Happiness and its Causes.
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Heather Hitchen writes about this year’s European Conference on Happiness and its Causes. A meeting place for hundreds of delegates from industry, government, professional services, the event will cater for all those seeking answers to today’s top issue: how to be more happy and improve the overall quality of their life.
What could be more important than nurturing our children and young people? Yet, how are we to teach them the skills to be happy if we do not know how to be happy ourselves? This was one of the crucial questions addressed by eminent speakers at the first European Conference on Happiness and its Causes, held in London. Acclaimed economist and author of Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, Lord Richard Layard, Tony Blair’s biographer Dr Anthony Seldon and International award-winning film star and founder of a mindfulness-based education foundation for children, Goldie Hawn, talked about how best to help our youth lead happier, more meaningful lives in an often troubled society.
What then will contribute to increased happiness among young people and also the wider society? Can we learn to be happy? The new science of positive psychology is at the forefront of research into how we can use our own minds to create happier lives. Meanwhile, neuro-science has been reporting on the connection between training the mind to be more positive and actual changes in the structure of the brain. Both fields hold the tantalising prospect that happiness can be enhanced by mental training.
Originally conceived as a forum for fostering debate and discussion about the many different approaches to happiness, the Happiness and its Causes’ conferences have attracted thousands of delegates internationally, as well as some of the world’s leading speakers on the subject. At the 2007 conference in Sydney, Nobel Peace Prize Winner His Holiness the Dalai Lama, in-spired delegates with the notion that a path to genuine and lasting happiness may lie in developing positive qualities, such as altruism, kindness, generosity and compassion, not by following a self-centred search for hedonistic pleasure.
Drawing from science, psychology, philosophy, economics and spirituality, the happiness debate will continue for its second year at the Savoy Place in London, on 9th-10th October 2008. The conference will open with what promises to be a fascinating dialogue ñ moderated by Guardian Associate Editor and columnist Madeleine Bunting ñ between leading philosopher and author, Alain de Botton and the inspiring French Buddhist monk, Matthieu Ricard. Alain explores in his best selling books, which include The Consolations of Philosophy and The Architecture of Happiness, how philosophy can bring practical benefits to modern life. Matthieu was dubbed the happiest man alive’ following research into the effects of his meditation practice.
Matthieu Ricard is truly one of the most compelling voices on the sub-ject and one of the few who can bring together the teachings of eastern and western thought. As well as participating as a keynote speaker, he will conduct a full day post-conference workshop on the topic of his new work, Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill.
‘Instinctively, we tend to put all our hopes and fears in the outer world,’ says Matthieu. ‘Yet, our control over the world is limited, temporary and often illusory. Although outer conditions matter and we should improve them as much as possible, it is the mind that translates them into happiness or suffering.’
If happiness is the goal of goals’, we therefore need to identify and cultivate the inner conditions for genuine well-being ñ compassion, inner strength, freedom and peace. Simultaneously, we must gradually phase out from our mind the mental toxins ñ hatred, craving, confusion, arrogance and envy ñ which destroy our happiness and that of othersÖ In essence, through sustained training, we need to familiarise ourselves with a new way of being, to transform ourselves to better transform the world and contribute to a more compassionate society.’
The author of The Science of Happiness and respected German science journalist, Stefan Klein, will explore the anatomy of happiness from a scientific perspective. Dr Tania Singer, neuroscientist at Zurich University, will present her research on Empathy and the Compassionate Mind ñ a path to happiness? answering compelling questions, such as: what happens in the brain when we feel empathy?’ are empathetic people happier?’ and can the brain be trained to dwell on constructive thoughts?’
What can we learn about happiness from a prison environment? Tibetan Buddhist nun, Ven Robina Courtin, who works with prisoners in the USA, many on death row, as well as prisoners in Australia, will present a case study about working with disturbing emotions within the prison system. She will explore why forgiveness is so important for our happiness and how we can cultivate compassion, joy and equanimity ñ even in the most daunting, adverse circumstances.
The conference will give people practical tools and techniques for transforming their hearts and minds to becoming the authors of their own happiness. Workshops will include Learning to Recognise Concealed Emotions: Micro expressions, presented by world leader in the field, Dr David Matsumoto, Professor of Psychology at San Francisco State University. Micro expressions are facial indications of emotion that are very brief ñ a fifteenth of a second ñ and are signs of concealed emotions. When viewed in slow motion, they look like one of the seven, universal emotions: happiness, fear, anger, disgust, sadness, contempt or surprise.
Produced by non-profit organisation, the World Happiness Forum, the conferences are motivated by a belief in the mind’s potential for growth and change and the need to look inward, as well as outward, for solutions to problems of dissatisfaction and suffering in daily life.
Contact: Happiness and its Causes
Sydney Convention & Exhibition Ctr.,
Sydney, New South Wales
Tel: +44 (0)20 7608 7048
Dr Felicia Huppert Professor of Psychology, left,
who will be speaking at this year’s conference,
with Venerable Sangye Khadro, right,
who ran one of the workshops at last year’s event.
Photo: © Happiness & its Causes
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