Childish ways to maximise happiness

img_7492The ancient Greek philosopher Plato believed that humans were born with perfect knowledge, but somehow forgot it all at birth. So acquiring knowledge later in life is actually recollecting things we already knew.
I remember thinking this was absurd when I first read it (at school where I appeared to be learning all sorts of things that seemed to be totally new). But, as time goes by, I increasingly think that he has a point.
I am currently working with an Indian media company. In the newsroom I saw a notebook with these words on the outside:

The creative adult is the child who survived.

This got me thinking. The amazing thing about the people who work in that newsroom is how incredibly hard they work. They are a business channel covering the ruckus of the Bombay Stock Exchange in a roller coaster of live output with flashing tickers, graphics and logos. Every moment there is a breaking “flash” as another company releases its results, or a stock price “tanks” or “spikes”. But despite working very long hours and under great pressure, they seem happy – childishly happy –  not that they are in any way childish themselves (they are utterly seasoned professionals). They are childishly happy in the way that a child is happy when totally engrossed in his or her play: demonstrating utter concentration and dedication, and a sense of fun and enjoyment. It’s wonderful to see.

So this article in Time 4 Ways to Live a Happier Life caught my eye when it popped up on my Twitter feed the same week. The author, Eric Barker, quotes the philosopher Nietzsche, echoing Plato’s theme:

A person’s maturity consists in having found again the seriousness one had as a child at play.

The article advocates smiling, laughing, touching and teasing as its 4 routes to happiness. These should all be easy to do, “child’s play” as the saying goes, because they are all things that kids do naturally. The article concludes, if you want to be happy:

resolve to approach life like a big kid.

When you think about it, it’s obvious: we instinctively know that it is correct …. and yet somehow we stressed-out adults have managed to forget that simple truth. Perhaps Plato was right after all.

Magical ways to maximise performance: How Harry Potter can help you conquer your fear

Harry Potter And The Prisoner of Azkaban, by JK Rowling
Harry Potter And The Prisoner of Azkaban, by JK Rowling

When your goal is to achieve confident leadership, so the saying goes, there’s no magic wand. You cannot suddenly become a great leader and remain one forever. It’s a journey not a destination. And even if you do have a magic wand, it’s still a challenge. There are no super spells that Harry Potter and his friends can cast to solve their confidence issues. (The books would be pretty dull and short if they did!) But JK Rowling provides them with useful ways to confont their deepest fears. And they provide us muggles with powerful images: magical ways we can use to maximise our performance.

In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Professor Remus Lupin introduces his defence against the dark arts class to the Boggart. Here is the scene in the excellent film produced by Warner Bros. Entertainment.

A Boggart is a magical creature that works out what your greatest fear is and mimics it.  Professor Lupin sends each student up to face their fear and to learn to conquer it. “The charm that repels a Boggart is simple,” Lupin explains, “yet it requires force of mind.  You see, the thing that really finishes a Boggart is laughter. What you need to do is force it to assume a shape that you find amusing.”

So the young wizards are trained to use the Riddikulus charm which (no surprise) makes the Boggart ridiculous and causes them to burst into laughter. And once you laugh at a Boggart –  once you laugh in the face of fear – it’s no longer frightening. So the wizards are trained to follow a very simple two-step process:

  1. Know your Boggart. They identify what their greatest fear is. For Neville Longbottam, it’s Professor Snape.  For Ron Weasley, it’s a giant spider.
  2. Make it ridiculous. They think how to make their greatest fear laughable, and, if they concentrate on that, the Riddikulus charm will make it happen. So Neville’s Snape ends up wearing Neville’s granny’s clothes, and looking extremely funny. Ron’s spider has roller skates on each of its legs and skids around hilariously. Once they’ve laughed at it, the Boggart is no longer scary. Their fear is gone.

Most of this is not magic: Laughter is the best medicine because it releases feel-good chemicals which ease our anxiety and stop our fear – that’s how our physiology works.  So try the same process:

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