happiness complete!

I have just completed my second Coursera course, “A Life of Fulfillment and Happiness“, a 6-week program that surveyed the research on happiness. This course was filled with new learning and great ideas on how to learn, many of which mirrored the “Learning how to Learn” course I completed earlier. Being happy, as it turns out, makes us more creative and helps us be better learners.

The instructor reviewed the 7 happiness sins and how to counteract them. I’ve listed them below and added my personal goals, based on the “antidotes” he recommends:

1.Devaluing happiness – we tend to sacrifice happiness for things that don’t make us happy.

Personal goal: On a regular basis, record the things that make me happy so that I will remember to be happy in those situations.

2.Chasing superiority – This requires us to judge others and compare ourselves materialistically, moving us away from activities that make us happy.

Personal goal: Challenge myself to spend 2-3 hours a week to become better at what I enjoy, in order to seek “flow”. People are not threatened by those who are in a state of flow, so it brings happiness to others too. 

3.Being needy/avoidant – The need to belong is wired into humans, and childhood neediness or avoidance is likely to follow us into adulthood, but if we are aware of our propensities, we can change them. Our minds calm down when we think beyond ourselves.

Personal goal: Practice “creative altruism” by finding opportunities to give to others in simple and fun ways.

4.Being overly controlling – We are wired to seek autonomy, but there is a tipping point. You have to choose love or control; you can’t have both. We must develop the skills to take personal responsibility for our own happiness and not had the “keys of our happiness” to someone else.

Personal goal: Continuously examine my lifestyle related to eating, movement and sleep, and actively examine my emotions.

5&6.Distrusting others/Distrusting life – While we are hardwired to be distrusting, the biggest determinant of happiness in a society is if people indicate they trust each other.

Personal goal: Actively anticipate the best outcomes but don’t judge what these outcomes end up being (“dispassionate pursuit of passion”).

7.Ignoring the “source within” – We are happier when we are mindful, when we observe our own emotions but don’t add or take away from situation. Mindfulness mitigates the other 6 sins.

Personal goal: Start with mindful practice for 1-2 minutes a day (even 5 minutes a day improves our working memory — which will help me be a better learner!).



learning how to learn course completed

Over Christmas, I finished my first Coursera course, Learning How to Learn, which I highly recommend to anyone. Here are some new techniques I learned which I hope to put into practice:

  1. Practice 25 minutes of “focussed” learning (Pomodoro technique) followed by a few minutes of “diffuse” thinking to create new learning “chunks” (networks of neurons).
  2. Use practice and repetition to build, enhance and strengthen neural structures and patterns, to move learning from short-term to long-term memory. Short term memory can only hold about 4 items. Spacing learning helps it move from short to long term.
  3. Commit to good sleep and exercise. Sleep helps clear the “toxins” that build up around your brain cells. Exercise and sleep help new neurons (which form daily) survive.
  4. Prompt dreams to help understanding.
  5. Use spatial memory (humans excel in this): “Memory place techniques” (using physical locations as visual notepads), metaphors, analogies and “being in” the concept you are trying to memorize.
  6. Recognise “knowledge collapse“, which happens when your brain is wrestling with new learning and is often about to leap forward.
  7. Practice “interleaving“, moving back and forth between previous and new learning.
  8. Override “zombie” procrastination habits by recognising the cues that set them off. New learning is initially experienced as pain and can launch us into our zombie habits. Have a plan for developing new routines.
  9. Write a weekly list of key tasks, and a daily list each evening before bed (your brain works on it while you sleep). Set rewards for completing tasks.
  10. Eat your frogs first (do the things first that you dislike most).


wordpress conquered (well, slightly)

I have finally figured out how to configure a basic WordPress site. Some hints that might help:

  1. The support on this site is second to none. When I couldn’t find solutions in the searchable support documentation, I was able to chat with a “Happiness Engineer” who quickly pointed me to the correct documentation or walked me through the setup. And they email you your chat transcripts with hyperlinks in case you forget how to get back to the documentation.
  2. The categories widget is a great way to organize your posts by themes or topics. You may want to spend some time thinking about what these categories (and subcategories) will be. I also added the tag cloud widget so I could pull out more detailed themes by tagging them.
  3. The blog page you start with isn’t a page. If you want to make a static page your home page, you will need to create another page to add blog entries.
  4. You can do most editing from the WordPress site by logging in and clicking on “My Site” but you can also edit though the admin portal, or Dashboard, and I’m still figuring out the differences. For example, you can only edit Categories in admin (click on Posts and then Categories). You can also assign a category to a parent category here.
  5. The calendar widget is a good visual check that I am reflecting on my learning with enough frequency.
  6. The search widget allows me to search my site.


building a learning container

I have decided to use WordPress to keep track of my learning artifacts. I thought this would be easy…EVERYONE uses WordPress (and I’ve always wanted to learn). I started looking at it in September, and after watching several videos in the Quick Start Course, I wondered if I’d made the right choice for a web tool to house my LCP. The videos were overkill to me, and I couldn’t figure out what pieces of the training I could apply. It’s now December and I’m feeling like I’m overthinking it, so I just decided to dive in. I’ve learned that I learn best when I can take small pieces of information and apply them as I go.

I printed off the “Get Going Fast: A Checklist” so I could make notes on it and am working my way through. I set up my site a month ago, but today (December 17, 2015) I learned to upload a custom header and add a .pdf/word document. And I just learned to build a menu! Thanks to the excellent chat support, I also learned to add a sidebar with a calendar.