“Buddha Doesn’t Want To See Your Legs”

We spent much of our time in Tibet visiting Buddhist monasteries and temples. Their beauty and spirituality was offset with the sadness of knowing that so few of them remain. After the People’s Republic of China invaded Tibet in 1950, unrest among the Tibetan people escalated and culminated in the Tibetan Uprising of 1959. Many Tibetans, including the 14th Dalai Lama, sought asylum in India. In the years following 1959, particularly during the Cultural Revolution, there was wholesale destruction of Tibetan religious buildings and artifacts by the Chinese. All but a few dozen of more than 6,000 monasteries were destroyed.

Drepung Monastery monastery — home of the Third, Fourth and Fifth Dalai Lamas — is one that survived. About 10 kilometers from Lhasa, Drepung was built in 1416 and was home to over 10,000 monks before what the Chinese euphemistically call the “Liberation” of Tibet. Here we saw our first prayer wheels, which people set in motion as they walk in circles around the building in a clockwise direction as a form of prayer or meditation. Our big American feet had a hard time climbing the ladders built for little Tibetan monk feet.

Since it was a hot day, I removed the leg bottoms from convertible pants. Our guide Dolma told me to put them back on before going into any of the chapels because “Buddha doesn’t want to see your legs.” We quickly learned that we’d need to pay a smallish fee (20 yuan = about $3.20 US) to take photographs inside the chapels. It was well worth it the price. The large candle below is actually made from yak butter, which people bring to the chapels as an offering.

We couldn’t get into a few of the chapels …

… so we did some souvenir shopping …

… and had lunch at the on-site restaurant, where the decor shifted from Buddha to NBA all stars.

We next visited the Sera Monastery. Founded in 1416, Sera is home of the Gelukpa Order (the Dalai Lama’s sect). Here, as at Drepung, many of the monks renounced their vows to take up arms during the Tibetan Uprising. We arrived in time to witness the action in the Debating Courtyard, where each afternoon monks debate  the teachings of Buddha and Buddhist philosophy. Monks sitting on the ground are questioned by monks standing over them. The standing monks clap their hands together for emphasis, palms together if they agree with what the seated monk has said and right palm up if they disagree. It was a blast to watch them discuss issues with so much energy.

I asked Dolma about this painting at our hotel in Lhasa. She said that Tibet is in the shape of a dragon lying on the ground. At the heart of the dragon is the Jokhang Temple, the most sacred site in Tibet.

Jokhang Temple was built in 642 by King Songsten Gumpo, who brought Buddhism to Tibet. Pilgrims walk for days or weeks to visit Jokhang and see the face of the Compassion Buddha inside. (Photos were not allowed.) Outside the temple, people do hundreds of sun-salutation type of movements as a form of prayer. I bought flowers from one of the many flower sellers to lay in front of the Compassion Buddha. (Note that my legs are covered.) The courtyard area adjacent to Johkang Temple houses several beautifully ornate thrones of the Dalai Lama.

Our next stop was Potala Palace, the former winter residence of the Dalai Lama. Located in the heart of Lhasa, Potala Palace is a popular site for circumambulation (fancy word for walking around a sacred object). Parts of the palace date back to 637. The “newer” portions were built by the Fifth Dalai Lama in the mid to late 1600s. The hike up the front steps gets your heart rate going, especially at Lhasa’s altitude of 12,000 feet. Pictures inside the temples weren’t permitted, but the views from outside were wonderful as well. My troll (Aurora) was happy to find a troll-sized rock with the inscription Om Mani Padme Hum, a mantra commonly used by Tibetan Buddhists to invoke compassion.

From Lhasa, we took a long bus ride to Gyantse to visit the Pelkor Chode Monastery and Kumbum Stupa. The large white wall on the hillside in the first photo below is for hanging thangkas (huge paintings of Buddha) on special occasions. Kumbum — Tibetan for “100,000 holy images” — is aptly named, with 108 art-filled chapels scattering its multiple floors. We even found a Cell Phone Buddha (fifth photo below), and Aurora rode on a dragon. (You know how trolls are: she had to outdo my yak ride.)

Our final stop was the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Shigatse, Tibet’s second largest city. Founded in 1447 by the First Dalai Lama, Tashi Lhunpo is the main seat of the Panchen Lama, the traditional teacher of the Dalai Lama. Dolma explained that the circumambulating pilgrims at Tashi Lhumpo walk as many circles as their age, using “rock calculators” (pictured below) to keep track.

In the village outside Tashi Lhunpo, we saw that young monks are like teenage boys all over the world, hanging out on street corners with their friends, enjoying a beautiful sunny day. I hope for their sake, and ours, that Tibet’s future is much brighter than its recent past.

If you’d like to learn more about Tibet and the fight for its freedom, visit FreeTibet.org.

Tashi Delek, Tibet!

Arriving at the airport in Lhasa, Tibet, our travel group (including my troll, Aurora) was welcomed by our guide with the traditional Tibetan greeting of “tashi delek”, which means good fortune. We were also “greeted” by Chinese security, who searched our bags for anything relating to the Dalai Lama and took my passport into a separate room for a while without explanation. You get no stamp on your passport indicating that you’ve been to Tibet. If you ask, they will — begrudgingly — give you a China stamp. Our experience at the airport set the tone for our six-day stay in Tibet: a surreal mix of the spirituality and warmth of the Tibetan people and culture, and the constant dark presence of Chinese security forces that have had a stranglehold on Tibet since the 1950s.

It wasn’t long before we saw our first yak, the official animal of Tibet. About 85 percent of the world’s yak population lives in Tibet. That’s about 10 million yaks. We ate yak burgers (not bad). Check out the brown circles stacked on top of the homes in the last photo below. They’re 8-inch circles of dried yak dung, which Tibetan villagers use to heat their homes.


The breathtaking Tibetan landscape is dominated by the Himalayas. Our drive through the countryside took us to altitudes in excess of 17,000 feet. (FYI: 5,248 meters = 17,217 feet.) Thank god for Diamox!

Tibetans string prayer flags and white scarves throughout the countryside and peaks in the Himalayas to bring blessings. Traditionally, prayer flags come in five colors, arranged from left to right in specific order: blue, white, red, green and yellow. Blue symbolizes the sky, white symbolizes water, red symbolizes fire, green symbolizes air, and yellow symbolizes earth.

The Tibetan people are gracious and beautiful, with their black hair, ready smiles and flushed cheeks. Our guide Dolma (with Aurora below) left Tibet at the age of 15, walking over the Himalayas and through Nepal to reach India, where she attended school. A death in her family 10 years ago made her return to Tibet, once again walking home. Maria von Trapp has nothing on Dolma!

Chinese security was enforcing the “no photographs” rule at the border crossing, but I managed to sneak a quick pic of one of the many Sherpas (most of whom were women). I will never again complain about carrying a few bags of groceries.

Next post: “Buddha Doesn’t Want To See Your Legs” (our tour of Buddhist monasteries in Tibet).

In Search of Shangri La

I’m taking a hiatus from blogging to travel through the Himalayas in Nepal and Tibet. Having never been to that part of the world and needing to literally get away from it all, I couldn’t be more excited. Watching Frank Capra’s “Lost Horizon” one too many times has lodged an illogical hope in the back of my mind that maybe, just maybe, we’ll stumble upon Shangri La. Or maybe we’ll have an Indiana-Jones type of adventure in Kathmandu. Even if that doesn’t happen, we’ll learn about the Nepalese and Tibetan people and cultures, and have up close and personal views of some of the most beautiful scenery on Earth.

In preparation for the trip, our group leaders gave us the following warning:

“Do NOT carry any pictures of the Dalai Lama, Free Tibet posters or T-shirts, Tibetan flags, any political magazines or books, etc. The Chinese government is very strict about this and may not allow you into the country or may deport you from the country if you possess any such material. Furthermore, your local Tibetan guide is highly regulated with regards to what he can and cannot discuss about Tibet, its politics, its religion, and/or its history. You may ask your guide questions but should he not want to discuss it, PLEASE do NOT push him as (like it or not) his livelihood depends on his following prescribed rules.”

Just last week, we were informed that the Chinese government has unexpectedly, without reason, declared that no foreign tourists will be allowed to visit Tibet from October 1st and beyond. Also, no tourists are allowed to visit the Mount Everest base camp, which was going to be a highlight of our trip.

My natural inclination is to be angry with the Chinese government. How can you not like the Dalai Lama? It’s like not liking chocolate-chip cookies fresh from the oven. And why are you blocking foreign tourists from visiting Tibet?

But since I’ve read The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler, I know better than to react with anger. As the Dalai Lama emphasizes, it’s important to avoid negative emotions such as anger and hatred and focus on cultivating positive emotions:

“For example, so far as our own dealings with China are concerned, even if there is a likelihood of some feeling of hatred arising, we deliberately check ourselves and try to reduce that, try to consciously develop a feeling of compassion toward the Chinese. I think countermeasures can ultimately be more effective without feelings of anger or hatred.”

“If you maintain a feeling of compassion, loving kindness, then something automatically opens your inner door. Through that, you can communicate much more easily with other people. And that feeling of warmth creates a kind of openness. You’ll find that all human beings are just like you, so you’ll be able to relate to them more easily.”

I may not be able to bring the Dalai Lama’s books into Tibet, but I will bring what I’ve learned from him about compassion, kindness and love. And that is its own kind of Shangri La.

Tough Love 1: Deal With It (Or, Don’t Piss On Your Cheerios)

Being a rainbow in someone’s clouds can mean telling them something they’d rather not hear but they need to learn. I like to think of this as tough love. Some of the most impactful tough love I’ve ever received was doled out by my big brother.

Deal With It, Or…

As I was growing up, when I had a bad day, my older brother Gary would tell me, in his wise and caring but semi-tough way, “Lisa, you just have to deal with it. Getting upset will not help. In fact, it will make things worse.” Following Gary’s advice, after indulging in some Oreos (double-stuff preferred) to soothe the pain, I’d buck up and do what needed to be done to resolve the problem without feeling sorry for myself.

Engage In Conscious Choice Making, Or …

Many years later I learned that in advising me to deal positively with challenging situations, Gary was aligned with Deepak Chopra and the Dalai Lama. Deepak Chopra deals with it by engaging in “conscious choice making”, which recognizes that between stimulus and response is a space in which we can choose how to respond:

“Unfortunately, a lot of us make choices unconsciously, and therefore we don’t think they are choices – and yet they are. If I were to insult you, you would most likely make the choice of being offended. If I were to pay you a compliment, you would most likely make the choice of being pleased or flattered. But think about it: it’s still a choice. I could offend you and I could insult you, and you could make the choice of not being offended. I could pay you a compliment and you could make the choice of not letting that flatter you either.”

(From The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success.)

The results of consciously choosing how we respond to even the most basic situations can be profound. Standing in line at the grocery store or airport, when the person in front of me has too many items for the express line or metal items in their pockets, I remind myself that I can get upset — or not. The choice is mine. And choosing to get upset is never a good idea. Instead, I take a deep breath, smile, and do my best to make productive use of the extra time life just handed me.

Cultivate Positive Mental States, Or …

The Dalai Lama deals with it by cultivating positive mental states such as compassion and kindness, and avoiding negative mental states such as anger and aggression:

“I think that to a large extent, whether you suffer depends on how you respond to a given situation. For example, say that you find out that someone is speaking badly of you behind your back. If you react to this knowledge that someone is speaking badly of you, this negativity, with a feeling of hurt or anger, then you yourself destroy your own peace of mind. Your pain is your own personal creation. On the other hand, if you refrain from reacting in a negative way, let the slander pass by you as if it were a silent wind passing behind your ears, you protect yourself from that feeling of hurt, that feeling of agony. So, although you may not always be able to avoid difficult situations, you can modify the extent to which you suffer by how you choose to respond to the situation.”

(From The Art of Happiness.)

Don’t Piss On Your Cheerios

As I see it, the “tough love” from Gary, Deepak and the Dalai Lama basically boils down to this: don’t piss on your Cheerios. Take a minute to recognize the space between stimulus and response. In that space, choose to deal with a negative stimulus in a positive fashion rather than choosing to get upset and ruining your day. Of course, transforming our outlook in this fashion takes time and practice. As the Dalai Lama explains, “eventually, as you gradually build up the positive practices, the negative behaviors are automatically diminished.” This is good news, because no one likes soggy Cheerios.

Next week: Tough Love 2: If You Can Spot It, You’ve Got It

Connect to Source Part 1: Meditation

Shortly after turning 40, I visited my brother Gary at his home in Tucson, Arizona. A retired homicide detective turned personal trainer, Gary has served as a sort of “life coach” for me, giving me nuggets of advice at critical points in my life. During one of our hikes in the mountains surrounding Tucson, I asked Gary what he thought I needed to improve about myself. He said I should work on my spirituality.

After having focused for years on law school and then representing Wall Street clients (the infamous one percent), I knew he was right. Gary’s comment started me on a journey to find ways to connect to the higher power (what some might call God) and my inner wisdom. I think of these things collectively as “the Source.”

This is the first of a three-part series about practices that have helped me “Connect to Source”, starting with inactive (meditation), to more active (journaling), to a melding of the mind and body (Iyengar yoga). Cultivating these practices has been transformative: it has given me a much greater degree of calmness of mind, self-understanding, clarity on life’s purpose and direction, compassion, and better psychological and physical health. And we all need those things to make it in today’s stressful world!

The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living by the Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler says that: “In our spiritual journey, it’s important for each of us to decide whether a particular practice is appropriate for us. Sometimes a practice will not appeal to us initially, and before it can be effective, we need to understand it better.” I hope this series will help those who are looking to connect to Source find and better understand a practice or two that may work for them.

Why Meditation?

It may seem like a trendy, “new age” thing, but the practice of meditation is ancient. I think people are turning to meditation in droves these days because of the overload of information and thoughts bombarding us from all of today’s media and technology, which invoke stress or the “fight or flight” response. We all need a few moments each day to turn off the laptop, iPhone and Blackberry and have some “quiet time” to destress and reconnect to our true selves.

And that is what meditation provides. During meditation, your body shifts into a state of restful awareness, which is a counterbalance to the “fight or flight” response. You experience a decreased heart rate, reduced stress hormones, quiet breathing and strengthened immunity. When you regularly activate restful awareness through meditation, you experience these and other physical and psychological benefits.

Productive Meditation

Ultimately, as explained in The Art of Happiness At Work, your meditation practice will benefit not only you but all of the people in your life:

“Genuine progress occurs when the individual not only sees some results in achieving higher levels of meditative states but also when their meditation has at least some influence on how they interact with others, some impact from that meditation in their daily life—more patience, less irritation, more compassion. That’s productive meditation. Something that can bring benefit to others in some way.”

Primordial Sounds And Other Mantras

My meditation practice began at a “Perfect Health” week at the Chopra Center near San Diego, which was a wonderful and memorable experience. The Chopra Center gives instruction in primordial sound meditation, a technique rooted in the Vedic tradition of India. A primordial sound is a type of mantra consisting of three sounds or vibrations, the first being “Om”, the third being “Namah”, and the second being one of 100 primordial sounds based on the time and place of your birth. A primordial sound mantra might be, for example, Om Bijah Namah.

These words have no particular meaning and are used as a tool to interrupt the flow of meaningful thoughts. Silently repeating your mantra in meditation helps you slip into the space between your thoughts, sometimes referred to as “the gap”, and expand to quieter, more abstract levels of the mind. If you don’t have a primordial sound mantra, you could just as easily use Om Mani Padme Hum (a mantra commonly used by Tibetan Buddhists to invoke compassion).

What If I Can’t Get My Mind To Be Quiet?

A common misperception about meditation is that you should be in “the gap” the entire time. But meditation isn’t about trying to force your mind to be quiet. It’s an effortless, non-judgmental process to rediscover the quietness that’s already there, behind our internal dialogue that keeps our mind in a state of turbulence.

Many thoughts arise during meditation, and your mind drifts and wanders. Just observe this happening and return to your mantra. The instructors at the Chopra Center assured us that even Deepak’s mind wonders during meditation, from what he’s going to say on his next appearance with Oprah to the topic of his next book. Then he gently returns to his mantra. For me, the few moments of silent spaces between my thoughts during meditation are precious glimpses of inner quietness and expanded awareness. I think of them as the time when I get quiet and let God speak to me, which is a more pure form of “prayer” than telling God what I want.

No Rules, Just Guidelines

There are no “rules” to meditating, but here are some guidelines to help you get started:

  • It’s generally better to meditation sitting up, since lying down is associated with sleep.
  • It’s best to close your eyes, since keeping our eyes open draws our attention outward.
  • The best times to meditate are first thing in the morning, before breakfast, and late afternoon or early evening. At the Chopra Center, these two times were memorably described to us as “RPM” (rise, pee, meditate), and “RAD” (right after dinner).
  • Try to meditate for 30 minutes. You may need to start with 10 or 15 minutes, and work your way up to 30. Meditate for whatever time you have.

You can think about it, talk about it, and read about it, but unless you do it, you won’t experience the benefits of meditation. So whether it’s RPM or RAD, get started  (or recommit to) your meditation practice today.

Rainbow Of The Week: The Dalai Lama’s Guide To Dating

Someone I dated years ago recently reappeared and began calling and texting on a regular basis, and taking me to dinner at expensive restaurants. Let’s call him Mr. Boomerang. I was flattered. And yet, something was a little off. Last week, the real reason for his getting back in touch with me surfaced: Mr. Boomerang thought I could give him some lucrative business through my current employer.

When I first realized what was going on, the ugly green slime of anger started rising from my stomach up through my throat and into my brain. I’m pretty sure those nice dinners went on his expense account. Hmmm, do you think he expensed his mileage too?

Thankfully, the Dalai Lama’s words of wisdom, from The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living, came to the rescue. As the Dalai Lama explains, “hatred and anger are considered to be the greatest evils because they are the greatest obstacles to developing compassion and altruism, and they destroy one’s virtue and calmness of mind.” The way to overcome anger and hatred is to cultivate their antidotes – patience and tolerance – by actively practicing them.

I was determined not to let Mr. Boomerang destroy my peace of mind, so I shifted my perspective and decided to use the experience to practice my patience and tolerance skills, per the Dalai Lama’s advice:

“Now there are many, many people in the world, but relatively few with whom we interact, and even fewer who cause us problems. So when you come across such a chance for practicing patience and tolerance, you should treat it with gratitude. It is rare. Just as having unexpectedly found a treasure in your own house, you should be happy and grateful towards your enemy for providing that precious opportunity. Because if you are ever to be successful in your practice of patience and tolerance, which are critical factors in counteracting negative emotions, it is due to the combination of your own efforts and also the opportunity provided by your enemy.”

With that in mind, I politely told Mr. Boomerang about some research he needed to do in the area of my company that’s of interest to him, gave him my work number, and told him to call me during business hours.

But don’t think that the Dalai Lama is a wimp:

 “Now when we talk about how we should develop tolerance towards those who harm us, we should not misunderstand this to mean that we should just meekly accept whatever is done to us. Rather, if necessary, the best, the wisest course, might be to simply run away—run miles away!”

I did the equivalent of running miles away: I deleted Mr. Boomerang from my iPhone. That felt good, but not nearly as good as reacting to a trying situation with patience and tolerance and avoiding all of the negative emotions that anger unleashes inside of us!

The Art Of Happiness At Work

For the past few years, I’ve been in a state of sustained dreadfulness at work, since witnessing a friend and co-worker get callously fired and escorted out a week before Christmas. Despite repeatedly reminding myself that I’m lucky to have a job in this economic environment, I’ve grown increasingly unhappy and grumpy at work. And like many people these days, my ability to move elsewhere for a job is hampered by being a homeowner in today’s horrendous real estate market.

Practicing Compassion Instead Of Cashing In My 401(k)

Feeling trapped in a bad place, after a particularly bad day at the office (the kind when you contemplate quitting and cashing in your 401k), I implored the universe to help me: if there’s a lesson I’m meant to learn from this situation, please show me what it is. The next day, I ran across The Art Of Happiness At Work, by the Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler, M.D.

The book contains important lessons about applying Buddhist philosophy to transform dissatisfaction with work in the Western world. The lesson I needed is that happiness at work doesn’t begin by finding a “nirvana” job free from tormentors and tyrants. It begins by turning inward and reshaping my own attitudes and outlook.

I had grown so disillusioned with how people are treated at the workplace that I had checked out as a human being. I was just doing the work expected of me and collecting a paycheck until I found an escape hatch. The Dalai Lama teaches that this is not the route to happiness:

“[I]f we are discussing happiness and satisfaction at work, like in all human activities, the human factor—how we relate to those around us, our coworkers, our customers, our boss—is of prime importance. And I think if we make a special effort to cultivate good relationships with people at work, get to know the other people, and bring our basic human qualities to the workplace, that can make a tremendous difference. Then, whatever kind of work we do, it can be a source of satisfaction. Then you look forward to going to work, and you are happier there. You think, Oh, I’m going to work to see my friends today!

He emphasizes that “we should take special care to pay attention to the human relationships at work, how we interact with one another, and try to maintain basic human values, even at work…. Just basic human goodness. Be a good person, a kind person. Relate to others with warmth, human affection, with honest and sincerity. Compassion.”

Gee, That Sounds Familiar

The Dalai Lama’s co-author, Dr. Cutler (a psychiatrist), weaves real-life examples into The Art Of Happiness At Work to illustrate these points. One story from a senior editor at a publishing house really hit home:

“I have to start with the irritation I feel when I have to answer a nagging question from a co-worker. I have to appreciate that person as someone who also has a job to do and whose needs are at least as important, if not more so, than my own. Then I can take some satisfaction in the fact that because of my job I’ve been able to help clear someone else’s confusion….

“So then I can see the purpose of my job is really to help alleviate suffering. But it’s not easy to maintain. I slip into ‘burnout’ all the time. It’s a mind-training exercise that I have to engage in all the time. And crabbiness at work is the sign that I need to do it again, and again, until one day the feeling just comes naturally, spontaneously….”

What About The Tormentors And Tyrants?

Of course, training my mind to be more kind and compassionate doesn’t make the tormentors and tyrants disappear. But as the Dalai Lama explains, those individuals provide us with chances to improve ourselves:

“[T]here are some people who have an interest in spirituality, those people who are trying to train their minds, to cultivate spiritual values like compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness. Now, for those people, they may use these challenging situations as part of their spiritual practice, and view situations where there are conflicts with difficult co-workers as opportunities to practice these wonderful human qualities, to strengthen these spiritual values. I think it is a wonderful thing if one can use one’s place of work as a place of spiritual practice as well.”

Lasting Happiness 24/7

The Art Of Happiness At Work helped me see that I can’t have a happy life unless I relate to others with warmth, human affection, sincerity and compassion in my personal life and in my professional life: “When you appreciate the interconnected nature of all aspects of your life, then you will understand how various factors—such as your values, your attitudes, your emotional state—can all contribute to your sense of fulfillment at work, and to your satisfaction and happiness in life.” Practicing these seemingly simple lessons in recent weeks has had a transformative impact on my life, in and out of the workplace.

Does this mean that I plan to stay in my current job for the rest of my working life? No. But while I’m there, I’ll use the experience as a tool to reshape my outlook and attitudes, to integrate basic human values at the office, to reduce my anger and hostility and cultivate the opposing mental states of kindness, compassion, tolerance and forgiveness. In Dr. Cutler’s words, “true happiness may take longer to generate, and requires some effort, but it is this lasting happiness that can sustain us even under the most trying conditions of everyday life.”

You can get a copy of The Art of Happiness At Work on Amazon. It’s not currently available as an e-book, but I prefer to have a hard copy anyway. I keep it on my desk at work as a reminder of the important lessons it contains!

Compassion + Caring For Others = Happiness

Happy Easter! This is a perfect day to reflect on joy and happiness. In preparation for an upcoming trip to Tibet, I’ve been reading The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living by the Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler. The book explains that “there is an inextricable link between one’s personal happiness, compassion and caring for others.” One thing I associate with compassion and caring for others is volunteering. The good news is that, in the internet age, regardless of your schedule, it’s incredibly easy and convenient to volunteer your time and talents to a worthwhile cause.

Sparked

A fantastic web site that allows you to do volunteer work whenever you have a few minutes or hours to spare is Sparked.com. Its web-based volunteer tasks take between five minutes and two hours to complete, and provide assistance to a wide variety of non-profit and charitable organizations. Visit Sparked and answer some questions to indicate the causes that you’re passionate about, and the skills that you can contribute (e.g., research, design, marketing, writing, social media, technology). You’ll get a weekly e-mail with options based on the interests and skills that you indicated. You can also search the site by cause or location and select an online volunteer activity.

VolunteerMatch

Another amazing online resource for volunteer opportunities is VolunteerMatch. They have search engines that will help you locate volunteer information and listings in your local community, in addition to “virtual” volunteer opportunities. VolunteerMatch lists tens of thousands of volunteer opportunities from about 80,000 nonprofit organizations.

My Experience

I like to volunteer in an area where I myself am in need of help. Several years ago, when I was looking for a new job, I volunteered at the Cabrini Green Legal Aid Clinic Expungement Help Desk. This involved helping people get minor crimes expunged from their records so they could get hired. The people I helped were so grateful, and seeing the struggles they were going through to get a job made me stop feeling sorry for myself. These days, I’d like to make the switch from being a lawyer to being a writer and teacher, so I’m volunteering at Open Books, an organization that provides reading and writing programs for students from across Chicago.

Happiness Plus

In addition to adding to your happiness quotient, having volunteer activities on your rèsumè can make the difference when it comes to landing a job. A recent LinkedIn survey found that one in five employers hired someone primarily because of her volunteer service outside of work.

Also, studies have shown that doing regular volunteer work can dramatically increase life expectancy and overall health. As described in The Art of Happiness, one study showed that people “who were regularly involved with volunteer activities that helped others … had a distinct feeling of calmness and enhanced self-worth following the activity. Not only did these caring behaviors provide an interaction that was emotionally nourishing, but it was also found that this ‘helper’s calm’ was linked to relief from a variety of stress-related physical disorders as well.”

As Eleanor Roosevelt observed, “Since you get more joy out of giving joy to others, you should put a good deal of thought into the happiness you are able to give.” This Easter, put some thought into becoming a volunteer!