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Hear from our speakers

Weve come a long way since we held our first Happiness & Its Causes conference back in 2006, following the success of our first conference, Mind & Its Potential in 2005. Thinking then it could be a one-off, although hoping it might sustain for another year or two, were delighted it has become an annual event. Not only that, it has been a huge hit with the literally thousands of delegates who have attended due to what many have said are its life changing effects. If youve attended any of our events, youll understand their appeal. For every conference, we work hard putting together a p rogram designed to facilitate exploration of and discussion about the things that matter most to YOU how to be happier, how to find meaning in your life, how to be more creative, how to maximise your potential and how to contribute to the lives of others. Of course, we couldnt do any of it without the expertise of the great many speakers we invite to present sessions and worksh ops at our events about the amazing work thats being done here in Australia and overseas in the fields of psychology, education, neuroscience, sociology, conservation, anthropology, spirituality and more. Our speakers are extraordinary individuals in terms of the information they share and the difference they are making to the wellbeing of society and our planet. Were delighted to be able to share their messages through our Think & Be Happy blog, e-newsletter and Happiness & Its Causes Facebook page and Twitter feed. We often feature articles about upcoming speakers built around an interview or presentation theyve already given. In our lat est eBook offering, we have compiled eight such posts from our blog, all featuring top notch presenters you will hear at Happiness & Its Causes 2014. If you havent registered yet, I guarantee that after reading these, youll be seriously tempted.



If to lose oneself is to experience bliss, what can we do to more easily cultivate this state? The answer lies in research pioneered by Professor Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi, one of the greatest psychologists of our time. When Czikszentmihalyi started on his quest 40 years ago to better cognise the causes of happiness, he began to look at creative people trying to understand what made them feel that it was worth essentially spending their life doing things for which many of them didnt expect either fame or fortune. One person he interviewed was a composer who described feeling ecstatic whenever he composed music. Czikszentmihalyi was intrigued by his use of the word ecstatic, which in Greek means simply to stand to the side of something. Or to put it another way, this composer entered an alternative reality. Not only that, he claimed to lose all sense of himself in the process. Czikszentimihalyi says this is, in fact, what literally happens because our nervous system is incapable of processing more than 110 bits of information. Thats not very much especially when you consider we apparently need 60 bits per second merely to process what someone is saying.

Given creative endeavours use up even more bits, its no wonder those poets, writers, painters and musicians who report experiencing total immersion in their craft dont have enough attention left over for the usual human preoccupations, says Czikszentimihalyi adding that their body disappears from their consciousness because they dont have enough attention to do well something that requires a lot of concentration, and at the same time to feel that they exist. What we now know about these fully absorbing flow states is that anyone can get in the zone under the right circumstances specifically when we encounter a challenge that tests our skills, and our skills and capacities are such that were able to meet this challenge. Read the full blog here.


Since the first Happiness & Its Causes conference in 2006, over 15,000 people have been moved and inspired at what is now one of the worlds largest and most important forums on human happiness!


Everything anyone does, dreams about, aspires to, whether its conscious or not, somehow is related to a deep profound desire for well-being and happiness. So says French Buddhist Monk, Matthieu Ricard, co-ordinator of Karuna-Shechen Humanitarian Projects and best-selling author of Happiness: A Guide to Developing Lifes Most Important Skill. Yet Ricard also makes the point that because happiness is a notoriously difficult mind state to define, many of us look for joy in all the wrong places. One big problem is we tend to equate happiness with pleasure. Wrong says Ricard who explains that pleasure is contingent upon time, upon its object, upon the place. It is something that changes by nature. Happiness, on the other hand, is according to Buddhism, a deep sense of serenity, fulfilment, a state that actually pervades and underlies all emotional states, and all the joys and sorrows that can come ones way, says Ricard. The mistake many of us make in our quest for contentment is we look to externals: romantic love, material wealth, a younger face. If we could just nail these wed be happy.


Ricard says, That very sentence already reveals the doom of destruction of happiness: to have everything. If we miss something it collapses. It also doesnt help that we overestimate our control of the outer world which is limited, temporary and often illusory, says Ricard. His advice is we look instead at inner conditions. Arent they stronger? Isnt it the mind that translates the outer condition into happiness and suffering? Certainly, we know from experience that when we give in to our anger, jealousy, pride or greed, we feel lousy and so do the people around us. We also know that when were exuding love, warmth and generosity, everyone benefits. But do we know that we can change our negative emotions, traits and moods or are we simply resigned to living with them because we think theyre an inevitable part of being human? Ricard says that if we investigate the nature of mind or consciousness through practices such as meditation, well discover its primary quality is awareness and that because of this there is a possibility for change because all emotions are fleeting. That is the ground for mind training.

Read the full blog here.


Theres a lot of talk about the rise in unhealthy self-love amongst the millennial generation (those born in the 1980s and 1990s). One factor often cited as proof of this trend is the heavy use by many young adults of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. For the first time ever in human history, the opportunity exists to post to literally tens of thousands if not millions of complete strangers utterly banal information about the minutiae of your everyday life. One person whos concerned about this relationship between digital technology and what she regards as excessive self -focus in todays youth is Professor Jean Twenge, a psychologist and leading researcher into narcissism and youth mental health. According to Twenge, American youth (and by extrapolation their Australian counterparts) are in the grip of a narcissism epidemic. We have rising plastic surgery rates, we have this obsession with fame and celebrity [and] we have more materialistic values than we used to, she says, add ing that shes been involved in several within-campus studies trying to find out what the generational change [is] in narcissism. To t his end, approximately 50,000 college students between 1982 and 2009 have filled out the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, a commonly used measure of narcissistic traits in individuals. What Twenge and her colleagues have found, having analysed this data, is that where previously only about 17 percent of students scored very high in narcissism, that figure has now leapt to 30 percent bearing in mind that narcissistic characteristics present in individuals to varying degrees, with Narcissistic Personality Disorder at one end of the spectrum and good old fashioned vanity at the other. But as Twenge says, Even if its just at the personality trait level, and not at that clinical [disorder] level, there are a number of pro blems with it.

And yes, given the increase in narcissism has been most marked since 2005-2006, Twenge has no qualms pointing the finger at what she regards as the combined effects of Internet technology, in particular social networking sites, with easy credit, celebrity-drenched media and permissive parenting.
Read the full blog here.




Self-control is a quality most of us take for granted, without which our lives would very quickly descend into chaos. Yet few really understand self-control or its active ingredient willpower. Professor Roy Baumeister is a respected social psychologist who has worked extensively in the area of self-control and selfregulation, which he defines as the capacity to change and/or control your thoughts, emotions and impulses. According to Baumeister, we are using our self-control all day every day to resist lots of desires. To break it down, we spend eight hours a day actively desiring, three to four of those hours resisting what we want and a glorious guilt ridden half an hour succumbing to a yearning we previously resisted. But whats really interesting is that studies and real-life observations reveal that the basic energy (willpower) we use in self-control is finite within a set period of time. In other words, after exerting self-control once, if presented with another demand for self-control soon after, chances are well cave in. Not only that, making decisions, showing initiative, taking action all seem to draw on the same energy resource. Which perhaps explains why people in positions of power and responsibility so often become mired in scandal. Politicians, for example, having to make big decisions every day tend to deplete their store of willpower. If theres one take home message in all of this, its that people with impressive self -control dont resist desires more often. They avoid temptation in the first place. Read the full blog here.



It often seems that despite decades and decades of warnings from those in the know about the dire consequences we all face if our abuse of the planet continues, nothing ever changes. But then one encounters individuals like Dr Jane Goodall, an internationally acclaimed primatologist, environmentalist and UN Messenger of Peace whos devoted much of her life to protecting chimpanzees and their habitat, and is reminded of how important it is not to lose hope in our potential to co-exist peacefully and sustainably with all of earths inhabitants by choosing to live with awareness, compassion and generosity instead of ignorance, hatred and greed. These days, Goodall spends a lot of time travelling the world to raise awareness about the desperate plight of chimpanzees whose numbers have plummeted from around two million at the turn of the 20th century to about 150,000 across all of Africa today. If anyone is in a position to advocate on behalf of our closest nonhuman relatives, its Goodall whos been studying chimpanzees in Tanzania since 1960. She says that five decades on, technology has really transformed the way field biologists do their work so that now thanks to DNA profiling, satellite navigation systems, brain imaging techniques and other advances, our knowledge about chimps and other hominids (gorillas and orang-utans) has exploded. What weve learned above all is how truly similar these creatures are to human beings. As Goodall points out, chimps are capable of performances that would have been thought completely impossible by science when I began. Goodall lists many of the characteristics chimps share with us humans. For example, they can make tools, an activity once thought to be the sole preserve of man. They develop long-term affectionate and supportive bonds with their young and each other. Theyre capable of true compassion and altruism. Over these 40-odd years that I and others have been studying chimpanzees and other great apes and other mammals with complex brains and social systems, we have found that, after all, there isnt a sharp line dividing humans from the rest of the kingdom, says Goodall. Read the full blog here.


Inspirational, grounding, uplifting. Coming here is akin to plugging in to the main power station of love, joy and happiness and coming away recharged.
Catherine Gunn, QLD Health


Having spent decades researching how Australians think and feel about their lives, leading social researcher Hugh Mackay has written his latest book, The Good Life: What makes a life worth living?, in which he posits that our relentless pursuit of happiness has tended, paradoxically, to lead to depression and misery. He says wed all be much better off thinking less about our own wellbeing an d more about that of others. Hence his definition of a happy life is a good life, namely a life lived for others. In the last 10 years especially, Mackay says hes become very conscious of what he calls the deep malaise in Australian soci ety characterised by this dawning realisation that ever increasing material wealth cannot fill the existential feeling of lack that is the human condition. Mackay says the good life can only be about engagement and relationships when you consider the following: that love is the s ource of goodness in human society and that you cant love all by yourself. Not that this is an especially novel insight. When Aristotle coined the word eudaimonia, what he was referring to was something that almost had nothing to with an emotional state It was to do with being an engaged citizen, doing your civic duty, sacrificin g yourself to the common good. One of his phrases translates as entering into the full richness of human love and friendship, says Mackay. In order to lead a good life based on the golden rule of do unto others as you would have them do to you, Mackay says there are three particular disciplines that bring out the best in us and in those around us, what he calls the three great therapies of ever yday life. These are to listen attentively, to apologise sincerely and to forgive generously. He writes in his book, If we were to integrate them into our way of living to make them part of who we are many other manifestations of goodness would naturally flow from them. Read the full blog here.



For those parents and kids familiar with the vast oeuvre of Andy Griffiths which includes the Treehouse books, the Just! series, the Bad books and the Bum series, it will probably come as no surprise to learn that the childrens author has always loved the childish imagination the creativity of trying to make something totally ridiculous like it could be possible. Even as a kid himself, he liked nothing better than to write his own stories and cartoons for no other reason than it was fun. He obviously had a flair for it because his school mates were his biggest fans, some of whom joined forces with him to form the greatest rock and roll band in the world singing parodies of the most popular songs of the day by the likes of Alice Cooper and David Bowie. Even while at university, Griffiths continued to play in punk bands despite what he describes as his lack of musical aptitude. But I loved entertaining, he says, and the crafting of words and realised thats where I should really be putting my efforts. After graduation, Griffiths taught for a few years at a school in rural Victoria where he was shocked to discover many of the students thought reading was boring. Reflecting on his own very different childhood in this regard, Griffiths had the idea to write little embarrassing stories about when he was a kid


himself that he would then share with the class in order to kick start them into writing about their own experiences. In the process of doing this, Griffiths says he began filling up books full of memories, then dreams and I was soon creating fiction. And taking the best of what I wrote and photocopying [the material] into little self published books. This eventually gave him the confidence to quit teaching in 1991 in order to pursue writing full time. During this next phase, Griffiths continued to self-publish little books which he sold at markets where a growing albeit small fan base convinced him there was an audience for his nutty sense of humour. In contrast, those publishers he sent his early manuscripts to just sent him rejection letters. Griffiths says he received 12 of these before his fortune took a dramatic turn after illustrator Terry Denton agreed to illustrate Just Tricking!, the first volume in the much loved Just! Series. The book came out in 1994 and was the first of many that went on to sell tens of thousands of copies and earn the author rave reviews and numerous awards. Hardly surprising that Griffiths today is a household name especially if that household has children. Read full blog here.


It might not feel like it at the time but many of us would agree that after weve emerged from a period of blackness, theres a sense the experience has changed us in a positive way. One person whos all too familiar with this suffering-induced metamorphosis is Petrea King, well-known cancer survivor and Founding Director of the Quest for Life Foundation, a centre established to help those facing (according to the website) any of lifes Ds, whether its a diagnosis, divorce, death, depression or disaster. King says that its often only through trauma that people take the time to consider the bigger existential questions. Certainly many can relate to that wonderful place where [we] get to in life, where we say, Thats it, somethings got to change and its me. Hence King defines recovery as ideally a process during which we deepen our self-understanding (namely through connecting with what she describes as our first nature) and re-order our priorities. She says, Youll often hear people say, Its second nature to me to think, feel, react like this without ever questioning, well, what is your first nature? Admittedly, such revelations are often preceded by a crisis but then thats usually whats needed to divert us from the worldly and often trite preoccupations that keep us from turning our attention inward.


King agrees that religious traditions have been a rich source of wisdom for her, probably ever since she was a child and experienced what she can only describe as a moment that occurred quite serendipitously when she was simply running around the side of the house, and suddenly the whole physical world seemed to be completely transparent, and there was this blinding, glorious something that was in everything. Despite having what sounds very much like a flash of insight into ultimate reality, King still had her own rocky road to travel including childhood illness, family suicide and then when she was in her early 30s, a serious cancer diagnosis that, she says, brought her face to face with a black hole of painful feelings shed been resisting to detrimental effect her entire life. The story she tells of surviving this and other ordeals, how she was able to explore and discover the heart that can contain all of the anguish without losing any capacity to love continues to be an inspiration to all those who flock to Quest seeking out Kings wisdom and guidance. Read full blog here.

Additional speaker information:

PROFESSOR MIHALY CZIKSZENTMIHALYI Mihaly will present Living in flow the secret of happiness on Day 1 of the conference as well as a half -day post-conference workshop Flow the psychology of happiness. MATTHIEU RICARD - THE HABITS OF HAPPINESS Matthieu will present Cultivating altriusm a path to happiness on Day 1 of the conference as well as the pre-conference workshop Towards a more altruistic society. PROFESSOR JEAN TWENGE - THE NARCISSISM EPIDEMIC Jean will present The narcissism epediemic causes and solutions on Day 1 of the conference as well as a post-conference workshop on the same topic. PROFESSOR ROY BAUMEISTER - THE SCIENCE OF WILLPOWER Roy will present Willpower how to make it work for you on Day 1 of the conference as well as a post-conference workshop Willpower rediscovering the greatest human strength. DR JANE GOODALL MAKING A DIFFERENCE Jane will present Sowing the seeds of hope on Day 2 of the conference. HUGH MACKAY THE GOOD LIFE Hugh will present What makes a life worth living on Day 2 of the conference. ANDY GRIFFITHS - HOW ONE AUTHOR CAME TO CAPTIVATE YOUNG READERS Andy will present Tour of the treehouse on Day 1 of the conference. PETREA KING - THE GIFT OF SUFFERING Petrea will present Peace in practice caring for ourselves and others on Day 1 of the conference.


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