Its not the subject of polite conversation and yet it is relevant to us all. What does it mean to not only live life well, but also to die and end this life well?
On this podcast we welcome back John Wyatt. John is Professor of Neonatal Paediatrics at University College, London and a Senior Research Fellow at the Faraday Institute, Cambridge University. He is married to Celia and and they have three grown-up sons.
John has written extensively on the subject of medical ethics and his latest book is simply called 'Dying Well'.
From the back cover, I quote:
"We need to talk about death. Are we in danger of over-medicalising it? Can we see death as a time of opportunity, both for us and our loved ones? What do we mean by resurrection hope?
The author focuses on the art moriedni -quite simply the art of dying well and dying faithfully. He offers clear direction, warm reassurance and rock-solid confidence in the One who has conquered death."
Do join us in this podcast as we explore:
How rather than being a topic of doom and gloom the subject of death can actually become something transforming and positive.
Why for hundreds of years it was thought the worst possible way to die would be to go suddenly without warning.
Our own personal experiences of losing loved ones suddenly and the pain that has caused in our own lives.
Why to die well actually means to live well
The opportunities dying well can bring including: -
Internal spiritual growth
Healing, building, celebrating and completing relationships
Preparing to meet our Lord and Saviour.
You may also find of interest the following related podcasts and articles:
Why being faster, better or stronger is not enough
The pace and rate of technological change over the last few decades has been extraordinary. We have the potential to be and do things faster, better and more efficiently in ways previous generations could never have dreamed possible.
But there is also a sense that there has to be something more than just what we see around us. One writer, Tom Wright puts it in terms of four areas of concern in our culture. In these areas just being or doing faster, better or more efficiently is inadequate:
- the quest for spirituality
- the longing for justice
- the hunger for relationships
- a delight in beauty.
There is a way in which all of them point beyond themselves and we hear them as if they are echoes of a voice coming from just around the corner out of sight.
On this podcast we have our final conversation with Andy Parnham on his book “Lasting Happiness: In Search Of Deeper Meaning and Fulfilment.”
Do join us as we explore:
The limitations of a materialistic worldview when we have such deep longings for meaning.
Why secular health experts like Allan McNaught come to the conclusion that trying to define wellbeing is "fruitless. frustrating and ultimately impossible."
The hunger for meaning in our lives. As the writer Dostoyevsky poetically said,
“Every ant knows the formula of its anthill,
Every bee knows the formula of its beehive.
They know it in their way, not in our way.
Only humankind does not know its own formula.”
As we continue in our conversation with the author Andy Parnham we come to the subject of healthy relationships. How do they work and how do we restore them when they go wrong? We know from our own experience that relationships are important, but the research of the psychiatrist Robert Waldinger goes as far as to say it is the number one strongest predictor of good health.
Do come and join Andy Parnham and I as we look at: The following 5 principles for healthy relationships:
1. Prioritising people over things
2. Becoming the kind of person other people want to be with.
3. Finding someone you can trust you can share yourself with.
4. Being willing to let go and not to be simply grasping of relationships.
5. Finding a place and a people to belong to.
We unpack Andy’s conclusion of the reaseach:
”It appears that the capacity to relate to other people is hard-wired into our brains and that such relating is at the heart of human flourishing. Relationships are primarily a function of the right brain, with its emphasis on implicit, unconscious, non-verbal processes. Emotions are essential to the development and nurture of all healthy relationships.” (P.127)
”Anyone who has achieved lasting happiness and contentment has acquired the capacity to spend time both alone and with others without a sense of insecurity and inadequacy.” (P. 133)
How we can only relate to others in a healthy manner when we have learnt to live in our own skin in a healthy way. Psychologists refer to this as differentiation. Someone who has successfully differentiated themself is able to:
1. Be clear about who you are (‘define’ yourself) and yet stay in touch with others.
2. Take responsibility for yourself, yet.... Be responsive to others.
3. Maintain your integrity and wellbeing without..... Intruding on that of others.
4. Allow the enhancement of another person’s integrity and wellbeing without ....... Feeling abandonment,inferior or less of a self.
5. Have an ‘I’ and enter a relationship with another ‘I’ without losing yourself and diminishing the other person’s self.
Longing. Its something we all experience at one time or another, but find so hard to explain or define. On this podcast Andy Parnham and I discuss this "reaching out towards or yearning for something that you can't describe but which draws you very powerfully with a mixture of joy and sadness."
The writer C. S. Lewis put it even more potently when he called this longing 'joy' and described it as 'an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction...... anyone who has experienced it will want it again.' As you can see these are deep areas we don't often discuss!
Do come and join Andy and I as we explore
How a want for something (usually in the areas of wealth, health or happiness) tends to be clear, purposeful, driven by the will often with a sense of urgency.
By contrast with a longing the focus is not on ourselves, but someone or something that occupies our view and yet lies beyond our grasp or control (usually in the areas of relationships, meaning and fulfilment).
Our age-old quest for beauty vividly described by Lewis:
”The books or music in which we thought the beauty were located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them,it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things - the beauty, the memory of our own past - are good images of what we really desire, but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
Examples of this in longing for a person, place or people.
How homesickness and nostalgia as forms of longing combine very powerful emotions of loss and disappointment combined with hope and desire.
How these experiences are also understandable through neuroscience and the two sides of the brain.
Understanding the difference between what Henri Nouwen called ‘first loneliness’ (the emotional need for family, friends and home) and the need for a deeper life, which he called a ‘second loneliness.’ Here is how Nouwen described it:
”A deep personal intimacy and it is an intimacy that is very demanding. It requires letting go of many things that are emotionally, intellectually and affectively very satisfying. You must grow to realise and to trust that the deeper loneliness is not to be overcome, but lived. You must live it with trust, standing tall. You must try to say, ‘Yes I am lonely, but this particular loneliness sets me on the road to intimacy...It brings me closer to the source of love in the depths of my being.”
While this conversation may seem rather deep and esoteric, I do assure you we talk about practical implications for all of us in how we live our lives on a day-to-day basis!
That seems an almost ridiculous question. Of course you want to be happy! Our world is obsessed with wanting to be happy. But what do we actually mean by happiness? Especially in our complex, challenging and chaotic world where we have so many things that promise happiness, but often fail to deliver what they promise.
Do join Andrew Parnham and I as we continue to unpack this important subject from his book, "Lasting Happiness: In Search of Deeper Meaning and Fulfilment."
Together we explore:
Health and wellbeing as a means to happiness, but those terms that are not as simple to explain as they might first appear.
The World Health Organisation's definition of health as "a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."
How health is a means to happiness, but not an end in itself. We need some higher purpose, especially as health is so often dependent on fate, fortune or luck.
How wellbeing, while hard to define, is much wider and deeper when you consider it is possible to have wellbeing without apparent health. For a challenging and inspiring example of that do watch this 4 minute video of Nick Vujicic,a man born without arms or legs and an incredibly positive sense of wellbeing.
How the research shows relationships, meaning and fulfilment are more lasting paths to happiness than health, wealth or pleasure seeking.
Lessons from the longest study on happiness (a TED talk on that is here) that show how relationships are so fundamental to what it means to be a human being.
The work of Jean Varnier, the founder of a community in France for people with learning disabilities, who powerfully articulates this:
"What is it to be a human being? Is it power? If it's power, then we would kill each other! You see, the wise and powerful lead us to ideologies, whereas the weak are in the dirt. They're not seeking power, they're seeking friendship. It's a message for all of us. It's about all of us."
Understanding the importance of finding meaning to lead us to lasting happiness.
How a happy person is similar to an animal, whereas meaningfulness is human and is all about expressing the self and thinking integratively about the past and future.
Some practical implications for us as we seek to be happy in life
Thank you for receiving and interacting with my regular blog posts. They have been coming weekly for almost six years! It's incredible to think of all the areas we have explored and discussed in this time. We also started the podcast in May 2015.
So much has happened in that time and its encouraging to see how far we have come.
Also over the last few years I have seen a significant change in my roles and responsibilities. I am challenged to stop and pause for a period of time to rest and re-think where I am going and what I am doing. The blog was also partly supposed to be a means for me to explore ideas to then turn into a book. That has not been happening. With the summer break it seems a good time to stop and have a rethink.
The blog at has a vast amount of content to explore and will still be there.
Perhaps the most relevant post that I am applying to myself is Do You Need More Margin In Your Life? If I am going to find the time to write the book then I need to also decide what I am going to stop doing in my life.
Thank you for being a part of this journey with me. The podcasts should still be coming monthly and I am planning to free up more time for the writing of a book.
Please feel free to get in touch with any ideas, thoughts and suggestions.
One particular need I have is to identify someone to further help me with technology support and development. If you know of someone (or are that person!) do let me know.
At this stage I am not entirely sure when I will re-start, but for now the Wednesday emails will be stopping. Thank you again for all your support and encouragement!
Do feel free to share any thoughts, suggestions or ideas you think would be helpful.
Is there anything in your life you need to stop doing to free up space, time and energy for something else?
Happiness! Who doesn't want it? A recent google search on 'how to be happy' turned up 626 million results. Compare that to typing in 'Donald Trump' and you get 237 million items or 'Brexit news' where there is just 90 million! We all want to be happy. But what do we mean by happiness? I can be happy eating an ice cream and I can be happy meeting a long lost friend. But those two experiences are clearly very different. How can I find a happiness that leads to deeper meaning and fulfilment?
On this podcast we interview Andy Parnham, author of the book, "Lasting Happiness: In Search of Deeper Meaning and Fulfilment." Do come and join us in this opening 30 minute conversation as we explore:
Andy's fascination with exploring this important subject.
Western's society obsession with defining the good life only in terms of health, wealth and the pursuit of pleasure while at the same time avoiding pain.
How the research and our own personal experience shows lasting happiness is ultimately found in relationships, meaning and fulfilment.
How the research shows the most significant factor in overall wellness is the presence of strong relationships.
The two problems of material pleasure being they fade with time and need ever increasing consumerism to produce the same 'buzz'.
How this is not just a Western issue, as the examples of Qatar (the richest country in the world), Japan and Bhutan illustrate.
A psychological understanding of happiness as 'subjective wellbeing' with the three components of pleasure, engagement and meaning.
Understanding the what, how, who and why of lasting happiness.
We will be talking with Andy more in future podcasts, but for now if you would like to explore this further also see:
How do I handle all the overwhelm and the many distractions I find myself having to deal with not just on a daily but even moment-by-moment basis? We have been looking at this 18 minute video by David Allen that gives much wisdom into this increasingly common life challenge:
David Allen's fundamental point is that the best way to deal with feelings of overwhelm is to get everything that is on your mind out of your head into some trustworthy external system. The simple act of writing it down is the first step in the process - but only the first step........
I know that can seem hard to believe - but trust me on this! One of the marks of modern life is the nagging sense of all the things that need to be done. The list never seems to finish and it is so easy to feel overwhelmed and exhausted thinking about all you have to do. But does that have to be the case at all? This 18 minute TED talk by David Allen gives a helpful perspective on how to deal with the feelings of overwhelm and never-ending distractions we all experience at one time or another in our lives.
One of the key points David Allen seeks to get across is that we don't actually need more time, but what we need is more room. Or in other words, enough space in your mind to be fully present in the here and now with what is most important to you at this moment to get your most important work done......
That might well seem like a strange question for me to ask, especially as I work as a psychiatrist! It is actually from this 18 minute video by David Allen, who has spent many decades researching how the most productive people use their time in the least stressful way possible. I have been following David Allen's work for approaching a decade and found his insights enormously helpful. I think you will too.
Here are three ways our brains can help or hinder us:
David Allen's first main insight is that the incredibly complex and marvellous brains we have been blessed with are in fact very poor at organising the different priorities in our lives. If you need to consciously remember something, remind yourself about it, decide how important it is compared to everything else going on or manage your relationships, your brain is in fact very clumsy. Allen's figure of our brains only holding 4 items in those categories at any one time is infinitesimally tiny compared to the billion bits of information our brain is processing internally and externally in the environment around us right now. At medical school over 30 years ago we were taught the conscious mind holds between 5 to 9 bits of information. With our increasingly complex world and all the distractions we have to deal with, as well as the overwhelm of information, it means our conscious attention is severely curtailed. If you don't believe me just try getting through your day with a shopping list of 7 items in your head and not writing them down somewhere! Without an external up to date system in place to routinely store, retrieve and review what is most important to us at any one time, we are continually at risk of just reacting to whatever is the newest thing or most pressing demand (the latest and loudest).
Allen summarises this with a major principle of stress-free productivity:
"Your mind is for having ideas and not for holding them."
Your mind has incredible potential and resources, but it is a very poor organising system or office! That is why you have to get out of your mind!
The second major insight is that we are the most productive and engaged when we are fully present in the moment with no other distractions pulling at our attention. The phrase 'mind like water' captures this with the metaphor of water being highly flexible, fluid, in balance and always completely appropriately engaged with the environment. If you imagine a calm pool of water perfectly still then the water will respond to whatever you throw into it in just the right way. Throw a small pebble and you get a small ripple. Throw a large rock and you make bigger waves. When I am fully present and a challenge or opportunity comes into my life I can respond cleanly without too much or too little emotion. I just respond with the right amount of engagement and activity that the challenge requires. I don't react or under react. I just do what needs to be done and move on.
The third major insight is understanding our basic problem is not a lack of time. Allen challenges us with our tendency to say we don't have enough time by provocatively asking, 'How much time does it take to have a good idea? How much time does it take to be strategic? How much time to be present and loving with someone?'
The issue is not about having more time, but instead having enough space in your mind to be fully present in the here and now with what is most important to you. To be fully engaged in the present moment is a powerful place to be. It is relaxed focus and situational awareness of what is going on around you. Being in such a state also means you are in the best possible state to do deal with the unexpected.
These three insights are radical concepts that can take a lifetime to fully apply.
There is a lot more that can be said about this, but for now what questions or comments do you have about David Allen's insights?