Are You Entitled To Happiness?

August 29, 2011 by  
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Photo by Angie Rubin

Do you believe you are entitled to happiness?  Now take your time answering this question because in the answer lies much of the reason for your current quality of life.

Many of us unconsciously believe we don’t deserve to live whatever life we profess to want.  The reason for this phenomenon is usually low self-esteem.  We think we are not worthy and then we punish ourselves by thinking negative thoughts and attracting difficult situations into our lives in order to prove our point.

I know this scenario too well.  I have spent a great part of my adult life afraid of negative things happening while at the same time creating situations where the only possible outcome was bad.  While after much soul searching I came to understand the reasoning for my psyche to have reached the point of never ending negativity, I still needed to come up with ways to change.

As each one of us have their own reason why we get trapped in the negative merry-go-round, getting out is a bit more universal.

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Video Blog – 10

August 25, 2010 by  
Filed under Popular Posts, Video

How to achieve a sense of well-being.

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What’s The Secret To Happiness

August 18, 2010 by  
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New Thoughts On How To Be Happy

August 16, 2010 by  
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I have just read two articles of note.  One published in the New York Times “But Will It Make You Happy”  the other on CNN “Homesickness Isn’t Really About Home”.

The reason why I’m bringing up both articles is because they both – for different reasons – relate happiness to relationship.

The NYT article discusses the new trends in consumers, due to the economic downturn, which is actually creating a higher level of happiness.  Instead of spending money on “things” consumers are spending money on experiences.

” New studies of consumption and happiness show, for instance, that people are happier when they spend money on experiences instead of material objects, when they relish what they plan to buy long before they buy it, and when they stop trying to outdo the Joneses.” – NYT

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Five Concepts To Know For Our Own Well Being

July 21, 2010 by  
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Human Hearts

Anyone who has read my writing knows I don’t go for things like: ten ways to be happy now, or, do these three things and you’ll get everything you have always wanted out of life.  The reason being is I think humans are complex and finding and pursuing a state of well-being is a life-long commitment without easy answers.  But there are general concepts that I believe every person working towards a better life should consider adopting and/or remembering:

1                     – A Sense Of Purpose

We all need that “thing” which gets us up in the morning and keeps our hearts and brains going even when the going gets tough.   We all have a core within which is the gas that keeps our engines going.  The problem is sometimes we get so lost between what society, parents and friends think and expect of us, we lose touch with our ultimate purpose.  Finding, reconnecting and embracing our purpose translates into huge leaps towards a more fulfilling life.

2                     – Living in the Present

Anyone who thinks “I’m going to be happy when…” I get the job, the money, the relationship I deserve is in for a big surprise.  Life seldom works as planned.  Something always comes out of left field and postponing being satisfied today for a future that may or may not happen seem like a waste of life.

Let’s live in the present and enjoy the relationships, job and money we have today.

3                     - Make Sure There Are Things On a Daily Basis That Bring You Wellness

That’s so simple to do.  We all have some easy, inexpensive, simple things we can do that can bring a smile to our faces.  Is that sitting in the park for ten minutes?  Calling a loved one and really being present in the conversation instead of going through a to-do list?  A warm bath?  A candle light dinner?  A romp with a dog? A romp? Whatever that “thing” is for each one of us, sprinkling these activities a couple of times or even once during the course of our day will affect our mood and ultimately our well-being.

4                     – Relationships

Relationships are like flowers (sorry for being corny here) and if we don’t tend to them they will wither and die.  How many articles, books and movies have been made about a person who dedicates his or her life to achieving goals to only be completely miserable because of not having anyone to share the success with?  We are social beings.  We need each other to survive both physically and psychologically.

There have been many studies that have stated one of the main qualities found in people living long lives is being part of a group. Sharing our lives with others make us feel part of something and feeds our hearts.

5                     – Give Something Of You To Someone Else

Helping others with our time and energy, places us up high in the animal chain. We all want to feel we are contributing to the betterment of this world.  Any gesture, small, medium, or large, will do the trick for us.

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Bob Thurman And Happiness

March 15, 2010 by  
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Fantastic Ted Talk by Bob Thurman on happiness. Thurman’s focus is on the balance between inner insight and cultural harmony. In interpreting the teachings of Buddha, he argues that happiness can be reliable and satisfying in an enduring way without depriving others.

He considers Buddhism to be primarily a system of education, a science that guides individuals to live life to its fullest.

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Be Happy Anyway

December 3, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured

The economic boom didn’t bring us (or the planet) happiness. So maybe there’s an upside to the downturn.

“The pursuit of happiness.” It’s so American that it’s in our Declaration of Independence, where it’s listed alongside life and liberty as an inalienable right.

But how successful have we been in that pursuit? And now that the global finance system is imploding, how likely is it that we’ll be happy in the coming months and years?

Woman throwing leaves. Photo by Anssi Ruuska, istock
Photo by Anssi Ruuska, istock

Can’t Buy Love
Since roughly the 1970s, Americans have been buying things madly, whether we could afford them or not. We were promised that a bigger car, a more trendy purse, or a flat-screen television would bring us happiness, and we’ve been acting accordingly. We were promised that an ever-growing economy would make us all rich. But while our gross domestic product increased more or less steadily from the 1970s until the onset of the current financial crisis, most of us did not see a rise in our standard of living or our wellbeing. Wages stagnated, while the costs of basic needs—like homes, medical care, food, and energy—climbed rapidly. Those in the top 20 percent increased their net worth by 80 percent over the last 25 years, while the bottom 40 percent actually lost ground.

Few families today can make it on a single wage-earner’s income, and a health problem or a job loss can send a middle-class family into poverty or even homelessness.

Yet we continue to buy the products that are supposed to make us happy, driving many of us deeply into debt. Families are carrying an average credit card debt of $5,100, with interest rates that often make payoff nearly impossible. In recent years, home equity reached record lows as people borrowed against the value of their homes. In 2004, the most recent year for which Federal Reserve figures are available, debt secured by real property exceeded $290,000 per household, almost three times what it was only 15 years before.

All this debt makes life more precarious. It also increases our dependence on long work hours, which—if we can find work at all—combines with long commutes to eat up the time we might otherwise have for things that research shows actually would make us happy.

Who’s Happier

A better economy doesn’t necessarily mean a happier country.

SIDEBAR: Just the Facts

It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that having more stuff will lead to happiness, because there’s an element of truth in the advertiser’s promise. We do need a certain amount of food to live, after all. Shelter is good. We need clothes, tools—a bit beyond the bare necessities can be nice. And having stuff has always been a way to show that you are successful and entitled to respect. But after the novelty of a new outfit or laptop wears off, we’re left with a hole in our wallets and an empty feeling, which—advertisers tell us—we should fill by shopping for yet more new and improved stuff.

Following this advice may keep the corporate economy humming, but has it made us happy?

Many figures suggest the answer is: not really. Broad standards of wellbeing like the Genuine Progress Indicators show that our health, quality of life, economic security, and environment, taken together, stayed flat, although we worked harder. A 20-year study by the OECD found the United States has the highest rate of inequality and poverty among the developed countries, and the income gap has grown steadily since 2000. A recent Gallup poll found that just half of Americans live free of worries about money or health, compared to 83 percent of those in Denmark. When the World Health Organization and Harvard Medical School studied rates of depression in 14 countries, the U.S. topped the list.

How Many Planets Does it Take?
It’s not only Americans who are taking a hit from an economic system that puts money and growth ahead of real wellbeing. People around the world are losing access to their own natural resources and economic sovereignty.

Corporations seeking to profit by stimulating and feeding our appetite for stuff have trampled on the livelihood and ways of life of Mexican farmers, indigenous rainforest dwellers, African miners, and Thai factory workers. When land buyouts or subsidized agricultural imports make traditional lifeways impossible, many of these people arrive in crowded cities with no choice but to work for rock-bottom wages or attempt an arduous migration to a higher-wage country.

Champions of globalization like Thomas Friedman tell us that in a few generations these workers will have a standard of living similar to ours in the United States. But ecological footprint analysis shows it would take more than six Earths to give everyone in the world the level of consumption Americans “enjoy.” Of course, we have only one planet, and this one is overheating.

love_small

The Pursuit of Happiness is this what Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he substituted “the pursuit of happiness” for the phrase contained in the earlier Continental Congress draft, “life, liberty, and property?”

Jefferson’s ideal was an economy based on small farmers who produced for themselves most of what they needed. Their happiness was not something they trusted corporations to provide for a fee, but rather something they created themselves, through their work and human relationships within a community. The economy of the time was founded, in part, on a slave-owning society built on land often stolen from native peoples, but Jefferson’s ideals had a strong influence on the young country. Freedom, independence, and self-sufficiency were all popular values.

The U.S. has moved a long way from the Jeffersonian ideal. Today, we produce little of what we use. We exchange our work for money, and buy food, clothing, and other necessities from big box stores and purchase child care and elder care from corporate chains.

Since we no longer have the time, skills, extended families, and access to land that were commonplace just decades ago, we have become completely dependent on money. That dependency leaves us at the mercy of those who control the economy and the money supply. And those who accumulate the money have inordinate influence over our government. It is the precise opposite of the Jeffersonian ideal. It’s also a departure from the way humans have lived for most of history.

Life After the Crash
So maybe it’s just as well that the crisis is finally upon us. Maybe this time of creative destruction offers us the chance for a fresh start, a chance to build a society that puts ordinary people first and provides the conditions for their happiness.

After the shock of the crisis wears off, maybe we’ll look around like characters in a Fellini movie who come outside at dawn after a debauched night of excess. We’ll turn off the television, log off the internet, notice the bright colors of sunrise, and speak to the neighbors who we’ve never found time to meet.

We may spend less of our lives working as the cash economy shrinks and companies close their doors.

But maybe we’ll learn to share the work and reclaim time for the aspects of our lives that research tells us contributes to real happiness—time with families and friends, civic involvement, exercise, creativity. It wouldn’t be the first time. During the Great Depression, for instance, the Kellogg Company cut employee shifts from eight hours to six to extend the number who had jobs. Productivity went up so much that the company could afford to pay the same for the shorter shift. Meanwhile, civic organizations, adult education, and family life in Kalamazoo blossomed.

Maybe we’ll find ways to trade among friends and neighbors—some winter squash or homemade pie for some child care or home repair. Maybe we’ll reclaim the skills we used to have, and teach each other how to grow food, fix things ourselves, sew and knit, and pass skills along to our children and grandchildren.

Somehow, in the exuberance of the economic bubbles of the ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s, we lost track of something. Money exists to serve us as a tool, not the other way around. Our lives and society do not have to be turned over to the rulers of high finance and their hired representatives in Washington, D.C. We the people can reject the economic orthodoxy that has served us so poorly, and rebuild our economy on a different foundation.

Rebuilding
What sort of society do we want to rebuild? What will expand our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness without diminishing the chances for other people, now and in the future, to have the same?

Here are some of the things we’ll need to do:

  • Economic policies for the future must assure that everyone is included, and that we lift up those at the bottom. When we allow inequality to burgeon in our society, we create crime and violence and hate, which damage everyone’s ability to find happiness. We can no longer afford nine-figure paychecks for CEOs and double-digit returns on speculative investments. To paraphrase Gandhi, we have enough for everyone’s needs, but not for everyone’s greed.
  • The environmental overshoot game is up. The next economy must function within the present production of our environment. We can no longer afford to live off the bounty of the past, like the millions of years of fossil deposits that make up today’s diminishing oil reserves. Instead we must turn to solar energy, wind, and other renewables, and grow food and fiber by building the soil, not by dumping petroleum products on it. We can’t continue to use our atmosphere, oceans, aquifers, and soils as dumps. No amount of “Runs for the Cure” will solve the cancer problem if we continue to poison our food, water, and air. And the climate is reaching a dangerous tipping point.
  • We can no longer allow the money economy to grow like a cancer on our society, until it takes over all facets of life. The economy needs to serve people, communities, and the health of natural systems, not the other way around. Instead of relying on footloose unaccountable global corporations, we can turn to local and regional production to serve our needs and provide sustainable employment, including small and medium-sized businesses, co-ops, farmer’s markets, and so on.
  • As we do that, we’ll get much clearer on real sources of happiness. Research tells us that the sources of the good life are in loving relationships, mutual respect, meaningful work, and gratitude, and as we discover the power of these qualities, the lure of advertising and materialism will no longer fool us. Overconsumption will take its place alongside other passing fads.

As we begin to relearn the skills and rebuild the relationships we lost in the pursuit of money and things, we will begin to find a happiness that we are in charge of; one that is not dependent on the fluctuations of the stock market or the amount of stuff we own.

Painful as it may be in the short term, we can emerge from this crisis healthier and wealthier, with the sort of wealth that really matters: strong communities and relationships with loved ones, healthy ecosystems, and the skills to make a living and enjoy life.


Sarah van Gelder & Doug Pibel wrote this article as part of Sustainable Happiness, the Winter 2009 issue of YES! Magazine. Sarah is executive editor and Doug is managing editor of YES! Magazine. Photos of Sarah van Gelder and Doug Pibel
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This Is Your Brain On Bliss

November 23, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured

by Matthieu Ricard

After 2,000 years of practice, Buddhist monks know that one secret to happiness is simply to put your mind to it.

What is happiness, and how can we achieve it?

Happiness can’t be reduced to a few agreeable sensations. Rather, it is a way of being and of experiencing the world—a profound fulfillment that suffuses every moment and endures despite inevitable setbacks.

Matthieu Ricard
Matthieu Ricard, left, quit his career as a cellular geneticist nearly 40 years ago to study Buddhism. He is the French translator for the Dalai Lama, right. Photo by Pagoda Phat Hue, phathue.com

The paths we take in search of happiness often lead us to frustration and suffering instead. We try to create outer conditions that we believe will make us happy. But it is the mind itself that translates outer conditions into happiness or suffering. This is why we can be deeply unhappy even though we “have it all”—wealth, power, health, a good family, etc.—and, conversely, we can remain strong and serene in the face of hardship.

Authentic happiness is a way of being and a skill to be cultivated. When we first begin, the mind is vulnerable and untamed, like that of a monkey or a restless child. It takes practice to gain inner peace, inner strength, altruistic love, forbearance, and other qualities that lead to authentic happiness.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama often teaches that, while there are limitations to how much information one can learn and to our physical performance, compassion can be developed boundlessly.

Practicing Happiness
It is not difficult to begin. You just have to sit from time to time, turn your mind within, and let your thoughts calm down. Focus your attention on a chosen object. It can be an object in your room, your breath, or your own mind. Inevitably, your mind will wander as you do this. Each time it does, gently bring it back to the object of concentration, like a butterfly that returns again and again to a flower.

In the freshness of the present moment, past is gone, future is not yet born, and—if one remains in pure mindfulness and freedom—disturbing thoughts arise and go without leaving a trace. That is basic meditation.

Matthieu Ricard’s brain. Photo by Waisman Brain Imaging Lab, University Of Wisconsin
Find out what happens when the meditating mind of a Buddhist monk is examined by magnetic resonance imaging: Matthieu Ricard’s brain.
Photo by Waisman Brain Imaging Lab, University of Wisconsin

Pure consciousness without content is something all those who meditate regularly and seriously have experienced—it is not just some sort of Buddhist theory. And anyone who takes the trouble to stabilize and clarify his or her mind will be able to experience it, too. It is through this unconditioned aspect of consciousness that we can transform the content of mind through training.

But meditation also means to cultivate basic human qualities, such as attention and compassion, and new ways of experiencing the world. What really matters is that a person gradually changes. Over months and years, we become less impatient, less prone to anger, less torn between hopes and fears. It becomes inconceivable to willingly harm another person. We develop a propensity toward altruistic behavior and the cluster of qualities that give us the resources to deal with the ups and downs of life.

The point here is that you can look at your thoughts, including strong emotions, with a pure mindfulness that is not associated with the contents of the thoughts.

Take the example of malevolent anger. We usually identify with anger. Anger can fill our mental landscape and project its distorted reality on people and events. When we are overwhelmed by anger, we cannot dissociate from it. We perpetuate a vicious circle of affliction by rekindling anger each time we see or remember the person who makes us angry. We become addicted to the cause of suffering.

But if we dissociate from anger and look at it with mindfulness, that which is aware of anger is not angry, and we can see that anger is just a bunch of thoughts. Anger doesn’t cut like a knife, burn like a fire, or crush like a rock; it is nothing more than a product of our mind. Instead of “being” the anger, we understand that we are not the anger, in the same way that clouds are not the sky.

So, to deal with anger, we avoid letting our mind jump again and again to the trigger for our anger. Then we look at anger itself and keep our attention upon it. If we stop adding wood to a fire and just watch, the fire will die out. Likewise, anger will vanish away, without being forcibly repressed or allowed to explode.

There is no question of not experiencing emotions; it’s a question of not being enslaved by them. Let emotions arise, but let them be freed from their afflictive components: distortion of reality, mental confusion, clinging, and suffering for oneself and others.

There is great virtue in resting from time to time in pure awareness of the present moment, and being able to refer to this state when afflictive emotions arise so that we do not identify with them and are not swayed by them.

It is difficult in the beginning, but becomes quite natural as you become increasingly familiar with such an approach. Whenever anger arises, you learn to recognize it right away. If you know someone to be a pickpocket, even if he mingles in a crowd, you will spot him right away and keep a careful eye on him.

Interdependence
Just as you can learn to deal with afflictive thoughts, you can learn to cultivate and enhance wholesome ones. To be filled with love and kindness brings about an optimal way of being. It is a win-win situation: you will enjoy lasting well-being for yourself, you’ll act in altruistic ways towards others, and you’ll be perceived as a good human being.

If altruistic love is based on an understanding of the interdependence of all beings and of their natural aspiration to happiness, and if this love extends impartially to all beings, then it is a source of genuine happiness. Acts of overflowing love, of pure, disinterested generosity—as when you make a child happy or help someone in need, even if nobody knows what you have done—generate a deep and heartwarming fulfillment.

The Habits of Happiness

TED TALK: Listen to Matthieu Ricard answer the questions: What is Happiness, and How Can We All Get Some?

Dalai Lama Renaissance

FILM: Watch the trailer.

Human qualities often come in clusters. Altruism, inner peace, strength, freedom, and genuine happiness thrive together like the parts of a nourishing fruit. Likewise, selfishness, animosity, and fear grow together. So, while helping others may not always be “pleasant,” it leads the mind to a sense of inner peace, courage, and harmony with the interdependence of all things and beings.

Afflictive mental states, on the other hand, begin with self-centeredness, with an increase in the gap between self and others. These states are related to excessive self-importance and self-cherishing associated with fear or resentment towards others, and grasping for outer things as part of a hopeless pursuit of selfish happiness. A selfish pursuit of happiness is a lose-lose situation: you make yourself miserable and make others miserable as well.

Inner conflicts are often linked with excessive rumination on the past and anticipation of the future. You are not truly paying attention to the present moment, but are engrossed in your thoughts, going on and on in a vicious circle, feeding your ego and self-centeredness.

This is the opposite of bare attention. To turn your attention inside means to look at pure awareness itself and dwell without distraction, yet effortlessly, in the present moment.

If you cultivate these mental skills, after a while you won’t need to apply contrived efforts anymore. You can deal with mental perturbations like the eagles I see from the window of my hermitage in the Himalayas deal with crows. The crows often attack them, diving at the eagles from above. But, instead of doing all kinds of acrobatics, the eagle simply retracts one wing at the last moment, lets the diving crow pass, and then extends its wing again. The whole thing requires minimal effort and causes little disturbance.

Being experienced in dealing with the sudden arising of emotions in the mind works in a similar way.

I have been exposed to the world of humanitarian activities for a number of years since I decided to dedicate the entire royalties of my books to 30 projects on education and health in Tibet, Nepal, and India, with a group of dedicated volunteers and generous philanthropists. It is easy to see how corruption, clashes of ego, weak empathy, discouragement can plague the humanitarian world. All this stems from a lack of maturity. So the advantages of spending time to develop human altruism and compassionate courage are obvious.


The Fragrance of Peace

The most important time to meditate or do other types of spiritual practices is early in the morning. You set the tone for the day and the “fragrance” of the meditation will remain and give a particular perfume to the whole day. Another important time is before falling asleep. If you clearly generate a positive state of mind, filled with compassion or altruism, this will give a different quality to the whole night.

When people experience “moments of grace”, or “magical moments” in daily life, while walking in the snow under the stars or spending a beautiful moment with dear friends by the seaside, what is really happening? All of a sudden, they have left their burden of inner conflicts behind. They feel in harmony with others, with themselves, with the world. It is wonderful to fully enjoy such magical moments, but it is also revealing to understand why they feel so good: pacification of inner conflicts; a better sense of interdependence with everything rather than fragmenting reality; and a respite from the mental toxins of aggression and obsession. All these qualities can be cultivated through developing wisdom and inner freedom. This will lead not just to a few moments of grace but to a lasting state of well-being that we may call genuine happiness.

In this state, feelings of insecurity gradually give way to a deep confidence that you can deal with life’s ups and downs. Your equanimity will spare you from being swayed like mountain grass in the wind by every possible praise and blame, gain and loss, comfort and discomfort. You can always draw on deep inner peace, and the waves at the surface will not appear as threatening.


Matthieu Ricard wrote this article as part of Sustainable Happiness, the Winter 2009 issue of YES! Magazine. Matthieu has authored seven books, including Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill. He lives at the Shechen monastery in Nepal, travels the world for Karuna-shechen (www.karuna-shechen.org) and does an annual solitary retreat in the Himalayas.

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Flying Down To Rio

November 3, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog

I am on a plane on my way down to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  I was born in Rio.  It was there that I was first kissed and it was there that I first made love.   But I’m not going to Rio to kiss or to make love; I’m going to Rio for my father’s eighty fifth birthday and to work.  My father’s birthday is self explanatory my work isn’t, so let me spend a couple of seconds here.  I’m going to Rio to produce a segment of a film that has already shot in Toronto, Tokyo, and Berlin.  The last leg of this film – a dance film – is Rio and I’m producing it.

Going to Rio is always complicated for me; I have too much history there but at this point of my life I consider myself more American than Brazilian. 

Travelling really brings to a head the concept of living in the moment.  Travelling takes you out of your day to day environment and plops you into a different existence.   I won’t be back to my “regular” life for another five weeks.  Not a very long time but not a short time as well.

When I got to the airport I started to catch up on the phone calls I had not returned for the last couple of days.  One of them was to a Brazilian friend, actually a childhood friend, who now lives in Miami.  He said: “relax, you’ll be swimming in the ocean in a couple of days.”  I told him: “What do you mean? Like when I’m wearing my bikini and my skin is dropping everywhere?  How can I go to the beach with all the gorgeous women there wearing their bikinis?  If you were walking down the beach and you saw me and a twenty year old, who would you want?” To that my friend answered “ I would have sex with the twenty year old and then I would talk to you.”  “But what about me having sex?”  Now I was insulted.  Wasn’t I worthy of sex?  Mind you I haven’t had any in a year and a half.”  So he said the most amazing thing: “While we were talking you would say that you were interested in sex and I would by then be captivated by your intelligence, life experience besides your physical beauty – which attracted me to you to begin with – that I would consider myself a very lucky man.” 

As we go through life we are constantly thrown into life; new people, experiences and challenges.  Being in the moment, letting the past be the past and the future be affected by the present is the secret to going through it all.  It is hard and it is scary but the truth is, there is no other way. 

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