Carpe Gaudium (Don’t shoot me latin scholars, my version of “seize the happiness”)

I am in charge of how I feel and I choose to be happy

I am in charge of how I feel and I’m choosing happiness

I spotted this wee quote and thought it was a nice little reminder that we are in charge of many aspects of our life. Quite often we like to blame others or circumstance for the way we feel or what has happened.

Of course, some things are beyond our control, but the way we perceive them and deal with them is entirely up to us. The victim stance is easy, but not very constructive.

“Carpe Gaudium” – me, July ’14

So, Carpe Gaudium and choose to do 3 things today that make you happy. The company that posted this image has decided to gameify happiness. It isn’t my cup of tea (though I would love to go for a hike in that awesome looking valley), but it could well suit someone else out there. Just remember not to blame them if it doesn’t work for you… it is your choice!

 

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Let the Doers Do!

One of my friends just posted this in response to the nay sayers, over the couple trying to realize the solar roadways.

 “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.” – George Bernard Shaw

I must admit that I have been guilty of thinking or telling people that it just won’t work. Yet, I have been proven wrong time and time again.

People are remarkable and some achieve great things, I should praise their vision rather than poo poo their idea. If they fall, I  shouldn’t say I told you so. I should help them up, because they will learn from the fall and one day, they may well be the change makers that this world needs.

So, help them or get out of their way, but we shouldn’t drag them down, because we don’t have the courage to dream big.

 

The American work vacation paradox

As a hybrid person living in the USA, I have always been saddened by the paltry paid vacation time offered by employers and the complete reluctance to exercise all their time off by employees. So, this article on Forbes made me crack up.

It is easy to see why employers would be reluctant to pay people to have time off. That would be a massive labour cost that is clearly visible on a P&L. Just to make sure the employees don’t forget they are lucky to get any paid leave (only 57% take it all), they bombard them with urgent emails, whilst they are on vacation. After all you want them to be able to hit the ground running when they get back from their 5 days “off”. Weekends, shmeekends that’s just a fancy word for free working days.

Sadly these easily accountable line items, fail to capture productivity, engagement, creativity, family disfunction and a  number of other soft factors that can have a huge impact on your business. With 70% of Americans disengaged with work, that leaves only 30% that actually want to be there….I hope for your sake they are all working for you! There are a number of studies that look at the damage disengaged workers do to a business and the numbers far exceed the cost of a few weeks off.

Not that I think time off is the panacea for all engagement ills, but it does demonstrate a certain amount of care and support for the employees wellbeing. If you told your average European or Australian that they would get 13 days off  a year, and that in fact they probably shouldn’t take all of those, they would no doubt tell you where to stick that job. They are more than happy to work hard when at work, but they need time to get away and unwind.

I love what VW in Germany did, when they decided to block work emails after hours for all their employees. Not only are they expecting you to unplug, they are mandating it. I’d love to see the numbers down the track. I have no doubt that a few hours a day off email will not hurt the business, but it will no doubt benefit the mental and family health of the employees. I guess we will have to wait and see.

I love what companies like Treehouse are doing. The 70 employees of this online education company only work four days a week at the same full salary as other people in the same sector. Yet, to no great surprise the company’s revenue has grown 120%, it generates more than $10 million a year in sales, and it manages more than 70,000 customers, according to a post in Quartz by CEO Ryan Carson.

It seems that after 3 days off the employees come back refreshed and eager to work. They are probably also more creative and don’t want to leave the company. Hmmmm, people v commodities, now there is a thought…..

Anyway, the article that started my musings suggests that the Americans that don’t like work, but also don’t want to take time off should expand their horizons and find out what other people do. Setting aside any preconceptions and checking out the rest of the world, talking to people finding out how/why people do what they do. Now if we could only get all people in the world to do that… perhaps we could destroy all those nasty prejudices reduce conflict and create a happier healthier world….OK OK, we’ll just start with a healthier and happier American work force and see how we go from there.

Talk about Upcycling

NY tImes Pass it On.

NY tImes Pass it On.

Ah, I just love the ingenuity of humans and how people who have little just make do and are no less happy. In fact, they need less to make them happy.

In the lead up to the World Cup, it seems only appropriate to show an ingenious Congolese man, who fashions scraps into a soccer ball for village children, so they can play the sport they love.

Long live human ingenuity and keep up the recycling!

The economics of happiness

Many many moons ago I was sitting in a lecture theatre. I was clearly deeply engrossed in the content as I have no immediate recollection of the subject nor the rest of the lecture. The only thing that is clear as day was the lecturer telling us that Married Men live longer and Married Women live less long. Why on earth should that be?

It has always been a curiosity that has remained unexplained and with all the recent research into wellbeing around the globe and Happiness as a new factor for determining government policy it rearoused my curiosity.

Looking at the economics of happiness, I think there is more and more dada out there to suggest  that money is not the panacea and merely becomes a hamster wheel after around $75K. It may add to your satisfaction, but it doesn’t make you happier. This is called the Easterlin paradox. If you are short of the mark and you aren’t happy try a series of psychotherapy sessions rather than shooting for the promotion as the sessions are 32 times more cost effective than more money. I presume that is if all your basic needs are being met…

Not surprisingly a vocation is an important element of happiness. Just getting stuff given to you by the state may not make you happier. I guess it is that control element and the little financial pat on the back you get for having done something well.

As a soon to be first time father, I was particularly surprised to hear that children reduce happiness. After all everyone always tells you about how happy their children are and how they are the best and the cleverest and the ….. apparently it is all bollocks. The little ones and teenagers suck the life blood from you and toss you in to a pit of depression. Brooohahah! Naaaa, not really seems the other ages aren’t too bad and they level the ship and by the time we get to kick them out of the house, we really quite like them. Children as source of happiness… bluechip longterm strategy.

Marriage seems to make people happier, but the causality is unclear and it might be just happier people that marry.

Ok, so no answer to my original question. Perhaps men just curb that wild party spirt and stay home more often, drink less and eat better food and that is why we live longer when married…. the poor women have to suffer through seeing us more and they loose the will to live?

Friday feel good story – Enter Dolphins

All you really need to for an AWWW moment is a small child doing something cute or and animal doing something very special, in this case a Dolphin. There are countless accounts of animals committing selfless acts to come to the aid of Humans. The following story comes from the the book Dolphin Confidential: Confessions of a Field Biologist (Chicago University Press, 2012). Written by Maddalena Bearzi and happened just up the coast near LA.

Bottlenose dolphin school foraging along the Los Angeles coastline. (Photograph by Maddalena Bearzi, Ocean Conservation Society)

Maddalena and her team were studying the social interactions of dolphin off the coast of LA. The pod they were filming was feeding in a circle, when they noticed an individual break away and head out to deeper water. An instant later the rest of the school broke away from their meal and followed suit.

Accustomed to their normal feeding patterns, the team was a little stunned and decided to pursue the school and record this unusual behavior. The Dolphin group increased pace and the bemused researchers accelerated to keep. Around three miles out to sea, the dolphin had stopped and were circling a dark object floating on the water.

On closer examination the researchers realized that it was the lifeless body of a girl. The girl was pallid, blonde and fully clothed. As the boat approached the girl managed to turn her head and half raise a hand in a weak sign for help.

Contrary to the lifeguard instructions the researchers decided to pull the girl from the water. As they raced her back to Marina Del Rey, they removed her wet clothing and took turns at huddling under a blanket with her, to try and warm her hypothermic body.

The girl looked around eighteen and appeared to be attempting to communicate in a language the researchers could not make out. Around her neck she had tied a plastic bag containing her passport and a hand written note. Near shore they handed the girl over to the coast guard and followed them into shore and on to the local hospital emergency room.

As it transpires,  the girl was vacationing in L.A. from Germany and was attempting suicide. Had the dolphins not intervened and lead the quick thinking scientists to her lifeless body, she would most certainly have died.

As a researcher, Maddalena can’t help but think what might have happened if they had not followed the dolphins. Might they have tried to save her? There are numerous anecdotal stories of dolphins saving human lives, by guiding them to safety, attacking sharks or keeping them afloat until help arrives.

The scientific community is reluctant to buy into these anecdotal accounts as they are not  supported by hard evidence. However, Maddalena is possibly one step closer to giving these accounts some credence. The plural of anecdote is not evidence, but at some point these numerous stories must go beyond coincidence…

Maddalena Bearzi is President and Co-founder of the Ocean Conservation Society, and Co-author of Beautiful Minds: The Parallel Lives of Great Apes and Dolphins (Harvard University Press, 2008; paperback 2010). She has studied the ecology and conservation of marine mammals for over twenty-five years and also works as a photo-journalist and blogger for several publications. This account comes from her most recent publication.

Forgiveness is good for you

‘The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.’ – Gandhi

It was funny, as I read the article by Chris Iliades on Forgiveness Therapy I was feeling a little smug, thinking that I’m so good at this already…. oh and then I recalled an incident with a faceless bank and my blood began to boil. OK, so perhaps there is something here for me to learn after all.

A review of studies on forgiveness as a goal in psychotherapy, or talk therapy, published in 2014 in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, examined 54 cases involving forgiveness therapy  for emotional wounds.

“Our research shows that thinking about forgiveness instead of revenge is better for physical health as well as mental heath. The body responds better to forgiveness. Hope for the future increases. This can mean better relationships as well as less depression and anxiety,” said Nathaniel G. Wade, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Iowa State University and lead author of the review.

It seems that a lot of it boils down to empathy for the person. You aren’t allowing yourself to be a doormat, you are allowing yourself to be free. I guess you then combine that with the idea of “do it once… I forgive you, do it twice I’ll forgive you and walk away”.  After all, I don’t have to waste my time on someone that can’t learn and doesn’t care enough to consider my feelings.

Here are some strategies for daily practice that are mentioned in the article:

  •  Vent hurts and resentments with trusted person – perhaps pick a friend or family member that doesn’t have an emotional attachment with the situation and can help you to empathize rather than egg you on.
  • Write it down and then build a gratifying fire and burn the person… just kidding. Burn the letter as a symbolic commitment to forgiveness
  • Try and see it their way and why on earth they were being such wankers
  • If continually focus on an injury, notice and say STOP! Then eat ice-cream, oh, and think of something more relaxing, constructive or inspiring.

I think the most amazing example of forgiveness I have ever witnessed, was the father of a murdered child who sought out the Grandfather of the murderer. He not only forgave the murderer, but together with the grandfather he formed a charity called TKF to prevent Youth Violence. Now that is Constructive Forgiveness!

As for that faceless big bank… they cost me time, money, sanity… can I forgive them? NO, because there is no one to forgive, they just hide incompetence behind protocols and anonymity. No one is responsible. I will write them that letter, but I won’t burn it… I’m so sending that thing off. However, since I fully expect to get some semi-personalized letter with Lawyer approved blahbla speak, I had better move on. “Nasty bank you are not forgiven…. you are forgotten :)” OK, I will forgive all those people that are inept at their job, because they are doing something I would certainly rather not do and they have been trained not to use their brains. It is not their fault.

Next step… forgiving those idiots on a mobile phones that try and knock me off my bike on a daily basis ….. bonfire here we come! Better go get some burgers, no point wasting a good fire.

 

FreeStores – little gifts of gratefulness

Last weekend some friends helped to open a FreeStore. I had never heard of the concept, but now I have it seems to be everywhere. A FreeStore does what the name implies. They accept donations and give stuff away to people who can’t afford it.

You can't buy happiness, but you might just get it for free

You can’t buy happiness, but you might just get it for FREE!

There was an interesting interview with a longer standing FreeStore owner yesterday, which was very sweet. 38 year old Andrea Berdine tells the story of what drove her to start a “business” where people give if they can or just receive if they can’t.

“Berdine started the project in 2012 after witnessing something that brought her to tears. She was shopping at a retail store when she saw a man turned away because he asked for a coat.

“He was ridiculed, put down, made fun of,” she recalled. “He was wanting a coat. I said, ‘So you have racks and racks of coats here. And that man is cold and he’s wet and it’s raining and he’s obviously homeless.’ And nobody would give him a coat.”

Berdine was stunned. She got in her car and drove around until she found the man. She then picked up her husband’s jacket from the back seat.

“I gave him the coat. Told him he was a man of worth. Told him I was embarrassed that that happened in our community,” she said.”

Most of us would have that spare coat at home, but few of us would have reacted in such a generous manner. We will probably give the coat to a thrift store down the line and they will sell it on to someone that can afford it. Why not give it to the person that is cold and wet right now? A small sacrifice in time for a very compassionate act. I do hope I can see beyond the business of my life if I am placed in a similar situation.

I was saddened to hear that my friends’ FreeStore has encountered some people in the community that are angry about what they are doing. It is a curious reaction that I can’t grasp. I would be intrigued to find out why they feel this way. They don’t have to go there, they don’t have to donate … a little odd I feel.

Good luck to all those people that are trying to make the world a better place, one little solution at at time.

 

Keep your kid away from your passport

I remember as a kid doing this sort of stuff to newspapers, but this little 4 year old boy went to town on his fathers passport, whilst he was traveling. Unfortunately the South Korean border guards were less than impressed with his impressive doodles, animals and, of course, the obligatory wiry beard.

passport-doodlemain.jpg

According to the Metro UK, the boy’s father, a Chinese national, was still stuck in South Korea on Friday. It seems the authorities, whose eyes aren’t small black holes, didn’t think he was recognizable and will prevent him from traveling back with the rest of the party.

passport-doodle2.jpg

In a cry for help Dad posted the image on Weibo, but all he got in return was a collective “awww” from the audience who thought the sketches adorable.

One reader did have a positive note for him. It could have been North Korea….

Don’t forget to breathe

Last weekend was probably the first time in 6 months that I breather properly and it felt soooo much better. In my former life as a Physical Therapist I would see people everyday that could benefit from breathing exercises. Some forms of pain can be alleviated completely, just through relaxation and proper oxygenation of the body. Correct breathing can relieve stress, focus the mind, help you fly (not really, but just checking if you are focusing), etc.

So, why don’t people breathe properly? Lots of reasons. We sit a lot, which puts us in a bad posture and stiffens up our ribcage, and makes it harder for us to breathe. We worry about stuff, so we harbor tension… and many other things. Ironically not breathing well exacerbates the situation as it increases muscle tension, reduces perfusion of the brain, induces fatigue and the slide begins.

The Spinach and Yoga blog attributes some other interesting things to breathing, that I’m not entirely convinced by, but hey, can’t hurt if they do. On the flip side, Dr Lange is a bit of a sceptic and postulates that deep breathing will in fact reduce the CO2 in our lungs and impact the breathing “drive”. Technically he is correct in the case of someone that walks around all day taking deep breaths, rather than someone that stops and takes a few deep breaths every so often, just to release the tension in the body or get that little O2 boost. He also seems to neglect the simple fact that years of poor posture and shallow breathing will a) cause our ribcage to stiffen, requiring us to work harder to attain that normal oxygenation b) in response the body may well reduce its sensitivity to CO2 and will require less O2. Does that make it OK to breathe more shallowly?

Like most things in life, the answer lies some place in the middle and depending on your lifestyle you may have to work harder or less hard at keeping optimally oxygenated and keeping your tension at bay.

According to the Harvard Health Publication (HHP), this is how to take a deep, healing, diaphragmatic breath:

“First steps. Find a comfortable, quiet place to sit or lie down. Start by observing your breath. First take a normal breath. Now try taking a slow, deep breath. The air coming in through your nose should move downward into your lower belly. Let your abdomen expand fully. Now breathe out through your mouth (or your nose, if that feels more natural). Alternate normal and deep breaths several times. Pay attention to how you feel when you inhale and exhale normally and when you breathe deeply. Shallow breathing often feels tense and constricted, while deep breathing produces relaxation.

Now practice diaphragmatic breathing for several minutes. Put one hand on your abdomen, just below your belly button. Feel your hand rise about an inch each time you inhale and fall about an inch each time you exhale. Your chest will rise slightly, too, in concert with your abdomen. Remember to relax your belly so that each inhalation expands it fully.”

Now, far be it for me to tell the Harvard people how to suck eggs, but the act of lying down makes it harder for us to breathe, which is why people with chronic lung problems prefer to sit up. Also, if you are slouching, you won’t get the full benefit. if you are very stiff in your spine or ribcage, you may want to get someone to teach you some stretches (particularly rotation).

Interestingly the HHP sees it as a 15-20min daily practice, I guess I see it as 4-5 deep breaths an hour. It is kind of a check in on your body to see if you are holding tension and slouching in your office chair. I know jot makes me feel much better when I do it and will try to breathe deeply more regularly. Become aware of your body and do whatever works for you.