Talking to strangers makes us happier

So, if you travel on the London Underground there is an unspoken rule that you must never make eye contact with strangers let alone speak to anyone. The commuters generally look miserable, like cattle on the way to a cull. The only time that changes is on the last few Tubes in the evening and later in the week, when post work imbibing has rendered the stoic British aloofness defunct and lively banter fills the train carriages. 

In my naiveté I always assumed that it was purely the booze talking, but recent research suggests that there may be another reason. Seems that we are just social and actually enjoy social interaction with others. Yes there may be some nutters that we perhaps wish we hadn’t started a conversation with, but generally it is better than sitting there staring at the floor.

The really interesting thing is that the control group, believed that talking to strangers would make them far less happy. Where does this fear of talking to strangers come from? Is it from those people on the plane that force you to talk to them even though you would rather be sleeping? You know the one stat don’t pick up on social cues?

If you think about it though, for the most part, the people that tend to talk to you in public tend to be normal happy people. Are they happy because they talk to strangers? 

Having grown up in a small town, where one basically greets everyone and often has chats with strangers, I have noticed that there is a inverse proportion of friendliness to population density. If you live in an apartment, you scurry from your car to the front door trying not to look up. If you live in a townhome you wave to the neighbors as you drive into the garage. If you live in a house with some space, you stop to chat to the neighbor. If you live in Outback Australia, anyone you see is instantly your best friend and you are invited to the wedding/christening/wake all within the first 2 minutes of conversation.

Will the ever burgeoning population drive us from our natural desire to seek social contact? Can communities be planed to encourage more interaction and make people happier? Regardless…. take a chance, talk to a stranger today and every day!



The world needs a little more compassion and a lot less anger

I won’t pretend that I had a hard life and I can’t even begin to imagine what it is like to grow up in a war zone or in a place where there isn’t enough food to go around. However, when someone travels from a adequately provided for existence in Southeast England, to the middle east to carry out unspeakable violence in the name of God, there is something very very wrong.

Yes, there has always been violence. Yes, there have long been wars over religion. The sad fact is that the majority of these wars pertain to the all to human interpretations of the words of the same benevolent all knowing god….

It was fortuitous that my wife sent me this lovely article about Esho Funi. “The oneness of self and environment (esho funi) means that life (sho) and its environment (e) are inseparable (funi). Funi means “two but not two.” “.

“At the most fundamental level of life itself, there is no separation between ourselves and the environment. According to Buddhism, everything around us, including work and family relationships, is the reflection of our inner lives. Everything is perceived through the self and alters according to the individual’s inner state of life. Thus, if we change ourselves, our circumstances will inevitably change also.”

I’m not too fussed about the buddahood (sounds like a band) stuff, but one of the last paragraphs pretty much sums it all up:

“The single most positive action we can make for society and the land is to transform our own lives, so that they are no longer dominated by anger, greed and fear. When we manifest wisdom, generosity and integrity, we naturally make more valuable choices, and we will find that our surroundings are nurturing and supportive.”

Sort yourself out and don’t expect external factors to make you happy. Don’t blame others for you troubles. You are just giving up control of your emotional wellbeing and without that you will never be truly happy, as you will always have to rely on others to make you happy. Accept that bad times happen, make the best of what you have and share compassion. It isn’t easy, especially if you suffered some devastating event, but ultimately it will make you a happier person and the world a better place.

Imagine a world where everyone were working toward improving them selves rather than trying to control/exploit others….. 


The smell of rain on a hot day

Some people dance in the rain. Others just get wet.

I can’t find who first said this. Seems that it is a tweak on Bob Marley “Some people feel the rain…”. It has always resonated with me and was brought to mind by this mornings deluge. Yes, by the standards of most parts of the world it was a little shower, but by San Diego standards…massive.

I just adore the smell of rain on a hot day. That afternoon shower that comes through, and clears the air and leaves a sticky warmth and a wonderful unique odor. The hard rain that usually precedes this lovely smell is so heavy, it is just begging for you to run outside, splash in the puddles and to slide on the grass. 

So what is the smell? And why do we all love it so? 

A couple of Australian scientists (Isabel Joy Bear and R. G. Thomas) published an article in Nature titled “Nature of Agrillaceous Odor.” that described the results of their research into this unique odor. They decided to call the smell petrichor [petra (stone) and ichor (the blood of gods in ancient myth)].

It seems that a unique blend of oils, excreted by plants during dry spells and absorbed by rocks and soil, are mixed with the water and released into the air. These oils the combine with substances such as geosmin and actinomycetes (a chemical produced by a soil-dwelling bacteria). Produced in dry spells the bacteria tend to collect in the soils until they are liberated by the rain. (Incidentally, geosmin is also responsible for the earthy taste in beets… no wonder I love them!)

Then there is the psychological element of why we like the smell of petrichor so much. An Australian anthropologist Diana Young has observed that the  Pitjantjatjara people of Western Australia associate the smell with the color green. I guess since they live in the desert, there is almost an instant transformation of an arid landscape to a blooming paradise in a matter of days. With it comes life and food. 

I wonder if any branding/marketing companies have picked up on this yet and tried to synthesize it to promote a green brand? Drawing on innate human instincts of joy would seem like an instant winner. 

Be the water – choose to avoid daily frustration

This short film is brilliant! We have all been there. Someone does something kind of minor, but because of your state of mind you blow it out of proportion and get really frustrated … and then you find out something tragic is currently happening to them. Yes, you feel terrible!

Now multiply that across all interactions throughout your daily life and your little judgments about other peoples actions add up to a deluge of frustration for you.

The answer? Choose not to think of yourself as the center of the universe and remove all those little judgments you make about people. Refuse to let the way they impact on your egocentric little world bother you. We have all had bad things happen to us and been “irrational” as a result. If people are doing things that get to you, choose to let it flow over you. Be the water.

This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life. A short film based on extracts of David Foster Wallace’s commencement address to the 2005 graduating class of Kenyon College. You can read the full speech here

There are so many times in the day, that simply choosing to see the bright side can make my outlook better. The car is a prime example. I have noticed that when the roads are empty I drive considerably slower, which is very counter intuitive. 

This is often not because I am in a greater rush when the roads are busy, as I generally leave enough time, it is simply because I allow myself to be frustrated by the drivers around me. Can I change the way they drive? No. Would I arrive at much the same time, but far less frazzled if I just went with the flow? Yes!

I know what you are thinking….but if I dodge and weave cars on the road I will get there faster…. I still recall the time I was driving in a column of cars, that was moving a little bit below the speed limit, but moving smoothly. Suddenly I heard a roar as a car recklessly overtook me. The driver continued to play chicken with oncoming cars as he hopped his way along the column.

An hour later when I arrived at the destination, I watched him get out of his car. He must have gained a minute or two and almost, yet had dozens of near collisions…. worth it, NO.

It won’t always be easy for me to let it go, but it is a practice and a choice. Control over my life always puts me in a better mental place.

I suspect I will continue to get irritated by that person that stood in the check-out queue in front of me for 10min, then waited till all the groceries were packed away before realizing that they may actually have to pay for what they are buying and spend the next 20min digging into their purse pulling out all manner of stuff, answering a phone call, cleaning their nails…. then spending another 20min repacking that purse, whilst the checkout attendant smiles sheepishly and the rest of the people in line sigh and get jittery…. I choose to think that they really did think the groceries would be free….i choose to think that a tragic event is stopping them from being courteous ….ahhh it isn’t working!

I will try to incorporate this idea into my daily routine and act spontaneously, with a smile and an open heart. It won’t hurt others, it may even improve their day  and it certainly will help me.

Water makes it better

As I was doing, what one does in a waiting room, the person next to me started a conversation. Turns out he is a real water baby. He is happiest when he is in the water, OK when on or near the water and not happy when he is inland. Strangely he is from a wee town inland Texas, devoid of great water sources, but now that he has moved closer to the ocean he is unwilling  to part with this life source.

As a fellow hydrophilic person I had to agree with him, but what is it about this liquid that makes it so calming and rejuvenating? Is it the open space the water creates in a built up and crowded world? Has it got something to do with being weightless in the same fluid that makes up the majority of our body? Is it psychological trigger for the safety of the womb? (If it is the womb thing, then my mother spent a lot of time rolling and jumping around, because I am happiest when I’m being pummeled by waves.)

I’ve heard theories about aligning molecules in the body, inhaling the ozone produced by the crashing waves, psychological links to the water molecules…. and many more. Beyond the hydration benefits and the exercising in weightless environment bits, I don’t believe there is a lot of scientific evidence for the remaining theories on the healing power of water.

That just leaves a bunch of theories about why water makes most people feel so much better. I would be interested to know why, but for now the important thing is that it works… for me… and like my acquaintance in the waiting room, I would struggle to move too far from a major source of this liquid. I guess I could do mountains…if there were a river.

As an aside, if you have eczema try salt water. My wife’s eczema flared up with her pregnancy … hormone stuff I guess … and she braved he ocean the other day. Bye Bye eczema. For years she had used cortisone as prescribed and it kind of helped…. salt water, job done. I’m sure it won’t work for everyone, but is there much harm in trying? Worst case you get to go for a swim on a summers day.

Be happy, all good things must come to an end

I like this article by Melanie Pinola, that exposes a simple truth about humans. We can become accustomed to just about anything good or bad. Being able to block out bad things in our lives probably helps to make things bare able, but unfortunately we can also become desensitized to happiness.

I recall when I used to travel for long periods of time (months),  I would reach a point when I would be looking at something incredible and think …..whaaaa its OK. That was always the point when I would have to stop, take a break from the road and just do nothing. A week later my appetite for adventure and appreciation of the wonders I was lucky enough to see would return.

I guess it is no different to the way lose our spirit of wonder in the process of growing up. It was only last night that I walked away from the sun setting over the ocean, something I would never have done in the past. Why? There were no clouds so it would be less interesting and I was peckish… fussy bugger. Note to self take the few minutes to enjoy the sun set.

Anyway, according to an article in Psychological Science, students who were asked to think about their last 6 weeks of school as short period of time were significantly happier at the end of term, than those who were encouraged to perceive it as a long time.

I guess you get an additional boost if you think of a happy event as being short and then it just keeps on giving? I think I need to go back to rediscovering my childhood wonder.

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!


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?