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!



Those with the least often give the most

I loved this story from Reddit. It reminded me of so many occasions when kind people with nothing would have been happy to give me the shirt off their back.

“This homeless man found a bunch of my wife’s stolen property strewn all over downtown Tulsa,” Redditor anitasanger wroteon Friday. “He took the time to gather it all up in the rain and call us for retrieval. I just want to recognize him as an awesome human being.”

“He didn’t want a thing in return,” anitasanger stated. “We gave him the $15 we had and thanked him for his kindness. It’s awesome to be reminded that there is a lot of good in the world.

So many of us only give “once we can afford it”. Yet for this man these possessions could have been useful or even sold on, but no he decided to return them.  Is it because he appreciates the value of things more? Is it because it was just the right thing to do?  Is it because he doesn’t value things at all and just seeks human interaction (A friend of mine once decide to go homeless for a weekend, just to understand the experience a little. His take away was that it was nice when someone just acknowledged him)? I guess we will never know, but I it is heartwarming to hear about these acts of kindness.

My kind of invasion

North and South Korea are constantly at it and generally do that testosterone fueled thing of firing rockets into the sea to prove some sort of point that isn’t very clear. Nothing like a bit of saber-rattling to impress the populace and keep the fear mongers in business.

Well, in a fun change of pace the South decided to send 10’000 Choco Pies (yes edible snacks, not rockets that destroy lives and generate anger) into North Korea on balloons.

Choco Pie invasion baloons

People in Paju, South Korea, ready to release balloons, carrying Choco Pies and cookies, over to North Korea on July 30, 2014. – IMAGE: AHN YOUNG-JOON/ASSOCIATED PRESS

No doubt, the North Korean propaganda machine will tell their populace that in fact they have come from the North to reward the wonderful workers.

In the absence of a clever response the North of course threatened to bomb the people launching the balloons. It’s like that person, you argue with, that really has no basis for their argument, but in the absence of being able to accept defeat gracefully they just threaten violence.

Fortunately, the bombs never came and hopefully some malnourished North Koreans can enjoy a little treat… probably not what they really need, but more enjoyable than a bowl of rice.


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!

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.


Can solar pave the way?

I love people with out of the box ideas …. Solar Roadways, really? On the one side it sounds ridiculous, on the other hand if Scott and Julie Brusaw can pull it off the potential is limitless! Imagine our roads that are largely eyesores, serving us as an energy source and a way to make the roads safer and reduce the environmental impact of cars, salt and storm water.

I’m not sure how the manufacturing stacks up on the environmental side, but the idea will no doubt evolve and has the potential to be brilliant! Their Indiegogo  fundraising campaign has raised $1,652,248USD to date and exceeded their goal by a mile. It shows that people are ready to try something new and care enough about our planet that they are essentially willing to give their money away for a cause without personal gain.

The construction will be far more expensive, but there are so many people that could benefit. Power companies could replace unsightly power lines with far more efficient subterranean power cables, that could carry fiber optic cables at the same time.

Road signage could be revolutionized with LED lighting the the way at night, warning of hazards. As a cyclist who has had too many close calls with motorists on their cell phones, perhaps the panels could flash around someone that is talking or texting, so that I can steer clear of them. Ah the uses are endless.

I wish Scott and Julie all the very best with their venture! It won’t be the answer, but it could well be another step closer.

Get back on that horse

I’m not the biggest fan of horses, but I do agree with the old adage, that if you get bucked off the horse, you just have to get back on.

However, I’m not sure I would have the courage to do what Mike Coots did….

Yes, you see a prosthetic leg in that shot and given my recent stumbling steps at learning how to surf, that alone seems a remarkable feat to me…..however, that is just a small part….he lost his leg to a shark and still ventures back into the ocean. In fact he is a great advocate of sharks and marine conservation.

As a big fan of the ocean and a person happy to dive with sharks, I have always been a little uneasy, when on the surface. I can’t imagine the courage it takes to overcome the trauma of losing a limb….Mike seems to think it is something to laugh at.

Laughing at his injury

Check out his website and Instagram account. He has some amazing images there.

Exploiting stereotypes

Generally I am not a big fan of stereotypes. We all have preconceived ideas and they can often get in the way of judging people on merit rather than past experience or worse on hearsay. However, in the case of Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA) they are being exploited to great effect!

Bikers are so often maligned as bad influences, violent and criminal elements, but BACA exploits that reputation to help children that have been abused. Arriving as a big presence, they send a clear message to the local community and the children, that they will protect them.  In many cases this has given the victims the confidence to speak out against their abusers and has given them a ‘family’ around which they can rebuild their lives after their ordeal.

Way to use a stereotype for good! It also demonstrates the dangers of judging a book by its cover.

First slow food now slow coffee with a smile

I’m a big fan of my morning coffee, but a personalized coffee cup designed by the 41-year-old barista and artist Gabriel Nkweti Lafitte would certainly add some wow. Each cup can take up to  40 hours to design and gives his masterpieces to customers who have exhibited kindness. Lafitte loves seeing the delight and appreciation in the faces of people that get their coffee in his art cups. Lafitte hopes that one day he may be able to craft his designs on a more permanent medium like ceramic mugs.

If you want a special cup , make your way to the British Museum and be kind to others!

Lafitte's work is on display inside the Starbucks opposite the British Museum in central London.

He gets daily requests from fans who come to the museum hoping he’ll produce a cup for them.
He gets daily requests from fans who come to the museum hoping he'll produce a cup for them.

He told Metro: “I love seeing people’s reaction to my drawings. I enjoy the joy and surprise on their faces.”

He told Metro : "I love seeing people’s reaction to my drawings. I enjoy the joy and surprise on their faces."

Some designs take up to 40 hours for him to complete.
Some designs take up to 40 hours for him to complete.

He tells BuzzFeed he would love to see his designs become real ceramic cups on day.

You can see more below and on his Facebook page.
You can see more below and on his Facebook page .