Thursday 14 December 2017

Danes Reducing Lonliness and Building Community One Bite at a Time

The Danish movement against loneliness, ‘Folkebevægelsen mod Ensomhed’, believes sharing meals helps people feel less lonely.

Tuesday 31 October 2017

What Getting Stuck In the Snow Taught Me About Making Change in My Life

I think by the end of this article, it will be pretty evident that I'm a Canadian.  Everybody in the Great White North (east of Abbottsford BC) will identify with this analogy, but for those of you who do not interact with snow for 40% of the year, here's a humorous video to give you the gist...

It's a funny video... if only because any Canadian worth her-road salt would know this is NOT how you get your car unstuck from the snow.  As a matter of fact, it turns out to be a great metaphor for how to get your life unstuck too!

So in the video, the drivers are just "flooring it"... or press the accelerator all the way to the floor hoping to get some traction.  This is an example of trying to just use sheer bull-headed power to get unstuck.  Does it work?  Sure it does once in a while, but if it DOESN"T work, then it's time to do the smart thing and try another tactic.   

Sometimes flooring it will melt the ice and snow enough to give you traction. 

But if that doesn't work, then you start to pulse the accelerator.  You want to start the car rocking gently forward and back.    Then after a few dozen rocks, you will have given yourself just enough forward momentum on one of the pulses to gently squeeze the gas-pedal and your car will drift gently forward. 

One else is good that they did in the video?  Both the "bad guys" and the "cops" got somebody else to help them.  This is one of the best way to get unstuck.  They can also augment the rocking motion mentioned above. 

You need to have the wheels pointed in the right direction... pointed away from more snow and ice, and towards clear ground.

As you steer towards this, there may be a bit of fishtailing or wheels slipping in unintended directions.  You have to know what direction you’re steering in, or you’ll just get out of your rut and end up stuck in another snow bank.

Sometimes you have to go a little bit in one direction in order to get to your ultimate goal (out of the rut and in clear ground).

Sunday 17 September 2017

Unless we Find Time to Unplug and Reset, Our Collective Health Will Suffer

This is an interesting read from Benjamin Hardy about how our western society is headed towards a health crisis unless we learn to unplug and reset.  We are living frantic lives that are dictated to us by powers outside of our control, and the best way to regain control is to unplug and reset.  He cites "The Adrenal Reset Diet" book, where authors Alan Christianson M.D. and Sara Gottfried M.D. explain that unless we create the space to truly unplug, reset, refresh, and recharge — our body’s natural and evolutionary response is to store fat rather than burn it. Hence, it is projected that within the next 10 years, the majority of the global population will be over-weight to obese.

Link to book:

The blog post also has a call to action to encourage us to take control back from all of these outside sources, to regain our sanity, health and relationships! 

Sunday 13 August 2017

Lonliness is killing us faster than Obesity

A presentation at the 125th Annual Conference of the American Psychological Association revealed the results of 2 major meta-studies of data on loneliness and health outcomes, and the results are disturbing for western nations, where more people are living alone than every before.

While no solutions are presented, the alarms bells have been sounded about this impending health crisis, contributed to by a growing "epidemic" of loneliness.

Monday 19 June 2017

Being Curious is Much Better than Being Interesting

An engaging article that discusses studies that have shown curiosity is an important social glue that brings and holds people together. 

Studies have found that people who are curious are often viewed in social encounters as more interesting and engaging, and they are more apt to reach out to a wider variety of people. In addition, being curious seems to protect people from negative social experiences, like rejection, which could lead to better connection with others over time.

As well as dealing better with rejection, curious people are also better at determining the personality traits of those they connect with.  They tend to be less aggressive, and more social.  Check out the details at the link below.

Monday 12 June 2017

If We Have Gratitude, We Also Trust More

Many people in western cultures have become less trusting in the past few decades.  It's been shown that high levels of trust result in healthier relationships, lower crime, and even stronger economies.  

In the study, published recently in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, researchers found that people who had consciously counted their blessings for just a week were more likely to trust others.

Read more about the study and the outcomes at the link below.

Monday 5 June 2017

Why Kissing is Good for Your Health

Ah, this article is kinda light on science, but what the heck!  It's about kissing, and who doesn't like kissing!?

It's about 8 ways kissing helps your health.  It lowers blood pressure, eases anxiety, prevents tooth decay and menstrual cramps, and it could help you lose weight!

Sunday 23 April 2017

Happiness and "Success" Depend on the Friends You Keep

As we age, we often find out that our parents were actually pretty smart after all!  (I can hear teenagers scoffing everywhere!)   And one adage that I heard time and again is "It matters who your friends are."

Once we know what we value, and where we want to go, it's important to surround ourselves with people who hold us to a higher standard in those area.  Whether it's something as simple as associating with people who are fit if you want to exercise more, or as complex as a life-long strategy to have an income independent of a regular wage, research is showing that one of the key factors is: who are your friends?

We often choose those who are, literally, closest to us. (And truth be know, we have more satisfying relationships with people who are in close proximity of 1.5 kms, as opposed to somebody on the other side of the world).  But proximity should not the THE requirement for friendship.

After all, we are who we associate with.

I'm not sure who said that, or if anybody said that.  But if nobody did, then... well... I just did and I claim it... ;)   Dibs!

Sunday 9 April 2017

Author Says "Stand Firm: Resist the Self-Help Craze"

I enjoyed reading this article about seven things we can do to resist the self-help craze trap.  I agree that anything carried too far is not good.  I too have wanted a break from constantly thinking and ruminating on what I need to do to be better.  Sometimes I just want to play a video game or have a drink and get goofy.

So please, yes, take breaks from "self-improvement" and "self-help".  Don't take yourself or life too seriously or you might just miss having a life!  Oh gosh... sorry... that's sort of starting to sound like help!

Here's the article with the seven helpful hints on avoid help.

Sunday 2 April 2017

Beat Procrastination by Planning Time to Play

... copied verbatim from site at link below...

Neil Fiore, in his book The Now Habit, talks about creating what he calls “the unschedule,” a system that aims to do the laughable—the unthinkable, even—of only committing 30 minutes a day to productive work. But before scheduling your work, he recommends scheduling your play.

Excuses that go through a procrastinator's mind to justify putting things off are excuses like, "I haven't had enough time to play, so I need to watch 10 YouTube videos to feel relief from my stressful job.” Procrastinators use the excuse that play is lacking in their day to justify why they should procrastinate more.

By using the unschedule, you prioritize the thing that you need the most if you feel overwhelming stress from work—guilt-free play, or simply some fun. Fun and creativity are how we make connections in our work that we wouldn't normally make while we are actually at our day jobs. That's why “shower thoughts” exists as a subforum on Reddit.

We can create powerful connections by using play, but unless we prioritize it and make it happen on a daily basis, it won’t happen. Instead, work takes over as the main priority throughout the day. If that's the case, then it's no wonder that we feel overworked.

Following the unschedule means that you need to schedule things such as appointments with friends, hangout time, family time and weekend activities. It means planning out a whole day of rest that involves doing maybe a few minor chores here or there and scheduling a day to truly enjoy life. It means scheduling your breaks every day, if you can get them. It means scheduling things like a lunch break or a meeting with someone in your network.

By following the unschedule and prioritizing play, you create a sense of calmness. And when your playful activity is over or your break is over, you create an urgency within yourself and say, "Okay, now I can work."

Sunday 26 March 2017

Being Happy All the Time Isn't Realistic... shoot for 80% of the time!

With the focus on Positive Psychology, it can sometimes seem like the goal is to always be "happy".  Positive Psychology teaches us there are many benefits to using happiness as a tool to help us lead a fulfilling life.  But researchers also remind us there is value in "negative experiences".

Psychologist Todd Kashdan, the author of The Upside Of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self—Not Just “Good” Self—Drives Success and Fulfillment, has found in his research that negative emotions encourage people to take productive action or reframe events of the better. 

"Getting into a fight with your partner may strengthen your relationship, or feeling anxious about a test can increase studying, thus chances of a better grade."

Kashdan isn't saying forget about happiness. He's simply suggesting we focus on the positive 80 percent of the time — this includes kindness, compassion, and gratitude — and the “negative” 20 percent of the time. So like, the 80/20  rule,  but for mental health. 

Click here for a description of the 80/20 rule.

Sunday 19 March 2017

Exercise's Supercompensation Theory: does it work for our brains?

Bodybuilding can be a great analogy for successful change and growth.  In the link below TedTalk with Mischa Janiec inspired me to research more about Supercompensation.   This is the precise timing of your next work out to build on the natural process of your body "growing" in anticipation of the next taxing workout.  If we exercise again too soon, we will merely compromise our recovery.  If we wait too long, we will have returned "to normal", and thus we will be building from the same position as before, as though the workout didn't even happen.

I know there is no scientific basis to translate this to our mental capacity, but I found it to be a great metaphor... we go into life to fail so we know how to grow and get stronger.  And we must keep challenging ourselves for growth... but not too much too soon to cut into our recovery time, and not too little after too longer, or we will have forgotten the benefits of our earlier challenge. 

Invest in Yourself.  Go beyond in the gym, and you will go beyond in every other aspect of your life.

Sunday 12 March 2017

Comfort May Be Ruining Your Life

It's the hypothesis by Bill Eckstrom, in his Ted Talk Video "Why Comfort Will Ruin Your Life", that our very pursuit of a lower stress, low change environment may very well be the major cause of our malcontent and dissatisfaction.

He presents four interlocking circles in a vertical column.  Moving from Stagnation at the bottom, up to Comfort, to Complexity, then to Chaos at the top.  He says we always have to go to Complexity to grow.

Great value in this philosphy, but I have problems with the word "always".  We can grow our money comfortably with good investing.  We should lose weight "comfortably" for it to stay off.  We can make conscious decisions to improve our situation and ourselves, and do it comfortably and calmly.

However, I do agree that moving into Complexity will mean you have to change, grow and adapt, which are all good things for your over all quality of life and satisfaction. 

Some people just want to be comfortable and don't want to change... as short sighted as this may be.  What we need to do is learn to comfortable in complexity... and welcome it into our lives.

Sunday 5 March 2017

Genetics May Be Keeing You from Saving for the Future!

Whew!  I dunno about you, but when I used to blame one of my weaknesses of will, personality or morals on my parents and upbringing, that really helped.  But then I decided I couldn't use what did or didn't happen decades ago as an excuse.

But now I can blame it on GENETICS!   You see, it's not me!  Talk to the genes!

A Neuroeconomist (you just knew they had to exist) is making the argument that we may have a genetic reason for not saving for our own future!

“Saving doesn’t do much for your happiness,” says Michael Norton, an associate professor at Harvard Business School and co-author of the upcoming book Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending. “Having more money in the bank isn’t highly correlated with being a happier person but the more debt you have, the less happy you are.”

The article goes on to say that if we write ourselves a letter from the 65 year old version of ourselves, thanking us for the money and indicating all the things we can do with out, this will go a long way to encouraging us to save (up to 30% more!)

As well, for those of us who are not wired to save, it helps if we see any money we don't spend as extra money we can have to spend on something else!  It may seem really obvious to those folks who understand why saving is beneficial, but for the rest of us, literally saying "If you don't buy that, you'll have $100 to spend on something else in the future." or maybe even more specifically "You'll be able to buy that trip to Iceland that you've always wanted"... that will trigger the right part of our brain to enjoy the benefit of saving; if only so we can spend it again to dip our frigid body into a warm blue thermal-pool.

Spending activates the same part of our brain as having sex activates.  (Do people really have sex while in fMRI scanners?!)   At the same time, noticing the price tag can activate another part of the brain... the same area where foul smells are registered.  So the lesson here is if you see something you like, check out the price as quickly as possible to reduce your chance of falling totally in love first!

Also, telling others  you're going to save is a real motivator, and reporting to them weekly about how much you save will encourage you to save twice as much!

One area I disagree with this article: it says to pay off the credit card with the highest interest rate first... While this make the most logical sense, the brain REALLY needs to see quick wins to be motivated, so pay off the card with the lowest balance, regardless of the interest rate amount, so your brain will be motivated by this quick win.  Then you will only have 6 more cards!!!!  Then pay off the next lowest balance quickly.  And now you have only 5 more cards.  Certainly, once you're in the habit of paying off the cards, then do the wise thing and pay off the one with the highest interest... but be sure you're IN THE HABIT of paying off cards first!

Sunday 26 February 2017

Happiness is not the Goal, but a Tool to Unleash Creativity and Ambition

Our Western Society is constantly "selling us" on the quest to achieve happiness, and we must slog through endless grief and strife to reach this goal.  However, science is showing us that if we are happy, then our quest for purpose and meaning are easier to achieve, as our creative pathways are opened, and new ideas flood our minds and hearts.

Sunday 19 February 2017

It DOESN'T Take 21 Days to Change a Habit

The idea that it takes 21 days to change a habit is based on a work in 1960 by a cosmetic surgeon named Maltz who surmised that it took at LEAST 21 days for an amputee to adjust to losing their limb.  This knowledge was then extrapolated over the decades to mean that any habit could be changed after 21 days.

In 2009, study results published by Phillippa Lally in European Journal of Social Psychology found that rather than taking 21 days, study participants took anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a new habit with an average of 66 days. The new 66-day rule has become a popular counterclaim to the original 21-day rule, but even this study was limited to a sample size of less than 100 volunteer participants.

Sunday 12 February 2017

The More Something Becomes a Habit, the Less Pleasure We Get

An interesting hypothesis, that as we turn our likes into habits, we lose our emotional connection with them.  In essence, we get less happiness from these special occurrences.

So if you want to continue to like something, the writer seems to indicate you shouldn't do it too often.

I'm of a different mindset on this: if it's enjoyable and positive, then you should be driven to do it more and more, and the prospect of doing it "more" to get a reward is not a negative idea. 

Of course, there is the "everything in moderation" advice which has merit.  But I love going to the gym and lifting weights; I really do!  And I know I can do it "too often" and end up injuring myself.  But it's a habit to go three times a week, and I enjoy it just as much every time, even though it's a habit. 

So have a read and see what you think! 

Sunday 5 February 2017

Three Reasons New Years Day is a Bad Day to Start a New Habit

Only 9% of Americans who make a New Years resolution feel they were successful in accomplishing their goal or adopting their new habit.

That means that 91% of resolutioners believe they didn't accomplish their goal.  And yet year after year, we belly up to the same bar to request the same tonic.  Problem is, we're working against how the human brain works.

One of the biggest problems is the day itself; Jan 1.  It's the day after a holiday binge of change, disrupted routines and, in many cases, stress.

So the first issue is that our conscious brains are already fried from having to accommodate all the changes. Evenings filled with extra shopping, interacting with distant family members, and visiting Uncle Chuck is sleeping in your bed, so you're sleeping in the basement with the dog. 

Secondly, we're feeding our mind and bodies a buffet of booze and candy, along with Uncle Chuck's mysterious fruit cake... which is filled with booze and candy.  We give into our body's addictions which give us mental spikes and crashes, and reduce our over all resiliency.

The third issue is then that to our mind, we have FINALLY arrived at the point where we can finally "get back to" our old dependable habits of our  everyday, easy lives. And then we say to our brain "Wait, we're going to make one major change. Who's with me?!"

Basically, the best time to change a habit if when you're already changing something else bigger.  For example, when you move your commute route changes.  That would be the best time to also introduce NOT stopping in for the familiar but greasy fast-food breakfast on the way to work.

Even smaller habits, such as changing the batteries in your smoke detector.  Marketers are using the semi-annual time change as a reminder to change the batteries in your smoke detector.  Sorry Saskatchewan (which doesn't change its clocks)...

Sunday 29 January 2017

Largest Study of its Type Say Any Physical Activity is Good!

Even minimal levels of physical activity can have a positive effect on happiness, the largest-ever smartphone-based study examining the relationship between physical activity and happiness has revealed.
The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Cambridge and the University of Essex, is based on reports from more than 10,000 individuals.
Analysis indicated that periods of physical activity led to increased positive mood, regardless of individuals’ baseline happiness. There have been many studies about the positive psychological effects of exercise, but what we’ve found is that in order to be happier, you don’t have to go out and run a marathon – all you’ve really got to do is periodically engage in slight physical activity throughout the day.

Sunday 22 January 2017

Humour in Psychology is Serious Business

Rod Martin, who recently retired after more than three decades of teaching Clinical Psychology at Western University in Ontario, Canada, dedicated his career to the psychology of humour.

Using a questionnaire he developed in fieldwork during his PhD 30 years ago, Martin found people who scored highest – indicating they had a strong sense of humour – were less likely to become depressed or anxious when they experienced stressful life events.

However, he spent a good part of the rest of his career refining, and in many ways, discounting this finding. It turns out that the type of humour dictates how likely one is to be depressed or happy. Martin noted "...humour is a very complex thing, and it's not always positive. There are negative aspects of humour too, aspects that are associated with depression and anxiety – maladaptive humour,"

Martin became convinced that what's really important is not how much you laugh or how funny you are, but how you use humour in everyday interactions with people. Do you use it in an aggressive way? Do you put people down all the time? Are you sarcastic? Cynical?

The differences and results can be complicated and subtle as Martin explains "Self-deprecating humour is positive, healthy. You laugh at yourself. Self-defeating humour is not positive. It comes out of low self-esteem, putting yourself down in a funny way." but at great emotional expense.

Monday 16 January 2017

What are the Four Pillars of Meaning

According to author Emily Esfahani Smith in her book "The Power of Meaning; Crafting a Life that Matters", these are the “four pillars of meaning”: Belonging, Purpose, Storytelling, and Transcendence. "Ultimately, there were four themes that came up repeatedly, both in my conversations and in the research. Again and again, people mentioned relationships and communities that make them feel cared for and respected. They discussed life goals that contribute to the world, which they are actively working toward. They described creating narratives about their lives that help them understand themselves and the world more deeply. And they talked about experiencing awe and self-transcendence—times when they lost themselves and felt connected to something bigger." "The pillars are accessible to everyone; we can all build up each of these pillars in our lives. We can find belonging in a book club or in a brief connection with a barista at the coffee shop. We can find purpose by helping a colleague at work or coaching a Little League team. We can reflect on a pivotal experience from our life to understand more deeply who we are. We can look up at the vast night sky and feel awe at our place in the universe."

Even Small Moments of Intimacy Can Add Meaning to Life

In surveys, we list our close relationships as our most important sources of meaning. Research shows that people who are lonely and isolated feel their lives are less meaningful.

In 1985, when the General Social Survey asked Americans how many people they’d discussed important matters with over the past six months, the most common response was three. When the survey was repeated again in 2004, the most common response was zero.  Despite increased social media permeating our lives, many surveys (including those mentioned in the article below) point to a disturbing trend of people not having significant social connection in their lives. 

Psychologists have also discovered the value of small moments of intimacy.  These positive, short-term interactions between two people can be when a couple holds hands on a walk or when two strangers have an empathetic conversation on a plane.

Thursday 12 January 2017

Love After Love (a poem by Derek Waicott)

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

And say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Sunday 8 January 2017

The Gut: Our Second Brain (That Is Secretly Controlling Us!)

A video on titled "The Gut: Our Second Brain", talks about the intelligence of our "second brain" in our gut, which has as many neurons as that of a small pet.  It has a great effect on our health and emotions.

The Enteric Nervous System, which connects the gut's neurons to the brain neurons, may subconsciously influence how we perceive the world.  It could  influence our levels of anxiety and depression, for example.  One hypothesis suggests even neurological diseases, such as Parkinson's, are believed to exist first in the neurons of the digestive tract. 

A major area of study in the gut is about the bacteria used in digestion.  They are just part of the mystery of how our stomach and digestion may have a huge impact on our quality of life.  We are
ecosystems... We are more bacteria than we are human.  We have more bacteria DNA than human DNA.  Bacteria digest 30% of our food into energy.  

The bacteria may influence our propencity towards diseases!  Three enterotypes (classifications of living organisms) dictate how we convert our food into vitamins.  That's why some people have a greater or less disposition for liver disease, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  These enterotypes can be discerned just by examining stool of individuals.  Even obesity has been introduced into mice... when other controlling factors have been equalized...  by changing the makeup of their gut flora.  Other mice have been made more (or less) aggressive by trading gut flora from a mouse at the other end of the aggressive spectrum. 

When it comes to willpower, when they removed the bacteria from mice, their behaviour became odd. They take lots of risks.   When they add bacteria, the mice behave better.  There is very strong evidence that the microbiota influences the brain.  We're being influenced by the bacteria that has been on earth for millennia.  We've known that parasites have had an influence on the behaviour of organisms...  but now we see there may be many factors... and organisms... at play!

In humans, probiotics are being examined for their effect on anxiety.  There have been tests showing that changing the intestinal flora changes the subject's reaction to stress.

Friday 6 January 2017

Positive Psychology Influences Gene Expression

That's right!  Pursuing positive psychology actually influences your genetic code to turn on (or off) certain expressions, making a difference to your health.

People with high levels of eudaimonic well-being — the kind of happiness that comes from having a deep sense of purpose and meaning in life — showed very favorable gene-expression profiles in their immune cells. They had low levels of inflammatory gene expression and strong expression of antiviral and antibody genes.

 However, people who had relatively high levels of hedonic well-being — the type of happiness that comes from consummatory self-gratification (as is widely taught in our consumer society) — actually showed just the opposite. They had an adverse expression profile involving high inflammation and low antiviral and antibody gene expression.