Saturday, March 26, 2016

Rolling Stones Play First Concert In Cuba, and it’s Free For The People

Ladies and gentlemen… the Rolling Stones!

Following several South American tour dates, the iconic British rock band landed in Havana Thursday with a free show for the Cuban people scheduled for today.

The Stones are the most famous band to play in the country since its 1959 revolution. Rebellious rock music was considered anti-patriotic, so fans had to listen to their favorite jams in private.

Ronnie Woods, Charlie Watts, Mick Jagger, and Keith Richards flew to the country’s capital with an entourage of roughly sixty friends, family, and crew members ready for the show which takes place only a days after President Obama’s historic diplomatic visit.

“We have performed in many special places during our long career, but this show in Havana will be a milestone for us, and, we hope, for all our friends in Cuba, too,” the band said in a statement released before the arrival.

Daily Inspirational Quote - March 26, 2016

“Sometimes the bad things that happen in our lives put us directly on the path to the best of things that will ever happen to us.”

This is so true don’t you think? Just for an example, I was married in my early 20’s to a man who turned out to be a thief and an adulterer, who put me through hell and really left me feeling very battered and bruised mentally. However, I met my present husband a few years later and have thanked my lucky stars many times since that my first marriage went the way it did, even though I suffered such misery, as it paved the way for me to meet my lovely husband, who couldn’t be more different from the first. Also, that he is a wonderful father to our two beautiful children. I guess a lot of you can look back to similar situations in your own lives and know exactly what I mean.


Seeking Wholeness

Sometimes it's hard to believe how much more there is to us than the day-to-day solver of our life's problems. While certain parts of ourselves are at work every day, pushing the darker aspects aside whenever they pop up, there are also friends within that we never think to contact. Read further to find what efforts can lead to a greater sense of wholeness.

If my wish is to be more whole—more wholly myself—I will have to include more of the complexities of my nature. Yet my behind-the-scenes hope has often been to get rid of what I don’t like in myself, so I go about my conscious life denying certain disagreeable features or squishing them into more acceptable traits. Yet there are other aspects that I approve of and freely lay claim to.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Costco Raises Minimum Wage For Lowest Paid Workers

Costco is joining the ranks of retail giants recognizing the need for a higher minimum wage.

For the first time in nine years, Costco announced that they are raising the hourly pay of its lowest paid workers from $11.50 and $12, to $13 and $13.50.

“This is a physically challenging job, on your feet, pushing cases, lifting carts so we thought it was time to do it,” the company’s chief financial officer, Richard Galanti, said on a conference call last week.

The move follows in the wake of similar pay raises by large retailers like McDonalds, and Starbucks, and even Walmart, which in 2015 gave a raise to half million workers;

Costco had already offered perks such as closing on major holidays, and health benefits, even to their hourly workers.

Horse Wearing Glasses Inspires Boy To Wear His, Too

Meet Smokey the horse, the gentle giant that thinks he’s a human.

Smokey starts mornings off by knocking on the door, opening it with his mouth, and coming into the kitchen for a piece of toast. Similarly, the equine would throw a fit when everyone else was wearing sunglasses but him, so they bought him some as well.

As it turns out, this strange little act became inspiration for an actual human boy.

While Smokey’s owner, Anna Louise Tayler, was going through school in London, there was a classmate who loathed wearing his spectacles. Anna showed him pictures and clips of the horse and said “If Smokey likes wearing glasses, why don’t you give it a try?”

Well once the boy put the glasses on, they never came off his face again.

The school ended up giving Smokey a special gold star for his encouraging example.

The Four Keys to Well-Being

Dr. Richard Davidson explains that well-being is a skill that can be practiced and strengthened.

Well-being is a skill.

All of the work that my colleagues and I have been doing leads inevitably to this central conclusion. Well-being is fundamentally no different than learning to play the cello. If one practices the skills of well-being, one will get better at it.

Based on our research, well-being has four constituents that have each received serious scientific attention. Each of these four is rooted in neural circuits, and each of these neural circuits exhibits plasticity—so we know that if we exercise these circuits, they will strengthen. Practicing these four skills can provide the substrate for enduring change, which can help to promote higher levels of well-being in our lives.

Daily Inspirational Quote - March 25, 2016

“Stop focusing on how stressed you are and remember how BLESSED you are.”

In our busy everyday lives it is very easy to get so caught up in it all that we forget or overlook the many blessings we have. We’re usually more taken up by how stressful our lives are and perhaps also the irritations and problems we encounter daily. Often these constantly occupy our every waking thought, and perhaps, if we’re really unlucky, our dreams offer no escape. It’s just how things are in our busy lives and ever-changing world. However, there may be times when we are reminded of the bigger picture; perhaps an embrace or kiss from a loved one, the unexpected kindness of a stranger, the laughter of a child, the illness suffered by another and not us. That’s when we realize how blessed we really are and therefore should acknowledge and give thanks to whatever Higher Being we personally believe in.


Teach Girls Bravery Not Perfection

"[M]any women I talk to tell me that they gravitate towards careers and professions that they know they're going to be great in, that they know they're going to be perfect in, and it's no wonder why. Most girls are taught to avoid risk and failure. We're taught to smile pretty, play it safe, get all A's. Boys, on the other hand, are taught to play rough, swing high, crawl to the top of the monkey bars and then just jump off headfirst. And by the time they're adults, whether they're negotiating a raise or even asking someone out on a date, they're habituated to take risk after risk. They're rewarded for it.... In other words, we're raising our girls to be perfect, and we're raising our boys to be brave." Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, shares more in this thought-provoking TED talk.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Why Does Happiness Inequality Matter?

By Kira M. Newman

According to a new report, income inequality isn't the only thing we should be concerned about.

According to the World Happiness Report 2016 Update, happiness inequality is on the rise.

What is happiness inequality? It’s the psychological parallel to income inequality: how much individuals in a society differ in their self-reported happiness levels—or subjective well-being, as happiness is sometimes called by researchers.

Since 2012, the World Happiness Report has championed the idea that happiness is a better measure of human welfare than standard indicators like wealth, education, health, or good government. And if that’s the case, it has implications for our conversations about equality, privilege, and fairness in the world.

We know that income inequality can be detrimental to happiness According to a 2011 study, for example, the American population as a whole was less happy over the past several decades in years with greater inequality. The authors of a companion study to the World Happiness Report hypothesized that happiness inequality might show a similar pattern, and that appears to be the case.

In their study, they found that countries with greater inequality of well-being also tend to have lower average well-being, even after controlling for factors like GDP per capita, life expectancy, and individuals’ reports of social support and freedom to make decisions. In other words, the more happiness equality a country has, the happier it tends to be as a whole. Among the world’s happiest countries—Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, and Finland—three of them also rank in the top ten for happiness equality (see the ranking below).

On an individual level, the same link exists; in fact, individuals’ happiness levels were more closely tied to the level of happiness equality in their country than to its income equality. Happiness equality was also a stronger predictor of social trust than income equality—and social trust, a belief in the integrity of other people and institutions, is crucial to personal and societal well-being.

“Inequality of well-being provides a better measure of the distribution of welfare than is provided by income and wealth,” assert the World Happiness Report authors, who hail from the University of British Columbia, the London School of Economics, and the Earth Institute.

How much happiness inequality does your country have?

To do this analysis, the researchers asked a simple question of nearly half a million people worldwide: On a scale of 0-10, representing your worst possible life to your best possible life, where do you stand? The most common answer is 5—but as you can see in the graph on the right, many people rate themselves as less happy than that. If the world had perfect happiness equality, everyone would provide the same answer to this question.

Researchers also assessed the level of happiness inequality in each of 157 countries, taking into account how much people’s happiness ratings deviated from each other.

Topping the rankings for happiness equality is Bhutan, a country whose government policy is based on the goal of increasing Gross National Happiness. Those with the most happiness inequality are the African countries of South Sudan, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

The US ranks 85th for happiness inequality, meaning that subjective well-being—not just wealth—is spread relatively unevenly throughout our society. We fare worse than New Zealand (#18), our neighbor Canada (#29), Australia (#30), and much of Western Europe. Note that these aren’t the happiest countries; they are simply the places without a huge happiness gap between people. Even so, as described above, happiness equality is associated with greater happiness overall.

Unfortunately, trends in happiness inequality are going in the wrong direction: up. Comparing surveys from 2005-2011 to 2012-2015, the researchers found that well-being inequality has increased worldwide. More than half of the countries surveyed saw spikes in happiness inequality over that period, particularly those in the Middle East, North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa. Meanwhile, fewer than one in ten countries saw their happiness inequality decrease. Over that time period, happiness inequality in the US has gone up while happiness itself has declined.

The good news is that promoting happiness equality doesn’t require taking happiness from some people and giving it to others. Instead, these findings underscore the importance of building a society and a culture that cares about individual well-being, not just economic growth. Some countries—such as Bhutan, Ecuador, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela—have already taken this stance, appointing happiness ministers to work alongside their government officials. As report co-editor and Earth Institute director Jeffrey Sachs writes:

Governments can ensure access to mental health services, early childhood development programs, and safe environments where trust can grow. Education, including moral education and mindfulness training, can play an important role. Human well-being [should be] at the very center of global concerns and policy choices in the coming years.

Daily Inspirational Quote - March 24, 2016

“If we do not feel grateful for what we already have, what makes us think we’d be happy with more?”

We live in a society that seems to put great store by what people have rather than what they actually need. Everything appears to be geared at encouraging us to buy stuff we don’t really need just for the sake of it and to make somebody else very wealthy or even wealthier. We’re very much unaware of the constant bombardment of advertising that we are exposed to every single day because it’s become part of our daily lives so we’ve become accustomed to it. However, step back from it all. Take the time to think about it. Why aren’t we satisfied with what we already have? Should we really believe all the hype we’re being told? Why do we let them convince us to believe we need more “stuff” to make us happy? We don’t, we really don’t.


Camden Sophisticated Sisters

In the former industrial center of Camden, New Jersey, a city with the highest crime rate in the United States, Tawanda Jones drills over 300 children at Camden Sophisticated Sisters. Practice starts at 5pm, but doesn't really get going until 5:30pm, after "Miss Wawa" has hugged and kissed all the kids. Jones sets a tough standard: each team member must complete 200 hours of community service, keep up with homework, maintain at least a C average in school, and come to practice on time. The results? In a city with a 50% high school drop out rate, 100% of Miss Wawa's kids have graduated, with many going on to college and graduate programs.


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Three Lessons from Zootopia to Discuss with Kids

By Allison Briscoe-Smith

The new Disney film raises tough questions about prejudice for parents and teachers to explore with children.

I braved opening day of Zootopia with four kids. I had seen the previews and thought it would be a sweet, funny Disney movie about “becoming who we want to be no matter what” or “following our dreams.”

It did meet those expectations, but there was actually more. As I watched, I wondered: Was this Disney movie actually making a political commentary about bias, sexism, racism, and xenophobia? Did they really do that?

Yes, they did. My first hint was a subtle joke in the beginning when the hero—a determined, hard-working bunny named Judy Hopps—shows up for her first day at work as a police officer. She’s called “cute” by the dispatcher—a cheetah named Clawhauser—and Judy replies, “Ooh, you probably didn’t know it, but a bunny can call another bunny cute, but when other animals do it, it’s a little….”

I looked around the theater. Did other folks catch that? Was that actually a line just for me, a black woman, about what can be said within a group but not without? Surely that was a blip?

But it wasn’t. The movie turned out to be explicitly about bias of all types, from unconscious prejudice to a “we don’t serve your kind” attitude to the deliberate cultivation of fear to achieve political power. It speaks directly to our heated political climate, however imperfectly. It did this with compelling characters and by echoing words we often use in conversations about race and bias: “well I didn’t mean to,” “don’t be sensitive,” “they shouldn’t be here.”

Now, I’m not saying that the movie is perfect. There is something really disturbing about the way the animals are sorted according to their biology, with some reverting back to their inherent “savagery.” Also, the relationship between prejudice in the movie and real-world racism is not entirely clear; Zootopia does not have much to say about power or exploitation.

Perhaps as a result, much of the writing about Zootopia has run the gamut from “this is the best racial commentary ever” to “this is the worst.” It is neither, in my view. If you want a Disney movie to do all the work of explaining bias to your kids for you, then this isn’t it. Zootopia isn’t a perfect movie about bias, but it is the perfect opportunity for you to talk about these issues with your children. 

In fact, you absolutely need to see Zootopia with them—and you need to talk about it afterward. Teachers can do the same in the classroom.

Many children over the age of nine will easily be able to grasp the descriptions of prejudice and bias, and they’ll understand the parallels. But research indicates that even children as young as five will be able to understand the concepts of bias and prejudice. The majority of the kids who see this movie will understand the “unfairness” and the lack of justice in it. Then we as adults can help them make the direct connections to the world around us. In my dissertation research, I found that children who were better able to identify prejudice when they saw it in movie clips had parents who were helping them make sense of bias. Those children, in turn, had more cross-race peers and lower overall rates of bias.

You can start with language like this: “I wonder what you noticed. Have you ever been treated that way? Have you ever treated others that way?” From there, you can use Zootopia to impart at least three lessons to kids about prejudice.

1. Stereotypes hurt everyone

The language of stereotyping is explicitly used in the movie, as when Officer Clawhauser apologizes for calling Judy “cute.” So we can ask children if they know what a stereotype is, encouraging them to come up with examples. The five year old in our group said, “Yeah, like when kids think that I can’t do the monkey bars fast because I’m a girl or because I’m little.” That’s exactly it. We can help them understand that stereotypes are sometimes true about some people, but certainly not always true about all people.

The movie quite cleverly shows how stereotypes can harm both the people doing the stereotyping and the people being stereotyped. Judy is stereotyped—but she also stereotypes other characters. She is initially deceived by a kindly, meek lamb, who (spoiler alert!) later turns out to be the movie’s villain.

In the typical children’s movie, the dark, ferocious creatures are pretty much always the bad guys and the small fuzzy ones are the good guys. Not so in Zootopia, where the animals are seldom what they seem—and the lesson gets driven home over and over again that thinking in terms of stereotypes can lead you to bad conclusions or even put you in danger.

2. Prejudice is unfair

This is the next step: Prejudice is when stereotypes are used to differentially treat people. This is where kids often go to the “it’s not fair” portion of their understanding. There are many scenes in the movie where prejudice happens. Prejudice forces Judy to do meter-maid work instead of the job she trained for.

There is a particularly sad flashback scene when one of the main characters, the con artist fox Nick Wilde, is getting ready to join an animal “cub scouts.” He is excited because foxes usually aren’t allowed in this activity, and he has worked hard to join the group. He is lured downstairs by the other animals to be initiated—but instead they tease him and tell him that he’s never allowed to join. In fact, they go so far as to muzzle him.

It’s a cruel depiction of exclusion—and will certainly resonate with children’s experiences of not being included. It’s a great scene to ask: “Do you remember when they wouldn’t let Nick in their group? What did you think about that? Have you ever felt that way? Did anyone not let you into a group because they held a stereotype about you—thought that you were something you weren’t? Yes, well that’s prejudice.”

By talking about these scenes and using kids’ language about fair treatment, we can actually help our children better identify prejudice when it is happening. We can help them to connect empathically with those who are the targets of bias. We can ask them how it feels to be treated that way and encourage them to think about times when maybe they treated others in prejudiced ways. The idea here isn’t to make kids feel guilty, but rather to help them put themselves in another person’s shoes and begin to identify behavior that they might want to change.

3. We can fight prejudice—and people can change

The characters in Zootopia don’t just see discrimination—they also fight against it. You can highlight the strategies that they use, which include connecting with family and talking about what is going on with friends. The movie definitely conveys how members of a stereotyped group must often “work twice as hard” to achieve the same result as others. This idea is taken for granted in many families—that members will encounter barriers that force them to defy stereotypes or convince others that they are worthy. But for some kids (and some adults), this will be an entirely new idea. It also shows how “working twice as hard” isn’t a perfect strategy—despite her hard work, Judy is still discriminated against.

Can people grow and change? Zootopia‘s answer is yes, but change isn’t easy. The movie shows a lot of conflict, even between friends. Through these conflicts it explores the difficult idea of “allyship”—the process of supporting people who face prejudice and building relationships beyond those who share our social identities. We can use the term “ally” with our children, using Judy and Nick as examples.

In Zootopia, Judy and Nick become allies. They hurt each other and make mistakes, but they also forgive and decide to work together to overcome bias. Of course, one of the best ways we can illustrate this ability to evolve and support each other is by embracing it ourselves—thus modeling for our kids. How often do your children see you connect to those who are different from you in race, sexuality, or class, to name a few? Do they see you cooperating, having fun?

This might be the most valuable lesson contained in Zootopia: By connecting across our differences, we can make the world a better place. This is what Judy the bunny and Nick the fox learn to do—and your children can learn to do it, too, with your help.

Daily Inspirational Quote - March 23, 2016

“Those who dance….are considered insane by those who cannot hear the music.”

This reminds me of the reaction I occasionally still get when I tell people I am a professional Tarot and Angel Card Reader. The roll of the eyes, the backing away ever so slightly, the “hmmm, really?” . Some even look prepared to make the sign of the cross while backing away! They just don’t “get” or hear the “music” that I do when I am working with my beautiful cards. I realize I am very fortunate in being able to use my cards in order to bring answers, guidance or resolution for people in who come to me and, as such, being “tuned in” to the music of the Universe. Such a pity we’re not all able to be “tuned” into the same channel don’t you think?


Seed-Saving Farmers Who Pass Land Down to Their Daughters

In northeastern India's mountainous state of Meghalaya, youngest daughters inherit the land -- and the ancient food heritage of their mothers. Enjoy this article and photo series featuring the beautiful people and ancient food tradition of these matrilineal tribes.

At sunset, Bibiana Ranee sets out to gather wild edibles for dinner from the surrounding forest. She returns with bright bunches of greens. Jarainand jali are washed, sliced, sauteed, and served with a hearty pork stew, with raw tree tomato on the side. Ranee, 54, is proud of her ancestral roots: She’s a member of the Khasi tribe, which nestles high in the mountains of Meghalaya, a state in northeast India. All three major tribes of Meghalaya—Khasi, Garo, and Jaintia—are matrilineal. Children take the surname of the mother’s clan and girls inherit traditional lands—the youngest daughter typically receiving the largest share.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

80% of New England Forests, Once Cleared for Farmland, Have Come Back

Trees have made a stunning comeback across New England, branching out to take over millions of acres of former farmland, and leading to a wildlife resurgence unlike anywhere else in the country.

Throughout the mid-1800s, farmers clear-cut acres of the towering trees to grow crops. Forests were left covering only about 28% of New England. Now, 160 years later, hardwoods and pines cover 80% of the horizon making the Northeast the most heavily wooded region in the U.S.

Farming, as a way to make a living, gave way to the Industrial Age, and families moved to cities and suburbs for better paying jobs. Wandering today deep into the woods, people can see the remains of stone fences that once bordered farm fields.

More woodlands give wildlife a chance at a big comeback, as well. Animals once thought hunted and trapped out of existence in the Northeast U.S. are thriving.

Bears, beavers, seals and birds ranging from woodpeckers to eagles have re-populated the land, as forests have taken over abandoned fields. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were only a few hundred deer left in Massachusetts — now there are more than 85,000 in the state.

Just 10 years ago, Vermont had no nesting bald eagles. Last year, conservationists counted 14 pairs that hatched 24 chicks in the state.

“It feels almost like we’re entering an age of miracles,’’ John Banks, director of natural resources for the Penobscot Nation, a Native American tribe in Maine, told the Boston Globe. “New England is undoing many excesses of the industrial age. Fish are swimming freely to their ancient spawning places. Great birds are again bold in the sky.’’

World’s Most Eco-Friendly Country Hails Newborn Prince in a Perfect Way

In the tiny country of Bhutan bordering Tibet, King Khesar and Queen Jetsun announced the birth of a new baby prince on February 5th.

How did the citizens celebrate? All 82,000 of the nation’s households planted a tree.

Volunteers from the country’s districts planted an additional 26,000 so the total would add up to a whopping 108,000 – a holy number in Buddhism, whose rosary-like malas hold 108 prayer beads).

Each tree was planted with an encapsulated prayer so that as the trees grew strong and tall over time, so would the young Prince.

“In Buddhism, a tree is the provider and nourisher of all life forms, symbolizing longevity, health, beauty and even compassion,” Tenzin Lekphell, who coordinated the initiative, told the Diplomat. “It wasn’t a coincidence that the Buddha attained enlightenment under a banyan tree.”

Bhutan is known as one of the most eco-friendly countries in the world. In 2013, it became the first country in the world to turn its agriculture completely organic, banning the sales of pesticides and herbicides. It has also been named the world’s happiest nation on one occasion, after its leaders decided to value success on a Gross National Happiness scale, rather than on the economic-based Gross National Product.

The primarily Buddhist nation is a democratic monarchy, with – as one can easily tell – a much-beloved royal family.

People Are Hard-Wired To Be Kind And Generous, Says Study

It’s an age-old quandary: Are we born naturally wired to help others or born selfish brutes who need civilization to rein in our basest impulses?

After exploring the areas of the brain that fuel our empathy – and temporarily disabling regions that oppose such impulses – two UCLA neuroscientists are coming down on the optimistic side of human nature.

“Our altruism may be more hard-wired than previously thought,” said Leonardo Christov-Moore, a postdoctoral fellow at UCLA’s Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behavior.

The findings, reported in two recent studies, also point to a possible way to make people behave in less selfish and more altruistic ways, said senior author Marco Iacoboni, a UCLA psychiatry professor.

“This is potentially groundbreaking,” he said.

For the first study, which was published in February in Human Brain Mapping, 20 people were shown a video of a hand being poked with a pin and then asked to imitate photographs of faces displaying a range of emotions — happy, sad, angry and excited. Meanwhile, the researchers scanned participants’ brains with functional magnetic resonance imaging, paying close attention to activity in several areas of the brain.

One cluster they analyzed – the amygdala, somatosensory cortex and anterior insula –is associated with experiencing pain and emotion and with imitating others. Two other areas are in the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for regulating behavior and controlling impulses.

In a separate activity, participants played the dictator game, which economists and other social scientists often use to study decision-making. Participants are given a certain amount of money to either keep for themselves or share with a stranger. In the UCLA study, participants were given $10 per round for 24 rounds, and the recipients were actual Los Angeles residents whose names were changed for the game, but whose actual ages and income levels were used.

After each participant had completed the game, researchers compared their payouts with brain scans. Participants with the most activity in the prefrontal cortex proved to be the stingiest, giving away an average of only $1 to $3 per round.

But the one-third of the participants who had the strongest responses in the areas of the brain associated with perceiving pain and emotion and imitating others were the most generous: On average, subjects in that group gave away approximately 75 percent of their bounty. Researchers referred to this tendency as “prosocial resonance” or mirroring impulse, and they believe the impulse to be a primary driving force behind altruism.

“It’s almost like these areas of the brain behave according to a neural Golden Rule,” Christov-Moore said. “The more we tend to vicariously experience the states of others, the more we appear to be inclined to treat them as we would treat ourselves.”

In the second study, published earlier this month in Social Neuroscience, the researchers set out to determine whether the same portions of the prefrontal cortex might be blocking the altruistic mirroring impulse.

In this study, 58 study participants were subjected to 40 seconds of a noninvasive procedure called theta-burst Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, which temporarily dampens activity in specific regions of the brain. In the 20 participants assigned to the control group, a portion of the brain that had to do with sight was weakened on the theory it would have no effect on generosity. But in the others, the researchers dampened either the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex or the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, which combine to block impulses of all varieties.

Christov-Moore said that if people really were inherently selfish, weakening those areas of the brain would free people to act more selfishly. In fact, though, study participants with disrupted activity in the brain’s impulse control center were 50 percent more generous than members of the control group.
“Knocking out these areas appears to free your ability to feel for others,” Christov-Moore said.

The researchers also found that who people chose to give their money to changed depending on which part of the prefrontal cortex was dampened. Participants whose dorsomedial prefrontal cortex was dampened, meanwhile, tended to be more generous overall. But those whose dorsolateral prefrontal cortex was dampened tended to be more generous to recipients with higher incomes — people who appeared to be less in need of a handout.

“Normally, participants would have been expected to give according to need, but with that area of the brain dampened, they temporarily lost the ability for social judgments to affect their behavior,” Christov-Moore said in a UCLA release. “By dampening this area, we believe we laid bare how altruistic each study participant naturally was.”

The findings of both studies suggest potential avenues for increasing empathy, which is especially critical in treating people who have experienced desensitizing situations like prison or war.

“The study is important proof of principle that with a noninvasive procedure you can make people behave in a more prosocial way,” Iacoboni said.

Daily Inspirational Quote - March 22, 2016

“A good life is when you assume nothing, need less, do more, smile often, dream big, laugh a lot, and realize how blessed you are for what you have.”

That certainly sums up the life we should all be leading or striving to lead. How wonderful and blessed are we if it we are already fortunate enough to be living by the words of this quote. I hope I am. I know I do my best to live up to it although, to be honest, it’s easier to do some days than others, but that’s ok, I’ve at least got the message. In our busy, occasionally demanding, day to day lives it is so easy to forget how blessed we are just to be alive, hopefully fit and well, and with love in our lives. We truly are blessed compared to many in this poor, beleaguered world of ours. Make sure you take time out now and again just to be thankful.


Six Ways to Help People Change

"Often in life, you may find yourself trying to help other people change. Whether you're acting as a mentor, a parent, or a well-meaning spouse, you hope to exert a positive influence and assist someone in reaching their goals. What's the best way to do this?" Read on for six scientifically-backed tips.

If you want to influence other people’s behavior, then you need to develop trust. The core of trust in persuasive interactions is authenticity—the degree to which people think that the public face you have adopted fits who you really are inside. When people feel you are telling them things you truly believe, they are less likely to be skeptical of their interactions with you.

Thus you have to see yourself as others see you. What do people perceive your motivations to be? Behavior change is hard enough to accomplish when people are willing to engage in the process. When they have reason to shy away from it because they are concerned about your motives, then you have made things even more challenging for yourself.

While any one of the suggestions provided below for helping others change will work to some degree on its own, combining them is even more effective.

If you want to help someone reach their goals, follow these steps...

Monday, March 21, 2016

When Things Don’t Go According to Plan

An excerpt from Expectation Hangover by Christine Hassler

Have you ever had something turn out far different than you expected it would and felt immensely disappointed? Have you ever been so let down by a person or situation that you thought you’d never get over it? Have you ever not lived up to your own standards and felt a sense of failure?

Let’s face it — life is full of surprises that are not always the kind we would wish for: A job and the financial security that came with it are gone. A relationship with the one we thought was “the one” suddenly ends or becomes the one thing we can’t get right. A career path that was executed with precision becomes lackluster and tainted with doubt. A pregnancy that is wished for isn’t happening. A project we poured our blood, sweat, and tears into doesn’t bring the results we expected. A parent suddenly isn’t there anymore, or a child doesn’t live up to the potential we saw in him. An illness interrupts our life. Or we’ve checked off everything on our life checklist and still don’t feel fulfilled.

We suffer when our reality does not match the expectations we are so attached to. If you can relate to this brand of discomfort — the kind fueled by a life drunk with expectations and the resulting crash we experience when things do not go as we planned or hoped — then you have experienced an Expectation Hangover.

If you are anything like me, you have taken great comfort in planning and attempting to control life. We all take great pride in setting goals and achieving them. We find value in living up to the expectations of others, and security in others’ living up to our expectations of them. But in those moments when things don’t go as expected, not only do we feel disappointed, but we begin to doubt everything — including ourselves.

We internalize the lack of desired external results by making it mean we did something wrong or were wronged. This creates suffering that can range from tolerable to unbearable. Disappointment is indeed part of the human experience, but is the suffering necessary? It’s easy to feel good when things are going well, but how do we reduce our suffering when they aren’t? Is it possible to transform disappointment?

The answer is yes — if we learn how to leverage disappointment so we get something out of it rather than only suffering through it. Your disappointment might be the best thing that ever happened to you. Expectation Hangovers are doorways to tremendous opportunities to heal issues from our past, change how we are living in the present, and create a future based on who we truly are rather than who we expected to be. The problem is that we become so blinded by what we think we want, and paralyzed by the pain of not getting it, that we do not see the transformational door that is 

We pray for things to be different even though we stay the same. We exhaust ourselves by working hard to change our external circumstances without changing ourselves. The fear of encountering another Expectation Hangover can be paralyzing, so we remain in the discomfort of our suffering. But not facing our disappointment and apprehension about taking a step forward is far more damaging than anything we are afraid of. Ultimate fulfillment is only possible when we change the habituated thoughts and responses that keep us at a very base, survival level. You want to thrive, not just survive, don’t you?

The First Step Out of Disappointment

An excerpt from Expectation Hangover by Christine Hassler

Have you ever practiced martial arts? One of the core principles is that instead of resisting a punch that is thrown at you, you should accept it and follow the energy of the punch because resistance takes more energy than acceptance. A punch hurts more if we resist it. Similarly, when you move into acceptance of your disappointment, there is no resistance of what is, so you have far more energy to treat your Expectation Hangover.

Acceptance does not mean you have to like the circumstances and symptoms of your Expectation Hangover; rather it means being free of judgment about it. What is judgment? Each time something happens and we form an opinion about it, or label it as “good,” “bad,” “right,” or “wrong,” we are judging and resisting what is. There is what happens (reality), and then there is the meaning we make of it (our interpretation of reality). Our judgments feel true to us, but they are really only beliefs we create. These limiting interpretations of reality keep our Expectation Hangover in a stagnant state, making it more difficult for us to transform.

From a very young age, we are taught about right and wrong, and rewarded for being “good.” It feels natural to judge because our egos long for reassurance, and judging something gives us a false sense of certainty. Our desire for certainty can hinder our evolution because judgment locks in emotions, beliefs, and behaviors that cause and perpetuate disappointment. Judging — ourselves, others, and the world — is so pervasive it has become our default mode.

Think of your Expectation Hangover and consider your judgments about it: Do you think it shouldn’t have happened? Do you think it was terrible? Do you believe things should have been different? Do you think you were wronged? Do you think you were wrong? Do you believe it caused undesirable circumstances in your life? Do you see yourself as damaged by it? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then judgment is perpetuating your hangover.

You may be thinking, “The thing that caused my Expectation Hangover was awful — I can’t imagine accepting it!” What is key to understand is that acceptance does not mean you condone or agree with what happened. Rather, acceptance means you stop trying to make meaning out of what happened or didn’t happen, and you put aside the opinion that things should or shouldn’t have gone a certain way. Acceptance means letting go of judgment and your attachment to labeling things “good,” “bad,” “right,” or “wrong.” Acceptance means you choose to no longer employ temporary coping strategies to fight your Expectation Hangover.

Treating your Expectation Hangover effectively will be much easier if you hold an unconditionally accepting, open-minded, and expansive attitude toward yourself, others, and reality as a whole. Things have been hard enough so far, haven’t they? Choose the grace plan: move into acceptance.

This exercise will help you:

1) What are you judging about your Expectation Hangover? In other words, what do you think should or shouldn’t have happened? List all of your opinions and judgments about the situation in your journal.

2) Think of a time when things didn’t exactly go your way but you accepted it rather than fighting it or going for a quick fix. It can be something as big as not fighting for a promotion you didn’t get or something as seemingly small as not getting upset over a flight being late. Bring to mind a time when you simply accepted what was. Then close your eyes and really enliven the memory by visualizing it in great detail until you are experiencing what acceptance feels like.

3) Once you are in the feeling of acceptance, look over the list you wrote in response to the questions in step 1 and rewrite it, using the phrase “I am willing to accept” before each statement. For example, “I am willing to accept that I was dumped,” “I am willing to accept that I didn’t get a promotion,” “I am willing to accept that I wish I made a different choice.” Remember: acceptance does not mean you have to like it; it just means you are releasing resistance against what is.

4) Acknowledge yourself for being willing to change your point of view from one of judgment to one of acceptance. Notice what a relief it is to stop resisting and judging.

7 Ways to Welcome Spring with Crystals and Gems

Margaret Ann Lembo

Spring arrives, and it's that time for awakening to fresh ideas, new beginnings, and innovative growth. Inspiration for new ideas often comes through creative action. Once the ball starts rolling, it's easier to energize your ideas and plans for this next cycle. The elementals of the gemstone kingdom can help you through their vibration and color as you match your intention and positive thoughts to your various crystals, stones, and gemstone jewelry.

1) Gather your stones and have a spring cleaning ceremony
As the Sun returns to zero degrees of Aries it signals a time to start anew. One of the best ways to start anew—a new anything—is to clear out the old energy, vibes and space to prepare for the new. Set aside a few hours or an afternoon, depending on how many crystals, minerals, and stones you have, to gather all your collection. Bring them all to your kitchen sink or an area outside near a hose or garden sink. Place a container of a weak sudsy and salty solution next to the sink. I use a gentle castile or natural soap and just a little salt. A little goes a long way in cleansing crystals, because it is primarily your intention associated with this process, not the actual soap and salt to cleanse them. Dip each stone into the cleansing solution and then rinse under running water while holding the intention, and focus on clearing away whatever is no longer for your highest good. Leave the stones in the sun for a few hours and then go onto the next step below.
2) Create a new altar with intentions for spring
Using your freshly cleansed gemstone collection, decide what you want to start in this new cycle of your life. Grab a piece of carnelian and turquoise to get your creative juices flowing. Hold the stones and keep them nearby as you create a list of what you want to achieve. The list can be as esoteric or as mundane as you wish—from a deeper connection with your guides to a new car, from establishing better friendships to maintaining a regular exercise program. There is no limit to the intentions you make for your altar.
It's easy to pick a stone to match each of your intentions. A general guide is to simply pick the stone by the color of the gem as follows:
  • Browns, black, and red for power, grounding, and focus
  • Orange to birth those great ideas into reality
  • Yellow to shine your magnificence and fabulosity
  • Green and pink to be compassionate and kind
  • Blues to express your authentic self with wisdom and grace
  • Purple to bring forth inspired living
  • White to align with purity and clarity

3) Establish little altars everywhere
It's a joy to find inspiration throughout your home and office. Create a little altar for good sleep and pleasant dreams next to your bed using hematite and amethyst. Hematite calms you down and grounds you so you can fall into a nice deep sleep, and the amethyst encourages pleasant dreams. Put a drop of lavender on your pillow case to encourage peace.

Make a little altar on your desk or in your work space with pyrite to keep you focused, orange calcite to flow with the constant changes that happen throughout the day, and blue lace agate to help you listen well and express yourself with ease and grace. A yellow flower, a sprig of rosemary, or a bit of basil essential oil will help you maintain clarity.

4) Make a crystal grid for every home in your house
Crystal grids are easy to create. They can be created inside and outside and anywhere you are. Decide what you need, what you want, and the assistance you want to attract then pick some crystals to place around your space. I have a whole section on how to create grids in my book, The Essential Guide to Crystals, Minerals, and Stones. Here is an excerpt:

"A crystal grid is the use of gemstone in geometric formations placed in or around a person, place, or thing to achieve the formed intention. Crystal grids can be combined with crystal alignments with larger groups of people at sacred sites.

Often two or three different types of stones are plenty, and even one type is enough.
To get started, do the following:

  • Identify your goal.
  • Visualize the outcome as if it has already become a reality.
  • Contemplate who else is involved and what part of your home or your life it affects.
  • Decide where you want to make the grid.
  • Look at the various suggested stones from the lists below.
  • Use your intuition and follow your gut to determine the perfect stone for your personal situation.
  • Take action and make the grid. Place the stones and establish a clear intention of the end result.

Remember that the most important ingredient is to take the time to form a clear intention of love, peace, well-being, harmony, joy, abundance, health and happiness."

Pick up a copy of The Essential Guide to Crystals, Minerals and Stones to find multiple recommendations of gemstones to use for specific intentions plus a few diagrams to help you visualize how to create your own in your sacred space.
5) Experiment and work with gemstone jewelry to activate your heart's desires
For over 25 years I've owned and operated my own book store, gift store, and spiritual center, The Crystal Garden. I've learned and observed that my customers enjoy the beauty of wearing gemstone jewelry for more than just the esthetic value. They add intention to the jewelry and transform their lives—day by day and week by week. My recommendations from years of experience are as follows:
  • Wear an amber bracelet during those times of life when you need the strength and courage to set boundaries with others.
  • Adorn yourself with a turquoise necklace to help you express yourself, especially to help you believe that what you have to say is important.
  • A garnet or ruby ring on your finger adds more energy when you want more endurance and vitality.
  • Citrine jewelry helps you remember your magnificence and boosts your self-esteem.
  • Use a carnelian necklace or bracelet during those times in your life when you seem to be in a phase of procrastination. It helps you to get motivated and just do it!
Regardless of the stone or the color gem, set an intention so that every time you look at it or feel it, you will have an automatic reminder to stay focused on what you want versus what you don't want!

6) Pay it forward—gift stones with the matching affirmation to friends, family, and coworkers
"Pay it forward" is an expression coined to express repaying good deeds to a person other than the original benefactor. There are plenty of people in our lives who need a little boost, support, and a kind deed to help them with their emotional, mental, and spiritual lives. It feels good to give a gift, and it always is lovely to receive a gift—especially a gift with an intention. A tumbled stone or a pocket stone with a good word on it can lift them up and bring the energy of action to the gratitude that you have in your heart.

7) Designate some key gems for specific intentions like meditation and contemplation, action, gratitude, good sleep
Pick a stone, any stone . . . and make that stone your go-to gem for a given intent. For example, I use my celestial quartz crystal to help invoke inspiration as a writer. My chrysoprase on the windowsill in my bathroom is my reminder to self-nurture and take good care of my physical body. The selenite and huge rose quartz chunk at my front door invites only goodness and love into my home and all the rest must remain outside. In order to create the life you want, your focus must be on what you do want, not on what you don't want. Whatever you focus on becomes your reality. In other words, all of your conscious thoughts and feelings—as well as the subconscious and unconscious ones—create the life you are currently living. This basic principle is at the heart of most universal laws, including the law of attraction and the laws of physics.

It is important to have an intention and to focus on the positive so that life reflects your highest potential. Everything that is created is created through intention. We create our lives with our thoughts, actions, words, and deeds. Our intentions vibrate out into the word and return to us in the form of our personal reality.

When a gemstone is paired with a daily affirmation, the stone amplifies that intention. It is a tool that helps you maintain your focus on what you do want. In my work with color and crystals over the course of three decades, I've found that to use a stone most effectively, it is best to associate an intention with it. And the more information you have about the qualities associated with certain stones, the more creative you can be with using these valuable tools to improve your life.