Saturday, April 28, 2018

Inspirational Quote – April 28, 2018

“I am the most powerful tool in my life and I will use me wisely.”

This is true for each and every one of us. Our minds and bodies are ours to use in order to get what we want from life. When you really think about it, how amazing are we? Our bodies and brains are capable of working together enabling us to live, work, play, interact, deduce, etc. etc. with few restrictions apart from the ones we place on ourselves. It behooves us to use the capabilities we have, both spiritually and physically, with as much wisdom as we can.

3 Ways You Can Find More Happiness at Work

"Too many of us fall in the trap of believing that "work is work" and isn't supposed to be a source of happiness, or that work goals will suffer if we focus on what makes us happy. But research suggests the opposite: Happier employees are more productive, benefitting their companies as much as themselves." Annie McKee, an international business advisor and a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania shares more in her new book, "How to Be Happy at Work."

Friday, April 27, 2018

Is the World Really Doomed?

Steven Pinker’s newest book leverages long-term data to show that the state of the world is improving, even if it's hard to believe.

Like me, you may wake up every day to the morning news and feel a twinge of angst and despair. It can sometimes seem as if the world is going to hell.
But if you read Steven Pinker’s new book, Enlightenment Now, you may come to a completely different conclusion about the state of our world. Pinker, a Harvard psychologist, has poured over large data sets from surveys around the world and noticed a somewhat counterintuitive pattern: Stuff has actually been improving—from crime and wars to health and education—if you consider trends over the last several hundred years.
Hard to believe? If you think things are worse than ever, you’re probably influenced by psychological biases—like the confirmation bias or the negativity bias—and not fact. Reading near-daily reports of crime, war, and illness can fill our minds with fear and dread, making us feel vulnerable, which in turn encourages a dim view of humanity.
In other words, we see what we want to see and focus too much on what’s wrong, blinding us to what’s right. This is what Pinker describes in his book—how our psychological blind spots get in the way of seeing progress and understanding it. Instead, he proposes that we use hard, cold data to see what’s working and why, and then apply that information to improving society. 

The good news

What would we see if we looked beyond bias?

We would realize that crime—and violent crime, in particular—has gone down worldwide, as a whole. Deaths from automobile driving in the United States have also decreased substantially in the last several decades, which Pinker credits to better safety equipment (like seatbelts) and legislation (like raising the drinking age to 21).
And, even though incarceration rates are high in the United States, fewer people are incarcerated worldwide than ever before.
We would also see that our quality of life has improved greatly over the last few hundred years—not only in the developed world, but around the world. We live longer, see fewer maternal deaths, have better health, and experience less extreme poverty. In the developed world, we are also more educated, earn more money, and have more leisure time than ever—which, Pinker writes, should increase our happiness as long as “we have a shred of cosmic gratitude.”
“An American in 2015, compared with his or her counterpart half a century earlier, will live nine years longer, have had three more years of education, earn an additional $33,000 a year per family member…and have an additional eight hours a week of leisure,” he writes. Yet people don’t acknowledge these advances and merely “bitch, moan, whine, carp, and kvetch as much as ever.”
Echoing an argument from his earlier book, The Better Angels of our Nature, Pinker also claims that there are fewer wars being fought in the world, that fewer world powers are involved in fighting each other, and that death rates from all wars have gone down. Things are improving, in part because moving toward democracy and increasing trade helps empower people to oppose despotic leaders and to feel less animosity toward those who are different.
The problem with the good news, he argues, is that it’s not uniformly good. There are still pockets of crime worth our attention, and we could reduce incarceration rates further. Less wealthy, developing countries have higher rates of automobile deaths, suggesting that it’s far safer to live in a wealthier country. Peace doesn’t prevail in the world, and some countries are being torn apart by war, resulting in untold suffering.
“Our vigilance for bad things around us opens up a market for professional curmudgeons who call attention to bad things we may have missed”
―Steven Pinker, Ph.D.
As a result, the good news passes under our radar—drowned out by our tendency to pay more attention to negative than positive. Coupled with the never-ending stream of media promoting bad news stories, we have trouble seeing progress, which Pinker insists is happening.
“I can present this optimistic vision without blushing because it is not a na├»ve reverie or sunny aspiration,” he writes. “It’s the view of the future that is most grounded in historical reality, the one with the cold, hard facts on its side.”

The roots of progress

If you believe his analyses, the question of why still remains. What are we doing right? If we could figure that out and bottle it, perhaps we could do even better, eliminating the ills of humanity altogether.
Pinker has his own theory: He argues that what has fueled these positive trends are four main values or principles, which he links to the Enlightenment movement of late 18th-century Europe: reason, science, humanism, and progress. By eschewing supernatural beliefs in favor of reason and science, and valuing all of human life equally, rather than caring only about our next of kin or tribe, we have and will continue to make progress in terms of economic opportunity, human rights, personal well-being, and many other factors that benefit humankind.
His message is lofty and often convincing. After all, when you look at what scientific discoveries have meant to humankind, there can be no doubt that vaccinations have increased longevity, studying safety has improved worker conditions, and understanding evolution has helped people value the natural world more and work to protect it. In addition, humanism has helped us move away from feudalism and ethnic strife, resulting in more widespread public education, greater personal freedom, and more human rights.
But, Pinker writes, these values are under siege and need a strong defense. Too many people are trying to discredit science and humanism, and revert to nationalism or tribalism—a step backwards for humanity. And too few are optimistic about what can be accomplished if we put our brains to good use for solving world problems, which leads to inaction.
“Our vigilance for bad things around us opens up a market for professional curmudgeons who call attention to bad things we may have missed,” he writes. “Of course, since nothing is a panacea and everything has side effects (you can’t do just one thing), these common tropes are little more than a refusal to entertain the possibility that anything can ever be improved.”

Enlightenment how?

In reading Enlightenment Now, I often found myself nodding in agreement with Pinker’s arguments. Certainly, I believe that we should remain optimistic and try to understand our world as best we can in order to aim for the common good.
But I was also scratching my head in places. For example, Pinker argues that wealth inequality poses no particular problems for people, as living alongside the super wealthy gives us hope for a better life ourselves. This finding flies directly in the face of research showing that countries with the greatest wealth inequality are the least happy, and other research showing that countries that experience economic growth don’t become happier when income inequality also increases. Not to mention research suggesting that (above a certain income) wealthier people aren’t happier, especially if they value money for its own sake.
I was also troubled by his chapter on climate change. Pinker seems relatively unconcerned with the ills of overpopulation or fossil fuel energy-dependence, arguing that many countries need more energy, not less, to develop. He claims that innovation and carbon taxes will solve our climate problems, and suggests nuclear energy may be the best solution for our needs—rather than renewable energy sources or conservation. Living in a coastal state where earthquakes are common and nuclear power plants were foolishly built on active fault lines—and remembering the Fukushima disaster—makes me doubt that proposal. 

In another instance, Pinker claims that African Americans are no more targeted by police than other racial groups. But he cites data reflecting post-arrest rates of injury, rather than taking into account the fact that blacks are stopped more frequently than whites—as the study he cites actually mentions. And he leaves out more recent data suggesting that blacks are killed in proportionally higher numbers, which is misleading, to say the least. 

More problematic for me was Pinker’s embracing Western Enlightenment values without acknowledging important contributions from non-Western sources. For example, interconnection with all of life and collectivism—looking out for the whole of society—are deeply held Eastern values, which predate the Enlightenment by a couple thousand years. And the indigenous people’s contributions around restorative justice practices—an alternative to incarceration, based on valuing common humanity and understanding redemption—also seem relevant to today’s problems. These are just a few examples he left out; I’m sure there are others.
Lastly, as a Greater Good reporter, I was disappointed that Pinker downplayed a central ingredient of humanity’s progress: our growing understanding of positive emotion’s role in promoting virtuous behavior. Research suggests that if we can learn to be more empathic and compassionate, we can embrace ideas of common humanity more easily; if we can recognize that happiness is not dependent on income, but more dependent on our social connections, we can make economic policy choices that preserve our relationships rather than strain them; and if we can soothe our stress and anger, we can be more open to hearing multiple sides of an argument and arrive at better solutions for all. Pinker attempts to convince people with a barrage of facts, but there are other ways to promote positive changes.
Though I often enjoyed his erudite and occasionally funny prose, his tone could be perceived as condescending, scolding, and defensive. In places, he puts down his detractors by suggesting that saving lives is boring to them or that they prefer to believe in magical thinking, rather than hard data. I wish he had tapped into his own deep well of empathy and inclusiveness when writing Enlightenment Now, and toned down the antagonistic rhetoric. Perhaps it would have made his book more accessible and convinced more readers of the merits of his thesis.

Inspirational Quote – April 27, 2018

“There is not ONE path. There is not even the RIGHT path. There is only YOUR path.”

This should be instilled in every human being from birth! A saying and tenet to live by don’t you think? If everybody truly, truly believed this with all their heart, perhaps the world would be a much happier, safer, harmonious place for us all. Unfortunately, for humanity, I don’t ever see this happening. However, if this message could be put “out there” more widely and spread as far as possible, I wonder how many lives it could change, perhaps for the better?

The Physics of Vulnerability

"We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can't have both. Not at the same time. Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it's having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it's our greatest measure of courage." Find out more about the physics of falling down and rising up strong from Brene Brown.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

What Makes Positive Content Go Viral?

New research investigates why we share inspiring videos, articles, and social media posts.

When videos go “viral,” they quickly get a lot of views on the internet, often through rapid user sharing on social media.
The content of those videos varies a great deal, and they can be a mixture of user-generated content or carefully planned advertising. For example, the Old Spice marketing campaign in 2010 became a viral internet sensation, with the commercial shown at the Super Bowl XLIV and the response campaign viewed 5.9 million times on the first day alone, which was more than Obama’s victory speech in 2008. This made Old Spice the number one-selling brand of male body wash in the United States by the end of 2010.
Generally, research has shown that videos that create very strong emotional responses (positive, such as joy or awe, or negative, such as anger or anxiety) are more likely to be shared. If you are watching a video or reading an article that gets your blood pumping and you feel excited and happy or in awe, or maybe even angry, you are more likely to take the time to share it with others, according to research.
But what exactly are the attributes of such videos that become viral?
This is a question my research team and I wanted to investigate by looking specifically at inspiring (rather than anger-inducing or hilarious) media content.
Without a doubt, inspiration comes in many forms. But independent of its origin or source, the experience of inspiration is remarkably similar for all of us: We feel touched or moved, our hearts grow warm, we may even get teary-eyed, and we are motivated to better ourselves. Feeling inspired gives us energy we did not think we had and pushes us to think beyond pursuing our self-interest to helping others. Research shows that feeling inspired has a direct impact on our well-being, which makes it an important experience to seek out for those striving to live a fulfilled life.
We know from research in psychology—including work conducted by GGSC founding director Dr. Dacher Keltner—that there is a specific set of environmental elicitors that are consistently associated with inspiration. These include things like beautiful nature, art, vastness, religious traditions or symbols, gifts, and kindness. We can also be inspired when we see other people—including media characters—expressing an appreciation for beauty or excellence, acting thankful, or portraying exceptional skills, encouragement, perseverance, and triumph over setbacks.
Knowing about these elicitors, my research team and I went out on a scavenger hunt and analyzed more than 21 hours of YouTube videos, 53 hours of TV shows, 104 hours of film, 7,255,860 words of New York Times articles, and 3,733 Facebook posts to find out which of those elicitors may be more or less likely to make content go viral. Here is what we found:
  • The more that inspiring YouTube videos contained elicitors of hope, the more likely they were to have been viewed a great number of times.
  • On Facebook, we found that depictions of nature, vastness, art, and gratitude (in the form of thankfulness, gifts, or kindness portrayals) predicted the number of likes combined with the number of reactions per post. Overall, the posts with a greater number of inspiring elicitors from any category were more likely to be viral than posts that contained a smaller number of elicitors.
  • A similar pattern emerged in the New York Times articles we analyzed, that were among the top 20 most emailed, tweeted, and shared articles over the course of three month in 2016. Here, we found that longer articles and those that contained more inspirational words (e.g., awe, inspiring, profound, appreciate) were more likely to be viral among readers.
  • For inspiring movies (such as Blindside or Pursuit of Happyness) and TV shows (like Fixer Upper or Friday Night Lights), we found that hope, once more, was the most frequent character portrayal. The most frequent environmental elicitors involved nature and vastness. Since TV shows and movies have different rankings depending on the rating system used, we were not able to measure which portrayal predicted the virality of inspiring films and TV shows. However, the findings on what made such films and TV shows inspiring greatly overlapped with the inspiring YouTube videos, suggesting that maybe hope plays an important role when it comes to the success of inspiring TV shows and films, as well. However, future research needs to explore this before any conclusions can be drawn. 
  • Across all of the media analyzed, it seems like content that contains portrayals of nature, encouragement, and overcoming of obstacles (hope portrayals) have a high likelihood to be shared and viewed by audiences.
These findings are interesting for content creators looking to create “viral” content and consumers alike. Anger-inducing content is still likely to be shared. But if we think about the impact of media on the consumer, it is good to know that inspiring content, particularly the kind that could benefit our well-being in the long run, can go viral as well.
It is up to us to jump onto the negative or positive bandwagon of viral media. I’d rather work on increasing my well-being instead of nurturing my tendency to be negative and outrageous—and I want to improve the well-being of people around me, too. Hope is surely something we all may want an extra dose of these days.

Inspirational Quote – April 26, 2018

“I accept myself for who I am and what I believe. It is not my responsibility for you to accept me. That is your problem.”

It has taken a very long time but I believe I am now doing what I was meant to. However, initially, not everybody was as accepting about the path I have chosen as I had thought. All to do with a family member’s religious belief as opposed to my belief in spirituality. However, in the end, we agreed to disagree with one another and left it at that with no difference in the feelings we have for each other. I would never consider criticizing anyone’s religious beliefs or customs and would hope and expect the same courtesy be extended to mine.

Spotlight on Restorative Justice

A crime or harm disrupts the balance -- in a community, among people, and within a family. Trying, convicting, and incarcerating the wrongdoer separates them from society but may do little to reclaim that lost balance and less still to improve the underlying conditions that led to the harm. Restorative justice takes a broader view with efforts that may include facilitating reconciliation between the victim and wrongdoer as well as addressing the underlying causes of crime and distress, potentially improving the broken community. Restorative justice can be transformational for all concerned. In this Spotlight on Restorative Justice, we look back at Daily Good features that advocate for a more equitable answer to the question of crime.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Five Reasons to Take a Break from Screens

In honor of Screen-Free Week, here are some of the benefits you can expect when you unplug from technology.

Every year in late spring, people from around the world choose to take a fresh look at their relationship with electronic media. They do so by participating in Screen-Free Week, which this year starts on April 30. This annual “media detox” began in 1994, when it was called TV-Turnoff Week, and has found renewed relevance in the age of smartphones.

As our relationship with mobile devices has grown, the research evidence has mounted: Excessive media use is not good for us physically, mentally, or emotionally. The good news is that taking a media break is a powerful way to improve our well-being. I’ve been assigning a four-day media fast in my undergraduate psychology classes for many years, and I’ve witnessed the effects firsthand. Based on the research and my teaching experiences, I’ve compiled these five reasons to participate in Screen-Free Week and take a break from media.

1. Present-moment awareness

The vast majority of American adults carry cell phones on their person throughout the day, rarely turning them off, according to a 2015 report by the Pew Research Center. It is no surprise that incoming texts, emails, and notifications are a near-constant presence for many people.  Our moment-to-moment experience is being fragmented on an unprecedented scale.
When I assign the media fast in my classes, I know that a “cold turkey” fast is unrealistic for most students. Their phones and computers are their main links to family, friends, schoolwork, and other commitments. Most will need to check and reply to messages at least once a day. In the fast, I emphasize the importance of breaking the constant checking habit and removing their devices from the flow of their daily experience: during class, in the transitional moments walking from one place to another, in their moments of downtime when they so often turn to their phones to fill in the blank spaces of their lives.
When students write about their experiences on the fast, one of the most common themes is “present-moment awareness.” Using a range of terms such as presence, sensory awareness, mindfulness, immersion, and flow, fully half of the students spontaneously describe these experiences as a hallmark of their fast, which typically kick in after a day or two. As children of the smartphone age, some of them were experiencing long periods of uninterrupted attention for the first time in years, episodes of micro-mindfulness that can be deeply nourishing. As one young woman reported:
During my walks from my dorm to my classes, I took my time breathing in the fresh air. Focusing on my breath helped me savor my time being outside and eased my anxiety about not being on my phone. By the time I got to class I had become so consumed with my breathing and sense of place I forgot about my phone altogether.

2. Improved sleep

Electronic media is not your friend when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep, especially if it’s used in the hours close to bedtime. This is partly due to the physiological effects of the “blue light” of the screen, which impacts the brain’s production of melatonin, delaying the onset of sleep. In one study, for example, people reading on an e-reader at night, compared to those reading a print book, experienced delayed melatonin release, took longer to fall asleep, and felt less rested the next day.
In addition, we have probably all experienced the “quick check” of our phones or computers that inadvertently leads to many unplanned minutes (or hours) of use. When this happens at night, we lose sleep. It’s also increasingly common for people to sleep with their phones nearby, which means that calls and texts can awaken them. Add to all this the likelihood that the emotional tone of media engagement will be stimulating or stressful (work emails, news reports, social comparison on Facebook…), and you have a perfect recipe for sleep disruption.
“Breaking away from media allowed me to be more empathetic to not only my own struggles but to others’ as well”
―A student on a media detox
For all these reasons, many experts are suggesting that we avoid screens in the hours leading up to bedtime as a matter of basic self-care. Sleep is one of the single most important foundations of physical and mental health. The impact on sleep alone would be more than enough reason to undertake a media fast. But there is more.

3. Deepened connections

Social media promises social connection, but the full richness of human relationships is best found face-to-face. Preteens, after five days at a camp without media use, outperformed their peers in recognizing nonverbal cues of emotion, an important foundation for empathy. In both laboratory and naturalistic studies, people felt less connected to conversation partners, and found their partners less empathically attuned, when a cell phone was present during the conversation. This was even the case when the phone belonged to the experimenter, and was outside the direct view of the participant. In particular, the phones’ presence inhibited deeper, more meaningful conversations, which require trust, vulnerability, and undivided attention.
In many of their papers, my students report improved connections with family, friends, and classmates as a benefit of the fast. “Not using my phone while with my friends was a way of working on my relationships, and I noticed a difference between the conversations that night compared to other times,” wrote one young woman. “Breaking away from media allowed me to be more empathetic to not only my own struggles but to others’ as well,” wrote another. One student invited her boyfriend to participate in the fast with her. As a result, she said, “We ended up sharing things about each others’ past that we hadn’t talked about before, so it felt good to get to know him a little deeper.”
Whether we are catching the eye of a fellow student on the way to class, fully acknowledging the cashier at the store, or engaging in an uninterrupted heart-to-heart conversation with a loved one, a break from media allows us to nourish our relationships. We may well be surprised to find ourselves feeling more, rather than less, connected when we disconnect from media.

4. Productivity and learning

Any work that requires a focused mind will benefit from a media break. This has been vividly demonstrated in a number of recent studies, summarized by Nicholas Carr in the 2017 essay “How Smartphones Hijack Our Minds.” In classroom settings, he notes, mobile phones disrupt learning through the distractions of “task-switching,” as students text or surf the internet in class. Moreover, the mere presence of a cell phone, even when ignored, reduces people’s intellectual acuity, possibly because it takes a distracting level of mental effort to resist the pull of a nearby phone. The more distant the phone, the better the performance: When phones were placed in another room, learning improved notably, more than when they were tucked away in nearby backpacks. In a real-life instance, secondary schools in the U.K. that banned phones on campus saw significant increases in student test scores.
In my class media fast, I often hear accounts from students about their newfound ease of learning. Many of them mention improved study skills and less procrastination during the fast.
“I was able to stay on top of my assignments and get all my work done in a more efficient manner and with a lot more focus,” wrote one student. “Being able to see firsthand how my mind was affected by this fast was an eye-opening experience. I could feel how focused my mind was while doing my assignments and how the scattered feeling that I usually feel was completely gone.” In the words of another: “The last day of my media fast … it was almost shocking how quickly I was able to power through assignments.”

5. Breaking the habit

Greater mindfulness, improved sleep, deeper connections, and better productivity are significant benefits, but what, if anything, lasts beyond the days of the fast?
We use our devices for a wide variety of reasons—some very straightforward and practical (navigation apps help us find our way) and some more psychologically complex (turning to social media to avoid feelings of loneliness and disconnection). However, the routine of checking our texts, emails, and social media accounts can easily become a self-reinforcing pattern. Media fasts break that habit.
For some students, this interruption is a temporary break. But for others (I’d estimate about one third), the fast is more of a “reset”—a halt in the momentum of media use that creates the opening for lasting change. “The desire that I used to have turned from a loud screaming impulse to a faint whisper,” wrote a student. “The idea of going back to my old patterns and usage of technology did not have the same appeal for me.”
Follow-up research with my students suggests that, for many, the fast has an impact that goes well beyond its four days. A month later, students reported a moderate level of ongoing change in their media use. They limited their media in specific settings (such as before bedtime, or while doing schoolwork, spending time with other people, or driving) and continued to use strategies to limit media use (such as moving apps to a less accessible spot or deleting them from the phone). They felt less dependent on media in general. Others expressed the intention to undertake periodic media fasts on their own in the future. Interviews conducted six months later revealed that some students were still experiencing changes in their media use:
  • “I decided to turn off all of my notifications besides academically related apps.”
  • “Am now aware of how often I use media … I have better things to do and media takes a lot of my time, so I can now drop it.”
  • “Not use my phone before bed. I get better sleep and am able to fall asleep faster. If I slip up, I can tell the difference … I wake up and my brain feels exhausted when I use my phone before bed.”
  • “I deleted my Facebook account because I realized I did not use it that much and I don’t like how I feel when I use Facebook.”
Whether as a temporary breather or an opportunity to create enduring change, there is much to be gained from a media fast. And there is no need to go it alone. By participating in a collective effort like Screen-Free Week, you can give and get the social support that is so helpful in making significant change. Avail yourself of the resources at—and consider getting close friends, family, and household members to join you in this powerful effort to reclaim our collective well-being.