Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Kids and breathing

Two books by Eline Snel: "sitting like a frog" and "breathe through this"  Worth thinking about, whether or not you buy them, read them, borrow them or give them as gifts.  They both have to do with using meditative tools to know yourself and to allow your kids or grandkids or whomever to practice meditation towards an increase in mindfulness (awareness of internal states).  Snel is a Dutch therapist and both are published by the leading house on the subject of meditation/mindfulness, which is Shambhala.  "Frog" is for elementary kids to learn to meditate and "Breathe" is for parents who have to face eye-rolling and impolite adolescent language and opinions while trying to nurture the perpetrators into powerful, happy adults.

In the 70's and 80's, I became aware of the evidence supporting Americanized versions of religion-free meditation as a mental and emotional tool for increasing self-awareness and self-knowledge.  As a professor of education (teacher training), I was interested and aware that I had not heard of anything along the lines of teaching meditation or mindfulness to anyone, but especially to children.  You may know that I began this blog to try to use it to support and advocate for meditation practices and awareness of and instruction in mindfulness.

I knew that sitting on the floor in a cross-legged position would bring to mind yogis and Hindus and elicit fear of undermining Christian practice in favor of foreign gods and goals.  It was clear to me then and is clearer now that anyone anywhere can learn about being in the now, concentrating on one's breath, searching out and relaxing tension in one's face, shoulders and throughout the body.  Doing so while respectfully shelving, however temporarily, one's thoughts about taxes or tomorrow, increases one's awareness of what one is doing with one's attention and mental energies.  Putting my focus on my body and on keeping my mind in neutral for about 10 timed minutes is showing itself to be good for athletes, soldiers, dancers, and everyone else.  

More and more adults are seeing the value of meditation practice for themselves and for their children and teens.  The two books mentioned can help with inspiration and ideas.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Twitter: @olderkirby

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Busy day

I had a busy day yesterday so I am just writing today's post now.  In the morning, I heard Dr. Murray Brilliant of the Marshfield Clinic discuss the genetics of personal appearance.  One of his research specialties is albinism.  Pigment in the body is quite important to its function and having an albino condition means also having some disabilities, especially in eye function. Failure to produce pigment happens in the womb and occurs in all kinds of animals.  He showed us a picture of an albino African lion and one of an albino alligator.  Learning more about what genes contribute to the phenomenon has improved understanding of genetics and how genetics contribute to appearance.

In the afternoon, I gave a talk on three sources of entertaining non-fiction information: TED talks, Great Courses and YouTube. TED talks can be listened to and watched on computers, tablets and smartphones.  They are short, free of commercials and cover a wide range of topics, delivered by interested and motivated people.  I recommend Ernesto Sirolli and Nancy Lublin for samples but John McWhorter and Anne Curzan might suit some samplers better.

Great Courses are a commercial operation and they aren't cheap.  You can see much about them on their web site.  Some are only 6 lectures, such as Neil DeGrasse Tyson on the inexplicable universe but some are 36 lectures.  The course on mindfulness by Dr. Ronald Siegel  and the one on meditation by Dr. Mark Muesse are excellent.  You can rely on any Great Course to be that good.  You can buy them on Amazon. com and you can often borrow them from your local library

Finally, we heard Dr. Tim Krause on the subject of net neutrality and as part of that, how the internet works.  As a side bar, he told us about security, denial of service attacks and the impolite use of the app Yik Yak by some students in classes more intent on anonymous ridicule of the teacher than learning.  

On top of that, Lynn did several other things at the same time, including picking our greatgrandson up and helping him cook our spaghetti dinner.  It was a loaded day.  It is something of a loaded week.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Twitter: @olderkirby

Monday, September 28, 2015

Newish world

We wanted to celebrate for our anniversary.  We decided to drive from our small city to a smaller city and then stay at a Bed and Breakfast in a tiny village outside the smaller city.  It is clear from just looking around that the buildings and the settlers were there well before the electrification of the cities and the use of automobiles and tractors.  This little village was settled in the mid-1850's and it is out of the way.  In a sense, the state of Wisconsin is out of the way so an out-of-the-way village is really not on the beaten track.

We got there in the evening, stowed our stuff and took off for dinner in the nearby smaller city.  Friends had given us a recommendation and we followed it.  Pretty good dinner in a small, very crowded eatery advertised as a "pub".  

Our lodging provided breakfast and we sat down with two other couples for pancakes and homemade yogurt with a blueberry sauce and homemade maple syrup.  We introduced ourselves.  One couple was from Virginia and were visiting relatives.  The other couple spoke with an accent and was from Scotland.  They were visiting their daughter and her American husband.  You live in Scotland - how did your daughter meet her husband from Wisconsin?  They met when they were both working in Japan!  

I wasn't too shocked.  The pub manager had explained the night before that a Japanese firm had acquired a local factory and that he had far more Japanese customers these days than he used to have.  But still: a little bed and breakfast out in the woods of Wisconsin and we have Virginia and Scotland represented with a connection to Japan.  

It is definitely a new-ish world where the old is still around and yet the new and different pops up here and there all the time.  At dinner last night, the place was crowded.  No wonder, it is shutting down for the winter this weekend.  It is a popular place and everybody comes.  Besides, there were four weddings being celebrated on the grounds or the paddlewheeler on the lake.  We had to sit at the bar.  A young healthy man struck up a conversation.  He was a manager but also in his last year at the U of Wisconsin - Madison, 130 miles away.  He was a political science major there.  These days, you never know who or what you will run into.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Twitter: @olderkirby

Friday, September 25, 2015

Analysis and emotion in a marriage

I wrote my dissertation on a possible application of decision theory to education.  My idea was to test various theoretical approaches with what experienced principals said they would do in a given challenging situation.  The approaches were different ways of handling value and probability estimates made by the principals.  That was a long time ago and, as far as I know, very little of the paper and ideas were later used by anybody, including me.

I am still reading "Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy or How Love Conquered Marriage" by Prof. Stephanie Coontz.  She writes,"When people try to figure out their best shot at a stable, happy marriage…"  Those words brought to mind the work I did on my dissertation vs. participating in my marriage.  Today is our 55th wedding anniversary and I have enjoying and working on a marriage on my mind.

Marriage, parenting, teaching and administering a school are all situations filled with important but poorly defined questions, decisions and problems.  They are not neat, clearly defined questions with a small set of clear alternatives.  Prof. Coontz makes clear that the variety of expectations among just the Americans as to what marriage should be and how to have the appropriate state in a marriage is increasing.  It was probably always a doubtful thing to prescribe steps for all marriages without taking into account personalities, temperaments, histories, perspectives but it becomes more doubtful now.  

What seems to pay off in my life is both use of explicit and careful analysis AND knowing and following one's heartfelt feelings.  About 3 years after we were married, I was teaching 5th grade and Lynn was home minding our two girls.  Cooking, cleaning, mothering, shopping for food and other things were her domain.  I thought my teaching balanced that but some rough estimates and analysis showed she had 8 hours a week free and I had 54.  The analysis convinced me that my contribution was out of whack.

Once in Quebec City, we had both had it with our bickering.  It was only sensible to agree to a divorce.  We made the agreement and immediately felt terrible.  After a couple of hours, we confessed to each other that we felt totally terrible about losing each other.  We scratched the divorce agreement and haven't brought up the topic since.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Twitter: @olderkirby

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Playing with words

There are many ways to play with words: crossword puzzles, acrostics and such.  Poetry is another way.  I am not a great poet but I do enjoy converting ideas, impressions and feelings into words.  I wrote these poems more than 7 years ago.  I leave them on the web to be ready to show anyone who is interested in examples of poems I have written.  I haven't found great fun in wrestling with a form so haiku or sonnet or whatever, I don't particularly want to find a word of the dictated length or one the rhymes.  I respect rhyming and I find it harder to express a thought in rhyme than in just any words that convey my thought.

I was a drummer in high school.  Not the highly skilled tympani kind in an orchestra but one of a section of drummers who marched in formation in the drum and bugle corps.  I like rhythm and I respect the energizing power of a beat.  The poem on this web page This Too Shall Pass Away was one I read and liked back when I was ten years old.  I liked the idea but I also liked the rhyme and the clear rhythm.  It might be related to English and Scottish ancestors, the ones Franz Joseph Haydn said needed to be hit in the ear.  It might be Irish ancestors, the group who have often taken the instrument of song and recitation, the harp, as their symbol.

Lynn has written quite a few poems, too.  I often think of her "Time Islands" and the memorable poem "Warning".

I don't know much about the history and evolution of modern poetry.  I gather that people sometimes sneer at rhyme. They sometimes write paragraphs and call them prose poems.

There are poets I pay attention to, several of them now dead but their works live in me and many others.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Twitter: @olderkirby

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Notifications, intrusions, interruptions, and secretaries

The business of reading from my iPad and getting a temporary banner across the top of the display that you have sent me an email is referred to by Apple as "notifications".  The iPad handles them pretty well as far as I am concerned.  Your message in snipped form appears temporarily at the top of my screen for about 5 seconds, which is long enough for me to see it is from you and the jist of what you wrote.  Then, it fades away.

Just like my secretary, the iPad can be set to not notify me of anything, period.  Or, what I have described or it can also play a sound to alert me.

If you get hurt or are arrested in a foreign country and need bail money, I want to be notified.  Depending on what I am doing at the time, I may be able to go right to the airport to start getting to you or I might have to wait until tomorrow.  If you are in South Africa and all flights there are cancelled or booked or blocked by volcanic ash, it may be several days or more until I can get there.  Depending on the nature of the notification, I might simply email or text my sympathies back.  I might get so upset and focused on your problem, that I turn off all notifications and turn off all phones, shut down all contacts no matter what other issues or problems occur in my world and friends.

I used to think my boss should mark out a section of his calendar "Busy - not to be disturbed" for 15 or so minutes a day, just for himself and his sanity.  I do care for you but I don't just wait phoneside for a call or tablet-side for a notification of what you are doing.  That means that 96% of the time, special messages from you will be interrupting something I am already doing.  I won't consider them very intrusive unless they go on too long or are about problems that strike me as too small or too big for me to handle.

Corporations, branches of the government and some relatives tend to feel that everything they want me to know and attend to are top priority.  Somewhere, E.B. White wrote about the local elementary school getting a public address system installed and warned that the administrator would start thinking that every item was sufficiently important to interrupt the classes with an announcement.  He wrote about that somewhere about 1938.  He might be surprised at interruptions, often intrusive ones, we allow today.  I heard of a wedding where the groom interrupted his own wedding to take a phone call.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Twitter: @olderkirby

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

New goal for seniors - from FiveThirtyEight's "Significant Digits"

Couldn't resist sending this out as an extra:

27 seconds

At the San Diego Senior Olympics, Don Pellmann, who recently turned 100 years old, became the first centenarian to run the 100-meter dash in less than 27 seconds. Don't skip leg day, friends. [The New York Times]

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Twitter: @olderkirby

The sky

Dawn 9-21.jpg

In the woods, the plains or the city, it often takes an extra thought to think of looking up.  At dawn, the light comes strongly from the horizon and brings our attention to what is above us.  In Arthur Clarke's story "Childhood's End", enormous alien space ships quietly enter our sky to stay quiet and still for a couple of centuries.  They are 50 kilometers up in the sky and humans learn to accept them.  The story is available in most libraries and downloadable for $1.99 and free for Kindle Borrowing.

It is true that the night sky with all those dots of light in it has mystified and inspired humans for millennia.  It is also true that a recent talk we attended on stars explained that clever, steady and rigorous work in astronomy, cosmology and physics has uncovered during the last 100 years new facts and given foundation to new theories.  We learned about the H-R diagram and its importance in understanding the likely path of the "life" or existence of a star.  H-R doesn't stand for human relations but for the names of two astronomers, Hertzsprung and Russell who created the chart in 1910.  It shows that big, hot stars exist as is for a very long time but that smaller, not quite so hot stars tend to last much longer.  We are talking billions of years and the universe we know is said to be only about 13 billion years old.  I asked our lecturer how long the universe is expected to last and she said,"Hopefully, forever."

Lynn's photo shows the color and majesty, the awe-inspiring possibilities of the sky at dawn and at dusk.  We are entering autumn and the extent that our lives are always affected by our local star gets emphasized.  The daily "rise" and "fall" of our star and the consequent change in the amount and type of air its light travels through has a big effect on what we see.  The long shadows cast by sunlight traveling close to the ground change the scenes around us.  Those moments when special lighting effects are in place offer occasional beauty worth noting and thanking.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Twitter: @olderkirby

Monday, September 21, 2015

Fwd: New Neuroscience Reveals 4 Rituals That Will Make You Happy

Newsletters and weekly mailings are popular with many organizations and seem to be growing in number.  Eric Barker's "Barking Up the Wrong Tree" is one I get weekly.  This issue seemed especially valuable.
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety
Twitter: @olderkirby

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Eric Barker
Date: Sun, Sep 20, 2015 at 8:10 AM
Subject: New Neuroscience Reveals 4 Rituals That Will Make You Happy
To: Bill

Welcome to the Barking Up The Wrong Tree weekly update for September 20th, 2015.

New Neuroscience Reveals 4 Rituals That Will Make You Happy

Click here to read the post on the blog or keep scrolling to read in-email.

You get all kinds of happiness advice on the internet from people who don't know what they're talking about. Don't trust them.

Actually, don't trust me either. Trust neuroscientists. They study that gray blob in your head all day and have learned a lot about what truly will make you happy.

UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb has some insights that can create an upward spiral of happiness in your life. Here's what you and I can learn from the people who really have answers:

1) The Most Important Question To Ask When You Feel Down

Sometimes it doesn't feel like your brain wants you to be happy. You may feel guilty or shameful. Why?

Believe it or not, guilt and shame activate the brain's reward center.

Via The Upward Spiral:

Despite their differences, pride, shame, and guilt all activate similar neural circuits, including the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, amygdala, insula, and the nucleus accumbens. Interestingly, pride is the most powerful of these emotions at triggering activity in these regions -- except in the nucleus accumbens, where guilt and shame win out. This explains why it can be so appealing to heap guilt and shame on ourselves -- they're activating the brain's reward center.

And you worry a lot too. Why? In the short term, worrying makes your brain feel a little better -- at least you're doing something about your problems.

Via The Upward Spiral:

In fact, worrying can help calm the limbic system by increasing activity in the medial prefrontal cortex and decreasing activity in the amygdala. That might seem counterintuitive, but it just goes to show that if you're feeling anxiety, doing something about it -- even worrying -- is better than doing nothing.

But guilt, shame and worry are horrible long-term solutions. So what do neuroscientists say you should do? Ask yourself this question:
What am I grateful for?

Yeah, gratitude is awesome... but does it really affect your brain at the biological level? Yup.

You know what the antidepressant Wellbutrin does? Boosts the neurotransmitter dopamine. So does gratitude.

Via The Upward Spiral:

The benefits of gratitude start with the dopamine system, because feeling grateful activates the brain stem region that produces dopamine. Additionally, gratitude toward others increases activity in social dopamine circuits, which makes social interactions more enjoyable...

Know what Prozac does? Boosts the neurotransmitter serotonin. So does gratitude.

Via The Upward Spiral:

One powerful effect of gratitude is that it can boost serotonin. Trying to think of things you are grateful for forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life. This simple act increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex.

I know, sometimes life lands a really mean punch in the gut and it feels like there's nothing to be grateful for. Guess what?

Doesn't matter. You don't have to find anything. It's the searching that counts.

Via The Upward Spiral:

It's not finding gratitude that matters most; it's remembering to look in the first place. Remembering to be grateful is a form of emotional intelligence. One study found that it actually affected neuron density in both the ventromedial and lateral prefrontal cortex. These density changes suggest that as emotional intelligence increases, the neurons in these areas become more efficient. With higher emotional intelligence, it simply takes less effort to be grateful.

And gratitude doesn't just make your brain happy -- it can also create a positive feedback loop in your relationships. So express that gratitude to the people you care about.

(For more on how gratitude can make you happier and more successful, click here.)

But what happens when bad feelings completely overtake you? When you're really in the dumps and don't even know how to deal with it? There's an easy answer...

2) Label Negative Feelings

You feel awful. Okay, give that awfulness a name. Sad? Anxious? Angry?

Boom. It's that simple. Sound stupid? Your noggin disagrees.

Via The Upward Spiral: one fMRI study, appropriately titled "Putting Feelings into Words" participants viewed pictures of people with emotional facial expressions. Predictably, each participant's amygdala activated to the emotions in the picture. But when they were asked to name the emotion, the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activated and reduced the emotional amygdala reactivity. In other words, consciously recognizing the emotions reduced their impact.

Suppressing emotions doesn't work and can backfire on you.

Via Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long:

Gross found that people who tried to suppress a negative emotional experience failed to do so. While they thought they looked fine outwardly, inwardly their limbic system was just as aroused as without suppression, and in some cases, even more aroused. Kevin Ochsner, at Columbia, repeated these findings using an fMRI. Trying not to feel something doesn't work, and in some cases even backfires.

But labeling, on the other hand, makes a big difference.

Via Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long:

To reduce arousal, you need to use just a few words to describe an emotion, and ideally use symbolic language, which means using indirect metaphors, metrics, and simplifications of your experience. This requires you to activate your prefrontal cortex, which reduces the arousal in the limbic system. Here's the bottom line: describe an emotion in just a word or two, and it helps reduce the emotion.

Ancient methods were way ahead of us on this one. Meditation has employed this for centuries. Labeling is a fundamental tool of mindfulness.

In fact, labeling affects the brain so powerfully it works with other people too. Labeling emotions is one of the primary tools used by FBI hostage negotiators.

(To learn more of the secrets of FBI hostage negotiators, click here.)

Okay, hopefully you're not reading this and labeling your current emotional state as "Bored." Maybe you're not feeling awful but you probably have things going on in your life that are causing you some stress. Here's a simple way to beat them...

3) Make That Decision

Ever make a decision and then your brain finally feels at rest? That's no random occurrence.

Brain science shows that making decisions reduces worry and anxiety -- as well as helping you solve problems.

Via The Upward Spiral:

Making decisions includes creating intentions and setting goals — all three are part of the same neural circuitry and engage the prefrontal cortex in a positive way, reducing worry and anxiety. Making decisions also helps overcome striatum activity, which usually pulls you toward negative impulses and routines. Finally, making decisions changes your perception of the world — finding solutions to your problems and calming the limbic system.

But deciding can be hard. I agree. So what kind of decisions should you make? Neuroscience has an answer...

Make a "good enough" decision. Don't sweat making the absolute 100% best decision. We all know being a perfectionist can be stressful. And brain studies back this up.

Trying to be perfect overwhelms your brain with emotions and makes you feel out of control.

Via The Upward Spiral:

Trying for the best, instead of good enough, brings too much emotional ventromedial prefrontal activity into the decision-making process. In contrast, recognizing that good enough is good enough activates more dorsolateral prefrontal areas, which helps you feel more in control...

As Swarthmore professor Barry Schwartz said in my interview with him: "Good enough is almost always good enough."

So when you make a decision, your brain feels you have control. And, as I've talked about before, a feeling of control reduces stress. But here's what's really fascinating: Deciding also boosts pleasure.

Via The Upward Spiral:

Actively choosing caused changes in attention circuits and in how the participants felt about the action, and it increased rewarding dopamine activity.

Want proof? No problem. Let's talk about cocaine.

You give 2 rats injections of cocaine. Rat A had to pull a lever first. Rat B didn't have to do anything. Any difference? Yup: rat A gets a bigger boost of dopamine.

Via The Upward Spiral:

So they both got the same injections of cocaine at the same time, but rat A had to actively press the lever, and rat B didn't have to do anything. And you guessed it — rat A released more dopamine in its nucleus accumbens.

So what's the lesson here? Next time you buy cocaine... whoops, wrong lesson. Point is, when you make a decision on a goal and then achieve it, you feel better than when good stuff just happens by chance.

And this answers the eternal mystery of why dragging your butt to the gym can be so hard.

If you go because you feel you have to or you should, well, it's not really a voluntary decision. Your brain doesn't get the pleasure boost. It just feels stress. And that's no way to build a good exercise habit.

Via The Upward Spiral:

Interestingly, if they are forced to exercise, they don't get the same benefits, because without choice, the exercise itself is a source of stress.

So make more decisions. Neuroscience researcher Alex Korb sums it up nicely:

We don't just choose the things we like; we also like the things we choose.

(To learn what neuroscientists say is the best way to use caffeine, click here.)

Okay, you're being grateful, labeling negative emotions and making more decisions. Great. But this is feeling kinda lonely for a happiness prescription. Let's get some other people in here.

What's something you can do with others that neuroscience says is a path to mucho happiness? And something that's stupidly simple so you don't get lazy and skip it? Brain docs have an answer for you...

4) Touch People

No, not indiscriminately; that can get you in a lot of trouble.

But we need to feel love and acceptance from others. When we don't it's painful. And I don't mean "awkward" or "disappointing." I mean actually painful.

Neuroscientists did a study where people played a ball-tossing video game. The other players tossed the ball to you and you tossed it back to them. Actually, there were no other players; that was all done by the computer program.

But the subjects were told the characters were controlled by real people. So what happened when the "other players" stopped playing nice and didn't share the ball?

Subjects' brains responded the same way as if they experienced physical pain. Rejection doesn't just hurt like a broken heart; your brain feels it like a broken leg.

Via The Upward Spiral:

In fact, as demonstrated in an fMRI experiment, social exclusion activates the same circuitry as physical pain… at one point they stopped sharing, only throwing back and forth to each other, ignoring the participant. This small change was enough to elicit feelings of social exclusion, and it activated the anterior cingulate and insula, just like physical pain would.

Relationships are very important to your brain's feeling of happiness. Want to take that to the next level? Touch people.

Via The Upward Spiral:

One of the primary ways to release oxytocin is through touching. Obviously, it's not always appropriate to touch most people, but small touches like handshakes and pats on the back are usually okay. For people you're close with, make more of an effort to touch more often.

Touching is incredibly powerful. We just don't give it enough credit. It makes you more persuasive, increases team performance, improves your flirting... heck, it even boosts math skills.

Touching someone you love actually reduces pain. In fact, when studies were done on married couples, the stronger the marriage, the more powerful the effect.

Via The Upward Spiral:

In addition, holding hands with someone can help comfort you and your brain through painful situations. One fMRI study scanned married women as they were warned that they were about to get a small electric shock. While anticipating the painful shocks, the brain showed a predictable pattern of response in pain and worrying circuits, with activation in the insula, anterior cingulate, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. During a separate scan, the women either held their husbands' hands or the hand of the experimenter. When a subject held her husband's hand, the threat of shock had a smaller effect. The brain showed reduced activation in both the anterior cingulate cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex— that is, less activity in the pain and worrying circuits. In addition, the stronger the marriage, the lower the discomfort-related insula activity.

So hug someone today. And do not accept little, quick hugs. No, no, no. Tell them your neuroscientist recommended long hugs.

Via The Upward Spiral:

A hug, especially a long one, releases a neurotransmitter and hormone oxytocin, which reduces the reactivity of the amygdala.

Research shows getting five hugs a day for four weeks increases happiness big time.

Don't have anyone to hug right now? No? (I'm sorry to hear that. I would give you a hug right now if I could.) But there's an answer: neuroscience says you should go get a massage.

Via The Upward Spiral:

The results are fairly clear that massage boosts your serotonin by as much as 30 percent. Massage also decreases stress hormones and raises dopamine levels, which helps you create new good habits... Massage reduces pain because the oxytocin system activates painkilling endorphins. Massage also improves sleep and reduces fatigue by increasing serotonin and dopamine and decreasing the stress hormone cortisol.

So spend time with other people and give some hugs. Sorry, texting is not enough.

When you put people in a stressful situation and then let them visit loved ones or talk to them on the phone, they felt better. What about when they just texted? Their bodies responded the same as if they had no support at all.

Via The Upward Spiral:

...the text-message group had cortisol and oxytocin levels similar to the no-contact group.

Author's note: I totally approve of texting if you make a hug appointment.

(To learn what neuroscience says is the best way to get smarter and happier, click here.)

Okay, I don't want to strain your brain with too much info. Let's round it up and learn the quickest and easiest way to start that upward spiral of neuroscience-inspired happiness...

Sum Up

Here's what brain research says will make you happy:
  • Ask "What am I grateful for?" No answers? Doesn't matter. Just searching helps.
  • Label those negative emotions. Give it a name and your brain isn't so bothered by it.
  • Decide. Go for "good enough" instead of "best decision ever made on Earth."
  • Hugs, hugs, hugs. Don't text -- touch.
So what's the dead simple way to start that upward spiral of happiness?

Just send someone a thank you email. If you feel awkward about it, you can send them this post to tell them why.

This really can start an upward spiral of happiness in your life. UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb explains:

Everything is interconnected. Gratitude improves sleep. Sleep reduces pain. Reduced pain improves your mood. Improved mood reduces anxiety, which improves focus and planning. Focus and planning help with decision making. Decision making further reduces anxiety and improves enjoyment. Enjoyment gives you more to be grateful for, which keeps that loop of the upward spiral going. Enjoyment also makes it more likely you'll exercise and be social, which, in turn, will make you happier.

So thank you for reading this.

And send that thank you email now to make you and someone you care about very happy.

Wanna spread the happiness even wider? Share this with friends:

2. My Top Post At Time Magazine

So we covered how to be happier. But how can you be more successful? Again, let's not trust random people on the interwebz. Let's get info from those who have done it. Here's what Elon Musk, Steve Martin, Mike Bloomberg and other very successful people have to say about making it big:

Secrets to Success From Elon Musk, Steve Martin and Mike Bloomberg

3. Email Extras

Findings from around the internet...

+ Struggling to keep the pounds off? Find exercise hard? Solving that problem may be simpler than you think. Click here.

+ Want to know a better way to detect lies? Click here.

+ How accurate are psychics *really*? Click here. (Neither my tea leaves or my tarot cards are predicting good things here.)

+ Miss last week's post? No problem. I feel for you. (Probably because the post was about the life-improving power of empathy.) Here you go: 3 Ways Empathy Can Improve Your Life, Backed By Research.

+ What's the best way to schedule things on your calendar? Click here. (Thanks to the Twitter feed of the awesome Dan Pink.)

+ You made it to the end of the email. Need a fun fiction read? Want to see science solve the most insurmountable of problems? Curious to read a book with 17,000 reviews on Amazon with a 4.5 star rating? Check out The Martian. What a page-turner. (And if after this email you feel like you've read enough for a while, don't worry: the movie version is coming out soon, starring Matt Damon.)

Thanks for reading!

PS: If a friend forwarded this to you, you can sign up to get the weekly email yourself here.

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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Personal computing in the future

Just testing out a tv and Amazon tv, I watched this Ray Kurzweil TED talk video. I have seen this man's name off and on for years.  From the little I know, he likes to point to inventions and new practices and extrapolate from them into the future.

When I ask myself what I have gotten from computers and electronics, the answers pop up:

  • Word-processing instead of stamping paper with ink in a typewriter

  • Rapid complex calculation on a spreadsheet

  • Rapid search and replace in a long written document

  • Immediate error-free alphabetization in a simple database or spreadsheet

  • Accurate selection of sub-sets from a list or database, as in all the members who do not live in town

All of those services were actually performed by me in my home on my own machine in 1987, about three decades ago.

About 1992, I began to use email.  I still use it many times a day.  In a meeting, a forward-looking man asked the other day if email was old-fashioned.  To some extent, maybe it is.  Rather depends on what one means by "email" and by "old-fashioned."  It is well-known today that many people, especially those under age 30, prefer texting to email. It is not hard to see why.  Texting requires short messages and the actual question or comment we want to make may be quite brief, as with headlines.

Email, texting, Skype/Google Hangouts and other forms of communication have indeed given us forms and speeds of communication unknown until the last few years. Google Search, Bing, Duckduckgo and other search engines have made it possible to learn about nearly any subject, get a picture of nearly anything or any place just about instantly.

I hear and read about the internet of things, where my car, my pantry, checkbook and my phone will communicate with each other, eventually to my benefit, I guess.  But what I want is a terrific app or a chain of them in my phone or tablet that helps me all the time.  I guess it will need to know my location on its own, my needs, desires and the questions puzzling me: Do we need bananas?  Are we low on milk?  Does my car need servicing?  How important is the servicing?  Is it really needed?  In the future, I would prefer to ask Siri (Apple's voice) or Cortana (Microsoft's Siri) or "Hey, Google (Google couldn't afford a girl assistant??) what I want to know.  I would prefer not having to input lots of data and information.  I would prefer that Georgia or Tom already know the relevant information.  I want to be able to ask if sending Bobby a book is a good idea, all things considered.  I want to be able to get a graded answer, like 'the probability that it is a good idea is 77%".  I want to be able to see the computer's 5 top pros and 5 top cons, especially when I have my doubts about its advice.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Twitter: @olderkirby

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Good ones

What kind of books do I like?  Good ones.  That is the sort of movies, dishes, drinks, friends, etc. I like, too.  I called my blog Fear, Fun and Filoz because I thought fears get my attention, fun things get my attention and thinking about what to be afraid of and what to be happy about is the type of filozophy I like.  In a couple of weeks, I will talk to some friends about TED talks, Great Courses and YouTube, three excellent sources of good information presented in good formats by good presenters.  I called my web site "Kirbyvariety" because I knew I would want to use it to store all sorts of good stuff.

Who says it's good? Me.  How do I know it's good?  I feel it: eye-opening, comforting, surprising, confirming, haunting, memorable.  The algorithms for making further suggestions at Amazon and Netflix have tended in the past to repeat.  Oh, you like mysteries?  Here are 900 more for you. Especially after I have just read one or two, the last thing I want is more of what I just read. You wouldn't offer a guest who has just finished an excellent steak another steak.  For me at least, the sign of a good next choice is often some difference from the last choice. (As with many things these days, the algorithms are getting smarter and better.)

You see that switching to something new, temporarily or permanently, is a hallmark of what I do.  I previously inserted a link to my web site page (see below) about the sources mentioned above.  Another fine source of wide-ranging topics is the Internet Scout.  It is a free e-newsletter from the U of Wisconsin-Madison . Take a look.  It has many interesting internet sites listed - good ones.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Twitter: @olderkirby

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