Change Begins With Us

This blog has never been a forum for politics, and it won’t be today. I only want us to remember that change ultimately begins with us. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and what I think may be wrong or right may not work for you. But that’s what freedom means; we have the right to our own opinions and beliefs.

In America, we have rights that not every country enjoys, and these rights didn’t come without a huge price. I may not agree with you about something, and you may not agree with me, but hopefully we can allow each other our separate opinions. We can certainly agree to disagree.

That said, real change begins with us; all of us. For example, we all may not agree on our new President Elect, but again—in America we don’t all have to agree. As one newscaster remarked this morning, “if you truly believe in the Democratic process of our country, then you can’t get upset about not getting your own way.” That’s how the process works; in one electoral year your horse may come in first. In another such year, mine may win.

We can look at this new development as an opportunity to embrace change and work with it. We can also continue to dislike and not support the change. We can try to find peace with the change, or we can work to make the change more palatable for us. Again, we are fortunate enough to live in a country that gives all citizens rights that many countries will never have.

My hope and prayer for us all today is that we can keep remembering who we are, and what we have as American citizens. Change happens, and will keep on happening. The test of it is how we choose to deal with it, and ultimately, make our own peace with it.

 

Reflections on Overdoing It

Back in college, I and my friends did a fair amount of drinking. We sometimes went to parties at fraternities and sororities, but the best fun was when we gathered at a friend’s house just off campus. She and her husband weren’t much older than we were, and we had some good times there.

We would bring spaghetti and sauce and garlic bread, and they would supply the salad, drinks, and dessert. We listened to our favorite records, danced, told jokes, and had a lot of fun.

At one memorable party around Halloween, our hosts invented a new drink sensation called Green Machines. Basically it was the cheapest vodka they could find, lime soda, and at least four gallons of lime sherbet floating on top like lost islands.

All of this mix went into a brand new clean (and green) plastic garbage bin. (Note: any drinks made in a garbage bin, no matter how new or how clean, means that you are going to drink far more than you need to, and wake up with a pounding headache.)

There was also a big plastic dipper hanging off the side of the bin. You could either drink from the dipper, or pour yourself a cup; either way, we always drank too much.

One morning after, when my friends and I were moaning about our headaches and chewing aspirin, we came across the following song, which still cracks me up to this day:

“*One evening in October

When I was five fifths sober

Taking home a load with manly pride,

My poor feet began to stutter

So I lay down in the gutter,

And a pig come up and lay down by my side.

Then we sang it’s all fair weather

When good fellers get together,

Till a lady passing by was heard to say,

‘You can tell a man who boozes

By the company he chooses,’

So the pig got up and slowly walked away.

Yes, the pig got up and slowly walked away

Yes, the pig got up and without a word to say.

He looked at me and thought

That he would leave me where I lay

And that same old pig a lesson taught to me,

And that was not to be a bigger pig than he

So I hopped next day on the water cart to stay

Since the pig got up and slowly walked away!”

I have always remembered this song, and have never had a drink out of a garbage bin since.

You have been warned.

*As recorded by JOHNNY BOND

Voting Day

Well, here we are again—ready to elect a new president. It’s never an easy process, and I’m sure that everyone is as tired as I am about all the mud-slinging, political ads, phone calls from all over the country, and mailboxes stuffed with political flyers. The media goes wild, and predictably, we all become so weary of it that we all just want to get it over with.

That said, voting is a singular right we Americans have, thanks to the sacrifice of many. I often wonder what our founding fathers would say if they could see us now. Would they be glad or appalled?

Just recently, I went through my dad’s tattered *books containing the histories of WWI and WWII. My grandfather fought in WWI, and my dad in WWII. The old pictures in these books jump out at me, and I wonder about how the lives of all those young boys turned out. How many of them were lost before they had the chance to really live? How many were wounded so badly that it affected the rest of their lives? How many lived to have families?

When the war in Vietnam was going on, I was in college. I was in the Admin building when the loudspeaker came on to inform us of the results of the draft lottery. I saw the faces of the young men who were called out; it was as if all the color and life drained from them at that moment. Selfishly I was glad to be female, knowing that I wouldn’t have to fight in a war.

We are lucky to live in America, and lucky to have the freedoms and privileges we have. On a day like today, where we have the privilege to vote for our president, this is a day to remember how we got here and all those who fought to preserve our freedom.

Things may have changed dramatically since all these young and strong men and women went to war, but the essential truths are still as important as ever. Our freedom to vote and all our other freedoms did not come cheaply. There may be a whole lot wrong with America, but thankfully, there is also a whole lot right with America too.

No matter how tired we are of all the political rhetoric, it’s time to step up and vote today. As we used to say, ‘if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.’ Let’s not waste this freedom.

See you at the voting booths!

*”The 401st Telegraph Battalion in the World War, 1917 – 1918,” “T.A.D. R-78 Completion Report, Company “C” 843 Engr. Av. BN./IX. E. C., 1945,” and “843rd. Engineer Aviation Battalion.”

Time is ALL We Have

If you are lucky enough to have come across Pam Kirst’s blog, “Catching My Drift”, you will know what a wonderful and heartfelt writer she is. I re-read her post from last October called “Under Heaven.” It is all about time and what we do with it.

Time—that steadily ticking clock that marks our stay on this earth—is finite for each of us. Like Pam, I too have looked down at my 65-year old feet and wonder how in the world they began as baby-pink and perfect to the gnarled, horn-nailed and bunioned hooves I now have. Time has made its mark on me, as it does on us all.

My time began with a care-free childhood, then grade school, junior high school (as we called it then; now it’s “middle school”), then high school. Following that came leaving home to go to college, then graduating, then finding my first job, first apartment, and other “firsts.” I seemed busy all the time, which seems strange now that I am definitely not busy, having retired a year ago.

As much as I loved and adored all the people and cats in my life, so many are gone now. I have happy memories of them, and think of them often. What new memories, people and pets are ahead?

What have I done with my time? What next will I do with the rest of my time? And how much time do I have? We all wonder these things from time to time (no pun intended).

So, with more time behind me than in front of me, how do I best fill that precious bit of time I still have? Do I listen to the steady exclamation in my head that says, ‘oh, for Heaven’s sake, just get involved in something! Do some good while you have time!’ If my heart isn’t in it, should I anyway?

I think that the answers to the above are “yes,” “yes,” and “yes!” It’s hard to shake ourselves out of our routines. But as I am finding out, it’s harder still to make excuses for ourselves.

Speaking just for me, I have plenty to do around the house. I also make jewelry, and now that I am recovering so well from my knee replacement surgery, I can go for walks again, which I have missed dearly. Then there is this blog, visiting my dad each week, having the occasional lunch with friends, and so on. All of these are wonderful, and I am grateful for them all.

However, I feel I should be doing more. So that’s going to be my goal in the coming weeks; to find the “more.” After all, time IS all we have.

 

Kindness – Changing Lives Everywhere, Especially Ours

Couldn’t we all use a little more kindness in our lives? It has become sort of a rare commodity these days. Often our go-to response to many situations has become mean-spirited, belligerent, aggressive, angry or just plain rude. Just look at all the road rage we hear about these days—it’s frightening.

Most of the ‘stand-out’ people in my life have been those who have been and are kind. Kindness does not equate weakness; actually, it’s strength. That old Bible quote, “blessed are the peace-makers” is as real today as it ever was. I have seen situations shift from anger to calmness by just a bit of kindness.

I have to wonder what’s going on in some people’s lives that makes them react with anger; usually it has nothing to do with anyone but themselves and how they feel about themselves. I know that when I am anxious, fearful, sad or worried, I am snappish and easily offended. Most of the time, this is all about me and has nothing to do with anyone else.

The trick of it is to realize that I am just having a bad day, and then realize that I have the skills to turn it around. Whether or not I do this is up to me and me alone. Knowing this keeps me humble; I’m human and therefore fallible. But most of all, I don’t have to feel bad.

So on days like that, I make kindness my priority. Once we decide that we do not want to stay angry or resentful, we have the power to change. When I am struggling to get back to kindness, I think about what my amazing step-daughter used to say to Ava (my first granddaughter) when she got upset and angry over something.

She would smile at Ava and say, “how about we go upstairs and change out of your Cranky Pants into your Happy Pants?”

Just the thought of that cracks me up. And yes, it actually is easy to change our attitudes from cranky to happy. It is just another decision that only we can make for ourselves.

The days when we wake up feeling bad or just off-center, we can choose to lift ourselves up. I picture the process as “up-shifting;” that is, manually shift from cranky to happy. We can decide, just like that, that we want to be happy. We can decide to be grateful and see all that is good in our lives.

How do we do this? It’s as easy as saying out loud, “I am going to be happy and grateful today. I am leaving this bad mood by the side of the road, and I am going to start by being kind to the first person I see.” Just these thoughts and saying the words out loud make a chemical shift in our brains so that we actually can become happy.

By all means we can be kind to others. But why not be kind to ourselves? It’s a win-win; good for us and good for those around us. Even if we extend kindness to another person by simply smiling at them, it changes us and it changes them. They might not even smile back, BUT it makes a difference; believe it.

Kindness is the ultimate life-changer. Let’s all “up-shift!”

 

Four Rituals That Will Make You Happier – Part Two

This is the second part of what was sent to me by my amazing teacher, *Noreen McDonald. This article, “Four Rituals That Will Make You Happier (part two)” came from Eric Barker, a neuroscience researcher, and author of “Barking Up the Wrong Tree.” I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

  1. 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.

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.

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.

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 two 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.

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.

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.

OK, 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.

Have fun with friends.”

  1. 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.

In fact, as demonstrated in an MRI 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 important to your brain’s feeling of happiness. Want to take that to the next level? Touch people.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

OK, 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 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.”

(Thank you, Noreen McDonald, for sending this! Check her out at http://noreenmcdonald.com/.)

 

Thank You, Mr. Holden

My Latin teacher, Gerald Holden, was about the scariest teacher I ever had. Although he had a wicked sense of humor, you never knew which Mr. Holden it would be on any given day. He could be breath-takingly funny, or he could rip you apart with a well-chosen word. However, I loved his class because I fell in love with Latin.

Let people call it a “dead” language; it was and is at vital as when Caesar addressed his troops. Because Mr. Holden was so strict about homework, I did all I could to stay ahead in it. I spent many nights feverishly memorizing Cicero’s *Catiline Orations, afraid that if I slipped up on it, I would receive one of Mr. Holden’s scathing looks and reprimands.

This is the part I remember best:

“Quo usque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra? Quam diu etiam furor iste tuus nos eludet? Quem ad finem sese effrenata iactabit audacia? Nihilne te nocturnum praesidium Palati, nihil urbis vigiliae, nihil timor populi, nihil concursus bonorum omnium, nihil hic munitissimus habendi senatus locus, nihil horum ora voltusque moverunt? Patere tua consilia non sentis? Constrictam iam horum omnium scientia teneri coniurationem tuam no vides? Quid proxima, quid superiore nocte egeris, ubi fueris, quos convocaveris, quid consilii ceperis, quem nostrum ignorare arbitraries?”

Translation:

“Tell me, Catiline, how long shall you abuse our patience? How long shall you mock us with your madness? To what end shall your unrestrained audacity toss itself about? Is the garrison of the Palatine nothing to you, the wakefulness of the city nothing, the meeting of all good men nothing, convening the Senate in this most fortified place nothing, nothing that the faces and expressions of these men are troubled? Do you not sense your plans lain bare? Do you not see your conspiracy held in chains by the things known to all these men? What you did last night, the night before last, where you were, with whom you met, at what plan you arrived, who among us do you suppose to be ignorant?”

I practiced this until I could recite it, word for word, with confidence.

Not only did I learn to love this amazing language, but I found to my surprise that some still speak it. While in high school I was lucky enough to go on a class trip to Rome, Italy. When I forgot the rudimentary Italian I learned prior to the trip, I was able to get by with some Latin.

Going to Rome felt like coming home to dear old friends I had discovered in Mr. Holden’s class. When I went to the colosseum, I saw the famous statue of Caesar addressing the troops. It took my breath away.

Later in life, I loved learning the Latin names for flowers, plants, and animals. Latin came in handy for sussing out new words, too. The small chart below shows just a few Latin words and their meanings:

annus year
ante meridiem before noon
aqua water
bene well, good
canis dog
caput head
circus circle
cogito I think
corpus body
de facto in fact
deus god

Mr. Holden’s Latin class was one of the stand-out experiences for me in high school. At that time, I had no idea of how much Latin would figure in my life; I still use Latin phrases to this day.

Although Mr. Holden often scared me, I admired him and was glad to be in his class. He could be devastatingly funny one day, and brutally snappish the next. When he died in 1968, I found out that he had been ill for a long time and had been in nearly constant pain. No wonder he had some bad days.

I will always be grateful to this amazing and complicated man for opening my mind and heart to Latin.

Thank you, Mr. Holden—**ad astra per aspera.

*The Catiline Orations, or Catilinarian Orations, were speeches given in 63 BC by Marcus Tullius Cicero, the consul of Rome to expose to the Roman Senate the plot to overthrow the Roman government, purportedly led by Lucius Sergius Catilina (Catiline) and his allies.

**To the stars through difficulty.