Tag Archives: Happiness

5 Ways to make your town (and the people who live there) happier

4 Aug

Some people could talk for hours on end about their love for where they live and others in the same environment might feel their town should be listed on a Rough guide no travel zone.

How we feel about where we live can be affected by many different factors, Cultural legacy, light aspect of the town, social diversity, inclusion, municipal involvement and funding, green area to building ratio, outdoor lifestyle opportunities, community feel and social engagement all can positively or negatively affect a communities translation of what it is..

I thought today we would look at some interesting initiates that transformed they way people felt about where they lived. Let’s take a look

Sometimes ideas  sound so different to the norms that we think they could never work. Here is one that did work.

1. Create traffic with no rules

Visualize your town centre as it is now, imagine it with no road markings or street barriers, in fact the street and the footpath are all on the same level( No kerb) no speed signage and at junctions no traffic lights. What would you imagine would happen? Rising pedestrian, bicycle and vehicle collisions? Chaos at junctions spaces where  traffic lights and barriers once where? The public avoiding visiting the town centre due to speeding cars on unmarked streets?The answer is quite different to what you expected.

Back as far as the 1970’s a Dutch traffic engineer named Hans Monderman thought the opposite. Hans had come up with the concept of the Naked street.

The concept was simple, by creating a greater sense of uncertainty and making it unclear who has the right of way on a street, drivers begin to reduce their speed and everyone who uses the street increases their level of risk compensation. In other words by creating a perceived greater risk, people adjust their behaviour. People now need to react to others in the environment around them rather than relying on pedestrian crossings and traffic lights to manage their decisions. Hans realised that in riskier environments pedestrians and drivers respond by behaving in a safer manner. Removal of speed bumps, safety barriers and traffic lights creates a street environment that fosters eye contact and human interaction. Creating  an almost mindful experience of interacting with other users of a street.

Hans created this experience in the town of Drachten in the Netherlands in 2004 and soon discovered that

  • Congestion had decreased
  • Traffic accidents were reduced by 50%
  • Traffic increased by 33%
  • There was a remarkable increase in the use of informal hand signals between users of the intersection, with bicyclists in particular indicating direction more often than usual, and greater use of indicators (turn signals) by drivers.
  • A substantial reduction in delays to public transport had been achieved.
  • Public perceptions of spatial quality and personal security had improved.

Here is an amazing example of how it works on a street intersection in Drachten.

Hans helped design spaces that provided us with greater human interaction and greater awareness of those around us. Sadly Hans Passed away in 2008 but his revolutionary thinking changed the way we can think about our urban interactions.

 

2. Shut the city down…for a bit

Bogotá in Columbia is the 4th highest capital city in the world at 2625m above sea level with a population of almost 8 million people.

If you where to visit Bogotá this, or any weekend you would wake up to find that from 7am on Sunday morning until 2pm, 120 km’s of city streets are closed to all vehicular traffic other than bicycles, skateboards, rollerblading and people. The streets of Bogotá on this or any other weekend will be filled with between 1-2million cyclists, joggers, rollerbladers, dancers and Yoga enthusiasts.

Mobile bicycle repair mechanics set up every few hundred metres, repairing punctures and chains alongside roadside food vendors. Travel into the Parque Nacional in the Puente Narada district and you will see evidence of Recrovia with locals participating in free Yoga and aerobic dance classes.

Cyclovia (Meaning Cycleway in Spanish) was first held in December 1974 by local Cycling enthusiasts . In 1976 it was championed by Bogota’s Mayor Luis Prieto Ocampo. It was challenged in 2007 by Colombian congressman, José Fernando Castro Caycedo. Jose argued that it was causing traffic disruption and needed to be curtailed. Ironically he suffered a heart attack while arguing his point in the Senate live on air and died the following day.

For every Peso invested in Cyclovia in Bogotá there is a net saving of 3 peso’s on healthcare costs. Providing a net saving of 38 Billion pesos per year.

cycloviad

Bogotá has 350km of cycle paths more than any other American city. It is law in Bogotá  that all car parks must include spaces for bikes. There is a lot of congestion and traffic in a city with a population of 7.8 million people. Listen to this for an initiative: if your car has an odd number as the last digit on the registration plate you can not travel in the city between the hours of 6.00-8.30am and 3.00-7.30pm on an odd-numbered day of the month. For example Reg 472BG69 can not drive in Rush hour on the 15th of the month or any other subsequent odd numbered days. That’s new thinking.

Bogatano’s  even have day in February where all cars are eliminated from the 800km of city streets, it’s called “Dias Sin Carro”  Another among the many initiatives that have transformed the fourth highest capital city in the world to possibly the healthiest city in South America.

3. Transform the ordinary and people will come

Toms Kokins and Evelina Ozola are two Latvian Architects who decided to prove that it is possible to make space for social interaction in urban spaces alongside bicycle lanes and street traffic.

They painted two opposing 14 metre sides of the street in Riga and increased the pathway space on a street that was seen as merely a functional route to somewhere else. Would people react differently when for a couple of days they transformed the way people responded to a once nondescript location. A street where people passed by everyday suddenly became a place for people to connect and meet.

Have a look below and see for yourself how we simply can reclaim and reframe the streets where we live and socialize.

 

4. Turn your city into a playground

Dan Acher is a Swiss creative artist who looks at towns and cities and sees how he can garner greater human connections and transform city spaces with interactive projects.

One of Dan’s projects is called “Touch and dance” . A standalone stage is placed in town centre. You simply take out your MP3 player or phone and plug it into a connecting lead at the stage. But no music plays at all until …… and here is why the project works on an interactive level.. there are two points on either side of the stage that require to be both touched simultaneously by a human chain. You need about 7-10 people to complete that chain. Only then will the music on the Mp3 player play and people can dance. So people who want to play music and dance will need the co-operation of others for it to happen. Maybe requiring you to request the help from passing strangers. It encourages connections and human interaction. Who doesn’t like music and dancing.

Dance

Dan has also scattered pianos around the streets of Geneva  in a project called “Jouez, je suis à vous” “Play me, I’m yours” where people can randomly play music and songs to intimate gatherings of strangers who gather to listen to or join in and singalong. At first Dan thought all the pianos would end up in Lake Geneva, but he soon discovered that people took pride in the pianos even painting them. On days with rain Dan and his Team at Happycitylabs had designed covers for the pianos. Only to discover  when they ran out to put them on that they locals had created covers themselves in a great act of ownership and respect for the pianos.

Dan thought all the pianos would end up in Lake Geneva, but he soon discovered that people took pride in the pianos even painting them

Piano

Dan has also created many other outdoor urban installations including Borealis which uses green and blue lazers that interact with the cloud formations to provide the experience of the Aurora Borealis anywhere. It is beautiful and no cloud formation is ever the same.

The Happycitylabs have many more projects in the pipeline ready to transform the way people view where they live.

5. Set your town on Fire-Find a reason to party

Finding a reason to celebrate should not be a hard thing to do. Very few people complain and most everyone enjoys them. Wether it’s the  Kattenstoet to Cat parade in Ypres in Belgium that celebrates….cats or La Tomatina in Spain which celebrates the tomato crop or Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It’s all a form of good natured escapism.

Las Fallas in Valencia,Spain is the Festival of torches. I have included this because I have never had so much fun in a city during a festival. Technically its not an initiative like our previous projects, But I think fiestas are a great way for communities to come together and it’s hard to beat the Spanish at this game.

 

las fallas 4

The Festival is for 5 days and 5 nights in March each year beginning on the 15th celebrating St Joseph and concluding on the 19th.

The city is split into different neighbourhoods and each neighbourhood has a leader who organises fund-raising dinners and events throughout the year. Coming up to the festivals each neighbourhood picks a satirical theme( usually political) and a child friendly theme they then construct the most colourful papier-mache models collectively called Falla. The Falla that are designed are very colourful almost Disneyesque. They fill them with firecrackers and assemble them within the various city barrios.People walk around for days eating street food and drinking beer while admiring the creations, The Falla must be created and in place by the evening of March the 15th to avoid disqualification.

Every morning at 8am there is a wake up call from brass bands and the festivities begin. At 2pm each day the most intense explosion of firecrackers called La Mascleta takes place in the city centre surrounded by thousands of people.Fireworks also play a big part in the celebrations. Kids walk along the streets setting off firecrackers. Its not a festival for those easily frightened.

On the final day the 19th of March each year at 7pm “Cavalcad del Foc” (The fire parade) takes place through the city and then at 10pm “La Crema” begins. All the Falla that have been constructed throughout the city are set alight. First the children’s Falla and then at Midnight the Main Falla are lit and explode in a haze of firecrackers and fireworks like a massive bonfire. The city literally is on fire and the noise is incredible. Firebrigades hose down buildings and walls to avoid fire and structural melting. The city feels so alive. You have to experience it to believe it. It is like no one sleeps for 5 days and Valencia completely comes alive.

The city feels so alive. You have to experience it to believe it.

You are not trapped by your city you are simply trapped by the way you think it traps you. Change your thinking and you open the possibilities of transforming where you live and transforming how it makes you feel.

 

You are not to think you are anything special?

3 Jul

Community3jpg

The ten rules state:

  1. You’re not to think you are anything special.
  2. You’re not to think you are as good as we are.
  3. You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.
  4. You’re not to imagine yourself better than we are.
  5. You’re not to think you know more than we do.
  6. You’re not to think you are more important than we are.
  7. You’re not to think you are good at anything.
  8. You’re not to laugh at us.
  9. You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
  10. You’re not to think you can teach us anything.

Your child is living in a world of comparisons and it is hurting them. No other generation in the history of ever have spent so much time comparing themselves to others and it’s causing all sort of social and personal anxieties.

They have also been told that they are above average and the truth is that some of us are below average some of us are above average but most of us are average that’s how average works and thats ok. Most of us are average.

If we are all special then we have to change the meaning of the word special because as it sit’s we can’t all be “Better, greater, or otherwise different from what is usual” as the Oxford dictionary outlines.

Your child is living in a world of comparisons and it is hurting them

The ten rules outlined above are called the Jante Law in Denmark Jantelagen in Sweden and Janteloven in Norway. They are derived from a book written in 1933 A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks by Aksel Sandemose a Danish turned Norwegian author. Jante is a fictional town that Sandemose writes about that focuses on the collective rather than the individual.

For many who live in rural Norway, Denmark and Sweden these rules have subconsciously been a part of their way of life for many years. No one is seen as greater than the collective. It has led to an egalitarian society with higher levels of humility than most and a place for each country on the top ten list of the Worlds happiest countries. Hard though if your personality wants to stick out from the norm.

In Sweden they have a term many other countries struggle with Lagom. Lagom  for the Swedes means not too much of one or the other ,just right, or average. It is this ability to find contentment in what you have rather than wishing for more, that allows the Swedes a level of contentment that other countries struggle with. Align your expectations with your reality and Happiness follows.  Spend your evening outlining your amazing  accomplishments to dinner party full of Swedes might be the last dinner party you are invited to for a while. It is simply not the done thing.

Maybe the subconscious living of the laws in Nordic countries allows Happiness to be maintained as expectations are lower than in other countries and when those expectations of Life are surpassed or equalled then happiness is experienced.

Happiness ≥ reality – expectations

In a world of increasing child and teen anxiety, trying to prove your place in the world and base your existence on success is raising our expectation levels to unattainable heights. Is a bit of Jante and Lagom positive for the way we interact with others. Is a society based around Jante law the key to a happier existence? The world of exposure to information, comparison, negative news and less privacy is where kids and teens presently live and it is not serving them well.  They have a fear of the world and a ready naivety in sharing information to others without the realisation of the consequences.

There are eleven laws of Jante outlined in Sandemon’s novel but one law is rarely mentioned. I think that law is more pertinent to why so many experience higher levels of anxiety and isolation than ever before, it’s a law that sums up our modern data and information obsessed cultures and it’s become increasingly worrying. For every parent that allows their child to pst and share information online. Be aware of law number 11

  1. Perhaps you don’t think we know a few things about you?

 

Life is now and now is amazing,

28 Jun

A happiness must read. Mo Gawdat’s wonderful book ‘Solve for Happy“.

Solve for happy

Mo has a back story. He is a Chief business officer with Google with two children Ali a 21-year-old young man and Aya his younger sister. In the Summer of 2014 Ali returned to Dubai where Mo and the family lived from College in Boston where he was studying, for a short visit. Within 4 days Ali had died from a punctured femoral artery in a routine appendectomy.  Mo’s beloved son and best friend was now dead. Seventeen days later Mo began writing his book on Happiness ” Solve for Happy”

Through Mo’s grief he began to understand that we inhabit 5 different states.

The State of confusion

This is where the beliefs that we have learnt in our formative years mask the reality of a situation. Our beliefs that we are not popular, engaging or intelligent can affect the way we see the world. It’s Saturday morning downtown and we see our friend Sally on the other side of the street, we wave and say hello. She doesn’t respond and walks on.

If I have a belief that people don’t like my company because I am awkward or boring then this scenario cements that belief as Sally obviously has no interest in being around me. I have no evidence that this is true or not other than what my belief is informing me.

The State of suffering

Sally has ignored me and now I am sitting at home wondering what I have done that has led to her ignoring me. I ruminate about the recent conversations and interactions with her. Did I say something inappropriate last time we met. Has one of my kids fought with her kids at School? I might even check social media to see that I haven’t made a comment that she might have disproved of. I spend a lot of time thinking about what happened last Saturday morning and my conclusions are not good. I feel worse every time I revisit it. Our beliefs cause illusions and our thoughts create suffering.

The following week I bump into Sally at the Supermarket. Uh oh here she comes I am really nervous and don’t know what to say. Sally opens here mouth first.

Sally: There you are. I haven’t seen you in ages

Me: I saw you last Saturday morning on the main street.

Sally: Really? Oh Don’t talk about last Saturday… I dropped Sean down to football practice and he forgot his boots so we had to go home to get them and I had a hair appointment for 11am downtown for my cousin Margaret’s wedding in the afternoon and stupidly I locked my keys in the car. I had to dash to get the hair appointment before trying to get David to drive in with a spare set of keys before I could get to the laundrette for my dress. I was all over the place on Saturday morning. Sorry,I never saw you at all.

Me: Oh!

Sally : But it’s great to see you now. If you have some time free now why don’t we catch a coffee over there and I will tell you all about the wedding?

Me: Yes , That would be lovely.

The event has not changed. Sally still did not reply to me last Saturday. But the way I think about the event has changed. My thoughts caused the suffering not the event.

Our ancestors ability to create worst case scenarios have kept us alive for years. When our ancestors looked over the plains of Mozambique or Siberia they where not admiring the view or the sunset before us. They looked for threats,danger, predators, hostile tribes and strangers. The sound of a rustle of a nearby bush took all the brain’s focus because it focusses on threats and did not see the beautiful skies or the way the sunlight danced with the leaves of the trees. The Brain is hardwired to look for negativity. It’s our development of this fight or flight response over millennia that has allowed us to thrive as humans. We no longer require the need to hunt for food, finding parking at a supermarket carpark is as stressful as it gets when feeding our families. Yet it’s our thoughts that affect the event not the event itself.

It’s our thoughts that cause us suffering.

My Daughter borrows my car and is involved in a car accident. My car is totalled but the safety features of the car kicked in and she is safe and unharmed. My thoughts are “Thank God she is safe.. I am so relieved” My expectation was the worst but the reality is a relief.

Happiness equation

My Daughter borrows my car and drives to a beach parks the car and goes for a walk. The tide comes in and washes my car out to sea. My immediate thought  is “How could she have been so stupid what was she thinking etc. I possibly might bring the washed out to sea car scenario up every time I get angry with my daughter over some other issue.

The event is the same. I lost my car in both scenarios, but my thoughts were different. It’s our thoughts that cause us suffering. So often our thoughts lead to unhappiness.

The State of Escape.

We are really good at this. How many of us spend our week looking forward to Saturday night only to dread Monday two days later. It’s even reckoned that the day of the year we feel worst is the 22nd of January, after the splurge of Christmas, the January weather and the lack of funds why wouldn’t we be. Personally I quite like the 22nd of January. We escaped for Christmas and this is the price we pay.

You might feel so happy at Christmas but what happens when it is no longer Christmas? You meet a young 20 something on holiday in a popular party destination, Ibiza or Magaluf on a Tuesday of a week-long holiday and ask them how happy they are and the response out of ten is most likely to be quite high possibly a 8/9 out of 10 if not higher. Meet them in the airport departures lounge after a week of partying the following Sunday and you might receive a completely different response and that happiness score may have dropped quite dramatically. Meet them three months after their week long holiday and ask them have they retained  the heightened sense of happiness on that Tuesday in Ibiza and the response might not be positive.

Don’t get me wrong fun is good and should be incorporated daily into our lives. Do I enjoy Bungee jumping and Jumping out of planes on occasion. Yes I do but am I unhappy once I am not participating in these activities. No.

That is why happiness is found outside of escape its bigger than a Saturday night with the guys, it’s a greater constant.

A State of Happiness

If you wanted to know how happiness could be contained in an equation. The answer is here and it is really quite simple.

Happiness is ≥ Expectation(event) – Reality

Simply put if the reality of my situation meets my expectations then I will be happy.

If might be nervous about travelling on holiday to Italy because I have never been before, I know none of the language and I think the people might be unfriendly and the food expensive. When I arrive I find the people wonderfully friendly and open and the food realistically priced and full of flavour leading to a great holiday then I am feeling happy.

Alternatively if I go to Iceland expecting reasonably priced food and drink, an abundance of my favourite restaurant McDonald’s to feed me for my slim budget and  days on the beach in balmy summer sun. Then I might be surprised to find that food and drink is very expensive, the last McDonald’s left Iceland a few years ago and 14ºC  and cloudy is a normal summers day in Iceland. My expectations where not met and now I am unhappy.

Unhappiness is ≤ Expectations – Reality

I always wondered what the world of a perfectionist feels like because they are constantly having their expectations dashed.  If your expectations from Life are that you want to be surrounded by wealth and success to experience happiness than you may struggle because relying on the hedonic treadmill for your happiness is not the answer.

Happiness comes from accepting what you have in life and being grateful. We live in a world of comparisons. We spend our time comparing ourselves more than ever with others. I may be worth €20 million(I’m not by the way) and live quite a content life with my fortune until I am introduced to Maria at a dinner function and am informed that she is worth €125 million. Suddenly I  may feel envious of Maria and possibly inadequate regarding my financial situation and feel that my $20 million is no longer enough.

As Mo Explains in” Solve For Happy”  we should not spend our lives looking up because “what we don’t have is infinite“. We should spend more time looking down. If today you bought a cup of coffee for a couple of euros , be grateful because more than 3 billion people in this world live on less than $2.50 a day and more 1.3 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day. Just think of how lucky you are.

When you see the truth of your unfolding life and compare it to realistic expectations of how life actually unfolds, you will remove the reasons to be unhappy and realise, more often than not, that everything fine, and so you will feel happy” Mo Gawdat

what we don’t have is infinite“.

But we don’t stop here.There is further to go and it’s….

The State of Joy

Those who reach a state of joy are completely immersed in it. They have cracked it that the Joy lies in the present moment. Anxiety is based in thoughts about the future. Will my relationship work out? Will My job be still there in 5 years? Will my health be good? etc, The past throws up guilt, shame and regret. So the present is all we control.

Those who experience Joy are accepting of life as it actually is. Supermarket queues can be long. Car parking spaces can sometimes be hard to find. Our partner is sometimes annoying, our parents pass away.  It’s the way we think of it that matters. The queue is long because the shop is busy beacuse it’s a popular place and sometimes that happens but it’s really great that I can get all the food I needed conveniently in one place. Parking is taking time today but there are millions in this world who have never even sat in a car let alone tried to find parking space. My partner can be annoying but that is far outweighed by all the other wonderful qualities she has that make me feel happy to have her in my life. My parents may have passed away but what wonderful parents they were to me when they were here, so supportive and loving. I am glad that I had them to show me what being a good person looks like. We all die.

It is that acceptance of life that stops us from fighting life. If You have ever read Benjamin Hoff’sThe Tao of Pooh” Where Hoff  looks at Pooh bear from AA Milnes Books and discovers a bear that just let’s life happen. The uncarved block who lives the principles of Taoism. While Eeyore Frets… and Tigger bounces…and Owl pontificates…Pooh just is. Winnie the pooh never worries about where his next jar of honey will arrive from. He is aligned with the flow of life and somehow it does.

While Eeyore Frets… and Tigger bounces…and Owl pontificates…Poooh just is.

Flow is important for Joy as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discovered in the 1970’s. It’s an ability we achieved quite easily through play as a child, no sense of time and being very present. Artists and musicians enter this estate quite readily. Completely present and lost in time. As I am writing this article I am in Flow and I have not moved for hours as I right to you. Its joyous and it’s very present.

Joy allows us to set realistic expectations of life. At times my life will be harsh and at others it won’t. I have no expectation that my life will be always easy. But I have an expectation that when it is not I am somewhat prepared for it because I know it is expected. Toast falls Jam side down some days and in the end we all die. I can’t fight that but Joy is the knowledge that in-between that there will be magic. Life is now and now is amazing. Thank you Mo.

Happiness is ≥ Expectation(event) – Reality

Want less stress? Get excited, join a choir and help others.

7 Apr

We have all felt stressed at some stage in your life, You might even have felt stressed already today. You might feel a little bit of anxiety reading this realising you are meant to be doing something more productive or important. You are alive because of stress, If there was no stress you would be dead.

You might enjoy spending time walking in the park looking at the various animals in nature or feeling relaxed looking into your back garden at some birds that are feeding on breadcrumbs or seeds that you have left out for them.

Watching them sit on the garden fence nervously looking around and waiting for that moment when there seems to be no predators around and then quickly flying to the bread still looking around anxiously and taking quick nips at the bread while still surveying the garden for danger. Eventually flying away in a panic when they hear an unfamiliar noise like a back door slamming.  The bird needs to eat to but it also has a desire to stay alive and it does this by remaining in a heightened state of stress while it tries to eat in a possibly dangerous unfamiliar environment.

No Stress = No Human Race

This is exactly how we have survived as a human race for 10’s of thousands of years. The fight or flight response kept us alive as hunter gatherers thousands of years ago before agriculture when we had to hunt for food in environments where we could also be seen as something elses food. Cortisol, adrenaline, glucose and even oxytocin is secreted into the body to help us defend ourselves in these situations and stay alive or run away and survive. Just like the little bird in your garden. Or the squirrel in the park.

We no longer rely on hunting as a means to stay alive in this modern world. But our bodies are still equipped to experience the same fight or flight response. We might get the same release of stress hormones into our body late at night down a dark alleyway when we feel something is not quite right. These stress hormones help us to fight and defend ourselves and stay alive or depart the situation very quickly and also stay alive. A very similar situation to our hunter gatherer ancestors. But in the safer world that we live in there is less need for this response.

We have a created a number of different activities and situations that cause our bodies to  trigger the fight or flight response now, job interviews, being late for a deadline, road rage,feelings of inadequacy, difficulty paying bills or being overwhelmed at work all can trigger the fight or flight response and stress. The thing is, if the bird in the back garden feeding on the bread, felt that same level of stress all the time it would quite quickly die. Its heart and immune system would eventually break down and life would end. It’s the  exact same for us. Too much stress with out a break kills us.

Stressjpg

We are not good at being stressed for long periods of time. Our bodies can’t take it. In today’s world though how do we avoid any stress at all? We could spend our life avoiding the exam, the job interview,the first date the work presentation. But ultimately live a life unfulfilled and without challenge. Feeling anxiety and experiencing feelings of discomfort in unfamiliar situations are behaviours that our brain has not forgotten. It’s a coping mechanism. Is there a way to harness stress to work in our favour and help us?

It seems there is

Anxiety and excitement are very similar states. They are both aroused emotions. In both cortisol(stress hormone) surges the heart beats faster and the body is preparing itself for action. The only difference is that one is a negative emotion and the other is positive. When we are in an anxious state the first piece of advice usually is to calm down and relax. This is almost impossible as the body is surging with cortisol and adrenaline and the heart is beating faster and the blood is being oxygenated. Returning to a zen like state any time soon is unlikely.  How can we use this anxiety filled state to benefit us in this situation?

congruence

Well Alison Woods Brooks a professor at Harvard business school found some interesting results through research in 2014.

She conducted three experiments.

  1. The first one involved 113 participants in an activity that would certainly raise the stress levels. Sing a song in front of a group of people. The song she chose was “Don’t stop believin” by Journey due to its familiarity and popularity.  She then split participants into groups.  Each group either focused on feeling anxious, excited, calm, sad or angry. With phrases like “I am anxious” or “I am excited”. Using a video game that scored on pitch and accuracy of singing from participants.

The results were interesting. All those in the anxious group scored a 53% accuracy on the gaming results. Those that had focused on calm, anger or sadness had achieved 69% averages. But this that had focused on “I am excited” had seen a score of 80% average and reported a greater feeling of enjoyment while performing. It takes less of a move to change anxiety to excitement( arousal congruence) than to switch it to calmness.

2. Public speaking is a frightening prospect for many people but we all have to deal with it at some stage. 140 participants were asked to talk to a team of  judges on “Why they should be considered good working partners” The judges were to ask tough questions and the participants were to be filmed. Participants were asked to repeat beforehand that “I am calm” or ” I am excited”. Independent evaluators judged those in the excited group had more persuasive, competent and relaxed presentations.

3. The third experiment involved a series of mathematical tests. Beforehand 188 participants either focused on “Trying to get excited” “Trying to keep calm” or did nothing at all. All those in the excited group performed 8% on average higher in the test than the calm and control group and reported feeling more relaxed about their capabilities.

The way it works is that it puts people into an opportunity mindset with a focus on the positives that can happen rather than dwelling on a threat mindset where anxiety lies.

 

Kelly McGonigal who spoke on the TED stage back in 2013 spoke about the importance of using stress to your advantage. If we think differently about stress we can see remarkable results. The heart beating faster is helping you, you get blood flowing to the brain and greater oxygenation of the blood vessels.

Kelly says that when you believe that while you are stressed the body is helping you with your current situation your body believes it too and responds accordingly.

She argues that stress makes us social. The body produces oxytocin when we are stressed its also produced when we make love or are hugged by someone. It’s seen as a trust hormone. It’s a neurohormone. When we are stressed and we seek supports and make social contacts with others we produce oxytocin. The more oxytocin we produce the faster you recover from stressful situations. This might account for the high levels of life expectancy within countries that score high for strong social support on the World happiness report. Countries Like Norway, Denmark, Iceland and other Nordic countries score high on trust and social supports. Icelandic citizens in particular with a life expectancy of 83 rely on strong social supports and connections.

Choir6

 Sing like your winning

Iceland has over 300 choirs with more than 9,000 members in a population of 325,000 people, that is very impressive.Choirs are a great way to feel less stressed and connected as explained here  by Oliver Burkeman and experience something greater than you alone.

It’s what we do when we are in a stressful situation that matters. A 5 year study by Michael Poulin released in 2013 at the University of Buffalo in New york involved almost 900 people in the Detroit Michigan area.  The participants all aged between 34-93 were asked two questions

  1. How much stress have you experienced in the past year?
  2. How much time have you spent helping to friends, neighbours and relatives?

Specifically, over the five years of the study, we found that when dealing with stressful situations, those who had helped others during the previous year were less likely to die than those who had not helped others,” he says.

Self-reported stressful experiences included such things as serious, non-life-threatening illness, burglary, job loss, financial difficulties or death of a family member.

Respondents also reported the total amount of time in the past 12 months they had spent helping friends, neighbours or relatives who did not live with them by providing transportation, doing errands and shopping, performing housework, providing child care and other tasks.

“When we adjusted for age, baseline health and functioning and key psychosocial variables,” Poulin says, “the Cox proportional hazard models (the most widely used method of survival analysis) for mortality revealed a significant interaction between helping behavior, stressful events, morbidity and mortality.

“Our conclusion,” he says, “is that helping others reduced mortality specifically by buffering the association between stress and mortality.

It’s not that we experience stress that is affecting us it’s what we do with the stress that matters. Stress is inevitable we can’t escape it will always be a part of our lives.

If you are feeling anxious before a test, a first date, job interview or work presentation understand that what is going on in your body is trying to help you. So

What works/

  • Reframe your situation: Use that energy to help you “feel excited” will always give you greater advantage, It’s called arousal congruence.
  • When you are stressed use the supports around you to help you release oxytocin. Get hugs, have sex or simply connect on a deeper level with those around you. The oxytocin will help the heart regenerate from stress related damage. The more oxytocin you produce the faster you recover from stress.
  • Join a choir. The sense of belonging and connection to something bigger has a great impact on our stress,social connections and pain threshold. Research from Goldsmiths college in London explains this
  • Do good for others. Caring for other people lowers levels of stress considerably and creates resilience.

 

Maybe its time to take control of your stress.

 

 

The 3rd Happiest Place in the world?

30 Mar

Iceland seems to be the place to go for a short break these days. No one ever talks about taking a two-week holiday or a month off to see Iceland. A couple of things probably play into this. One is that it seems to be really expensive. So expensive that only the Norwegians and the Danish and any of the residents of Monaco could afford to go and you know the Monegasque. people have no plan on heading north on holiday. The second is probably the weather. I’m feeling cold just thinking about the place.

Iceland is also a pretty unforgiving landscape. Icelandic natives call it the Beast, It gets tepid rather than warm during the summer months, tepid and bright and then it gets cold and dark really dark.  Many people think there are no trees in Iceland. That’s a myth but the truth is they don’t have as many as the Vikings would have seen in the 9th century on arrival or the Irish monks that visited in the 7th and the 8th century. What must Iceland have looked like to these early arrivals on this volcanic rock. The First Norwegian arrivals called it Snowland. A large amount of Iceland is volcanic rock. Not ideal terrain for tree planting. But reforestation is happening. Most trees are based around towns and Reykjavik

Alcohol was only legalised in 1989. With less than 30 years of legal alcohol production they wouldn’t be seen as world leaders in brewing or distilling. In 1908 Icelanders voted on a ban on all alcohol this came into play in 1915. By 1921 Spain refused to buy any Icelandic fish stocks until Iceland began to buy Spanish wine. Spirits were legalised in 1935 and beer with more 2.25% alcohol was not allowed, with the temperance lobby arguing it would lead to greater depravity( said the descendants of the Vikings)

As Icelandic citizens travelled abroad regularly the began two get a taste for beer. Bars in Iceland began adding spirits to non alcoholic beer for customers in the 1980’s but the minister for Justice banned this practice. Coming in line with other western societies prohibition of beer ended on March 1st 1989. Which ingeniously is now called “Beer Day”or Bjordagur.

Again you need to be quite organised if you like to drink alcohol in Iceland, as all Vínbúðin ( Wine shops) are state owned and are few and far between. They have restrictive opening hours 11am until 6pm Monday to Saturday . They go mad on Friday and stay open untill 7pm. On Sunday you can forget it none are open that day.

So when Icelanders are not drinking they read books. They really love books . In Iceland they publish more books per capita than any other country. Apparently 1 in 10 will publish a book over a lifetime.  As they say, “ Better to go Barefoot than without books” Maybe this ability to get lost in reading and writing allows the Icelandic to immerse themselves in imagination  and learning during the dark winter days and nights.

The Icelandic have a day for lots of different reasons. A day for men Bundadagur, a day for women called Konudagur and a day all countries should celebrate… a day for buns Bolludagur.

Buns

If you like McDonald’s you are out of luck They closed down when the Krona became expensive to deal with internationally and all the McDonald’s produce had to be imported from Germany. Not a bad thing in my opinion.

The truth is that when you are living or travelling within Iceland. You seem to have a disconnection and a connection. You have a connection to beauty and vastness of this beautiful Island. You can find solitude and a connection with nature that other places on earth make it feel a little more difficult to do and you also make a connection with people, you also can readily disengage from what really doesn’t matter in life and create a greater bond with the environment around you, the people from it and ultimately a greater connection with yourself.

Icelandic land

What are the 6 key factors to happiness and how does Iceland score rate with them?

  1. GDP per capita
  2. Social Support
  3. Healthy Life expectancy
  4. Social Freedom
  5. Generosity
  6. Absence of corruption

Icelands GDP per capita

When you think about it the GDP of Iceland should have fallen dramatically since the financial banking collapse of 2008. The Nordic average between Norway, Denmark,Sweden,Finland and Iceland is $47,375. Iceland’s GDP in 2016 sits at $43,872  this is higher than Finland but below the other 3 Nordic countries. But we know GDP on its own does not create a happier nation.

But economics does play a part and for a while Iceland was teetering on a rocky edge. The financial collapse in 2008 brought tough decisions for the people of Iceland. Three Banks  Kaupping,Glitnir and Landsbanki  were the banks responsible. The banks were equivalent to 10 times the GDP of Iceland and 20 times the state budget. Too big to bail out. In the space of 3 days 97% of the banking sector collapsed.

Iceland responded by conducting an extremely detailed investigation through a special agency into how this came about . They discovered like many other countries that the loans and capital were built on a distorted web of transactions and deals.

From this the Govt decided that people could not be driven into bankruptcy and the debt of households could not be more than the cost of their house. It became more complicated than this. The British and the Netherlands Government wanted a return of $5 billion that their citizens had lost  from Icesave accounts s during this collapse, The two governments had paid out to the citizens from those countries that had lost out. They then looked to Iceland for a reimbursement. The Icelandic Govt was going to reimburse but the president Olafur Ragnar Grimsonn vetoed this twice and went to a democratic vote of the people and the decision to pay back Britain and the Netherlands was vetoed,

Gordon Browns Government were incensed and placed Iceland on a listing of terrorists countries and organisations that included Al Qaeda and the Taliban. But the president Olafur said afterwards. “Paying back the British economy was asking Icelandic taxpayers to be responsible for the failure of this private bank. It was equal to asking the British Taxpayer to be responsible for $1,125 billion for a failure of a British Bank in Spain or Italy.” We did not pump public money into failed banks. We treated them like private companies that went bankrupt and let them fail”

Investigations happened and CEOs of Banks and others were jailed. No one else had done this before. GDP has dropped over the past number of years but all the mathematicians , engineers and computer scientists that were involved in the banks quickly got jobs in the I.T, Science  and start up sector, a much more beneficial use of talent for Iceland in the long run.

Dora Guorun Guomundsdottiris a psychologist in Reykjavik and the director general of the public health services Iceland. claims that money only 1 to 4% of happiness in Iceland. She says that people often overestimate the importance of money and their happiness.

We must also remember that Greece, Italy and Spain are still struggling years on and are much lower down the world happiness rankings with Greece at 87. Ireland is doing better at number 15 on rankings but it has accumulated a lot of debt for future generations.

Social Support

This is one of the key advantages of living in small communities, Thee is a greater chance of feeling that you have the support of people around you.

The question asked in the World happiness report was “If you were in trouble, do you have relatives or friends you can count on to help you whenever you need them?” Iceland scored higher than any other nation on this front with 99% of its populace agreeing with this statement. The one key thing that Icelanders feel is that there is always someone there to look out for them. Even as outlined above times of economic crises the Government and especially the President looked out for them and acted in a manner that cared more than other governments had done in similar circumstances. Those in power supported them in hard times.

Within Icelandic life Children have always mattered. Parents are provided with 9 months Maternity/Paternity leave for children. Both parents get joint custody of children after a divorce unless otherwise agreed. The child will always take the father’s name but since 1991 equality has allowed the mothers name to be used to. It works like this your father’s name could have been  Olarfur Arnarson his son’s name is Benny he becomes Benny Olarfsun ( son of Olarf) rather than Benny Arnarson. A daughter’s name might be Eva she will be called Eva Olarfdóttir( daughter of Olarfur) you get it now.

Incredibly 70.5% of babies are born out-of-wedlock in Iceland. There is no stigma with this in society and at the father is generally a part of the child’s life always. This goes back to Viking times when the men went travelling to foreign lands to pillage and get warmer, they left their wives at home with slaves from Scotland or Ireland. Many wives ended up having babies with the men left behind , When the Vikings returned their was a great tolerance for what happened and today it’s not uncommon for all 3 parents to be were involved in parenting. To this day if a parent that has sole custody marries again the Stepfather or Stepmom also gets custody even after one whole year of cohabitation.

Universities run day care for babies so Mothers can continue their education. This is very normal. Maternity leave is for 9 months at 80% salary. Thus is divided into 3 months for the Mother, 3 Months for the Father and 3 to be shared by both.  State run play schools are then there to help once the parents return to work, Iceland like all the other Nordic countries a high level of social support that contributes to its peoples happiness.

 

Healthy Life Expectancy

iceland thermal

The Icelandic population is one of the worlds highest Life expectancy rates at 83. The world average is 71. The fresh air, clean water, time spent sitting in thermal pools and an oily fish diet must play a big part in this. In the World Happiness report 2017 ( which rates this score on a number of factors) this is where Iceland excels with a score of 72.05 when the Nordic average is 71.42 and with the United states pitching in at only 70.13 . It’s hard to beat the Icelandic on life expectancy.

Generosity

They are also a very generous nation and happily give to others. They score higher than any other Nordic country the donation scale. Scoring 0.27 on the index as opposed to The Nordic average of 0.12. In 2015 Over 12,000 of the 329,000 Iceland population asked the Government to provide more support to Syrian refugees. Many offering ways that they can help.

Social freedom

Iceland 1

On March the 8th 2017 World women day Iceland announced it will require all employers to prove that they provide equal pay to their employees, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality or nationality. Iceland is the first country in the world to introduce such a policy.

When Icelanders were asked “Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your freedom to choose what to do with your life?  95% of the population were able to respond positively to this in line with Norway, Denmark and Finland.

Choices in Iceland are easier if you know that you have a large number of supports available to you. Education is free and University education has no tuition fees just a simple €100/€250 registration fee so students are not crippled with debt on leaving College.

For single parents with children there are day care facilities available within the University to cater for child minding. The ability to make independent decisions about careers and life choices is driving factor in happiness levels. Icelanders have a huge feeling of autonomy and control over their lives.

With 24 days annual holidays provided and 12 paid public holidays, Iceland has plenty of time to enjoy time with the family,travel or enjoy leisure time.

Just like other Nordic countries babies are left in prams outside coffee shops and children are allowed to travel to school on their own as young as six. Playing outside even on dark evenings and long summer nights is a way of life for citizens, with many social freedoms that others do not.

Interestingly Iceland’s government-run television station, which began broadcasting in 1966 and was the country’s sole channel for 20 years, went dark every Thursday until 1987 in order to promote human interaction. It also did not broadcast during the vacation month of July until 1983. People in Iceland love playing boardgames. Maybe thisd began in that period. Scrabble, anyone?

 Corruption

According to the Global peace index. Iceland is the safest place in the world to live a position it has held since 2009 with the exception of 2010 when it slipped to number 2. Knowing your country has that title must create a nice feeling for residents of Iceland. They don’t have an army or a navy yet they were one of the founding members of NATO.

On the Corruption perception index 2016 Iceland scored the lowest score of all the Nordic countries dropping to 14th place. This is not the worst position to be,but it is an indicator that perception from citizens  is different from once perceived. In the world happiness report 2017 Iceland scored a 0.72 perception of living in a corrupt society much higher than the Danish score of 0.21 and a Swedish and Norwegian score of 0.25.

The banking crisis and trust in organisations that plan to place factories where they can mine silica for Solar panels are seen as at odds with how Icelanders see how their country should move forward. There is also talk about privatisation off the health service which is worrying many that health care may drop into the wrong hands.

Strong Mental Health

Icelandic road

Dora Guorun Guomundsdottiris reckons that if monetary income only predicts 4% of happiness where does the other 96% needed come from. According to research that she has completed and from other studies, the best predictor for happiness is, social relationships. Findings from Icelandic data demonstrates that living with a partner is more likely to result in living a happier life than living alone, and spending time with friends and family also increases happiness. Another important factor for happiness is health, and in particular a persons mental health.

Dora developed Ten commandments of Mental health to help with people’s misconceptions of what leads to happiness. The Public health Institute of Iceland sent the ten commandments on a fridge magnet as a Christmas gift to every Icelandic home. If you drop into any Icelandic home have a look on the fridge and you may see them sitting there. Here they are

  • Think Positively
  • Cherish the ones you love
  • Continue learning as you live
  • Learn from your mistakes
  • Exercise daily
  • Do not complicate your life unnecessarily
  • Try to understand and encourage those around you
  • Do not give up: Success in life is a marathon not a sprint.
  • Discover and nurture your talents
  • Set goals for yourself and pursue your dreams

What is working?

For people to have lived on a cold  volcanic rocky outcrop in the Northern Atlantic for over a 1,000 years, it takes a number of strengths and one of those strengths is resilience. Whatever about living in Iceland in 2017. It is hard to image what it was like in the 9th and subsequent centuries. A country completely exposed to the elements. Yet they grew oats, barley and wheat, and ground the grain to make flour, porridge and ale. Vikings grew vegetables such as onions, beans and cabbages. Their farm animals included pigs, sheep, goats, cattle, geese and chickens. They used manure from the animals to keep the soil fertile. The surrounding oceans were the farms for Fisherman. But through all this the bitter cold of living in unheated abodes unlike now must have been difficult. Surrounded by unforgiving seas.

On 11 march 1984 Guðlaugur Friðþórsson was On a fishing trawler which capsized off the Westmanns Islands 3 miles from Iceland’s coast. The 4 other fisherman onboard died as the ship sank. Guðlaugur swam the 3 miles in 5º sea temperature to the Icelandic coast before having to traverse volcanic rock and -3 º wind temperatures to arrive at house 9 hours after capsizing at 7am. His core body temperature had only dropped to 34º without signs of Hypothermia. A film called the deep was made about his story. This is an example of the resilience that is needed to live on a rocky outcrop in the North atlantic.

The Icelanders also understand the importance of social  connection and surrounding yourself with family and friends. OF all the countries in the World happiness report 2017, Iceland scored highest when asked “If you were in trouble, do you have relatives or friends you can count on to help you whenever you need them?.  A huge 99% of icelanders said yes to this. They understand the importance of having social connections.

Equality is also something that they have worked on providing equality to all nationalities , genders and sexualities on March The 8th of 2017. Inequality within cultures is one of the greatest contributors to happiness.

The financial collapse of 2008 happened over 3 days that should have signalled an end to Iceland’s fortunes. They are still struggling to this day and the president and the people of the country that the public money should not be used to fund private banks. Measures were taken and some bankers were jailed none of the same actions are taken by Ireland, Greece Spain or Portugal all countries that could have learned from Icelands human approach. The people of Iceland feel they have a say and for many (but not all) they feel that the Government cares about them.

Iceland’s biggest problem at present is the huge rise in the number of visitors. It was roughly 500,000 a year before the iconic collapse of 2008 and is now closer to 1.5 million a year. Can Iceland sustain this number of tourists and does it have the  infrastructure to cope with an increasing number of them. Does Iceland want its main industry to be tourism or has it a more sustainable goal for industry as tourism can be fickle and as the ash cloud eruption of 2010 showed it can suddenly stop.

They have realised that if others are miserable, the likelihood will be that everyone will struggle with Happiness. The financial crisis is seen as a chance to wipe the slate clean and use it as an opportunity to build a more open society. In Iceland 85% of people reported  more positive experiences( feelings of rest, pride, accomplishment and enjoyment) than negative experiences of pain, boredom and sadness. This says a lot about the 3rd happiest nation in the world.

Sunny Iceland

Either way the Sunny outlook of a people who have found a way to live happily on a sometime dark, unforgiving rocky outcrop in the North Atlantic is a testament to the realisation that it is your outlook on life and how you live it that matters not your surroundings alone. Icelanders have learnt to embrace where they live and love who they live with.

They have a lovely saying that sums it all up, sometimes life can unexpectedly surprise you with little gifts

Það er rúsínan í pylsuendanum (That is the raisin at the end of the hot dog) 

 

 

Happiness isn’t complicated.

26 May

Gratitude

3 Dec

sunriseOver the past few months I have presented a number of talks to various groups either adults or students. Some of the talks are based around different topics positive mental health, happiness or inspiration. There is one thing that links all these together and that is something so simple and so uncomplicated that most of us never bother to practice it. It is a simple yet beautiful word and action… it is simply …Gratitude.

The world revolves at just the right speed the sun rises to greet us each day without us asking and the moon lights our way through night and provides the tidal cycles that are so important to the earth and its climate. Our environment is enriched with air which freely allows us to breath with most of us never understanding how this combination of  21% oxygen,  78% nitrogen and 1% other gasses formed to provide the most essential element that keeps us alive. The earth spins and night turns to day. While nature and the seasons work in harmony to provide us with food and water to keep us alive and colour to bring us joy. Our bodies work like a vast industrial complex pumping blood and fluid around our vessels , regulating temperature, blood pressure and our heart rate while manufacturing skin, hair and new cells whilst repairing what is out of balance…..it’s just amazing.

We turn on taps and clean water flows through them when others lie thirsty. We jump in the shower and we have instant hot water when so many in this world have never experienced the cleansing of a warm shower. We cool food in fridges and cook meals in ovens  from food on our tables as others go hungry. We have roofs over our heads and blankets on our bed when so many in this world are homeless. With health in our hearts we can run, jump feel the wind and sun on our faces when so many will never know what is to be able to walk or run. Swim in the sea and feel the waves wash over our faces when so many have never even had the ability to dip a toe or hand into or even stood and witnessed the might and beauty of the ocean. We are surrounded by radiant colours that change with seasons and beautifully dance with the rays from our Sun when so many have never been given the gift of sight.  We dance and hear music that lifts our moods and soundtracks our lives when so many have never experienced what it is to feel or hear that joy. We share touches with hugs and sneak kisses with lovers when so many would love to know what the warmth and love and caress from another human feels like…just once. We have friends that enjoy our company who revel in our smiles and share in our laughs when others have no one….not a single hand to hold. We can feel our heart sing as we express what we truly believe to be right when so many are too afraid or never allowed to speak out…………

We live on a dot spinning at 167o kms an hour surrounded by infinity and consisting of miracles. It is, a gift to be a part of this incredible world.

So what ever falls your way today… remember all the gifts that have been given to you, that so many others on this tiny dot we call “Earth” never get to experience… and simply or silently say

” Thank You “.

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