Thursday, September 27, 2012


c. Steinbeck

It is said that, during times of economic depression, people read Steinback; during prosperity they read Ayn Rand. It’s true. I read the Fountainhead and Anthem several years ago, during a much better economy. I started reading Grapes of Wrath this weekend.

It brought to mind all of the other books and stories I’ve read about people who are poor, yet don’t live like it; don’t let it define them. They have very full lives, and don’t lack anything they need. Granted, they didn’t have iphones… but they survived.

I started thinking how much our society has changed. Our generation has always known abundance. Just listen to any conversation amongst especially young people today. There is definitely an emphasis on money: having… getting… wanting. The current economic recession has rendered many people technically poor. People, who have no idea what it’s like to be without have felt themselves getting financially leaner.

I wondered how would our lavishly high-tech generation handle a depression? One where we would really have to do without?

Our richness or poorness has more to do with our mindset than the contents of our wallets. I have been miserable with a lot, and completely fulfilled with very little. It all has to with where we are putting our focus.

Sure, we need money for stuff. Our happiness doesn’t have to depend on how much expendable income we have. People have been content with both. Being financially rich pales in comparison to other areas we can be rich in.

Of course, I always thought it would be better to be financially rich, and just learn to develop the other areas, but if often doesn’t work that way. I’m not sure I would have learned to appreciate and work on enriching the other areas if I hadn’t needed to.

We can be rich in
• Lack of worry, peace of mind
• Creativity
• Family ties, friendships
• Mobility – the ability to do what you want, go where you want, live on your terms.
• Good health
• An uncluttered mind

If given a choice, I would most definitely choose richness in any of these areas before money.  So whenever you start to feel “poor,” try to think of areas you are abundant in. You may start to feel rich.

Can’t imagine a life without money? Heidemarie Schwermer, 
is a 70 year-old woman from Germany who wanted to test her beliefs that the homeless didn’t need money to be accepted into society, but rather a chance to empower themselves, to feel useful. What started as a 12 month experiment to go completely without money has ended up turning into a lifestyle for 15 years now.

c. 2012

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Change your mind


The day didn’t start out well. I hadn’t gotten enough sleep. I was groggy and a little dim witted. It seemed as though customers were vying in a contest for the most ridiculous requests. One by one, they topped each other.

First there was the lady who came in by herself with orders for her whole office, of which there were 5 Jennifers. [It made writing names on the cup interesting]. Each was minutely detailed. Oh, and she didn’t have a cart or anyone to help her carry.

There was the man who truly couldn’t comprehend the fact that we don’t have an oven to heat his scone in, that I seriously began to wonder if it was I, who was being unreasonable.

Having to explain the new policy to disappointed and a few disgruntled customers throughout the entire morning did little to add to the overall positive morale. 

I’ve always thought that the power of positive thinking was wishful thinking at best, and crap at worst. I thought that if a situation is bad, there is nothing wrong with saying so. It’s the only way I knew of to trouble-shoot.

As it turns out, my opinion of positive thinking was steeped in biology. Our brains are hard-wired to focus on the problems. Looking for the bright spot in the middle of negativity is counter-intuitive. It’s not natural.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that positive thinking actually strengthens the brain, as exercise stretches and strengthens my other muscles. It’s a way to build brain muscle! As with any exercise, you have to train it. By practicing gratitude, the brain produces neurotransmitters that brighten the mind.

So what are some ways we can flex the mind? By practicing gratitude. Next time you are In the middle of a problem, stop. [don’t worry, you have time], and be grateful for the things that ARE going right. Be thankful that it’s not 100 times worse.  By changing our focus to positive things, we can change our outlook drastically.

Neuroscientist, Rick Hanson, says “Research suggests that when people practice gratitude, they experience a general alerting and brightening of the mind, and that’s probably correlated with more of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine.”

He cites an interesting study to support his findings.  
“When college students deeply in love are shown a picture of their sweetheart, their brains become more active in the caudate nucleus, a reward center of the brain. As the mind changes—that rush of love, that deep feeling of happiness and reward—correlates with activation of a particular part of the brain. When they stop looking at that picture of their sweetheart, the reward center goes back to sleep.”

It works the other way as well. By fretting and worrying, our brain produces unhealthy levels of the hormone cortisol, which only makes a stressful situation worse.

Need some ideas of things to focus on in the middle of trying situations?
• Make a gratitude list
• Think of ways you can help someone out
• Sing Nothing’s Gonna Stop us Now, by Starship

You’re bound to be in a better mood in no time.

c. 2012

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

History always repeats

I found myself stressing about the economy and the general political state of affairs the other day. Knowing that history seems to repeat itself, I did some research and found that the same economic worries we are fretting about today are not new. I was reading about the Panic of 1837. 

Martin Van Buren, the 8th President of the United States inherited a mess. Well, it might not have been perceived as a mess. What started as economic boom under Andrew Jackson, ended up in ruins. New industries such as railroads, canals, and public real estate were accelerating the economy.

Jackson saw such a time of prosperity,  that not only was he able to pay off the national debt, there was a surplus that was distributed to the states to be invested in more railroads and canals.

Martin Van Buren
Many nervous people, as well as states, hoarded their gold and silver. They paid their debts with paper bank notes. This bothered Jackson so much that towards the end of his presidency he ordered the treasury not to accept bank notes, and only accept gold and silver.

The banks restricted credit and called in loans.

Panic ensued just 5 weeks after Van Buren began his presidency, though. The panic was caused by speculative fever, or cheap land sales. The government was selling land cheaply, producing mass inflation. What followed was a five-year depression with high unemployment and failed banks.

He was blamed for it. They called him “Martin Van Ruin,” partly because he wouldn’t let the government interfere with the economy. [He was also called “the little magician;” some say because of his small stature, others say because of his ability to “magically” win all of his debates.]

Many blamed the banks' irresponsibility. Funding these land purchases as well as mass-producing paper money lead to mass inflation.

"Out of 850 banks in the United States, 343 closed entirely, 62 failed partially, and the system of State banks received a shock from which it never fully recovered.".[4]

A four-year depression followed, with record high unemployment. Upon leaving office, he is quoted as saying, "As to the presidency, the two happiest days of my life were those of my entrance upon the office and my surrender of it."

 c. 2012

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A royal lesson in handling awkward situations


How would you handle a very public faux pas? In a day of gadgets that can record your every gaffe, blunder, and lack of judgment, it’s safe to say that many have been in jeopardy of some. er, compromising photos and statements taken out of context. This can be true whether you’re guilty or not.

Even before our most horrifying moments could be captured and aired to millions in a few seconds, we need only to look to our most primitive of brains to find out how we would react defending ourselves in awkward situations. We would fight it, escape from it, or ignore it and hope it goes away [freeze]; possibly all of the above.

In a freeze mode, the Royal Palace has apparently attempted to block the photos. You know, as if the incident never happened. While sites like TMZ are having a heyday with it.

The Palace is used to scrambling to cover [they’ve employed all three, fight flight and freeze], for Prince Harry’s escapades. What under ordinary circumstances might be seen as just a young lad sowing his wild oats, are completely different under royal circumstances.

There was the time when he admitted experimenting with marijuana. There was another time when he showed up at a party in a Nazi uniform, and more recently, when nude photos appeared to the public, showing Harry playing pool.

Daily Telegraph columnist Harry Mount said. "I don't imagine the pictures will do his public image much harm," he wrote. "His bad boy naughtiness is his charm. He's the naughty playboy Prince Hal, while his quiet brother does all the boring, ruling stuff."

According to the Daily Mail, Prince Harry "wagged his finger" and laughed at a little boy who wanted to ask him about his naked night in his VIP penthouse suite, but lost the nerve.

"You keep looking at your mum," Harry said to the little one. "It looks like you're dying to say something but you're worried she'll tell you off."

So what’s the best way to handle an awkward situation? While Prince Harry seems to be risking not taking it too seriously, I think he is going about it the right way. By not taking himself too seriously, and making light of it.

• Own up to your foible. Don't cover it up, people aren't stupid.

• Apologize. Make amends, if necessary.

• Don’t take yourself, or the situation too seriously.

A sure fire way to bury it in the sand is to do something even more outrageously offensive that will make them forget all about your present faux pas.

c. 2012