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Showing posts from May, 2015

TO THYSELF BE TRUE

How many times have you been inauthentic? How many times have you faked the funk in an attempt to fit in, saying things you don't mean, laughing at jokes you don't find funny, doing things you don't care to do? Lots, if you're like me. Going along with stuff pretty much defined my twenties.

Not good. As recent research reveals, hiding your true colors may make you feel "morally tainted."

Research at Harvard and Columbia business schools posited that like lying or cheating, inauthenticity is a violation of being true, whether to others or oneself. Behaviors like faking excitement and fitting in with a crowd that doesn't share your values amounts to lying about your true self. The result? Feelings of moral distress and impurity.

The findings, published in Psychological Science, are especially relevant to people who find themselves constantly having to perform on the job. Fulfilling the demands of customers and colleagues forces a person to behave outwardly…

HERD IS A 4-LETTER WORD

In 1910, President William Howard Taft (the handsome man pictured above) urged Americans to take at least two months' vacation per year. Then came two world wars, the military industrial complex was formed and is now flying (pun intended: look at them drones!), and now Americans work harder than ever and rest much less.

Indeed overwork has made American vacation time rarer and more easily interrupted. Workers typically accrue paid vacation, but Americans are using less of it. On average workers failed to use 5 vacation days in 2013, and some of them didn't carry over. The average employee did $504 of free work instead of taking a vacay. This is $52 billion total.

And why? Most Americans say they are overworked. That the workload on return is too heavy, that nobody else can do the work, that they want to show dedication rather than seem replaceable. But even those that do, let's say, fly to Fiji, nearly 2/3 plan to work during their time off. This means email, text, phone c…

MY HALFTIME SHOW

So I'm sitting with my father on his 76th birthday and I ask him what he sees for himself, you know, on the horizon like. An avid viewer of sporting events he puts it pretty succinctly when he says, "I'm in the 4th quarter of my life." And he is, when you think that most men die before the age of 100, so he's in the last 25 years of the game.

I made no reply, though to myself I remember thinking, the fourth quarter is really when the action gets good, events their most exciting, 'specially if it's college bowl day. The same can be said for NFL playoffs, though that can be hit or miss. So the fourth quarter can be a pretty cool place to be, provided you're still in the game. If it's a blowout, then well, some people just blow on out. My dad does own a couple firearms, not that he'd ever use them on himself. He's too much of a narcissist.


And really, my dad's still very much into playing the game of his life. Active law practice. Cutie…

MIRROR MIRROR

The 18th century French satirist Voltaire was known to isolate himself from his contemporaries, in order that close association with his fellow men and women would not interfere with his thoughts. The author of The Philosophical Dictionary was by all definitions an original thinker. There has never been anyone else like him, anywhere in the world, before or since. Apparently he was aware of his originality, which he guarded ever so jealously lest it become tainted by common notions tritely expressed.

Recently researchers have proven the truth of what this precious little man knew by intuition. Leave it to science to study what for most people is common sense, and to do so 200 years after the fact, and at the expense of taxpayer dollars I'm sure!

It has long been known that humans are social creatures, and as such we mimic each other's posture, laughter and other behaviors, including how we speak. The study, published in the periodical Language Variation and Change, shows that…

THE VIRTUES OF BEING A VOYEUR

In the wildly entertaining 1969 novel Slaughterhouse Five, written by Kurt Vonnegut, the time-travelling war hero Billy Pilgrim is transported to the planet Tralfamadore where he and his mate, the voluptuous pornstar Montana Wildhack, are enclosed in a zoo and observed by the alien race, who watch them copulate through little peepholes. O, the virtues of voyeurism! But that is neither here nor there. The fact is, Montana wears a heart-shaped locket around her neck in memory of her mother. On it are inscribed these words:

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom always to tell the difference."

The Serenity Prayer, as it is called, is attributed to the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and has been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs. In Vonnegut's book, Wildhack's mother was an alcoholic. But you don't need to "have a problem" to apply this wisdom to…

BOUNCE WITH ME

Scientists have been assiduously tucked away in their labs studying resilience, the quality that explains why some people rebound so well from setbacks while others remain stuck like glue. And now researchers, including psychiatrist Dennis Charney, Dean of Icahn School of Medicine and his colleague, Yale professor Dr. Steven Southwick, have surfaced to share their findings with me and you.

As Mandy Oaklander writing for Time Magazine explains in her article on the science of bouncing back, resilience is essentially a set of skills that allow people not only to get through hard times but to thrive during and after them. Resilience is not a disposition, personality type or other fixed quality, so it can be learned. In short, rubber rebounds, so do resilient people.

Resilience training can transform the brain, making it more resistant to stress and trauma. And not a moment too soon. Stress is everywhere. As Oaklander notes, the boss gets on you, traffic tugs at your temper, spousal spats…

BE A KNIGHT IN RUSTY ARMOR

My favorite novel of all time, hands down, is Don Quixote. First because just getting through the behemoth of a book is an accomplishment worthy of the copious encomiums that embellish its pages (and if you can't make sense of that sentence, read what is widely considered the father of the modern novel and by its end you shall; just, you know, keep a dictionary close by). After all DQ does exceed 900 pages in length. (For the non-readers, several movies have been made since the book's 1615 publication. I recommend Man of la Mancha (1972) starring Peter O'Toole and Sophia Loren.) And it is so imaginative! Reading Cervantes' classic, which appears on many great books lists, often as number one, gave rise to the desire to write books myself. I have since authored six novels of my own. None of them have ever sold. Oh well. Like the protagonist, I dream big, but the results don't always match. Now I write a blog nobody reads and I'm fine with that. And Cervantes wa…

THE SOUND OF SILENCE

When I was twenty I decided to take a vow of silence. I'd been reading a biography on Mahatma Gandhi and learned that this is what he used to do, so in the spirit of what's good enough for the goose I shut my lips and bit my tongue.

When I was still speaking, I announced my vow to my family. This was a big mistake. Saying I planned to keep quiet called attention to a practice that should really go on inconspicuously. The sun had not yet set and I was back to gabbing away.

Had I to do it all over again, I would have modified my vow to allow me to speak only when absolutely necessary, as to convey important information that could not be communicated without words. Which is basically what I do now. Basically I am a living vow of silence. Writing is after all silent communication. Just don't invite me to your party or else I won't shut up.

If more people practiced silence, how much quieter society would be! It says in some book somewhere that you shouldn't take the L…

DIFFERENT PATHS, SAME DESTINATION

As a contemplative practice, meditation is an ancient tradition with roots in nearly every major religion. In more recent times this time-tested practice has come under scientific scrutiny and evidence has emerged that meditation is more than just a pleasant way to pass a few minutes. Indeed quieting the mind can rewire brain circuits to produce health-promoting effects on the body as a whole.

Studies involving brain scanners have shown that the practitioner's brain moves through four phases. In the first part, distraction occurs. The second phase, the meditator is aware of a distraction. The third phase engages additional areas in the brain that "take back" one's attention by detaching it from any distracting stimulus. In the fourth and final phase, the meditator's attention remains directed toward an object such as the breathing.

The beauty is in its simplicity. Meditation can be done anywhere, and no fancy equipment is required. There are three basic forms of…

DOOMSDAY SOON

The Doomsday Clock was devised nearly 70 years ago by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a watchdog group created at the end of World War II by Manhattan Project scientists (the guys who developed the A-bomb.) And this year the Clock moved forward for the first time since 2012, inching three minutes closer to midnight. It is now 11:57 pm. At the metaphorical midnight, the world will end.
What prompted the move closer to our doom? Scientists have cited a slowdown of nuclear disarmament and threats of climate change. Now there is nothing you or I can personally do about ending the threat of nuclear war. But what about climate change? Consider that deforestation has a major impact on global temperatures. Brazil's tropical forests pump 20 billion tons of water vapor daily into the atmosphere through leaf transpiration, and though destruction of forests plummeted in the last decade, since August 2014 tree cutting more than doubled in Brazil compared to the same period a year earl…

FREEDOM FROM FEAR

V for Vendetta is a 2005 movie written by the Wachowski siblings (the minds who brought the Matrix trilogy) about a revolutionary wearing a Guy Fawkes mask and living in a future dystopia (set in Great Britain) where free thought is brutally suppressed. The victim of cruel experiments himself, and living alone underground, he plots to take down the system and while he's at it takes Natalie Portman under his wing. V, as he's called, puts his young charge through the test of all tests, when impersonating British officials he locks her in solitary confinement, starves her and sprays her with ice cold jets. He even almost drowns her in an effort to get her to confess all she knows. But she does not give in. And in the end he reveals his identity and tells her, "You have no fear no more. You're completely free."
Can you imagine a world in which you lived without fear? I can. And some already do. Take Taylor Momsen. This 21-year-old onetime child star walked away from …

INTERMITTENT FASTING

Intermittent fasting, restricting food consumption to a short period of the day, has become all the rage, and not just among faddists and pseudoscientists. Respected medical professionals like Gabe Mirkin and Joe Mercola endorse the practice.

Mercola recommends confining food intake to the hours of noon to 6 pm, which he says reduces triglyceride levels, weight gain and inflammation - provided the foods eaten are vegetables and lean protein rather than refined carbohydrates. You can eat as much of these foods as you wish, but you must follow the prescribed eating schedule.

Mirkin recommends eating your normal diet 5 days a week, and choosing 2 days in which you consume a maximum of 700 calories, which for most people is 25 to 30% of their usual intake. Again, eat healthy foods, and there is no need to restrict intake on the 5 "regular" days. Some take it even farther and eat one meal a day, usually dinner, fasting before and after basically on air and water. Both doctors have …

IMPRESS YOUR FRIENDS AT PARTIES

Ever thought about how strange our relationships with animals can be? We spend billions annually on the care of our pets, but make no qualms about consuming other furry four-legged creatures, grilling, frying, slicing and dicing cows and calves and chickens and ducks and turkeys and pigs and an assortment of other beasts for food. Some people keep pigs for pets. I've seen a guy, walking a big black pig on a leash in Hollywood. That's where it really gets weird. Does he also eat ham? Would his pig, as ham, taste any different to him? I know pets resemble their owners, but don't pigs in general look an awful lot like humans?


Reminds me of a great line from Voltaire. "The custom of boiling and roasting a neighbor must be both ancient and natural, since it prevailed in both hemispheres; and therefore it must be an innate idea that men were hunted before beasts, because it was easier to kill men than wolves." Apparently eating wolves came later, followed by dogs. A tr…

GET OFF THE CRAPPER!

When I was a kid I used to get these really bad stomach aches. Each year from the 2nd through the 6th grades I'd be visited by incapacitating pain. It was always in the same place, just to the left of my belly button, where it would radiate down into my groin. It was crampy and achy and a major pain in the, well, belly. And when these stomach aches came, and it happened randomly, I'd be kept up all night, curled in a fetal position on the floor, unable to eat or sleep or think of anything but how much it hurt. Then the following morning, as if by magic, the pain would disappear.
My parents took me to the pediatrician, who was at a loss to explain it. Maybe growing pains? Food poisoning? Gastrointestinal upset, cause unknown was the diagnosis he gave me, I think. And GI upset is one of the most common childhood ailments, I'd come to find when I became a doctor myself. When treating a kid whose tummy hurt I'd usually just tell mom what my doctor told me, which was that…

R U A GIVER OR A GETTER?

I used to believe that everyone who gave to charity was an altruist in the truest sense of the word. Unselfishly devoted to the welfare of others, as opposed to egoist. Sure, I'd hear them brag, and they seemed so proud, but pride and generosity are not mutually exclusive personality traits, and a virtue like giving can coexist with a vice like being proud because of it. But how many charitable donations come from those who practice dishonest professions? Like investment bankers, who a recent study published in the November issue of Nature suggest work in an industry that "weakens and undermines the honesty norm," according to one of the authors.


Does giving a drop off the top of money a person comes by dishonestly make him feel okay about the devious means used to earn the 98% he keeps? (About 85% of Americans donate less than 2 percent of their income to charity, according to a great article in this month's issue of The Atlantic.) And how many of us give with strin…

R U GAY?

In his Autobiography, the British philosopher John Stuart Mill writes: "Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so." (BTW he just had a birthday. Happy 209th JS! You know what they say, with age comes wisdom!)

And yet these days the venerable Mr. Mill's words have fallen on deaf ears. If anything happiness is the buzzword. There are TV shows (Showtime's Happyish), movies (1998's Happiness, 2006's Pursuit of Happyness). Scores of books have been written on the subject. The Happiness Advantage, The Happiness Mindset, The Happiness Project, The Happiness Guide are only a few of them. Happiness is now an art, and a science. Most major magazines regularly publish articles on being happy. As does this blog which nobody reads.

There's the Pharrell song, called of course "Happy," which is so gay! Gay as in not happy. Gay as in it makes me want to flush my head down the toilet, and I'm not usually so scatological. Don't get me wr…