Best Year Ever?

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It’s nearly impossible to read a news story or hear a network or cable broadcast without coming to the conclusion that we’re moving backwards, and that, to use the now-trite phrase, the world is “going to hell in a hand basket.”

That’s why Nicholas Kristof’s recent New York Times op-ed is so refreshing. It turns this gloom and doom on its head and instead of relying on “alternative facts,” looks at where we stand in the realm of human progress. Here is part of what he said:

There’s a broad consensus that the world is falling apart, with every headline reminding us that life is getting worse.

Except that it isn’t. In fact, by some important metrics, 2016 was the best year in the history of humanity. And 2017 will probably be better still. Here, take my quiz:

On any given day, the number of people worldwide living in extreme poverty:

A.) Rises by 5,000, because of climate change, food shortages and endemic corruption.

B.) Stays about the same.

C.) Drops by 250,000.

Polls show that about 9 out of 10 Americans believe that global poverty has worsened or stayed the same. But in fact, the correct answer is C. Every day, an average of about a quarter-million people worldwide graduate from extreme poverty, according to World Bank figures.

Or if you need more of a blast of good news, consider this: Just since 1990, more than 100 million children’s lives have been saved through vaccinations, breast-feeding promotion, diarrhea treatment and more. If just about the worst thing that can happen is for a parent to lose a child, that’s only half as likely today as in 1990.

When I began writing about global poverty in the early 1980s, more than 40 percent of all humans were living in extreme poverty. Now fewer than 10 percent are. By 2030 it looks as if just 3 or 4 percent will be. (Extreme poverty is defined as less than $1.90 per person per day, adjusted for inflation.)

Want more? You can read the full article here.

A New Year Revolution

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Made any New Year’s resolutions yet? Most who do focus on improving their lives in some way. But is this the smart play. What about resolving to accept yourself the way you are. I just read a compelling New York Times article by Jennifer Weiner who suggests we do just that. Here is part of what she shared:

But here we are, once again, in the month of New Year’s resolutions; the month where even the staunchest believer in self-acceptance can find herself falling for the pitchmen and the first-month-free come-ons. This year, the notion of self-improvement feels especially seductive. Diets, and resolutions in general, are all about hope — hope that things can get better, hope that you are going to actually learn that new language, de-clutter that junk drawer, lose those 20 pounds for good.

No matter what bit of 2016 has left you feeling battered and bludgeoned and blue, the siren song of self-improvement has never sounded louder. We can’t heal the divides in the country, can’t stop violence, and can’t keep death from taking the artists and actors who defined our youth. We can’t magically extend the term of a president who did not tweet as if he was channeling a furious, academically challenged 12-year-old, but maybe we can at least squeeze into our jeans from the era before it all went wrong.

Thought provoking? You can read the full article here.

What do You Like?

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Mindfulness and mindfulness mediation have been around for a while now, with more and more practitioners finding value in living in the moment, not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. As one convert put it, “I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find out I didn’t show up for it.”

While millions have used this mindfulness discipline to help them in their personal lives, it has taken longer for it to take hold in the business world. But now, hard-boiled managers whose lives have been focused on the bottom line and returning shareholder value, have begun to embrace mindfulness in the workplace.

One example is the health insurer, Aetna, one of the hundred biggest companies in America. Its CEO, Mark Bertolini, has brought mindfulness meditation into his company for compelling reasons that help the company’s bottom line and increase shareholder value. In his own words:

We program C.E.O.s to be certain kinds of people. We expect C.E.O.s to be on message all the time. The grand experiment here has been how much of that do you really need to do?

Aetna is at the vanguard of a movement that is quietly spreading through the business world. Companies like Google offer emotional intelligence courses for employees. General Mills has a meditation room in every building on its corporate campus. And even buttoned-up Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs and BlackRock are teaching meditation on the job.

The aims of such programs are eclectic. Some, such as Aetna’s, are intended to improve overall well-being; others to increase focus and productivity. Most of the programs — from yoga sessions for factory workers to guided meditations for executives — aim to make employees more present-minded, less prone to make rash decisions and generally nicer people to work with.

Adoption of these unconventional practices in the workplace coincides with growing interest among the American public. More than 21 million people now practice yoga, double the number from a decade ago, according to the National Institutes of Health. Nearly as many meditate, according to the N.I.H.

Want to deep-dive into the idea of mindfulness in leadership and management? You can read the full article here.

Nice & Happy?

Made any New Year’s resolutions yet – or have you broken them already. Most of us make good resolutions and then sometimes struggle to keep them.

One part of that struggle is asking yourself whether being “nice” in today’s world is something that will make you happy. We see too many cases where “nice” people are not looked up to.

But David Brooks challenges that notion in his NYT piece, “Nice People Really do Have More Fun. It spoke to me and I thought it might speak to you. Here is part of what he said:

Thought provoking? You can read the full article here

What do You Like?

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Michael Lewis has intrigued us with compelling ideas for a long time. His latest book, “The Undoing Project,” has gotten great reviews. It’s a great read.

But while the reviews have captured a great deal about the book, David Brooks’ recent piece in the New York Times has focused on the work of the book’s subjects, Kahneman and Tversky, and has gotten to the essence of what the book is all about, how we choose what we like. Here’s part of what he said:

“While most economics models assumed people were basically rational, Kahneman and Tversky demonstrated that human decision-making is biased in systematic, predictable ways. Many of the biases they described have now become famous — loss aversion, endowment effect, hindsight bias, the anchoring effect, and were described in Kahneman’s brilliant book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” They are true giants who have revolutionized how we think about decision-making. Lewis makes academic life seem gripping, which believe it or not, is not easy to do.”

“We don’t decide about life; we’re captured by life. In the major spheres, decision-making, when it happens at all, is downstream from curiosity and engagement. If we really want to understand and shape behavior, maybe we should look less at decision-making and more at curiosity. Why are you interested in the things you are interested in? Why are some people zealously seized, manically attentive and compulsively engaged?”

Want to deep-dive into how you decide? You can read the full article here.

Being Needed

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While most of us consider our lives busy – often too busy – at the end of the day what often motivates us to stay so busy is that we want to feel needed by others. But what if we aren’t?

I recently read an article co-authored by the Dalai Lama and New York Times columnist Arthur Brooks. It spoke about the dangers of not being needed. Here is part of what they said:

“In many ways, there has never been a better time to be alive. Violence plagues some corners of the world, and too many still live under the grip of tyrannical regimes. And although all the world’s major faiths teach love, compassion and tolerance, unthinkable violence is being perpetrated in the name of religion.”

“And yet, fewer among us are poor, fewer are hungry, fewer children are dying, and more men and women can read than ever before. In many countries, recognition of women’s and minority rights is now the norm. There is still much work to do, of course, but there is hope and there is progress.”

“How strange, then, to see such anger and great discontent in some of the world’s richest nations. In the United States, Britain and across the European Continent, people are convulsed with political frustration and anxiety about the future. Refugees and migrants clamor for the chance to live in these safe, prosperous countries, but those who already live in those promised lands report great uneasiness about their own futures that seems to border on hopelessness.”

“Why?” A small hint comes from interesting research about how people thrive. In one shocking experiment, researchers found that senior citizens who didn’t feel useful to others were nearly three times as likely to die prematurely as those who did feel useful. This speaks to a broader human truth: We all need to be needed.”

Read more of this insightful article here.

Happy Enough?

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The American Declaration of Independence speaks to the importance of, “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” It’s not an overstatement to say that most of us are zealous in that worthy pursuit. But once we’ve satisfied our basic wants in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, when do we decide how much happiness is enough?

Hanna Rosin’s review of Ruth Whippman’s new book, America the Anxious: How our Pursuit of Happiness is creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks pulls back the curtain on this important question. In Rosin’s words:

“I had largely forgotten that slap in the face until I read Ruth Whippman’s new book, “America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness Is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks.” For us natives, reading this book can be an unnerving experience. Whippman, who is a transplanted British writer, moved to California when her husband got a job here. She spent much of her time settling in her family, but all the while she was watching us — how we read, eat, work, medicate, exercise and pray. And what she noticed the most was how the same subject comes up all the time: happiness.”

“Tuning into this alien internal monologue reveals her grand thesis about America: The problem with our quest for happiness is that, apparently, it’s making us miserable. After some idle Googling, her suspicions are confirmed. Various clever studies by psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley, show that “paradoxically, the more people valued and were encouraged to value happiness as a separate life goal, the less happy they were.” When it comes to emotional temperament, America is the clumsy suitor of nations. We yearn and obsess and plot new elaborate strategies as the object of our desire shrinks ever farther away. It’s a little embarrassing.”

Want to tweak your pursuit of happiness and make it less frenetic?  You can read the full article here.

Relying on Others

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Most Americans have grown up with the idea of “rugged individualism” as part of their DNA. We were a pioneering nations and that spirit is part of who we are in many ways.

 

Now, it might be worth reevaluating the risks and rewards of relying on others. There’s no 100% right answer, and as the TV commercials caution, “Your results may vary.”

 

Robert Moore does a deep-dive into this question in his piece: “On the Trail of Interdependence.” What he suggests struck a chord in me, and perhaps it may in you:

“Among Appalachian Trail “thru-hikers” — that special class of backpackers dedicated (or obsessed) enough to walk the trail’s full 2,200 miles — the question of whether to carry a tent is hotly debated.”

“Thru-hikers tend to fall into one of two factions. Some (albeit a minority) insist a tent is unnecessary because the trail is punctuated with wooden shelters, or lean-tos, every 10 miles or so. As a rule, these hikers tend to travel light, cook simply or not at all, and sleep in the lean-tos or other shelters on the trail. But other hikers pride themselves on being self-sufficient: They prefer to camp in a tent far from other people; they carry detailed maps; they would never hitchhike into town just to grab a milkshake. We do not have a precise word for these two personality types. Not yet.”

“Since returning from my own through hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2009, I’ve begun to see these two approaches to life pervading every facet of our society. We could call the one “endarkic” and the other “exarkic” (from the Greek word arkeo, “to suffice”). In political science or economics, the word autarky is used to describe a state of self-sufficiency. Endarky is rather the drive toward self-sufficiency; exarky, its inverse.”

“We all know what an endarkist looks like. America has practically mythologized the type. Most of our best-known nature writers were vocal proponents of endarky: John Muir tramping off with a crust of bread tied to his belt, Thoreau hammering together a cabin beside Walden Pond, Edward Abbey advising his readers to “brew your own beer; kick in your TV; kill your own beef.””

“In the past, we may have called these people “rugged individualists.” They tend to internalize information and skills. They grow their own food, build their own furniture, distill their own whiskey. Truly endarkic people crave solitude and, perhaps less consciously, cataclysm, if only for the opportunity to prove their self-reliance.”

“The exarkic person, on the other hand, is utopian, the type who believes in improving systems, not rejecting them; who does not shy from asking for directions; who would rather rent or share or borrow a home than own one; who has no qualms uploading his digital memories to something called the Cloud; who welcomes the notion of self-driving cars. Exarks prefer a well-trained police force to a well-oiled firearm. They walk, nimbly, with a kind of holy faith, atop wires others have installed.”

“While these terms roughly correspond to the age-old dichotomy between individualism and collectivism, they are not synonymous with those terms. Individualism and collectivism are framed primarily in terms of cooperation and competition, while endarky and exarky are framed in terms of sufficiency.”

 

Curious to learn more? You can read the full article here

Tough Enough?

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David Brooks typically writes thoughtful pieces on issues that impact all of us. He recently penned a piece, “Making Modern Toughness,” that spoke to me. It may speak to you.

Here is part of what Brooks said regarding how we seem to be working hard today to not induce toughness:

“When I ask veteran college teachers and administrators to describe how college students have changed over the years, I often get an answer like this: ‘Today’s students are more accomplished than past generations, but they are also more emotionally fragile.’”

“That rings true to me. Today’s students are amazing, but they bathe one another in oceans of affirmation and praise, as if buttressing one another against some insecurity. Whatever one thinks of the campus protests, the desire for trigger warnings and safe spaces does seem to emanate from a place of emotional fragility.”

“John R. Lewis may not have been intrinsically tough, but he was tough in the name of civil rights. Mother Teresa may not have been intrinsically steadfast, but she was steadfast in the name of God. The people around us may not be remorselessly gritty, but they can be that when it comes to protecting their loved ones, when it comes to some dream for their future self.”

“In short, emotional fragility is not only caused by overprotective parenting. It’s also caused by anything that makes it harder for people to find their telos. It’s caused by the culture of modern psychology, which sometimes tries to talk about psychological traits in isolation from moral purposes. It’s caused by the ethos of the modern university, which in the name of “critical thinking” encourages students to be detached and corrosively skeptical. It’s caused by the status code of modern meritocracy, which encourages people to pursue success symbols that they don’t actually desire.”

“We are all fragile when we don’t know what our purpose is, when we haven’t thrown ourselves with abandon into a social role, when we haven’t committed ourselves to certain people, when we feel like a swimmer in an ocean with no edge. If you really want people to be tough, make them idealistic for some cause, make them tender for some other person, make them committed to some worldview that puts today’s temporary pain in the context of a larger hope.”

You can read the entire article here

Reality?

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How much time do you spend online? Oh, come on, be honest. I mean all of your time online!

Ross Douthat has a technology-driven hypothesis for why adulthood has become less responsible, less obviously adult. Here is part of what he suggests:

“For the first time in over a century, more 20-somethings live with their parents than in any other arrangement. The marriage rate is way down, and despite a high out-of-wedlock birthrate American fertility just hit an all-time low. More and more prime-age workers are dropping out of the work force— men especially and younger men more so than older men, though female work force participation has dipped as well. This mix of youthful safety and adult immaturity may be a feature of life in a society increasingly shaped by the internet’s virtual realities.”

“It is easy to see how online culture would make adolescent life less dangerous. Pornography to take the edge off teenage sexual appetite. Video games instead of fisticuffs or contact sports as an outlet for hormonal aggression. (Once it was feared that porn and violent media would encourage real-world aggression; instead they seem to be replacing it.) Sexting and selfie-enabled masturbation as a safer alternative to hooking up. Online hangouts instead of keggers in the field. More texting and driving, but less driving — one of the most dangerous teen activities — overall.”

“The question is whether this substitution is habit-forming and soul-shaping, and whether it extends beyond dangerous teen behavior to include things essential to long-term human flourishing — marriage, work, family, all that old-fashioned “meatspace” stuff. That’s certainly the impression left whenever journalists try to figure out why young people aren’t marrying, or dating, or in some cases even seeking sex. An article in the Washington Post put it this way: “Noah Paterson, 18, likes to sit in front of several screens simultaneously … to shut it all down for a date or even a one-night stand seems like a waste.”) The same impression is left by research on younger men dropping out of the work force: Their leisure time is being filled to a large extent by gaming, and happiness studies suggest that they are pretty content with the trade-off.”

Read this article here.