Tag Archives: Happiness

Dates and Almonds

Dates and Almonds

Brought this appetizer to a summer potluck party and it was a success. I used ordinary dates and sliced toasted almonds but I think it would be much nicer with the premium ingredients listed. Because the dates were small, it was finger food.

Dates with Cream and Chopped Pistachios

Ingredients

12 large medjool dates
24 whole almonds (preferably blanched), walnuts or pecans
3 to 4 tablespoons crème fraîche
Freshly grated zest of 1 lemon or 1/2 orange (about 2 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped pistachios

Preparation

Rinse and dry the dates. Make a clean cut along the side of each date to open, and remove the pit.
Stuff each date with 2 whole almonds and lightly pinch closed. (The recipe can be made up to this point up to 2 days in advance. Store in an airtight container.)
When ready to serve, arrange dates cut sides up on a plate or platter. Drizzle on the crème fraîche, making a dollop on each date. Sprinkle on the citrus zest, then the chopped pistachios. Serve immediately, as finger food or on plates with a small fork and knife.

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“Strangers In Their Own Land”

“Strangers In Their Own Land”

“Anger and Mourning on the American Right” is the subtitle of this book by Arlie Russel Hochschild, a Berkeley sociologist. Based mainly on interviews with Tea Party Republicans in Louisiana, she delves into the “why” of poor white votes for Trump and other Republicans. Louisiana is one of the poorest and least-healthy states. It is heavily polluted because weak enforcement of weak regulations make it attractive to oil and chemical plants. Polluting industries seek the “least resistant personality profile” in the residents of the area they plan to poison (page 81):

  • Longtime residents of small towns in the South or Midwest
  • High school educated only
  • Catholic
  • Uninvolved in social issues, and without a culture of activism
  • Involved in “nature exploitative occupations” such as mining, farming, ranching
  • Conservative
  • Republican
  • Advocates of the free market

Hochschild develops a “deep story” to explain their traditional values of loyalty, sacrifice, and endurance. Polluting industries manipulate them into fearing the loss of their income if they don’t turn a blind eye to the secret pollution, the dying trees, the disappearing fish, the increasing illness. Church, state, and politicians tug their loyalty strings to believe in Capitalism at the expense of the environment. They endure the secret spillage into their waterways, staying close to home and their traditional values. They resent Liberals who point to the contamination and tell them they “are not feeling the right feelings.”

These white people work hard and they scorn the shiftless, no ‘count people below them in the social order who live on government handouts and never work. They identify with the white plantation owners, the 1%, and believe that through hard work, luck and family connections, they too will live in the white-columned mansions along the Mississippi River. But they don’t go to college and they don’t learn new technology or new ways of thinking.

They are resentful of affirmative-action types (women, blacks, refugees) who “cut in front of them in line” for the good jobs. They believe the government paid for Obama’s education, and for Michelle’s Harvard education, too. Because they never bought and read his books, they don’t realize that their education loans were paid for with the book royalties. They believe the government subsidizes this “line-cutting” that has stagnated their wages and lives.

They don’t want to feel like downtrodden victims like blacks, women and gays. They want to feel like the white 1%. Their endurance is a matter of honor. Honor is sacrifice. With their tight communities and limited education, their feedback loop is small and fed by Fox News.

Trump cashed in on Identity Politics for white men who felt trapped in 1950s ethics and values. The ones holding the KKK signs in Atchafalaya. Read David Brooks review of the book in his Fourth of July column.

Know Breaks

Know Breaks

Rick Hanson Ph.D., author of Buddha’s Brain, teaches at UC Berkeley. His Positive Neuroplasticity trains your brain to turn passing experiences — like self-compassion, mindfulness, grit, gratitude, and self-worth — into lasting inner resources that are encoded in your nervous system.

His Just One Thing weekly newsletter suggests a simple practice for more joy, more fulfilling relationships, and more peace of mind. Today, the message was to PAUSE.

When the mind is running fast, it can feel like a juggernaut with no brakes. When in a heated discussion, it is important to be able to PAUSE the flow of words so we may consider better responses. Know to take a break. Rick Hansen says:

nobrakesIf need be, PAUSE the interaction altogether by suggesting you talk later, calling time out, or (last resort) telling the other person you’re done for now and hanging up the phone.

Before doing something that could be problematic — like getting high, putting a big purchase on a credit card, firing off an irritated e-mail, or talking about person A to person B — stop and forecast the consequences. Try to imagine them in living color: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Then make your choice.

He recommends that we stop for a few seconds before starting a new activity and tune in to what’s going on, especially our physical feelings, so that we can briefly touch what Richard Miller calls our “inner resource.”  To know breaks give us a chance to regain our center, to calculate the consequences of actions, to compose ourselves, and to know peace.

Training Your Brain

Wendy Sullivan, LMSW, a licensed social worker, developed a set of Just One Thing downloadable cue sheets to help people to structure their efforts to train their brains to feel more peace and joy. Find out more about the Just One Thing book.

Death Rate Jumps 22% for Middle-Aged Whites

Death Rate Jumps 22% for Middle-Aged Whites

NYTimesDyingMiddleAge
The New York Times reported in a front page article that white Americans without a college degree are dying at an accelerated rate due to suicide, fast and slow.

The rising annual death rates among this group are being driven not by the big killers like heart disease and diabetes but by an epidemic of suicides and afflictions stemming from substance abuse: alcoholic liver disease and overdoses of heroin and prescription opioids.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman called it “Despair, American Style” in an op-ed piece today.

In a recent interview Mr. Deaton suggested that middle-aged whites have “lost the narrative of their lives.” That is, their economic setbacks have hit hard because they expected better. Or to put it a bit differently, we’re looking at people who were raised to believe in the American Dream, and are coping badly with its failure to come true.

About a year ago, two of my brothers drank themselves to death on opposite sides on the country. Dave (on the right in the picture below) died on Oct. 5 in Virginia and Greg died on Nov. 17 in Oregon. Both were in their 50’s, both had retired a few years earlier, neither retirement was completely voluntary, neither had finished college. Neither had a strong plan for retirement, both slipped in to spending a lot of time with their best friend, beer. This photo was taken one year prior, on a vacation in Florida.

DaveGreg

In the days following the publication of this alarming data, there was some pushback over methodologies, so Angus Deaton released this drill-down info.
chart

My brothers, who grew up in the 1950’s, rode the post-WWII juggernaut where men were men and drank to prove it. They lived their lives as if everything was going to take care of itself, which was the prevailing assumption in the days of Ozzie & Harriett and Leave It To Beaver. What was different about these two, however, is that they were musicians who became stalled at the “talented amateur” stage. They didn’t pursue enough training to focus their minds or to hone their talent. They never developed a commitment to their art.They never even learned to read music. But their artistic temperaments were difficult to live with, and they numbed themselves. To death.

blackoutSarah Hepola, author of “Blackout: Remembering the things I drank to forget” attributed alcohol addiction to heredity and culture. My brothers did not live in a culture that encouraged thinking in healthy ways. They did not see their father, another talented piano player, take an active part in creating healthier emotions, minimizing emotional suffering and maximizing joy. According to Debbie Joffee Ellis in a letter to the NYTimes, “To create healthy [emotions] requires willingness to think in realistic… ways and to recognize when we are catastrohizing, and then to dispute such thoughts. Don’t worry, think wisely, be healthier and happier.”

The New York Times review of her book says:

Ms. Hepola’s electric prose … has direct access to the midnight gods of torch songs, neon signs, tap beer at a reasonable price, cigarettes and untrammeled longing.

She may have squandered her early carreer
and now is back in Texas, finally publishing her first novel at age 40. I enjoyed the book and I think she is going to beat the odds in the charts above because she finished college, and knew she was a good writer. She made a living at it while she used alcohol as “the gasoline of all adventure.” Now she has sobered up and found her path. I’m so glad.

Paris Rental Turned Out Great!

Paris Rental Turned Out Great!

274RueSaintHonore
I was very nervous about renting this Paris apartment through HomeAway.com. There were no reviews, and the landlord required my deposit via bank transfer to a French bank, nearly half up front, and for the remainder to be paid IN CASH, in Euros, on the first day of rental. Plus, I had to provide a check for 500€ for the security deposit when I got the keys. I leave tomorrow morning and I am thrilled to report that the apartment was just as promised, and I have now received back my check for the security deposit! I am a very happy traveler. It was much less expensive and more fun than a hotel or AirBnB. I saved a fortune by preparing all my own meals with the gourmet foodstuffs available all around.

I didn’t have to drag my luggage up any stairs because the apartment was in a ground floor courtyard behind a heavy, locked door to the street and I felt super safe. The room was quiet, with no one above — skylights on the roof of the little unit which is essentially an enclosed porch of an 18th century building. While there are three floor-to ceiling French doors with arched transoms looking out to the cobblestone courtyard, as in the picture, all are protected by locked steel doors which can be opened in the daytime to let in light.

There is high-speed ethernet access and I could stream Netflix. There is switched wi-fi which I could to turn off at night. The cellular signal is strong for both voice and data.

The rusted, slanted, noisy microwave is designed to make sure you don’t microwave French food. There is no oven, no disposal, no freezer, no ice cubes. The glass cooktop works like a charm if you read the manual that is buried in the cloth napkins. Hint: “Lo” means Locked.

The two electric heaters keep the tile-floored room snug. There is plenty of hot water and the water pressure is good.

The studio is well-designed and well-maintained. I couldn’t be happier.

Yield to the Present – 10% Happier

Yield to the Present – 10% Happier
Yield to the Present – 10% Happier

“Yield to the Present” was the sign near the door when Dan Harris, the ambitious ABC reporter, arrived at Spirit Rock in Marin for his 10 day silent retreat in an effort to become “less of a jerk.” The book was a dishy read of behind-the-scenes at ABC news, which I loved, and had a lot of good information on his walk toward Buddhism

Dan’s teachers suggest using our native curiosity to train our Default Mode Network to move from Aversion to Compassion. To move from being a jerk, in his parlance, to a mensch. He shows the brain chemistry and meditation techniques to do it, including asking yourself, when you are ruminating on the same thought for the nineteenth time, “is this useful?”

One of his mentors, Mark Epstein, explains on page 164 discussion Dan could become 10% happier because of mitigation of misery, not alleviation. The waterfall of drama is still there, you gain the ability to step behind the waterfall, creating a space to witness what is going on. Instead of the kneejerk stimulus —> reaction, you have walked behind the waterfall of emotion and created enough space to move to stimulus —> response because you are less caught up in the melodrama that is unfolding. You are less attached to the outcome. You have space for a little insight because you are not clinging to success so desperately. Here the metta prayer he learned at Spirit Rock:

May you be happy
May you be safe and protected from harm
May you be healthy and strong
May you live with ease

My favorite part was in the appendix where Dan Harris mentions the research of Jud Brewer, MD, PhD, addiction psychiatrist at Yale. Here’s Jud’s TED talk shows how to calm the posterior cingulate — get it to “turn blue” in the fMRI.

Animated Film: Song of the Sea

Animated Film: Song of the Sea

Song of the Sea movieI love the Irish art from the animators of The Book of Kells and Song of the Sea is their latest release. I am a fan of John Sayles’s 1994 movie, “The Secret of Roan Inish,” about the Irish legend of a Selkie, seal-like creature that can shed its skin and live for a time as a woman. I am fascinated by the assumptions in Irish stories because it helps me understand some of the assumptions I make about life.

The two kids and dog pictured left live with their father in a remote lighthouse on the roaring Atlantic shore of the island. The mother has disappeared and no one is talking. Even the little six-year-old girl, Saoirse, doesn’t speak. No one mentions that Selkies can’t speak without their seal skin. The only connection the family has to other people is that the father goes to the mainland to visit the pub when his mother comes to visit the children. There is almost no adult conversation in these children’s lives, and no recourse when adults make bad decisions.

So, we have three elements of Irish culture:

  1. Isolation
  2. Not talking about losses as large as a missing mother
  3. Going to the pub for companionship and emotional relief

Things get worse, the grandmother comes to take the children to the mainland, but she won’t take the dog. The kids make their break on Hallowe’en, when all the goblins are out, including the evil owls that do the dirty work of Macha pronounced Maka. When Macha gets hold of the kids and the dog, lo and behold, she looks a great deal like the grandmother.

Macha wants to ease their pain and loneliness by turning their emotions to stone, as she did for her son, the giant stone near their light house. Her son was so sad he cried an ocean of tears, and to take away his pain she turned him, and his emotions, to stone. The emotions are now rocks with magical markings, and some are captured in unbreakable jars. So, more Irish culture:

  1. The way out of pain is to turn to stone
  2. It is good to help someone to turn their emotions to stone
  3. This change a permanent

In order to make his own life easier, the father has made bad decisions with dangerous consequences for his children. The boy, Ben, risks everything to save his sister Saorise (pronounced like the color Cerise).

The movie, and the legend, seem to teach that the right thing for children to do is to give up their lives for others. To accept without question that their mother has disappeared and their father cannot made good decisions, cannot take care of them, and doesn’t have to answer urgent questions.

But wait, it gets worse! And the very end, the little girl is forced to make a choice that no six-year-old should face. She has to choose between being true to herself and embracing the adventure of her true nature by joining her mother, or she can choose to take care of her weeping father and brother. And guess what she chooses?!

That’s right… she chooses to take care of her father and brother because her mother CAN’T. And her mother disappears again, this time forever. So the little girl will now spend the next 10 years taking care of these men, and trying to push out of her mind her brief connection to her mother. She has learned to put herself last.

And that’s how co-dependents are created. This is the mythology of my culture. These are the stories we tell the children.

Nathaniel Branden said, “We live our lives according to what we believe.”

Maybe it is time for my barbarian culture to evolve. Maybe it is time to develop some healthier traditions, including telling the truth to the children. And wouldn’t it be grand if parents could actually take care of themselves and take care their children? Not the other way around…

Eleven Questions For Happy Conversations

Eleven Questions For Happy Conversations

happy_oldSamantha Rodman recommends these 11 questions as a way of engaging people in a positive conversation.

  1. What was your favorite part of today?
  2. What are you grateful for?
  3. What are you going to do about that?
  4. How did that make you feel?
  5. What do you think he/she feels?
  6. How can we look on the bright side?
  7. What part of that can we learn more about?
  8. What do you want to do on the weekend?
  9. What can we do to help/to make someone happy?
  10. What do you want to do outside today?
  11. When do you feel happiest?