behavior · emotion · mental health · Nature · psychology

Trees are like friends

My husband recently posted an ode to one of his favorite trees that sadly caught a root fungus and finally died after 4 years and was cut down slowly this winter.

He was not the only one moved by the loss of the tree. Neighbors of the park, visitors, and other movers also expressed their sadness over the loss of the tree.

It seems strange at first of mourning a tree, but this phenomenon of bonding with and becoming fond of a tree, or multiple trees, is very common, and very human. Trees provide humans food, shelter from the elements, landmarks during travel, and safety from (most) animals. But they also provide us a level of consistency and reliability in our world – that tree doesn’t go anywhere – while also marking the changing of the seasons and change over time. It provides enjoyment whether you are climbing the tree or just resting at its base. Being in or near nature, even a single tree, has profound, positive effects on our physical and mental states.

In Melbourne, Australia, a few years ago people started using the park system’s email alert system to express their fondness for some of their favorite trees.

At my daughter’s  outdoor preschool the kids have slowly been naming the trees in the park during their daily hikes – grandfather tree, silly tree, spaceship tree, and others. These names help the kids orient where they are in the park, but they also represent a kinship with the tree, a familiarity and reliability that provides consistency and joy for the kids.

When a tree dies or is cut down, we feel its loss and we mourn. It is only human.

behavior · community · emotion · happiness · mental health · play · work

London Bridge Transformed Into Rainbow Walkway in Spark Of Creativity That Banished Mondayitis

Fantastic! As a fellow resident of a gray and gloomy city, a little splash of surprise color can do wonders!

The grey weather was no match for a new art installation on London Bridge, which transformed the crossing into a rainbow walkway for one day only.

The project was created by Spark Your City, a global movement “dedicated to spark joy in everyday life”.

According to the group’s Facebook page, they are “travelling the world from city to city”, and London was the first major centre to get the spark makeover.

check out all the pictures of the bridge and more via London Bridge Transformed Into Rainbow Walkway in Spark Of Creativity That Banished Mondayitis.

behavior · community · creativity · emotion · happiness · language · Nature · play · Social · writing

Email-a-Tree Service Turns Into Love Letters to Melbourne’s Urban Trees

This is beautiful.

We humans love nature.

And now, the residents of Melbourne have found a way to express it.

The city of Melbourne assigned trees email addresses so citizens could report problems. Instead, people wrote thousands of love letters to their favorite trees.

“My dearest Ulmus,” the message began.

“As I was leaving St. Mary’s College today I was struck, not by a branch, but by your radiant beauty. You must get these messages all the time. You’re such an attractive tree.”

This is an excerpt of a letter someone wrote to a green-leaf elm, one of thousands of messages in an ongoing correspondence between the people of Melbourne, Australia, and the city’s trees.

Officials assigned the trees ID numbers and email addresses in 2013 as part of a program designed to make it easier for citizens to report problems like dangerous branches. The “unintended but positive consequence,” as the chair of Melbourne’s Environment Portfolio, Councillor Arron Wood, put it to me in an email, was that people did more than just report issues. They also wrote directly to the trees, which have received thousands of messages—everything from banal greetings and questions about current events to love letters and existential dilemmas.

“The email interactions reveal the love Melburnians have for our trees,” Wood said. City officials shared several of the tree emails with me, but redacted the names of senders to respect their privacy.

Read more of the love letters via Email-a-Tree Service Doesn’t Go As Planned, But in the Best Possible Way – CityLab.

I bet this is something Seattle could really get behind, or San Francisco, or Chicago, or any city with multiple older trees.

Do you have a tree that you love or loved? Write your city about it, or on Twitter, or if you’re feeling shy you can share it here in the comments.

behavior · cognition · creativity · design · education · emotion · language · learning · mental health · play

How Playing With Puppets Turns New Learners into Future CEOs | GOOD

This is a very well thought out and researched article about the benefits of pretend play, specifically creating and playing with puppets.

How Playing With Puppets Turns New Learners into Future CEOs | GOOD

The [Puppet School] curriculum establishes the tenets of puppeteering education, which put educational theories about the importance of play and grit and resilience into practice.

In the beginning classes, students start to learn basic head and mouth movements, using motor skills in both hands and both arms, choreographed to pre-existing sound tracks of well-known pop songs. Students learn to articulate vowels and develop a sense of rhythm with their bodies. As the exercises advance, students learn to improvise using their own voices and hand movements, and eventually choreograph movement to material they’ve written. From motor skills, to communication and improv skills, then finally written skills, students exercise many parts of their brains at Puppet School, increasing communication between their two brain hemispheres.

According to Eric Jensen’s Teaching with the Brain in Mind, when brain signals are passed from one side to the other quickly, or when the left and right sides of bodies work simultaneously, the brain is able to function more efficiently, and the stronger the brain’s connections become—thereby improving literacy, movement coordination, processing data, and communication skills.

more via How Playing With Puppets Turns New Learners into Future CEOs | GOOD.

behavior · culture · design · emotion · happiness · technology

Daniele Quercia’s Happy maps and happier travelling

Can you map your happiness?

Mapping apps help us find the fastest route to where we’re going. But what if we’d rather wander? Researcher Daniele Quercia demos “happy maps” that take into account not only the route you want to take, but how you want to feel along the way.

watch via Daniele Quercia: Happy maps | Talk Video | TED.com.

Coincidentally, another researcher is also working on this problem, and creating maps that find the most relaxing routes based on people’s brainwaves:

MIT Media Lab’s Arlene Ducao is hoping to shed some light on which biking routes promise a more relaxing ride with her Mindreader Map. The project is a continuation of Ducao’s 2012 experiments involving a mind-controlled bicycle helmet that flashes different colors depending on the stress levels of the rider.

Using this type of data city planners could conceivably better plan bike lanes and traffic signals with an understanding of where the most stressful, and potentially dangerous, areas for cyclists are.

Have you changed your commute to be less stressful, even if it means a little longer ride or drive to work? Talk about it in the comments below.

community · culture · emotion · happiness

The World’s Happiest Places, Visualized | Fast Company

Trying to compare “happiness” metrics can be tricky, both because different countries and reports measure “happiness” in different ways, and because a spreadsheet of numbers isn’t all that inspiring (and I work with them, so speaking from personal experience).

I like the fact that they’re using multiple data points to quantify happiness (although it looks more like quality of life, but they definitely overlap).

Data viz wunderkind Moritz Stefaner has been on a happiness kick lately. Earlier this year, he analyzed the data of more than 3,000 images to try to determine the happiness of people New York, Bangkok, Moscow, São Paolo, and Berlin, according to their selfies. And now he’s back, visualizing the happiness of the entire world–using a more objective data source.

Founded in 1961, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is an international policy organization dedicated to stimulating economic progress and world trade. As part of their mission, the OECD has worked to quantify happiness and well-being through their Better Life Initiative, which ranks countries and cities according to metrics such as health, safety, education, jobs, environmental quality, civic engagement, and level of disposable income. Now Stefaner and Dominikus Baur have teamed up with the OECD to visualize this data using a slick, interactive online tool.

Happiness index of France and similar regions

The OECD Regional Well-Being Index tool is easy to use. It asks to access your location, and then visualizes the well-being index of your state or country as a rainbow-hued star, each Pantone-coded arm of which represents one factor of happiness and well-being. You can drill down for more detail, or compare your region’s well-being index to other locations with similar ratings.

Check out how your own neighborhood compares on the OECD Regional Well-Being Index here.

more via Fast Company: The World’s Happiest Places, Visualized

behavior · design · emotion · environment · happiness · health · mental health · psychology

Modular Glass Bedroom Helps Researchers Investigate Light’s Infinite Health Benefits – PSFK

Do you notice you have different moods depending on how bright or dark it is outside? Do you notice the warmth or cold feeling emitting from a light bulb? Whether you consciously notice them or not, they do have an effect on your brain and body. Since these days most of us don’t get to work outside and absorb natural light, scientists are working on the right kind of artificial light for us.

The light emitted from our lamps and fixtures at home doesn’t just spruce up a room; it has the power to significantly augment our mood and lift our spirits.To explore further the link between lighting and personal wellbeing, glass engineering company Cantifix and Oxford University have collaborated to create the Photon Project. This scientific study comes to life at this month’s London Design Festival in the form of the Photon Pod, an all-glass living space that will help the Photon Project gather data and insights on the links between light and health.Resembling a futuristic bedroom, the pod invites visitors to experience what life is like in a completely translucent living space, as well as take part in simulations that measure levels of alertness or relaxation under varied light conditions.

more via Modular Glass Bedroom Helps Researchers Investigate Light’s Infinite Health Benefits – PSFK.

behavior · emotion · psychology

The ‘Mood Graph’: How Our Emotions Are Taking Over the Web | Wired Opinion

Happy face high res
Do emoticons box you in or set you free?

 

More analysis and research looking into how we interact with and effect the digital space, and how that space in turn effects us, emotionally and mentally.

[Facebook, Bitly, Google+]… all these interfaces are now focusing on the emotional aspects of our information diets. To put this development in a broader context: the mood graph has arrived, taking its place alongside the social graph (most commonly associated with Facebook), citation-link graph and knowledge graph (associated with Google), work graph (LinkedIn and others), taste graph and interest graph (Pinterest and others).

Like all these other graphs, the mood graph will enable relevance, customization, targeting; search, discovery, structuring; advertising, purchasing behaviors, and more. It also signals an important shift in computer-mediated communication.

But placing a digital mood ring on users also has the power to change us — how we express ourselves. Especially when one considers that the data populating mood graphs comes from our encounters with behavior-altering interfaces packaged as fun little emojis and innocuous, “handy-dandy buttons”…

…drop-down expression makes us one-dimensional, living caricatures of G-mail’s canned responses — a style of speech better suited to emotionless computers than flesh-and-blood humans. As Marshall McLuhan observed, just as we shape our tools, they shape us too. It’s a two-way street.

more via The ‘Mood Graph’: How Our Emotions Are Taking Over the Web | Wired Opinion | Wired.com.

The author of the opinion, Evan Selinger, is a Fellow at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technology who focuses on the collisions between technology, ethics, and law.

He seems hell bent against putting a happy face next to his Facebook post, and I hear what he’s saying about the dangers of trying to sum up a concept with a parenthesis or semicolon. And I agree that companies are offering these emoticon options often just so they can collect more data on their users, rather than be focused on helping their customers express themselves more fully.

But, as Selinger also points out, spoken language itself can be nuanced and tricky, in the digital or non-digital world, and it can be nice to have more tools to express yourself in the digital space. People also post songs or pictures in order to share their mood or sentiment with others.

I feel that these are enhancements for people to share more ideas, not have them boxed in. Sometimes creativity is aided with a few rules. All language has restrictions, whether you’re coding or signing or chatting. Yes these restrictions should be recognized, but not

Do you feel that a smiley face or frowny face limits your ability to communicate and express yourself with others online? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

behavior · emotion · happiness

Get in the Habit of Being Happy

Brain chemistry is a powerful thing, and as much as environments can shape our happiness, more research is finding we can consciously influence happiness.

Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, theorizes that while 60 percent of happiness is determined by our genetics and environment, the remaining 40 percent is up to us.

In his 2004 Ted Talk, Seligman describes three different kinds of happy lives: The pleasant life, in which you fill your life with as many pleasures as you can, the life of engagement, where you find a life in your work, parenting, love and leisure and the meaningful life, which “consists of knowing what your highest strengths are, and using them to belong to and in the service of something larger than you are.”

After exploring what accounts for ultimate satisfaction, Seligman says he was surprised. The pursuit of pleasure, research determined, has hardly any contribution to a lasting fulfillment. Instead, pleasure is “the whipped cream and the cherry” that adds a certain sweetness to satisfactory lives founded by the simultaneous pursuit of meaning and engagement.

And while it might sound like a big feat to to tackle great concepts like meaning and engagement (pleasure sounded much more doable), happy people have habits you can introduce into your everyday life that may add to the bigger picture of bliss. Joyful folk have certain inclinations that add to their pursuit of meaning — and motivate them along the way.

Some of my favorites:

  • They unplug
  • They make exercise a priority.
  • They go outside.

Continue reading at  Huffington Post for the full list.

This is certainly something I strive for rather than achieve as much as I’d like, but the idea of cultivating your own happiness is an important one. Even giving the agency back to ourselves to be happy, rather than waiting for the right environment, job, or person to come along to make us happy, has been found to make us happier.

So go get happy. 🙂

anthropology · behavior · brain · community · emotion · happiness · mental health · Social

Social Media Isolates But Also Binds

Flickr friends
How many of your virtual friends would you actually invite over for lunch? (Photo credit: Meer)

Does social media make us feel more or less connected? How does connecting and communicating in a digital space impact us differently than connecting and communicating in a physical space?

There are mixed results from various studies, but recently more studies have come out finding that we actually feel less connected to each other the more we use social media like Facebook:

Kross found that the more people used Facebook, the less happy they felt—and the more their overall satisfaction declined from the beginning of the study until its end. The data, he argues, shows that Facebook was making them unhappy.Research into the alienating nature of the Internet—and Facebook in particular—supports Kross’s conclusion. In 1998, Robert Kraut, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, found that the more people used the Web, the lonelier and more depressed they felt. After people went online for the first time, their sense of happiness and social connectedness dropped, over one to two years, as a function of how often they used the Internet.Lonelier people weren’t inherently more likely to go online, either; a recent review of some seventy-five studies concluded that “users of Facebook do not differ in most personality traits from nonusers of Facebook.”

But, as with most findings on Facebook, the opposite argument is equally prominent. In 2009, Sebastián Valenzuela and his colleagues came to the opposite conclusion of Kross: that using Facebook makes us happier. They also found that it increases social trust and engagement—and even encourages political participation. Valenzuela’s findings fit neatly with what social psychologists have long known about sociality: as Matthew Lieberman argues in his book “Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect,” social networks are a way to share, and the experience of successful sharing comes with a psychological and physiological rush that is often self-reinforcing. The prevalence of social media has, as a result, fundamentally changed the way we read and watch: we think about how we’ll share something, and whom we’ll share it with, as we consume it. The mere thought of successful sharing activates our reward-processing centers, even before we’ve actually shared a single thing.

Virtual social connection can even provide a buffer against stress and pain: in a 2009 study, Lieberman and his colleagues demonstrated that a painful stimulus hurt less when a woman either held her boyfriend’s hand or looked at his picture; the pain-dulling effects of the picture were, in fact, twice as powerful as physical contact.

more via How Facebook Makes Us Unhappy : The New Yorker.

So what does this all mean? That we are complicated. And so is how we use social media.

“What makes it complicated is that Facebook is for lots of different things—and different people use it for different subsets of those things. Not only that, but they are also changing things, because of people themselves changing,” said Gosling. A 2010 study from Carnegie Mellon found that, when people engaged in direct interaction with others—that is, posting on walls, messaging, or “liking” something—their feelings of bonding and general social capital increased, while their sense of loneliness decreased. But when participants simply consumed a lot of content passively, Facebook had the opposite effect, lowering their feelings of connection and increasing their sense of loneliness.

I have seen forums used to create physical communities (I don’t want to say “real world” because virtual is real, it’s really happening) and create friendships that crossed continents, but I have also heard of and seen virtual bullying that in some very sad cases led to a person’s death. We can be cruel to others by hiding behind that veil of anonymity, or even just by creating a lack of physical presence which also creates a mental separation which makes it easier for us to feel isolated or intentionally isolate others. But we also want to share and connect with others, even if we can’t be physically near them, and share very intimate details with people we may not otherwise have given the time of day, which can be a good or bad thing depending on the context and situation.

How do you use social media? Does it make you feel more connected to your tribe, or do you feel left out or perhaps even more isolated? Do you bridge the gap between your virtual world and physical world, or does the slogan “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” also apply to your social media and physical lives? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.