Former Associate editor Margret Aldrich on the hunt for happiness, community, and how humans thrive
9/30/2011 4:12:59 PM
If you’re feeling saddled by heartache, work stress, a heavy secret, or an unknown future, take heart (and get out your earbuds): The website Emotional Bag Check will lighten your load.
How the site works is simple, reports GOOD, even if your problem isn’t: Click the “Check It” button, type in whatever emotional baggage is weighing you down, and send it into the internet ether. Soon, you’ll receive an email with a stranger’s recommendation for the perfect song to lift your spirits.
Good talks with the woman behind Emotional Bag Check:
“I’ve always liked the metaphor of emotional baggage,” says website creator Robyn Overstreet, a freelance web developer and programming teacher based in New York City who launched the site in February. “Being a literal person, I couldn’t help but think of it literally, as something that you pack up physically and have to carry around with you.” Or, in the case of her site, cast it off onto others.
In the mood to play music therapist rather than patient? Click the “Carry It” button, read the problems of another user, and send an anonymous song recommendation to them, pulling from the massive GrooveShark catalog.
Today I responded to a woman who had just ended a long-term relationship with her girlfriend but still dreamed of raising kids and home-cooking meals with her ex. After some careful consideration, I passed along the bittersweet pop medicine of the Girls’ tune “Laura,” a break-up tale that offers the promise of friendship. What would you prescribe?
Image by kthread, licensed under Creative Commons.
9/27/2011 12:14:21 PM
Would you like to talk to your past self and compare notes on how your life is shaping up, be reminded of your goals, take stock in your blessings?
The world often moves too quickly for reflection, and the responsibilities of the everyday can keep us from life’s larger questions. This week, Reboot (the group behind the National Day of Unplugging) wants us to reconnect to self-reflection with a free online program called 10Q.
Starting tomorrow, September 28, people who sign up for 10Q will receive one question a day for 10 days. After participants answer the questions, they submit them to a secure online vault. “One year later,” the folks at 10Q say, “the vault will open and your answers will wing their way back to your email inbox for private reflection.”
Questions from last year included “Is there something (a person, a cause, an idea) that you want to investigate more fully in 2011?” and “Think about a major milestone that happened with your family this past year. How has this affected you?” Former participants are reading their 2010 answers now, and one respondent posted on Twitter, “Just re-read my answers from last year’s 10Q. Some disappointment, some joy, but always moving forward.”
The questions are designed begin on Rosh Hashanah, but 10Q can be meaningful to anyone, the group says:
10Q was inspired by the traditional ten days of reflection that occur between the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, a period of time that’s long been considered an opportunity to look at where you’re at, where you’ve come from, and where you’re heading. Whether you’re Jewish or not, though, 10Q is a great way for anyone to look back at the year that’s past, look ahead at the year to come, and take stock. That’s a beautiful thing in any language.
Source: Daily 10Q
Image by Micky.!, licensed under Creative Commons.
9/22/2011 4:46:40 PM
Whatever you call it—“agricultural urbanism,” “new ruralism,” or one of the dozen other alternate labels—the concept of carefully planned agrarian suburbs sounds like utopia. Protecting land while permitting growth, “agriburbia” is a farm-friendly antidote to the eat-it-up philosophy of consumerist suburban sprawl.
When populations encroach into the countryside, we sacrifice more than pastoral vistas, says Jonathan Lerner in Miller-McCune.“The steady loss of farmland and natural habitat to sprawl-pattern development endangers food supplies and other resources, as well as the health, wealth and survival prospects of individuals and even whole communities,” he explains.
In Fresno County, California—where the majority of farms are small, family-run enterprises and half are minority operated—the threat to the agrarian landscape that produces everything from plums to almonds is undeniable. “The American Farmland Trust has estimated that if conventional growth patterns continue, by 2040 the county could lose another 135,000 acres of farmland, out of a total of about 2.25 million acres,” Lerner writes. He continues:
[A] new approach to regional planning could help turn that pattern around in Fresno and elsewhere. At scales ranging from a few hundred to many thousands of acres, the approach aims to protect unspoiled and working landscapes while allowing development to accommodate expanding populations….
Forget large-lot, single-family, cul-de-sac subdivisions accessed by traffic arteries lined with fast-food and big-box outlets. Future development would be densely clustered or channeled into towns and villages on sites less valuable for farming and conservation or where infrastructure already exists. Besides homes, these growth centers would include shops, workplaces, schools, pedestrian amenities and transit.
This kind of development, known as new urbanism, is already increasingly familiar. What’s new is its integration with efforts to protect working and natural landscapes.
The agriburban plan being considered for Fresno, called the Southeast Growth Area (SEGA), would combine a vibrant residential community with agriculture in a 9,000-acre belt of land at the edge of the city. Gardens and orchards would grow throughout, and small commercial farms would border the eastern perimeter.
Agriculturally oriented subdivisions are springing up in other parts of the country, too: There’s Hampstead near Montgomery, Alabama; The Farmstead, outside Charlotte, North Carolina; and Pingree Grove, less than an hour from Chicago. With amenities including elaborate community gardens, local food farmers markets, farm-to-table restaurants, and active community involvement, there are plenty of reasons to live there beyond land preservation.
“Though the particulars differ, they all share the basic approach of building compact towns or villages as a way to avoid consuming undeveloped land,” Lerner writes. “New-urbanist thinking is essential because it provides the tools for creating places for growth that are not only dense but desirable.”
Image by Thomas Hawk, licensed under Creative Commons.
9/20/2011 4:37:42 PM
Your therapist’s happiness level rises when you visit her couch. Firefighters are delighted to help you get Kitty out of a tree. Sins to confess to your priest or minister? He’s tickled to hear them.
Psychologist, firefighter, and clergy are included in the list of the “10 happiest jobs” based on data collected via the General Social Survey of the National Organization for Research at the University of Chicago, reports the Christian Science Monitor. “Since experts say that social interaction drives job satisfaction, it makes sense that clergy are happiest of all,” Christian Science Monitor writes. “Social interaction and helping people [is a] combination that’s tough to beat for job happiness.”
This formula explains why teachers and physical therapists are on the list, but also included are autonomous, creative professions like author and artist, and labor-intensive jobs like operating engineer. “Operating engineers get to play with giant toys like bulldozers, front-end loaders, backhoes, scrapers, motor graders, shovels, derricks, large pumps, and air compressors,” says the Monitor. And, “with more jobs for operating engineers than qualified applicants, no wonder they are happy.” The full list follows:
3. Physical therapists
5. Special education teachers
9. Financial services sales agents
10. Operating engineers
Interestingly, many of the occupations that fall at the bottom of the job-satisfaction list involve information technology, which can create isolating work, notes Forbes:
1. Director of information technology
2. Director of sales and marketing
3. Product manager
4. Senior web developer
5. Technical specialist
6. Electronics technician
7. Law clerk
8. Technical support analyst
9. CNC machinist
10. Marketing manager
Where does your job fall on the happiness scale? Are you bolstered by the helping hand you extend to others or satisfied by what you create—or should you pack it all in and learn to drive a bulldozer?
Sources: Christian Science Monitor, Forbes
Image by velvettangerine, licensed under Creative Commons.
9/15/2011 4:41:34 PM
It’s the last day of New York Fashion Week, where celebrities and the industry elite flank runways to catch the first glimpses of new lines from high-end designers like Marchesa and Alexander McQueen. For the average U.S. consumer, though, fast fashion—cheap clothing produced quick and dirty—hangs in the closet.
Fast fashion’s formula, known as the “quick-response method,” keeps up with ever-changing trends promoted at events like Fashion Week by speeding up every aspect of the clothing-production process: design, manufacturing, distribution, and marketing. In order to keep the pace lively, workers’ conditions and the environment suffer.
A recent study by Iowa State University professor Elena Karpova and grad student Juyoung (Jill) Lee, however, finds that fast fashion doesn’t fly in certain markets, reports Aaron M. Cohen in The Futurist (Sept.-Oct. 2011), offering hope that we don’t have to stay on the current industry treadmill. Cohen writes:
Japanese consumers are willing to pay more for domestically made products with higher price tags, which has resulted in fewer purchases of less-expensive imports. The Japanese apparel industry’s emphasis on more expensive, higher quality goods distinguishes them from foreign competitors in a positive way. Marketing efforts help drive these trends…. Clothing stores in Japan target older consumers, who are likely to be more interested in long-lasting quality than keeping up with the latest styles, while American advertising targets younger consumers interested in just the opposite.
Responsible clothing options in the states and elsewhere are increasingly easy to find, tracked by blogs like Eco-Chick and Eco Fashion World and spearheaded by green designers such as 2010 UtneVisionary Natalia Allen. And, Cohen says, some in the high-fashion industry are recommitting to artisan craftsmanship, with houses like Hermès beginning to emphasize “slow fashion.”
While we in the Utne Reader office certainly don’t claim to be fashion plates, perhaps we’re ahead of the trends on this one: I’ve had my favorite pair of jeans for nearly a decade and our hipster office manager owns a loon-emblazoned sweatshirt (with red, built-in cuffs and collar) that’s older than he is. Slow fashion, we’re ready for you.
Source: The Futurist(membership required)
Image by Noemi Manalang, licensed under Creative Commons.
9/14/2011 2:07:41 PM
We’ve all taken sanctuary in a good book at the end of a hard day, a hard week, a hard month, but do the words on those pages contain actual healing properties? Bibliotherapists at the London-based establishment The School of Life think so, calling the personalized book-list prescriptions they offer “the perfect way for you to discover those amazing but often elusive works of literature that can illuminate and even change your life.”
Writer Alexandra Redgrave, of enRoute, decides to try out the shop’s bibliotherapy service, reassured that there is a long history backing the power of books. She explains:
Although bibliotherapy might sound like just another clever name for the self-help book section, the practice has existed since at least the end of the 18th century in Europe and the beginning of the 19th century in the U.S., where mental-health hospitals started setting up libraries in the 1840s as a means to treat patients. The American physician Benjamin Rush noted in 1812 that certain novels could cure melancholy—this at a time when it was commonly believed that sensationalist texts caused insanity. And British soldiers were prescribed fiction after WWII to help them recuperate from post-traumatic shock.
At her private session, Redgrave—considering a career shift and seeking courage—answers questions about her reading history, her childhood, and what is missing from her life, as the bibliotherapist thoughtfully takes notes. “Have you ever read The Year of the Hare?” the therapist asks, ruminating on the right book for Redgrave’s needs. “It’s about a Finnish journalist who takes a drive in the countryside, accidentally hits a hare and disappears into the woods to help it recover, leaving his former life behind for the call of the wild.” Redgrave is prescribed that novel on the spot, along with the promise of a longer reading list in a few days.
In addition to individual, group, and remote bibliotherapy sessions, The School of Life offers an extensive menu of options for optimizing personal fulfillment: classes (How to Balance Work with Life, How to Be Cool); secular sermons (on compassion, strangers, storytelling); lectures (Fear of Failure, Finding the Perfect Partner); and psychotherapy consultations. But bibliotherapy remains one of its most popular services.
Check out the sample prescriptions available online for the recently bereaved, the sleep deprived parent, the newly retired, the gainfully unemployed, and the broken-hearted—who are advised to read How to Be Free by Tom Hodgkinson. Lonely hearts will soon “bid adieu to sadness,” The School of Life claims, and “embrace a new way of living.” Until then, at least they’ll have a good book to curl up with.
, licensed under
9/9/2011 4:39:37 PM
Economic equality equals happiness. So suggests a new study to be published in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science. In order for Americans to be truly blissed out, it finds, we need to close the gap between our wealthiest and poorest citizens.
“In 1980, the average American CEO’s income was 40 times higher than that of the average worker. Today, it is well over 300 times higher,” writes Carmen Sobczak in YES! Magazine. “Over the past four decades, according to the study, the American people have been the least happy in years when there was the widest gap between rich and poor.”
The study, lead by Shigehiro Oishi of the University of Virginia, took into account economic and psychological factors when examining data taken from 50,000 individuals between 1972 and 2008. Not surprisingly it was the lower-income participants—those in the bottom 40 percent of the U.S. population—who expressed reduced happiness during periods of greater economic disparity, but their reasons for dissatisfaction were unexpected. Expains Sobczak:
People weren’t unhappy just because their income was lower. Instead, the authors’ analysis revealed that greater inequality was linked to reductions in trust and perceived fairness—and it was drops in those attitudes that made people feel less happy.... Oishi and his colleagues argue that their results may explain why economic growth has not been accompanied by increases in happiness in the United States, unlike in other developed nations. The problem, they suggest, is that gains in national wealth in the U.S. haven’t been distributed equally, and this inequality has caused Americans’ happiness to suffer.
Oishi offers this lucent formula to fix our happiness dilemma: “If the ultimate goal of society is to make its citizens happy, then it is desirable to consider policies that produce more income equality, fairness, and general trust.”
Sources: YES! Magazine
Image by Amber de Bruin, licensed under Creative Commons.
9/8/2011 4:03:45 PM
An estimated 80 percent of the world’s population considers insects a commonplace food source, and soon—as eating meat becomes increasingly costly to wallets and the environment—bugs may hit Western dinner tables, too.
In the Netherlands, the company Bugs Originals recently developed pesto-flavored bug nuggets and chocolate-covered muesli bars made from crushed mealworms, the larvae of the darkling beetle, reports Daniel Fromson for The Atlantic. Bugs Originals has also been successful in selling freeze-dried locusts and mealworms to local outlets. Fromson writes:
The company’s goal is to get consumers to embrace bugs as an eco-friendly alternative to conventional meat. With worldwide demand for meat expected to nearly double by 2050, farm-raised crickets, locusts, and mealworms could provide comparable nutrition while using fewer natural resources than poultry or livestock. Crickets, for example, convert feed to body mass about twice as efficiently as pigs and five times as efficiently as cattle. Insects require less land and water—and measured per kilogram of edible mass, mealworms generate 10 to 100 times less greenhouse gas than pigs.
Here in the states, in an innovation and entrepreneurship competition this spring, the University of Chicago awarded $10,000 to student-conceived Entom Foods, reports Carrie Golus in The Core. The team, which won with their well-received grasshopper cookies, plans to start a for-profit business that produces insect meat as a sustainable food source. But implementation will require clearing some hurdles, Golus says:
For Western consumers, the team admitted in its proposal, “the multiple wings, the beady eyes, the slimy legs . . . all contribute to an overall ‘ick’ factor.” Entom’s brilliant solution: food processing. The shelling machines currently used for lobsters and other crustaceans could be adapted for insects, the team proposes. The wings, legs, eyes, and other gross parts would be whisked away, leaving the thorax meat, “which is nutritious and has the same consistency as more traditional meats.”
Entom has yet to decide which insect will be the focus of their venture. “One possibility is the long-horned grasshopper, which reportedly tastes like a hybrid of butter, bacon, and chicken,” Goluswrites. “Another is the giant prickly stick insect; at eight inches long, this creature could supply a lot of meat.”
But Entom is keeping American tastes in mind. “We’re obviously going to avoid the super-stigmatized insects, like cockroaches and flies,” team leader Matthew Krisiloff tells Golus. Those bugs “wouldn’t have substantive meat on them anyway.”
Sources: The Atlantic, The Core
Image by diverevan, licensed under Creative Commons.
9/2/2011 4:55:40 PM
Of the 7,000 rich, varied languages spoken in the world today, only half will be around at the end of the century unless we make efforts to save them, reports Miller-McCune’s Emily Badger. But if people can communicate without them, why do obscure languages matter? She writes:
As the famous example says, Eskimo have numerous words to describe what Americans would just call “snow” and “ice.” This suggests language systems don’t merely translate universal ideas into different spellings; they encode different concepts. And when we lose a language, we risk losing those concepts.
Last month, a joint program of the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities called Documenting Endangered Languages received $3.9 million in funding to record and preserve disappearing dialects. Says Badger:
The project may sound like a punch line for another anti-science tirade from a small-government politician, but its work touches on fundamental questions about how the brain works, how people express ideas, how societies adapt, and how human history has evolved.
Some of these languages are spoken by fewer than 30 elders, and most members of the next generation are not learning them, making the need for preservation immediate. Below are ten of the unique languages that researchers are endeavoring to save, along with links to their programs.
Bangime, Northern Bali
Navajo, Southwestern U.S.
Cherokee, Southeastern U.S.
Chechen, the Caucasis
Southeastern Tepehuan, Mexico
Image by laogooli, licensed under Creative Commons.
9/1/2011 3:54:23 PM
Andrew Carnegie built an impressive 2,509 libraries around the turn of the 20th century. Now Rick Brooks and Todd Bol are on a mission to top his total with their two-foot by two-foot Little Free Libraries, reports Michael Kelley in Library Journal.
The diminutive, birdhouse-like libraries, which Brooks and Bol began installing in Hudson and Madison, Wisconsin, in 2009, are typically made of wood and Plexiglas and are designed to hold about 20 books for community members to borrow and enjoy. Offerings include anything from Russian novels and gardening guides to French cookbooks and Dr. Seuss.
Each Little Free Library runs on the honor system, displaying a sign that asks patrons to Take a Book, Leave a Book. “Everybody asks, ‘Aren’t they going to steal the books?’” Brooks told Kelley. “But you can’t steal a free book.”
Fifty libraries have been built so far, with 30 more underway and plans to expand into Chicago, Long Island, and elsewhere. Brooks and Bol have a long way to go to reach their goal of 2,510 libraries, but they’re digging the ride. “At a personal, human level, it’s very thrilling how it excites people,” Bol shared with Kelley. “But on a larger plane, it’s such a nice spark for literacy, art, and community all at once.”
Check out (so to speak) the gallery of charming Little Free Libraries below and visit the organization’s website to learn how you can bring one to your hometown.
Source: Library Journal
Images courtesy of Little Free Library.
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