The Sweet Pursuit
Former Associate editor Margret Aldrich on the hunt for happiness, community, and how humans thrive

When Smart Kids Grow Up

StudentWere you one of those students who made schoolwork look easy, earning a galaxy of gold stars and an alphabet of A’s between your first morning of kindergarten and your graduation day? Did everyone gush over how smart you were?

If so, you might know the curse of the gifted child. An overload of affirmations can hamper the future success of bright kids, reports Heidi Grant Halvorson for Harvard Business Review. Students who receive praise for intellect rather than effort, she says, develop a belief that their abilities are innate and unchangeable. As adults, they lose confidence in trying to develop new, difficult skills. They get stuck. Halvorson writes:

People with above-average aptitudes—the ones we recognize as being especially clever, creative, insightful, or otherwise accomplished—often judge their abilities not only more harshly, but fundamentally differently, than others do (particularly in Western cultures). Gifted children grow up to be more vulnerable, and less confident, even when they should be the most confident people in the room.

In a study conducted by Carol Dweck and Claudia Mueller of Columbia University, fifth graders were evaluated to determine how different kinds of praise affected their performances. The students were given three sets of problems—the first relatively easy, the second nearly impossible, and the third simple. Dweck and Mueller found that offering the praise “You did really well. You must be really smart!” to one group resulted in a 25 percent drop in performance on the third set of problems, after they had failed the second set. Conversely, the group that received praise that focused on their effort (“You did really well. You must have worked really hard!”) improved their performance by 25 percent. The “smart” group became stymied, doubting their abilities, while the “hard-working” group persisted, feeling that if they tried hard enough, they would succeed.

When gifted children who were praised for their brainpower grow up, they often feel shackled by self-doubt, avoiding challenges and sticking to easy goals. Halvorson posits, however, that it’s possible to get unstuck by realizing that capabilities are wonderfully elastic:

No matter the ability—whether it’s intelligence, creativity, self-control, charm, or athleticism—studies show them to be profoundly malleable. When it comes to mastering any skill, your experience, effort, and persistence matter a lot. So if you were a bright kid, it’s time to toss out your (mistaken) belief about how ability works, embrace the fact that you can always improve, and reclaim the confidence to tackle any challenge that you lost so long ago.

Source: Harvard Business Review 

Image by ultrakickgirl, licensed under Creative Commons.



100,000 Aspirations for Peace

100,000 AspirationsIt’s too soon to think about New Year’s resolutions. We still have the remains of Thanksgiving in the fridge, and there are the holidays to maneuver before we reach a bleary-eyed New Year’s Day. But the organizers at 100,000 Aspirations are asking us to pause and offer our best intentions for the world right now.

The beautifully ambitious group is collecting 100,000 aspirations that will be placed in a stupa—a monument to peace—being built in northern Vermont. Sponsored by the Sakyong Foundation, in collaboration with the meditation center Karme Choling, the stupa is “for people of all cultures, religions, and backgrounds to enjoy,” says the Shambhala Times.

Early submissions reveal a variety of good hopes: “I aspire to make sure no child feels unworthy,” writes one contributor; “I aspire to be as happy and carefree as a dog,” says another. And Josh Viertel, president of Slow Food USA, writes:

I aspire to live in a world where there are more school gardens than McDonald’s franchises, where it’s easier to feed our kids fruit than Froot Loops, and where we experience our profound connection to each other and the land through sharing work and sharing food.

You can add your aspiration on the 100,000 Aspirations website (it’s quick), tweet it, or submit a video aspiration to the project. Watch Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron offer hers here:


Sources: 100,000 Aspirations, Shambhala Times  

The New American Food Swap

Jelly jars 

From Brooklyn to Portland, Minneapolis to Austin, people are sharing the love and their homemade, homegrown, or foraged edibles at modern-day food swaps. Too many pickled beets in your pantry? Trade a few jars for a dozen duck eggs. An overabundance of hand-foraged mushrooms? Swap them for lavender-infused vodka.

This week, a circle of cooks, canners, bakers, and urban farmers launched the Food Swap Network, a new online community for those who want to trade their wares and connect with likeminded DIYers. The site is a good stop for first-timers, giving tips on how host a food swap, attend a food swap, and find a food swap in your area, and also offers glimpses into thriving food swaps around the country.

Emily Ho, food writer and founder of the LA Food Swap explains the growing popularity of the nouvelle food sharing movement to LAist:

I think people are eager for the sense of community that a food swap provides. A food swap not only gives members a chance to share delicious handmade foods but also is a wonderful opportunity to meet others who are interested in gardening, food preservation, beekeeping, and other sustainable, DIY activities. As more and more people want to know where their food comes from and start activities like making their own condiments, baking bread, etc., it’s fun to share this experience with others. (Plus, who needs 20 jars of homemade ketchup?)

Sources: LAist, Food Swap Network 

Image by Dennis Jarvis, licensed under Creative Commons.


Reimagining a Masterpiece

What would you do to improve on the Mona Lisa? Our friends at Booooooom!, the Vancouver-based art blog, are asking photographers to flex their creative muscles by remaking classic works of art. A sampling of the amazing results from the Remake project—modernizing paintings by Rembrandt, Ingres, van Gogh, Lichtenstein, and others—follows.

Grande Odalisque remake 

Above: Grande Odalisque remake, by Craig White 

Grande Odalisque, by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres 

Above: Grande Odalisque, by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres 

Ohhh...Alright..., remake 

Above: Ohhh…Alright… remake, by Emily Kiel 

Ohhh…Alright…, Lichtenstein 

Above: Ohhh…Alright…, by Roy Lichtenstein 

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, remake 

Above: The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp remake, by Bruna Pelissari 

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, Rembrandt 

Above: The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, by Rembrandt 

Self Portrait 1889 remake 

Above: Self Portrait 1889 remake, by Seth Johnson 

Self Portrait 1889, van Gogh 

Above: Self Portrait 1889, by Vincent van Gogh 

Gabrielle d’Estrées et une de ses soeurs remake 

Above: Gabrielle d’Estrées et une de ses soeurs remake, by Emile Barret 

Gabrielle d’Estrées et une de ses soeurs, Unkown 

Above: Gabrielle d’Estrées et une de ses soeurs, by unkown artist 

Check out the Remake project website for more iconic works, redefined.

Source: Booooooom! 

Images courtesy of Booooooom! 


Gastrointelligence: Why Comfort Food Works

Grilled cheese

I’m sure my stomach knows best. Give me a bad day, and my gut tells me to griddle up a grilled cheese sandwich made with whatever is in the fridge: cheddar, provolone, mozzarella—I’ll even take American singles, as long as they’re melted between slices of thick-cut buttered bread. The more the cheese oozes, the better I feel.

Now, in an emerging field dubbed neurogastroenterology, scientists are finding that the stomach knows more than we give it credit for. “The gut can work independently of any control by the brain in your head—it’s functioning as a second brain,” Michael Gershon, professor of pathology and cell biology at Columbia University tells Dan Hurley in Psychology Today. The brain in your gut, called the enteric nervous system (ENS), is made up of 100 million neurons and can work on its own, without any direction from the brain. And it does more than control itself; it can control your mood, Hurley reports.

It relies on, and in many cases manufactures, more than 30 neurotransmitters, including serotonin, that are identical to those in the brain. What’s more, tinkering with the second brain in our gut has lately been shown to be a potent tool for achieving relief from major depression. Even autism, studies suggest, may be wrapped up in the neurobiology of the brain down under.

Certain foods can have a particularly strong effect on emotions, according to researchers in Belgium. So what comfort food works best to bolster our moods? Mashed potatoes? Macaroni and cheese? Mainlined ice cream sundaes? Any of these can work, as long as they contain one key ingredient: fat.

After participants in the Belgian study were fed either a saline solution or an infusion of fatty acids and then listened to neutral or melancholy music, they were interviewed and given MRI scans. Researchers found that the fatty acids activated the brain regions that regulate emotions and reduced feelings of sadness by about half.

“It’s an important demonstration that in a nonconscious way, without knowing whether you are getting the fat or the salt-water, something you put in your stomach can change your mood,” Giovanni Cizza of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases tells Hurley.

So go on and take a little solace in comfort food. As it turns out, those cravings aren’t all in your head.

Source: Psychology Today 

Image by Chefdruck, licensed under Creative Commons.


Bible vs. Koran: Word by Word

KoranMost of us haven’t read both the Bible and the Koran cover to cover, let alone dissected each word of text. Now, with a new online program called bibleQuran, users can compare the number of times key words appear in each of the holy books, with surprising results.

Type in any search word—“war,” “forgiveness,” “behead,” whatever—and bibleQuran will reveal its frequency as well as the percentage of verses in which it appears, reports Information Aesthetics. (You can even read the individual verses by hovering your mouse over the highlighted tiny rectangles.) Here are examples of how a few words measure up, based on percentage of verses:

Love: Koran, 0.98% | Bible, 1.8%
Hate: Koran, 0.34% | Bible, 0.67%
Friend: Koran, 0.91% | Bible, 0.37%
Enemy: Koran, 1.1% | Bible, 0.67%
Ruler: Koran, 15.2% | Bible, 22.8%
Slave: Koran, 0.56% | Bible, 0.26%
Revenge: Koran, 0.19% | Bible, 0.19%

Pitch Interactive, the data visualization firm that designed the program, sees it as an opportunity to, perhaps, combat religious divisiveness:

Unfortunately, people of one faith try to use the holy text of another faith to ridicule that faith or show its abominations by pointing to a particular text, often entirely out of context or misquoted. One such example is the Quran burning controversy stirred by Terry Jones in Florida. While claiming the Quran is a violent book of terror, Jones failed to make a comparison to the Bible, which also contains many violent passages.... Our primary goal is to help inform and educate of the differences and, more importantly, the similarities between both texts.

The interface isn’t perfect—one commenter points out that “fig” and “dress” are synonyms—but it provides an objective way to compare two books that are so often pitted against each other in a much less civil face-off.

Source: Information Aesthetics, Pitch Interactive 

Image by Mo Costandi, licensed under Creative Commons.


Get Your Girl Scout Locavore Badge

Locavore badgeIn 2012, the Girl Scouts turn 100, and they’re working to stay more relevant than ever, with new merit badges for website design, financial literacy, entertainment technology (whatever that is) and, my unequivocal favorite, locavorism.

How do Girl Scouts earn the locavore badge? It takes five steps, reports Josh Friedland of The Food Section: 1. Explore the benefits and challenges of going local 2. Find your local food sources 3. Cook a simple dish showcasing local ingredients 4. Make a recipe with local ingredients 5. Try a local cooking challenge.

“The girls start out slowly,” Jonathan Kauffman writes in SF Weekly,

first interviewing a local cook or a grocery store manager about the food system, and then identifying seasons when certain fruits and vegetables grow locally or ferreting through their fridge to identify products they can find local substitutes for....

Subsequent steps involve more complex cooking tasks: creating two salads with local fruits and vegetables, taking a family recipe and making it with local ingredients, and finally preparing a three-course meal or making a more complicated dish like pasta from scratch. 

Nicely done, Girl Scouts! I suspect your new century will bring even more hyper-relevant merit badges. Can you do parkour in a Girl Scout uniform?

Sources: The Food Section, SF Weekly 

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