soulful goodness

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I like good blogs and the people that write them.  I was reminded of this fact when I posted a ♡2♡and received feedback that was not only kind, but wise and inspiring.
Your sweet comments chimed in my head as I toured the Minnesota Institute of Art today, and I came to the conclusion that my readers are just as soulful as Matisse.
Not sure you believe the compliment?  Well well well, Mr. Matisse said ”an artist should never be a prisoner of himself, of style, of reputation, of success.”  My readers offered the following thoughts on success (click photo to visit their blog):
See the connection? Heart and soul and a whole lot of goodness in all these answers.
I was and still am extremely grateful for your kindness.  Matisse (see above) would be impressed.  And speaking of kindness, check out this exhibit on compassion:
Just lovely, right? I meditated for a good 20 minutes while passerby walked around and snapped photographs and chatted with their friends.  Gotta tap into that internal source.

the new normal

The impressive words of Mr. MLK feel particularly relevant following the 2014 Teen Internet Safety Conference. My cousin was a panelist at the conference, and so I watched the live broadcast to hear my favorite 17 year-old voice her opinion on P-interest, Instagram and Twitter. She did an amazing job.

The conference got interesting when the moderator asked the panel if websites should allow anonymous comments. While the majority of the panel agreed that anonymous comments were harmful, one teen stood up and said anonymity makes it easier to be kind.

When asked to elaborate, he explained that he felt uncomfortable chatting with strangers and giving compliments to friends in ‘real life.’ On the anonymous web, however, the social pressure was gone and he found it easy to make friends and share generous thoughts.
But do we really need anonymity to be kind? Research by David Rand suggests that we have an instinctive desire to strengthen the community, but that we often suppress the impulse upon reflection. Why the change in thought?

It might have something to do with Dale Miller’s self-perpetuating theory of self-interest. Miller believes that self-interest is a cultural norm that leads Americans to “conceal their more noble sentiments.”

The teen panelist made me think we should overturn the Darwinian theory of self-interest by using the Internet and social pressure to make kindness the new normal.

Aristotle says that information goes viral if it simultaneously evokes ethos (ethics), pathos (logic), and logos (emotion). Stories of kindness definitely fit that bill, and that’s why we’ve all heard about the diner who left a $1,000 tip, the homeless man who returned a diamond ring, and the enormous support San Francisco gave Batboy.

If you see someone doing something kind, share the story, pass it around, and make a fuss about the awesome work of do-gooders. Keep sharing stories of kindness until the behavior is ‘normal enough’ for teens and adults to be openly generous and compassionate.

What are your thoughts? Do you find it easier to be kind online? Do you like anonymous commenting?

come sail away

I was swimming in an aquarium and I couldn’t have been happier about it.  Striped fish puffed out and tri-color fish heaved in and small glassy fish sped past like tiny submarines.  When I got back to my beach chair, I told Jon that our next trip was going to be The Great Barrier Reef in Australia.  A classic tale of if If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.
Reflecting, I’m wondering if I should surprise Jon with a pet goldfish?  Just go to PetsMart or Petco or Aquarium World and come home with a friend no larger than a baby pickle?  Bring a bit of the tropics inside our Minneapolis apartment?

I went to Caribou Coffee when we got home, and I thought it was timely that they had a chalkboard wall asking about dream vacations:Image
Can you guess what I added to the list? Hint: not Jamaica or Australia.  Coincidently, I read an article about the kindness of nations a few hours later, and it made me think the chalkboard was missing a few important places:
I’ve never considered the kindness of a place when deciding where to vacation, have you?  I’m usually flying to visit my aunt (Chicago), sister (Phoenix), or parents (outside Washington DC).  When I do get to choose, I’m usually just lured in with dreams of sunshine and beaches and adventures and foreign things (and budget, of course).  What about you: how do you decide where to go on vacation?

stop saying thank you

Thank you miss and thank you mam and thank you sir.  I hear thanks mumbled in the quiet halls and yelled in the busy streets.  As common as hello and as frequent as goodbye, “thank you” becomes the background noise to our lives.

It’s polite to say thank you, sure, but true kindness cannot be repaid with mere words.  The old saying an ‘eye for an eye’ is as familiar as apple pie, but what is the equivalent for a good deed?  Time to repay kindness with kindness.
The next time you want to say thank you, stop and reflect: what exactly are you thankful for?  And how can you repay the kindness with actions instead of words?

A Hallmark card doesn’t do kindness justice – thank you for ‘being a friend’, ‘helping me out’, and ‘sticking by my side’ lack sincerity.  Why not get more specific?  Let’s consider exactly what we’re thankful for, and then figure out how to repay the kindness with actions.
This week, let’s act out our gratitude.  Each time you begin to say thank you, pause, reflect, and then devise a plan for repaying the deed.

go overboard

Research by Professor David Rand at Harvard University suggests that children and adults have an innate desire to strengthen the community. Children are quick to react to the impulse, but adults are more likely to pause, consider how the community will judge their behavior, and refrain from helping.

Dale Miller, Director of the Stanford Graduate School of Business’ Center for Social Innovation, reasons that people fear being seen as opportunistic or self-interested, and so they refrain from publicly helping others. Moreover, people fear that seemingly selfless actions will inspire cynicism and suspicion from peers.

Luckily, Professor Miller is working to overturn the Darwinian theory of self-interest, and arguing that compassion motivates people to help others (not self-interest!). He contends that people who overcame hardship practice altruism to return the favor and help the people around them. Altruistic individuals understand suffering and have a sincere desire to alleviate it.

What do you think?  Are you quick to help others?  Do you worry that people will think you have selfish motives?

PS- The awesome hoop art was made by StitchCulture. Check out her Etsy shop and say hello!

stop drop kaboom

It was the best of times and it was the, no wait, full stop.  It was simply the best of times.  I wish I could report on an uber-exciting weekend, but, alas, I spent all of Friday & Saturday helping Jon recover from the flu.  Instead of donning a costume or visiting friends, I made chicken noodle and caught up on Shark Tank with my favorite man.  Side note: does anyone else love that show?

Come Sunday morning, however, I was up and at um’ for some rah rah rah action.  My game plan? Bring sweet treats and thank you notes to the local firemen at Station 8.
I expected to ring the bell, drop the treats and be on my way.  A quick and easy gift to make the men smile, and then poof bam be gone.  The firemen were so grateful for the chocolates, however, that they invited me inside to the see the engine.  I got a little excited about that, and, before you know it, I was stomping around in a fire suit learning the tricks of the trade (hot tip: always leave a little skin exposed when entering a fire so that you are cognizant of the rising temperate – if your skin starts to burn, get out.)
I got a tour of the kitchen, and I was impressed with the spread of pancakes, bacon, eggs, donuts, and sausage on the table.  The firemen explained that they always did a big Sunday brunch together, and that they all take turns cooking.  Kind of like a family, right?
The tour ended at the firehouse dorms where 21 men sleep in shifts.   A fireman made a joke about the exposed pillows, and then his station mate explained that they are always short on pillowcases.   So, can you guess what I’m doing? Organizing a pillowcase-drive with my apartment building.  A very near random act of happiness will involve returning to this fire station with loads of linens.

Kaitlyn and Sarah spread some joy to public officers with their own rah rah rah project in Milwaukee.  Head over to their blog, TheDuck&TheOwl, to read about how they spread happiness throughout their corner of the Midwest.


Practicing gratitude is a win-win situation for happiness.  A grateful person recognizes the importance of the people in their lives, and a recognized person (the person receiving the thanks) feels connected to their social network.

Gratitude is on my mind with Thanksgiving just around the bend, and so today’s rah rah rah project involved leaving little “I am thankful….” notes around 50th&France in Edina.  Hopefully, the recipients paused to reflect on their blessings, and, with any luck, felt a bit of happiness when they reflected on what they’re thankful for.
How would you fill out the card?

adults only

You know that feeling when everything suddenly comes together?  The moment I’m talking about proceeds weeks and possibly months or years of endless worrying.  The type of worrying that springs up while you’re running on the treadmill, writing a term paper, or trying to boil water, and all of a sudden, you can’t stop wondering: Am I doing the right thing?  What if this is a disastrous idea?  Then you silence your mind because you have chosen instead of logic, you will follow your intuition.  Yes, always intuition.  If you haven’t figured me out yet, that’s the way I work – I follow the signs, I go where they lead.  No pros and cons chart for this girl.

It’s tricky to determine all the things that could go right about a project, and so I usually just go straight ahead with any experiment that crosses my mind.  This method has produced my best and my worst ideas.  A classic example of how our greatest strength can be also be our greatest weakness, right?1-IMG_9558
Today, everything with my experiment went totally wrong and made me wish I had a boss that vetoed all my bad ideas.  The flipside is that being left to my own devices usually makes for a pretty good story.  1-IMG_9560
The oddball quirky story for today is that I had a not-so-brilliant-but-well-intentioned idea to make an ‘adults-only’ play zone at the park.  I wasn’t intending to play in it or anything, but I thought the concept was pretty important, and might encourage people to be a little silly.

Anyway, I roped off an area between some trees with streamers, and then I blew up tons and tons of balloons to fill up the play zone.  Bad idea, right?  I guess I don’t have any experience with balloons, but it simply didn’t occur to me that they would blow like wild and be all over the streets within 2 minutes.

Oops!  Drivers started honking and I was chasing down the balloons and I definitely made more people angry than happy.1-IMG_9569
My little brother called in the middle of the mayhem, and I explained the situation.  He calmly told me that I should just fill the balloons with candy and hang them around for people that might need cheering.

Anyway, I went home and did exactly as my little brother instructed:


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ace in the hole

Quick fact: Researchers at Berkeley refer to Darwin’s work as “survival of the kindest.”

Darwin believed that charity evolved to ensure the survival of family and build prosperous communities.  The idea of helping family seems instinctive, but the argument for community is that individuals benefit from a stimulating, creative and progressive environment.  People reach their full potential when their community inspires and motivates them to fully develop as individuals.

Our inclination for altruism is so engrained that we’re capable of becoming addicted to the good feeling it provides.  Jordan Grafman, neuroscientist at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, published a study confirming that philanthropy provides the same high as eating chocolate cake, having great sex, or winning at the blackjack table.  Philanthropy just feels that good.

My hands spent today crafting a paper wreath for the holidays, but my mind was working overtime to plan a fun random act of happiness for tomorrow.  The wreath is below, and I’ll share my super silly experiment with you right after it happens (as always):ImageImageImageImageImage

networked for kindness

In 1967, psychologist Stanley Milgram famously declared that there are six degrees of separation between all people.  Eman Yasser Daraghmi and Shyan-Ming Yuan of Chicao Tung University hypothesized that the degree of separation is shrinking due to online networking.  The scientists incorporated Facebook networks into the six-degree theory and found that the average number of separation between two individuals is actually 3.9
Networked communities like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are narrowing the distance between global citizens. If you’re anything like me, working on your computer and consistently checking various social networks, then you’re having daily interactions with people around the globe.  Chances are high that you’re interacting with your Internet connections more than your geographical neighbors.

Social networks connect individuals based on affinity rather than geography.  For the first time, we can choose our friends based on interests and similarities rather than proximity.  If you’re one of the millions of city dwellers living in a community without a connection to your neighbors, then you might even feel more comfortable interacting with your online social networks than your next-door-neighbors.

The geographical distance between the people that we share our daily lives with is expanding, and that means we need to re-evaluate our definition of neighbor and community.
Small towns are famous for their hospitality.  The kindness stems from the knowledge that they will inevitably run into the same people time and time again.  Chances are high that the person you smirk at in the grocery store will become your new co-worker or, worse, future boss.

The density of the city almost guarantees that we interact with new people on a daily basis.  But exercise caution: chances are high that you’ve interacted with these ‘strangers’ on digital networks in the past.  Chances are even higher perhaps, that you will interact with them in the future.

And so, what is the proper course of action for these strangers that we encounter in our urban communities?  Kindness.  Be kinder than necessary to everyone that you meet at the market, the café, the park and the bus stop.  You may not meet again in the exact same space, but chances are high that you will reconnect in a digital sphere. Image