make me a grill

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How long do you have to make a decent first impression?  1 minute? 30 seconds? The famous 7 seconds?  If only.  Princeton University researchers Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov believe we judge strangers within 1/10 of a second.

Better not trip walking in the door.

The experiment by Willis and Todorov studied how quickly we assess the likeability, competence, trustworthiness, attractiveness, and aggressiveness of strangers.  Participants were able to judge all traits within 1/10 of a second, and trustworthiness and attractiveness were assessed more quickly than the other traits.

But how can that be possible?  Can you truly know if someone is trustworthy after 1/10 of a second?

The answer is a resounding no.

In 2010, at the University of Cologne in Germany, researchers Detlef Fetchenhauer and David Dunning created an economic game that required people to accurately judge the trustworthiness of strangers in order to win. They found that participants considered 52% of strangers trustworthy, even though a whopping 80% of strangers were actually deserving of their trust.  Participants made an incorrect assessment nearly 30% of the time.

If we’re unable to accurately ‘snap-judge’ the trustworthiness of a stranger, then what makes us think we’re able to ‘snap-judge’ their other traits?

Would instating ‘stranger best practices’ prevent us from making erroneous snap judgments?  Maybe we should have at least 3 meetings with each new person we meet?  Or, perhaps  we should wear a blindfold when we meet someone new? The first rule would allow time to rectify a first impression with more enduring traits, and the second rule would ensure that non-physical characteristics got due weight in the assessment of a stranger.

The rules might not work: I imagine people endlessly meeting up with strangers while wearing blindfolds.  Say goodbye to free-time and hello to collisions.

So how do we break free of snap judgments?

lights camera action

If the weather outside is frightful then chances are pretty close to 100% that I’m bundled up inside with a movie or a book or a board game.  I probably invited friends over to avoid the icy roads, and we’re noshing on takeout while Kinzie zooms around looking for fallen treats.

Minneapolis just welcomed winter, and since the sun is on vacation, it’s a pretty dreary picture of clouds, snow and ice outside my window.  Knowing that people are going to be heading into their homes for respite, I thought I’d do a little rah rah rah experiment that made their cozy night a little happier:

out of the blue

Unexpected pleasures stop us in our tracks and remind us that life is good.  These bits of joy disrupt our day as a reminder to enjoy the moment and focus on the little things.  A welcome distraction, right?  Street art is a simple way to send an inspiring message to the masses, and the distraction from daily activities is almost always appreciated.

To get in on the action, I planned a small street art project of my own.  Without the innovation, budget or scope of the artists above (click on the pictures to learn more about their artwork) I still figured I could make my neighbors smile by ‘eye-bombing’ inanimate objects.  What do you think?  Is my silly little project worth a smile?


smile on a stick

Candy apple on a stick makes my tummy go 2-4-6.  I spent loads of playground time singing the candy apple song with my elementary school crew, but I hadn’t thought about the hand-clapping anthem for nearly 15 years when it popped into my head today.  What was the occasion?  A rah rah rah experiment aptly titled ‘smile on a stick.’

I just might have discovered the fastest way to make a stranger smile:
All my smiles came from spending a gorgeous day in St. Paul with Lyda Ham.  She’s a talented Twin Cities photographer with lots of heart and just as many laughs.  Oh, and good news — Lyda writes a lovely blog of her own, and you can read all about her adventures here

urban happiness

What role does geography play in our happiness?  Can we increase our happiness by changing our zip code?  The journalist Charles Montgomery studies how urban design affects human happiness, and he believes that we can manufacture joy through the urban landscape.   Specifically, he believes that we can “redesign our cities, our minds, and our own behaviors”…  “to build a city that is more convivial, more fair, more fun, and more happy.”

Montgomery offers a number of ways to make the city more fun, and my favorite suggestion is starting conversations in elevators.   He recognizes our inclination for personal space,  but he believes that the benefits of a good conversation outweigh the potential awkwardness : “Even a casual conversation with strangers has the potential to flood your system with feel-good hormones. Go ahead. Talk about the weather.”

I decided to encourage chatter by hanging conversation starters in elevators.  I’m not sure that anyone will answer the questions, per se, but perhaps they will chat about why someone hung silly paper all over the place.  Either way, mission accomplished. ImageImageImageImageImageImageSpeaking of urban happiness, I’m planning another rah rah rah project with my friends Kaitlyn and Sarah (TheDuck&TheOwl), and we want you to join us.  Are you up for it?


The plan is to spread happiness to the public heroes that make our lives better every single day.  Grateful for the librarians that keep the bookshelves stocked?  Thankful for the firemen that continuously defend the city?  Let’s show our appreciation by giving them goodie bags filled with sweet treats and thank you notes.

I plan to spread happiness in Minneapolis, and Kaitlyn and Sarah will bring smiles to Milwaukee.   We’re both planning to blog about the project on Monday, and we’d love to read about how other bloggers got involved.  If you choose to participate, send us a link (in the comment section of the post) so that everyone can read about your random act of happiness.  Ready, set, RAH!

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

mwf seeks bff

I get the heebie jeebies every time someone asks me to describe myself in a few sentences.  What information do they want, and wouldn’t it be better to just share a cup of coffee?  I mean, come over and I’ll bake you banana bread and tell you what I’m reading and what I’m painting and how my sister is my best friend.  But ask me to name five interesting facts and I freeze up—perhaps because the inquiry seems insincere.

For instance:
1. BBQ is my all-time favorite food
2. I write short stories while blasting rap music
3. Comedy clubs are my go-to spot on a Saturday night
4. I walk the lakes at noon o’clock
5. My husband and my brother have the same sense of humor

Did you just learn anything honest or useful about me?  You still don’t know what makes me giggle or why I blush or what makes me angry – and aren’t those the things that matter?

I always want to ask people what they wish for when they blow out the candles on a birthday cake.  But would anyone give me an honest answer?  Surely it’s more revealing to spend an hour or two in conversation, right?
I suppose the only thing worse than being asked to describe yourself is being told to ‘select the box’ you identify with – you know what I mean, right?  Those pesky little boxes that characterize profiling sites like and Linkedin.

  • Speak a foreign language
  • Went to college
  • In a relationship
  • Owns a pet
  • Is talkative

I guess my problem with these box surveys is twofold: 1) the answers are rarely all-encompassing (I kind of speak Spanish and I’m currently in college and I don’t know if he’s my boyfriend-or-not and my dog just ran away and I’m only talkative around friends), and 2 ) they try to easily define people, when, in fact, we’re filled with nuances and dualities and so many more important things than we could tell you with a checkmark inside a box.

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

fallababa disaster


The great acts of love are done by those who are habitually performing acts of kindness. – Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

A lovely thought from a fantastic novel.  We don’t need fancy dinners or diamond rings to show someone that we love them.  One the contrary, we need less tangible things like consistency, loyalty, and, hopefully, laughter.  What matters is that your friends&sweethearts understand you, appreciate your quirks, and remain by your side (come what may).

In an effort to remain habitual/consistent with my rah rah rah experiments, I decorated the Minneapolis bike trail with a ‘happy fall’ banner.  The simple banner was made by painting burlap and then stringing the letters together on a ribbon. Happy fall, y’all:
When the experiment ended, I met up with Lauren for thrift store shopping.  We didn’t find any clothes, so we bought non-prescription glasses for fancy dinners, baby showers, and hot dates.
I got home feeling pretty optimistic about the day, but wishing my sign had ended with “y’all.”  I made a pretty graphic to make up for it:

what you say when you fall out of bed
opps!! i just fallababa!

attack of the bees


It’s common knowledge that I consider Thoreau a personal friend. I mean, heck, I threw the guy a birthday party this year. A bigger secret, perhaps, is that I consider his pal Emerson to my other bestie. Like, if the three of us all went to Harvard in 1835 we would have shared a lunch table. Or, even bigger news, I might have convinced Thoreau to let us all share his little cabin in the woods.

If you’re not into my favorite authors, this post might be throwing you for a loop. If you are, however, then you might be familiar with one of Emerson’s most popular sayings: “be kind, be honest, be silly.” A pretty good maxim for an optimal life, right? I have a penchant for kindness and giggles, and I’m a fan of honesty (qualification for BFFdom).

That said, I decided to pay homeage to my homeboy Emerson with an attack of the bees in Minneapolis. Come again? I designed the graphic below, made lots of copies, and then placed the bees all over the uptown neighborhood.