Toxic Femininity

Too much vitamin B6 can cause nerve damage. Too little vitamin B6 can cause nerve damage. Pretty much anything can be toxic in extreme expression or dosage. Life is always about balance. It’s regrettable that humans are such stereotypers. We want to organize our worlds into categories of things that seem alike and then keep everything boxed in, labeled, and inert. But life doesn’t work that way. Depending on endless factors and influences, we are more or less of any of our attributes in any given moment.

So let’s talk about one concept that can get very dangerous in extreme expressions: We’ll call it femininity (expressed as childbearing). In our present situation, only a woman’s body can take an egg and sperm, or an implanted embryo, and nurture it along until it becomes a fetus, and then, if all the other factors in play cooperate, the process moves along until a human baby is produced. Someday, this baby-making function will have a fully mechanized option, from test-tube fertilization to incubator fruition, and at that point, one might assume (and fervently hope) that every baby thus produced will be a deliberate, careful, conception and an eagerly anticipated addition to a loving parent (or parents)-in-waiting.

Presently, for the vast majority of us, conscious, deliberate baby-making is and should be an exciting undertaking, fraught with danger, but worth the risks. It is usually a voluntary undertaking. Yes, I know that sometimes, the production of babies, especially male babies, has been forced, or framed as patriotic. Fodder for Hitler’s war. An offspring to carry the family’s name and fortune forward…

But I digress. Back to our theme. Just because for now, a woman’s body is necessary to make a baby, it does not follow that baby-making is the definition of woman-ness or femininity. To squeeze the definition of femininity into that box is a form of cruel insanity. Toxic extremism. But that’s what we’re doing when we take away volition, deliberation, planning, and enactment of baby-making as an optional use of one’s body. Baby-production should always be a choice.

Abortion is not murder. It ends a process that began accidentally, or brutally, or without awareness. Pregnancy is a process. There are mechanized options at the beginning of the process. Fertilized embryos exist outside the realm of the female body. But a willing body is needed for this much-wanted baby. Of course, many people hope to use other people’s bodies for different reasons. They want a new kidney. A new heart. Eyes. Bone marrow. Liver. These life-saving desires require the use of another person’s body, but we do not legally require organ donations to save lives. We do not consider the death of someone who needed a kidney a “murder” because someone else failed to donate a kidney. Why should a woman’s body be singled out?

In an interview aired nationally, a woman who has decided that all pregnancies should come to fruition also declared that any woman who stopped the process for whatever reason, who said “no, I do not want to use my body to make a baby right now” should be killed. Dr. Bossypants has experienced low-grade nausea since that thoughtless and unnecessary broadcast–a horrific expression of woman-hating—perhaps the most virulent form of toxic femininity one can image. A hole is to dig. A woman is to make babies. A man is to war. A cloud is to rain. A mind is to judge. A heart is to kill: For such rigid insanities, Dr. Bossypants has no explanation–only great fear that hateful humans are going to continue down these destructive paths until they usher in extinction. The fight is to be whole, multi-dimensional members of the human continuum, tempering our extreme toxicities with maturity, respect, acceptance, courage, and compassion. The middle way is the only way.

Preventing Abortion

Dear Readers,

Dr. Bossypants realizes there is little to no chance of changing anyone’s stance on much of anything these days. But she forges on, hope against hope, that humans will evolve to the point of rational respect for autonomy, compassionate assistance for those in difficult places; more humility, less hubris. To that end, here is a little POP QUIZ, designed to startle and to reveal the false simplicities and tricky complexities associated with the abortion issue.

Q. 1 An embryo or fetus that has genetic abnormalities or defects such that it will be born dead, or die shortly after birth, should be brought to term because:

  1. We learn more and more about such occurrences by forcing them to happen. Thus, science is advanced.
  2. It gives the woman and potentially her partner and family a chance to suffer longer and learn humility.
  3. The body of the dead baby may have organs that could be donated.
  4. Such tragedies pull whole communities together.

Q. 2 An unplanned and unwanted pregnancy is a gift from God, Allah, or the universe intended to:

  1. Punish the woman for having unprotected sex or having sex at all, and show the woman her real calling on earth.
  2. Make sure humans reproduce enough to keep the workforce strong.
  3. Force a temporary romantic relationship to become a lifelong connection through the birth of an unwanted child, should the pregnancy make it to term.
  4. All of the above.

Q. 3 A fetus is:

  1. A human baby.
  2. A dependent human entity that, if given the use of another human’s body, will often develop into a human baby.

Q. 4 True or False: Even though we do not legally require people to use their bodies or body parts to save the lives of other humans (even their own children) we should legally require women to use their bodies to allow an unwanted fetus to develop into a baby and be born.

Q. 5 True or False: The life, health, and well-being of a pregnant woman are of less concern than an embryo or a fetus.

Q. 6 Birth control should be:

  1. Banned because it violates the laws of nature.
  2. The responsibility of the female, but always in consultation with the male.
  3. Available only to married couples because they are the only ones who should be having sex.
  4. Available only to single people because the purpose of sex in marriage is to reproduce.
  5. Unavailable because it is unnatural.

Q. 7 The government should control:

  1. Women’s bodies.
  2. Men’s sperm.
  3. Guns.
  4. Everyone’s private sexual choices.
  5. Wall Street.

Q. 8 The best way to actually reduce the number of abortions is to:

  1. Make abortions illegal so that those who have them or provide them are criminals.
  2. Make education and birth control methods available and easy to obtain.
  3. Keep males and females segregated until marriage.
  4. Sterilize everyone who might be the type of person who would seek an abortion.

Q. 9 Pain medication should be:

  1. Available to anyone whose pain is not their own fault.
  2. Available to anyone who wants it.
  3. Carefully prescribed because it is addictive.
  4. Unavailable because it is unnatural.

Being female carries with it profound responsibilities regarding when and under what circumstances it is wise to use one’s body to bring another human into the world. It is clearly not a male prerogative—which can have the effect of making males reach for artificial means of control. It can also trigger other females to step over the line, thinking that due to their own beliefs and experiences, they know what is best for all females. There’s no end in sight on this issue, but Dr. Bossypants endorses autonomy and compassion as the best options we have.

Statues as History Lessons

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Being a student of the mind and a fan of the rational, Dr. Bossypants has followed the recent squabbles over whether statues, flags, and such should be taken down or changed because they represent something painful to a group of people. Perhaps they honor an individual who was responsible for the deaths or repression of many innocent human beings. Perhaps they represent a cause that involved defending slavery, stealing property, or murdering human beings.

The argument for leaving these symbols in place is that they represent our history. This is true. We have a checkered history, replete with terrible mistakes and racist, misogynist, hateful leaders. And we should not forget this history. But we should not remember our history by honoring shameful or brutal actors who fought to oppress, own, demean, and/or destroy others. Hopefully, we will never build a statue of Adam Lanza to remember 26 murdered children and teachers at Sandy Hook. Or Stephen Paddock, who opened fire in Las Vegas and killed 58 people, not counting himself. These horrific events will be remembered other ways. Statues of these two men would be deeply offensive and cruel to people still suffering from their actions.

Elevating or clinging to symbols of past mistakes does little to light the way forward, but history does matter. We can remember our histories by building memorials that acknowledge the complexities of human motivation, suffering, sacrifice, and leadership. As humans evolve, we grow increasingly aware that to survive on this lonely planet, we need to get along better. We need to curb our appetites, admit our mistakes, and tell the whole truth, as completely as we can. But sometimes, we get it wrong. This is why asking for and granting forgiveness is radically rational and essential. Seeking justice and making amends go hand in hand with progress. Denial and misplaced pride are psychologically easy, but for the planet and the human community, they are very, very costly.

Where Do You Call Home?

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Just as infants attach to their caretakers, humans attach to the places that shelter them. They often call these places home. Voluntary or forced migration has spread humankind across the planet; a process of settling and seeking, exploring and delighting, conquering and retreating. Humans are complex. Some of us are homebodies and stay put for generations. Others uproot and resettle. Historians and geneticists can explain how staying put has allowed evolution to give us the rainbow of skin and eye colors, body types, and specialized attributes of various sorts. But psychologists help us understand this powerful urge to call a place “home.”

Human babies are helpless and vulnerable for a very long time. We need at least one devoted caretaker, but it is far better if we have two or more adults looking out for us—feeding, cuddling, guiding, protecting, and challenging us to become a caring, contributing member of our species. We also need shelter, and we appreciate familiarity and comfort. Familiar shelter is one definition of home. When we feel safe and cared for, we can be generous and trusting—but sometimes, we can also be stingy little rascals; jealous, afraid, and selfish.

Dr. Bossypants finds all this fascinating and when invited to social gatherings, she can blather on with the best of them. But let’s cut to the chase today, shall we? There’s been a rash of light-colored people with blue eyes shouting at darker-skinned people with brown eyes to “Go home.” The absurdity is stunning.

For instance, Dr. Bossypants believes her ancestors arrived on this continent about 160 years ago, give or take. Long before these bedraggled forebears of Bossypants arrived, brown, black, and Asian people had settled here. Some had been here for decades, some for centuries. And some had been here for tens of thousands of years, their arrival obscured by the mists of time. Home? Go home? White people arrived relatively recently to this region of the planet. We’re like toddlers with our arms wrapped around something we like very much yelling, “Mine. Mine. Mine.”

For humans, home is fluid. According to Robert Frost, “Home is the place where, if you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Home is a longed-for place of shelter, acceptance, and security. Home is a jealously guarded abstraction or a generously shared sanctuary. Home is both where we come from and where we are going. As T.S. Elliot wrote, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

Bottom line: Do not shout “Go home” at people. They can legitimately shout the same thing back at you. Work instead at being kind and hospitable. After all, home is where the heart is. Make it a nice place.

 

 

Apples and Progeny

nelle climbing an apple tree 001 (2)Biological parents are often stunned to see themselves reflected in the facial expressions of their children. It is as if they know the child from the inside out. Sometimes, it is a delightful surprise. Other times, it tends toward horrifying, as in “Oh my God, I know that slidey-eyed glance” or “Sheesh, really? Does she have to suffer through that level of anxiety? Can’t I take it away?” But this reflective essence isn’t limited to biology. In fact, some people end up looking just like their dogs.

There are many mysterious forces at work in this passing on of sameness. It isn’t as simple as the rubbing of elbows or fur. It’s not just DNA. Sometimes, the driving force is adoration. Other times, fear. Identification with the lover. Identification with the aggressor. We tend to become more like those we admire, but depending on the level of perceived threat, we may also become more like our enemies.

There’s an old saying: One bad apple spoils the whole barrel. If an apple has molded, the tentacles of mold begin the invisible invasion of apples nearby. Another apple saying is also helpful: The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Usually, this is an intergenerational indictment, but it also reflects how proximity can influence growth and development, or inhibit a larger, more expansive worldview.

Dr. Bossypants has the luxury of observing individuals, groups, and societies from a comfortable distance, but this has not mitigated her terror at the general drift of things. Hatred and fear are on the rise. There are many leaders offering people the chance to embrace, parade, and even embellish the worst possible human attributes: Greed, scorn, derision, self-importance, dishonesty, cruelty, revenge, and hypocrisy, to name a few. These are virulent strands of mold, and the whole damn barrel is in grave danger.

People. Do you want a completely weaponized world? Do you want to live your short precious lives in bunkers full of hoarded items, conversing only with similarly frozen-minded, hostile beings? Do you want to devolve, taking your children with you to a dark place of superstition where everyone worships those who lie and hate, who chuckle at their followers through golf games while some of them hustle into crowded spaces to “pray”? While you still can, roll yourselves away from that twisted tree. You’re on the wrong plane. You’re playing for the wrong team.

It will take courage to pull back. To remove the distorting lenses. To turn off the comforting propaganda. Don’t run for the nearest rationalization. Don’t believe the most convenient lies. If compassion and respect aren’t in evidence, it isn’t right. If leading by example isn’t happening, it isn’t authentic leadership. If self-sacrifice and humility are absent, get away. If justice and mercy are in short supply, lean in and supply some, even if the costs are high. The cost of a rotten society will be much, much higher.

Human consciousness allows us to choose our allegiances, which in turn, shape us. Many of us haven’t been making the wisest choices lately. The shape of the future of human life on earth hangs in the balance. Dr. Bossypants has no doubt we can do better. But will we?

Happy Habits: Kindness and Forgiveness

Hello Faithful Readers!

Here’s another installment of our series, HAPPY HABITS FOR HARD TIMES. Below the written portion, you’ll see a link to my Youtube channel, and can click on it for a some nice verbal bossiness. And you can also find us right here:

https://coehs.umt.edu/happy_habits_series_2020/default.php

Yours in surviving this thing,

Dr. B.

Other People Matter

The fourth episode of Happy Habits draws directly from the idea that giving is good for the giver. In particular, developing skills for listening with empathy, treating others with kindness and respect, and forgiving others for their misdeeds, tends to make us feel good as well.

Some years ago, the concept, random acts of kindness became popular. You were supposed to just wander around with no particular plan and find a way to be kind to strangers. If you’ve got the luxury of an unscheduled and uncluttered life, go for it. We love random kindness, but we love intentional, planned kindness even more. This is especially important if you’re about as tired and stressed as you’ve ever been. That’s why we offer this challenge: Break free from the “I’ll-get-to-it-when-I-can” mentality and embrace intentionality.

Being intentionally kind gives you greater personal agency. Instead of being stuck with a script someone else wrote, when you employ intentionality, you become the author of your own lines in every scene. Rather than randomly responding to occasional opportunities with kindness, you can exert your will, plan ahead, and creatively, consciously, and consistently act in kind ways.

Let’s think this through. Remember, it’s good to be your own mental mechanic, tuning up your brain to take care of yourself and others. Intentional kindness is an ongoing mental discipline focused on social behavior. Sometimes, a stranger provides you with an opportunity to be kind. You buy something for the person whose a few bucks short in the grocery check-out line. You notice someone dropped something. You hold open a door. You scoop the poop of someone else’s dog. You nod in a friendly way to a glaring parent, who is dragging an unwilling child along. If you set your intention and plan to be kind whenever the opportunity arises, even acts toward strangers that seem spontaneous will be acts that reflect your deeper values and character.

Maybe you’d like to intentionally be kind to a friend, a parent, or a sibling. Again, this requires thought and the ability to step outside yourself and into another person’s world. What would your friend, parent, or sibling appreciate? Maybe you would like a second helping of dessert, but maybe they would rather have a chance to go for a walk, or appreciate a compliment on their wild but endearing hairstyle—a byproduct of being quarantined, but cute nonetheless.

You get to write your script and live your life. Write yourself into the week as a character who values kindness and who watches for opportunities to share kindness with others. Notice and feel what happens. There’s compelling evidence that being kind will make you happier and lead to a more satisfying life. But you may need to get out of a bad mood or be kind to yourself first. Grumpy, sad, angry people have trouble being kind. Use the 3-step emotional change technique (from episode 3) as often as needed!

Despite your best efforts, sometimes you will fail yourself and others. You’ll catch yourself not being kind. Other people will disappoint you in big ways. That’s where a skill very related to kindness comes in: the ability to forgive.

Here’s a cool thing about forgiveness. Research indicates that it’s beneficial in two directions! It’s a very good thing to be forgiven, and it’s a very good thing to forgive. Did you know choosing to forgive reduces your blood pressure, boosts your immune system, and increases the likelihood of, well, let’s just say, nice intimate moments?

Some people might think humans aren’t genetically predisposed to forgive, because getting even or seeking revenge provides instant gratification. We see their point, but there’s evidence to the contrary. Humans are social beings, and need each other to survive. Given that humans mess up intentionally and unintentionally on an almost constant basis, without the ability to forgive and move on, humans would already be extinct. You CAN forgive. You’ve got the raw material. It just isn’t easy.

And here’s an added, sometimes unwelcome, fact. You can forgive, even if the other person isn’t sorry. You can release the pain of injury, the embarrassment of the insult, the raging anger of the injustice. You can let it go. You don’t have to plague yourself with thoughts of revenge and how to get even. You don’t have to occupy your mind with elaborate fantasies of the other person’s untimely and painful demise.

We admit that it’s harder to forgive than to nurse along a self-righteous grudge. And some people claim it’s foolish to forgive. But forgiving isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of intelligence. Writer Anne LaMott said, “Failing to forgive is like eating rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.” Wallowing in unfairness, dwelling on injured feelings, and fanning the flames of revenge might get you short-term satisfaction. But long-term all that wallowing, dwelling, and fanning gets you sleepless nights, more conflict, bad moods, high blood pressure, and a shorter, and more unpleasant life.

But remember, as you forgive, you don’t have to forget. Some relationships and situations are repeatedly harmful. Forgiving doesn’t mean you should stay in painful relationships or put up with verbal or physical abuse. If someone keeps hurting you, get distance. Protect yourself. Being repeatedly offended or hurt might give you practice in forgiving, but no one needs that. Life brings plenty of opportunities to forgive. You need to take care of yourselves and your loved ones.

Well-lived lives involve intentional kindness and intelligent forgiveness. These values contribute to the health and well-being of others. Here’s an important addendum: Other people matter, and sometimes, you are other people. Drawing from the scholarly realms of Alexander Pope and the Wizard of Oz: To make mistakes and offend is easy. To forgive, now that’s a horse of a different color.

 

 

 

Happy Habits for the Mind

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Dear Readers,

Yes, oh joy! Another installment in the Happy Habit Series. The video ends a bit abruptly, but we’re psychologists, not film-makers, and we have to keep these darn things short…. Sorry. We’ll work on it.

Take good care,

Dr. B

(For the accompanying video, click Series.)

Be Your Own Mental Mechanic: Wash Your Hands and Tune Up Your Brain

Humans are thinking beings. You can try arguing the opposite but that would require thinking. Sometime around 1637, René Descartes said, “Cogito, ergo sum.” The English translation is, “I think, therefore I am.” After several decades of studying psychological theory, assisted by Google translator, we’re ready to offer an expanded version. “Cogito ergo sum ego possit cogitare et in tempore angustiae triumphi.” Or, in English, “I think therefore I am able to think myself into trouble or triumph.”

We all have some mental habits that do not contribute to happiness or well-lived lives. We can overthink, underthink, make up excuses, feed our paranoia, gather false evidence to bolster our irrationality, and fail to include authentic evidence to the contrary. We can dwell on and inflate the negative and literally worry ourselves sick. There are endless lists of thinking errors. If you want to do some mental decluttering, do an internet search or two, notice your favorite thinking errors, and do what you can to change them. However, today’s lesson is more direct. We want you to develop some Happy Habits for your brain.

Three Good Things

One of the most well-known evidence-based happiness assignments is Martin Seligman’s Three Good Things activity. Here’s what to do: Every night, before you go to sleep, identify and write down three things that went well for you during the day. Then take a minute and reflect on why they went well. Seligman doesn’t say this, but we think it might be a good idea to then fold the paper, give it a little kiss, and tuck it under your pillow. That’s where the tooth fairy left you money, right? Who knows what magic lurks under there?

And in case you want to hear it from the horse’s mouth, here’s a one-minute video of Seligman describing the activity: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOGAp9dw8Ac .

Seligman claims that after doing this for a week, most people keep doing it because it feels good and reorients the brain toward the positive. We hope this is true. We suspect it will require self-discipline. Let us know!

Talk Nice to Yourself

People, we all talk to ourselves. Oh, yes we do. We mutter, scold, assess, complain, ridicule, protest, and say all sorts of things. Some of us self-instruct. Some of us self-reward. But most of us reprimand ourselves, get angry, and wildly defensive. Many of us grew up with some scolding and judgement by authority figures, and we absorbed those voices and made them our own. We want you to try a new voice. Remember someone who loved you. Who admired you. Who talked nice to you. If you can’t, then make someone up. The idea is to import that person’s voice into your head and crowd out the scoldy voices. Become your own cheerleader.

Got a dirty diaper to change? Compliment yourself on your skill and good cheer. Got someone in need of you sitting by their bedside? Hold their hands and drift back to that concert you attended. Smile with your eyes. Tell yourself that you are kind and amazing. Got people who need you to feed them? Remember the cheese dogs at the fair or one of your favorite foods and think about what good job you do appreciating good things. Have an impossible amount of internet work to do? Feeling a bit downtrodden and picked on? Maybe even ranting? Is that helping? Likely, no. Tell yourself it is just fine to rant but also fine to sing. Tell yourself this is about the hardest time you remember, and look at you! Surviving. Children driving you nuts? Take five-second breaks and breath, noting you are doing your best. Tell yourself thanks even if no one else does. And integrate the next section into your efforts. Use that lovely imagination you’ve got to both shift your inner dialogue and relax your weary, uptight body.

Imagery and Relaxation

In 1975, Herbert Benson of Harvard University published a book titled, The Relaxation Response. Now, thousands of publications and websites are available to help you relax your mind and body. Some advocate mindfulness meditations. Others are focused on bodily relaxation. We’re big fans of relaxing, especially in stressful times. Stress depletes your immune system. Relaxing builds it back up.

For some people, the act of trying to relax triggers anxiety. This could stem from self-consciousness or performance anxiety. It can also be hard for people with trauma histories to relax. If this is true for you, take it slowly. Be patient with yourself, involve a support person if you have, and realize that time and practice will help overcome your obstacles. And finally, remember all Happy Habits are about self-care. You get to be the judge of which ones work for you.

Here’s a simple relaxation guide, similar to what Benson wrote about:

  1. Sit quietly in a comfortable position.
  2. Close your eyes.
  3. Relax your muscles, beginning with your toes, progressing up to the top of your head. As you move through your muscle groups, try to keep everything relaxed.
  4. Breathe through your nose. Become aware of your breathing. As you breathe out, you might choose to say a simple word or count your breaths up to four. There are differing opinions on this. Breathe easily and naturally. If your mind wanders, come back to your breath.
  5. Try to set aside at least 10 minutes. More is better; less is acceptable if that’s all you have. If you need to be precise with your time, set your phone alarm, but only with a very gentle, pleasant sound. Leave a few minutes to just sit and mentally return to the here and now. Don’t rush back into your hectic life if you can help it.
  6. Accept yourself. Don’t judge. Try to have a passive attitude. Watch yourself relax. Let thoughts come and go. No scolding!
  7. Practice this as often as you can. You’re teaching your mind and body that it is possible to chill, let go, and relax.

There are lots of Youtube videos and internet offerings devoted to relaxation and imagery. Here are a few: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MIr3RsUWrdo

https://www.mentalhelp.net/stress/visualization-and-guided-imagery-techniques-for-stress-reduction/

https://www.wikihow.com/Be-in-Your-Happy-Place

REMEMBER: It’s your mind. Keep it tuned up. Change the oil. You need to get the best mental mileage possible right now.

Happy Habits #1 and #2

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Dear Readers,

Dr. Bossypants and her sidekick, sometimes known as Grandpa Pancake, have been thinking, writing, researching, and teaching in the realm of positive psychology, happiness, and well-lived lives this past year. Over the next few weeks, we’re summarizing a few tried and true assignments that make some people happier some of the time. We’re calling them Happy Habits. We’re also making supplementary brave, bold, and terribly amateur videos to accompany this effort. This provides you with an opportuniy to be nice to us. And sometimes, being nice makes people happy.

Wishing you courage, tenacity, and good cheer.

Context and Environment: Taking control of what you can

You can change many components of the physical space around you—things outside yourself, but within your control. You can change visuals, sounds, smells, temperatures; you can even move locations. If you’re like most of us, you know you can proactively make these changes, but sometimes, you forget. Here are a couple of reminders.

Happy Habit #1: Music

Let’s start with something simple. Music. You can play an upbeat song in your headphones or add it to the airwaves around you. Music triggers emotions and memories. Sometimes our emotional responses are all about the music itself. Other times they’re about personal associations or memories. For example, when one of the authors of this piece listens to We are the Champions by Queen, he’s transported back to positive college football memories, whereas the song, “Put the Lime in the Coconut” always returns him to a car crash. You can probably guess why.

For the other author, the Simon and Garfunkel song “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is the most reassuring tune ever, though also quite nostalgic. She also plays Eva Cassidy for hours on end. Whether mood-altering or memory-inducing, music is a powerful tool in the toolbox for living well.

Give this a try:

  1. Select a song that triggers positive emotions for you. If you really feel like picking one that makes you cry instead, that’s okay. Emoting either direction is helpful, but we’re all about focusing on what you can do to elevate your mood right now.
  2. Listen to the song at least two or three times and just let the song do its work. Sing along or dance a little. Or both.
  3. Pay attention to memories and positive feelings. Smile. Tear up. React in whatever ways feel natural. Welcome your emotions.
  4. Play it again or move on to another favorite song. Maybe even play something new. You’re building resilience for the rest of the day. If you find yourself humming your song in a Zoom meeting or while doing the dishes, so much the better.
  5. And though this suggestion belongs in a later Happy Habit, send a mental thank you out to the musicians and all the people involved in bringing those tunes to your ears.

Happy Habit #2: Forest Bathing

Thanks for giving music a try. Now let’s move on to something physical: Forest bathing. Yes, forest bathing brings to mind naked nymphs flittering around a crystal pond or, for some of us, skinny dipping in Seeley Lake. In Montana, beautiful outdoor scenes are everywhere. If you’re lucky enough to be able to do social distancing by immersing yourself in some naturally awesome surroundings, do it. But even if you can’t get out to the perfect spot, we encourage you to try this. Here’s the scoop:

In 2018, happiness researcher Dr. Qing Li wrote a book called Forest Bathing.

In Japan, we practice something called forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku. Shinrin in Japanese means “forest,” and yoku means “bath.” So shinrin-yoku means bathing in the forest atmosphere, or taking in the forest through our senses.

This is not exercise, or hiking, or jogging. It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Shinrin-yoku is like a bridge. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world.”

First, find a spot. Make sure you have left your phone and camera behind. You are going to be walking aimlessly and slowly. You don’t need any devices. Let your body be your guide. Listen to where it wants to take you. Follow your nose. And take your time. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get anywhere. You are not going anywhere. You are savoring the sounds, smells and sights of nature and letting the forest in.

The key to unlocking the power of the forest is in the five senses. Let nature enter through your ears, eyes, nose, mouth, hands and feet. Listen to the birds singing and the breeze rustling in the leaves of the trees. Look at the different greens of the trees and the sunlight filtering through the branches. Smell the fragrance of the forest and breathe in the natural aromatherapy of phytoncides. Taste the freshness of the air as you take deep breaths. Place your hands on the trunk of a tree. Dip your fingers or toes in a stream. Lie on the ground. Drink in the flavor of the forest and release your sense of joy and calm. This is your sixth sense, a state of mind. Now you have connected with nature. You have crossed the bridge to happiness.”

Japan is a tad bit more crowded than Montana. If they can manage forest bathing there, we have no excuse. Forest bathing,  or at least enjoying nature, can be a great habit to establish and maintain.

Music and forest bathing are our first two Happy Habit activities. Watch our encouraging video, try these assignments, and pay attention if they work for you. Have an open and observant attitude. Nothing works for everyone, but these are well-researched strategies. Feel free to chime in with a blog comment or two. Nice, positive comments of course.

On Human Reactivity

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In chemistry, reactivity is the propensity of a substance to undergo a chemical reaction which releases energy. In humans, reactivity is the propensity of a psyche to undergo an emotional reaction which also releases a certain kind of energy. Dr. Bossypants notes that humans can exhibit serious level of reactivity, and the energy released may or may not be all that helpful.

Within the animal kingdom, humans have a unique set of strengths and an array of physical and psychological vulnerabilities related to reactivity. We can count things, record events, and self-reflect. Thus:

  • we have language, math, and history to guide us. We also have the ability to abstract and imagine, so…
  • we can tell ourselves stories that may or may not be based in any available realities. In other words, we can scare ourselves, elevate ourselves, calm ourselves, or induce mass hysteria with our ideas, words, and interpretations. When we react to what we’ve told ourselves, even if the stories are wrong, the reactions have real world consequences.

Being alive tends to make us want to continue being alive, so threats perceived as immediate will get the lion’s share of our attention and cause all sorts of rational and irrational reactivities. Longer term threats don’t get the same primal reaction. For instance, in the United States, we will have over a million car accidents this year, and tens of thousands will die in them. 1.2 million of us will die of heart disease or cancer. These deaths are hastened by smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, obesity, lack of exercise, and old age. Yes, dear ones. We age. We accumulate disabilities and maladies. We weaken. We die—some of us sooner than others—but we all die. This is not something Dr. Bossypants regards as evil. Rather, it is a sad but irrefutable truth.

Humans can take steps to prolong their lives. Sometimes, this makes sense. Sometimes, not. It depends on the quality of the life being prolonged and the choice of the one living it. Some of us quit smoking. Some don’t. Some of us drive safely. Some don’t. Some exercise, eat healthy, and sleep well. Some consent to the ravages of chemotherapy just to gain one last week of life. And some voluntarily end their lives. Trying to stay alive at all costs may be knee-jerk instinctual, but humans have learned to refine or override our instincts. There are better and worse ways to die, and we know this.

As we handle our various reactivities, we play the odds. We personalize, magnify, or deny potential threats, assessing their dangerousness in both rational and irrational ways. For instance, right now, highly trained scientists have identified the path of Covid19 and are offering their best advice for containment and survival, and humans appear to be reacting more or less cooperatively to stem the threat. The immediacy is obvious. But for decades, an even larger group of esteemed scientists have identified the human contributions to climate change, convincingly predicting that without sacrifice and change, climate change will cost millions of deaths, and cause a general degradation of the quality of all life on earth.

Interestingly, one of the excuses offered for not changing to renewable energy is the damage we might do to our economies. Hmmm. Right now, we’re doing some very serious damage to the global economy for hopefully higher causes. We will recover, but it not without some very tough times.

Except for those willing to make money no matter what it costs the rest of us, most people would agree that thoughtful transitions while we have time are far preferable to the drastic measures that emergencies call for.

And now that Dr. Bossypants has mentioned climate change, she readily acknowledges the political irrationalities and reactivities she has triggered. The entire human enterprise is fraught with political alignments that have become loyalty-based rather than rationally considered. Increasingly, our political leanings have regressed to a we/them mentality rather than dedicated to the common good. This reduces us to warring factions—a war no one will win.

Maybe (maybe) there was a time in human history when tribalism was adaptive (survival of the fittest group). But there are terrible costs to tribalism. Herd animals bunch up, mill around, and are prone to panic and over-reaction. The potential adaptive aspects of tribalism took a huge hit when we invented automobiles, airplanes, the internet, and weapons of mass destruction. Now, aggressing against a certain tribe to protect your own tribe will reverberate, take out neighboring tribes, and perhaps the whole darn species. Extending compassion and working for the common good across an entire planet is a tall order. But that is the direction we have to evolve. Quickly.

There’s no doubt that Covid 19 is a real threat. We’re pulling together, but we are also pulling apart. We may not be making the best decisions for the best reasons. For instance, Dr. Bossypants recommends this editorial: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/20/opinion/coronavirus-pandemic-social-distancing.html

No matter what, we are in for a long haul of economic downturning and pain, and those of us with resources will need to be willing to give, sacrifice, and endure. Maybe this threat will increase our wisdom and compassion as we face the rest of our many current and future threats. As Benjamin Franklin observed in 1776, “We must hang together or surely we shall hang separately.” True then, for a group of people disputing among themselves. Truer now, for 7.8 billion people sharing this one little planet.