The Happiness Connection  

The benefits of learning something new

Candy for your brain

• 30 minutes a day of complaining can physically damage your brain

• People who constantly check their emails are less happy than those who check them just three times a day

• It’s impossible to hum while holding your nose. I had to try this one for myself, but it really is true

• You may know the famous doll as Barbie, but her full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts

• The average four-year-old asks more than 300 questions a day

As Halloween approaches, I decided to begin my column this week with some candy. Your eyes may not perceive trivia as a box of chocolates or peanut brittle, but your brain does.

It may surprise you to know that your brain rewards you with a dopamine hit when you consume bits of information. This may explain, in part, why humans love to learn. It makes us happy.

Dopamine is known as the feel-good neurotransmitter. It’s part of your brain’s reward system. It’s the reason you feel so good when you eat food you’ve been craving or when you receive money.

Pleasure is the opposite of pain and suffering. Just like any other emotion, it can be experienced at a variety of intensities.

Eating your favourite cookie may result in a mild sense of happiness. Buying the ice cream cone you’ve been craving for days might spark something more intense.

There’s another similarity between small bits of information and food. Your body doesn’t care if you give it a healthy option or junk. It doesn’t discern between the two.

You’ll get a dopamine hit whether it’s junk information or good quality material.

I found this knowledge both interesting—I love a hit of dopamine—and useful.

Being rewarded when you give your brain a tidbit of information may explain why some people check their phones so often. They’re looking for a nugget of data to snack on. It makes them feel good.

That’s why social media can so easily capture your attention. It hands out small portions that are perfectly sized for hits of pleasure.

I know more than one person who’s decided to delete apps because they were becoming addicted to them.

If you understand that you can feel just as good reading informative articles or studies that build your knowledge bank, maybe that’s a better choice for you than constantly consuming posts on social media.

There’s no judgement here. I’m simply giving you something to consider. There will never be a unanimous decision on what’s good and what’s junk.

If you want to share information with others, do it in small bite sized pieces. You may not realize you’re doing it but if you communicate, you probably impart knowledge from time to time. Drip feed rather than data dump.

In an effort to lead by example, I’m not going to elaborate. Instead, I’ll leave you with a little more brain candy.

• Psycho was the first movie to show a toilet flushing

• The word “strength” is the longest word in the English language with only one vowel

• Honey is the only food that does not rot. If you store a jar of it for three thousand years, it will still be safe for human consumption

• The best temperature for feeling happy is 16° C

• The original name for Google was Backrub


Easy to use social media as a platform to criticize

Perils of social media

I have a love/hate relationship with social media.

It has the ability to bring out the best and the worst in people. I love that it allows me to stay connected to friends and family I don’t see often. The photos they post give me an idea of what’s happening in their world.

On the less positive side, it’s easy to become judgmental of people you don’t even know. Unlike verbal communication, where you can hear the speaker’s tone and possibly see their facial expressions, the written word is filled with opportunities for misunderstanding.

During a quick ten-minute scroll through my Facebook feed on Monday, a post from Jillian Harris caught my attention. She’s an influencer who’s been on reality T.V. and co-hosts Love It or List It Vancouver.

For her daughter’s second birthday, Harris decorated her bed with biodegradable balloons. Rather than keep them until they deflated, she decided to auction them to the highest bidder and give the proceeds to Mamas for Mamas.

This is a national charitable organization that supports mothers and caregivers in crisis. It provides ongoing support to individuals and families facing various poverty-related struggles.

Harris is an ambassador for the charity and has given it a tremendous amount of support.

I wouldn’t normally read through the comments, but for some reason I did. More than a few of them were damning and very harshly worded.

The criticisms included

• Giving the money to Mamas for Mamas instead of to breast cancer (charity) as it’s Breast Cancer Awareness month.
• Wasting so much money on a celebration for a two-year old who may not even remember it.
• Using balloons.

It’s a very human reaction to think that everyone should know what you know, and that the best people will come to the same conclusions you do.

If you aren’t careful and conscious about it, you can easily slide into a place of unkindness and judgment. Social media provides a platform to do this where you can remain relatively anonymous.

This is part of the hate side of my relationship with places like Facebook.

As we enjoy a long weekend of thankfulness, let’s also add a liberal touch of kindness to the mix.

When you read something that triggers you, pause before you respond. If you still feel moved to comment, remember to:

• Phrase your thoughts politely. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

•.Ask yourself whether the writer was deliberately trying to cause a problem or is just uniformed. If you aren’t sure, give them the benefit of the doubt.

• Consider other viewpoints. Just because you’d have given the money to a breast cancer charity, or used it in a way you felt was more deserving, does that make Harris’ choice wrong?
Present your viewpoint in a kindly manner and then back away. Your job isn’t to make them change their mind, it’s to provide another perspective for them to think about.
Remember that other people also read the comments. Think about reaching a larger audience with your words, not just the creator of the post.

The majority of the negative comments centred around Harris’ decision to use balloons. If a balloon escapes or is released outside, it becomes a hazard to wildlife, which may decide its a new type of food. Eating deflated balloons can be harmful and even fatal. The strings or ribbons tied to them are also a potential problem. They can easily entangle wildlife, causing strangulation or injury to their limbs.

I’ve never been a big purchaser of balloons, but it was good for me to have a reminder about the dangers they create.

Harris was clear that she’d purchased biodegradable balloons but it turns out even these pose a threat. The material they use breaks down more quickly but that can still take six months to happen.

You may think Harris should have known this but she wouldn’t be the first person to assume something and not look into it more closely. She may have heard biodegradable and thought that made them safe.

Can you honestly say you’ve never jumped to a conclusion that turned out to be wrong?

Being kinder when we respond to something that triggers us is just one way each of us can infuse a little more harmony into the world.

I would have loved to see someone share alternatives to balloons instead of repeatedly criticizing Harris for her choice. Suggestions are always better than pointing out a problem, especially when that’s already been done.

With that thought in mind, I’d like to provide you with a list of alternative items to consider the next time you want to create a visual spectacle.

Instead of balloons try:

• Pinwheels
• Bubbles
• Colorful umbrellas
• Flags or banners
• Real, or paper flowers
• Streamers
• Garden spinners

Remembering the past helps frame the future

Truth and reconciliation

He was in the air division with the RCMP and was stationed in Churchill, Man. This meant he had firsthand contact with the Indigenous people of the North.

The remoteness of these small communities didn’t spare the inhabitants from having their children put in residential schools.

I’m not sure my parents ever stopped to think what it must have been like for these families. I’m sure they assumed this system was in the best interest of the country and its citizens. I’m also pretty sure some people closed their eyes to the situation, since their own children were tucked up in their beds, near to hand.

My dad told us the story of being asked to return two children to their families in the Arctic.

It had been many years since they’d been home, but they were finally old enough to leave the residential school. Dad landed at the family settlement. As they exited the plane, he saw the look of terror on the two young faces.

They had few memories of this way of life or of their families. They no longer spoke their native language. They’d been indoctrinated into Euro-Canadian culture.

It was obvious to my dad that these two didn’t want to stay. As he got ready to depart, they begged him to take them back. The unknown can be more terrifying, even when the familiar is severe and harsh.

He felt awful as he flew away. He knew how hard reintroducing them to their native way of life was going to be.

A few weeks later, he decided to fly back to see how the two former students were doing.

They were miserable and hungry. They couldn’t stomach the nutritious raw blubber that was a staple food. They were struggling to reassimilate into their former culture.

They begged him not to leave them there.

My dad was worried they’d starve. He agonized over what he should do. He knew that by taking them back, he’d be in danger of being severely reprimanded, and possibly even losing his job.

But he couldn’t turn away from their pleas. His conscience wouldn’t let him abandon these two, so he loaded them back into the plane.

For years I saw this as a tremendous act of bravery on the part of my father. That attitude was soured as the truth surrounding the residential school system resurfaced and demanded to be acknowledged.

I’ve spent the last few years, wondering if my dad did the right thing. Maybe these children would have adjusted in time. Didn’t their parents deserve a chance to make that happen?

I found myself judging his actions as wrong, or at the very least, misguided.

The Truth and Reconciliation movement has provided me with the opportunity to think more about my dad’s dilemma. He really was caught between a rock and a hard place.

He did what he believed was right. That’s how everyone should approach their decisions. There are few guarantees when tough choices present themselves.

Accepting this truth has allowed me to release my judgement.

I’ve also spent time thinking about the teenagers and wonder what happened to them. Did they end up in the foster system? Did they manage to create successful lives? Did they find themselves homeless?

All I know is that my heart goes out to both these residential school survivors and my father.

It was a no-win situation, created by the government’s decision to wipe out indigenous cultures.

Despite my heavy heart, I’m optimistic that by talking about the schools, the families left behind, the survivors and anyone who got caught up in the system, we can stand together to create a more accepting and loving world.

Age really can just be a number for some people

Aging yet ageless

I’d like to start by asking you to look at the photo that accompanies this week’s column.

Would it surprise you to know that the ages of these women span more than two decades?

I could have given birth to two of them, without even being a teenage mom, and I’m not the oldest one in the photo. There are two women in their early 40s, one in her 50s and two in their 60s.

The thing that struck me as I looked at this picture from a recent girl’s trip to Alberta, is how irrelevant age is.

When you’re young, a few years makes a huge difference. By the time you reach adulthood, you may not know how old your friends are. You may even struggle to remember how old you are.

Sometimes, the age difference that mattered when you were a teenager, continues to live in your head when it no longer makes any difference.

This was the case with my in-laws. They always talked about how much older Bill was than Beryl. When I did a calculation, I realized the age difference they talked about was less than three years.

That was similar to the age difference between their son and me. I’d tease him about being my toy boy, but I considered the 26-month difference to be insignificant.

Why the difference in perspective?

Bill and Beryl were 18 and 15 when they met. Three years is quite a difference at that age.

I’d had a five-year relationship was with someone 18 years my senior. By comparison, 26 months was nothing. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t aware of the age difference or that it didn’t matter.

Almost all my former husband’s friends were younger than me. I was keenly aware that I always hit the milestone birthdays first. I was also the old one amongst the parents of my kids’ friends. They assumed I was their age and I did nothing to dissuade them.

I think I carried this age awareness because I was also carrying an ancient idea of what it means to get old.

My parents and grandparents were like many people who settled into retirement as a precursor to death. They accepted aches, pains, slower brain function and less energy as a natural part of getting older. If that’s what it meant to age, I didn’t want anything to do with it. As a result, I was reminded of my age everywhere I looked.

It’s only relatively recently that I’ve stopped focusing on birth years. Perhaps that’s because many of my friends are in their 40s, but I live in a community of seniors. The juxtaposition has allowed me to look at aging differently.

I have the opportunity to spend time immersed in younger energy and also observe the process of moving into more senior years. Being younger doesn’t mean you aren’t as wise. Being older doesn’t mean you have to decline physically or mentally. The latter thought isn’t just wishful thinking. Have you encountered the term “super-ager?”

The Memory and Aging Center at the University of California San Francisco is conducting a longitudinal study of the elderly. There’s one man in his late 80s who’s caught their attention. His brain scans aren’t pretty. They suggest age-related deterioration as well as a series of mini strokes. If you only examined the images, you’d probably think his memory and thinking skills were weakening. That’s far from the truth. His brain function and cognitive abilities are high and haven’t changed in years.

Joel Kramer, the director of the neuropsychology program couldn’t understand why the aging of this man’s brain wasn’t reflected in his abilities to function. Other members of the study whose scans were similar to his, were showing a definite decline.

When Kramer met the man in question, he was struck by how dynamic he was. His outlook on life was incredibly sunny and optimistic. He kept himself busy with numerous projects, was closely connected to his family and volunteered in the community. He was quick to share how grateful he was for everything he had. He chose to embrace life and not sweat the small stuff. He seemed to be living his golden years to their fullest.

This isn’t an isolated case. I recently watched an interview with an English octogenarian who took three buses to get to the charity shop where he volunteered.

I’ve also met seniors who help in assisted living and nursing homes where they’re older than the people they’re helping.

These super-agers are inspiring researchers like Kramer. They want to determine what sets these people apart from typical agers.

In today’s society, when octogenarians, nonagenarians and centenarians are more and more common, I think it’s important to recognize that aging doesn’t have to mean getting old in the traditional sense. You can live your whole life being vibrant and active if you want to.

It’s true that some people are more blessed genetically, but you can make the most of any hand you’ve been dealt. You simply have to choose to do that. It isn’t always easy, but I believe it is worth the effort and energy.

The remarkable man in the SCSF study is a prime example of someone who practices happiness. That lifestyle is available to anybody, regardless of their financial means, or genetic circumstances.

I hope when my friends and I are in our 60s, 70s, and 80s our pictures still reflect the agelessness that exists between us.

Welcome to the world of the super-agers.

More The Happiness Connection articles

About the Author

Reen Rose is an experienced, informative, and engaging speaker, author, and educator. She has worked for over three decades in the world of education, teaching children and adults in Canada and England.

Research shows that happy people are better leaders, more successful, and healthier than their unhappy counterparts, and yet so many people still believe that happiness is a result of their circumstances.

Happiness is a choice. Reen’s presentations and workshops are designed to help you become robustly happy. This is her term for happiness that can withstand challenge and change.

Reen blends research-based expertise, storytelling, humour, and practical strategies to both inform and inspire. She is a Myers Briggs certified practitioner, a Microsoft Office certified trainer and a qualified and experienced teacher.

Email Reen at [email protected]

Check out her websites at www.ReenRose.com, or www.ModellingHappiness.com

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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