10 Ways to Squash a Bad Mood

>> Sunday

The Achieve It blog has a list of ten ways to improve your mood. The one I liked best was:

"List 20 things you are thankful for...You can’t be genuinely thankful and grumpy at the same time. Try it and see!"

If you've never done this, I think you'll be surprised at how well it works. And it really has to be done by writing. Try to do it in your head and your mind will probably wander, and whenever the mind wanders, it tends to drift into something negative and then it sticks there, bringing you down. So get paper and pen and spend a few minutes writing down what you're thankful for.

Researchers have been trying to find out what makes people happy, and this exercise has been one of the most effective and easiest for people to do. In one study, spending a mere five minutes writing down what they're grateful for every day made people measurably happier.

And you don't have to wait for a reward. You don't have to do it every day as some sort of burden. You can do it today and you will feel better...today.

Why does it work so well? Because the human brain has a negative bias. Your brain is better at noticing what's wrong than what's right. It pays more attention to what's wrong, and thinks about it longer. This may be a good strategy for survival in dangerous times, but doesn't help us feel great.

By deliberately trying to think of what you're glad about, you change the focus of your attention to the good stuff you've been overlooking. It works like magic on your mood.

Further reading: One of my favorite books on the research on happiness and how you can apply it is Martin Seligman's Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English).


Chatterbox: Building Competence Raises Mood For Life

>> Wednesday

7 year old girl building a Chatterbox smart speaker
Chatterbox is the world's first build-it-yourself, program-it-yourself smart speaker kit designed for kids to learn about artificial intelligence. It's a cardboard box with electronics inside that works like an Amazon Echo — without the privacy violation or "black box" mystery about how it works.

Check out this Vimeo video of what it looks like and kids interacting with it: Chatterbox.

Whether you're a parent or a teacher or just an intelligent, technology-minded person concerned about what technology is doing to children, you should back the Chatterbox Kickstarter project. Here's why:

* The more kids teach Chatterbox skills — like getting the weather, playing child-friendly news, setting timers and alarms, controlling lights, sending messages to or even calling mom and dad — the more kids learn about engineering, problem solving, language construction and critical thinking.

* The computer interface of the future is voice-driven artificial intelligence. Chatterbox prepares kids for this future where a human-like AI is ubiquitous by giving kids the tools and the motivation to create and use their very own AI.

* Chatterbox is screen-free, privacy-centric and both safe and healthy for kids. Chatterbox only listens when the button is pressed. And Chatterbox doesn't gather personal data.

* Chatterbox is also low-cost and environmentally friendly. The enclosure or case is made from 100% recyclable cardboard. Chatterbox’s internal components are powered by the Raspberry Pi computer and a custom-designed Chatter expansion board for microphone and speaker functionality. All internal components are designed to be reused again and again.

* Most or all of the consumer technology in children's lives is designed for passive consumption, engineered to be addictive and distracting. Chatterbox is the opposite, and offers a replacement for laptops, tablets and phones that gives kids an internet-connected computing platform where they are incentivized to learn, adapt and problem-solve using speech technology.

It was invented by my nephew, Kevin Elgan. Here's what he says about the project:

I’ve been focusing on education technology (or technology education) for children my entire career, first at Tynker (which teaches kids to code), then Piper (which is a build-it-yourself computer for children). Since then I’ve had a daughter of my own which has led me to reevaluate the role of technology in my family’s life. Now, more than ever, I’m passionately determined to revolutionize education technology in a healthy and socially responsible way.

I’ve spent the last year creating Chatterbox to help solve the “kids and technology” problem. On the one hand, kids are becoming screen addicts at an early age. On the other hand, smartphones, tablets and smart TVs are “black boxes” and kids have no idea how they work. Today’s technology is neither teaching kids how current technology works, nor preparing them to cope with future technology.

Increasingly, kids are using smart speakers as well — devices like the Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePods. According to Commonsense Media, nearly one-quarter of households now have at least one smart speaker in their homes. Today’s toddlers are the first generation to grow up without any memory of the world before artificial intelligence in the home. Kids are treating talking smart devices like people — to be listened to, treated respectfully, and even obeyed.

While kids are immersed in technology, it’s all a big mystery to them. There is a common misconception that “using” technology “teaches” kids how technology works. They’re not learning how it all works, but instead they are learning to become passive consumers in the new world of surveillance capitalism. They’re learning to focus on phones instead of on the people around them. Kids are acquiring habits that will reduce their ability to create, grow and think for themselves.

This is all wrong. Kids should spend less time with screens. And they need to understand how the technology all around them works.

That’s why I created Chatterbox, the smart speaker kids build themselves. Once they’ve built it, they teach it how to talk using a Lego-like, building-block software interface. And they can keep teaching it new skills while learning a whole lot of new skills themselves along the way.

Here’s how Chatterbox solves the problems technology is creating for kids:

1. By building Chatterbox, kids learn what smart speakers are made of
2. By teaching Chatterbox, smart speakers are de-mystified so kids understand them
3. By crafting conversations, kids learn how to communicate clearly with people
4. By using Chatterbox, kids have fun building and creating
5. By making Chatterbox their main computer, kids get their eyes off screens
6. By pressing the Chatterbox button to talk, kids get used to privacy, not surveillance
7. By exploring Chatterbox, kids learn programming concepts like intents, logic, conditionals to build voice apps
8. By re-using Chatterbox, kids learn environmental responsibility (everything is re-usable or recyclable)

Every parent and every teacher wants to prepare their kids for the future. And that future is ubiquitous voice-interaction and artificial intelligence. Chatterbox teaches them to build it, teach it, use it, control it and, above all, understand it.

If you share our belief that technology for kids should be educational, private and respectful of kids, then please join our movement. Stay up to date with Chatterbox news by subscribing to our newsletter and help us change the conversation about kids and technology.

Get more information, see videos and photos and learn how you can support this education revolution on the Chatterbox Kickstarter page!

Subscribe to the newsletter to keep track of the project: http://bit.ly/hellochatterbox


An Experience of Nature Reliably Lowers Stress

>> Friday

Taking at least twenty minutes out of your day to stroll or sit in a place that makes you feel in contact with nature will significantly lower your stress hormone levels. That's the finding of a study that has established for the first time the most effective dose of an urban nature experience. Healthcare practitioners can use this discovery, published in Frontiers in Psychology, to prescribe 'nature-pills' in the knowledge that they have a real measurable effect.

"We know that spending time in nature reduces stress, but until now it was unclear how much is enough, how often to do it, or even what kind of nature experience will benefit us," says Dr. MaryCarol Hunter, an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan and lead author of this research. "Our study shows that for the greatest payoff, in terms of efficiently lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol, you should spend 20 to 30 minutes sitting or walking in a place that provides you with a sense of nature."

- The above was excerpted from an article in Science Daily. Read the whole article here: Just 20 minutes of contact with nature will lower stress hormone levels, reveals new study.


Humor and Health on April Fool's Day

>> Sunday

AL SIEBERT, author of Survivor Personality, says according to his research, a good sense of humor significantly helps survivors cope with extreme stress. “Mental efficiency is directly related to a person’s general level of emotional arousal,” he says. “People are less able to solve problems and make precise, coordinated movements when strongly worked up. Laughing reduces tension to more moderate levels and efficiency improves.”

Anyone in a prolonged stressful situation can attest to this basic principle. Gerald Coffee, for example, was a POW in Vietnam. His captors treated him with unbelievable brutality. At one point he was taken to a “shower.” He hadn’t bathed at all in three months. This shower was littered with garbage. It was small and the walls were covered with slime. The water was cold, came from a rusty pipe, and only trickled out.

As he was trying to wash off, he felt depressed. He hadn’t held up under torture as well as he expected of himself. His head was down and he felt tired and sad and deeply disappointed in himself.

Then he looked up and saw someone had scratched a message on the wall that said, “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera!”

Coffee laughed out loud. The message was so out of place, it was funny. But Coffee also laughed because, he says, he appreciated so much “the beautiful guy who had mustered the moxie to rise above his own dejection and frustration and pain and guilt to inscribe a line of encouragement to those who would come after him.”

Humor can have a powerful affect on your mood and your ability to cope with difficult situations. The man who inscribed the Candid Camera line improved his own mood, and the moods of men who came after him, raising their spirits and making them more resilient.

In experiments, researchers have found humor also improves your cleverness. Imagine someone gave you a box of tacks, a candle, and some matches and told you to stick the candle to a cork board in such a way that the candle doesn’t drip wax onto the floor below. Could you do it? Whether or not you could do it, Alice M. Isen and her colleagues found, might depend on whether or not you’ve just seen the humor in something.

Before they were given the problem to solve, students were shown either a comedy film of bloopers or a film on math (which was not funny at all).

After watching the math film, 20% of the students successfully solved the problem. But 75% of the students who watched the comedy film were able to do it. That's a big difference! The solution is to pour the tacks out of the box and tack the box to the board, and then put the candle in the box.

Isen said, “Research suggests that positive memories are more extensive and are more interconnected than are negative ones, so being happy may cue you into a larger and richer cognitive context, and that could significantly affect your creativity.”

Let's use this insight. Let's raise our level of resilience and cleverness. On April Fool's Day, it is traditional to play practical jokes. It's been a custom in several countries for centuries. It may have its roots in the Hilaria festival of ancient Rome. I'm not making this up.

A good laugh is good for you, and a good practical joke is good for a laugh. I invite you to (safely and in good taste) have some good laughs today. And to get you started in the right direction, enjoy these compilations of practical jokes:

Read more about the value of humor and how to improve your sense of humor: See the Funny.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English).


The Surprising Story of Saint Patrick's Humble Beginnings

>> Saturday

One morning a sixteen-year-old boy was kidnapped from his house by a band of knife-wielding thugs and taken to another country, there to be sold as a slave. The year was 401 a.d.

He was made a shepherd. Slaves were not allowed to wear clothes, so he was often dangerously cold and frequently on the verge of starvation. He spent months at a time without seeing another human being — a severe psychological torture.

But this greatest of difficulties was transformed into the greatest of blessings because it gave him an opportunity not many get in a lifetime. Long lengths of solitude have been used by people all through history to meditate, to learn to control the mind and to explore the depths of feeling and thought to a degree impossible in the hubbub of normal life.

He wasn’t looking for such an “opportunity,” but he got it anyway. He had never been a religious person, but to hold himself together and take his mind off the pain, he began to pray, so much that “...in one day,” he wrote later, “I would say as many as a hundred prayers and after dark nearly as many again...I would wake and pray before daybreak — through snow, frost, and rain....”

This young man, at the onset of his manhood, got a “raw deal.” But therein lies the lesson. Nobody gets a perfect life. The question is not “What could I have done if I’d gotten a better life?” but rather “What can I do with the life I’ve got?”

How can you take your personality, your circumstances, your upbringing, the time and place you live in, and make something extraordinary out of it? What can you do with what you’ve got?

The young slave prayed. He didn’t have much else available to do, so he did what he could with all his might. And after six years of praying, he heard a voice in his sleep say that his prayers would be answered: He was going home. He sat bolt upright and the voice said, “Look, your ship is ready.”

He was a long way from the ocean, but he started walking. After two hundred miles, he came to the ocean and there was a ship, preparing to leave for Britain, his homeland. Somehow he got aboard the ship and went home to reunite with his family.

But he had changed. The sixteen-year-old boy had become a holy man. He had visions. He heard the voices of the people from the island he had left — Ireland — calling him back. The voices were persistent, and he eventually left his family to become ordained as a priest and a bishop with the intention of returning to Ireland and converting the Irish to Christianity.

At the time, the Irish were fierce, illiterate, Iron-Age people. For over eleven hundred years, the Roman Empire had been spreading its civilizing influence from Africa to Britain, but Rome never conquered Ireland.

The people of Ireland warred constantly. They made human sacrifices of prisoners of war and sacrificed newborns to the gods of the harvest. They hung the skulls of their enemies on their belts as ornaments.

Our slave-boy-turned-bishop decided to make these people literate and peaceful. Braving dangers and obstacles of tremendous magnitude, he actually succeeded! By the end of his life, Ireland was Christian. Slavery had ceased entirely. Wars were much less frequent, and literacy was spreading.

How did he do it? He began by teaching people to read — starting with the Bible. Students eventually became teachers and went to other parts of the island to create new places of learning, and wherever they went, they brought the know-how to turn sheepskin into paper and paper into books.

Copying books became the major religious activity of that country. The Irish had a long-standing love of words, and it expressed itself to the full when they became literate. Monks spent their lives copying books: the Bible, the lives of saints, and the works accumulated by the Roman culture — Latin, Greek, and Hebrew books, grammars, the works of Plato, Aristotle, Virgil, Homer, Greek philosophy, math, geometry, astronomy.

In fact, because so many books were being copied, they were saved, because as Ireland was being civilized, the Roman Empire was falling apart. Libraries disappeared in Europe. Books were no longer copied (except in the city of Rome itself), and children were no longer taught to read. The civilization that had been built up over eleven centuries disintegrated. This was the beginning of the Dark Ages.

Because our slave-boy-turned-bishop transformed his suffering into a mission, civilization itself, in the form of literature and the accumulated knowledge contained in that literature, was saved and not lost during that time of darkness. He was named a saint, the famous Saint Patrick. You can read the full and fascinating story if you like in the excellent book How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill.

“Very interesting,” you might say, “but what does that have to do with me?”

Well...you are also in some circumstances or other, and it’s not all peaches and cream, is it? There’s some stuff you don’t like — maybe something about your circumstances, perhaps, or maybe some events that occurred in your childhood.

But here you are, with that past, with these circumstances, with the things you consider less than ideal. What are you going to do with them? If those circumstances have made you uniquely qualified for some contribution, what would it be?

You may not know the answer to that question right now, but keep in mind that the circumstances you think only spell misery may contain the seeds of something profoundly Good. Assume that’s true, and the assumption will begin to gather evidence until your misery is transformed, as Saint Patrick’s suffering was, from a raw deal to the perfect preparation for something better.

The above was excerpted from the amazing book, Self-Help Stuff That Works.



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