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Institutionalize Happiness for Health

For as long as I’ve had the Internet, there has been a constant stream of research about happiness parading through my feed reader. The most impactful trigger of happiness seems to revolve around the quality of relationships that we cultivate with partners, families and friends. While that is just a scientific confirmation of age-old wisdom, the real interesting bits come from how happiness affects your health (stolen from WebMD):

• Get sick less often
• Less depression and substance abuse
• Lower blood pressure
• Less anxiety
• Natural pain control
• Better stress management
• Faster healing
• Live longer

Starting to see where I’m going with this?

I haven’t written anything in a while, so I may be totally off. But I do know that this is the New Normal. We have a generation of people who are growing up focusing on themselves, which means their sense of empathy isn’t as well developed as their grandparents or people in past generations. Without empathy, you can’t relate to other people. It’s not to say these people don’t want to build relationships, because who doesn’t? We are fundamentally the same as we were before; but how we act on those wants and needs are different today and we may need a little push.

A good friend of mine from Singapore told me about LoveByte, which is essentially a government run match making service for college graduates. On the surface, it seems no better than your mom doing it for you, but I believe its ambitions are grander than we think: people in relationships build families and families build communities. Those pieces form the strong support networks that bring the health benefits I mentioned above.

The sooner we get past the stigma of being lonely, the sooner we can think of loneliness as a disease that can be treated. I believe that it’s in the government’s best interest to be proactive about helping their citizens build these relationships. It can be a very compelling preventative care initiative for health care programs because of the impact to our emotional and physical well-being.

Readability Means Access

(This is a repost from when I published it last fall. It was an interesting thought that I wanted to have filed on this blog.)

Growing up, I’ve always thought it was strange that I was enrolled in AP English literature classes and was reading the classics with relative ease while I couldn’t read a mortgage contract to save my life. Initially, my reaction was to blame the education system for teaching me a skill – deciphering the metaphors and symbolisms of dead white men – that had no application to the modern world. But even after grad school, I still can’t figure out the differences between three health insurance plans.

Allison Arieff, a NY Times columnist, wrote an interesting piece calling for support of a national design policy. Part of her argument is that official documents like contracts, mortgages, credit card information are inherently hard to read for the average American – never mind a high school kid. The consequence of having a national design policy would be the liberation of information to the masses.

Whether it’s intentional or not, poor design has kept crucial information hidden from the people who need it the most. People who are buying their first home, getting their first credit card, or frantically filling out a form at the emergency room are all vulnerable to making mistakes while making these very important decisions.

Clear and understandable documents will allow us to better use the counsel of experts. I remember my parents spent hours with the realtor understanding the terms of the contract. What they should’ve been doing is strategizing the best way to tackle that huge mortgage. Good design has the ability to make the grunt work easier so you can spend more time on bigger things.

And lastly, good design is good customer service. Nothing is a bigger “fuck you” than 42 pages of legalese in 10-point font. When we think about how everything is a touch point for a brand experience, something that looks like a page from the dictionary is starting the relationship off on the wrong foot. It sets up a relationship that is not about the brand in service to the customer. It’s a relationship about the brand doing what it wants and the customer working around that to align with the brand.

That may be nuanced. But I think it adds to why we think governments, HMOs and mortgage companies are inaccessible bureaucratic monsters that we have to do battle with to get the things that they are supposed to be offering us. Readability means access. And these are the organizations that shouldn’t be holding things from us.

Executions of Symbolism

I just found this little computer animated short created by a guy in China hoping to land a job as an animator. I can’t really say when or if I was ever impressed with animation from China, but this is one pretty good. It’s not as smooth as what we’ve expect from Pixar, but it’s only one guy doing it so we’ll have to cut him some slack.

One thing that was interesting was the way he used symbolism to get his anti-war point across. Depending on whether you come from a Western or Eastern sensibility, I’ll bet that you received the imagery quite differently. I caught myself doing that.

At first I thought it was too literal and insulted my intelligence. Then I realized that the execution of the symbolism was, in fact, very entertaining and the value of the piece was in the technique. The symbolism was just a platform to direct our attention to what the director really wants to showcase: his animation prowess.

I wonder if Michael Bay thinks this way?

I Think I Get it Now

When I saw this off of a co-worker’s blog, it connected a lot of things in my mind for me. I loved the original when it came out because like all good songs that we relate to, it says what we can’t say ourselves. In the original music video, there was this really intense feeling of getting screwed over that left a negative reaction in me about how relationships end. It’s quite possibly one of the worst feelings in the world because it compounds our insecurities when we’re the most vulnerable. The thing with Kanye’s music video is that it’s really good in telling this story. So good that it traps you because you’re so bewildered by the possibility of it happening, which unfortunately leads your anger to howl at the straw man.

The cover that the Fray did still leaves me with the same general impression (although in an emo/rockerish sort of way). But the video made a point that those feelings are juvenile and fleeting and the best way to deal with it is to live well. Something people hear a lot, but have to work really hard to do. I love the ending frame with the drawings (negative feelings/energy) off the paper (out of mind, not a distraction) and displayed beautifully (negative energy spent on productive activities) on the chalkboard (getting out there).

Ironically, I think this music video is the “pop art” that Kayne was trying to make with the 808s and Heartbreak album and probably with his videos. Maybe Kayne’s “Kayne-ness” got in the way, because it didn’t need a cover to reveal the true moral of the story.

Saving the World from the Bottom Up

After slugging it out on a cause marketing project at work, I’ve been taken away by how much change a non-profit can make on the world. I’ve also noticed that it always seems like saving the world is a grassroots effort instead of an initiative taken on by large powerful institutions such as governments and businesses that have the resources to make large-scale impact. Sure, a business could sponsor or donate to a cause, but it’s a relatively small amount.

There’s probably a conclusion in here about the inertia of government and the inherently evil nature of capitalism, but that not very interesting. What interesting is that it feels like it has become the responsibility of the individual to clean up the messes that large institutions make or issues that they are incapable of solving. What I think was wrapped up as our civic duty has now been exposed as the large institution’s incompetence, eroding the trust and confidence that we used to have in our government and businesses’ to get things done.

Perhaps that’s why open source and crowdsourcing have become such a force. But what seem to be different now is that these individuals don’t work underneath or in service of the institutions. If you want to draw a chart that illustrates power dynamics, the individual would be on par with the institutions. It’s a wonderfully empowering thought tinged with a bit of cynicism only because of what I think inspired this situation.

What Planet Do You Live On?

One of the few things that can instantly annoy me are right wing pundits. Whenever the Daily Show is featuring a clip from one of those guys, I cringe. Obviously, it’s because of my politics.

But I’m beginning to think about the people who agree with the likes of Limbaugh and O’Reilly and if this was ever possible before media fragmentation (I know, this idea is so 2 years ago).

My classmate had this idea that information creates communities, which until now, I did not understand the impact. While multiple viewpoints on a idea is ideally very good for the sake of getting the full picture, I think the opposite has happened. The communities that are created by this information are too strong. People simply choose the viewpoint they agree most with and shut off everything else. It’s the exact opposite impact that choice is supposed to have.

My problem with this is that now we can’t agree to one reality. Everyone is living in their own little world and when something comes up that demands discourse and debate, we spend all our time arguing about how to define the problem rather than fixing it. Nothing happens and everyone starts blaming each other. It’s a frustrating process that’s easier to laugh at than doing anything about.

On Racism

A couple of weeks ago, a class discussion led to the topic of racism. It was an emotionally charged situation where everyone was defensive about their experiences and views on racism.

The reason why it was so emotionally charged was because no one was listening to one another. I feel that people seemed threatened when people offer a different view/experience with racism because it calls into question the validity of their own – for example, two black people having completely different experiences or a white person saying that they have experienced racism as well (in the form of reverse racism). So when we start sharing our experiences with racism it becomes a forum where everyone wants to inform/educate everyone else without listening to anyone else.

I know this seems like a hard pill to swallow. Even with my own politics it seems hard because if I give time to a perspective that I think is false, I justify it. But consider perceptions. Perceptions are just as if not more important than reality and they play a big role in how we experience race in this country.