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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.

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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.

Destructive Objectivity

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Over the weekend I had the opportunity to do some volunteer work at this lady’s house. We were there to help paint parts of her house, build a fence, clean out her crawlspace and such.

There was moment of the afternoon when she was looking out from her porch into the street where we had filled an industrial sized dumpster full of her old belongings.

“I’m exhausted,” she sighed, though she didn’t really do anything.

It was the army of strangers (though well intentioned) that stormed into her home and gutted the thing of all her memories. We were particularly destructive with our objectivity as we tried to figure out what was worth keeping and what was trash. I was guilty too. The happiest moment of the day for me was when I smashed an old dresser into pieces with a baseball bat.

At the end of the day she was relieved, probably coming to terms with the idea that “the things you own will eventually own you.” She probably feels like she can start fresh again.

But I think there’s something in how the things we own not only carry sentimental value, but they become something like memory markers. A lot of the things we own aren’t that particularly special – movie tickets, books, toys, clothes, etc. – but they become affirmations of memories that were interesting but not interesting enough for you to remember forever. Fleeting things I guess.

As we were enthusiastically chucking her things into the dumpster, we were throwing away all her little memory markers. When she tried to save something, we pushed back:

“You don’t need this.”

“It doesn’t even work anymore.”

I can see how that’s exhausting, but I can also see how she couldn’t have done it herself. Sometimes volunteers aren’t there solely for the manpower.

I’m Back

Kevin Rothermel wisely noted that “planning jobs kill planning blogs” sometime last year when I was bemoaning the fact that that I was too mentally exhausted from work to do anything but watch TV and drool. Apparently, not much has changed since then.

For those who know me personally, I’ve been cutting my teeth at work trying to figure out how to out cool Apple and resurrect a dying consumer habit. It’s one of the hardest problems I’ve ever encountered. It makes me feel like I was just messing around during ad school. Now I find myself intellectually hobbled. Sure, I can turn a quick brief, but I can’t speak to a higher conceptual purpose in my work.

In the past few weeks, I had an epiphany and realized that I have too many opportunities that I could potentially blow by letting my brain wither away. I’ve decided for myself to go “back to the basics” to refocus and re-energize myself to not only do better at work, but also ensure that I grow as a thinker.

That’s why I’m back.

Blogging was just an exercise for me to compose my thoughts and over indulge in the gratuitous thinking that would give me a perspective on things – especially technology and media which is why I have my job in the first place. Back to basics. Back to the things that made me interesting and sharp.

Conversation from Gchat

friend: EARTHQUAKE!!!
me: what?
me: in LA?
me: what are you doing online fool?
me: RUN!

No Good Two Timing Scum

is what I am.

I’ve started blogging with a couple of friends on http://ihaveanidear.blogspot.com/. Basically it’s a little thing we have going where we have to come up with one idea each day. Keeps us sharp and constantly thinking about stuff. I’ve got a handful of posts up:

Avoiding Awkard Hostel People
Craigslist RSS Feed Thing
Instant Drunk
Gmail Super Contact Book
Company Match Making Service

Hopefully I’ll have something to say on this blog soon. Maybe a personal update or something like that.