Nature’s Power To Make Us Happy

Most of us know the relaxing feeling of being in nature. Being in a natural setting can be empowering, calming and can make us more focused and energized. Even a simple stroll in the neighborhood park can have this affect. These affects are well documented:

‘ Urban public greenspaces form the arena of many people’s daily contact with nature and such contact has measurable physical and psychological benefits.’

This study reveals a pathway by which nature experience may improve mental well-being and suggests that accessible natural areas within urban contexts may be a critical resource for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world.

The reasons for this effect are unclear; but scientists believe that we evolved to be more relaxed in natural spaces. A few studies have, however, looked into the root cause and all of them have suggested that nature triggers the parts of your brain responsible for relaxation and calm. In one study for example scientists used fMRI technology to measure the affects of nature of rumination (repetitive thought focused on negative aspects of the self), a known risk factor for mental illness. They measured participants before and after a 90 minute walk in a natural or urban setting

“Even so, participants who walked in a natural setting versus an urban setting reported decreased rumination after the walk, and they showed increased activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain whose deactivation is affiliated with depression and anxiety—a finding that suggests nature may have important impacts on mood.”

A 2013 study using an EEG  ‘showed evidence of lower frustration, engagement and arousal, and higher meditation when moving into the green space zone; and higher engagement when moving out of it. (Source)

We don’t even necessarily need to be in nature. Videos, pictures and audio can also have this affect. The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that

“Viewing green scenes may thus be particularly effective in supporting relaxation and recovery after experiencing a stressful period, and thereby could serve as an opportunity for micro-restorative experiences and a promising tool in preventing chronic stress and stress-related diseases.”

So even when we are busy taking a few minutes to enjoy some pictures, audio and/or video can help us stay relaxed and focused. Thanks to the internet these things are widely available. Here are five ways to easily keep nature in your life:

  • Get outside:  Even in big cities there are nearly always parks and trails nearby most homes and all you need is a few minutes. Take a few deep breaths and you you will feel much better.
  • Decorate your home: You don’t need to be extravagant but a couple of plants or nice pictures on your wall can help you stay in touch with nature.
  • Set your device background: Most of us has access to a cell phone, tablet or computer. Set your background to something nice.
  • Watch: YouTube and other video sources have plenty of great, relaxing nature videos.
  • Listen: Nature sounds are  available in all forms of audio from dvds to mp3s. Some are set to calming music to help you relax.

Best of all this kind of relaxation is free. The planet has given of us plenty of free nature to enjoy and relax in. No matter what you do keep nature part of your life and you will always be, at least a little bit, healthier and happier.

Here are some good free sources online:

YouTube Channels

Johnnie Lawson

Somerset Entertainment Home of Nature Sounds pioneer Dan Gibson’s Solitudes

Soothing Relaxation

Audio:

https://www.calmsound.com/

http://meditationroom.org/free-nature-sounds/

 

 

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Journal May 20th, 2018: A new look

A new look and a title change. The look is likely to change to over time until it is perfected. I was also able to overcome the technical problem by choosing a different theme and making only the most recent ten posts available without clicking the plus button at the bottom of the page. Seven years of content was just too much for the old theme to load. In the mean time some words of wisdom and back to regular posting after a break.

The Little Things:

I was going through a not so nice split from my wife, working a job I hate and living somewhere I didn’t want to. On top of life’s normal problems with bills and relationships it was getting to be too much to handle. I made a coffee and sat in my lazy-boy chair , looked out the window and I noticed the leaves on the trees. They are pretty complex organisms onto themselves. The BBC has 5 webpages explaining the complex science of photosynthesis and that one tree is full of them. It’s a very calming affect to realize how amazing life is, if a single leaf is that complex imagine how sophisticated we are. Even on molecular level a single cell is an entire universe of atoms and particles…etc. We are very lucky to get to observe things like this. Remembering how amazing it is that we exist and how much has to be right for even a single leaf to function is a humbling reminder that our day to day problems are pretty insignificant against how much of a natural miracle life is.

I’m happy to be back after a long break and some technical problems and look forward to regular posts again.

 

 

 

Journal April 16, 2018

Looks like a new theme might be in order for the website because the homepage is not loading for me. It doesn’t work in any browser or on mobile. I contacted support and they said (with proof) that it’s working fine for them but I asked a couple of friends and it’s not loading for them either. So posts are going to be a bit infrequent until I decide on an appropriate theme.

The name ‘Never Thought To Question’ is the last remnant of a blog that was once so much more negative and aggressive in it’s approach. The title comes from a song (Judith by a Perfect Circle). It was the perfect match for two main reasons:

1. The song is very anti-religion: So was the blog. At one point the blog was specifically anti-theist. I told myself it was about the religion and not the people following it. I soon realised this wasn’t always true and began to give serious thought to how unproductive that kind of talk is. It helps no one to constantly criticize, make fun  of and belittle anything or anyone. So I changed my approach and it honestly feels a lot better. As such if I change the theme I will be changing the name to Happiness is Free. I will also add a new tagline that I haven’t decided on yet.

2. People not questioning their beliefs is the root of religion and superstition: Not entirely but true but a fairly common reason. I felt that if I could just get people to question their beliefs even for a moment then maybe I can rid the world of religion and superstition. This aggressive and negative attitude hung around for far too long. It made sense to me at the time though.

So with a change of heart, a more positive and helpful approach and a much clearer conscience a name change seems appropriate and with technical problems a new theme too. I look forward to many more positive changes.

 

A Bad Start is Still A Start

Picture this image of Jeff Bezos in his cheap office space working day and night selling books online.  24 years later Amazon is a 100 billion dollar multi-national corporation selling everything from toilet paper to power tools. Even better is it’s a surprisingly common story:

Phil Knight: Knight and an old friend each put up $500 dollars to start a shoe company. 50 years later the proud chairman of Nike is worth an estimated $86 billion.

Larry Page: Page and Sergey Brin started running a search engine software on their university’s servers while they were doctoral candidates. When it started taking up too much bandwith they left and started Google.  It’s now a 101 billion dollar company used by millions everyday.

Ingvar Kamprad: Used some money his father gave him to sell replicas of his uncle Ernst’s kitchen table. IKEA went on to become a 35 billion dollar company.

Bill Gates: A university dropout who used his life savings to start a software company that nobody else thought was a good idea but in 1985 Microsoft Windows was born and now runs on 91% of computers worldwide.

J.K. Rowling: Rowling was on government assistance and could barely afford to feed herself and her child. She worked diligently on a book after her child was asleep. The book went on to be on a series of international bestsellers and blockbuster movies.

Oprah Winfrey: The news reporter turned talk show host was so poor as a child she had to wear potato sacks for clothes.

The list goes on and on, a little web research shows this. Even on a less grand scale neighborhoods and cities are full of stories of people who went from rags to riches. What they all have in common is hard-work and determination. All of these self-made billionaires ignored their doubts and critics and persisted even when things were dismal. Their stories are a reminder that no matter how unlikely success might seem it is always possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Miracle of Life: Against all Odds

Science, from the outside, can seem cold and calculating. The vision many people have of the sciences is lab coats, beakers and calculators. The scientist is too often pictured as a person in a white coat with glasses conducting their experiments and crunching boring, monotonous data to come to conclusions many of us may not even understand. One of the only things we really need to understand about the sciences is why the sciences have proven our lives to be a miracle. For example take what had to happen for you to be here:

    1. The Universe had to start to exist: Scientists, for the most part, use the Big Bang as the model to describe the origins of the universe. It’s not known what caused it but was the start of a process that created the Universe.
    2. Our planet had to be createdThe Earth was created approximately 4.6 Billion years ago and lived it’s early life in a chaotic state.
    3. Our planet needed to be able to support life: Life started approximately 3.7 billion years ago (The BBC website has a very good and thorough examination). At this point the Earth had survived bombardment by comets and asteroids, super-volcanoes and many other planet destroying phenomena. The Earth also just happened to be orbiting the habitable zone of our sun.
    4. Evolution: Human evolution started aprox. 13 million years ago. For evolution to even start complex amino acids had to form (aprox. 10 to the power of 40 chance according to some).
    5. Humans have had to survive:
          1. War: Humans have been fighting wars since at least 2700 BCE when Sumer and Elam went to war. We have been fighting ever since including two world wars and multiple close calls with nuclear war.
          2. Disease: Smallpox, measles, typhus, cholera and the plague to name only a few of the many diseases we have managed to survive so far.
          3. Famine: The great famine of Ireland, The Russian Famine, The Chinese Famine of 1907 and many others.
          4. Disasters:  We have survived numerous volcanoes, earthquakes and even an ice age.
    6. Your parents had to meet (and there parents and so on). Harvard Possessor Binazir actually calculated and came up with this great infographic showing the odds of you being born. According to Binazir it’s one in ten to the power of 2.685 million. So that’s a one in ten followed 2.865 million zeros chance that you could come into existence.

This brief look at human history doesn’t even begin to explore the destruction in the cosmos (like asteroids and rogue black holes ), the miracle of evolution that gave us our complex brains and bodies fit to survive in so many of the Earth’s  environments or how the Earth is perfectly suited for life. Despite all of the wanton destruction, disease, death and mayhem of the universe and life itself here you are in the year 2018 reading this article on your electronic device.  Congratulations you have beat everything the universe could throw at you to prevent you from coming into existence.  You can now enjoy being able to take a look around and enjoy life from the vast (family, friends, career..etc) to the simple (fresh air, good food..etc). and this fact is a miracle.

 

 


Forgiveness Is…

When one considers the stress of carrying all the resentment, anger and hate that goes with not forgiving “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” (Louis B. Smedes). Forgiveness is important for many reasons and Positive psychology says forgiveness is:

“a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.”

It’s also important to recognize what forgiveness is not. Forgiveness doesn’t mean idly accepting wrongdoings or forgetting that a person has a tendency to act badly in some way. ‘You do not gloss over or deny the seriousness of an offense against you. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses. Though forgiveness can help repair a damaged relationship, it doesn’t obligate you to reconcile with the person who harmed you, or release them from legal accountability.’ (Greater Good Berkeley)

Psychology Tools has an excellent PDF defining what forgiveness is and what it is not:

Once we understand forgiveness the next step is practicing it and lucky for us experts like Robert Enright have defined a process for doing this. Enright’s  Eight Keys to Forgiveness:

  1. Know what forgiveness is and why it matters: We understand what forgiveness is and what it is not (see above). So why does it matter? Psychologically it relieves us of the burden of resentment, anger and hate. Depending on the situation forgiveness also allows for a rebuilding of damaged relationships,  closure in unfortunate situations (moving on), and the learning that goes with positive reflection on a wrongdoing.
  2. Become “forgivingly fit: Forgiveness, like most things, improves with practice. “It’s important to cultivate this mindset of valuing our common humanity, so that it becomes harder to discount someone who has harmed you as unworthy.”
  3. Address your inner pain: Know who has hurt and why. Acknowledge the bad feeling or harm that person has caused you and address it in a healthy way (i.e. talk to someone or seek professional help) “There are many forms of emotional pain; but the common forms are anxiety, depression, unhealthy anger, lack of trust, self-loathing or low self-esteem, an overall negative worldview, and a lack of confidence in one’s ability to change. All of these harms can be addressed by forgiveness; so it’s important to identify the kind of pain you are suffering from and to acknowledge it. “
  4. Develop a forgiving mind through empathy: Research shows that forgiving someone activates the parts of your brain responsible for empathy. When we forgive we begin to see why the person responsible did what they did and what issues they might be dealing with that caused them to do you harm. It works both ways: when we understand we can forgive and when we forgive can begin to understand. “Recognizing that we all carry wounds in our hearts can help open the door to forgiveness.”
  5. Find meaning in your suffering: This can be hard to do when feeling angry, resentful or hurt by someone but an important part of the process. We can learn from what went wrong and ‘try to see how our suffering has changed us in a positive way.’ Some people see it as learning experience (i.e. that’s a person I can’t trust or that person doesn’t like it when I so such and such or I need to be better prepared next time….etc.). Some people view suffering as a building of their ability to cope (resilience) “To find meaning is not to diminish your pain or to say, I’ll just make the best of it or all things happen for a reason. You must always take care to address the woundedness in yourself and to recognize the injustice of the experience, or forgiveness will be shallow.”
  6. When forgiveness is hard, call upon other strengths: Forgiveness can be hard, even seemingly impossible and in these times we can call upon other supports to help us.  We can do this by first accepting that we aren’t perfect either and forgiveness will not always be easy. We can then call upon other supports in our lives to find the courage to forgive.
  7. Forgive yourself: We can be hard on ourselves when we are the ones who have done wrong in some way. However when we forgive ourselves we “offer to yourself what you offer to others who have hurt you: a sense of inherent worth, despite your actions.”
  8. Develop a forgiving heart: I’m not one to simply copy and paste content but I could not find better words:When we overcome suffering, we gain a more mature understanding of what it means to be humble, courageous, and loving in the world. We may be moved to create an atmosphere of forgiveness in our homes and workplaces, to help others who’ve been harmed overcome their suffering, or to protect our communities from a cycle of hatred and violence. All of these choices can lighten the heart and bring joy to one’s life. Some people may believe that love for another who’s harmed you is not possible. But, I’ve found that many people who forgive eventually find a way to open their hearts. If you shed bitterness and put love in its place, and then repeat this with many, many other people, you become freed to love more widely and deeply. This kind of transformation can create a legacy of love that will live on long after you’re gone.” (Enright, 2015)

As a humanist the sentence “a legacy of love that will live on long after you’re gone” as a lot of meaning.  Humanists like myself don’t believe in the afterlife as described by religion.  Our only eternal life is the one that resides in people’s memories of us and so we strive to make that afterlife a good one and it must include forgiveness.

 

“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

 

 

https://psychologytools.com/positive-psychology.html

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/forgiveness/definition#what-is

https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/forgiveness/

Journal: February 9th, 2018

Winter is hard on most people, myself included. Where I live the days are shorter in the winter so it’s easy to attribute the lack of motivation to lack of sunlight.  Officially the jury is still out on sunshine, Vitamin D and better moods. However, a 2006 study linked vitamin D deficiency in older adults with lower moods. More recently, research at the Loyola University Chicago Niehoff School of Nursing showed that vitamin D supplements improved the moods of women with type 2 diabetes and signs of depression. Experts call it the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because human skin creates Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight (info). You need the sun for many reasons, your mood being one of them. So it makes sense that when there is less sunlight your mood isn’t as good, especially during a long and cold winter.

For myself the lack of sunshine actually directly affects how often I post new material because my motivation isn’t as good during the winter. There are a few ways to fight it though:

    1. Get Outside: This is obvious but can be hard to to do when it’s very cold, or snowy or icy outside. We have to force ourselves to get out in the sun in the winter as much as we can, even when the weather isn’t so great.
    2. Tanning beds and UV lights: Ask an expert if the bed uses UVB light. You can also buy lights that give off UVB light like this one. Make sure to ask your Dr. first about proper use.
    3. Vitamin D Supplements: You may not need to go this far if you get enough sunshine but it can work great to help moods during the winter. Again, it’s best to ask your Dr. first.

Sometimes sunshine is the best medicine!

Image result for sunshine quote

Meaning From Multiple Sources

In the PERMA model the M is for meaning and purpose, a crucial part of living a happy life.  All of us have either found meaning or are looking for it, whether we realise it or not.  To find our meaning we first list our values and priorities. At the top of that list will be what matters most, your meaning in life. Attaching yourself to this higher value or priority does for the nonreligious and unbelievers what religion can: attach meaning to something bigger than you are. Even better is that meaning can come from multiple sources, thereby boosting our ability to get through life happy and fulfilled.

One of the founding father’s of modern humanistic psychology is Victor Frankl. He founded Logotherapy which is literally ‘meaning therapy’. Fankl was a holocaust survivor and finding meaning in the face of something that terrible was the only way he found to cope:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”  Victor Fankl

Frankl spoke of three main sources of meaning:

  1. Work: Not necessarily just a job but any purposeful work.
  2. Love:  Love in any form it comes in (spouse, family, friends..etc). Frankl felt love to be the person that brings out the best in you. “Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.” Victor Frankl
  3. Suffering: Courage in the face of difficulties. “If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.’ -Victor Frankl

The most recent and comprehensive study found four main areas of meaning:

  1. Purpose: Present events draw meaning from their connection to future outcomes — objective goals and subjective fulfillment.
  2. Values: Which can justify certain courses of action.
  3. Efficacy: The belief that one can make a difference.
  4. Self-worth: Reasons for believing that one is a good and worthy person apparently are what results from immersion in our natural talents or what we excel at.  (Roy Baumeister and Kathleen Vohs (2005, p. 610))

Studies vary about where people get their meaning from. One study found ‘Family was by far the most commonly cited source of meaning in life, with an overwhelming majority of mentions (36.14%). Interpersonal relations was the next most mentioned source of meaning (14.40%), followed by personal life (9.65%) and work (8.83%).” (Melissa E. Grouden, Paul E. Jose) But another one found 10 sources of meaning (Reker and Wong (1988)). Yet another study by Westerhof, Bohlmeijer, and Valenkamp (2004) found 5 sources of meaning. They all have 2 things in common:

  1. Internal sources of meaning: Personal growth, values and ideals, religious/spiritual enlightenment, emotional intelligence…etc.
  2. External sources of meaning: Work, leisure, relationships, cultural and religious activities…etc.

What all of this tells us is two things: First, that you don’t need to take meaning from just one thing and second that meaning can also change. Taking meaning from multiple sources ensures us that if we ever lose one source of meaning another is always there to keep us going through life, a safety net and the bigger the net the better. Also, our lives can change at any given moment and so it is prudent to regularly re-examine what gives our life meaning.  Knowing this we will always have a source of strength and a fundamental tool in our ability to cope with life.

 

Sources:

Frankl, Viktor E. Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984. Print.

Making Meaning in Life. Michael F. Steger. Psychological Inquiry , 23: 381–385, 2012 Copyright C ©Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. http://www.michaelfsteger.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Steger-PI-2012.pdf

Emmons, R. (2003). Personal goals, life meaning, and virtue: Wellsprings of a positive life. In C. Keyes & J. Haidt (Eds.)

Baumeister (1991). Meanings of life. New York:

Guilford.Baumeister, R. & Vohs, K. (2005). Meaningfulness in life. In C. R. Snyder & S. Lopez, Handbook of positive psychology, pp. 608-618). Oxford UK: Oxford University Press.

Emmons, R. (1997). Motives and goals. In R. Hogan & J. A. Johnson (Eds.), Handbook of personality psychology, (p 485-512). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

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