DLW is an occasional blog about how people spend the time of their lives (every moment) to enable health, balance, meaning and fulfillment. As a blogspot about doing, it draws from personal stories and from studies of everyday living. It's main idea is that to be well, people must be involved fully in what they do. The activities that occupy our days help to connect us to the world, define who we are, and keep us healthy.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Happiness is...

A professor named Ed Diener at the University of Illinois is among the leading scientists studying happiness. In fact, a whole new area of psychology, known as positive psychology, has emerged in the past few years devoted specifically to understanding what creates favorable feelings or mindsets, such as life satisfaction or upbeat attitudes. A few years ago, Martin Seligman, another psychologist, published the book "Authentic Happiness" in which he described this new movement and some of its characteristics. A website devoted to authentic happiness (with over 700K registered users) is cited in the list of links on this blogsite.

Among the mildly surprising findings from emerging research on happiness is that, on average, people tend to be reasonably happy. It is also worth noting that in cross national studies, some surprising findings have emerged. The top five happiest countries, it seems, are NOT among the world's richest: 1. Nigeria 2. Mexico 3. Venezuela 4. El Salvador 5. Puerto Rico. (Source: University of Michigan World Values Survey (WVS). Only Denmark and Ireland break into the top five when an alternate measure is used. In case you are curious, the U.S. ranked 15th out of 79 countries studied.

So what accounts for this? Clearly, neither per capita income nor standard of living as measured by material goods are determinants of happiness. (But we knew this, despite the pervasive greed attack that put us into the world economic mess we now face.) It seems that buying more simply creates the illusion that buying even more objects will eventually get us to the poorly defined destination of happiness we crave. But enough on that topic. You can read more about this if you want at the WVS website, or scientific articles at Ed Diener's website.

At the end of the day, happiness is a subjective state. It's what we perceive. Some people are ecstatic because they love what they do rather than what they earn. Some people have the best of both worlds. And many people believe that it's all about contentment and supportive, loving relationships. Important relationships exist for us all in many domains. For example, we have important relationships with ourselves, with others, with the environment, and with the world beyond, however we may want to define "the world beyond".

I'm curious about what YOU believe leads to personal happiness. Please share your thoughts below.

And...here's a toast to YOUR happiness in the year ahead!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Why do we do what we do? (as influenced by circumstances around us)

Not many people stop to think about why or even what influences what they do. For many, life is a stream and they are caught up in that stream. Water as a metaphor for life's course is popular in Eastern cultures. Taoism is an example of this, and the philosophy of "going with the flow" suggests that the forces of the universe are such that one is best served by not trying to avoid them.

These forces can also be viewed as context, the larger "story line" that sets the stage for a given action. Sometimes, seemingly remote factors can influence not only actions, but activities over time. This morning, I was thinking about how health care policies can influence how people live their lives. The dialogue in America will soon turn more earnestly toward reform of our system. Although in my view this is long ovItalicerdue, my reasons for saying this have to do with the topic of this blog. Our "non-system" of health care and the rules and expenses associated with it, create an obstacle course of adverse influences on life, not only dictating how people earn their living by staying at jobs they hate because of the need to retain their health insurance, but also causing countless bankruptcies, house sales, and family disruptions when the adversity of serious illness visits a family.

This is the side of the health care debate that is too often overlooked. It is the hidden cost of creating circumstances where people cannot "do life well" because a country has been unable to come to grips with one of the central needs in creating community. As the Irish expression goes, "The people live in the shelter of each other." Countries with universal health care and single payer systems understand this.

Surely, readers have stories illustrating this issue, not health care policy per se, but how this factor influences the decisions people make about what they do. Please share your stories here, whether they pertain to health care influences on life choices, or other types of public policy and how these alter the life course.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Holidays as Markers in Life Stories

Before there were calendars and clocks, people depended on nature (night and day, the seasons) and their internal biological rhythms to keep track of passing time. In those eras, the experience of living was based largely on the routines of daily life marked by significant events and activities that were extraordinary. It is safe to say that in simpler times, extraordinary events were less frequent. Now, of course, it seems that extraordinary events occur frequently around us, but the extent to which they have personal meaning, or shape our lives, depends on our circumstances.

Although we now have clocks and calendars, it is true that people typically understand their lives in terms of an unfolding story. Social scientists call these stories "narratives", observing that people need a "storyline" that that makes sense to them and through which they can assign meaning to the events that happen to them. Dan McAdams, a psychologist at Northwestern University in Chicago, has dedicated his professional work toward studying life stories. His research reveals there are common "story plots" and that successful or unsuccessful experiences and key events that alter customary routines serve as ways to differentiate chapters. Indeed, the very meaning assigned to events may be influenced by the storyline one has chosen to use to make sense of his or her life.

Aside from significant events that provide chapter markers in lives, holidays in different cultures also create "place markers' to enable people to create meaning. It is not accidental that these occasions invite special memories because of their association with spiritual observances. Because people celebrate holidays with others, the meanings are especially rich with emotion. Emotional experiences are more likely to be memorable.

Most people anticipate holidays because of the pleasant memories they have of past experiences. Others may have difficulty participating in holidays precisely because their life stories have changed and the memories of the way things were are now painful because they are seen as losses. The term "holiday blues" has been coined for such conditions. It is of interest that the professional advice given for such conditions involves "what to do and not do."

What do you do over the holidays? and what events are especially meaningful for you? I invite you to share your stories of events that "changed your life" or why the holiday season is significant to you because of traditions you've grown to love.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Work-Life Balance and the President-Elect

One of the less cited but important change objectives identified by the transition team of President-Elect Barack Obama is to pursue policies that attend to the issue of work-family balance. This is a personal interest of Michelle Obama, the soon to be" First Lady", who mentioned it on the widely watched interview of the couple aired on 60 Minutes a few weeks ago.

Work-family balance is not a concept that has been on the radar screen of the popular press in the U.S. but it is likely one that will gain increasing attention. The concept is known by other names, including work-life balance, life balance, lifestyle balance, etc and is important because it reflects the growing awareness that life as it is often lived in developed countries these days is too hectic, too busy, too stressful, or too crazybusy to be satisfying or healthful.

Some countries, including Canada and several in Europe, have passed legislation designed to create a sustainable balance between work and family life. There is an economic motive behind such legislation, since "spillover"(stress in one area of life, such as work, affecting another, such as family life) leads to less productivity and more turnover. It can also create health problems.

It may be of interest to note that a few social scientists around the world have been working on this problem to better understand what constitutes a "balanced life". I'm interested in your thoughts on this. Please feel free to comment, providing your armchair theory, your experiences, observations or stories.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

How do you use your time?

The informal time use survey now being conducted in the right lower quadrant of this page provides a glimpse into the growing science of time use. The truth is, many people aren't really aware of precisely how they use their time. They can remember what they did and usually describe the order of events, but when it comes to accurately estimating how much time they spent doing different categories of activities, they often misjudge.

Depending on the activity, they over or under estimate the actual amount of time spent doing it. For example, they often overestimate the amount of time they spend working (imagine that!) while underestimating the amount of time spent doing things that may be more enjoyable but less productive (talking casually with co-workers, for example). This observation, while perhaps not surprising, invites discussions of how time use is experienced. This is a dimension of time use studies that is just now beginning to be recognized as an important (but difficult) factor to measure in the science of time use.

Believe it or not, there is an international society of time use scientists known as the International Association of Time Use Research (IATUR). These scientists provide expert support for conducting and analyzing the studies of time use often used by nations.

At this point you may be wondering why governments would be interested in studying the time use of citizens? The reasons are varied, but accurate estimates of population time use can be helpful in planning and scheduling services, estimating exposure to environmental conditions, determining the productivity of a country's people who are working within the informal economy (caring for family members at home, for example), and for determining general trends that reflect changes in lifestyle. Companies that sell certain goods and services are also interested in time use data, because such information provides guidance for estimating market demand.

The United States has now joined other nations in participating in a standardized approach to gathering time use data. You can learn more about time use (and even see summaries of recent surveys) at the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) website, within the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the Department of Labor.

Given the important link between well being and time use (time use is really about lifestyle, after all), it makes a person wonder why the Department of Health and Human Services is not a sponsor of this activity. I'd love to hear your thoughts about how you use your time?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Finish the phrase: "To do is..." with your own ending

Yesterday's post got me thinking about the inviting nature of the wdydwyd? website, and it prompted me to try to begin a discussion about how people might share their thoughts and feelings about doing. The cool part is that these thoughts and ideas can be as long or short as people want.

Words are powerful visual images. Sometimes they convey lots of subtle or nuanced meanings, and sometimes they communicate short and sweet (or not so friendly meanings). This is evident in the photos at wdydwyd?. Some of the communication is the image beyond the image, and it allows what is said in writing to be very brief.

My invitation here is to finish the phrase "To do is..." with the ending of your choice. I welcome and look forward to seeing the thoughts, insights and wisdom in comments posted here.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

wdydwyd? is a gallery for sharing visual stories about who we are

The fact that the wdydwyd? site has been visited by 475K people since its inception less than two years ago invites a few observations. First, the idea of asking people to respond to an intriguing question using a photo with words is novel. Novelty invites interest. Second, the world of the internet is at least as much about communicating visually as it is about communicating with words (which, after all, are visual symbols). The combination of creative words and images uploaded to wdydwyd has revealed incredible creativity. Combine that with the power of the internet to disseminate ideas virally and you may be able to explain why Tony D was on to something so powerful when he created the site. Kudos to him!

wdydwyd? gains additional power from the likelihood that, because people create their identities through their actions, explaining those actions (their doings) is like telling a story about themselves. Neurobiologists assert that our nervous systems are "wired" to understand through stories. Effective speakers know that they communicate best when they use stories, and what is enjoyable social conversation, after all, besides the creative sharing of stories. Hit movies are popular because they tell stories visually. So wdydwyd? is ultimately a gallery for sharing our stories about ourselves visually. Indeed, it is a visual café, and an increasingly popular one.

What invites you to wdydwyd? What are your explanations for its popularity?

Monday, December 8, 2008

On College Debt and Life Choices

Those who have inveterate needs to watch certain TV shows will understand the roots of this post. One of my weekday routines is to watch the PBS broadcast "The Jim Lehrer Newshour"; which is recorded and awaiting my review when I get home from work.

Tonite, there was a segment on college student debt. This happens to be one of my special interests because I have two sons who are of college age, and because I am convincd the future of our economy (and hence, country) depends on having a well educated, globally competitive workforce.

As a former academic, I am well aware of the costs of higher education in the US , and of the relentless increases in tuition and fees that have occurred since 1980. These increases have outstripped changes in the median family income by 3:1; creating a growing and disturbing resemblance between this country and those where only a rich and fortunate few can afford to attend university.

Yet, despite this, middle class students, who often do not qualify for subsidized loans, are willingly borrowing from public and private lenders to finance their education. One imminent graduate, Ian Wetherall from U Mass Boston, was interviewed for the segment and gave a simple, wise reason for his willingness to incur debt: The alternatives are unacceptable, the value of being able to do what you want to do is priceless. Ian, a philosophy major, may be wiser than many, but his remarks seemed to suggest that his viewpoint was pretty common.

The choice is difficult, but the benefis are clear. Perhaps today's young people, having seen the trade-offs (and unhappiness) resulting from their parents' drive to accumulate wealth while toiling in jobs they loathed have learned an important vicarious lesson. Life is something that happens to us while we are busy making plans for the future.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Welcome Doers!

You are among the first to read the inaugural post of this blogspot about daily life. I welcome your questions, comments and stories. Please share answers to questions such as: What have your experiences taught you about everyday living? What is your typical daily routine and why? How do you decide how to use your time, or do you simply let life flow where it takes you?

Lately, some people are overwhelmed with how much they have to do and how little time they have to do it. What does "life balance" mean to you? How do you achieve balance in your life?

When people remember an event, it is usually because it has some significance or meaning in their life. Feel free to share a story about such an event. Ask questions of others, and share books, articles and links.

Blog Archive

About Me

I am a writer, lifelong student, former academic and new blogger. My passion continues to be everyday living. I am interested in what people do, how, when and why they do it, and what it means for their their understanding of the world and hence, their well being.