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.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Optimism and its global Importance — Especially Now

A recent article describing Sir David Tang's observations about optimism as the cure for the global economic meltdown is one of the most important messages delivered in the past three months. You can read it in its entirety here. It deserves far more exposure, in my opinion.

Sir David makes several wise observations, including the need to distinguish value and cost, to recognize that size and importance are not the same thing, and to appreciate that productive work is one the most important "assets" we have. Notice that productive work is not the same as making money. People who trade paper derivatives on wall street make money, but their work is not productive in the sense that it adds much value to the world.

There are not more educated people as a result of trading derivatives, no new houses, roads or labor saving products as a result of the work of those financiers, and no entertaining poems, or beautiful planted trees to decorate the landscape. Nor, indeed, are there well made clothes, shoes, or cars that provide useful benefits to society as a result of such work. If work is done only to make money, no real tangible wealth is created. It's just paper that can be traded for products and services that represent real work. Often, this wealth comes at another person's expense.

Work that produces something of value for the world is work that gives the doer a sense of contribution and pride. When that work goes away, people lose meaning and become depressed. People without productive work are among the unhappiest people in the world, not because they lack money, but because they lack the work itself. As a result, they can lose hope and become pessimists.

Sir David Tang notes that pessimists have a way of creating more pessimism. And when people are pessimistic, they often create a self-fulfilling prophecy. If they believe there is no future, they begin to act in ways that creates that dismal outcome. On the other hand, laughter and optimism are equally contagious and inspire hope and actions that create better futures. Humans in groups have the power to create optimism or pessimism.

There is abundant research in the psychological literature that demonstates the value of optimism. Few if any of these studies discuss optimism and economic outlook, but many show that optimistic people are more resilient, live longer, and are able to influence their own healing. Studies show that optimists make the best salespeople. While their mood probably makes them seem more approachable or engaging, their belief in making the sale also makes them more engaged and persistent. Sales success requires persistence.

Besides, optimists are more fun to be around. Economic stimulus packages that create jobs double the return on their investment. Why? Because the result can not only be people with the ability to earn money for rent, food and clothes, but more importantly people who feel better about themselves and their futures because they are doing productive work.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A Post on Karma as "Doing"

This post is different than recent offerings. For one thing, it is (slightly) shorter. Another difference is that it pertains not to traditional "Western" ways of living, but the culture of Asia. A third difference concerns its topic area, which pertains to spirituality.

Note that on this blogsite, being spiritual does not necessarily equate with being religious. When we are spiritual, we contemplate ideas that are beyond this world, such as "Why do I exist?" or "What happens when people die?" Often, we contemplate these ideas within the context of formal religions. A religion can be described as a formal, organized way for thinking about spiritual matters. But many spiritual people don't adopt or govern their lives according to the "rules" of organized religions. In other words, according to this view, it is possible to be spiritual without being religious.

Karma, a word from Sanscrit associated with Buddhism, can be translated into English as "doing." In Buddhism, and Hinduism, there is a belief that the sum total of one's "doings" in the physical life (or previous lives) determines their destiny, or what happens to them in future lives.

Without getting into a discussion about religion, the notion of how our acts today determine our fate or destiny tomorrow (or in the future) seems common to many formal religions in cultures around the world. The late Joseph Campbell observed this in his writings on myth contained in "The Hero with a Thousand Faces."

But when you think about it, there is another point of view that deserves mention here. That is, we can create the lives we want (and thereby influence our futures) by acting in certain ways now that may not have anything to do with spiritual or religious teachings. Some people "seize the day" and create their opportunities. They believe they can influence what happens to them by organizing and directing their actions in purposeful ways. To me, there seems to be a certain logic to this. Perhaps this is what the sports apparel maker Nike suggests when it uses the advertising slogan "Just do it!"

So, the fact that the word Karma translates into "doing" invites many interesting thoughts from this blogger. I'd be interested in reading yours also!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Obesity and Lifestyle Change - Thinking About Activities

In previous posts we have discussed how people use time, their patterns of activity, and how these relate to their well being. These discussions have focused a great deal on how activities influence mood, or how they can serve to reduce stress. Less has been said about how activity influences our heart, lungs, nervous system, bones and muscles and other physiological systems.

I hasten to point out that this is not a post about exercise and physical fitness. The body is a complex system, with many individual subsystems working together to explain that complexity. Ordinarily, we think of the brain as the control center. But we seldom think of the back office systems that influence how the brain works. One of these back office systems is the endocrine system. This system regulates the chemicals in our bloodstream that carry messages to the nervous system. It influences metabolism, tissue growth, development and mood. Scientific discussions about how stress harms the body focus directly on this system of alerting or message sending through hormones. This brings us to the main topic of this post—obesity

Obesity is a significant health problem and it can be described as a kind of banner or symbolic indicator of how activity and lifestyle in the 21st century can influence health in both beneficial and harmful ways. Obesity is an epidemic, and if you visit the website of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), you will see a dramatic illustration of how the incidence of obesity has spread across the country over the past two decades. The data clearly suggest that obesity is not just a regional phenomenon, nor a socio-economic phenomenon. It is a lifestyle phenomenon that is related to how people spend time to consume and expend energy. If you notice in the CDC chart how the prevalence of obesity has spread, states where there are more outdoor opportunities for hiking, skiing and kayaking, or more farming and ranching— seem to be the last places where the obesity epidemic arrived. That suggests environment (and activity opportunity) influences obesity. But we are getting ahead of ourselves here. There is another important factor related to weight gain—hormones. Especially hormones resulting from living stressful lifestyles.

Without going into too much detail or repeating information available widely on the Internet, most diets (the usual approach to battling weight gain) fail. Why? Because hormones signal our body to store energy (or calories) so that we can survive famine conditions. These systems are ancient, biological survival mechanisms that evolved over millions of years when humans were hunters or gatherers. Animals in the wild have the same systems, but they spend their awake hours in a quest to find food just as humans once did. They may go for days in their quest for meals, burning more calories than they are able to replenish. Contrast this with the modern life of humans in the U.S. and other developed nations: Going for hours without a meal is often viewed as a starvation diet!

Thus, animal species (including humans) are biologically wired to store calories and resist efforts to expend them. All dieters know that as soon as they begin reducing their food intake, their body reacts by increasing its efforts to hold on to those life sustaining calories. That's what makes dieting so difficult. But food intake is only half of the equation.

The other part is energy expenditure. As modern conveniences are developed, technology becomes our enemy. We move less, watch TV or surf the Internet more, and there is little calorie burning to offset our increased consumption. Moreover, eating itself is an activity, and a pleasurable one. Generally, people would rather eat than work out on the treadmill. Eating is also typically a social activity. When people get together to enjoy themselves and each other, food is often involved.The result is increased body weight. Exercise intentions expressed in New Year resolutions are, well— well intended. But habits and routines are hard to break. People need stimulating reasons to live their lives differently. They need to be motivated to move more and eat less.

But the story doesn't end there. Stress (and there is a lot of that around lately!) produces hormones that signal the body to conserve energy. So metabolism (calorie burning) slows as a result of stress too. Some scientists attribute the obesity epidemic as much to increased levels of stress (and the influence of stress hormones on slowing metabolism) as they do to lifestyle patterns that are characterized by sedentary activities and increased food consumption.

So, at long last, we get to the point of this post about obesity. Obesity is more than weight gain. It is a condition of lifestyle that is affected by factors that have nothing to do with eating. The interesting thing is, these factors involve human activities, and the most natural solutions have to do with the activities people do as they live their everyday lives. If those activities help people burn more calories and eat less, so much the better. But if they give pleasure, reduce stress, and stop signaling the body to store energy, they provide a double benefit. The bottom line: Activity is more than exercise!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Use of Leisure Time - Implications for Health and Well Being

The American Time Use Survey, reports from which are featured on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, reveal some interesting data about how people spend time. Of particular interest here are two activities, television and Internet usage, that consume significant portions of available leisure time. For example, watching TV accounted for half of the leisure time available to men and women (2.62 and 2.88 hours per day on average). As might be expected, young people from 15-19 spend more leisure time on computers than people of other ages. The average for this age group was around 50 minutes per day. In contrast, leisure activity involving sports, exercise or other types of recreation averaged slightly less than 30 minutes per day.

The implications of these statistics for health should be apparent. Sedentary activities may be interesting, but they don't provide the kind of movement necessary for maintaining fitness, including strength, endurance, and proper body mass index (percentage of fat) to avoid risk of obesity, heart disease and other chronic conditions. Movement burns calories, and regular exercise coupled with moderate and appropriate food intake helps to maintain weight within healthy limits.

How people use time, obviously, not only has significant consequences for physical fitness, but it also influences other types of "psychological fitness", such as how interested or bored they are, and how challenged or motivated they may be to participate in activities that lead to skill development, accomplishment, and improvements in self-esteem or self confidence. Research shows that when people are successful in new activities or projects, they are more inclined to undertake additional challenges. These cumulative successes create the sense of meaning that we need to live our lives with energy and purpose .

Unfortunately, time use surveys have not yet begun to gather data on qualitative factors, such as the feelings one might have that are associated with doing a particular activity. Part of those feelings, of course, are based on the context in which an activity is done ( that is, who is with us, what motivated us, what need will be served, etc.); but time use scientists generally feel that the opportunity exists for gathering more qualitative data in such surveys.

As time use science evolves, there will be more objective evidence to provide guidance to people on how to design their lives for optimal health and happiness. This is just another part of the interdisciplinary science of everyday living.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Seratonin and Mood: Evidence that Activity and Happiness are Connected

Serotonin, a hormone, is known to be an important chemical messenger that influences brain activity related to a wide range of functions, emotions and behaviors. These include circadian rhythms, moods, and thought. Disorders related to seratonin have been linked with impulsive violence, anxiety, and depression.

Higher levels of seratonin are associated with feelings of happiness and well-being. Too little seratonin is implicated in depression. But too much seratonin can be toxic and fatal. What is needed, it seems, is efficient regulation, which relates to having the right levels of seratonin and the right number of brain structures to use it appropriately. Current treatment approaches typically involve drugs that attempt to increase or decrease seratonin levels or improve its processing in order to achieve a satisfactory balance and the proper mood.

Because depression is a growing worldwide public health issue, new approaches to understanding this brain-mood-behavior phenomenon is in everyone's interest. That's why a recent editorial by the editor of the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience is of interest here. The editorial, by Simon Young, suggests that new evidence supports the use of non-drug interventions in mood disorders related to seratonin.

Without going into the highly technical specifics of the science here, what Dr. Young suggests is that exposure to light, exercise, diet, and activities that lead to improved mood may all be examples of lifestyle- related strategies that can be used to address seratonin imbalances and prevent depression and its consequences. His article cited several promising studies that provide evidence for his "non drug intervention" proposal. I like this line of thinking, because it shows again that through lifestyle related interventions, people can influence their health and well-being. More emphasis on population-based approaches to preventing or treating health related disorders through lifestyle change must be a part of health care reform. Population based lifestyle intervention is smart, synergistic, humanistic, and economical.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Aligning Believing and Doing - Another Feature of Balanced Lifestyles?

A recent story on the NPR series called "This I Believe" featured an essay by a seven year old (Tarak McClain) of Austin, Texas. Tarak shortened his original list of 100 beliefs into a radio-ready list of 30, which he read on the air.

Aside from the remarkable fact that this very young man was thoughtful and wise enough to compose this list, (and poised enough to do an exemplary job of recording his interview), the notable feature of his story relates to his acting in ways that are consistent with his beliefs. Tarak has a commendable list of service projects to his credit already. This made me think about my recent posts on life balance, and one of the papers given at the life balance symposium I attended. This particular paper was about life balance as acting in accordance with personal values.

Values and beliefs are closely related. But few of us always stop to think (except on Sundays if we are church going Christians, or on other days if we practice other faiths) about how our actions align with what we profess to believe. For example, I believe in sustainability and conserving energy so that future generations will enjoy a high quality of life. But when I think about the actual things I am doing that are in alignment with this belief, I am embarrassed that the list is shorter than I would like. Perhaps this is why the phrase, "talk is cheap", was coined.

Tarak and I share some significant beliefs, and I suspect, that given the way 7 year old young men come to form their beliefs, that his parents have similar sentiments about community, peace, service to others, living in harmony and other values. But in the end, when it comes to making our communities and world better places, when actions and beliefs are aligned, we create the world we imagine. As Gandhi said "We must be the change we hope to see in the world."

I invite you to share your beliefs about living life well on this post, and to comment on the actions that reflect those beliefs.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Life Balance, What is it?

One of the aims of this blogsite is to promote dialogue about aspects of living well, focusing on how human activity, or how people use their time, contributes to their happiness, health and well-being. When it comes to lifestyles, daily routines can be regular, predictable and peaceful, or they can be volatile, unpredictable and stressful. Most of us experience lives that show characteristics of each extreme. Which is better? Should we be striving for steady state, and what would that be like? Is the journey through life best viewed as a highway metaphor where we try to maintain a course in the middle? How do we define that "middle ground"?

An earlier post in this series alluded to balance, pointing out that Michelle Obama, the incoming first lady, sees work-family balance as an important public health and family issue. Because lives out of balance are typically stressful, imbalance can be said to contribute to illness and chronic diseases, as pointed out in the post on resilience.

Most people intuitively understand that regular, predictable, and stress-avoidant routines are related to their well being, and thus they have a personal view of what life balance means, or what type of lifestyle works best for them.

Eighteen months ago, I had the privilege of participating in an international conference in Canada that brought together scientists and other experts from many disciplines for a discussion about life balance from theoretical and scientific perspectives. Although there were many interesting ideas expressed about how to define, study and otherwise understand life balance, another perspective examined during the meeting was philosophical. Is life balance a valid concept, or is it just another name for similar "positive states"? For example, is it the same idea as "well being" or "quality of life" with just another name?

My view is that all three concepts have features in common. However, life balance seems unique because it focuses specifically on how activity is organized within a life to help us achieve the outcomes we desire. I surmise that there is no one "life activity formula" that works for everyone, but that a successful formula must include certain characteristics or reflect identified principles.

What is your idea of a balanced life? What lifestyle characteristics do you think social scientists should consider in studying this concept? I look forward to reading your posts.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sleep - Another type of healthful activity

It may not seem obvious, but in our daily round of activities, sleep must be counted among the most important. Recent reports have shown that teens in North America are sleep deprived, averaging less than seven hours per sleep per night when they require almost nine hours. Surely, cell phones, computers, online gaming, and television are part of the cause for this; but it would be too simple to say that teens don't sleep because they are absorbed by a more engaging activity.

In normal, healthy people, sleep is regulated or influenced by internal clocks, or circadian rhythms. The most germane of those rhythms that influence sleep is known as the rest-activity cycle. This cycle is influenced by hormones that are triggered by daylight, and a tiny gland in the skull known as the pineal gland has been implicated in explaining this. Humans evolved to be able to sleep during dark and be active during the day. Why? Because evolution works to maximize survival of species. Since humans see poorly in the dark, we are better off sleeping and being active during the daytime.

There is much to learn about sleep and how it serves to keep people healthy and mentally alert. We do know that it is vitally necessary to sleep. Extreme sleep deprivation can lead to death. We also know that normal sleep involves stages, and that the fourth stage, or Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage of sleep, is thought to be the most important for its restorative properties. REM sleep is that stage of sleep during which we dream. If we don't achieve REM sleep, our sleep is of lesser quality. Normal humans go through several cycles involving all stages of sleep each night. People who sleep and say don't dream are simply not recalling their dreams.

Getting a good night's sleep (full of dreams) involves many factors. The most important factor for good sleep hygiene is having a rest-activity cycle that is entrained, or synchronized with what is happening in the social world. People need regular routines and activities to keep their internal clocks synchronized with the world. Jet lag after long distance air travel is a condition that places our internal clocks at odds with the social world around us when we fly to a new environment. Ordinarily, it can take as long as 30 days for the body to fully recover from jet lag.

Of course, shift workers are also at risk of insomnia caused by disentrainment, since shift workers must be active at night when their body tells them they should be sleeping. Of course, some adjustment does occur, as long as the shifts do not vary frequently. Some countries have laws that regulate shiftwork as a public health safeguard for such workers.

So, let's return to the issue of teens and sleep deprivation. It is likely that at least some of the sleep debt being accumulated by teens has less to do with the effects of more and more distracting late night activity than it does on the effects of such shiftwork on the internal clocks of the teens. It is likely that, like shift workers, teens' internal clocks have changed so that their rest-activity cycles have adjusted, so their body tells them they need to sleep until noon; while their parents and schools are telling them to get up at seven to begin classes or catch the bus! Thus it seems, their sleep deprivation is less about distracting activities, than it is about modified internal clocks.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Fyodor Who? on Activity and Happiness

Those avid readers among us will no doubt be able to quickly note that the title to this post refers to Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevski. Dostoyevski is among the most famous authors in history, and lived from 1821-1881. During his sixty year lifespan he wrote two fiction classics that are included on most great books lists, including The Brothers Karamozov and Crime and Punishment. In addition to being a great writer, Dostoyevski is sometimes credited as being one of the originators of the philosophy of existentialism.

So what does Dostoyevski have to do with this blogsite? Well, because doing is so important to our happiness and well being, those who love to read (and read and read) will certainly enjoy the works of Dostoyevski. But he appears in this blog not for that reason, but because he wrote an interesting passage about activity and happiness in a book of occasional writings. The excerpt is as follows:

"Our passion for some sort of activity reaches a point of feverish and uncontrollable impatience; we all long for some serious occupation, many of us are full of an ardent desire to do good, to be of some use, and we gradually begin to realize that happiness is not the same thing as being able to afford to sit about twiddling one's thumbs or just to do something for the sake of a change when the occasion arises, but consists of continual and tireless activity and the development of all faculties and capabilities in practice."

This observation by Dostoyevski is blogworthy here because it makes some interesting observations about activity and happiness. Reading along and between the lines, one might claim the following existential interpretation:

We serve our well-being best when we make choices about what we do that are consistent with our values and sense of self, and when those activities help us grow and become more competent. Indeed, it might be said that we create ourselves (our identities) through doing activities that are genuine, that allow us to express the joy of being and our uniqueness through creating or producing something that expresses some purpose or has meaning. Dan McAdams, whose studies of people's stories has been mentioned in other blogs and whose work is listed on this blogsite, coined the expression "selfing" to refer to this type of activity that serves self expression and beingness.

Think about what you do, and how many of those activities are done because of others, and how many were initiated with careful thought by you, the doer, to challenge and engage yourself, to help you realize your unique potential, and to truly make you feel "alive". Those kinds of activity choices are among the most important decisions we make.

What are you doing among your regular activities currently that makes you feel authentic? That may be a hard question to answer, but if you care to give it a try, please share it with others on this blogsite. And if you've a mind to, visit the wdydwyd? website to get a taste of how others express their authenticity.

As always, if you have a different perspective or a comment to add about anything written here, by all means, do it! Please share it here and now.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Thinking and Doing in Ways that Protect Health

This blogsite is about doing, so the key points in this post will not come as a surprise to readers. In a previous blog I promised to address the issue of resilience, or the body's ability to ward off the harmful effects of stress.

Many websites have lists of characteristics that are counterproductive to successful coping. Negative thinking, over-eating, obsessing, self blame, overworkiig and other detrimental behaviors and attitudes are widely known and may seem obvious as detriments to effective oping or health.

However, most web articles on this topic, including one from the highly acclaimed Mayo Clinic, overlook an important factor that is key to successful resilience. That factor is having engaging, meaningful, purposeful activities. If important preventive factors include a positive self concept and having opportunities for interacting with friends, it seems clear that doing things we enjoy with people we enjoy doing them with is likely to be a useful approach to promoting two critical dimensions of resilience: meaningful social relationships and a positive self concept. There is abundant literature to show that enjoyment in doing, which often comes from mastering challenge and doing something well, leads to better self esteem, improved positive feelings, and the release of hormones that are good for our immune system.

The theories of coping include strategies that have been called "active coping". Typically, these involve direct problem solving actions to address barriers that are frustrating, or dilemmas that are particularly stressful. What this post suggests is something different. What is suggested here is finding satisfying, engaging and meaningful activities that help us spend time enjoyably, have fun with others, and perhaps develop skills or a sense of completion that makes us feel good about ourselves.

I also recommend the strategies contained in this useful article by Tamar Chansky published in the Huffington Post. Dr. Chansky's recommendations offer more detailed variations on DLW's themes; namely, how we as individuals can create our own resilience through what we do (or avoid doing!).

Doing is not a universal elixir. But doing the right things helps us by keeping our immune systems stronger so that we can avoid the biological consequences of stress. Most importantly, if we build these practices into our daily lifestyles, and not just when we feel stressed, we will be making a habit of doing life well.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Stress is not good for you...not that you thought it was!!

If there is anything that can be said about life in the United States these days (or the world, for that matter), it's that there are lots of things going on that can cause worry or concern. It is a scientific fact that the most unhappy people in the population are those who are unemployed, so it should be seen as a societal concern that the unemployment rate is rising to levels not seen for decades. The new administration understands that the cost for not doing something will be far greater than the cost of an economic stimulus package, no matter how large. Why? Well, it's not just because people need to earn a living and buy things to get the economy back on track. It's also because economic downturns can affect public health by making the population more susceptible to illness.

But this blog post is not about politics or economic stimulus proposals. It's about stress and what it does to our bodies over time. We all generally perceive that being stressed out is not a good thing. But perhaps many of us feel that as long as we can get beyond the stressful periods and have some time for R&R (rest and recuperation), so to speak, we can shake off the consequences of stress and there will be no harm done.

The truth is, however, that over time, the effects of stress add up. It takes a toll on the body. And scientists now have a way of measuring that "toll" through objective means. These tests, which include blood pressure, cholesterol, and several other measures of "physiological" fitness, are collectively called "allostatic load". When the body responds to stressful circumstances, that process is called allostasis. Medical and psychological understanding of how stress shortens our lives and makes us susceptible to acute illnesses and longer term chronic diseases has now advanced rapidly. Scientists now have a better understanding of how the process works, and the area of "psychoneuroimmunology" or PNI, is where this knowledge is being gained.

The theory of how our worries activate hormones to tax our immune systems is too involved for this blog, but I recommend that interested readers take a look at a good book written in an interesting, understandable way called: Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, by Robert Sapolsky, PhD. The title of the book is a shorthand way of communicating the relationship between stress and health. Part of the reason we overtax our immune systems is because we worry about things that have happened to us or might happen to us. That worry signals our body to activate stress hormones that are good when they are needed, but harmful if they are around when they aren't needed. Dr. Sapolsky uses the example of the fire station that runs out of fuel and fresh men when it is constantly responding to false alarms, and compares that fire station to our immune systems, which are supposed to stamp out germs and other invaders to keep our bodies healthy. Immune systems get worn down by high and persistent levels of stress.

So...as my son once told me: "chillax". That was good advice. People who are able to chill and relax, are more resilient to the adverse consequences of stress. They experience less wear and tear on their bodies, and chances are, they will be more likely to live longer and healthier lives...and thus be able to "do life well." It turns out that resilience, or the ability to endure stress with fewer adverse consequences, is related to happiness. But that is a topic for a future blog post. Stay tuned!

(For readers interested in a readable but more complete and scientific account of allostasis and allostatic load on the web, go here.)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

More on Happiness...

My recent blog on happiness prompted a reader to send a link to the WebMD website and an interesting article on happiness. You can link to that article by clicking on the title to this post. The article identifies six barriers to happiness, citing work by the author of a recent book on Happiness by Darrin M. McMahon, PhD.

The six barriers explained in the WebMD blog include the following:
  1. Complexity
  2. Breakneck pace
  3. Negativity
  4. Despair
  5. Suppressing Sadness
  6. Navel gazing
Each of these barriers has a solution, and rather than make it easy for you by reiterating them here, I am going to suggest that readers imagine what they are. Then, go to the article and read them for yourself.

While some are obvious, others are more challenging, and not surprisingly, most involve changes in attitude or behavior that are wholly under our control. Thus, it seems, the keys to being happy are entirely within us; we can use changes in attitude or behavior to unlock the power within us to create the lives we want.

All of this, of course, is apparent to psychologists, students of positive psychology, and life coaches, and to them it probably seems obvious. But, sadly, it seems that so many people are held captive by their external locus of control, which is a fancy way of explaining that to many people, what happens to them is the result of forces outside them: they have rotten luck, they are victims of chance or downtrodden by the ruthless behaviors of others. People who feel this way assign the reasons for things that happen to the universe, to some external entity, or, in some cases, to "God's will.

Albert Einstein, a pretty smart cookie by any standard, once observed that "God does not play dice with the universe." Reading about Einstein is surprising to many. He was a brilliant physicist. And being a scientist, given to the precision of numbers and formulas and all, one might think he was less inclined to contemplate beauty and the spiritual mysteries of a complex universe. But the truth is, Einstein was very contemplative and spiritual—perhaps because his appreciation for the complexity of things convinced him that the world or the universe could not be readily explained by chance.

This blogsite is about doing. And one of the things we can "do" to improve our lives is to take control of them. January is a perfect month to resolve to do things differently. Attending to overcoming the barriers to personal happiness seems like a worthy pursuit and a great place to start. So, if you have a mind to —be happy— begin doing it now.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Changes in Routines

It has been a long dry spell since my last post, as I got out of my customary routine. This lapse got me thinking about things like routines and habits, and how people typically spend their time, and the patterns of their time use.

Given its universal application to everyone, the truth is, when it comes to the "science of everyday living", not much is known about how people live their lives, particularly when it comes to patterns of daily activity. This topic (patterns of everyday living) is of interest to some "occupational scientists" (those who study humans and their everyday occupations—which includes most everything we do and not just work). Some have called these patterns lifestyles.

Clearly, daily lifestyles for most people have a certain rhythm or sameness to them. Part of this sameness is dictated by the rhythms of nature (seasons, night and day, etc), and others are influenced by our biological rhythms. In the human, the rest-activity cycle is probably the most influential of these.

But, beyond natural and biological influences on daily life activities, we are also "moved" by regular or customary routines. Some of these routines are also influenced by habits. It seems that only when we experience a change in routine or want to break a habit that we notice these patterns of living at all.

The public will no doubt be reading more about habits in the months ahead as the new U.S. president strives to break his smoking habit. One thing that seems evident is that changes in environment (geographic location) can be useful for breaking habits and routines. People who experience "cabin fever" during the long winter months often "get away" to break the monotony of their routines and re-energize their bodies and spirits. This same type of change can be useful for making wanted changes in aspects of our lives that we see as problematic.

I'd be interested in your observations on routines and how the environment can change them. if you have a personal anecdote, strategy or armchair theory about changing what you do, please share it here. Or, if you have links to reports of research done in this area, by all means share it with us here at "DLW".

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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.