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A Close Encounter with Thich Nhat Hanh

I was eating my California wrap outside at a local coffee shop in Boston when without reason I began to weep. Tears began rolling down my face, which made me feel as if I were sitting in a steady rain. It was as if my eyes had suddenly sprung a leak or a nearby sprinkler had found me.

Initially I didn’t have any feeling, but within seconds after the tears began like a fountain, I felt what seemed like an inconsolable pain -- a deep sorrow that grew in intensity. It was as profound and moving as any emotion I’ve ever had.

Within the space of a brief moment I had gone from enjoying my lunch at a sidewalk café on a beautiful late summer day in Boston to a crying, blubbering mess. What the hell was going on?

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Mental Floss: How Meditation is Like Brushing Your Teeth

A colleague challenged me the other day while we were waiting for the elevator about the value of meditation. She gave me a very hard time.

“I don’t understand why you positive psychologists get your undies in a bunch about meditation,” she said, “I tried it and I think it is the stupidest thing in the world. Stop your mind -- and breathe.”

“Well,” I began, “it really isn’t just about trying to stop your mind. Often it is about breathing, but I really think if you believe it is stupid it probably isn’t going to work.”

“See -- you have an answer for everything. So if I think it is going to be stupid, then it is going to be stupid. You always put it back on the person. If meditation is going to work, why do I have to believe in it? Why doesn’t it just work?"

“How often have you tried to meditate?” I asked, trying to keep from responding.

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The Reciprocity Ring: A New Take On Giving

When Irvin Yalom did his pioneering work in the 1970s on group therapy he included altruism, vicarious learning and hope among the original therapeutic factors. Forty years later a new application of group dynamics has emerged with renewed vitality: Welcome to the Reciprocity Ring®.

In Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, Adam Grant has awakened a method for engaging the act of giving and receiving. He is a gifted storyteller and a consummate teacher and researcher. As the youngest tenured professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, he has put forth a precisely organized and exceptionally well-crafted book.

He uses several methods to make his point. Among them he includes expertly constructed true stories, case studies, research and a very rich chapter on resources for information. Make no mistake: This is not another business book with some ideas about doing more and better business.

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Bed & Bored: The Element of Surprise in Making Love Last

“Love withers with predictability; its very essence is surprise and amazement. To make love a prisoner of the mundane is to take its passion and lose it forever.”
~ Leo F. Buscaglia

"Some people ask the secret of our long marriage. We take time to go to a restaurant two times a week. A little candlelight, dinner, soft music and dancing. She goes Tuesdays, I go Fridays."
~ Henny Youngman

If I were going to create a bumper sticker for a good relationship it would be:

“Keep it Fun; Keep it Fresh; Keep it Real.”

Even the most cynical and contemptuous couples soften when I ask them to tell me how they met...

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Brain and Behavior

Down in the Dumps? Garbage Pickers with a Happy Life

A recent article published in the Journal of Positive Psychology surveyed the life satisfaction of 99 garbage pickers in León, Nicaragua. Researcher Jose Juan Vazquez interviewed these difficult-to-access individuals and found that not only are they happy, there is no correlation whatsoever to their financial well-being.

This is one of those studies that take a moment to get your mind around.

Imagine you are an itinerant individual living in absolute penury in a third-world country. You survive by going through other people’s garbage and extracting your food for the day as well as other essentials like clothing and footwear. You live your life hand to mouth and what your hand finds are the things others have discarded. You recycle what you can for money, and this considerable effort earns you about $3 a day.

By downward social comparison, almost anyone seeing a person living in these conditions would assume the individuals engaged in this activity would resent their life circumstance and view their life as anything but happy.

But this study shows this is a false assumption.

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Moving from What’s Wrong to What’s Strong: Introducing Positive Psychotherapy (PPT)

Traditional psychotherapy focuses on helping clients through symptom reduction. This means that when the indicators for therapy fade away, the therapy is considered successful.

But there is a new perspective emerging as to what psychotherapy can offer. Positive psychotherapy (PPT) is a strengths-based approach that is directly aimed at offering a more comprehensive perspective of a client and his or her life circumstances. It is becoming known as an evidence-based standpoint that explores both strengths and weaknesses to achieve greater well-being and functioning.

We are moving from looking at what is wrong to looking at what is strong.

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Sick & Tired? Take this Sleep Quiz

Sleep research has been around for more than 90 years. In the last 15 years, though, researchers have been focusing on partial, or short, sleep rather than total sleep deprivation.

Such research looks at the way sleep affects cardiometobolic disease, the name given to disruption of a variety of physical and cognitive functions. These disruptions can affect basic skills such as appetite regulation and mood. Sleep researchers apparently are issuing the rest of us a wake-up call.

Each of us has an internal clock, a circadian rhythm that regulates our sleep needs. This is synchronized by the amount of sunlight we are exposed to.

But when we are tempted by the demands of our social clock -- such as reading that last email, staying up for late-night TV, or going out and staying out late with our friends -- we fall out of sync and the effects can take their toll. This circadian disruption often is at the core of numerous problems.

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We Underestimate Our Changes: The End of History Illusion

It’s like déjà vu all over again. ~Yogi Berra

Yep. That’s me in my fabulous Nehru tux getting ready for my prom date. I was about as spiffy then as spiffy could be. The tux was rented, but I had my regular Nehrus in the closet. They were next to my bell-bottoms, tie-dyes and 8-tracks.

What happened?

The Nehru went out of style around 11:55 p.m. the night of the prom and I had to hang on to my bell-bottoms and tie-dyes for about 30 years for them to come back around into fashion. The 8-tracks? They gave way to those newfangled cassettes.

How could I have been so wrong about the future of Nehrus and 8-tracks? Actually, when I think about it, I was wrong about a lot of things: The Afro perm I thought would look spectacular on me forever, the Beatles never breaking up, my best friend Kevin and I being pals for life, the Osborn 55-pound “portable” computer, and the 8-track tape player (which cost me a week's salary) I had installed in my car. Naturally I thought my prom date would never change.

But in spite of my convictions at the time I was about as wrong as wrong could be. The good news is I am not alone.

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Are You a Hero in Waiting?

This is a true story.

Imagine that you are at a Wal-Mart around midnight. Dark parking lot. Little security and yet a number of random people wandering around. A man with a little boy thrown over his shoulder passes you. The little boy is screaming and kicking and crying and yelling for his mama.

The man slaps and spanks the boy and is telling him to shut up. He never uses the boy’s name. There is no woman near them and the man is moving faster. Also, imagine the boy is blond and the man has dark hair. Onlookers shake their heads but do nothing.

What would you do? Would you watch and not do anything? Or would you intervene? Social psychologists tell us there is a very good likelihood we will do nothing.

But this is the story of a woman, Pam, who did.

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Hurricane Sandy: Gratitude, Empathy & Evolution

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
~ John F. Kennedy

I live on the water at the Jersey shore and the reports about Hurricane Sandy were not to be taken lightly. I caught the last train out of Washington D.C. and headed back to the home. Everything on the dock had to be secured or removed and it was already raining.  From the Amtrak station I raced down the Garden State Parkway. 

The rain was relentless.

I went straight through the house to the back prepared to work in the rain to save my stuff.  I had only moved into my house months earlier, and since I travel a lot barely knew the neighbors.  The water was rapidly rising. Trees were already down and everyone had already been evacuated. The town was broadcasting a red alert. I had to get in and get out -- fast.

I came in the front door and ran to the back to get out to the dock. But what I saw stopped me in my tracks. 

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Gratitude Research Delivered: Diagnosis Day, Part Two

Jen Cunningham Butler uses a highly proactive and inspiring approach in dealing with the anniversary of her cancer diagnosis. At once it was corrective and intuitive; courageous and simple; heartfelt and effective.  Jen prepares for the day by honoring her health and recovery. She actively demonstrates her gratitude toward the physicians, nurses  and support staff involved in her treatment. Her story is detailed in Part One.

Part One chronicles Butler's ongoing effort to demonstrate gratitude to all those who helped during her treatment.  These are simple acts of gratitude such as writing notes, bringing a tray of goodies into the treatment center, and even lollipops to the parking attendants.

Although these offerings of gratitude are modest, these actions undid the anxiety of recalling the day, while activating a positive sense of self and affecting others.  Instead of anxiety and depression, she was able to instill joy, feelings of well-being, and hope -- because some of the goodies were delivered personally to women currently undergoing radiation.

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