A Sad State of Affairs

You may not have all the same chic outfits, fancy cars and new electronics as your neighbour (not to mention, you don’t show them off to the same obnoxious degree), but you may have something she doesn’t: happiness. People who are more materialistic are also more depressed and less satisfied than the rest of us, say psychology and business researchers at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. That’s because these folks are constantly obsessed with what they don’t have, instead of feeling grateful for what they’ve already got.

Humans are healthier when we focus on others. Since we can’t survive without each other’s support, the little lift we get by helping another individual is a hard-wired reward to make sure we keep doing it.

If people spend a lot of time buying new stuff for themselves, they simply wind up wanting more, and feeling grossly deprived in the process. Apparently, all this takes so much selfish inward concentration that they miss out on that happy little perk that comes from focusing on someone else’s needs.

Hence the crushing existential emptiness.

Hm. My house is modest, my clothes are sensibly priced and my iPhone 6 is, um, not yet a reality.

But now I feel much, much better about it.

Sure, she looks happy. But inside, her soul is dying. (Photo courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Sure, she looks happy. But inside, her soul is dying. (Photo courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Up in the Air

Imagine performing CPR to try to save an almost lifeless heart attack victim. Imagine doing it for two hours straight. Now picture doing it 30,000 feet above the ground, on a cramped overnight passenger flight. A 60-year-old man is alive today only because a trio of young (and clearly energetic) men doggedly kept his blood pumping. Dave Monks, an Australian doctor, and two men from Toronto – pharmacist Ramon Goomber and his buddy, police constable Ming Li – did everything they could to keep the passenger’s weak heart in beat mode (they lost his pulse 38 times before the plane could make an emergency landing in Beijing). Besides the CPR, they made good use of an on-board defibrillator, medications from the first-aid kit and three tanks of oxygen. All were applied in the narrow confines of the plane.

Miraculously, the tireless team pulled it off. The man they saved made a full recovery, and crew and fellow passengers gave the three heroes a deserving round of applause. As for the airline? Not so much. They offered the men one single first-class seat, presumably in a show of gratitude. One wonders, did the guys draw straws? Does it matter who lost? All three are clear winners.

Nerves of Steel

What’s your biggest, strongest, deep-rooted, visceral fear? What makes you tremble, or scream and run away, trampling any and all seniors and small children in your path? Maybe you’re afraid of hairy spiders, or great heights. Perhaps it’s the idea of singing in front of an audience, or taking a dip in a dark lake. (Please don’t tell me it’s an ice bucket.)

Would you face your fear to raise money for cancer? That’s the basis of the Canadian Cancer Society’s Fearless Challenge campaign. Celebrities and commoners alike are crowdfunding for cancer while promising to take on whatever makes them shake in their boots. Some of them will eat gross stuff. Others vow to make various radical grooming choices such as head-shaving and hair-dyeing. The bravest ones (yep, guess what my fear is) are skydiving, bungee jumping and, gulp, leaning over the edge of the CN Tower, apparently secured by nothing more than a filament that could surely snap in the breeze of a passing pigeon’s wingbeat.

I will pause here while my palpitations return to normal (thanks, vivid imagination). The fascinating thing about the Fearless Challenge campaign is that everyone’s particular constellations of fear are unique. One guy doing the challenge is so shy that, to him, high-fiving a stranger is terrifying. Another man is leery of confrontation. His idea of facing fear is fighting a sumo wrestler. One woman doing the challenge says she’s prepared to accept her boyfriend’s marriage proposal. Um. We won’t even. We just won’t.

Whatever your fears are, you’ll probably find something on the campaign website that resonates with you. And maybe inspires you. In fact, perhaps yours will be the next face we see posted on the Fearless Challenge page, promising to play with snakes, or tuck into a fresh piece of uni sushi, or finally tell your boss what you really think of her. Hey, we won’t judge. It’s your journey.

The CN Tower EdgeWalk: My own Fearless Challenge is just looking at this picture. Oh my. (Photo copyright of Canada Lands Company CLC Ltd.)

The CN Tower EdgeWalk: My own Fearless Challenge is just looking at this picture. Oh my. (Photo copyright of Canada Lands Company CLC Ltd.)

Honest to Goodness

The makers of Honest Tea, so named because they make their drinks with “honesty and integrity” (as opposed to all those other tea and juice manufacturers who are stealing secret recipes, lying about sugar content or dropping spiders into the mixing vats) have put together a fascinating report. They call it the “National Honesty Index.” Note: By national, they mean Americans, so this may or may not include you. But it’s still interesting.

Capitalizing on its brand name, the Maryland-based company conducted a fun and entirely non-scientific experiment to find out which types of people are most honest. They set up drink stands in dozens of different cities, posted signs asking people to leave a dollar if they took a cold beverage, and unobtrusively observed the results.

And these may surprise you. Divorced people were more honest, at a rate of 98%, than married people (95%). Blondes (95%) were more honest than redheads (92%). Rock and roll and hip-hop fans (100%) were more honest than country music fans (97%). And those who adore puppies (98%), naturally, were more honest than those who melt over baby kittens (95%).

My hands-down favourite fact: enthusiasts of the 50 Shades of Grey Trilogy (99%) were a lot more honest than fans of Eat, Pray, Love (94%). I haven’t read either, but as a female, married brunette who appreciates rock music and puppy cuddles, I think my odds are pretty good I’d leave the dollar. (Besides, I’ve met me.)

Overall, the social experiment revealed an average rating of 95% honesty. That means that for every 20 people who took a drink, 19 of them paid what they owed. So when it comes to moral behaviour, I think our society is doing pretty well.



Today, we will not speak of the sudden shock that is September. It’s hit harder than a bucket of ice water, don’t you think? Let’s change the subject. On Saturday, my family and I were driving home from a pleasant outing, making the most of the tail end of summer before this unspeakable new month. We exited the highway and started along a busy avenue. It was nighttime.

When we stopped at an intersection, we picked up on an all-too-common sight in this city. There was a homeless man standing on the traffic island, bundled up in shapeless clothes, holding a cardboard sign: HUNGRY. Now, my husband had ambitiously prepacked a ton of snacks for our day trip. These remained largely untouched. So while I fumbled in a bag to find them, he called the homeless person over. And when I reached my hand out with three granola bars, the person smiled, and took them, and she said, “God bless you.” It was not a man at all, but a middle-aged woman.

The traffic lights had already changed. The driver behind us had the decency not to honk in impatience, and the woman stepped out of the way. We drove on. Someone in our car referred to granola bars as ideal giveaways for the hungry – they are individually packaged and strong on nourishment, being high in nuts, fruit and grains.

Well, shut my mouth. Yesterday we drove home from yet another pleasant excursion (we’re really pushing this summer thing to its extreme limits) and encountered yet another cardboard-sign-wielding hungry person at an intersection. This time it was a young man. Feeling smart, we hauled out another granola bar and beckoned to him.

“Are there nuts in it?” he asked right off the bat.

That was unexpected. “Thanks anyway,” he said graciously, backing away.

The takeaway? Even homeless people have dietary restrictions. I’m now thinking about the high price of EpiPens. And vulnerability. And I’ve decided that even though it’s September, and summer is fading, I’m lucky. My belly is full with a hot breakfast, and I did not stand on a street corner to beg for it. One more thing: I think we’ll start carrying nut-free granola bars in the car.

Ice Ice Baby

I have just three words for you: ice bucket challenge. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you live either under a rock, or someplace where they don’t make ice. Tahiti, perhaps. So for all those Tahitians out there who are reading this, I’ll sum up. You get nominated by a friend. You take a video of yourself pouring a container of ice-infused water over your head. Almost universally, you react with a shriek, or a shocked gasp at the very least. Then you challenge two or three friends (or frenemies) to do the same.

The main rule of the game is that anyone who doesn’t accept the ice bucket challenge within 24 hours must donate money to ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) research instead. Some people choose to do both. Patrick Stewart won my heart all over again by writing a cheque and using his bucket of ice to freshen his scotch.

Is this latest viral phenomenon a good thing? Debatable, say some, who criticize the use of guilt and threats of dire consequences. But then again, you can’t argue with 80 million dollars, which is the amount that’s poured into the ALS Association in the U.S. in the past four weeks and is 30 times what the charity received last year in the same time period. An ALS Canada spokesperson admitted she’s been blown away by the donations the ice bucket challenge has brought in for her organization. “I have never seen such funds and level of awareness coming in such short period of time,” she told a reporter.

Plus it’s endless fun to follow all the videos. I’ve seen the challenge taken on by celebrities. I’ve seen it done by my friends, my friends’ kids, my kid, my kids’ friends. One chum of mine used her bucket of ice to cool down after completing her first-ever marathon. (Kudos, Shawne!) Another took a break from fighting her own cancer to do the challenge (she carefully removed her wig first to keep it dry). A university-pal-cum-church-reverend allowed himself to be fully and icily drenched in front of his congregation, and in full ministerial robes… while memorializing his mother, who died of the disease.

I can’t say I’m completely dry-eyed as I watch these.

But then I bring myself right back up by Googling “ice bucket challenge fails.” How can you not laugh at wardrobe malfunctions, ambushes by rooftop, and oh-so-many slippery grips and top-heavy containers? Then there’s the poor Irish lassie who can’t stand the icy shower and runs away – smack into a hard metal obstacle. She seriously bumps her head and injures her face and this is obviously NOT in the least bit funny… that is, until you hear her mother shout in an Irish lilt: “Quick-quick! The ice!” Now that’s fast thinking, mammy.

Here, a person of my acquaintance undertakes the challenge. You might be tagged next – are you ready?

Here, a person of my acquaintance undertakes the challenge. You might be tagged next – are you ready?

Liar, Liar

If you hope to teach honesty to your kids, maybe you should double-check what’s in their personal library. According to a recent experiment at the Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study, University of Toronto, a child’s choice to tell the truth can be influenced by storybooks. But it doesn’t necessarily work the way you think.

In the experiment, when researchers read aloud the story of George Washington and the cherry tree – in which the young man is praised for his honesty – children were much more likely to tell the truth themselves about whether they’d peeked at a toy they were expressly forbidden to see.

But when they tested kids with the relatively more upsetting story of the boy who cried wolf, or Pinocchio, the literature had no effect on encouraging the kids to ’fess up.

In other words, scaring them straight doesn’t really work.

That’s bad news for the many generations of parents who relied on tales of elongated noses and brutal wolf attacks to traumatize – er, train their children to tell the truth. But it’s welcome news for moms and dads who might prefer to use more positive reinforcement to drive home the same lesson.

On a side note, it’s too bad this research wasn’t available for German psychiatrist and author-illustrator Heinrich Hoffmann in the 1800s, before he published Der Struwwelpeter, a gruesome collection of cautionary tales for kids.

Being of German descent myself, I owned a copy of this book as a child. And thanks to its contents, I was intimately familiar with the extremely dire consequences of everything from playing with matches (you’ll burn to ashes) to daydreaming (you’ll fall into a river and nearly drown) to refusing dinner (you’ll shrivel and die within a span of just five days) to thumbsucking (an evil tailor most certainly will appear out of nowhere, and use his oversized scissors to cleanly amputate your digits – the stumps of which, incidentally, will spurt blood).

Nice to know that gentler stories may have a much stronger influence on the moral development of our children. As we catch on to this new trend, perhaps we should be rewriting that old taunt, “Liar, liar, pants on fire.” What do you think? I’m just free-flowing here, but how about “truth, truth, candy for your sweet tooth…”?

Many of the brutal images from Der Struwwelpeter are inappropriate for a family-friendly  blog. That didn’t stop generations of parents from sharing them with their kids (who no doubt were destined for many years of therapy down the road).

Many of the brutal images from Der Struwwelpeter are inappropriate for a family-friendly blog. That didn’t stop generations of parents from sharing them with their kids (who no doubt were destined for many years of therapy down the road).