Happy Hours

Do the people in your workplace tend to be a negative, non-do-gooder bunch? Do they shirk their duties, badmouth you to the boss and steal your paper clips? Tell management they ought to try piping in some happy tunes.

Researchers at Cornell University experimented with different kinds of music to see how it affected the behaviours of groups of people. They found that cheerful, upbeat music – Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl” was one of the songs used – made the study participants happier and more likely to perform tasks that would benefit the group. In other words, they worked well together. “Happy music has the power to make the workplace more cooperative and supportive,” one of the co-authors says in a press release.

Sounds promising. Now if I could only get “Brown-Eyed Girl” to stop running on repeat in my brain…

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It’s What We Call a Good Sport

They’d worked immensely hard and made extraordinary sacrifices to be able to compete at the Rio Olympic Games. And then suddenly, faster than you can say “I wish I’d tied my shoelaces,” two athletes tripped and went down in the middle of a race, apparently losing any chance at an Olympic medal.

It happened during the women’s 5,000-metre heat. New Zealand track-and-field athlete Nikki Hamblin unexpectedly fell. Then Abbey D’Agostino, an American, stumbled over her and went down.

Other runners streamed past as the women scrambled to recover from what had just happened. Abbey got up first. Did she dash away to try and make up her time? Not even for a second did she look tempted to leave Nikki in her dust. Instead, she bent to help her competitor to her feet.

As Nikki began to pick up the race, she turned to check on Abbey. Her fellow athlete was struggling and in pain. Nikki wouldn’t let her give up. She encouraged her to keep racing, and didn’t run until Abbey was on the move again. “Once you are on the track, there is a mutual understanding of what it takes to get there,” she explained to the International Olympic Committee after the event.

Such a cheer from the crowd when Abbey crossed the finish line – on an injured ankle, and after all the other athletes had marked their time. And such a tight, emotional embrace she shared with Nikki, who was standing by to watch her finish.

Neither athlete qualified for the final event. But in light of their unintentional collision on the track, they both successfully petitioned to participate.

Ultimately, though, Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya set an Olympic record and took the gold in the 5,000-metre event. Nikki and Abbey finished the race in last place.

Did I say last? I meant to say, they’re both winners. This is true both metaphorically and actually: The IOC presented both women with Fair Play Awards for their selflessness and sportsmanship.

That’s the spirit.

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(Photo by Rachel M/FreeImages.com)

Good Guys Get Lucky

This just in, from the As-If-You-Needed-Any-More-Reasons Department: The more you do good deeds, the more you’ll do the dirty deed.

It’s true! So proclaims a study led by a Nipissing University psychologist. According to the research, altruistic people – those who frequently help others, give blood and donate to charity – not only are getting some, they’re actually getting more.

Isn’t it logical? A date who is overly generous to others is bound to be a ton of fun between the sheets. But if you’d rather take the long view, consider this: A selfless partner will most certainly make a superb baby daddy.

So, as the university’s news release says: “If you want to get a little, you should trying giving a little.” I much prefer that catchy tagline to the decidedly unsexy title of the published study: “Altruism Predicts Mating Success in Humans.” Now, that’s deflating.

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Here at 50 Good Deeds we’ll say whatever it takes to convince you. (FreeImages.com/Lotus Head)

Gnome Sweet Gnome

Eight months ago, Bev York became a victim of theft. These robbers didn’t drive off with her car. They didn’t steal electronics or take any fancy jewellery. Rather, they made off with Bev’s 12-inch plastic garden gnome. Nipped it right out of her yard in Victoria, British Columbia.

Then they named it Leopold and took it on vacation.

The pranksters were obviously garden gnome liberationists, part of a curious worldwide movement to give garden gnomes a better, um, life. The family (evidence points to the fact that a toddler and two dogs were involved) drove Leopold southward, away from B.C., through Arizona and eventually to a beach in Mexico.

As per tradition, the crooks captured lots of photos of Leopold enjoying his adventures along the way. We can be certain about this because they put together a bound and captioned photo book that documented his time away. Eight months later they delivered this to Bev, along with her long-lost garden figurine.

According to record, Leopold saw the Grand Canyon, got close to a cactus and experienced sunsets on the beach. He also apparently enjoyed his drink; tequila shots and margaritas figure prominently. He took a bath.

Looting and pillaging is not normally considered to be much of a good deed. But Bev isn’t bitter over the temporary loss of her garden gnome. On the contrary, she’s absolutely delighted by the experience. She’s grateful for the photo gift. She acknowledges the hard work and thought that went into it. She even appreciates the higher standard of gnome hygiene (Leopold is cleaner now).

What does Bev think of the thieves? They’re “probably very nice people,” she says in a news story, and in fact hopes that next time, they’ll take her with her.

In this case, gnome news is good news.

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But I will NEVER stop thinking these are creepy. (Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Survival Kit(ty)

You’ve heard those heroic pet stories. I’ve certainly posted my share of them. (Read examples here, and here.)

But what if some pets save lives not by dragging people from burning buildings, or managing to dial 911 without opposable thumbs, but simply by existing?

Researchers at Georgia Southern University recently took a close look at data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They found that in the case of women who’d died over the course of the survey, they were a lot less likely to have died of stroke if they were pet owners – in most cases, keepers of cats.

So, do cats do us good? Does feline companionship somehow protect the heart? Should cardiologists be telling their most critical patients to eat more greens, get more exercise and take in a few more stray kitties?

Unfortunately, the data is too limited to draw any definite conclusions about the benefits of cats to cardiovascular health. In other words, “Our study should not be interpreted to encourage more people to own pets,” senior author Jian Zhang cautioned the Thomson Reuters news agency.

It’s possible, for example, that cats don’t have any impact on cardiovascular health at all. It just may be, says Zhang, that the type of person who tends to own cats also tends to have a strong heart.

Well, that link makes complete sense to me.

So I guess we can’t say for sure, at this point, if cats are indeed cardio-protective. But there’s one takeaway, at least: You ought to stop making fun of cat ladies.

After all, they may outlive you.

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Any excuse to post a kitten photo, right? (Photo by Tina Phillips / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Vive la France

I’m back – or should I say, je suis revenue. This year, I spent my summer vacation in beautiful France. It was an epic journey for me and my daughter, as we don’t have the opportunity to travel nearly as often as we’d like. Plus both of us appreciate gorgeous landscapes, love good food, and can get along in passable French. (My accent is cringeworthy and I sometimes flub my grammar, but my vocabulary isn’t bad at all.)

If you’ve visited Paris, you know that in this international city a great many tourists and citizens alike speak English. We didn’t land in Paris until the last leg of our trip, however. Up to that point, most people we encountered spoke little or no English. Our lack of total fluency in French was a minor barrier when we needed help, but not a significant one. There are no language restrictions on acts of kindness.

And people were lovely. They really were. When we were trying to find an obscure museum building in a Lyon suburb, the middle-aged woman who noticed us wandering went out of her way to put us on the right path. When our train at Aix-en-Provence was en panne and we were forced to change routes and we suddenly weren’t sure just where we’d end up, every fellow passenger we spoke to was generous with their assistance. Every day, shopkeepers greeted us with warm welcomes, took time to describe heritage recipes or discuss their handicrafts. Tour guides patiently answered our questions, happy to explain customs and even talk politics. Hoteliers handed out as many maps and directions as we needed.

When your experience is made better by the courtesy of so many strangers in so many strange places, how do you give back to the community? My daughter easily answered that question by passing coins to homeless people everywhere we went. As for me, I’ve just packaged up a couple of Canadian souvenirs to put in the international mail.

There’s a funny story behind that. We were at a large train station with a few minutes to kill before our bus connection. We’d noticed the SOS Station office, but I’d assumed it was for lost children, or perhaps passengers who’d taken ill. That was until an older French woman came barrelling out of the office towards us. “You speak English,” she said. “Let me guess, you are American?” No, we said. “Oh, then British?” No. “Australian?” Nope. She finally pegged us as Canadians on her fourth try, and then entreated us to stay in her waiting room for a few minutes. Apparently, SOS is set up to save the souls of international travellers, a sort of comfort station for the non-French. There were seats, tourism brochures, a water cooler. We spent a few awkward minutes perched on chairs until it was time for us to go meet our bus. That’s when the French woman got to the point: She’d love it if we would mail her a Canadian pin for her collection. Perhaps two? She scribbled her name and address on a scrap of paper, helpfully adding “lady at SOS Station” in case we couldn’t remember, later, exactly why we were holding onto this stranger’s credentials.

So that’s why I’m now sending a padded envelope to France. It’s my small way of giving back to a country that welcomed us and shared with us its culture, its vast natural beauty and its fascinating history. Not to mention its astonishingly perfect cuisine.

Merci bien!

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Remind me again why I came back home?

Large as Life

Last week I was summoned to a government service office to replace my aging provincial health card with a brand-spanking-new photo ID card. (Funniest moment: When the guy taking my picture told me, in this order, to (1) remove my powerful glasses, and (2) stare at the small yellow dot six feet away.)

In this province at least, we’re getting more streamlined systems in place for making our organ donation wishes easily known. After we cash in our chips, there’s a limited time in which our tissues and organs can be actually put to good use. The new health cards have the information printed right on the back. Has a body recently expired? Flip card over. Read donation wishes. Save other lives.

Thus part of my renewal process last week involved filling out a form. The same government agent who asked me to stare at an impossibly small pale spot without my glasses was also amusingly judgy about the form. He nodded with approval at all the places where I ticked off “use anything,” “take whatever,” “party on.” Why wouldn’t anyone want to donate organs, he wondered aloud? Doesn’t everyone realize you can save seven or eight more lives?

Then he told me what had happened just a few days earlier. A woman walked in to renew her own health card, and when the same topic of conversation came up, she expressed her clear and unequivocal support for organ donation.

“I am here,” she explained to the agent, “because someone I don’t even know gave me their lungs.”

When it’s real and right in front of you, it hits home harder.

I’m on vacation for the next three weeks, lovely people. While I’m gone, please take a break, have some fun, spend time with the folks you adore most. I look forward to reconnecting with you again later in the month.

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Oh, and take time to smell the flowers.