Optimism May Save Your Life

More and more research has been showing that people who are optimistic – those of us who generally expect good things to happen in our lives – may have a reduced risk of certain health problems, like heart disease.

Psychologists at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health have now released a new study that gives us even more to feel positive about. They found that women who are the most optimistic are least likely to die – from any cause.

Optimism seems to steer us towards a more wholesome lifestyle. And when problems do crop up, optimism helps us manage them in a healthier way: more workouts, fewer benders.

The best part is, you can make yourself optimistic. In earlier research, it’s been shown that just by concentrating on a positive outcome, or jotting down a few notes about what that would look like – I will nail that job interview, I will have a super-awesome time when my in-laws visit – you can heighten your own optimism.

Naturally, doing good deeds will also turn up your happy dial. Not only will you get a helper’s high, thanks to that inevitable rush of endorphins, but we predict you’ll also have a brighter outlook on life. How can you not feel optimistic when your act of kindness has directly resulted in more research for leukemia, or a warm meal for a homeless person?

And now we know that you could be lengthening your life at the same time.

Super-awesome.

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This woman is feeling extremely optimistic that she’ll get the new Louise Vuitton stilettos she wanted for her 95th birthday. (Photo by Robson Oliveira/FreeImages.com)

St. Valentine Did Good Deeds

Today’s history lesson, folks, addresses the obscure origins of Valentine’s Day. I know these days you can ask Siri anything, but she might sass you, and we promise we won’t.

It appears there may actually have been more than one man in centuries past who had the name Valentine and ended up sainted in Christian tradition. The most likely contestant for the inspiration behind our modern-day holiday was a priest who,  around 270 A.D., refused to stop performing marriages for young couples.

Apparently, the Roman emperor at the time wanted all the eligible young bachelors to remain single so they wouldn’t be wimpy soldiers. He reckoned it’s hard to carry out a military offensive when you’re worried about getting killed in battle and leaving behind a family. Distracting!

So Emperor Claudius II, also known as Claudius the Cruel, signed the third-century equivalent of an executive order, banning marriages between young couples.

Valentine didn’t believe in thwarting young romance. So he continued to sneak around pronouncing people husband and wife. Good deeds in the name of love.

According to legend, the emperor had Valentine jailed and eventually executed. Not a pleasant finish, but it’s likely what led to February 14 being designated St. Valentine’s Day by the presiding pope in late-fifth century. Eventually, St. Valentine’s Day also became a day linked to love, and by the 1400s, people started celebrating the holiday by writing cheesy notes to their precious other halves.

The rest is history. No, wait, that part was history.

Is there someone you love? In honour of St. Valentine, such a great guy, be sure to reach out to the object of your affection. Take comfort in knowing no Roman emperor will divide you.

Happy Valentine’s Day. Love makes the world go ’round.

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Photo by Hannah Chapman / Freeimages.com

All in the Family

You know that satisfying moment in Clue when you find out it was Colonel Mustard in the billiard room with the candlestick? When the mystery that has been dogging the players throughout the entire board game is finally cleared up? For Florence Heene of Belgium, her whole life has been a sort of game of Clue. And last week she finally solved the mystery.

It was Herbert Hellyer, in Ghent, with Florence’s mother.

Florence knows now that she is the daughter of Herbert Hellyer. But for the first 71 years of her life, she had no idea who her dad was. All she knew was that he was a Canadian soldier who’d been temporarily stationed in Ghent, Belgium, during World War II. She thought his first name was Herbert. Her mother got married to someone else when Florence was a baby, and in fact Florence didn’t even know the man raising her wasn’t her biological father until she found the marriage certificate and did the math.

Her mom was unwilling to tell her much. But Florence always yearned to know the truth about her roots.

This past January, she decided to spread the word as far as she could using social media, posting a couple of photos on Facebook along with what little information she had about her birth father. “It is my greatest wish to find out more about Herbert, my biological father: is he still alive or how and when did he die?” she wrote (in Flemish). “Do I have any other (half) brothers or sisters?”

As she was to discover, she has several.

After media picked up the story and circulated the photos worldwide, Herbert’s great-granddaughter in Canada recognized him. She found the matching photo in her mom’s stash of old pictures, and knew without a doubt it was the one-and-same Herbert.

The two families have now been in touch. Herbert, now deceased, had five other children besides Florence, and three of them are still alive. There are also other descendants, and they’ve been completely thrilled to hear about their newfound relative, and exchange messages with her. “It’s amazing, truly amazing,” a granddaughter told CBC news. “We hope to get to meet Florence some day… and try to give her as much information as we can, and welcome her into our family.”

Florence herself posted a note of thanks of Facebook, indicating that she’d received hundreds of messages from folks trying to help. She calls them all “lovely people.”

“We’re very excited. We’re all very happy,” says the granddaughter.

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Herbert sent this photo to his Canadian kids while serving overseas, writing on it: “Love from Daddy, XXXXXX.” (Facebook Photo)

Help, and Hope

Just when you think humanity is headed down a deep hole in the ground, some anonymous angel comes along, and hands a remote northern community an enormous wad of cash to save the lives of their children.

Earlier this month, media reported that two beautiful 12-year-old girls in Wapekeka First Nation, Ontario, had taken their own lives. The young people here are at extreme risk for suicide, and the community had already submitted a request to Health Canada to fund urgently-needed mental health services. Specifically, they’d asked for 376,706.

At the time, they were told the money wasn’t immediately available – it had all been allocated to other projects. Their file would remain active while the government figured out how to fund it.

While the community waited, these two children died.

Emergency government support is now promised. But in the meantime, an unidentified soul has stepped forward with $30,000 in hand, and an I.O.U. for the rest of the almost $380,000 that’s needed.

The money won’t bring back Jolynn or Chantel, but hopefully it comes in time to save dozens of other young people. Help and healing can start.

Humanity to the rescue.

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Only Sometimes Inspiring

I’m a fan of the TV show Speechless. The fact is, I was hooked from the pilot episode. This is probably the first time I’ve been treated to a prime-time sitcom that tells the truth about family life with a disability. When I say “telling the truth,” I don’t mean hiring able-bodied actors to pretend they know what it’s like (chances are, they don’t) to be blind or have a speech disorder or use a wheelchair, and exploiting stereotypes that further marginalize a group of people. (Here’s me giving you the side-eye, Glee creators.)

In one recent episode of Speechless, JJ – the character with a disability who is played by an actual actor with a disability – complains about “inspiration porn.” When another character asks what that means, JJ’s TV brother pipes up: “It’s a portrayal of people with disabilities as one-dimensional saints who only exist to warm the hearts and open the minds of able-bodied people.” That may sound preachy, but it’s made funny because it’s delivered in a sardonic tone by a teenager who has this dictionary definition of inspiration porn so well-rehearsed that he manages to explain it in six seconds flat. In other words, this TV family (and, by extension, everyone in audienceland living with a disability) has confronted it a bazillion times before.

Does that mean people with disabilities can never be inspiring? No. All it means is that they shouldn’t be portrayed as heroes simply because they took a breath today, and then another one and then another one after that. In my view, people are inspiring when they do or say amazing things in front of people who do not do or say those things. It’s not amazing, for example, that someone went to school today or chaired a business meeting or put on pants. Why put him or her on a pedestal just for living a normal life?

This weekend, I saw actual inspiration. I was at a disability-themed trade show filled with displays of wheelchair accessories and sports equipment and modified vans. Naturally, there were heaps of individuals with disabilities in the building. So it wasn’t unexpected to overhear a conversation between two of them while I washed my hands in the ladies’ room.

Both women were wheelchair users. Both were beautiful, stylishly dressed and with impeccable make-up. One was in her 30s, however, while the other was only about 20 and with her mom. From the way they spoke, it was clear that the younger woman was fairly new at disability. And it didn’t take long to realize that the older one was taking the time to educate and encourage her. “You can’t dwell on it, you have to go on with living your life,” the older one (who we’ll call Mentor) said. “That’s so true,” said Protégé, nodding vigorously. “Don’t limit yourself,” Mentor said. “Oh, I like that one,” Protégé’s mom piped up.

The women were all smiles, clearly delighted to be having this conversation. And why not? Mentor was taking the opportunity to make a difference. We all know how great that feels. Protégé was getting the chance to chat up a role model. Maybe she hadn’t, yet, been able to meet that many of them.

Mentor was inspiring. Protégé was inspired.

And that, in my opinion, is how inspiration works.

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Photo by Photokanok / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Do Deep Pockets Mean Big Donations?

You might assume that wealthy people are tremendously generous with their donor dollars. After all, they have a lot to spare. Plus we have absolute evidence of their munificence, with all those renamed hospital wings and university buildings and such to prove it.

But being rich doesn’t necessarily make you open-handed. In fact, on average, those who are swimming in it (P.S. not me – I don’t even own water wings!) can actually be a tad stingy. One analysis of income tax returns in the U.S. found that people who earned $100,000 and up donated only 4.2% of their discretionary income to charity, while middle-class earners gave 7.6%.

A new study at the University of British Columbia has now found that if you want rich people to up their donation game, you have to craft the charitable appeal accordingly. Wealthy peeps seem to enjoy donating when they’re made to feel like a bit of a hero, singlehandedly saving the world. Less affluent folks, on the other hand, will have their heartstrings surely tugged when they feel as though we’re all pulling together to make a difference as a community.

I won’t judge. I’m just the messenger. But if you run a charity for a good cause and you’re planning a donor campaign soon, you should probably be taking notes right now.

And if you’re considering giving to charity: Well, we know that donating money to help others can improve our own well-being. We gain both mood and health benefits. So whether you’re loaded with cash or working hard to make ends meet or somewhere in between: seriously, consider a few dollars in a kind direction. You’ll reap a few rewards, too.

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Yes, all you non-Canadian readers, this is indeed what our paper money looks like here. I like to think it reflects our colourful personalities.

What You Read in 2016

Happy January. And welcome back to reality if, like me, you’re just coming off some vacation days, and still blinking the sleep out of your eyes.

Here at 50 Good Deeds, this is the time of the year when we ponder the most popular posts of the previous year (sorry if I accidentally spit in your eye with that highly alliterative sentence). Then we consider the broader meaning, what it says about our world today, and where we’re headed. We spend at least four minutes on that.

The two top stories of 2016 were favoured for, I think, very different reasons. The most-read tale, “Stem Cell Saviour,” told of saving a life with a transplant. The stem-cell donor from Germany and the transplant recipient from Canada seized an opportunity to meet on common ground, and had a fun-filled, joyful visit. It didn’t hurt that the two stars of the story both happened to be highly photogenic. The bloom of good health will do that to you.

The second-most-read post, on the other hand, was bittersweet. “Send Hugs. They Help” shared new research showing that when we share our problems on social media, it tends to elicit supportive, emotional, lengthy comments and messages from our friends – a lot more so than if we’re posting about, say, our recent success in finding the perfect off-off-white paint colour to complement our off-off-off-white upholstery. These messages of support can be a great comfort, surrounding us with care.

I call this story bittersweet because it was dedicated to a little boy whose precious life was abruptly, tragically lost after someone made a sloppy mistake. His family was shattered, but his mom took the time to write: “Every text, [Facebook] message and phone call reminds you that there is light outside of the darkness that exists in our life at the moment.”

What do these two posts have in common – why did you find these both so engaging? The only connection I can draw is that, well, they were about connections. People reaching out to other people. Caring, giving, helping, rescuing. That’s what we do, isn’t it? It’s part of being human.

Let’s continue to be very human in 2017.

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Photo by David Castillo Dominici (FreeDigitalPhotos.net)