Monthly Archives: September 2014

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 /

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

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.