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How to Grow, Design, and Build Happiness

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The Cal Poly Peaks of San Luis Obispo, CA, considered one of the happiest cities in the U.S.

I love Buettner’s take on the “Lazy Person’s Approach to Happiness” – in the end it really is what you are surrounded by, both in objects, people, and broader environmental things, from ads to trees to your daily commute.

Over the past 15 years, Buettner has carved out a niche at National Geographic, where he travels the world in search of the healthiest people and “distills their lessons,” as he puts it, translating existential philosophy into practical information for limited-attention-span U.S. readers.

Beuttner: “There are two points that I make that you might not have heard elsewhere. Number one, I like the idea of thinking about happiness in the same way you think of your retirement portfolio. You want it balanced—the short term and long term, stocks and bonds. The hell-bent pursuit of purpose kind of loses the point a little bit, because there is value in the sum of positive emotions we experience every day. So if all you’re doing is pursuing your purpose, or if all you’re doing is very goal-oriented, you forgo joy today for a perceived better future… So I argue that there are a number of things you can do to enjoy your life day to day, and you ought to be putting some of your effort there.

“So what I argue for are statistically driven things you can do to optimize your environment so you’re more likely to be happy for the long term… [For example] people who live near water—whether it’s a lake or river or an ocean—are about 10 percent more likely to be happy than people who don’t. And people who live in medium-sized cities are more likely to be happy than the anonymity of a big city or perhaps the too in-your-face, limited-possibility environment of a tiny town. You’re more likely to be happy if your house has a sidewalk, and if you live in a bikeable place.

“Financial security is also, obviously, huge. It really does deliver more happiness over time than most anything that money can be spent on… The extent to which we spend money is very much a product of our environment. If you’re constantly prompted to buy stuff, if constant marketing messages are rinsing over your psyche, you’re more likely to buy things than to spend that money more wisely on experiences or financial security. So that’s yet another way we can think about our environment shaping our happiness. Or lack thereof.”

Beuttner gives examples of cities that have done exceptionally well to create positive environments for their citizens, such as Boulder, CO, and my hometown of San Luis Obispo, CA.

Read the whole interview at The Atlantic.

Beuttner has also recently published a new book, “The Blue Zones of Happiness.”

Do you agree? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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Interview with Clare Cooper Marcus on the Healing Power of Nature

Important conversation about the incorporation of nature into the healing process, at hospitals or at home.

THE DIRT

Clare Cooper Marcus

Clare Cooper Marcus is Professor Emerita of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at University of California, Berkeley. Most recently, she is the author of Therapeutic Landscapes: An Evidence-Based Approach to Designing Healing Gardens and Restorative Outdoor Spaces, co-authored with Naomi Sachs, ASLA; and Iona Dreaming: The Healing Power of Place.

This interview was conducted at the ASLA 2017 Annual Meeting in Los Angeles.

In your book Therapeutic Landscapes: An Evidence-Based Approach to Design Healing Gardens and Restorative Outdoor Spaces, co-authored with Naomi Sachs, ASLA, you argue we’re returning to the wisdom of the ancient Greeks, who understood the healing power of nature and mind-body connection. Why has it taken so long to rediscover these essential understandings?

While the understanding was not entirely lost, the medical world needed proof. They were not interested in aesthetic arguments that gardens are “nice” and people appreciate “green views.” Those…

View original post 2,750 more words

culture · happiness · health · mental health · play

Introvert Strategies for Extrovert Play (reblog)

Note: I am totally ripping this off and republishing from Navdeep Singh Dhillon as published on Quiet Revolution.

Shooting RaRa Riot
Me, bottom left, shooting Ra Ra Riot in Chicago in 2015. Because it’s vaguely related to this post (being introverted in a traditionally “extroverted” setting). All text below by Navdeep Dhillon.

Introvert-extrovert labels have always intrigued me because I grew up in a house of introverts, where quietness was an essential part of the day. Yet we did plenty of things attributed to extroverts, like attending parties every week, having a house full of guests over the holidays, and going on road trips with other families and random friends of my parents.

There was always down time built into our days and nights. In high school, I assumed I was an extrovert because of all the tell-tale signs of things extroverts are supposed to enjoy based on the highly inaccurate and oversimplified checklist I used to self-diagnose. I enjoyed things extroverts are presumed to like that introverts supposedly don’t: playing sports, spending time with other human beings, going to crowded places like the mall, doing loud things like attending musical concerts and parties.

But at the same time, my personality seemed to be at odds with these things. There was always a caveat. I liked going to parties, but hated making small talk. I liked spending time with some people, but wanted my alone time. I liked martial arts, but hated having to perform in front of the class for promotions. I wrongly thought I must just not like these activities. I had neglected to take into account that introverts have a different approach to things like parties and learning sports than extroverts might.

Here are a list of five things I especially enjoy that are sometimes viewed as exclusive extrovert territory, yet can be very easily enjoyed by introverts without even much tweaking.

Martial Arts

I grew up being enthralled by martial arts, primarily through Bruce Lee movies I watched as a kid. I’ve dabbled in kickboxing, kungfu, and recently capoeira, which all involve moving primarily by footwork: standing up, punching, or kicking. One of the things I really enjoy about this style is that you can have your alone time to just focus on repetitive movements, especially when using pads or heavy bags to practice.

Ground fighting styles like Brazillian Jiu Jitsu, on the other hand, seem like they’d be an introvert’s worst nightmare,because the assumption is you need outward extroversion to engage. There is no alone work, barring warm ups; you are constantly drilling techniques or “rolling” with another person from the moment you step on the mats. When Renzo Gracie Jiu Jitsu in Jersey City opened up a few blocks from us, I had no intention of signing up, but my adventurous seven-year-old ambivert daughter had other plans. I wasn’t surprised she took to it, although was a little surprised she wanted to sign up for the entire year and loves it so much she practically lives there. I was also surprised by the amount of time you’re in your own head in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Once you learn a technique, it’s all about strategizing with your partner in order to pull off the move.  I’ve been training for six months, and it is pretty impressive how few moves I can pull off given the amount I train. My daughter, on the other hand, can run circles around me without even thinking about the steps required.

Karaoke

I fell in love with karaoke when I lived in China, where it is a very intimate affair with a few friends and private rooms. Karaoke in the United States, with big stages in rooms full of people, would terrify anyone not drunk. Or anyone who can’t sing (not that I have that issue, cough, cough). But there are plenty of areas in many cities that have genuine Asian style karaoke with small rooms and a handful of snacks to order from. My favorite joints in New York City are the ones that allow kids. My daughter loves randomly picking a song in a different language, while I stick to familiar classics that I can introduce her to: British punkrock from the 1970s. Don’t let Hollywood fool you into thinking this is extrovert territory. The best thing about it is that you’re supposed to be off-key, just like you’re not meant to be some classically trained singer when you’re jumping on the bed belting out lyrics to a song with your friends, or you’re in the car and your jam comes on. The best part is when you make mistakes and get out of tune or read the lyrics wrong!

Dancing

Fact: dancing is fun. While I prefer dancing at home with my kids, sometimes I am required to leave the house for adult social gatherings. I have exactly four moves I use at Punjabi parties that I learned when I was 13 and are still going strong. But there are plenty of venues for introverts to stomp those feet. If Salsa night or Bhangra night at a dance club are not your thing, there are plenty of other options. Many gyms offer dance classes as a form of exercise, rather than just the study of the dance technique itself.

There are many forms of dance from all over the world you can learn at a dance studio, which used to be relegated only to professional dancers, that now even casual dancers can try out. In addition to classes like breakdancing, salsa, or ballet, in places with high numbers of immigrant populations, there are also some wonderful schools catering to the art from those communities, ranging from traditional Indian dances to African dances like the Soukoss rooted in the Congo. I’ve always wanted to learn traditional Indian dances like Bharat Natyam or Kathak, with incredible footwork, facial expressions, and intricate details. In many areas of New Jersey and New York with large Indian populations (especially South Indians) you can learn these forms at dance companies like Navatman. And many of these dance studios have their own themed nights emulating a dance club, except they’re with people you know and they end at a reasonable time, allowing you to get home at a reasonable hour and read that book!

Family and Friends Road Trip!

I find it sad when introverts buy into the notion they could never survive a road trip with other people, especially family and friends. Of course, if there are deep-seated feuds happening, introversion is going to be the least of your issues. I grew up all over the world, and every country we’d live in, there would always be roadtrips whenever there was a long weekend. In Nigeria, we’d visit waterfalls, in Dubai we’d go on camping trips on the beach or to see the dunes, and in the United States we went on a big fat extended family trip to visit three islands in Hawaii. It is definitely a challenge when extroverts don’t understand the need for introverts to be alone because it’s so ingrained in our culture that this is the behaviour of someone who is angry or sad or depressed, and it must be fixed immediately. So rather than putting ourselves in a situation where we have to justify ourselves, we carved it into the schedule. Chill time, however we decided to use that time, was not optional. Without it, it feels like you’ve been scheduled for five museum visits in one day!

Food crawl!

I once made the mistake of going on a dumpling crawl with someone I knew from work when I used to work at a company selling knives door to door (it did not go well). I got the idea from somewhere (I turned out to be wrong) that they knew what they were doing. The idea of a crawl sounded like fun – walking around exploring a city while stopping frequently to sample dumplings. It turned out to be planned with a very extroverted sense of fun in mind. There were long walks filled with awkward small talk and way too much food ordered at each dumpling joint, which gave rise to even more small talk. If Shakespeare had gone on that dumpling crawl, I’m pretty certain he would have centered his tragedies on food crawls. I can’t think of very many things worse than not being able to enjoy your food and being inconvenienced by needing to find something to say, over and over again. The dumpling crawls I subsequently planned, with my kids first and later with a select group of adults, took into top priority the enjoyment of maximum dumplings without too much time-wasting conversation. This is not to say we can’t have fun conversations, but there were no long walks, and definitely no long draining commute times!

Leisure time activities are often pre-scripted as “introvert” and “extrovert” activities, as if extroverts can’t enjoy a quiet evening at home with a glass of wine and a book, or an introvert couldn’t possibly go dancing because of the loud music and people.

While extroverts can spend hours surrounded by people, going from one activity to another, without any people-break, and be totally sane afterwards, introverts like myself would end up eating somebody. Strategies are important. What are some of yours?

Read the original on Quiet Revolution.

children · community · creativity · environment · family · mental health · play

Play Takes Dedication (or Samhain Resolutions)

creative adult

Wow, I can’t believe it’s already November. Fall has been going fast.

It seems like I have been incredibly “busy with stuff” – kid stuff, grown-up stuff, house stuff, work stuff. Recently I realized I was forgetting to do all the also-important “me” stuff.

Again.

I mean, I wasn’t so bad; I had had several coffee dates with friends, taken time to go for more walks, was deliberately NOT folding laundry and instead just snuggling on the couch during my husband’s and my Friday night TV ritual (we won’t admit it’s a ritual but at this point it really is).

So the “little” maintenance stuff was getting done. Check.

However, I realized I wasn’t making time for the “big stuff”. The stuff that gave me purpose, that made me feel like I was contributing back to the community.

A few recent events reminded me of this.

First: Getting to attend and present at a fantastic conference two weeks ago – EPIC (Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference) held in Montreal this year – where I was surrounded by like-minded folks in my line of work (ethnography and studying humans in business and corporate settings). There’s nothing like being able to share your work and how you spend your days, and have people say, “wow, that’s cool!” or even “have you considered this too?”, rather than “uh, what’s that?”

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Second: Halloween! While I’m not a huge fan of candy (and we ended up trading the kids’ candy for a “better” treat), I do appreciate the communal ritual of kids running like hooligans up and down their neighborhood streets, getting to show off their costumes to the grown-ups who might otherwise be isolated – whether they’re retirees or just work 70+ hours a week – who then get to be social with cute kids in cute costumes and make the kids happy by giving them treats. Not to mention the fun of dressing up and pretending to be someone or something else, or just offering a visual pun or cultural reference!

costumes
Batman and a zombie
wrecking ball
I came in like a wrecking ball…

Third: my boss organized an offsite for our whole team to use glue and stickers and washi tape and cut out pictures from magazines and create “vision boards” for ourselves. Theoretically it was about work, but in reality and fully endorsed by our boss, it was really about finding four big-but-small goals that are going to keep you motivated, keep you driven, at home, at work, and in life.

vision board

Mine were pretty simple yet also pretty complicated:

  1. Craft more.
  2. Make my work more actionable (not just work for work’s sake; what were the actions that could be taken from it?).
  3. Go on one “big” adventure a year.
  4. Get people playing more.

Getting myself to play seems hard enough; but getting others to play more also taps into that #2 goal of making what I do impactful/actionable.

I want to do more than just support play, I want to start actively PLAYING and pushing play. Start toy-bombing again. Start promoting play activities with our neighbors and at work. I’m supposed to be in charge of a yarn bombing event at work, and yet I’ve been hesitant to promote the HELL out of it (not sure why).

All of those things have really pushed me to making both personal play and advocating play more of a reality.

Yes, the house still needs cleaning (desperately!). Yes, we still need to run and grab food at the grocery store. Yes we still have But having a mission makes all of those things more tolerable for me, and put into a perspective of being part of a larger goal. I need food to keep up my energy. I need to tidy (okay, also scrub/purge/deep clean) the house so I can find what I need and focus on my projects.

I’ve noticed over the years I coincidentally tend to come up with my “new year’s resolutions” around the pagan New Year of Samhain rather than the Gregorian New Year on January 1, so all of these experiences make it a perfect time to renew and re-assert my goals and energy towards play.

What are some of your goals for renewing yourself and keeping yourself inspired and enriched? Let me know in the comments below.

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The Reason to Expand Urban Forests: Our Health

As Seattle loses trees at incredible speed, more and more cities are identifying the multiple benefits of trees.

THE DIRT

Green for good project at St. Margaret Mary Elementary School / LouisvilleKY.com

A new research report from the Nature Conservancy argues that for just $8 per person, the U.S. could maintain and then significantly expand the tree canopy of American cities, an incredibly cost-effective investment in public health.

While high-profile urban tree planting campaigns like New York City’s get a lot of attention, most U.S. cities have experienced a decline in their urban forests, with a loss of about 4 million trees each year, or about “1.3 percent of the total tree stock.” The Nature Conservancy builds the case for recommitting to expanding our urban canopies for health reasons, instead of just letting them slowly diminish.

The many benefits of trees are well-documented: they clean and cool the air, combat the urban heat island effect, capture stormwater, mitigate the risk of floods, boost water quality, and, importantly, improve our mental…

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behavior · children · community · emotion · health · mental health · play · psychology

Clowns bring laughter, positive psychological benefits to children in refugee camps

From the BBC3 article:

Ash [Perrin] and his team of clowns, musicians and dancers are ‘play specialists’ who work with children in refugee camps across Europe. The aim is to allow the kids “to feel good, feel daft, and feel playful”.

They are part of The Flying Seagulls Project, a band of clowns and performers who believe in the power of play. They have traveled to numerous refugee camps across Europe to help entertain and support children and their families via play.

This kind of outreach and human interaction is so powerful, not just from the viewpoint of lifting up people’s spirits, but especially for children’s mental well-being. It is incredibly beneficial to everyone but especially children to provide play and laughter as a respite from a really scary situation, at a time when they need a village of support at the exact time they have lost that village, as their parents try to cope with their new situation as well.

This kind of outreach is crucial especially as the refugee crisis intensified and continues to grow and more families are displaced and their lives put into turmoil. Play is how children process their emotions, explore and understand the world, and this kind of work can help children process trauma.

Unstructured play is crucial as well, but having guided play like this is important in a situation where the rules and conditions have changed for children – they need guidance from others to say “this is allowable here.” It is okay to laugh, to sing, to feel silly.

There are clowns who also work in children’s hospitals in the U.S. and around the world, providing similar services. Being able to go to where the children are, in their time of need, and say, “let’s play!” can be incredibly healing.

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Is Calgary ready for child-friendly urban planning?

Creating space for families and kids in all weather is challenging but necessary to keep cities vibrant and their occupants healthy, both physically and emotionally.

Rethinking Childhood

Calgary is the Canadian big city that looks and feels most like many US cities: sprawling, ever-expanding, and hugely car-centred. The very idea that the built form of the city could be great for children is likely to prompt a raised eyebrow from urban planners, if not outright derision.

I have just spent a week in the city, at the International Play Association conference, and then interviewing people and visiting sites as part of my Churchill Fellowship project looking at child-friendly urban planning. And my top-of-the-head response is that those urbanists would not be far wrong. But could this be about to change?

I’ll come back to that later. First, a thumbnail sketch of the city’s built form. Three broad types of residential neighbourhood form a classic urban typology for the city.

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behavior · community · education · emotion · play

Gamification of Compassion as Education

It’s a cheesy idea in many ways: practice compassion. pay it forward. Do unto others. It seems nice, but in a society where trust has been broken and kindness can be seen as weakness – whether that is a prison or school or work or a city – it can be hard to practice.

However, if there IS an immediate reward – a points system that helps people keep score of their kindness and gives them some immediate positive return – then it makes more sense for people to engage and feed into the compassion system.

Similar programs like dog training and tutoring provide a similar immediate benefit – the trainer is rewarded for training others.

Of course there are long-term personal benefits – less mental stress, larger social network, etc. – but humans typically work for the “right now” and being able to demonstrate the “right now” benefits can be pretty powerful.

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It also shows the power of gamification to teach other complex, complicated concepts.

architecture · community · creativity · culture · design · environment · play · Social

Today is Park(ing) Day in the U.S.

This year’s Park(ing) day snuck up on me! I am looking forward to checking out the little parklets that pop up around Seattle and see what other cities are up to.

Twister game set up in Seattle Parklet on Parking Day 2016
A Twister game set up in a Seattle parklet from Parking Day 2016. Courtesy SDOT.

From Curbed Seattle (no pun intended):

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… if you’re a fan of tiny, community-generated parks. PARKing day, which allows citizens to transform parking spots into activated spaces, is this Friday, September 15.

Past years have included creative seating, chicken coops, a bowling lane, and a tea party—even a ball pit.

This year, the day features 47 installations throughout the city. Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) says different installations include “everything from arts and crafts to bike repair and snacks,” plus the perennial favorite—spots to sit and relax.

Seattle Department of Transportation has put together a map of all 47 locations, from Lake City to South Park. Unsurprisingly, there’s a dense belt around the center of the city in the downtown, Capitol Hill, First Hill, and Central Area region—including at least two bike repair stations.

A screenshot of the interactive Park(ing) Map for Seattle:

parking map seattle

Check out more about Seattle’s Parklets.

brain · children · health · mental health · play

Successful Presentation on Roughhousing at 2017 Ancestral Health Symposium

I and my partner in play research Rafe Kelley, founder and Executive Director of Evolve Move Play, got to present on the importance of roughhousing from both a physical and emotional health and development perspective at this year’s Ancestral Health Society Symposium in Seattle, WA.

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It was such an honor to be able to present and be surrounded by great thinkers around evolutionary health and wellness like Stephan Guyenet, Katy Bowman, Robb Wolf, and Frank Forencich.

We got a great response from attendees who came to view our poster, chatting about the often overlooked health benefits of roughhousing, both for children and adults. Besides discussing our points on the poster, we had lots of great related questions about risk, differences in how boys and girls (and men and women) approach and engage with roughhousing,  how to start roughhousing if you’re a little out of practice, and other ideas.

You can view our AHS 2017 EMP Poster here. We are hoping *fingers crossed* to develop this into a full paper in the near future, so stay tuned!