architecture · design · environment · health · mental health · Nature

In Redesigned Room, Hospital Patients May Feel Better Already – NYTimes.com

I recently had a short stay at a hospital (just some minor surgery), and as I lay in my hospital bed I recall looking out my window at a green canopy of trees planted two stories below. I remember how peaceful and pleasant it was to be able to look out and watch the trees. I also noticed my anxiety went down, I was distracted from my pain, and just overall felt better.

More and more research is coming out that is finding the benefits of incorporating nature and natural environments into the healing process, for everything from surgery to PTSD to dementia, and a variety of other ailments. So it’s great to see hospitals incorporating this knowledge into new building designs as well as therapies.

The University Medical Center of Princeton realized several years ago that it had outgrown its old home and needed a new one. So the management decided to design a mock patient room.Medical staff members and patients were surveyed. Nurses and doctors spent months moving Post-it notes around a model room set up in the old hospital. It was for just one patient, with a big foldout sofa for guests, a view outdoors, a novel drug dispensary and a bathroom positioned just so.

Equipment was installed, possible situations rehearsed. Then real patients were moved in from the surgical unit — hip and knee replacements, mostly — to compare old and new rooms. After months of testing, patients in the model room rated food and nursing care higher than patients in the old rooms did, although the meals and care were the same.

But the real eye-opener was this: Patients also asked for 30 percent less pain medication.

Reduced pain has a cascade effect, hastening recovery and rehabilitation, leading to shorter stays and diminishing not just costs but also the chances for accidents and infections. When the new $523 million, 636,000-square-foot hospital, on a leafy campus, opened here in 2012, the model room became real.

read more via In Redesigned Room, Hospital Patients May Feel Better Already – NYTimes.com.

architecture · behavior · culture · design · happiness · mental health · Social

New Office Designs in Seattle Trend Towards Open, Social Spaces

Most of us these days work in a cubicle, although the past ten years have really seen a transformation of space and place at the workplace in order to create happier, and therefore more productive, workers. This article in the NYTimes focused on some organizations in Seattle that have embraced a more open work floor plan:

Is this your idea of a perfect work environment?

MARTHA CHOE’S ideal working space is not her private office, nice though it is, but rather a long, narrow table in the vast atrium of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation headquarters here.

Ms. Choe, a former member of the City Council here, is the foundation’s chief administrative officer, and she had considerable input in the building’s design. One objective from the start was to give the 1,000 employees a variety of spaces to accommodate different kinds of work. “There’s a recognition that we work in different modes, and we’ve designed spaces to accommodate them,” she says. “I think one of the lessons is to understand your business, and understand what your people need to do their best work.”

The building was designed by NBBJ, a 700-employee architecture firm whose largest operation is in Seattle. The structure is a culmination of ideas about the 21st-century workplace that NBBJ has been exploring in corporate office designs worldwide, including its own offices here.

These are the main concepts: Buzz — conversational noise and commotion — is good. Private offices and expressions of hierarchy are of debatable value. Less space per worker may be inevitable for cost-effectiveness, but it can enhance the working environment, not degrade it. Daylight, lots of it, is indispensable. Chance encounters yield creative energy. And mobility is essential.

This isn’t a suddenly exploding trend. NBBJ’s research has found that two-thirds of American office space is now configured in some sort of open arrangement. But even as these designs save employers space and money, they can make office workers feel like so many cattle. So how to humanize the setting?

SEATTLE serves as a test tube because of several converging factors: There’s a lot of money here to experiment with projects. The work force is relatively young and open to innovation. And the local culture places a high value on informality, autonomy and egalitarianism. People will put in long hours under high pressure if they feel respected, but they won’t tolerate being treated like Dilberts.

Most office workers in Seattle and elsewhere labor in environments much less inspiring than Ms. Choe’s. And most employers have much less to spend to make things pleasant. (Bill and Melinda Gates personally contributed $350 million of the campus’s $500 million cost.) But staying competitive requires coming up with the best ideas, and the office environment can be the incubator for them.

Read the full article.

I am all for creating spaces that encourage collaboration and make workers feel comfortable and ready to get down to business. My only question is lack of meeting space. In my last two jobs it has been very hard to find private spaces to meet, although both were cubicle-based workspaces so that layout doesn’t necessarily solve things either. And I’m not alone in my concerns, as the article points out:

NOT all of NBBJ’s corporate clients have boarded the informality-and-buzz bandwagon. When the R.C. Hedreen Company, a real estate development firm based in Seattle, commissioned a renovation of a 10,800-square-foot floor in an old downtown office building five years ago, it specified a perimeter of private offices. Collaborative spaces are provided for creative teamwork, but the traditional offices remain the executives’ home ports.

“Individually, a lot of our workday is taken up with tasks that are better served by working alone in private offices,” says David Thyer, Hedreen’s president.

Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” is skeptical of open-office environments — for introverts and extroverts alike, though she says the first group suffers much more amid noise and bustle.

What are your thoughts on work space? Do you like having an open space to share, or do you prefer your own cubicle or booth? How do you handle the meeting privacy issues at your office? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

behavior · emotion · family · happiness · mental health

Steps to ease into being grateful, and how it benefits you psychologically

"The most psychologically correct holiday of the year is upon us." according to the New York Times article, A Serving of Gratitude May Save the Day.

Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” has been linked to better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behavior toward others, including romantic partners. A new study shows that feeling grateful makes people less likely to turn aggressive when provoked, which helps explain why so many brothers-in-law survive Thanksgiving without serious injury.

But say you’re not in the habit of giving thanks. After all, we’re only asked to officially do it once or twice a year. Well, there are some pointers in the article to get you going:

Start with “gratitude lite.” – start out with writing just five things, and maybe a sentence or two about why you’re appreciative of them.

Don’t confuse gratitude with indebtedness
– you don’t need to owe anybody anything to be grateful for them.

Try it on your family
– even if they are horribly dysfunctional, you can still be grateful they passed the peas without throwing you a dirty look.

Don’t counterattack
– okay, so maybe they did throw you a dirty look. By being grateful to them anyway, it puts individuals off guard and makes them more likely to be kinder in the future, according to some studies.

Share the feeling – … “More than other emotion, gratitude is the emotion of friendship,” Dr. McCullough says. “It is part of a psychological system that causes people to raise their estimates of how much value they hold in the eyes of another person. Gratitude is what happens when someone does something that causes you to realize that you matter more to that person than you thought you did.”

Try a gratitude visit.This exercise, recommended by Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania, begins with writing a 300-word letter to someone who changed your life for the better. Be specific about what the person did and how it affected you. Deliver it in person, preferably without telling the person in advance what the visit is about. When you get there, read the whole thing slowly to your benefactor. “You will be happier and less depressed one month from now,” Dr. Seligman guarantees in his book “Flourish.”

Contemplate a higher power. Religious individuals don’t necessarily act with more gratitude in a specific situation, but thinking about religion can cause people to feel and act more gratefully, as demonstrated in experiments by Jo-Ann Tsang and colleagues at Baylor University. Other research shows that praying can increase gratitude.

Go for deep gratitude. Once you’ve learned to count your blessings, Dr. Emmons says, you can think bigger…

And if that seems too daunting, you can least tell yourself —

Hey, it could always be worse. When your relatives force you to look at photos on their phones, be thankful they no longer have access to a slide projector. When your aunt expounds on politics, rejoice inwardly that she does not hold elected office. Instead of focusing on the dry, tasteless turkey on your plate, be grateful the six-hour roasting process killed any toxic bacteria.

Happy Thanksgiving!

behavior · emotion · happiness

Moods on Twitter Follow Biological Rhythms, Study Finds – NYTimes.com

social media
Image by Sean MacEntee via Flickr

It’s Friday, and I’m looking forward to the weekend, and apparently so is the rest of the online world. A team of sociologists measured the amount of “happy” tweets people put out around the world, and found it matched previously known patterns of happiness trends:

Drawing on messages posted by more than two million people in 84 countries, researchers discovered that the emotional tone of people’s messages followed a similar pattern not only through the day but also through the week and the changing seasons. The new analysis suggests that our moods are driven in part by a shared underlying biological rhythm that transcends culture and environment.

The report, by sociologists at Cornell University and appearing in the journal Science, is the first cross-cultural study of daily mood rhythms in the average person using such text analysis. Previous studies have also mined the mountains of data pouring into social media sites, chat rooms, blogs and elsewhere on the Internet, but looked at collective moods over broader periods of time, in different time zones or during holidays.

via Moods on Twitter Follow Biological Rhythms, Study Finds – NYTimes.com.

Studying emotions through Twitter and other social media can always be a little tricky (for example, most algorithms don’t get sarcasm). But, that aside, I am very intrigued to see the results that market researchers and sociologists are finding using social media, and seeing how much our “real” lives are accurately reflected in our online worlds as well.

behavior · environment · Nature

Can’t Eliminate an Invasive Species? Try Eating It. – NYTimes.com

Pterois volitans, also known as red or common ...
Can you imagine this guy for dinner? Image via Wikipedia

NOAA recently issued a warning that ocean warming may push common fish staples into more northern climes, causing a shift for fisherman and an introduction of “invasive” species. There are also several species of fish that have invaded lakes and rivers that gobble up juvenile local breeds. It’s proven very hard to eliminate only one kind of fish from an environment. One solution may be “If you can’t beat ’em, eat ’em”?

An invasive species, the lionfish is devastating reef fish populations along the Florida coast and into the Caribbean. Now, an increasing number of environmentalists, consumer groups and scientists are seriously testing a novel solution to control it and other aquatic invasive species — one that would also takes pressure off depleted ocean fish stocks: they want Americans to step up to their plates and start eating invasive critters in large numbers.

“Humans are the most ubiquitous predators on earth,” said Philip Kramer, director of the Caribbean program for the Nature Conservancy. “Instead of eating something like shark fin soup, why not eat a species that is causing harm, and with your meal make a positive contribution?”

“We think there could be a real market,” said Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of Food and Water Watch, whose 2011 Smart Seafood Guide recommends for the first time that diners seek out invasive species as a “safer, more sustainable” alternative to their more dwindling relatives, to encourage fisherman and markets to provide them.

more via Can’t Eliminate an Invasive Species? Try Eating It. – NYTimes.com.

Unfortunately I’ve heard the lionfish doesn’t taste very good, but if they get the right marketing campaign on this, lionfish sushi may become all the rage!

education · learning

The Poor Quality of an Undergraduate Education – NYTimes.com

Academic procession at the University of Cante...
Is your college degree really worth it? Image via Wikipedia

This is a great Op-Ed piece from the New York Times. More and more people are getting brave enough to come out and say that a college education, as it currently exists, is often NOT worth it for students.

In a typical semester, for instance, 32 percent of the students did not take a single course with more than 40 pages of reading per week, and 50 percent did not take any course requiring more than 20 pages of writing over the semester. The average student spent only about 12 to 13 hours per week studying — about half the time a full-time college student in 1960 spent studying, according to the labor economists Philip S. Babcock and Mindy S. Marks.

Not surprisingly, a large number of the students showed no significant progress on tests of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing that were administered when they began college and then again at the ends of their sophomore and senior years. If the test that we used, the Collegiate Learning Assessment, were scaled on a traditional 0-to-100 point range, 45 percent of the students would not have demonstrated gains of even one point over the first two years of college, and 36 percent would not have shown such gains over four years of college.

Why is the overall quality of undergraduate learning so poor?

While some colleges are starved for resources, for many others it’s not for lack of money. Even at those colleges where for the past several decades tuition has far outpaced the rate of inflation, students are taught by fewer full-time tenured faculty members while being looked after by a greatly expanded number of counselors who serve an array of social and personal needs. At the same time, many schools are investing in deluxe dormitory rooms, elaborate student centers and expensive gyms. Simply put: academic investments are a lower priority.

more via The Poor Quality of an Undergraduate Education – NYTimes.com.

I LOVE learning and have seriously considered continuing my graduate studies beyond my MA. But after looking at the hard facts of cost vs. time investment vs. returns, even at the undergraduate level, I have unfortunately determined that it’s just not a good investment, especially for a non-engineering or similar degree.

Some students swear it’s worth it, and while I’m glad I have my BA and (almost) MA, I know enough people who are doing fine without theirs that I wonder if those of us with a BA aren’t slightly brainwashed, or simply trying to convince ourselves it’s worth it because we put so much time and money (and for some of us sincere effort) into getting it.

What has your experience been? For those who want or have a career outside of a University, what has your experience been and what kind of education did you WISH you had received? I, for example, had wished they had required more Science and Math as an undergrad (or high school), even for a social science major like me. It was all stuff I ended up needing for my MA and wishing I’d studied it earlier in my academic career.

behavior · community · environment · health

Sustainable Food – James Gorman on Eating Invasive Species – NYTimes.com

Trashwiki.org logo.
A happy Freegan; Image via Wikipedia

Happy New Year! Time for New Year’s resolutions. Mine? To eat more healthy. And apparently so it is for these guys, as well as help the environment. Not to sound like my dad here, but I was doing this before it was cool!:

There’s a new shift in the politics of food, not quite a movement yet, more of an eco-culinary frisson. But it may have staying power; the signs and portents are there. Vegans, freegans, locavores — meet the invasivores.

more via Sustainable Food – James Gorman on Eating Invasive Species – NYTimes.com.

Mental · Social

The End of the Best Friend – NYTimes.com

Florida Atlantic students celebrating a basket...
Humans are social creatures, and need close bonds and feelings of belonging. (Image via Wikipedia)

As the new school year begins, I wanted to mention this article from the New York Times about how schools are discouraging kids from making best friends.

Ahem. Let me repeat that. Schools are discouraging children from having a best friend.

That is just stupid.

Or, put more professionally…

“…such an attitude worries some psychologists who fear that children will be denied the strong emotional support and security that comes with intimate friendships.

“Do we want to encourage kids to have all sorts of superficial relationships? Is that how we really want to rear our children?” asked Brett Laursen, a psychology professor at Florida Atlantic University whose specialty is peer relationships. “Imagine the implication for romantic relationships. We want children to get good at leading close relationships, not superficial ones.”

read the full article via The End of the Best Friend – NYTimes.com.

This is where political correctness and “fairness” go waaaaay too far and ignore human nature and the absolute NEED to have a confidante in life, someone you can rely on, particularly someone outside of your family of origin. Will those people hurt you from time to time? Absolutely. But it’s part of learning how to work within a society and be a social animal.

Studies keep showing how adults today have less and less close friends, and would LIKE to have more. Discouraging kids from learning how to make close bonds with people is just setting them up for this trend to get worse when they become adults.

Now go call your best friend.