Lessons from trees

Wangari Maathai was working on women’s empowerment and preparing for a UN conference about women and the issues they faced globally at the time. Listening to rural women talk about the problems they wanted to solve, she heard them talk about water, food, energy, and a means to earning an income themselves.

As a child, Maathai remembered her mother teaching her not to chop down the fig trees, as these were sacred in their traditional worldview – something that imperialism and missionary work hadn’t quite fully unrooted (yet).

Fastforward several decades, and Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her work founding the Greenbelt Movement responsible for planting millions of trees across Africa and beyond. She realised that trees could solve the root issue (no pun intended) behind many of the problems women expressed around livelihoods and quality of life, as well as helping ensure security and reduce likelihoods of human conflict over limited resources, by increasing those resources.

She also learned that those sacred fig trees that were ripped from the ground after living there for hundreds of years had actually been holding the ground together with their deep and widespread root systems. She deduced that if ripping them from the ground led to increases in landslides and flooding, planting them back and protecting them might reverse the trend. And she was right. There was wisdom in the traditional beliefs, regardless of whether we explain this as god or ecology.

So why do I share this? Aside from inspiring us all to plant and protect trees as quickly as we might try to save a more apparently sentient being, this story holds a key lesson: an elegant root solution can be more powerful and practical than numerous patches. Continue reading “Lessons from trees”

The cult of convenience

I’m going to say something here that is not popular and may be controversial: convenience has no inherent virtue.

The value of convenience is the time/effort/attention it saves us that we can devote to something else more meaningful.

Yet sometimes it seems we’ve fetishised convenience so that it has become an unquestionable end in its own right.

There are three main problems with this that impact on happiness. Continue reading “The cult of convenience”

Holding onto your self in the sea of life

I recently met up with a friend who is going through a divorce. When I saw her, the first thing I noticed was how amazing she looked.

As we sat down with our drinks and I started to take in the details – hair recently dyed to cover stray grays, eyebrows thick and neatly waxed, a cool outfit – she said, “That’s something that’s changed now he’s left – I will not sacrifice my self-care.”

Continue reading “Holding onto your self in the sea of life”

When ‘as if’ starts to become reality

I’m reading Richard Wiseman’s book Rip It Up, and have been fascinated by the numerous studies linking facial expression to emotional moods in participants, from John Laird’s initial studies to studies around the world over decades, each with slightly different approaches yet gleaning similar results.

To summarise, smiling (or simulating isolated facial movements related to smiling, such as holding a pencil in one’s teeth) left people feeling happier (even if they weren’t sure why) and frowning or making angry faces (or again, mimicking aspects of these expressions) left people in more negative emotional states at the end of the studies.

This reminds me of something Gretchen Rubin often says, that the opposite of a profound truth is also often true. So pretending and acting happy isn’t the same as being happy…but can acting happy lead to real happiness? Continue reading “When ‘as if’ starts to become reality”

This, too: or taking the good with the bad

I recently checked out from the library Rich Hanson’s book Hardwiring Happiness, which is all about experiencing positive experiences in a way that impacts neural activity longer term. This helps us overcome our in-built negativity bias which, while helpful at tunes in our brain’s evolution, can be less helpful in the modern world.

One idea that is so simple, yet so transformative, is the fact that just as some good fact doesn’t cancel out the bad things in your life, the bad stuff doesn’t cancel out the good.

And taking in the good adds up. Continue reading “This, too: or taking the good with the bad”

A lesson about scarcity

I don’t know anyone who feels like they have enough: enough time, enough energy, enough money. Enough life.

It can feel like all of us live in a world of scarcity, despite knowing rationally that we have more than most humans have ever known.

We have so much, in fact, that we can too easily consume calories and exceed our body’s requirements. We have more spare time, more annual leave, and time to spend as we please thanks to time-saving gadgets like electric washing machines, tumble dryers, microwaves, and electric kettles. We even have more years of life than previous generations (from 71.13 in 1960 to 80.96 as of 2016).

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Perceived scarcity in a land of plenty

But as much as we can tell ourselves it matters how much we have, what really matters is how much we think we have. Continue reading “A lesson about scarcity”

Weekly planning guide

I have somehow developed a Weekly planning guide that really works for me. It’s simple, quick, and yet holistic. In short, it’s much more than a list of tasks to do, and has been a boon and a comfort to me in difficult times recently.

It evolved from a need to get a lot done, but also from a need to make sure what I was doing mattered.

Because being busy isn’t the point of life. I’m not 100% sure there is any point in life beyond the meaning we give it, and I certainly didn’t want my life’s meaning to amount to a bunch of balled up to do lists, or my kids to remember me after I’m gone as merely an efficient taskmaster.

And there’s also how I wanted to feel whilst living my life. I’m the one who has to live it, so I better make sure it feels good to me. And what feels good can vary from week to week: sometimes I crave silence, stillness, peace, and other times I want fun and joy and excitement. Continue reading “Weekly planning guide”