Well-being


July 2-3 people from around the world gathered for the World Culture Festival in Berlin for what seems like a powerful celebration of global diversity.

I was especially intrigued by the video just posted to give a glimpse into the group meditation by 70,000 people, focusing on world peace:

In this January 2011 study led by Sara Lazar of Mass General Hospital, the striking findings were that meditation changes not only your stress response, but also the very underlying structure of your brain–especially areas related to sense of self, stress, and empathy.

I can’t help but wonder what small-scale evolutionary steps we humans are taking when 70,000 of us meditate together.  In the big picture of the human project, what are we about here?

Are we using meditation to program our brains for world peace?

If so, what location should play host to the next gathering of 70,000?

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Gallup and the New York Times have teamed up to find the happiest man in America (according to how his profile fits with the demographics of happiness).

Gallup said that the happiest person would be: male, Asian-American, a religious Jew, self-employed, living in Hawaii, married, has children, receiving a household income of at least $120,000.

Lo and behold, they found someone who fits this description!  In this Times article yesterday, they shared a profile of this gentleman:

Here’s a breakdown of how each of Mr. Wong’s attributes contributes to happiness, with links to some of our previous coverage on these correlations. But remember, as always, correlation is not necessarily causation.

RELIGION: On average, Jews have higher levels of well-being than their counterparts of every other major faith in America. Muslims have the lowest levels of well-being. In between, from happiest to least happy, are Mormons, atheists/agnostics, Roman Catholics, “other non-Christians” and then Protestants. For people of most religions, greater levels of religiosity (like frequent church or synagogue attendance) are associated with higher levels of happiness.

GENDER: Men, on average, report slightly higher levels of well-being, a score of 67 on a scale of 0 to 100, compared to women’s average score of 66.6. This modest gap is mostly because women score much lower on the physical health index, as measured by the presence of illnesses and various other physical ailments like neck pain and low energy.

RACE: Asians have by far the highest levels of well-being, followed by whites, Hispanics, blacks and then everybody who doesn’t fit into those defined categories. Asians beat out their non-Asian counterparts on five out of the six well-being sub-indexes: life evaluation, emotional health, physical health, healthy behaviors and basic access to things like food and shelter. The one category where whites beat them, but just barely, is work environment.

MARITAL STATUS: Married people have far and away the highest happiness levels. The biggest differential between married people and non-married people is in the work environment index. Across the entire index, married people are followed in happiness by singletons; people with domestic partners and people who have been widowed (these two categories have equal levels of well-being); those who are divorced; and finally, people who are married but separated.

CHILDREN: People who have children are slightly happier than people who don’t.

AGE: Seniors — those age 65 and older — rank as the happiest, followed by Americans under 30. The people in the middle —the ones with mortgages, teenagers, car loans and midlife crises — are perhaps understandably the ones who are more miserable.

INCOME: Income tracks very neatly with well-being. People earning under $12,000 annually lead the least happy lives, and the more money they make, generally speaking, the better off they are emotionally and physically. This probably makes sense when you consider what goes into the index, things like good health and access to basic needs like food and shelter. You can’t afford to lead “the good life” if you can’t afford much at all.

GEOGRAPHY: In 2010 Hawaii topped the well-being list, and West Virginia was at the bottom. If you want to zoom in further, you can see well-being rates by Congressional district. California’s 14th district, one of the highest-income districts in the country that also happens to include most of Silicon Valley, ranks at the top. Michigan’s 13th district, an area of high unemployment that covers parts of Detroit and the wealthier Gross Pointe suburbs, is at the very bottom of the barrel.

EMPLOYMENT: Americans who own their own businesses were the happiest on average in 2010, followed by professionals. The least happy are transportation and manufacturing workers.

HEIGHT: Randy Newman was right: Taller people are generally happier.

Wanted to share this fascinating Harvard Business Review article about what our workplaces might learn from the power of ritual and the sense of abundance rituals can provide.

Photo via Flickr's Wade Rockett

A key excerpt of this piece by Peter Bregman, also outlined in the Atlantic Wire piece, “What the Business World Can Learn from Religion”:

Rituals are about paying attention. They’re about stopping for a moment and noticing what you’re about to do, what you’ve just done, or both. They’re about making the most of a particular moment. And that’s something we could use a lot more of in the business world.Imagine if we started each meeting with a recognition of the power of bringing a group of people together to collaborate and an intention to dedicate ourselves, without distraction, to achieving the goals of the meeting. Perhaps even an acknowledgement that each person’s views, goals, and priorities are important and need to be heard. Of course, that would require that every meeting have a clear goal, an agenda, and a purpose. But those are just nice side benefits.

What if every performance review began with a short thought about the importance of clear and open communication? If every time we worked on a spreadsheet someone else created for us, we paused to acknowledge the complexity of the work she did and the attention to detail she brought to it? If at the beginning of the day we paused to honor the work we are about to do and the people with whom we are about to do it?

At sundown this Friday, March 4 the 2011 US National Day of Unplugging will begin (powered by Reboot).

Think slow, think sabbath (Abraham Heschel is my favorite thinker on the Sabbath, with his discussion of sanctified time).

To nudge themselves into changing their behavior, some participants will purchase a sleeping bag for their phone.

Others may use the recently-released Sabbath Manifesto app in order to help them to live in tune with the principles of this effort:


1.  Avoid technology

2.  Connect with loved ones.

3.  Nurture your health

4.  Get outside

5.  Avoid commerce

6.  Light candles

7.  Drink wine

8.  Eat bread

9.  Find silence

10.  Give back

As IFTF continues to explore the balance of slow and fast in our lives at our upcoming Ten-Year Forecast conference, we will continue watching this space.  For more on the Sabbath Manifesto app, see NYT article:  “An App That Reminds You to Unplug.”

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Thanks to Jason Tester for the link!  Note:  Also posted on the IFTF blog, FutureNow.

In the next decade, will parents “immunize” their children against the stresses of life by teaching them meditation?

By 2021, will it be seen as irresponsible of parents to not fortify their children in this way?

This metaphor of meditation as immunization is an interesting one, and I anticipate we’ll see more of this kind of conversation moving forward.  Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests this metaphor in the following short video clip.

For a more lengthy experience of Jon’s work, see my recent post about of his interview with Krista Tippet.  The metaphor they use for that discussion is to think of meditation as a spiritual technology.

A couple of other highlights of this short video:

  • Physiology of meditation:  meditation works on the chromosomes, cells, brain, and organ systems (including the immune system), emotional regulation etc.
  • Meditation & brain plasticity:  with meditation, the real estate of the brain is being recruited in service of greater compassion, equanimity, clarity & wisdom

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Thanks to Jean Hagan, for bringing this video to my attention!

IFTF Ten-Year Forecast Director, Kathi Vian

My colleague, Kathi Vian is the type of person who can engage with the seed of an idea that you have, talk with you about it for an hour, and leave you with enough food-for-thought for a year!

As I continue to narrow in on what my research wants to be (have given up on force-fitting it into what I want it to be), I have zeroed in on this question, at least for today:

What is the changing role of religion in the human project?

In some senses, the sacred has gone underground in the past decades. It has been splintered and siloed to the point where it is not really factored into the basic decision-making processes of business and policy.  I am beginning to form a forecast around the innovations and disruptions that are plausible under these kinds of conditions.

Back of the napkin forecasts?:

  • the health & well-being impacts of spiritual practices will be an all-around game changer in the next decade.
  • techno-spiritual practices will be a zone for innovation
  • extreme religious communities will use technology in highly disruptive ways

At the end of the conversation, Kathi (in her infinite wisdom), suggested a possible title for this inquiry that has really stuck with me:  The Disruptive Sacred.

In Krista Tippett‘s most recent interview for On Being, she unpacks “meditation as a spiritual technology” together with Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, HealthCare and Society at UMass.

(Yes, he is the son of Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States).

Highlights include discussion of:

  • meditation as a spiritual technology that can be a key to sane living in this world without having to abandon our worldly path
  • the distinction between thinking versus true attention and awareness
  • mindful parenting:  “living with children as a powerful spiritual practice” on which Jon & his wife wrote a book
  • Jon’s mindfulness facilitation at Google’s HQ in 2007
  • relationship between time and awareness
  • relationships, immune system, body & brain changes resulting from mindfulness
  • how (presumably non-spiritual) technology can be addictive
  • how stress dampens empathy
  • mindful leadership & Obama

The segment closes with this poem:

Love After Love by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the others’ welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

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