|Get the best of Oprah.com in your inbox. Sign up for our newsletters!|
Amy Shearn (558 posts)
So, you're planning to tour the universe. First you'll want to sit down at your computer. Then you'll want to put on your headphones. For this "quick and dirty" tour, you can pack light. Don't worry, you'll be home before dinner. This is a universe tour on grand scale. But also on a tiny scale. Actually, on every scale. As in, which is bigger, a human or a giant earthworm? The United States or Pluto? DNA or a carbon atom? You're about to find out. When you're ready to depart, just click here.
Kind of puts everything into perspective, doesn't it?
It's Blue O'Clock
The Wind Map
Seriously though, when you really consider the everyday things around you, they start to seem like tiny miracles. I had a minor freak-out yesterday about spoons. Who invented spoons? I'm so glad they did! Or, consider the button. Seems like a humble enough object, right? Have you ever given a button any thought more developed than, "Oh man, looks like I lost a button, darn" --?
Jude Stewart's illustrated history of buttons on Slate will have you in love with buttons before you can say, "I don't even know how to sew on a..." Stewart writes, "The button—with its self-contained roundness and infinite variability—has a quiet perfection to it." Of course! Haven't you always thought that, maybe without realizing you thought that? This essay is a must-read for its lush attention to buttons and all they reveal, including the racy side of buttons you may have never considered. Apparently in medieval times buttons were displays of wealth; in the Renaissance smugglers hid stolen jewels in hollow buttons; an unbuttoned sleeve once signaled a love token from a lady. Today, buttons inhabit the virtual world as well, "promising to connect us to marvels with a single click," As Stewart writes. "Buttons, in short, offer everyday pleasures." Yes. Right. You bet your buttons.
How Everyday Objects Could Save Your Life
Rules for Everyday Senseless Joy
Hm? She was talking directly to my soul, obviously, but also to the neuroscientist Richard Davidson, who has studied the way we can change our brains. According to Davidson: "based upon everything we know about the brain in neuroscience... change is not only possible, but change is actually the rule rather than the exception. And it's really just a question of which influences we're going to choose for our brain. But our brain is wittingly or unwittingly being continuously shaped." (For more of the scientific nitty-gritty, listen to or read the entire interview here -- you will not be disappointed. Even if you are the type of person who is wired for disappointment.) Davidson explains that in his work studying the brains of meditating Buddhist monks (and more recently, preschool-age children), he's learned that happiness and serenity can be learned, and that after enough practice, brains can actually be changed for the better. He says, "I think that's very important and I think that most people still don't think of qualities like happiness as being a skill rather than it's typically conceptualized as a fixed trait and some people have more of it; some people have less of it."
What works, according to Davidson, for Tibetan monks and preschoolers alike, is to practice meditation and mindfulness -- to cultivate self-awareness. I know that in my family we are having a lot of tantrums -- the preschooler; uh, her mother -- and the idea that we can step back, examine our feelings, and teach our brains to deal with them in more productive ways is intensely appealing. Happiness is a skill we could all stand to develop. It's like the old maxim goes: You can never be too happy or too mindful. (That's how it goes, right?)
Richard Davidson on Beating Anxiety and Finding Happiness
5 Things Every Happy Woman Does
Good new: all of us smile-hungry humans have been invited to be part of a worldwide interactive art work: just upload this app and smile and, well, the whole world will smile with you. Pretty much, anyway. Yoko Ono (yes, that Yoko Ono) has been thinking about this project since 1967, when she said, "My ultimate goal in film-making is to make a film which includes a smiling face snap of every single human being in the world.” She just had to wait a few decades for the world of social media to catch up. Now she's launching this #smilesfilm app, with the ambitious, crazy, and awesome goal of collecting every smile in the world. Happily, the smilesfilm website shows everyone who's uploaded a smile (and you can see where they're from on the interactive world map). It's like a trip around the world and an instant pick-me-up all in one. Convenient. Smile.
The Smile That Can't Be Stolen
6 Reasons to Smile Right Now
And good thing, too -- since I just read that the most successful people are those who use their mornings efficiently. After all, as Laura Vanderkam writes, "Mornings are a great time for getting things done." Yeah! Take that, you ridiculous people who get to sleep in until the - gasp - double digits on weekends! Feh to you!
Vanderkam, who has written much about time management, has a great run-down at Fast Company of ways in which to be more efficient in those wee hours. Weirdly, she doesn't suggest allowing any time at all for feeling sorry for oneself about being up so early. Instead, she suggests a five-step process for reassessing mornings. One of her recommendations: Picture Your Perfect Morning. This may include steps for personal growth, like reading through a sacred text or training for a marathon, or it may be more about professional growth: using that quiet time to organize and strategize, or even taking an online development course. She also shares very practical steps you can take to make your morning dreams a reality without being too self-defeatingly ambitious.
How to Have More Productive Mornings
17 Ways to Be More Efficient in the AM
The Deutsch Blog shares an email from Max's mother, in which she writes about how Max (who is also a junior ambassador of Children's Hospital Los Angeles, where he has been treated since birth) was not only scared, "He was also very sad that summer would be in rest in recovery instead of playing baseball, golf and traveling. Around bedtime he asked if I would stay up with him and talk. He wanted to make a 'CAN DO' list. So we wrote out all the things he can do so he could focus on those. Then he said we definitely had to 'Fun Up' the house." You have to read the whole email for this family's list of ways to "Fun Up" their house -- surgery or not, these are some seriously amazing ideas. And I love the idea of a Can Do list. Instead of grumbling about how we don't have any friends inviting us to summer in the Hamptons (seriously, people, where are you?), perhaps we could all do to make our own Can Do lists. What's awesome about this summer? About this life? If you can't see the world before August, can you arrange for a visit to the sprinkler? Can you bravely conquer a reading list? Can you "fun up" your own house/office/existence? It's a pretend question. You can. You know you can.
And don't forget what Max told his mother: "I don’t have a choice. I have to go through it. I don’t like it and it’s still scary—but I have to. So I think I might as well go through it with a good attitude." We should probably all say this to ourselves every day. We should scrawl it on our front doors, to remind ourselves as we go out into the scary world every day: "I might as well go through it with a good attitude."
(PS - By all reports, the surgery was a success, and it looks like Max is going to be enjoying a pretty rocking summer in his Funned-Up House.)
How Positive Energy Can Change Your Life
Maintaining an Upbeat Vibe
Girls and women in the United States have a lot of problems to deal with: being underestimated, being underpaid. Sometimes my mechanic talks down to me. But none of this seems anything like a problem when you consider what women and girls in Liberia have gone through, especially throughout that country's long, violent civil war. According to Charitable Influence, "Most of the people in Liberia under the age of twenty one has seen a loved one die, usually through violent means. Many of them were forced to not only witness but often be a part of the vicious war that lasted for 14 years in the country."
A nurse named Rosana Schaak wanted to help the girls of Liberia, so in 2003 she founded the nonprofit Touching Humanity in Need of Kindness (THINK), which provides shelter and services to survivors of gender based violence. Schaak recently won an award for her efforts at the Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards, a lovely recognition of someone who has devoted herself to a noble cause. And I'd also add that THINK's new website is a heart-wrenching-and-then-expanding place to visit. "O Women, don't just sit there, do something positive," it declares. And then it proceeds to show us how.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee on Anger
The "Things I'm Afraid to Tell You" meme started with a post on Make Under My Life. Jess Constable writes, "Though I like to think I’m pretty much an open book online, there are things about me that I hide for fear of rejection or judgment. But my emotional, fearful mind freaks when I think about sharing some things in my life." And thus, she launches into a list of the things she's afraid to reveal. Number one: "Yesterday after a tense customer service call, I cried in front of my assistant and new intern. (Not the “ugly cry,” but pretty close.)"
Within a few days, her friend Ez posted her own "Things I'm Afraid to Tell You" to the Creature Comforts blog, about how the idea had gone viral, and shared, despite her professed nerves, her own list. She admits that, despite writing a blog devoted to perfect and pretty things, "The nitty-gritty is that some months have been so tight that I've worried about making my rent payment or even buying groceries...a handful of times it's gotten scary enough that I've had panic attacks daily just trying to think of how I'll make it through."
Since these first posts, the movement has spread to hundreds of blogs. It's really worth the time to peruse some of these posts, if for no other reason than to see how mundane some of these confessions are. We are all so afraid of revealing any imperfections at all, as if the ability to curate the image of a perfect life has created its very own brand of insecurity, a whole new cyber-neurosis. Why should we be afraid to reveal that we are uncrafty? That we care what people think of us? That we love sitcoms?
As Ez puts it, "we are all just a little bit sick of all this perfection." And many of these bloggers add in their TIATTY posts that this dose of honesty has changed the way they want to write -- real names appear for the first time, and pledges to share "real selves" in addition to images of aspirational lives. So if you're beating yourself up over a speck of imperfection, it may help to write your own "Things I'm Afraid to Tell You." Even if (especially if) your "You" is yourself.
Why You Need to Embrace Imperfection
Face Your Inner Perfectionist
Just what was going on here? Wasn't my boss supposed to be a Queen Bee? Competitive and gloriously mean, like the pant-suited bosses in movies always are? Didn't we all want to claw each other to the top? Um, no? The worst you could say about this work environment was that an endemic dread of conflict led to indirect email threads of too-niceness. And yet, strangely enough, almost all of my former coworkers have moved up and up, including that wonderful, supportive boss.
Well, according to the Huffington Post, researchers have found that female bosses who mentor other women in the workplace help not only their protégés but themselves, too. Christine Silva, the lead researcher on the study, told The Huffington Post that mentoring talent was "really a win-win. It creates a culture of talent development where everyone recognizes their role in developing a good pipeline of leaders." She also revealed that "women who developed protégés received an average of $25,075 more between 2008 and 2010 than those individuals who did not." The article suggests that the idea of the "Queen Bee" boss, who doesn't want anyone but herself to succeed, is largely proliferated by the media. (And let's admit it, the Queen Bee makes for some good entertainment.) In other words, in the workplace, paying-it-forward and creating a supportive environment are good for everyone. Huh. Just like in the rest of world. Imagine that.
When Good Woman Make Bad Bosses
Why We Need More Female Leaders
There are maybe three things in the world cuter than watching three-year-old ballerinas twirl around. I mean, I can't think of them at the moment but I'm sure there are some. But like any 21st Century, Non-Toddlers-and-Tiaras mother, I've found myself wondering whether my kid's super-low-key toddler ballet classes at the Y are encouraging something secretly nefarious, baby "Black Swan"-style. The idea was just to do something physical and imaginative and dreamy and fun. (And, from the daughter's perspective, something involving tutus.)
Then this great video for the song "Man on Fire," by Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, comes along: a celebration of creative movement of all stripes. Inner city double-dutch champions? Check. Suburban cheerleaders? Check. Um, the New York City ballet? Check. This video feels less like a performance and more like peeking in on a dance class. And in this world, dance is about bodies moving, about feeling music, about having fun. In this world, dancing is for everyone. And even the ballerinas look like they're having fun. Phew.
A 12-Day Flamenco-Dancing Vacation from Life
Goldie Hawn Dances to Her Own Beat