The Social Side
Our world is pretty messed up. With all the violence, pollution and crazy things people do, it would be easy to turn into a grouchy old man without being either elderly or male. There’s certainly no shortage of justification for disappointment and cynicism.
But consider this: Negative attitudes are bad for you. And gratitude, it turns out, makes you happier and healthier. If you invest in a way of seeing the world that is mean and frustrated, you’re going to get a world that is, well, more mean and frustrating. But if you can find any authentic reason to give thanks, anything that is going right with the world or your life, and put your attention there, then statistics say you’re going to be better off.
Does this mean to live in a state of constant denial and put your head in the sand? Of course not. Gratitude works when you’re grateful for something real. Feeling euphoric and spending money like you just won the lottery when you didn’t is probably going to make you real poor, real quick. But what are you actually grateful for? It’s a question that could change your life.
Recent studies have concluded that the expression of gratitude can have profound and positive effects on our health, our moods and even the survival of our marriages.
As Drs. Blaire and Rita Justice reported for the University of Texas Health Science Center, “a growing body of research shows that gratitude is truly amazing in its physical and psychosocial benefits.”
In one study on gratitude, conducted by Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., at the University of California at Davis and his colleague Mike McCullough at the University of Miami, randomly assigned participants were given one of three tasks. Each week, participants kept a short journal. One group briefly described five things they were grateful for that had occurred in the past week, another five recorded daily hassles from the previous week that displeased them, and the neutral group was asked to list five events or circumstances that affected them, but they were not told whether to focus on the positive or on the negative. Ten weeks later, participants in the gratitude group felt better about their lives as a whole and were a full 25 percent happier than the hassled group. They reported fewer health complaints, and exercised an average of 1.5 hours more.
In a later study by Emmons, people were asked to write every day about things for which they were grateful. Not surprisingly, this daily practice led to greater increases in gratitude than did the weekly journaling in the first study. But the results showed another benefit: Participants in the gratitude group also reported offering others more emotional support or help with a personal problem, indicating that the gratitude exercise increased their goodwill towards others, or more tehnically, their “pro-social” motivation.
Another study on gratitude was conducted with adults having congenital and adult-onset neuromuscular disorders (NMDs), with the majority having post-polio syndrome (PPS). Compared to those who were not jotting down their blessings nightly, participants in the gratitude group reported more hours of sleep each night, and feeling more refreshed upon awakening. The gratitude group also reported more satisfaction with their lives as a whole, felt more optimism about the upcoming week, and felt considerably more connected with others than did participants in the control group.
Perhaps most tellingly, the positive changes were markedly noticeable to others. According to the researchers, “Spouses of the participants in the gratitude (group) reported that the participants appeared to have higher subjective well-being than did the spouses of the participants in the control (group).”
There’s an old saying that if you’ve forgotten the language of gratitude, you’ll never be on speaking terms with happiness. It turns out this isn’t just a fluffy idea. Several studies have shown depression to be inversely correlated to gratitude. It seems that the more grateful a person is, the less depressed they are. Philip Watkins, a clinical psychologist at Eastern Washington University, found that clinically depressed individuals showed significantly lower gratitude (nearly 50 percent less) than non-depressed controls.
Dr. John Gottman at the University of Washington has been researching marriages for two decades. The conclusion of all that research, he states, is that unless a couple is able to maintain a high ratio of positive to negative encounters (5:1 or greater), it is likely the marriage will end.
With 90 percent accuracy, Gottman says he can predict, often after only three minutes of observation, which marriages are likely to flourish and which are likely to flounder. The formula is that for every negative expression (a complaint, frown, put-down, expression of anger) there needs to be about five positive ones (smiles, compliments, laughter, expressions of appreciation and gratitude).
Apparently, positive vibes aren’t just for hippies. If you want in on the fun, here are some simple things you can do to build positive momentum toward a more happy and fulfilling life:
1) Keep a daily journal of three things you are thankful for. This works well first thing in the morning, or just before you go to bed.
2) Make it a practice to tell a spouse, partner or friend something you appreciate about them every day.
3) Look in the mirror when you are brushing your teeth, and think about something you have done well recently or something you like about yourself.
Sure this world gives us plenty of reasons to despair. But when we get off the fast track to morbidity, and cultivate instead an attitude of gratitude, things don’t just look better — they actually get better. Thankfulness feels good, it’s good for you and it’s a blessing for the people around you, too. It’s such a win-win-win that I’d say we have cause for gratitude.
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New report exposes McDonald’s charitable activity as a marketing tool to deflect critics
By Michele Simon • Originally published on EatDrinkPolitics.com
Pop quiz: Who do you think funds the hundreds of Ronald McDonald Houses around the nation? McDonald’s right? Sort of, but not really. While McDonald’s gets 100 percent of the brand benefit from Ronald McDonald House Charities, the burger giant only provides about 20 percent of its funding globally. At the local level, it’s closer to ten percent, with some of that money coming from donation boxes at McDonald’s outlets, that is, from customers.
Confused? Wondering how a corporation that raked in $27 billion last year can be so stingy with its own charity? You’re not alone. In my new report, “Clowning Around with Charity: How McDonald’s Exploits Philanthropy and Targets Children,” I show how McDonald’s enjoys a huge public relations and marketing boost relative to how little money it donates. In fact, Ronald McDonald Houses report that the name causes many people to assume that McDonald’s provides 100 percent of the charity’s funds – and that this “common misperception” is “absolutely confusing.” In other words, the McDonald’s brand may be more of a liability than it’s worth.
Little could be more important than giving families a comforting place to stay together during such stressful times. The cause’s importance, and the extent to which McDonald’s is serving versus exploiting that cause, is all the more reason for gaining a better understanding of the corporation’s involvement.
Despite McDonald’s claims of philanthropic generosity, the reality doesn’t match the rhetoric. The report’s findings include how McDonald’s philanthropic giving is 33 percent lower than leading corporations and that McDonald’s spends almost 25 times as much on advertising as on charitable donations.
I also examined how McDonald’s targets children in schools under the guise of charity. For example, at events called McTeacher’s Night, teachers serve as free labor for McDonald’s while parents buy fast food to raise money for schools. While a great way to boost sales for McDonald’s, the return for schools can equal as little as $1 per student.
Why pick on McDonald’s philanthropy? Because the burger giant uses charity as a shield against critics, to distract from its harmful business practices. Over the past several years, public health advocates and groups such as Corporate Accountability International have called upon McDonald’s to “retire Ronald” in light of the mascot’s insidious marketing toward children. In response, McDonald’s says no way, because after all, “Ronald McDonald is the heart and soul of Ronald McDonald House Charities” and provides “educational” messages to children in schools about exercise and nutrition. But by sending Ronald into schools, McDonald’s not only defies common sense (who gets health advice from a clown?) but is also violating its own voluntary pledge not to market in the school setting.
McDonald’s philanthropy does not take place in a vacuum and should be viewed with a critical eye given the serious health risks children face today. McDonald’s charitable activities are mostly self-serving and have significant negative ramifications for public health and policy. While McDonald’s pretends to be “giving back,” it continues to lobby against policies to reduce junk food marketing to children and refuses to pay its workers a living wage, despite growing protests.
We are in the midst of a public health crisis among adults and children alike. We can no longer allow McDonald’s to exploit charity as a vehicle for marketing a junk food brand to kids and as a shield from criticism for the corporation’s central role in today’s epidemic of diet-related disease and other problems.
Read USA Today coverage: McDonald’s slammed over Ronald McDonald House giving.
By Andrea Bertoli • Originally published in Vibrant Wellness Journal
The Esalen Center, a holistic retreat center in Big Sur, California, is home to an array of alternative educational programs. Esalen offers yoga, cooking, meditation, massage, classes and retreats to fulfill their mission of leading personal and social transformation. This September The Esalen Center is hosting a Yoga and Creative Writing workshop featuring John Robbins, the author of Diet For a New America, and celebrated Anusara yoga teacher Katchie Ananda.
The workshop is designed for everyone, whether you are a seasoned yogi or a beginner, and for those interested in writing as a career or a pastime. In the Workshop, you will find support, inspiration, and practical tools to gain greater authorship over your life, and to more fully and passionately inhabit your body, mind, and spirit. The Yoga and Creative Writing workshop will,
“alternate sessions of Anusara yoga with creative writing exercises and opportunities. Participants will get immediate and personal feedback and suggestions from John about their writing, and deepen their yoga with Katchie, using the five principles of Anusara yoga. The goal is to find one’s unique and authentic voice and dharma, on the mat, on paper, and beyond.”
In case you’ve never heard of this wonderwoman before, here’s a bit about Katchie:
Katchie is an internationally-recognized yoga and dharma teacher whose leadership in yoga and social change prompted Yoga Journal to name her one of five top yoga teachers making change in the world. She has well over 10,000 hours of teaching experience spanning 25 years as a full-time yoga teacher and trainer. Studying extensively with, and often working alongside, a number of world-renowned teachers and schools, Katchie is certified in Anusara, Jivamukti, Integral, and Ashtanga yoga by Richard Freeman.
An avid student of Vipassana Meditation, she has studied closely with Jack Kornfield, her Buddhist teacher for over 15 years and offers retreats and day-longs with senior dharma teacher Wes Nisker at Spirit Rock Meditation Center and Esalen Institute. She is the co-founder of Yoga Sangha, now Mission Yoga San Francisco, a studio in San Francisco renowned for its focus on practices to awaken the heart. She works with authors and activists such as John Robbins, Julia Butterfly Hill and Milena Moser and is dedicated to raising awareness about human and animal rights, the environment and social justice. She has brought her humor and stories to conferences, festivals and workshops all over the world and is loved by her students for her authenticity and whimsical wisdom. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with her husband Joshua and dog Leelou. Stay in touch with her on her website.
Vibrant Wellness Journal had the privilege of interviewing Katchie Ananda about the workshop, and this is what she had to say!
VWJ: Can you tell me some more about your work with the Esalen Center?
KA: Esalen is one of the oldest, committed spiritual places in this country and I love teaching there. For the native folks who lived in this area, the hot-springs were a sacred place to do their rituals and healing practices. To continue this legacy, feels like continuing a long and sacred tradition.
VWJ: Have you worked with John Robbins previously and/or how did you decide to teach this together?
KA: I have. John and I have known each other for almost 25 years now and have been dear friends. Our collaboration came out of this deep friendship and the natural kinship, respect and love we have for each other.
VWJ: What was the impetus for the workshop?
KA: John and I do this special workshop once a year to bask in each other’s presence and to let other people share in the special collaboration we’ve developed over years of working together. We’ve found that the work of going back and forth between yoga and writing is a wonderful tool to get in touch with who you really are. I’ve taught yoga for 25 years, and John is a NY Times best-selling author whose books have changed the world. Our collaboration simply arose out of the joining of these natural gifts we have, and our desire to share them with a group of people.
The weekend lends itself perfectly to finding what really matters to you. The world needs people who have woken up and have learned to listen to their inner voice, sometimes referred to as “The One who Knows,” and then are able to bring it back to their life and make a difference.
VWJ: What do you hope participants will get out of the workshop?
KA: My goal for participants is to have them realize that they don’t have to fight against their own body. We don’t do yoga to “get somewhere”. We do yoga to listen and give our body a little time to see what it needs – just as we would if we were to check-in with a good friend. Everybody always thinks yoga is about stretching. I actually teach yoga quite differently. My motto is: “Liberate your body – but stretch your mind!” I help my students to build a relationship with their bodies and emotions that once established, may support them for the rest of their lives.
The writing helps the student to stretch the mind, to break out of habitual patterns, to be creative and expressive, to help see what really matters to us and how we want to spend our time on this earth. Participants will come out this weekend refreshed, inspired and hopefully with a new vision of where they are going and a new, kinder relationship to their body!
VWJ: Are you able to put these practices into play in your own life (and how do you do this)?
KA: Yes, as a matter of fact I am working on a book as we speak! And of course I “liberate my body” every day. My commitment is to show up on the mat for this sacred communing with my body and respond to what it needs. That’s it. I used to think that the practice was to achieve mastery over my body and that this mastery would lead to enlightenment. Now all I want from my body is its support, so I can become the best, most authentic person I can be in this life time. It’s all about having my body as an ally so I can be up to something bigger in the world.
VWJ: Will any of the workshop materials be available to those who cannot travel to Esalen?
KA: Hmmm, I never thought about this – our work is really intimate and it is a great opportunity to get such great, personal attention from the both of us. But who knows, maybe one day it will be available in some other form.
VWJ: Next steps in your work?
I am committed to finishing my book and to spread my message of how to do yoga differently. I see a direct correlation between how we treat the earth and how we treat ourselves. Today yoga is often used to “sell” an image – forever young, flexible, healthy and perfect. This impossible ideal is dangled in front of students like the proverbial carrot. This makes me sad as yoga truly is for everyone and can become a sacred refuge in the storms of life. I want to help change that paradigm, so we can see our bodies and the earth as the sacred and wise entities they are.
Thanks, Katchie, for spending time with us and sharing your gifts. Much luck with the workshop.
Want to sign up for the workshop? Check it out here.
Special guest post from Trevor Justice
So many people today have dietary restrictions — ranging from gluten intolerance to lactose intolerance to veganism. Special diets are so common, in fact, that restaurants have gotten used to making custom meals on the fly.
So if a restaurant doesn’t have an entrée you’re willing to eat, don’t be shy about asking for a custom meal.
Here’s a time-tested approach. Look at the menu for the ingredients in other entrees. Then ask if the chef could create a plate with just those ingredients.
For example, at Mexican restaurants, I regularly ask for a plate of romaine lettuce, whole beans, and a “double side” of guacamole — with NO rice or tortilla shell. I’ll also request grilled vegetables if available.
Some sandwich shops will let you add grilled mushrooms to any sandwich. Keep it simple so it’s not too difficult or time consuming for the chef.
For many more specific tips for eating well at restaurants, airports, hotels, and on road trips, check out the whole article from Trevor Justice here.