4 years, 9 months, and 2 days. Don’t be a snowflake. Be resilient.

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In its annual survey of students, the American College Health Association found a significant increase — to 62 percent in 2016 from 50 percent in 2011 — of undergraduates reporting “overwhelming anxiety” in the previous year. Surveys that look at symptoms related to anxiety are also telling. In 1985, the Higher Education Research Institute at U.C.L.A. began asking incoming college freshmen if they “felt overwhelmed by all I had to do” during the previous year. In 1985, 18 percent said they did. By 2010, that number had increased to 29 percent. Last year, it surged to 41 percent.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/11/magazine/why-are-more-american-teenagers-than-ever-suffering-from-severe-anxiety.html?action=click&contentCollection=Europe&module=Trending&version=Full&region=Marginalia&pgtype=article

 

When Mr. Hanks was 5, living in Redding, Calif., his parents separated. His mother, a waitress, kept the youngest of the four children while Tom went with the other two to live with his father. He was playing with his siblings one night when he was told he had to go with his father. He was a cook who married twice more and Tom had lots of stepsiblings and lived with a lot of upheaval. “By the age of 10, I’d lived in 10 houses.”

“By and large, they were all positive people and we were all just kind of in this odd potluck circumstance,” he said, adding that he still vividly recalls the confusion of being that little boy. “I could probably count on one hand the number of times I was in a room alone with my mom, or in a car alone. That is not exactly what happened to me, but there were times when either my mom or my dad — the same thing was true for both — in which being alone with them, I realized, was like, ‘This is a special time.’ For other people, it’s not a special time. It’s just part and parcel to the day.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/11/style/tom-hanks-uncommon-type-harvey-weinstein-donald-trump.html?action=click&contentCollection=Magazine&module=Trending&version=Full&region=Marginalia&pgtype=article

 

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

Be like Tom Hanks.  He’s had his share of rough times in life, but he remains strong, good, and talented. He doesn’t adopt a “Woe is me!” attitude.

Everyone in life has his or her own cross to carry.  It is no use to cry about it all the time.  Deal with it and move on.

Victimhood is becoming an art, and it is making us weak.  Yes, mourn when bad things happen.  Take time to recover and heal.  Then, get back on the horse and move on!

Don’t wallow in the misery, the misfortune, the bad.  Without the negative, how could you fully appreciate the beauty of kindness, of goodness, of fortune?  Take the bad with the good.  Learn from each.  Keep what you must.  Then, move on with the business of growing as a person and living as a person.

According to the article above, 18% of incoming college freshmen felt overwhelmed in 1985 versus 62% today.  Has college gotten harder?  No.  Has the challenges of living on your own for the first time gotten harder?  No.  Yet, why are more incoming freshmen overwhelmed?  Maybe they lack the survival skills and fortitude of earlier generations for whom life was more challenging, and for whom less was given.  These days, we have too many helicopter parents whose life’s mission is to not let their child fail.  (Of course, I’m oversimplifying.  The factors are many, and too much to go into here.)  They intervene at the most inopportune times, when children are presented with opportunities to test themselves, learn, and grow.  Without challenging ourselves, how will we ever know what we are capable of? how good we are?

Giving everyone a gold star for showing up is doing a disservice to our children.  It fails to reward each individual child’s effort.  Empty praises help no one.

He goes on to admonish against today’s culture of excessive parental praise, which he argues does more for lifting the self-esteem of the parents than for cultivating a healthy one in their children:

Admiring our children may temporarily lift our self-esteem by signaling to those around us what fantastic parents we are and what terrific kids we have — but it isn’t doing much for a child’s sense of self. In trying so hard to be different from our parents, we’re actually doing much the same thing — doling out empty praise the way an earlier generation doled out thoughtless criticism. If we do it to avoid thinking about our child and her world, and about what our child feels, then praise, just like criticism, is ultimately expressing our indifference.

To explore what the healthier substitute for praise might be, he recounts observing an eighty-year-old remedial reading teacher named Charlotte Stiglitz, the mother of the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, who told Grosz of her teaching methodology:

I don’t praise a small child for doing what they ought to be able to do,’ she told me. ‘I praise them when they do something really difficult — like sharing a toy or showing patience. I also think it is important to say “thank you”. When I’m slow in getting a snack for a child, or slow to help them and they have been patient, I thank them. But I wouldn’t praise a child who is playing or reading.

https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/05/23/stephen-grosz-examined-life/

Be present.  Do your best — neither I, nor anyone else, can expect no more than that.  Keep trying.  Keep moving forward.  Keep learning.  Keep growing.

Be thankful for what you have, and the many blessings in your lives.  However, that does not mean you can rest there and stay where you are.  Life continues to flow around you.  If you don’t move forward with it, then you will be left far behind your friends and cohorts.  And, I’m not talking about things and acquisitions.  I’m talking about life, maturity, and the unique experiences that only living will afford you.  You do not want to be a man of 90, but stunted in emotion, intelligence, and life’s experience.  It would be unbecoming.

All my love, always,

Dad

 

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4 years, 8 months, and 1 day. Human desires are bottomless pits and trying to fill them is an unending task. Don’t indulge in such inexhaustible pursuits.

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[The problem is we are getting t]oo much dopamine and not enough serotonin, the neurotransmitters of the brain’s “pleasure” and “happiness” pathways… Despite what the telly and social media say, pleasure and happiness are not the same thing. Dopamine is the “reward” neurotransmitter that tells our brains: “This feels good, I want more.” Yet too much dopamine leads to addiction. Serotonin is the “contentment” neurotransmitter that tells our brains: “This feels good. I have enough. I don’t want or need any more.” Yet too little serotonin leads to depression. Ideally, both should be in optimal supply. But dopamine drives down serotonin. And chronic stress drives down both.

Too many of our “simple pleasures” have morphed into something else – a 6.5-oz soda became a 30z Big Gulp drink; an afternoon with friends gave way to 1,000 friendings on Facebook. Each of these momentary pleasures is just that – momentary. But chronic dopamine from your favourite “fix” reduces serotonin and happiness.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/sep/09/pursuit-of-pleasure-modern-day-addiction

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

Beware of the elusive and destructive “pursuit of happiness.”  Don’t buy into the lie.  Happiness is like a butterfly.  No matter how fast you run and how hard you work, it will continue to elude your grasp so long as you chase it.  However, if you bathe, wear bright clothes, find a peaceful spot in the garden, and sit still, you’ll find that butterflies may come to you.

Happiness is like that.  When you are too busy chasing after the things that make you happy, you get caught up in the chase and fail to slow down to enjoy the moments that make up life, those moments in which happiness is hidden and waiting to be discovered.  For example, happiness is being with you, watching you play, hearing you tell your stories and your discoveries, seeing the brightness in your eyes.  The activities in which we are engaged in those moments are unimportant.  If I over-emphasize those activities and put too much import in making sure they are perfect (as we are apt to do), I would have overlooked those moments of happiness from simply being in your presence.

Tips for Getting a Butterfly to Land on You

If you’re lucky, a butterfly might land on you while you are in the exhibit. Though there’s no guarantee this will work but, you can do a few things to increase your chances. The best rule of thumb is to act like a flower:

  • Wear brightly colored clothes. I have a bright yellow and orange tie-dyed shirt that always seems to lure butterflies to me.
  • Smell sweet. If you’re wearing a skin lotion or perfume that smells a bit like flowers, that attract a hungry butterfly.
  • Stay still. Flowers don’t move, so you won’t fool a butterfly if you’re walking around. Find a bench and stay put for a while.

https://www.thoughtco.com/prepare-for-a-visit-butterfly-house-1968200

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HgDy-WQnC5M

But, worse, in truth, the “pursuit of happiness” in modern time has turned into nothing but the unrelenting pursuit of pleasure.  We stuff ourselves with Doritos, sodas, and other junk food because food scientists at Frito-Lay, PepsiCo, and elsewhere found the exact chemical formula to ensure those chips, drinks, etc. stimulate our taste buds and ensure we cannot stop at eating just one chip, one sip, etc.  See, e.g., http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/24/magazine/the-extraordinary-science-of-junk-food.html.  Gaming companies spend billions of dollars and countless hours scouring psychological studies and techniques to ensure their games produce the optimum mix of reward and chance to ensure that players would spend hours hooked to the game.  Social media giants are no less devious.

As stated in the Guardian article above, dopamine is the reward neurotransmitter that tells our brain Doritos taste good and you should have another.  Unfortunately, that way lies food addiction and obesity.

On the other hand, serotonin is the contentment neurotransmitter that tells us we’ve had our fill of the good stuff and should stop.  While serotonin cannot be found in chips, sodas, and video games, it can be yours with a massage, meditation, outdoors activities in the bright sunlight, exercise, or a healthy diet.  See, e.g., https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2077351/; and, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/prefrontal-nudity/201111/boosting-your-serotonin-activity.  (Yeah, there’s science behind that as well … the good science, not the science that feeds the greed.)

My sons, don’t feed the black hole that is man’s unquenchable desires.  If you chase after pleasure, you will find it a relentless and endless pursuit.  Our brain is hardwired to adapt, so a new watch or a new game will quickly lose its luster as you adjust to having it and reset your sight on something different. See, e.g., http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/07/magazine/the-futile-pursuit-of-happiness.html.

Still yourself.  Enjoy the moment and the people around you.  Help those less fortunate.  Work with others to build a better community for yourselves.  I promise that you will find the effort extremely rewarding, and happiness will ensues.

All my love, always,

Dad

 

4 years, 6 months, and 26 days. 1668 days. 40,032 hours. 2,401,920 minutes. 144,115,200 seconds. Too long!

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My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

I had a dream about you last night, Shosh.  I was helping you with your homework assignment on sharks.  We caught a baby shark, and I tried to put a nose ring on it to keep it on a leash.  Note to self: sharks hate nose rings.

Remember how we used to draw pictures of dinosaurs, construction equipment and starfish?  You used to have an immense curiosity about those things and we constantly read about or talked about them.  Once, when you were about 3 1/2, we were at the aquarium and looking at the tide pool/touch pool where a number of different starfish was on display.  You pointed to a starfish and said that it was a leather starfish (the second one above).  The aquarium guide “corrected” you and said it was an ocre starfish (the top one above).  You disagreed and tried to explain to her that it was a leather star.  She wouldn’t have it.  I smiled and told her that she should listen to you.  She decided to go off and consult her books.  Shortly thereafter, she returned to apologize and confirmed that it was a leather star.

Three lessons reveal themselves here.  First, don’t believe in “experts” just because they are experts.  Everyone makes mistakes.  Sometimes, “experts” are too smart for their own good and can be blinded by their own “expertise” and blinded to the data confronting them.  Second, always pursue what you love.  Be curious. Be intensely curious.  Life is an unlimited buffer if you nurture that curiosity.  Third, trust yourself.  Be willing to entertain other ideas, even opposing ideas, but never jettison your thoughts because it’s expedient, because an “expert” said you’re wrong, or because others disagree with you.  If you are right, you stay right even if everyone disagrees.  If you are wrong, you remain wrong even if everyone agrees.  Don’t worry everyone else.  Trust in yourself.

All my love, always,

Dad

4 years, 6 months, and 13 days. Worry about being your best self, not the opinion of others.

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My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

In preschool at Goddard, Jaialai once mentioned that he watched the cartoon My Little Pony.  Some of the boys in his class tried to make fun of him for watching a “girl” show.  He wouldn’t have it.  He told them the show has cool male ponies that fought and did cool things.  Soon, all the boys in his class were watching My Little Pony.  That’s my Jaialai:  he doesn’t allow the opinions of others to dissuade him from something he likes.

Have you noticed that those who are constantly worried about what others think of them are often the most insecured people?  There are approximately 7.5 billion people on Earth; there is bound to be AT LEAST one person who doesn’t like you or think poorly of you.  Get over it.

Never suffer fools, nor worry about the opinion of fools.  Life is too short and there are too many people in the world with very diverse tastes.  To each his own.  Let them enjoy what they want (so long as they’re not hurting anyone): you just worry about being the best you.  If someone brings value to your life (e.g., with a smile, a kind word, company, etc.), then invest in that friendship.  If a person adds nothing to your life (or worse, is always negative, critical, or always in want of something from you), ditch them.  Life is too short to waste on people who only want to bring you down or take advantage of you.

Look for good people who contribute to the world.  Surround yourself with such people.

All my love, always,

Dad

 

 

4 years, 2 months, and 18 days. Willful blindness is a bad thing: be open-minded.

ELEPHANT AND THE BLIND MEN

Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, “Hey, there is an elephant in the village today.”

They had no idea what an elephant is. They decided, “Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway.” All of them went where the elephant was. Everyone of them touched the elephant.

 

 

 

 

 

“Hey, the elephant is a pillar,” said the first man who touched his leg.

“Oh, no! it is like a rope,” said the second man who touched the tail.

“Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree,” said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.

“It is like a big hand fan” said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.

“It is like a huge wall,” said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.

“It is like a solid pipe,” Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.

They began to argue about the elephant and every one of them insisted that he was right. It looked like they were getting agitated. A wise man was passing by and he saw this. He stopped and asked them, “What is the matter?” They said, “We cannot agree to what the elephant is like.” Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like. The wise man calmly explained to them, “All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features what you all said.”

“Oh!” everyone said. There was no more fight. They felt happy that they were all right.

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

There is much noise these days about “fake new” and “alternative facts”.  Elevate yourself beyond the nonsense.  Be discerning.

Gravity exists regardless of whether we believe in its existence.  Likewise, the truth exists regardless of our perception. The fact that the elephant has four massive and rough legs, two big fan-like ears, a thick body, and a rope-like tail does not change the fact that those are all but parts of the creature we call an elephant.

These days, talking heads play fast and loose with the truth and would have you focus on only parts of reality … the parts most amenable to their claims.  Don’t be fooled.  The sins of omission are just as, if not more, egregious as the sins of commission.

The trick is to pull back until you can grasp the whole truth, not just the part offered up by those who want to persuade you to buy their wares.  Snake oil salesmen haven’t gone the way of the dinosaurs: they’ve only gotten better dressed and smoother tongues.  Beware the snake oil salesmen!

How can you discern the truth?  There is but one way: to investigate and gather as much information as necessary.  For example, if you are curious about a subject matter, don’t just read one book or from one source about it.  That one source may be — and most likely is — biased.  Look to many sources.  Read materials by both those in favor of and in opposition to that subject.  Once you see the data starting to repeat, then draw your own conclusion.

Be your own man.  Don’t be mislead by fools.

All my love, always,

Dad