Have you ever read the story of Candide? Published by Voltaire in 1759, the satire spins the tale of an optimistic young man who embarks on his life’s journey believing his teacher’s philosophy that everything in life happens for the best. His faith gradually erodes as he and his companions endure an endless wave of horrendous catastrophes until he finally decides that he can no longer rationalize the tenets of his learning with the realities of life.
Today, when we’re steadily besieged with social media messages to think positive, we can still find some truth in the tale of Candide. Not to say that there isn’t a lot of merit in positive thinking. We should definitely try to find joy in the small things, be grateful for what we have and share our positivity with others whenever possible. To be stoic in the face of adversity is no small achievement.
The reality is, though, our negative emotions are important. They are the very things that kept the human race alert and alive in earlier times. Fear, doubt, discontent, anger, shame and sorrow are authentic emotions and we shouldn’t be striving to suppress them for fear of compromising our own happiness or that of others.
How often have you seen one of those memes that says, “I don’t want much. I just want to be happy.”
Being happy isn’t “much”? What nonsense. Being happy is huge. Enormous. Happiness is a wonderful emotion. Of course we’d love to have it all the time, but is chronic happiness a realistic goal?
Psychology tells us that our brains process positive and negative emotions differently. Positive emotions inspire us toward a goal, negative ones inspire avoidance. In order to experience overall life satisfaction, positive emotions like contentment, joy, love, pride and accomplishment need to outweigh the negative feelings which motivate us to protect ourselves. The theory goes that we need a lot of positive vibes to overcome the stronger impact of negative emotions. Some accounts even suggest that a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative is a break-even.
Well, that makes sense. Aristotle used the term “eudemonia” to signify the contented state of being healthy and happy. Other readings indicate that “flourishing and prosperous” may be a better translation. Either way, yes please. We want that. We’re not greedy, you understand. We don’t want it ALL THE TIME, just most of the time, so our sum total of positivity puts us comfortably on the “satisfied” rather than the “miserable” scale.
Putting aside the fact that “eudemonia” rather sounds like a disease, how do we achieve it? Science tells us that genetics play a huge part in our happiness quotient. We are by nature either optimists or pessimists, and that raw material is responsible for 50% of our emotional state. Within that basic infrastructure, we are all subject to varying degrees of what is called “trait neuroticism”. Those with high TN are more sensitive to stress, experience it more often and more intensely, and take longer to recover than their low TN counterparts.
What all that means is that we’re not on a level playing field. Some of us have a significant head start when it comes to chasing that bluebird of happiness.
The remaining 50% of our emotional state is divided between 10% circumstances and 40% attitude. Circumstances are only 10%? How can that be? The theory is that, being the resilient creatures we are, we adapt to our circumstances over time so they don’t have the huge impact on our happiness that we might expect. This is clearly untrue in the case of extreme circumstances, severe illness or bankruptcy for example, but let’s concede that it might be in range when it comes to the day-to-day stuff. We are, therefore, left holding the bag for 40% of our own happiness and eudemonia.
Let’s revisit Aristotle for a moment. Eudemonia is “healthy and happy” or “flourishing and prosperous”. Is Healthy an attitude? Flourishing? Prosperous? Nope. Those are in the 10% circumstances category. Aristotle lived a long time ago in a different world, but he was all about goals. He offered that the purpose of human life is to achieve the end goal, and the end goal is living a good life. One does that by acquiring all the things one needs to flourish and prosper, namely physical, intellectual and moral. One needs luck to do that, and health. In Aristotle’s world, one also needed to be a male of a certain social class to live a good life. Women, children, persons of low standing, servants and slaves were property and therefore unable to acquire the necessary virtues.
So, throwing all these wise words from scientists and psychologists and philosophers into a blender, let’s give it a whirl. This is what they’re telling us.
It all comes down to that 40% attitude. Attitude doesn’t just mean the way you respond to what happens. It doesn't mean always accepting what befalls you with grace, nor stopping to breathe and smell the roses. It means having a goal and working towards it. It means nourishing your physical body, your mind and your soul. While you’re doing that, you need to find joy in all that wonderful nourishment, because you need enough of it to outweigh the negative feelings that you also need to have.
Those ancestral human feelings deserve respect. They teach and strengthen you, and they might lead you further down the road to the good life. If, from time to time, you feel the need to wallow in negative emotion, then you should by all means do it. Take a break from being strong, be real and be human, and then come back stronger. Just don’t stay down too long.
What, you may ask, became of Candide? He and a tribe of friends withdrew from society and moved to the country, turning away from the “all is for the best” philosophy of the time. They cultivated gardens and busied themselves with work to build a community. They were happy.
For the past decade, Campbellford resident Karen Stille has dreamed of offering a service to connect local producers with consumers easily and affordably. Now that her children are older, the final pieces of the Homegrown Hamper jigsaw puzzle are being put into place and she is beyond excited at the response she’s received so far from the public, and from the growers and artisans she’s contacted.
Her first step was to conduct a consumer survey to ensure that there was a community need for the proposed service. Response was overwhelmingly positive with 95% of respondents confirming a desire to support local producers and feel more connected to them. Karen has been meeting with local producers over the past few weeks. “I’m so encouraged by the collective enthusiasm for the project!” she says. She’s currently at work developing the Homegrown Hamper website with the goal of having an online catalogue up and running by April 1st. The first deliveries are tentatively planned for mid-April.
The basic premise is that farm-fresh food, flowers, organic skin care products and unique handcrafted items will be compiled by order and made available for pick-up or delivery within a 25-km radius of Campbellford. This includes Stirling, Marmora, Havelock, Norwood, Hastings, Warkworth and Codrington. Consumers will be able to place their hamper orders online at the same prices one would pay at a market or farm gate with the addition of a $5 shopping fee. Orders can be picked up at the Church Key Brewery and/or The Church Key Pub and Grindhouse in Campbellford, or delivered door to door for an additional fee.
Karen plans to start with monthly hamper deliveries for April and May, but hopes to increase to every other week during the summer months.
Although it’s still under construction, the Homegrown Hamper website offers a sneak peak at some of the products that will be available to fill your hamper come spring. Choices so far include salad greens, seasonal fruits and veggies, cheese, pastured meats, fresh sausages, herbal teas, salsa and sauces, craft beer and cider, honey, maple syrup, jams and preserves, specialty cakes and chocolates as well as natural soaps and body products. One-stop shopping at its freshest and most convenient!
Let’s face it, February is not a favourite month for many of us. With the fun and sparkle of December long gone, winter looms large and can play havoc with our well-being. By the time the shortest month of the year rolls around, the novelty of the winter wonderland vista has rather worn off, and we’re tired of shovelling the white stuff.
We’re fed up with being sidelined from events we’d wanted to attend because our roads are covered with ice. We’re sick of “walking like a penguin” to avoid falling and we’re beyond done with the outerwear routine that calls for coats, hats, scarves, mitts and boots every time we leave the house. Mid-winter is also prime season for sickness. Coughs, colds and flu bugs knock us down like dominos at every turn. As if all of that isn’t enough, we’re also more prone to musculoskeletal injuries in the winter because our muscles and connective tissues have less elasticity in the cold than they do in warmer climes, at least until they're thoroughly warmed up.
The lengthening days do offer a glimmer of hope, but we know that we still have to get through March and, if this year is anything like the last couple of years, possibly much of April as well before we can inhale the first wafts of spring.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, oh so aptly acronymed SAD, was first identified as a mental health condition in the 1980’s. There are numerous scientific theories for it, ranging from light deprivation to hormonal changes. It is known that women are eight times more likely than men to suffer from SAD, and that it is generally at its most intense during mid-life and beyond. The condition is defined as a form of clinical depression which occurs for an extended period in two or more consecutive winters in an individual who does not otherwise suffer from depression.
SAD can have a major impact on our psyche since it’s more than a simple case of the “winter blues”. Many of the symptoms work together to create an oppressive climate of lethargy. Depression, anxiety, fatique, excessive sleep, lack of motivation, feelings of hopelessness, difficulty concentrating, withdrawal from social activities and appetite disruptions hardly inspire a quality lifestyle. Although SAD can also lead to nausea and loss of appetite, overeating is a more common phenomena, particularly with cravings for the refined foods you may generally avoid like processed carbs and sweet or salty snacks. These indulgences can lead to weight gain which exacerbates the problem.
Light therapy is the most often recommended remedy for the condition and it brings relief to many sufferers. Lamps or light boxes specifically created for SAD mimic natural light and stimulate the brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin to improve mood and sleep. Recommended light sources should be UV-filtered. Severe cases, particularly those in which self-harm or thoughts of suicide occur, may require psychotherapy or anti-depressant medication. If you or someone you care about is suffering from SAD, please reach out and get some help. Talk to your doctor.
If, on the other hand, you are struggling mightily with the February blahs and don’t feel that your condition warrants medical help, there are a few things you can do to try to keep your life on track until winter comes to its long-awaited end. Even without a clinical SAD diagnosis, you may be experiencing depression, excessive sleep or insomnia, lack of motivation and eating disruptions.
Choose a diet rich in vegetables and fruits, lean proteins, complex carbs and healthy fats. Make sure you maintain an exercise routine. When weather permits, get outside for a little sunshine or soak up those rays in a comfy chair by your window. Practice self-care. Create something. Spend some quality time with your family and friends, and get out there in the community as often as you can for some social interaction.
Most of all, remember:
Spring will come!
Hang in there!
The concept that creative ideas are floating about in the universe just waiting to find a home in someone’s mind was first shared with me many years ago by a good friend. Her dad had been a follower of the “sleeping prophet”, Edgar Cayce, and she learned this philosophy at his knee as a child.
At the time, I thought it was pretty out there. So you’re saying to me that Alexander Graham Bell didn’t invent the telephone? That the concept was floating in the airwaves and could have been received by anyone tuned in to its frequency?
I’ve heard the theory repeated many times over the years, most recently in a recorded speech by WomanSpeak founder KC Baker who took it one step further. Many other people may have already received the idea and implemented their interpretation of it. That is not important. There are people out there, she said, that can only receive the message from you. Why? Wavelengths again. You are tuned in to each other at the right place at the right time.
What a cool concept this is. I would add that your individual perspective on “your” idea will expand it, and you, in ways that are fresh and exciting regardless of who has gone before.
It is interesting to see the flood of women in publications and on social media. The idea to celebrate women and their achievements is a tidal wave. Women are founding businesses everywhere, many offering empowerment through healing, spirituality, fitness, rapport. The circle is back in society, my friends, and it is growing.