Top of Mind

Things that spark our minds, touch our hearts, make us smile—or roll our eyes. Keep up with the latest in mindfulness.

Photographs courtesy Gratisography, Mastermind

Putting Emotions on the Map

It’s hard to talk about emotions and to get a feel for how they work. To offer some aid, emotion researcher Paul Ekman teamed up with the Dalai Lama and data visualization firm Stamen to create the Atlas of Emotions, a website that allows you to explore the dimensions of your emotions to help “increase choice in what we become emotional about and how we respond.”

The New Picture of Health

We all know that engaging in healthful habits—and eliminating the unhealthy ones—promotes physical and psychological well-being. But knowing what to do to be healthier and actually doing it isn’t the same thing. A new initiative aims to make it easier to adopt a healthy lifestyle by modeling what that looks like. Calling itself a “behavioral pharmacy,” the nonprofit Open Source Wellness offers weekly drop-in events in Oakland, California, that include exercise, meditation, healthful meals, and community interaction—the four pillars of physical and psychological health, according to organizers.

“We’re providing structure and support to fill the ‘behavioral prescriptions’ doctors give patients: Eat healthier, exercise more, reduce your stress, connect meaningfully with others,” states cofounder Ben Emmert-Aronson, PhD.

There are no lectures, classes, or intakes, just experiential participation designed to show people how to move more, eat better, and get connected. Kind of like a community potluck, plus. And the big vision for this experiential preventive health model? To become integrated into healthcare centers and communities nationwide, and be paid for on a sliding scale by individuals and by health insurers.

After decades of internalizing unsolicited remarks from others about her body, British designer Jojo Oldham displayed all the commentary—nasty and nice—on a dress, illustrating her challenging journey to self-acceptance.

Awe Yeah!

We’ve all experienced awe in the face of the momentous: A moment of stunned awareness, when our bodies are suffused with wonder, vitality, and presence. What’s more, research is finding that the experience of awe produces some powerful benefits. In addition to promoting altruism, loving-kindness, and magnanimity, awe may boost the body’s defense systems and help people better cope with stress. Another bit of good news: Awe doesn’t have to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Even something as simple as a walk can bring it about.

If It Is Broke, Do Fix It!

It’s scary how easily most modern devices fall apart, and how hard (and expensive!) it is to repair them. Yet the financial and environmental cost of replacing our broken stuff is reaching a breaking point. Enter iFixIt, the Wikipedia of repair manuals, which offers a virtual library of manuals for fixing phones, staplers, cars—pretty much anything you can think of—all written and edited by the site’s audience.

Making Space to Just Bee

A small Iowa town is doing its bit to reduce the bee-population crisis: Cedar Rapids plans to seed 188 acres with native prairie grasses and wildflowers. Eventually, the city hopes to dedicate 1,000 acres to bee-friendly foodstuffs.

Starting Off Right

Here are some exciting projects that are bringing mindfulness to future generations.

A Kinder Sesame Street

We know Oscar is grouchy, but can he learn to be more kind? The folks behind Sesame Street think so.

Responding to parental concerns about the unkind state of today’s world, the show dedicated its 2017 season to kindness. And mindfulness plays a role.

To formulate its Kindness Curriculum, Sesame Workshop tapped the expertise of researchers and educators, including the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds, which developed a mindfulness-based kindness curriculum that’s being taught in area schools. Early research shows improvements on academic performance and measures of altruism among participating students.

It even works for Oscar the Grouch: After some reluctance, he agrees to take his pet worm, Slimey, to a garden party to celebrate Be Kind to Your Worm Day.
“Cognitively it’s hard for children to take on the perspective of someone else. Through the characters, we can model that behavior,” says Sesame Workshop’s Rosemarie Truglio.

Farmers of the Future

A high school in South Los Angeles might just be training the agricultural and environmental leaders of tomorrow. The Gardening Apprenticeship Program at John C. Fremont High School has taught city kids about urban agriculture, environmental justice, nutrition, and healthy cooking since 2012. The program also provides training in basic agricultural techniques and exposure to career opportunities in the agriculture and environmental studies.

Mindfulness K-12

Kids in Australia are being taught to meditate thanks to a new initiative by the country’s state media. Mindfully…Back to School, a project of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio division and the nonprofit mindfulness education organization Smiling Mind, offers guided meditations designed for kids at the different stages of their youth, from primary school all the way up to their university years, accessible on the ABC website or app.

“Science tells us…there is a strong connection between emotional well-being and health outcomes, and that you can proactively cultivate emotional well-being through relatively simple practices like sleep, social connection, and meditation.”
-Vivek Murthy, US Surgeon General in the New York Times

When Narcissists Won’t Forgive

Narcissists often won’t forgive people who cross them. Curious if having more clarity about one’s emotions about a wrongdoer would mollify or reinforce this unforgivingness, German psychologists asked 1,041 adults to recall a time when someone hurt them. Among participants tending toward arrogant, self-defensive narcissistic behavior, the lack of forgiveness was stronger in those who responded more quickly—indicating greater clarity—in rating their feelings about the transgressor.

Craze or Crazy?

Sometimes you just can’t decide if something’s groundbreaking or totally bonkers. Our jury’s out. What’s your verdict?

A mind cleanse
Okay, so you start by grabbing some soap and a scalpel, and then…just kidding! “Mind Cleanse” is becoming a popular term to refer to various activities and programs with the aim of a clearer, calmer mind. Just because it sounds suspiciously similar to “brainwashing,” doesn’t make it the same thing, right?

Weed yoga
People have been smoking joints and doing stretches for decades, but recently yoga studios have opened up that specialize in yoga “enhanced” with marijuana.

Meditation trucks
Picture a food truck—only for meditation. The latest in portable services, meditation trucks have been popping up and wheeling around US cities, including Detroit and Austin.

Extraordinary Acts of Kindness

  • When a man showed up at an airport with his toddler daughter, he was unpleasantly surprised to learn that, having just turned two, she now needed her own ticket, and he couldn’t afford it. A nearby stranger noticed and, without hesitation, she bought the $749 ticket.
  • The city of Indianapolis installed tiny ramps along its downtown canal in order to save ducklings and other small semi-aquatic animals from drowning. The ramps, made of wood and insulation (to help them float), allow the birds to mount the canal’s concrete edge with ease.

Research Roundup

Taking a Measure of Compassion
All too often, medical care is dismally short on compassion, even though reports have identified it as an essential ingredient for providing quality care. A major barrier to change is the lack of a valid, reliable way to assess compassion in clinical settings. Recently, Shane Sinclair of the University of Calgary and other Canadian colleagues surveyed the existing methods out there. Scouring through research databases, they turned up nine studies describing seven different compassion measurement tools, ranging from a self-report questionnaire for nurses in Korea to a survey of patients’ perceptions of hospital physicians’ caregiving from the Boston-based Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare. All seven methods have “significant limitations that warrant careful consideration,” the authors concluded. No single instrument measured compassion in a comprehensive or rigorous enough fashion; for instance, most of the tools didn’t directly evaluate the desire to help ease suffering, a key element distinguishing compassion from empathy. And for most of the methods, there was little evidence of the measurements’ reliability, validity, or interpretability.

Being Humble Can Have Its Strengths
Based on national survey responses from 2,800 participants, researchers found correlations suggesting that more humility may help people cope better with stressful life events. Perhaps humble folks are more willing to reach out for support, buffering against mood problems.

It’s Official: Americans Are More Stressed
In its annual survey on “Stress in America,” conducted in August, the American Psychological Association found that a little more than half of Americans were finding the election a significant source of stress, prompting the surveyers to do a follow-up in January, which revealed that Americans’ stress had increased from 4.8 to 5.1 on a 10-point scale in the intervening months, representing the first significant increase since the poll began 10 years ago. Both Republicans (59%) and Democrats (76%) reported being stressed about the future of the country.

The Cost of Happiness?
Across six studies, a New York University researcher and colleagues found that participants rated extremely happy individuals as more naïve than moderately happy individuals. Such inferences may lead people to try to take advantage: One online experiment asked 476 adults to sell a used iPad for much more than its true value to earn a bonus. Choosing between two buyers to negotiate with, most participants picked the very happy-looking one—the one they rated as easier to exploit.