Train your brain toward positivity

The feeling of positivity in the present is the key to happiness says positive psychologist and CEO of Think Good, Shawn Achor. Happiness is not so about being successful as it is about improving or enhancing positivity in the present. Known as Happiness Advantage, this helps us to see the world through a positive lens.

Try out the 21-day activity as presented in this Harvard Business Review (HBR) article (http://hbr.org/2012/01/positive-intelligence/ar/1) as Shawn spells out the ways we can actually train our brain for 21 days in a row to think positive for the rest of our lives.

Prepare your brain for the worst- Half the battle is won

What do you do when you have to face a difficult situation or ask your boss for a raise?

Well for me whenever I have to face a difficult situation or a tough person, I look into the mirror and smile several times. This prepares me to handle the situation or the person in question somewhat easily. Smile is an evolutionary contagious behavior. The reason I like to spend maybe hours before the mirror smiling is because it relaxes my mind and diverts it from thinking all the bizarre things that it can conjure up if I didn’t.

smile

Smile and the world smiles with you

There is a term that psychologists call “impact bias“. This is our tendency to “overestimate the hedonic impact of future events”. We draw a mental picture of a future event and that picture is usually either dramatically happy or utterly unpleasant. Then when the event actually takes place we normally fail in such occasions because we are blinded by our prejudice.

Now why does this happen? Let me mention to you a little about our brain.

The Homo sapiens Brain

prefrontal lobe

The Human Brain

Our brain is 3 times bigger than that of the Homo habilis, the earliest of our ancestors who lived from approximately 2.33 to 1.44 million years ago and also the first to be found associated with stone tools. Our brain has not only grown bigger in the course of time but we have also developed what scientists call the pre-frontal cortex found in the frontal lobes of the brain. It is also known as the “experience simulator” which means we sort of get a taste of the event before it actually happens.

By default we are programmed to have a biased point of view of our future events.

Let’s say for example you have to go take a class for graduate students on a subject you are not an expert in. You cannot get good sleep because at the back of your mind you still feel edgy and nervous. This is where your experience simulator has already come into play. You experience yourself standing before an unusually big room full of students. The eager faces of the students seated before you make you more nervous and before you can speak you run out of the class.

Although you may not flee from the class when you actually face them, you will definitely not do well in the lecture.

Instead if you went to the class with the thought that although this is a subject I am not that knowledgeable in, if you had prepared your mind for this, you would have been in a much better position and would had the opportunity to save your face.

So the next time you have to take a class or ask your boss for a raise, just remember to ask your brain to think positive and keep calm. Ask your brain to conjure up good thoughts which in turn will reflect in your actions.

If you feel good from the inside, the battle is half won.

Pigeons- A sight of beauty and loyalty

They are called homing pigeons because of the fact that pigeons always return to their loft after an event or race. The reason I dedicate this post to pigeons is because of the fact that my father, a pigeon fancier, has raised over 100 generations of pigeons over the period of 3 decades. We have all kinds of pigeons from the racing pigeon, roller pigeon to the tipplers at home. Buwa (as I call my father) is more of a sporty nature who likes to gauge the flight of these navigators than raising fancy pigeons which are simply not made for flying.

Pigeon-post

Pigeons perching on a machaan or post my buwa made for them

I have been fascinated by these gentle birds ever since my childhood days (and still am). At first I would be a bit scared to hold them in my hands but with practice and closely watching my father handle these pigeons, I was finally able to let go of the fear and set them free to tour the sky. In my experience it is therapeutic to watch these birds fly high above independently in the clear blue.

Watching these docile birds closely, I can observe that they are very low-maintenance. A predator-safe, protected enclosure, food, water, grit, greens and companionship is all they ask for. Buwa, in the span of 3 decades, has been providing our pigeons all this. However, it is sad to see them fall prey to eagles and hawks while they are in flight even despite all these precautions.

I have fond memories with my pigeons and wish to have much more with these gentle creatures in the days to come. Nothing can compare to feeling of warmth that these kind birds generate in me.

Pigeons- masters of the leisure arts

Pigeons

Pigeons are masters of the leisure arts

In addition to their innate honesty, pigeons are masters of the leisure arts. They can spend hours at a stretch sunbathing, napping, flirting or nest-sitting. What amazes me the most is how they stand on one foot while they snooze away!

There are very few animals and birds which are loyal to the core. Like dogs who are man’s loyal companions, pigeons too exhibit similar trait. And what navigational skills they have. No wonder that pigeons were used as messengers in China and elsewhere when telegraph or modern means of communication were not invented.

Vertigo- A  killer

There are several other dangers that surround pigeons. We have seen our lovely pigeons die as a result of ‘vertigo’. Vertigo literally means the state of feeling dizzy when one climbs a high building or a mountain and looks down at the ground. In the case of pigeons, vertigo is similar to having a dizzying sensation followed by the involuntary swinging of the head and falling dead on the ground. Although most of our pigeons have succumbed to death due to this sudden epidemic in the past; we are happy now that none of them have vertigo because it is a sign of a really serious liver derangement.

I leave you with an image of the article my father wrote on pigeons in Himal magazine some years ago. Click here for the image.

Learning in mother tongue- Is it viable?

Children taught in mother tongue

Children will learn and grow effectively when taught in their mother tongue

In a special talk on Ted.com, an advocate for Arabic language, Suzanne Talhouk, spoke about the grave need for people across the world to preserve their mother tongues. She says that for one to master any other language one must be a master of her or his own mother tongue first. Because that is from where most expressions come.

This piqued my interest. We have more than 92 different mother tongues in Nepal. The country’s richness in ethnicity and languages poses its own problems.

Let’s first look at some of the perks of learning in one’s mother tongue. Continue reading

Rana Tharu- “Flowers in a time capsule”

Reading an article on Rana Tharu women in an old edition of the National Geographic Magazine stirred in me a strong desire to meet these women in person. Rana Tharus are a sub group of Tharus, one of the largest ethnic communities in Nepal, who dwell in Far-Western Nepal. I’m sure it will be an amazing experience to have a tête-à-tête with these women and hear their stories. What can be more interesting and enriching than discovering things on one’s own.

A Rana Tharu woman

This picture appeared in NatGeo Magazine 2000

In the article entitled “Rana Tharu: Nepal’s Women of Grace” Debra Kellner, author, photographer and cinematographer born in the Canadian Outback, and Eric Valle, maker of the Oscar nominated Caravan or Himalaya (watch the film promo here), express their feelings about meeting these women. As a cover story of the NatGeo magazine, the article, set in September 2000, is a poignant recount of the life of Rana Tharus at the time.

Rana Tharu Dance: A YouTube Video I Watched Before Writing This Post

History of Rana Tharus

Once the proud owners of the forested lands in the Southern belt of Nepal, Rana Tharu women are now forced to live in their own land as tenants. For 400 years they remained aloof from the outside world just as the Kayapo Indians did in Brazil. Malarial jungles made the infiltration from outsiders impossible. With the introduction of DDT and other pesticides malaria was eradicated in 1950s and people started the encroachment of the Tharu lands. Today land is a highly disputed issue among the Tharu community (I do not like to deal with this issue as I’m more interested in knowing about their culture and history).

Anthropological studies on the Rana Tharus state that in the 16thcentury when the Moguls invaded India, Rajputs, members of a high caste in India at that time, were in a “conflict with a Muslim king who wanted to marry a Rajput girl”. The women and children fled to the plains or tarai (now the Nepal-India border) leaving their men behind to fight against the Muslims. Upon hearing that all Rajput men were killed in the tussle, the Tharu women began to marry the slaves who accompanied them during their escape.

Scholars claim that Rana Tharu women have retained their high class status and royal pedigree thus making themselves different from the Tharus.

Debra and Eric on Rana Tharu women

The couple who spent 9 months with the community found the Rana Tharus hospitable who welcomed the two as “part of the family”.

Eric Valle captures the trials and tribulations Rana Tharu women have gone through in his epic pictures. One of the pictures has Chanda, an elderly woman in the community, sporting a red flash on her forehead despite the death of her husband only a few years after their marriage as defiance to desolation.

Debra on the other hand describes the Rana Tharus as “flowers in a time capsule, like grace itself,” she looks at the women from her Jeep waving happily at her upon her departure.

It is sad that the kind of ethnic movement that has been simmering in the country for the last few years, we never know when these Rana Tharu women will be forced to live a life completely strange to them.

Rana Tharus and me

It is said that Rana Tharus was a matriarchal society where women had the power to choose or leave their groom at will. It will be interesting to hear a recount of the ancient tales of courtship and marriage (and also that of divorce or separation) from the elderly women of the community. For some reason elderly people (and children) seem to open up to me better than people of any other age groups.

I am bit of a radical person myself and would like to witness the determination of the Rana Tharu women mentioned in the NatGeo article. What greater evidence of their defiance to the changing times than the grit of these women to stick to their tradition not just in terms of the attire they sport but also in terms of their attitude as captured by Eric and Debra. Fourteen years have passed since the article was written and I worry if the women are still the same or as Debra says they are merely “flowers”. Will they easily  wither with time?

That only time will tell.

As I see 2013

It’s good to remember that in crises, natural crises, human beings forget for awhile their ignorance, their biases, and their prejudices. For a little while, neighbors help neighbors and strangers help strangers.

-Dr. Maya Angelou

Hope

Before we knew it another year is drawing to a close. Every year we resolve to try out new things or at least do things differently as a way to simplify our lives. We look forward to the New Year hoping something magical happens to us and that we live in bliss. But does life become simpler or get more complicated? Continue reading

What if I were like my 7-year old nephew?

Adwitiya (my nephew)

Adwitiya (my nephew)

My nephew asks me a flurry of questions every now and then that intrigue me most of the time. “Why is the sky blue? How many days make 1000 years?”

Sometimes he puts me into situations which I find are a tough nut to crack. And when I try to answer these questions, he tries to reason with me.

“It is the reflection of the sea that makes the sky blue,” he offers. I get struck with awe at the imagination of this 7-year old.

This brings me to a crucial question. Was I as smart as my nephew when I was his age? Well maybe or maybe not. Just read this reference to an incident as a proof of my naivety as a kid. A teacher of mine once asked me the following questions and here is how I responded as a seven-year old.

Teacher: “Do you have a brother?”

Me (7-year old): “Yes.

”Teacher: “Does your brother have a sister?”

Me: “No.”

Well, it happens, after all I am a 7-year old.

As a kid one has all the liberty to ask questions that may seem silly if an adult asks. E.g. my aunt was pregnant and we were was at a family party when I asked her to explain why her tummy was bigger than the rest of the family. My aunt could not utter a single word and simply dismissed the matter with a meek smile.

Children are children and no matter how many embarrassing questions they ask or comments they pass (of course within limits), they will still be adored. You are easily forgiven as a kid.

Of course there are disadvantages of being a kid when everybody tries to get the better of you, you do have your days as a kid. Carefree, playful, full of life. No tensions whatsoever. The only tension would be of doing homework on time. Wow!!!

My nephew

My nephew after drawing the “Life cycle of a butterfly”

If I were given a chance to go back to my childhood, I would definitely like to be a 7-year old kid like my nephew once again. Wouldn’t you like to revisit your childhood days and relive the carefree moments?