Category Archives: Happiness

Iboga

old morphineIboga is derived from the bark of a Central African shrub’s roots (ibogaine is the purified and measurable form of iboga).

Some Africans in the iboga habitat area chew the root for the psychoactive effects. It’s used in high doses in ritualistic settings and at low doses it can maintain alertness while hunting.

Iboga has gotten traction in the West for supposedly reversing addiction to recreational drugs, especially opiates. It’s illegal in the US because it’s a psychoactive compound and hasn’t been researched enough.

It’s not illegal in Mexico. There’re at least two independent “clinics” in my town of around 2,500. Addicts travel here to be treated. The treatment involves an ibogaine induced nightlong experience of insightful self-reflection and coming out of the experience with no cravings for the addictive substance.

I’ve talked to a few people who’ve been treated.

They all said it worked. But I wouldn’t say the ones I spoke to, or saw hanging around after treatment, were drug-free, because they still drank alcohol, smoked pot, or maybe other more secretive indulgences.

Maybe I’m just more familiar with the abstinence model, so my perspective is off. There still seems to be a hole that these former users were trying to fill with pretty heavy partying.

From what I could tell, there isn’t much follow-up after a couple of weeks. And as far as statistics were concerned it just seemed like word-of-mouth. The big addiction was addressed but the underlying issues that led to the addiction didn’t get much attention.

The whole iboga subculture always seemed incomplete. My ideas are only from talking to a few people. Other clinics may be much more thorough with follow-up and addressing underlying and unresolved psychological needs.

Here’re some ideas that I took away from an article in the Atlantic magazine  that shed a little light on the iboga treatment:

Physical dependence is only part of addiction. Above all, it’s a psychiatric problem. Drug addiction is defined as the compulsive use of drugs despite negative consequences. 

After an ibogaine trip, a user’s insights may figure prominently in the recovery story, but  about 10 percent of addicts are basically ready to quit at any given time and will respond to whatever they try.

Addiction can be framed as a developmental disorder. Fewer than 10 percent of addicts develop their habits after their early 20s, when the cortex finishes developing and introduces an adult aversion to risk.

…addicts are usually dealing with some other mental health problem or trauma that makes them vulnerable. And contrary to popular belief, most opiate addictions are not lifelong. They are resolved within five years, a little longer for heroin. The real task is mostly a matter of keeping addicts alive and otherwise healthy until they can age out of addiction.

The best way to do that is well established. Methadone and other long-term maintenance treatments cut mortality in half. They create physical dependence but not addiction, and they form a foundation for a stable life.

Ibogaine has its appeal among drug users, who often gravitate to underground culture anyway.

There’re other reasons an addict might shy away from mainstream programs, though. Eighty percent of treatment programs, including court-ordered treatments, are based on the 12-step process requiring surrender to a higher power.

The official policy is that addiction is a ‘biopsychosocial-spiritual’ disorder. How are they going to convince people it’s a health problem when you throw ‘spiritual’ into it? They’d never use the word ‘spiritual’ for something like depression.

A disease with prayer as an answer is a contradiction

It’s no wonder addicts are turning to other sorts of unearthly experiences that are less infantilizing.

History shows that for the most part, adults don’t want to be addicted to things. At the turn of the century, heroin was an ingredient in many over-the-counter products. When FDA labeling came into effect, consumption of those products plummeted.  

If ibogaine is the only treatment someone will accept, it may be a useful option to keep on the table, but maintenance treatments are by far the better and safer course.

Pull Back

rbf“Grumpy and bitter isn’t a place we begin. It’s a place we end up.

People don’t become selfish, hateful and afraid all at once. They do it gradually.

Do we find ourselves taking actions that make our conversations more considered, our arguments more informed, our engagements more civil? Or precisely the opposite, because it’s easier?” Those are Seth Godin’s observations in a recent blog post.

If you’ve been watching the Republican and Democratic conventions, characterizing the Republicans as grumpier and the Democrats as cheerier would be accurate. The Republicans seem focused on the negative, much of which resulted from their earlier policies and obstructionism. The Democrats seem to have a bigger tent and longer term view.

Leaving American politics aside, there are lots of people in the world who think everything is getting worse. But if we zoom out to see the bigger picture, the trending is more towards the good than bad for humans.

Today the standard of living is better than it used to be, in the US and even worldwide. It’s not where everyone would like, but it’s happening. While there’s occasional backsliding, but the general direction is toward a higher standard of living.

Consider that over the past century humans have reined in famine, plague, and war. What used to be uncontrollable and mysterious forces of nature are now more or less manageable challenges.

Now in the affluent countries, more people die from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals combined.

You never guess it by watching the news, but the average American is a thousand times more likely to die from bingeing at McDonalds than from being blown up by Al Qaeda.

Grumpier results from the easier short-term take on life. Cheerier happens if you can take a longer view.

Sex Ed

Cadillac de Ville, 1964

How many times do people have sex without producing a baby? It depends, but generally the answer is a lot. Maybe a thousand times to the one time resulting in a baby. And most people act like they’d have more sex if were available. Otherwise, the porn and romance (novel) industries would be much smaller.

Countries with lower quality Sex Ed tend to have more unwanted pregnancies. In Mexico, for example, I see lots of teens become pregnant earlier than I imagine they’d really like to. I’m not certain what the Sex Ed is like in Mexico, but my Mexican friends have told me it’s very limited.

I’m more acquainted with what happens in the US where “Reproductive education”often is the stand in for real “Sex education.” Someone said the way Sex Ed is usually taught in the US is like teaching “How an internal combustion engine works” and calling it “Driver’s Ed.” You’ll get a feel for how a car engine works, but you won’t know about stopping, signaling,  or any of the concepts you need to actually drive a car.

In a Gallup pole on happiness, there’re questions concerning a person’s perceived freedom to make life choices. Having kids before you want kids is one big factor restricting someone’s life choices.

The US recently finished 13th in the ranking of happiest nations. I’d bet that Americans who had kids because they didn’t get proper sex education wind up with a more negative outlook about their lives, and help to drive down the ranking for the US.

Self-care

pressureYou’re not slacking off if you put your well being first.

During preflight safety demonstrations, flight attendants tell you to put your oxygen mask on first, before trying to help anyone else. You’re not much use to someone else if you’re compromised too.

Most of do it or have done it, skipping meals until a project is done, staying up late then getting up early, saying you’ll do some exercise later.

It’s too bad that lots of people treat their well being as a sort of reward for something else they’re working on. People often don’t realize they’re short changing themselves, taking care of yourself shouldn’t be seen as a reward. It’s part of the process of being well which might help you better do those other things.

 

Connections

stormtroopersWhen companies are optimizing everything, it’s sometimes easy to forget that success is often built on experiences — like emotional interactions and complicated conversations and discussions of who we want to be and how our teammates make us feel — that can’t really be optimized.

Teams are now the fundamental unit of organizations. Studies show that groups tend to innovate faster, see mistakes more quickly and find better solutions to problems. 

Google has scrutinized everything.Working to figure out what made a team successful, Google kept coming across research focusing on what are known as ‘‘group norms.’’ Norms are the traditions, behavioral standards and unwritten rules for how we function when we gather. Norms can be unspoken or openly acknowledged, but their influence is often profound. Team norms typically override individual proclivities and encourage deference to the team.

There were two behaviors all the good teams generally shared.

First, members spoke in roughly the same proportion. On some teams, everyone spoke during each task; on others, leadership shifted among teammates from assignment to assignment. But in each case, by the end of the day, everyone had spoken roughly the same amount. 

Second, the good teams were skilled at intuiting how others felt based on their tone of voice, their expressions and other nonverbal cues. The more successful teams seemed to know when someone was feeling upset or left out. People on the ineffective teams seemed, as a group, had less sensitivity toward their colleagues.

On the better teams people may speak over one another, go on tangents, and socialize instead of remaining focused on the agenda. The team might seem inefficient to a casual observer. But all the team members speak as much as they need to. They’re sensitive to one another’s moods and share personal stories and emotions. While the team may not contain as many individual stars, the sum will be greater than its parts.

Other behaviors seemed important as well — like having clear goals and creating a culture of dependability. But Google’s data indicated that psychological safety, more than anything else, was critical to making a team work.

Establishing psychological safety is messy and difficult to implement. The kinds of people who work at Google are often the ones who became software engineers because they wanted to avoid talking about feelings in the first place.

No one wants to put on a ‘‘work face’’ when they get to the office, leaving part of their personality and inner life at home. But to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things without fear of recriminations. We can’t be focused just on efficiency. Rather, when we start the morning we want to know that our team mates really hear us. We want to know that work is more than just labor.

At the core of Silicon Valley are certain self-mythologies and dictums: Everything is different now, data reigns supreme, today’s winners deserve to triumph because they are cleareyed enough to discard yesterday’s conventional wisdoms while searching out the disruptive and the new.

The paradox is that Google’s intense data collection and number crunching have led it to the same conclusions that good managers have always known. In the best teams, members listen to one another and show sensitivity to feelings and needs.

When companies try to optimize everything, it’s sometimes easy to forget that success is often built on experiences — like emotional interactions and complicated conversations and discussions of who we want to be and how our teammates make us feel — that can’t really be optimized.

That’s my condensed version of a NYT article about successful team at Google.

It turns out that the best teams engender a feeling of psychological safety through building “connections” between team members.

This finding struck me because the importance of connections with other people has showed up in two other spots I know of.

One is in the Harvard Medical School study that began monitoring a group of young men starting in 1939 (the ones left are now old).

For 75 years, at least every two years, the participants were evaluated on their mental and physical health, career and retirement  satisfaction, and marital happiness.

The study’s goal identifying the  predictors of healthy aging. What’s the big takeaway from the study? Connections (good relationships) make us healthier and happier, and live longer. It wasn’t money or fame.

And the other spot I know of is from sociologist Dr. Brene Brown who says that the surest thing she took away from 12 years of research is “that connection is why we’re here.”

Keep building those connections for a better life at work and at home.

What is the scary stuff?

known:unknownThe internet is a cross between the world’s largest stage and library, and most people have access to it. Science and the internet are game changers.

But we still have some baked-in biases that once helped us, but now those biases can hold us back if we’re not aware that they’re present. One thing we do for example is over prioritizing our own experience above real science when forming impressions of the world around us. Another is giving too much weight to the scary or bad news that isn’t likely to affect us.

Making judgements this way was appropriate for most of human history since it was the best we could do before we had science and easy worldwide communication. But nowadays, we can do better.

To attain greater-than-caveman results in your life, you need to make life decisions using smarter-than-caveman techniques.

Common sense meditation

sp sunset by s hughesWhen I was young any interest in a transcendental experience was supplanted and snuffed out by the lure of lust, love, and other shiny things.

The physical realm’s attraction was too strong, and its more realizable results were too enticing. After my hormones peaked, those drives lessened. The possibility of reaching or uncovering a stable state of joy became more interesting, and easier to explore through meditation.

“Enchanted by” is the best way to describe my view of what meditation can do. Meditation seems like the best direction to take in pursuing an awakened state.

The way it seems to be is: your ego is your attachment to the constant stream of thoughts and internal chatter. Recognizing that attachment put you on the way to letting go of the  preoccupation with the thoughts bubbling up and drifting away.

I used to run a lot and was pretty good at it but I didn’t get a “runner’s high,” I just liked doing it. That’s what meditation is like for me too. I enjoy doing it but don’t experience a big shift in my outlook. I think something subtle is happening.

A few days ago, I got an email from a nephew who’s interested in meditation. The next day, I happened across a post on meditation by Leo Babauta with some easy-to-follow advice. So, instead of reinventing the wheel I thought I’d give a shortened version of Leo’s tips.

What’s one of the most important feelings for people to have? I think it’s enthusiasm. Without enthusiasm not much gets done, but with it who knows what’ll happen. That’s why I think Leo’s first tip is really significant. It is: start by meditating for just two minutes. Two minutes isn’t daunting and is easy to do and get behind. An easy way to maintain your enthusiasm while you’re building a habit.

Here’s what Leo has to say:

The most important habit I’ve formed in the last 10 years is meditation. Hands down, bar none.

Meditation has helped me to become more peaceful, more focused, less worried about discomfort, more appreciative and attentive to everything in my life. I’m far from perfect, but it has helped me come a long way.

Probably most importantly, it’s helped me understand my own mind. Before I started meditating, I never thought about what was going on inside my head — it would just happen, and I would follow its commands like an automaton. These days, all of that still happens, but more and more, I ‘m aware of what’s going on. I can make a choice about whether to follow the commands. I understand myself better (not completely, but better), and that has given me increased flexibility and freedom.

While I’m not saying it’s easy, you can start small and get better and better as you practice. Don’t expect to be good at first.

These tips aren’t aimed at helping you to become an expert … they should help you get started and keep going. You don’t have to implement them all at once — try a few, then come back and try one or two more.

  1. Sit for just two minutes. This seems ridiculously easy, to just meditate for two minutes. If that goes well, increase by another two minutes the next week. By increasing a little at a time, you’ll be meditating for 10 minutes a day in no time. But start small first.
  2. Do it first thing each morning. It’s easy saying “I’ll meditate every day,” and then forgetting to do it. Instead, do it every morning when you get up, and put a note that says “meditate” somewhere where you’ll see it.
  3. Don’t get caught up in the how. People worry about where and how to sit, it’s not that important. Start by sitting on a chair, on your couch, or on your floor. It’s just for two minutes at first anyway. Later you can worry about optimizing it, but in the beginning it doesn’t matter, just sit somewhere quiet and comfortable.
  4. Check in with how you’re feeling. As you first settle into your meditation session, simply check to see how you’re feeling. How does your body feel? What is the quality of your mind? Busy? Tired? Anxious? See whatever you’re bringing to this meditation session as completely OK.
  5. Count your breaths. Now that you’re settled in, turn your attention to your breath. Just place the attention on your breath as it comes in, and follow it through your nose all the way down to your lungs. Try counting “one” as you take in the first breath, then “two” as you breathe out. Repeat this to the count of 10, then start again at one.
  6. Come back when you wander. Your mind will wander. This is an almost absolute certainty. There’s no problem with that. When you notice your mind wandering, simply  return to your breathing. You might feel a little frustration, but it’s perfectly OK to not stay focused, we all do it. This is the practice, and you won’t be good at it for a little while.
  7. Develop a loving attitude. When you notice thoughts and feelings arising during meditation, as they will, look at them with a friendly attitude. See them as friends, not intruders or enemies. They are a part of you, though not all of you. Be friendly and not harsh.
  8. Don’t worry too much that you’re doing it wrong. You will worry you’re doing it wrong. That’s OK, we all do. You’re not doing it wrong. There’s no perfect way to do it, just be happy you’re doing it.
  9. Don’t worry about clearing the mind. Lots of people think meditation is about clearing your mind, or stopping all thoughts. It’s not. This can sometimes happen, but it’s not the “goal” of meditation. If you have thoughts, that’s normal. We all do. Our brains are thought factories, and we can’t just shut them down. Instead, just try to practice focusing your attention, and practice some more when your mind wanders.
  10. Stay with whatever arises. When thoughts or feelings arise, and they will, you might try staying with them awhile. Yes, I know I said to return to the breath, but after you practice that for a week, you might also try staying with a thought or feeling that arises. We tend to want to avoid feelings like frustration, anger, anxiety, but an amazingly useful meditation practice is to stay with the feeling for awhile. Just stay, and be curious.
  11. Get to know yourself. This practice isn’t just about focusing your attention, it’s about learning how your mind works. What’s going on inside there? It’s murky, but by watching your mind wander, get frustrated, avoid difficult feelings … you can start to understand yourself.
  12. Become friends with yourself. As you get to know yourself, do it with a friendly attitude instead of one of criticism. 
  13. Do a body scan. Another thing you can do, once you become a little better at following your breath, is focus your attention on one body part at a time. Start at the soles of your feet — how do those feel? Slowly move to your toes, the tops of your feet, your ankles, all the way to the top of your head.
  14. Notice the light, sounds, energy. Another place to put your attention, again, after you’ve practice with your breath for at least a week, is the light all around you. Just keep your eyes on one spot, and notice the light in the room you’re in. Another day, just focus on noticing sounds. Another day, try to notice the energy in the room all around you (including light and sounds).
  15. Really commit yourself. Don’t just say, “Sure, I’ll try this for a couple days.” Really commit yourself. In your mind, be locked in for at least a month.
  16. You can do it anywhere. If you’re traveling or something comes up in the morning, you can do meditation in your office. In the park. During your commute. As you walk somewhere. Sitting meditation is the best place to start, but in truth, you’re practicing for mindfulness in your entire life.
  17. Find a community. Find a community of people who are meditating and join them. 
  18. Smile when you’re done. Be grateful you had this time to yourself, that you stuck with your commitment, that you showed yourself that you’re trustworthy, that you took the time to get to know yourself and make friends with yourself. That’s an amazing two minutes of your life.

Meditation isn’t always easy or even peaceful. But it has benefits, and you can start today, and continue for the rest of your life.

Everyday system for moderate drinking

NYEBoweryThis is the second of seven posts about simple everyday systems for managing your time, health, and eating developed by Reinhard Engels. Fifteen or so years ago, Reinhard was an overweight computer programmer who ate poorly, sometimes drank too much, and avoided exercising.

For most things simplicity is the ultimate sophistication and according to Thoreau, “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”

So Reinhard created habits that were easy to do and could be sustained forever. He didn’t like complicated exercise routines – he wouldn’t like doing them and would likely stop if he made it to a goal.

About ten years ago, I stumbled across Reinhard’s idea for exercising for 14 minutes a day using a sledgehammer to mimic shoveling and other common movements.

Starting there, I checked out his other systems. They were easy to implement and claimed longterm results for himself.

I didn’t really go whole hog on his system because I was already doing, and enjoying, other stuff like lifting weights, but I have used his sledgehammer idea, more as a fun way to rehab from injury.

Anyway, what follows are my shortened versions, from his website and podcast explanations, of his “everyday systems.” I did it for myself to have the ideas in one spot, and for you too, if you’re interested.

This might be a good one for the New Year. Just say’n.

“The glass ceiling system” for healthy and pleasurable moderate drinking.

This isn’t intended for people who suspect they may be alcoholics. Please keep looking, but don’t look here.

Ok, so what’s the problem “the glass ceiling is trying to solve? Occasional excessive drinking.

Most of the time you’re fine, drinking like a normal person, but every once in a while you get  smashed, and could find yourself in trouble.

The obvious solution is to just stop drinking. But there’re two problems with the cold turkey strategy. One is that research shows that moderate drinking is ridiculously good for you. Moderate drinking defined as a drink or two a day, depending on how big you are. The other is that moderate drinking is a great pleasure. For moderate alcohol consumption, with its clean bill of health, the claim of pleasure is real and legitimate.

So how do you balance this if you’re given to occasional over drinking, and still want to get the health and pleasure benefits of moderate drinking? A two drink a day absolute maximum. No more than too glasses a day. That’s your glass ceiling. Yes, there’s fudge room. But not so much fudge room that you’re going to wind up with problems.

Two glasses are clearly different from three. On the other hand, there is wiggle room. You could get an enormous Bavarian beer stein and fill it up with Everclear, but you can’t do it without seeming like an astonishing drunkard. You can’t hide your excess in lots of dainty little increments, and excess, when it’s out in the open like that, is shameful.

Shame has a bad rap these days, but shame can be good. Shame has been around for all of recorded history. It isn’t going anywhere. You might as well use it instead of fighting it or pretending it doesn’t exist. It’s powerful. Make shame your ally and shame will keep you reasonably moderate.

OK, other ambiguities and potential loopholes…

No refills. This should go without saying, but common sense sometimes has trouble with the obvious after a couple drinks.

And no saving up. Use it or lose it. If you don’t drink for ten days that doesn’t mean you can drink 20 drinks on day 11.

Allow for the occasional 4 drink event. Yes, 4 drinks is a binge. But as binges go, it’s as small as they get. If you’re the kind of person that needs a system like this, you probably would have had much more otherwise. But if you find yourself doing this a lot, alarms should go off.

A word of advice to those with unsympathetic drinking buddies: don’t tell them what you are doing. If you play it cool, chances are they won’t notice, especially if you alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. A tonic and tonic looks amazingly like a gin and tonic.

Conversely, when you’re starting out at least, I’d avoid mixed drinks that you mix yourself. The mix is camouflage. With a dash of cranberry juice you can bypass the shame of drinking a big glass of vodka. Shame is your friend.

If you are physically small or want to give yourself some extra buffer, lower the ceiling to 1 drink. Or have a variable ceiling of 1 drink on  week days, 2 on weekend days. But be sure you can stick with this. Much better to abide by a liberal law than break a strict one.

You’ll have a much easier time exercising moderation if you genuinely enjoy and respect what you drink. Don’t view it as drunk-juice. You’ll be drinking less, so spend a little more and get the good stuff. Moderation is an opportunity for greater pleasure.

And as an additional benefit is that your tolerance will go way down. I can now get a nice buzz from two drinks.

I haven’t been more than a little tipsy since I started this in early 2002, yet I enjoy alcohol far more than I ever did in my youth. Frankly, I’m amazed. 

That’s it for glass ceiling. It’s probably the simplest system I’ve discussed yet, but it changed my life.

Chuck Norris jokes

everything is borrowedIt’s close to the holiday season and the parties that come with it. So brushing up on some jokes may be a good idea. I’ll share my favorite Chuck Norris jokes with you.

There’s a whole genre of one-liner extravagant claims. For example, trading insults about your mama, like “Your mama’s so fat, the back of her neck looks like a pack of hotdogs.” Or there’s the “World’s most interesting man” ads for Dos Equis beer, which are great too.

The Chuck Norris one-liners are useful. When you want to use extreme exaggeration to make a point, replace Chuck Norris with the person you’re talking about. For example “When Donald Trump turned 18… his parents moved out.” After all, the holidays have generally become a time for excess.

Here’re my favorites:

There’re no steroids in sports, there’re just players Chuck Norris has breathed on.

Chuck Norris can speak French… In Russian.

Chuck Norris beat the sun in a staring contest.

Once, a cobra bit Chuck Norris. Then after five days of excruciating pain, the cobra died.

When Chuck Norris was born he drove his mom home from the hospital.

Chuck Norris has counted to infinity. Twice.

Chuck Norris’ tears cure cancer. Too bad he’s never cried.

Chuck Norris has a diary. It’s called the Guinness Book of World Records.

Chuck Norris’s daughter lost her virginity, he got it back.

Chuck Norris hears sign language.

Chuck Norris can do a wheelie on a unicycle.

When Chuck Norris turned 18, his parents moved out.

Chuck Norris sheds his skin twice a year.

If you spell Chuck Norris in Scrabble, you win. Forever.

Chuck Norris ordered a Big Mac at Burger King, and got one.

When Chuck Norris does a pushup, he’s pushing the Earth away.

Once, Chuck Norris walked down the street with an erection. There were no survivors.

Chuck Norris just stares down a book until he gets the information he wants.

Chuck Norris can see around corners with his penis.

Chuck Norris doesn’t win, he allows you to lose.

Chuck Norris can understand women.

Jesus walked on water, but Chuck Norris can swim on land.

Roots

tropical boat launchThere’re lots of transient North Americans living in our little Mexican town every winter. As the weather gets hot in the spring, they return North.

In the industrialized world, moving is common. We do it all the time for work, love, or for a better climate. So far, I’ve lived for long periods in three different spots.

How’s a community  built and sustained if you’re not a local?Sometimes we discover the picture we thought you had, that everybody thought we had, actually turns out to be wrong. Building a permanent and sustainable community takes time.

The problem seems to be how to connect when connecting is time limited. When it comes to community, you get what you give. I don’t know what the right mix of time and place is, maybe there really isn’t one. We just have roots in different spots and those roots will just be a little weaker than the roots that are in one spot.

The situation reminds me of Segal’s law which says “A man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure.”