Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday. It reminds us to take a moment out of our busy lives to think about how many blessings we truly enjoy. However, Robert Emmons of UC Davis and Michael McCullough of the University of Miami believe that being grateful on a regular basis is important to our overall well-being. Saying “thank you” isn’t just good manners–it helps us maintain better physical health and an optimistic outlook.
Uncle Leroy Gets Scrutinized by His Future Combat Engineer Niece
This year, many people are probably gathering around their Thanksgiving dinner trying to keep a positive attitude in spite of huge setbacks, disappointments, and financial challenges. To them, I offer the same advice I try to follow myself when things look particularly grim. I use the “Leroy standard,” which refers to my late brother, journalist Leroy Sievers, who passed away last year after a lengthy and courageous battle with cancer. If I’m feeling grumpy, I ask myself if Leroy would like my day. I’m pretty sure the answer would be a resounding yes. I thought of Leroy last Thursday, as I was holding on for a root canal scheduled this week, sick with a bad cold, nearly late for class because somebody punched some nails in the tires of our car, none of my technology was working in class, and so on. But how could that possibly compare with two brain surgeries, lung ablations, chemo, radiation, and three back surgeries? I would be totally embarrassed to complain.
On the very plus side of my life, here’s what comes to mind this Thanksgiving as the things for which I’m most grateful:
My wonderful family–Roger has put up with me for 40 years now, Kristin (she’s a bit older than in the photo above) returned safely from a year in Iraq, Karen continues to thrive in her doctoral program, and Karla was thrilled to see a piece of her art used in an online news article. We are especially pleased that new technologies, like Facebook, have helped us keep up with our extended family members–my Aunt Jeanne, Pam, and David in Houston, cousin Ingrid in Massachusetts, and our numerous nieces and nephews.
Health–sure there are some tweaks and twinges that happen at 57 that didn’t happen at 20, but by and large, we’re doing pretty well, especially since we have a handle on the weight thing.
My students–I love many aspects of my job, but interacting with my students has always been a huge source of pleasure. It’s so much fun to see those light bulbs go on, or feel like a conversation really lit the fire of inquiry in someone that might not otherwise have happened.
My friends–I’m lucky to have some really good people in this category. Some I’ve known since kindergarten, others are newer, but all are worth their weight in gold. Once again, we’re enjoying the use of Facebook to keep up with each other.
My freedom–My personality tests have always pinpointed me as a person who doesn’t like to be told what to do. As if I needed a test to tell me that….So how wonderful that I was born in a time and place that has provided more freedom to more people than any other political organization in the history of humankind.
So whatever your list might be, maybe it needs to be reviewed more than one day out of the 365 per year. Emmons and McCullough would no doubt approve, and I think Leroy would, too. As William James says, “To change one’s life: Start immediately. Do it flamboyantly.”
Today is a bit of a milestone for Mr. F and me–forty years ago, November 22, 1969, we went on our first date. And what did we do? We went to the USC-UCLA football game, of course. Little did the 17-year-old Mr. F know that this activity would be a thrill for me, but that other girls might not share that view. As always, the game was amazing, with the Trojans winning 14-12 on a last minute reception by Sam Dickerson. Apparently, forty years later, fans are still debating whether he was inbounds or not–certainly there was no review in those days.
Sam Dickerson's 1969 Game-winning Catch Is Still Debated
Mr. F was being recruited by both schools at the time, so had received the tickets as part of the recruiting process. We enjoyed many other dates that year attending sports events–including floor level seating for Bruin basketball games, which allowed us to marvel at Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and his teammates.
We’ve been back a few times to watch the USC-UCLA football games, and this year’s looks like it should be pretty exciting, too. We won’t be attending in person, but will probably be watching on television. Who do we cheer for, you ask? Well, we really can’t lose. Mr. F ended up competing for UCLA, and all three of my degrees are from UCLA, but he went on to get two master’s degrees from USC. Daughter Karen earned a master’s at USC and competed for their track team, setting both indoor and outdoor school records in the shot put. Because USC was so kind to my family, I have to admit I like their style and generally root for them. I’m sure social psychologists would have a good explanation for that.
Having a blog has opened up new conversations with people I would otherwise never encounter, and I’ve really enjoyed the exposure to new ideas. Last year, Karen and I were asked to comment on a person’s choice of avatars. We had to do a bit of research into this area before responding, but we had a lot of fun with it. Recently, I was approached by a group of Canadian journalism students who wanted to know what I thought of “Maker Culture.”
I had to confess that I had never even heard of Makers, but the students kindly forwarded some links that would give me some background. My immediate impression was that the Makers are tapping into some type of biological reward system. Mr. F and I had experienced similar feelings when puttering in our garden–there is something innately satisfying about producing your own food. So in my interview with Mark, I framed the Makers in evolutionary psychology terms. Why do people still enjoy gardening, woodworking, hunting, and fishing when you can buy food and furniture at the local store? Sure, the food is fresh and tasty and handmade crafts are special, but is that the only source of pleasure?
I have to say that the most bizarre example of Making was the mouse mouse–literally a dead mouse converted into a computer mouse, featured on the website Instructables. I may be a psychologist, but the motivation for this one eludes me completely.
Instructables' Mouse Mouse may be taking maker culture a tad far....
The students are beginning to report on their findings, and you can see Mark’s blog post here. If you’d like to learn more about the Makers, follow the Ryerson links above and check these out:
As I mentioned in an earlier post, Cengage, who publish my Discovering Biological Psychology, is launching CengageBrain.com, a new portal for obtaining textbooks directly without paying the college bookstores their middleman cuts. You can buy regular textbooks, eBooks, or eChapters. A new feature is the ability to rent a textbook. My book is one of the first batches available for this new rental service, which is very exciting.
CengageBrain makes renting easy and inexpensive
It’s exciting to see the publishers take this step, as it will go a long way towards reducing the cost to the student and recapturing some of the compensation due to those of us who actually produce the materials. Just like the music industry solved the Napster problem, I think this type of creativity on the part of the publishers will help solve the textbook cost issue. It’s just basically unfair for the bookstores to make huge amounts of money on our work without having to pay us a nickel. I’d feel differently about it if the students got a good deal when they sell their books and buy used, but they don’t. The bookstores make about $70 each time they sell my book, and all they have to do to earn that is to warehouse it for a few days between terms. If they were as worried about the students as they say, they could either pay students more for books or take less profit on them, but that’s not how it works. Maybe things will start to change.