Dawn McMullan and Gorethy Nabushosi with some of the students in the Congo Restoration sewing school.

Restoring Women’s Lives in the Congo

When Dawn McMullan visited Africa in 2007, she never dreamed it would change her life in so many ways — or change the lives of others. “I went to Rwanda on a trip with my church and saw things I didn’t know existed,” says Dawn, a freelance writer and editor in Dallas, Texas. The country had been ravaged by civil war in the mid-90s; more than 1 million people died in Rwanda and 6 million were killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “I’d seen deep poverty [on other mission trips], but I hadn’t seen a lack of infrastructure where basic human needs were just unreachable.” That experience was still fresh in her mind when she met Gorethy Nabushosi less than a year later. Gorethy, a refugee who had fled the Congo in 1997 and raised her six children in Dallas, had visited her home country to see how she could help. A decade after the genocide, she saw a system that was completely broken. [caption id="attachment_19859" align="aligncenter" width="225"] Gorethy Nabushosi with twin fifth grade students from the Congo Restoration sewing school.[/caption] “She went to a village and basically found a lot of orphans and took in all 30 kids,” Dawn says. “Then she called her husband and said, ‘I need $1,000 to figure out what to do with these kids. I can’t leave them.’ And that’s how it began.” Unsure of where to turn, Gorethy returned to Dallas and reached out to a Methodist church for help. The church connected her with Dawn, who immediately jumped on board. “When Gorethy came into my life, I was already somewhat familiar with the situation and had this great, inexplicable passion for it,” Dawn says. “From there, we started what became Congo Restoration.” Changing Africa One Woman at a Time The first order of business was to secure a home with caretakers for the 30 orphans Gorethy had taken in. Then, they focused on empowering women through education. In 2010, they started a sewing school that provided girls with a skill and a six-month education. In the Congo, girls and women are usually sent to work in the fields; Gorethy knew that offering them an education would be life changing. “Not only does that give them a way to make money that they didn’t have before, but it also raises them up in society,” Dawn explains. “They’re no longer the lowest ranks of society; they are respected women, because they have a business. They can send their kids to school. They’re in charge of their financial destiny. And that is not a thing in the Democratic Republic of Congo that a woman would usually be in charge of.” Initially, it was a hard sell to convince parents to take their daughters away from working in the fields to teach them a skill because it meant the girl wouldn’t be bringing home money during that time. Sometimes, Dawn says, they had to offer the family things of value like soap or salt to seal the deal. But the sewing school has now graduated more than 800 women, supplying each one with a sewing machine and a sewing kit with everything they need to start their own business. Creating a Brighter Future “Now when we're about to graduate a class, hundreds of women line up wanting to be in that next class,” Dawn says. “Their families cry when they get their diploma. It’s a shift in how the community sees these women.” She also sees dramatic changes in the women who attend the school: “We teach them a lot of things in those six months. Sewing is one of them, but there are other things we teach them about how valuable they are. And by the time they graduate, you can see that in their eyes.” Congo Restoration continues changing the lives of families in the Congo, but Dawn says she is the one who has gained so much from the work. “When I go to Congo, when I’m doing things for the schools, I get so much thanks from the people there,” she says. “But they have no idea how much they’re changing me, how much they’re teaching me. I wish everyone could find the one thing they can do like that that lights them up. “If everybody did something with a passion to do good in the world, there’s just no way the world’s not benefiting from all that good energy.” [caption id="attachment_19865" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Gorethy Nabushosi with recent graduates of Congo Restoration's sewing school.[/caption]
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#HappyActs Happiness Wall.

Spread More Happiness in Your Community This March

With global unhappiness on the rise and more people experiencing feelings of worry, stress, loneliness, and sadness, it’s clear that we all need to pitch in and to do our part to make the world a happier place.   Since 2013, Live Happy has been celebrating the International Day of Happiness (IDOH) on March 20 with a month-long #HappyActs campaign to bring awareness to happiness and well-being. This year’s #HappyActs theme is all about building stronger communities because improving the places where we live, work and play benefits us all. Community can have many definitions but at its core, it is people helping people. When we all work together, we can enjoy a more harmonious life. Whether it’s checking in on an elderly neighbor, cleaning up your local park, or volunteering your time at a local animal shelter, we all have the responsibility to make a positive difference. Every act of kindness has the chance to not only make the beneficiaries happy, but also the people who perform these acts. That’s a winning combination. During the month of March, Live Happy is calling on all Happy Activists to go to livehappy.com/happyacts to learn how to participate in this year’s IDOH 2023 celebration. Here are just a few things you can do make sure you are spreading happiness to those in your community. Host Your Own Happiness Wall At, LiveHappy.com, you can find several ideas on how to create your own Happiness Wall, download a printable Happiness Wall that can be posted almost anywhere, or order Poster Happiness wall from the Live Happy store. It doesn’t matter what type of wall you create, just as long as you register it with us here. Join thousands of Happy Activists around the world by hosting Happiness Walls in public viewing areas, including parks, shopping malls and businesses. Classrooms and offices can be also great places for a Happiness Wall. Celebrating IDOH 2023 is a fun way to share happiness with your family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and community members. Make #HappyActs a Happy Habit All Month Long While acts of kindness should be positive habits practiced all year long, Live Happy is encouraging all Happy Activists to download their very own free #HappyActs calendar with a different act of kindness idea for each day of the month. That’s 31 #HappyActs all dedicated to making your community stronger. You can plant some flowers or vegetables in your community garden, leave a positive review for your favorite neighborhood business or just give someone a sincere compliment. These #HappyActs will not only make other happy, but your happiness will increase too. Don’t forget to let us know through your social media by using #LiveHappy and #HappyActs.
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Nurse helping a female patient in an emergency room.

The Courage to Care

What does it take to be a hero? Do you have to be faster than a speeding bullet or more powerful than a locomotive? While having uncanny physical powers doesn’t hurt, according to Carol Pearson, Ph.D., author of The Hero Within and Awakening the Heroes Within, all you need to be a hero is the ability to believe in yourself and the courage to do the right thing at the right time. In fact, not jumping on those opportunities in life, such as applying for the job that you’ve always wanted or asking out that person you have admired, can leave you with regret, self-doubt and quite possibly depression. “The heroic life is really based on the idea that you are here for a purpose and the purpose just isn’t for you, and you are going to be happier if you focus on that,” Carol says. “It doesn’t mean that you can’t thrive personally. In fact, very often when people are doing the thing that is most right for them, cosmically right for them, they thrive and do well. The artists paint great pictures that others relate to because they are coming from a place that is connected to the larger world.” While first responders practice their courage daily, and soldiers perform great acts of valor out of circumstance and duty, everyday heroism is something we can all engage in to make the world a better place. “Having courage is fundamental to living a happy life, because if you wimp out, life is going to get you,” Carol says. “It takes courage to be fully intimate with somebody. And to be seen fully and to fully commit to what you love.” The word “hero” inspires visions of the Homeric champion who fights an epic battle or the daring adventurer who returns to change the world with what she has learned. But everyone has the power to live boldly. Carol points out that doctors save lives every day, and parents make great sacrifices to pave the way for their children. “We need to stop just thinking ‘What can I get?’ and not see it as in conflict with one’s own good,” she says. “Very often we are most successful when we are doing not only the right thing for us, but what is good for others as well.” You don’t have to have a Bruce Wayne-esque tragedy in your life to turn you into a caped crusader warding off evildoers at night. More often than not, having a healthy and safe upbringing will give you the confidence and trust in yourself to save someone who has fallen into a river or, at the very least, to rescue a neighbor’s kitten from a tree. While it is not always the case, working on strengths like altruism and bravery will give you the mettle to act when the moment is right. Even if you didn’t know you could, your dormant hero will rise to the occasion. The Everyday Hero Ronnie McCarroll has been a firefighter for more than two decades. Although he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do after high school, he was clear on what he didn’t want to do, and that was follow the family legacy into construction. With limited resources for college, he had to weigh his options closer to home. One of his high school football coaches happened to be a volunteer firefighter and often compared the firefighter atmosphere to that of a football team. Ronnie liked what he heard. He soon put himself through firefighter and emergency medical technician school and started testing for the fire department. “I had to sit back and think about what I really wanted to do, and maybe something that coach said made me think ‘This is it,’” Ronnie says. “Now, looking back, I think it is the best choice I could have ever made. I love the job, and it’s amazing and rewarding. I didn’t think about firefighters giving back, having a sense of duty to help. I never thought about those things until I got into the job.” Now Ronnie is a fire captain at the Flower Mound Fire Department in Flower Mound, Texas, with 24 years on the job. He mentors young firefighters on how to handle dangerous situations. He instructs all of his firefighters to be compassionate and treat all people they encounter on calls as if they were family members. When someone calls 911, more likely than not, it is probably the worst day of his or her life. “I don’t think you can be a good firefighter without [compassion,]” Ronnie says. “You have to constantly fight the urge to not become bitter and calloused. We get a lot of overdose calls where people aren’t happy with their lives. It is easy to sit back and say ‘I would do it this way,’ or ‘I wouldn’t live in this situation.’ For me, I think my compassion is too much sometimes, but I also believe that is what has helped me have a very positive career so far.” Ronnie is passionate about his duty to his community. He is well aware of the risk involved in his line of work, though he never knows what will happen next. “I have been in a couple situations where the thought crossed my mind that I might not get out of this, and I don’t think any of us truly know how we are going to act until we are in that situation,” he says. “But that is the commitment I have made to the people of Flower Mound where I serve. I think there have to be people like that in the world, there have to be people willing to sacrifice.” It hasn’t always been an easy road, he says, and firefighters see things people shouldn’t see. He once had a call to a residence where a baby had died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. There was nothing anyone could do. After that, he volunteered for a critical stress-management class and learned that he had to start dealing with it. “The good things that we do far outweigh the bad experiences,” Ronnie says. “To me that’s rewarding enough to keep plugging away.”                The Sacrifice in Saving Dr. Johnathon Berry grew up reading his dad’s Soldier of Fortune magazines and watching John Wayne in The Green Berets. His father served two tours in Vietnam and recounted stories about the Green Berets training and fighting alongside the Montagnards, the indigenous mountain people of that region. When the time came for John to figure out what he wanted to do with his life, the military was willing to pay for school, and he liked the idea of becoming the Special Forces soldier he so admired as a kid. Through his training, he discovered a knack for medicine. Special Forces Green Beret medics are the go-to physicians for everything from stabilizing battle wounds to dentistry and even veterinary medicine. After three deployments to Afghanistan, he was all too familiar with providing life-saving care on the battlefield. When his 20-year retirement mark in the military was approaching, he opted for medical school over the CIA, FBI or DEA, and eventually became an emergency room doctor. He now splits his time practicing at hospitals in Colorado and Texas. “Carrying a gun was something that I was good at at the time, but I didn’t want to make a career out of it,” John says. “As a father of two girls, it didn’t seem like a good option.” His decision didn’t come without personal sacrifice. When he left Afghanistan in 2002 to take his medical school entrance exams, his friend and fellow Green Beret, Chris Speer, replaced him. Three weeks after the replacement, Chris died of a head injury from a grenade explosion. John was given the honor of escorting Chris’ body back to the United States. John says he can’t help but bear certain responsibility, and it is something he will never forget. “I like to think that God had a different purpose and plan for me.” While his mission has changed and he is no longer risking his life to help others, he continues to save as many lives as he can. He attributes his character to his faith and a solid foundation. His grandparents raised him, instilling a strong sense of family and the responsibility to always look out for and care for others. “I’ve always had a lot of empathy for people,” he says. “So being a natural caregiver, I always have the compassion to want to help people and to be able to feel and understand what my patients are going through.” The Lady With a Lamp Renee Thompson, DNP, RN, the author of Celebrate Nursing: Human by Birth, Hero by Choice, has been a nurse for 25 years. There isn’t much she hasn’t witnessed, felt or heard when it comes to healing the sick. She has done everything from bedside care to taking on executive leadership roles. She knows how important it is for nurses to embrace their heroism. “[Nurses] have to be resilient,” Renee says. “I actually refer to it as hardiness. You have to go into to a workplace with the unpredictability that comes with health care, because you never know what you are going to get. And even when bad things happen, you have to be able to get back up the next day and go back in again.” Now a CEO of her company, RT Connections in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Renee speaks publicly about and provides education on nursing culture. She feels that being heroic in her field is essential because it’s not only good for the patients but for fellow nurses and hospital staff as well. “There is no way anyone in health care can take care of a person independently,” she explains. “If a person embraces their heroism and recognizes that everyone has value, then they are ready to deliver good, compassionate, effective health care. Everything that we do impacts the care that we can deliver to that patient.” With the long hours, sore feet and bereavement that often accompanies nursing, Renee says all of that negativity can be remedied by being positive and compassionate, a beacon of light for someone who is in the darkest of hours. “We have the opportunity to make a serious difference in the lives of other people, especially when they are at their worst,” she says. “There is no greater joy for a nurse than to hold a patient’s hand when they are going through something horrific and that patient comes back to you and says, ‘I wouldn’t have gotten through this without you.’ ” Every nurse has a story like that. For Renee, hers involved a woman with head trauma from a motorcycle accident. The patient could not communicate, and her situation was bleak. Aside from her normal duties, Renee also painted the patient’s nails, shaved her legs and gave her pedicures. Eventually the patient stabilized and was moved to another wing of the hospital.  A few months later, a woman who looked vaguely familiar was waiting for Renee at the nurse’s station. “This woman said to me clearly and articulately, ‘I just wanted to thank you; my daughter told me how you took care of me, and there is no way I can repay you for that,’” Renee recalls. “She gave me the biggest hug, and I cried. It’s just the miracle of life. This was a woman who couldn’t even respond and now she can tell me ‘thank you’ in her own words. That’s what keeps you going. You live for those moments.” How To Be a Hero You don’t have to run into burning buildings, dodge enemy bullets or bring someone back to life to be more heroic. Researchers like Phil Zimbardo, Ph.D., renowned psychologist and founder of the Heroic Imagination Project in San Francisco, and fellow researcher Zeno Franco, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin, have been working on the topic for years. Their goal is to give families the tools to recognize and help turn around negative situations, making real positive change. To act heroically, it’s critical to increase the sphere of what you are paying attention to in your life, Zeno says. If you see someone being treated unfairly, and you truly believe it’s wrong and something you can speak up about, you will learn to step forward to help instead of saying “It’s not my problem,” he says. “Most of us in any given week have a chance to be a small hero, and over the course of our lives, we’ll have the chance to be pretty significant to somebody else several times,” he says. “Often we miss it and end up being a bystander unintentionally because we are not paying attention.” Failure to act can cause guilt, especially when someone is hurt physically or socially. Zeno says this can lead to self-doubt and negative feelings about your own character. “I think that everyone encounters risks for speaking out about what’s right,” he says. It’s important for people to realize they are still capable of taking action when required, even when it’s not comfortable, he says. For children, sharing stories where the good guys win helps them activate “their heroic imagination,” Zeno says. It can help them learn to not shy away from taking stands when they grow up. Happy Heroes Can being a hero make you happy? Zeno says yes and no. There may be positive satisfaction from saving someone from serious injury or death, but after the heroics are over you may feel as if you didn’t do enough, or you might go through withdrawal once the spotlight is off. Carol says that failing to trust in yourself or consistently act on your beliefs can make you unhappy. “People are happier when they have courage and confidence because they do act on what they want,” she says. Ronnie, as humble and grateful as he is about his job as a firefighter, says he is happier when he’s helping. “Sometimes I feel guilty for taking the accolades for the job that we do,” Ronnie says. “Why wouldn’t someone want to do this? It’s rewarding in itself.” John, the Green Beret medic, says accepting the risk comes with the territory. “When I loaded up on that helicopter or a truck to go on to a target, or when I stood up on that ramp at 25,000 feet at 3 a.m. getting ready to jump out of a transport plane, I was always at peace. I never once worried about my own death.” That risk can also give us perspective, reminding us to live our lives in the present and be grateful for the people we have around us. “When I see that 18-year-old who was in a drunken driving accident and his mom is standing there holding his hand because he has a brain injury that he will never recover from, I think to myself, ‘I’m going to go home and love my daughter, and I’m going to appreciate every single moment with my child,’” Renee says. “Because what makes me any different from this mom and this child? … It can be taken away in a moment. It’s a gift to be able to go home and really be mindful and in the moment with our family and friends."
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In Search of Wisdom

How to Be Compassionate Toward Difficult People

I am often asked the following question: “I want to be compassionate and kind, but how do I do that when I’m confronted with ingratitude, bad faith, hostility and ill will? How do I feel altruism for the ruthless barbarians of ISIS?” In the Buddhist teachings, we are often given the advice not to inwardly own the wrongs that have been done to us. There is the story about someone who insulted the Buddha many times. The Buddha finally asked him, “If someone gives you a gift and you refuse it, who in the end is the owner of the gift?” A little disconcerted, the man replied that it’s the person who is trying to give the gift. And the Buddha concluded, “Your insults—I don’t accept them, thus they remain yours.” Dealing with ingrates, boors and nasty people, it seems to me we have everything to gain by maintaining a compassionate attitude. By remaining calm, courteous and open to the other, in the best-case scenario, I will disarm their hostility. And if they don’t change their attitude, I will have at least kept my dignity and my inner peace. If I get into a confrontation, I will myself commit the faults that I deplore in the other. The usual pattern in confrontation is escalation. You keep shouting louder and louder, I reply shout for shout, the tone worsens, and the next thing you know, we’re moving in the direction of violence. If we fight hate with hate, the problem will never end. It Is Possible to Be Compassionate Toward Others Without Conditions • Don’t be frightened by the practice of unconditional altruism and say that it is beyond your reach. Don’t ever think, “The suffering of others is none of my business.” • Don’t blame yourself for not doing what is beyond your strength, but do reproach yourself for turning away when you can do something. • No matter what level we start from, kindness and compassion can be cultivated just like any other physical or mental aptitudes. • We should make use of our natural ability to be compassionate toward those near us as a starting point for extending our compassion beyond our family and those we love. Excerpted from In Search of Wisdom: A Monk, a Philosopher, and a Psychiatrist on What Matters Most, by Matthieu Ricard, Christophe André and Alexandre Jollien. Sounds True, June 2018. Reprinted with permission.
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Great strides

Walking School Bus a Lesson in Happiness

“I always have a good day on Wednesdays,” says 12-year-old Albert Carter. The reason? That’s when he participates in his school’s walking school bus. Each week, a group of spirited senior citizens—including 66-year-old Jo Ann Washington and 80-year-old Bertha Barnes—along with other volunteers, chaperone about a dozen children on the 1-mile morning trek from East Berry Branch Library to Christene C. Moss Elementary School in Fort Worth, Texas. “It’s important to walk because when you wake up in the morning, you feel all tired,” Albert says. “Walking loosens you up and wakes you up so then you can have energy to go to school and get passing grades.” Eight-year-old Ja’liyah Williams puts it bluntly: “Driving to school is boring,” she says. “My favorite thing about the walking school bus is that everyone comes and we play together. We’re always singing.” Volunteers don fluorescent yellow vests and teach the children safety rules along the way, adding to their brood as they go since some children are picked up in front of their homes. “It gives me great joy working with them,” Jo Ann says. “I’m glad to be a part and just feel like a kid.” Principal Charla Wright-Staten says she’s noticed a change in her students who walk to school. “They’re able to get some of their restlessness out and come in ready to work and learn,” she says. “They don’t know they’re establishing healthy lifestyles—we kind of sneak that in.” Change of Pace In 1969, almost 50 percent of children in kindergarten through eighth grade walked or biked to school. By 2009, that number dropped to less than 13 percent. That’s why community leaders in Fort Worth and around the world are implementing walking school buses, which teach children lifetime fitness habits and reduce traffic at the same time. The idea is simple: A group of children walk to school with two or more adults. Some schools partner with community groups, like how Christene C. Moss Elementary joined forces with Silver Sneakers, a fitness program for seniors offered by a local YMCA chapter. That’s how Bertha found out about the program. “I like walking, and I like kids,” Bertha says. “All of my own kids are up and gone.” In Fort Worth, 30 elementary schools have launched walking school buses as part of the Blue Zones Project, a well-being improvement initiative aimed at helping people lead longer lives by making healthy choices easier. Across the country, 42 communities in nine states have joined the Blue Zones Project, and walking school buses are common in those locations. Take it from Ja’liyah: “Come walk and get used to it. Then when you grow up, you already know what to do.” Happy Feet While the physical benefits are clear, Charla notes another significant impact the walking school bus has on her students. “They see it’s beyond just their parents, teachers and principal that care about them,” Charla says. “They’re seeing that there really is a village around them.” Take Albert, who appreciates it when the adults listen to what he has to say. “I feel better when I’m walking because we talk about stuff, and I just think about that sometimes and that kind of boosts my day.” But it’s not just the students who are benefiting: While Ja’liyah and Albert both say they’re learning to pay attention, listen and get better grades, Jo Ann points out that she’s learning from the kids as well. “It was cold one morning, and I knew those babies weren’t going to come out and walk,” she says. “That particular day, there were even more of them. You talk about devoted.” For Bertha, interacting with the children is leaving a lasting impression. “They’re teaching me how to be jolly and not worry about anything,” she says. While Bertha hopes she’s relaying the importance of morning exercise, there’s another lesson that’s not lost on the students. “It’s amazing that you can be 80 and look 52,” Albert says after learning Bertha’s age. His wish when he’s 80? “I hope I'm like Bertha.”
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Woman buying tomatoes at Eastern Market.

Mixing It Up at Detroit’s Eastern Market

It's 5 a.m. and a cool breeze chills the air. Lights burst on in market sheds and trucks rumble in as farmers from Michigan, Ohio and just across the river in Canada hurry to unload their produce and other goods before the crowds begin to arrive at 6 a.m. Soon, colorful mounds of tomatoes, corn and spices are piled high, heaps of flowers spill over the pavement, and fresh eggs, meat, cheese and handmade baked goods tempt shoppers to fill their tote bags. Today, like every Saturday, as many as 45,000 visitors will come together in Detroit’s famous Eastern Market. They arrive from the inner city and from the suburbs and hail from different countries, races, religions, ages and income brackets. The smooth tones of a tenor sax accompany the cacophony of laughter, conversation in several languages and vendors shouting out the prices of their goods. The entire market vibrates with vitality and a strong sense of community—embodying history, altruism, civility, tolerance and work ethic—which contributes to a life well lived for its players. Detroit probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think of such bounty and harmony. Yet, here in the country’s largest open-air public market, people as diverse as the produce have converged for 125 years. Meet me at the market “There are very few places now where a variety of people come together naturally,” says Heather Dillaway, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology at Wayne State University in Detroit. “Eastern Market is the exception.” Heather, who is an Eastern Market shopper, says, “When people have a common reason to be in a space together, they can create conversation and talk across boundaries. While they’re there, they realize they have more commonalities that bridge differences.” In the case of the Eastern Market, “You've got hipsters buying okra, broccolini and handmade sausage, but others are there for affordable food, loading up provisions for their restaurant or they’re there to support food justice [idea that access to healthy food is a basic human right] and to shop in ways to reduce their carbon footprint. There’s a common purpose. “This is how things have happened through history,” Heather says. “People have come together over a common issue such as public health or the right to vote, for example.” Suddenly, disparate groups discover they have something in common and start talking to each other. “Food is one of those needs that puts people on equal footing.” Detroit chef and budding restaurateur Jon Kung’s experiences with his business Kung Food back that up. “Having a personal relationship with your merchant is amazing,” Jon says. “It is truly a gift to have people there to guide me through product changes or conditions. It can even be something as simple as ‘we had a lot of rain yesterday so these tomatoes are pretty much ready to burst, be extra careful bringing them home.’ Sometimes I even tell farmers what ingredients I’ll be looking for and they may take it upon themselves to grow it.” And for the merchants, such exchanges help them establish loyal customers. “Life is what you make of it, and that includes how much you truly want to interact with someone,” Jon says. “The market is a place where you can do that. We’re aware of each other constantly, and we understand the community we’re in. The market is a food-based microcosm of all that’s good in the city.” Strong roots Detroit has had its challenges, among them urban blight and right, job losses and government corruption. But Motown is getting its groove back with enough construction projects, business startups, new residents and sports facilities in the works to make many cities envious. Guess what destination made Travel and Leisure’s list of “places to go in 2016.” Yep, Detroit. While the newcomers generate excitement, Eastern Market bears the special patina of time. It has bloomed here despite Detroit’s ups and downs and proudly remains one place where native Detroiters can say, “We’re still here. We've been here all along.” In fact, the market in some form has been entwined with this city’s history practically since the first settlers pulled their canoes up on the banks of the Detroit River. It moved to its current location in 1891 and German, Italian and Polish neighborhoods grew up around it. To this day, Eastern Market revolves around a core of five massive sheds where hundreds of wholesale and retail vendors sell fresh produce, meat and much more daily. Family roots This is no simple farmers market; it’s a working food district, with acres of shops and housing that have sprouted up around the central sheds over the decades. Some families have earned a living at Eastern Market for generations. Larry Konowalski’s family has sold eggs here for more than 100 years and, at age 75, he continues the tradition, arriving at the market with eggs and honey from his farm in nearby Adrian, Michigan. “I simply enjoy being at the market,” Larry says. “I’ve been going all my life and now I have customers whose grandparents dealt with my grandparents, who came by horse and wagon on Friday nights to be ready when the market opened early the next morning.” Such continuity is remarkable. So are the personal relationships people used to develop more readily in their communities, partly through their interaction with those who supplied their food. That’s a relationship both Larry and his customers value today. He says he knows more people at the market than he does in Adrian. Markets like Detroit’s once thrived in cities throughout America. After World War II, though, city dwellers moved to the suburbs and bought groceries in big new supermarkets. It’s no small irony that the auto industry that made Detroit famous built the cars that drove people out of the city. And they took many of the jobs with them. The Motor City, once so admired as the “arsenal of democracy,” the nation's fourth largest city, and a prime place to attain the American Dream eventually became scorned for its poverty and its eerie landscape of empty lots and burned-out houses. Still, Eastern Market endured, partly because, unlike other cities where developers snapped up market property to build high-priced condos and galleries, plenty of land remained affordable in Detroit. But according to Karen Brown, who has operated her French-inspired home, clothing and lifestyle shop, Savvy Chic, in the market district for 18 years, other factors help explain Eastern Market’s survival. She says one of the key reasons for its continued popularity is that it has consistently encouraged local vendors and local food producers, not the “big box” or big name stores. That helped the district retain both its authenticity and kept native Detroiters in the mix as the market has prospered. “Eastern Market never lost its status as a beloved family tradition. Even people who left the city came back to the Eastern Market,” Karen says. Her business has benefited from the market’s sense of tradition; she recently added a little coffee shop where Savvy Chic shoppers can relax and mingle. New shoots Today, as they did 125 years ago, new folks are moving into the district to work and live. Liz Blondy was one of the kids who grew up going to the market from the suburbs when little else brought people downtown. Now, she’s an eager participant in Detroit’s revitalization and a former member of the market’s board of directors. She and her husband bought a building in the market district, rehabilitated it and took up residence, lured by its authenticity and gritty, laid-back appeal. “Eastern Market is truly accessible,” Liz says. “It’s all things to all people, from the fancy foodie to the regular lady with five kids looking for affordable fresh produce to the young couple on a date or visitors from out of town.” Detroit’s new urban farmers are setting up shop in the market alongside veterans like Larry. Carolyn Leadley and her husband, Jack Van Dyke, operate Rising Pheasant Farms on nearly an acre of formerly empty lots on the city’s east side where houses once stood. They grow vegetables year-round for restaurants and farmers markets and deliver them by bicycle. “We now have a passive solar hoop house, which allows us to produce field crops nearly year-round,” she says. They named their business after the wild pheasants that roam their neighborhood. I farm in Detroit because it is an inspiring place filled with resilient people who motivate me to be a better farmer and a better community member.” It’s a great place to raise our kids, who get to benefit from being raised on a farm and knowing the earth at the same time that they are a part of a racially and economically diverse community.” Without Eastern Market, Carolyn believes she wouldn’t have much of a business model. “We’re successful because we are able to reduce many costs by being close to our markets,” she says. But it’s also more personal than that. “Folks want to support us because we have quality naturally grown produce but they also want to support our family and have enjoyed seeing our kids grow up at the market.” Jon of Kung Food happily supplies his growing catering and event business with the fresh food from growers like Rising Pheasant Farms. “The quality of the food is just so much better when you know where it comes from—the farm, the farmer and the quality of their practices.” He enjoys conversing directly with the farmer or the butcher; “It's how my grandmother used to shop in Hong Kong.” He recently bought a vacant building in the market district, a former pasta factory where he plans to open a noodle shop. Why Eastern Market? He says, “People are happy when they’re here. You feel a positive energy. This market is unique and organic, no pun intended.” How will the garden grow? Eastern Market’s shoppers, vendors, residents and businesses are aware that the market’s success is a garden they must tend very carefully, because too much gentrification could erase the community characteristics that have made Eastern Market so appealing to so many. Keeping the market gritty, authentic, local and a place where everyone is part of Detroit’s renaissance are among the goals of Eastern Market Corporation (EMC), says Dan Carmody, the organization’s president. EMC, a public-private partnership, took over market management from the city in 2006 and today sponsors a multitude of initiatives to foster its vision “to shepherd Eastern Market’s rich history to nourish a healthier, wealthier and happier Detroit.” Projects promoting food justice and equal access to fresh food throughout the city fit the “nourish” category. For example, because many residents don’t have transportation, the market created pop-up mobile markets in 20 locations around metro Detroit. It offers nutrition education in cooperation with businesses and hospitals to teach their employees about healthy food options. Eastern Market also welcomes shoppers with SNAP and other food assistance programs, making fresh produce more available. Partners in food justice One man-about-the-market, chef Phil Jones, tackles a number of projects to foster food justice and healthy eating. He hosts demonstrations and teaches basic cooking skills that he says have been lost to fast-food dining and lack of access to fresh ingredients. He also manages and operates Red Truck Fresh Produce, a partnership between Eastern Market Corporation and Community Growth Partners. Red Truck sells fresh fruits and vegetables at the district’s Gratiot Central Market, a place previously known strictly as a source for all things meat. Working with Goodwill Industries, Red Truck is staffed by U.S. military veterans as part of a job-training program. Other market programs encourage food entrepreneurs and the jobs they create. Through Detroit Kitchen Connect, for example, Eastern Market provides people striving to establish new food businesses with low-cost licensed commercial kitchen space in a newly remodeled market shed. EMC also partners with FoodLab Detroit, which helps individual food businesses start and grow. Much of that happens behind the scenes, unnoticed by the throngs of shoppers in the market sheds who are simply there to enjoy the festive atmosphere and take in this Midwestern bazaar of fresh food, crafts, street art and camaraderie. “You may find yourself shopping next to a grandma with a bunch of little kids, a new resident or someone visiting from the burbs,” Liz says. “You wind up chatting about the quality of the food, where to get the best tomatoes, where to find the best price on steak.” It’s a simple interaction that creates connection, but one that’s rare in many communities. Says Liz, “What is great about Eastern Market is that it is a place where all Detroiters come and all feel welcome on any given day.” If you go: Here are a few tips to make your visit to Eastern Market great: SET YOUR GPS for the market’s welcome center at 1445 Adelaide on Detroit’s east side. FIND PRODUCE, MEAT AND BAKED GOODS at the Saturday market, which takes place year-round, 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., and at the smaller scale Tuesday market, June through October. EASTERN MARKET’S HOLIDAY MARKETS take place in November and December. Shop to the tunes of carolers and the ho-ho-ho of Kris Kringle. You’ll find everything from Thanksgiving trimmings and pumpkins to locally grown Christmas trees and wreaths, homemade holiday treats and beverages. EASTERN MARKET BECOMES THE LARGEST OPEN-AIR FLOWER MARKET in the U.S. on Flower Day, held annually on the Sunday after Mother’s Day. BE SURE TO EXPLORE BEYOND THE MARKET SHEDS to discover food shops such as DeVries & Co. 1887 and Gratiot Central Market, the art gallery Wasserman Projects, the funky shop The Detroit Mercantile Company, among many others. Sample some of the city’s oldest and newest establishments including Roma Cafe and Detroit City Distillery. JOIN FOOTBALL FANS AS THEY TAILGATE AT EASTERN MARKET before every Detroit Lions home football game, then walk to nearby Ford Field or take a shuttle. Tailgating proceeds support the market’s work to provide access to good food and grow local food businesses and jobs. Terri Peterson Smith is a Minneapolis freelance writer who covers travel and the environment. She is the author of the book Off the Beaten Page.
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Be Part of Character Day on September 22

Take Part in Character Day, September 22 [Video]

Since the early 2000s, researchers and psychologists have studied character strengths as defined by the VIA Institute on Character and looked at how they might be used in order to create positive change in the world. Three years ago, filmmaker Tiffany Shlain, founder of the nonprofit Let it Ripple, became so interested in the subject that she created the film, Science of Character. She then invited people around the globe to watch the film on a single day and use her discussion materials to talk about who they are and who they want to be in the world. “Over 1,500 groups participated,” says Makenzie Darling, producer, “and Character Day was born!” [video:https://vimeo.com/159254643 width:525 height:394 align:center autoplay:0] This year, the Sept. 22 event has more than 30,000 participants in over 40 countries, ranging from families and schools to corporations and organizations. A discussion kit includes a Periodic Table of Character Strengths and 44 discussion cards to help guide conversations about character strengths and their importance. For 2016, Character Day will also include a Global Google Hangout, featuring such notable experts as Angela Duckworth and Martin Seligman discussing character strengths, Makenzie says. “This is one day where people from all over the world can feel united,” she explains. “It allows people to come together, driving in-depth conversations about what makes them connected and human. It makes people question what their best character strengths are, and areas that they need to focus on.” She says the rapid growth of participation, and the volume of emails from around the world, confirm that people are looking for ways to connect in a positive way. “Character Day brings awareness and hope for a brighter future,” she says. For more on Character Day and how you can be a part of it, go to Letitripple.org. Listen to our podcast with filmmaker Tiffany Shlain as she discusses Character Day. Paula Felps is the Science Editor for Live Happy magazine.
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friends having picnic on the beach.

8 Tips to Find Your Own Tribe

When you spend time with people who enjoy doing the same things you do—like playing music or dancing—the benefits to your body and mind just keep on coming. Connection leads to greater happiness. A sense of belonging boosts your immune system. And you can even reach a state of heightened consciousness called flow. Many positive psychologists have identified relationships with others as the most important feature of a long and happy life. Dan Buettner, founder of the Blue Zones movement, believes loneliness is the greatest public threat to health in the United States. People who feel they are an integral part of a tight-knit group, on the other hand, seem to thrive. So if you think you could use a little more connection and cohesion with other people, how do you get started? Here are a few ideas. 1. Follow your passions Do you excel at chess? Love to run? Never miss an opportunity to watch classic films? Sometimes as we get older, we let go of interests outside of work and family. You may need to think back to childhood or adolescence to realize what your talent or passion is. Once you find that, let it direct you to a community of like-minded people or organizations that specialize in what you love to do. 2. Go with a friend Do you have a friend who posts ecstatic photos on Facebook of her rock-climbing club? Are you intrigued by your neighbor’s involvement with the local community theater? Ask if you can come along to explore or look behind the scenes. Or investigate a new activity or group with like-minded friends; it will make it even more fun. 3. Venture outside your comfort zone A great way to meet people is to stretch yourself by charting new territory, perhaps by trying something you’ve been intrigued by but afraid to attempt until now. You may end up discovering a whole new talent or side of yourself. When you show courage and grit, you are even more likely to bond with the people surrounding you. You’ll never find out if it’s for you unless you take the risk. 4. Start online, but take it to the real world The web has made everything easier, including meeting like-minded people. You can find special interest groups and fan board for everything from Star Wars fanatics to knitting mavens. And Google is your best friend when it comes to finding any kind of activity in your area. But online groups can remain virtual and anonymous, and if you never make it out of your living room, you won't reap most of the benefits of belonging and connection that positive psychologists are so excited about. Meetup.com is a great place to start in terms of joining an actual community. Hashmeet is a new app that easily lets you start a new group in your area. 5. Join the congregation If you haven’t been to your church, mosque or synagogue for a while, it could be time to give it another look. These traditional communities offer a number of group activities, from scripture study to community volunteering to movie nights or weekly potluck dinners. 6. Get physical Doing a fun physical activity with other folks is a fantastic way to form social bonds. But the gym can be a pretty cold and anonymous place. Fitness programs like Camp Gladiator, SoulCycle, and CrossFit are a little intimidating, but they do break out of the typical gym atmosphere and inspire a kind of cult-like attachment in their members. If you find a yoga or Zumba class that you love, be consistent—go week after week—and you will start seeing the same people again and again. The more you get together (and sweat together), the greater chance you’ll start to get to know each other. Read more: More Fun, More Fitness 7. Volunteer Volunteering in a group is a bonding experience that can change your life, as well as the lives of those you help. In addition to congregations, above, and local schools, we've put together this very incomplete list of national organizations that offer group volunteer opportunities: Habitat for Humanity Volunteer Match Jewish Family Services Catholic Charities ASPCA Meals on Wheels, USA 8. Take the initiative Don’t wait for someone to invite you to join their cooking club or poker night—take the initiative and start one yourself! Call a few friends, put out a notice on Facebook and find out who might want to join in. Just because you started it doesn’t mean you are responsible for hosting every time. You are just kicking things off. Read more: Meet three people who found their tribe and thrived! Emily Wise Miller is the web editor at Live Happy.
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Find Your Tribe

Find Your Tribe

Mika Banks felt at home the first time she walked into the San Francisco Mission District dance studio of Rhythm & Motion. The room was filled with “so much joy,” says the 33-year-old dancer, alive with “people moving together—just completely letting go, like a party where everyone is doing the same dance.” “I went to class and I was hooked,” says Bay Area therapist Heather Bornfeld. “It’s a follow-along format so you have to give yourself permission to be lost, and then you’ll eventually find yourself and that is such a rush. I couldn’t wait for my next class—I planned my life around it.” What Mika and Heather responded to so strongly, aside from a fantastic dance workout to booty-shaking music, is something professor Charles Walker from St. Bonaventure University in New York calls “social flow”—a heightened state of well-being that is even more powerful when experienced in a group. The heightened feeling of 'flow' In his seminal positive psychology book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D., writes that we reach “optimal states of consciousness” at times when our “attention is completely absorbed by the activity” in which we are involved. He gives examples of a dancer and a rock climber who “stop being aware of themselves as separate from the activity.” This doesn’t apply to just physical activities such as dance and running, but also to musicians playing jazz or a family playing a board game. In 2010, Charles published the paper “Experiencing Flow: Is Doing It Together Better Than Doing It Alone?” in The Journal of Positive Psychology, noting that although we get a sense of joy from a solo flow state, well-being is magnifed when it’s done with other people. According to Charles, collectivity and connectivity are built into our DNA. “Human beings are incredibly social animals and to surrender yourself to others in a worthwhile cause is a special pleasure,” he says. “When we do so we become graceful, supreme social beings.” “We are in a Western culture, and the individual is stressed an awful lot,” Charles says. “To surrender to a group [like they do at Rhythm & Motion] where there is beauty, grace and acceptance and find yourself bonding with diverse people is just amazing and thrilling and energizing.” Rediscover joy in dance Mika had grown up and danced professionally in Chicago before moving to Quito, Ecuador. But living at a high altitude for several years took a toll on her body, and she was unable to dance or exercise for three years. “I decided to make a big change, and I was seeking a dance community—hoping to make dance a part of my life again—but not in the way I had done before,” she says. Within a month of moving to San Francisco, Mika volunteered at Rhythm & Motion. Shortly after, she auditioned and became an instructor. She had hoped to dance professionally again, but she soon realized that part of her life was over. “I wasn’t finding joy in it anymore. Here [at R&M] are classes of 60 people having the time of their lives, calling it ‘church.’ It is the purest form of joy, of connection to movement and to other people.” Joy is contagious R&M students include many teachers, artists, healthcare professionals and—both Mika and Heather concur—psychotherapists. Heather says that as a therapist she does “so much talking and listening all day and I am so in my head, that to be able to feel in this completely physical way, and be completely free and present in my body, is like medicine. It is so important.” Movement and exertion elicit endorphins and other feel-good hormones. You also get a sense of community from sweating alongside other people whom you get to know well over the course of months and years of coming to classes. All of this creates a welcome environment for social flow. In addition, research from the decades-long Framingham Heart Study has shown that happiness is literally contagious—not just in the sense that we smile when others smile, but that when one person secretes oxytocin (the feel-good hormone), others around them will do the same. It’s no wonder the students at R&M, cycling fanatics braving city roads in groups and even bold roller-derby babes skating around a track in unison find these activities highly addictive. From flow to flourishing Social  flow takes well-being to the next level—flourishing. When you think of some of the happiest people you know, who comes to mind? Is it the uncle who goes into battle with other fanatics on weekends to act out scenes from the Civil War? The sister who belongs to multiple book clubs or the grandma who loves meeting with her quilting group once a month? People thrive on coming together over a shared passion. In research at the University of Arizona from 2001, sociology professors Miller McPherson, Lynn Smith-Lovin and James M. Cook used the term homophily to describe the fact that “similarity breeds connection” and that everything from marriage to friendship is a result of people’s drive to network with like-minded individuals. However, while “Birds of a Feather” (the name of their paper) may often flock together, sometimes a surprisingly diverse group will gel and it can be magic. HOW HARRY GOT HIS GROOVE BACK Harry Baulisch recently rode his first century ride with his friends from the Omaha Bicycle Company; 26 riders started and seven finished all 100 miles—he was among the finishers. It took them 12 hours. He recalls his first group ride about a year ago: “I was gasping for air, my legs were burning. I remember thinking, ‘I can’t do this, it’s so embarrassing.’ ” But the other cyclists waited for him at the top of the hill and gave him words of encouragement. “It was a situation that I wasn’t familiar with,” Harry says. “Being with people who show that kind of respect, concern and care for this guy that they had just met—and all we had in common was riding bicycles.” When Harry first walked into the Omaha Bicycle Company in Benson, just outside Omaha, Nebraska, he was only visiting. But this community of young bike enthusiasts, coffee junkies and alternative transportation advocates became a siren call for Harry, a retired Navy lieutenant in his early 60s who had been living in a small town in Minnesota. But like Mika at R&M, he felt immediately at home. Bicycles, coffee & community “I had my dog, Sally, with me,” recalls Harry, “and I asked if I could bring her in. I looked around and there were bicycles and a coffee bar, a couch and tables, and I thought—this is heaven!” Harry would come to the shop every time he visited family in Omaha, hang out and chat with the owner, Sarah Johnson. “One time I said to her, ‘This place is so cool; I would really like to be able to spend more time here.’ She said, ‘Why don’t you just move down here?’” “I started meeting people,” Harry says. “And they would say ‘Oh, it’s the guy from Minnesota!’ You get that little bit of gratification when you walk into the biggest city in the state and people remember you!” He could sense that this was not just your usual bike shop. He wanted to be a part of this community, and he was willing to pick up and move in order to change his life. A different kind of bike shop Sarah wanted to help Omaha develop a more robust bike culture. Friends raised $15,000 through a Kickstarter campaign to open the shop in 2012. “I was incredibly moved by the generosity: not just friends but also strangers contributed,” Sarah says. “I wanted to make a different kind of shop. I love customers who know nothing about bikes. I don’t want them to feel intimidated.” Harry was pulling himself together physically from previous health setbacks,including a heart attack, colon cancer and a serious car accident, when he first moved back to Omaha. Despite the challenges of his first uphill group ride, Harry kept at it. “As I continued on these Thursday night rides, the route changed and it got easier. Through these rides, I was meeting all kinds of people. We would ride for 20 miles to one of the breweries and have dinner, so the ride became a social thing” as well as a physical challenge. Recently the bike mechanic at the shop challenged Harry to ride 30 miles a day for 30 days, and he did it. “I had to make changes if I wanted to have a long life and quality of life,” Harry says. “I want to be doing something every day that excites me. As we get older we need to take a few chances, take some risks and re-enjoy things that we did in the past. It can be as simple and silly as riding fast down a big hill—just flying down a hill.” Take a risk to find a new place in the world According to Dan Tomasulo, Ph.D., who developed the positive psychology curriculum at Columbia University Teacher’s College, Harry realized he was not feeling completely happy in one place. He became aware that if he did not “do something about it he would have to settle, and choice is at the center of transformation.” At the end of the day, according to Dan, “Novelty challenges you to make a deeper commitment to how are you going to fit in. You get to re-create yourself—you may unlock a new aspect of your identity, a hidden talent.” Harry found something else that gives him a leg up on happiness: a crucial sense of belonging. “Harry is an amazing, joyous bright soul and he is super-fun to be around,” Sarah says. “He is a mainstay of the community. Now, if we don’t see him here every other day, we get worried about him.” Luckily they don’t have to worry long; Harry comes into the bike shop nearly every day, usually biking the 13 or so miles from his house. “I get my large coffee and a pastry from the local bakery,” he says. “But this is where the big change comes in: instead of going to the couch like I used to, I take a chair and go to the mechanics area or Sarah’s desk and chitchat. I am a fixture here now, and it’s like a safe haven for me.” A CELEBRATION OF FEMALE EMPOWERMENT “We were trying to create a safe environment for women to play a full-contact sport together,” explains Amy “Electra Blu” Sherman, a founder of the Austin-based Texas Rollergirls league. “We didn’t have any grand aspirations.” The Texas Rollergirls is “like an empowering, fun, athletic sorority and there’s nothing else like it,” Amy says. Derby offers different levels of intensity. If you just want to skate in the recreational leagues, it can be a place to skate and have fun with friends. Some more serious skaters are in it for the athleticism and competition. A new community, a alternate identity Erika Johnson was a mom of two who had just moved to Austin from California when she saw a group of women practicing in a park. “I got a friend to go with me to a primer class and I thought, ‘I could do this,’ ” Erika says. Soon she joined the team The Hustlers, adopted the alter-ego “Bad Influence,” and started wearing a silver-and-purple get-up complete with fishnets and face paint that made her look like a Day-Glo superhero on skates. “At  first I thought, ‘I’m 41 years old. Why would they want me?’ The first year was frustrating—I didn’t play as much as I thought I would,” Erika recalls. “But there was always someone there to lift your spirits and make you feel better.” The support she got from her new teammates, and even skaters from other teams, surprised her. “I could ask anyone, ‘How can I get better at this?’ And they would help me. We would have a league-wide practice all together, and we were all supportive of each other.” A league of their own For many women involved in Texas Rollergirls, and in derby in general, the league is their world. People become lifelong friends. When someone gets hurt, Erika explains, the whole league is there to support them with food, help getting to a doctor—taking care of each other. Part of the camaraderie comes from the fact that Texas Rollergirls is a completely do-it-yourself and volunteer run—from cleaning bathrooms to promoting and marketing events. When Amy started skating, roller derby was considered a fringe activity. Now, some schools in Austin and other cities offer roller derby as an afterschool program. “We’ve become part of the culture, and we’ve created this worldwide community,” Amy says. “I can show up in London or Dublin or Japan and and find a like-minded group of women.” What Amy and the Texas Rollergirls started in Austin in the early 2000s—a new kind of  at-track derby that is skater-owned and operated—has spread all over the country and the world. You’ll now find teams as far-flung as Tokyo and Toronto, but it all started back in Texas. Leave it all on the track “When you put on the face paint and enter the arena, you can feel the excitement. All eyes are on you. You can get out all your aggressions—leave it all out on the track. The best part is, you can come out and be this different person for an hour, and then go back to being Amy Sherman,” Amy says. And when all is gelling with the other players, there is a synchrony and the team moves like one smooth entity. But, in fact, there is a lot of practice and sweat that goes into that effort. In the words of Mihaly from Flow, “Although the flow experience appears to be effortless…it often requires strenuous physical exertion.” Communal or solitary, “it does not happen without the application of skilled performance.” Don’t underestimate the boost that belonging to a group can bring to your health and well-being: the bowling team, the weekly soccer game, the poker game, the book club. It’s a challenge to schedule fun and joy into our busy calendars. But if that pleasurable social interaction—the one outside work, home and church that stimulates your mind and body—becomes a regular part of your life—you will stick with it. If you’re lucky you may even lose your self-consciousness and achieve a heightened state of communal social flow. So go ahead and join the club! See what kind of joy and flourishing it may bring. Read More: 8 Tips to Find Your Own Tribe and Thrive Emily Wise Miller is the web editor at Live Happy.
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Gossip: bad habit or good for the group?

Go Ahead and Gossip

Reading gossip magazines is the highlight of many visits to the doctor’s office or hair salon. The private lives of others compel us. But we are often embarrassed to admit we subscribe to InTouch or visit PerezHilton.com daily. Society largely views gossip as a negative and immoral pastime. Colonial America punished gossips by forcing them to wear helmets that resembled iron cages with metal prods that jutted into the tongue. And in Jewish tradition, gossip (lashon hara) is considered a serious sin. But new research reveals that gossip can sometimes be a good thing. And it may be an integral part of how we cooperate. For the good of the group Economists and social scientists study why people work together in groups and pool resources even when they might benefit more if they acted selfishly. They have discovered that the possibility of being the target of gossip and consequently shunned from the group may motivate people to act in a more selfless, prosocial way. A team of Stanford University researchers, including Matthew Feinberg, Ph.D., who is now an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto,tested the theory by asking students to play an online game where different players contributed to a community pot. The students were given the opportunity to gossip about other players, and could even choose to shun a player based on the gossip reports. If a player was stingy in one round of the game and her fellow players gossiped about her and shunned her, she became much more generous in subsequent rounds. She cooperated. No one wants to be the pariah “When people were ostracized, they learned their lesson,” Feinberg said. The ability to kick people out of the next rounds of the game had the largest effect, spurring the most generosity. When kicking a player out of the game was a possibility, players gave much more freely. In some cases, Feinberg says, it seems that gossiping is a good thing for the group. “Sometimes we gossip out of real concern for our friends. We want to warn them of bad actors and immoral characters so they won’t be victimized.” Gossip is good? Sharing this kind of information promotes the good of the community around us. So at least in this case, gossip is considered prosocial. It’s a good thing. Prosocial gossip has a potential added bonus. It not only serves to report the facts of an event, but it also conveys what the gossiper thinks is morally correct. It communicates her moral code. If my coworker tells me that the boss takes his wife out every Friday on the company credit card, she’s not only telling me what happened, but she also implies that she disagrees with it. She believes that to be crossing an ethical line in the workplace. Feinberg and his colleagues are working on studies documenting gossip’s role in communicating morality. The darker side But, as we all know, there is another side to gossip. Tabloid magazines don’t add much to the collective morality of our communities. “If we’re spreading information within a moral domain, that’s one thing. But if we’re talking about looks or something a person can’t control that’s really a form of bullying,” Feinberg said. According to Feinberg, his study is not a permission to speak ill of others. He warns, even if we gossip for the right, prosocial reasons, it’s highly likely the target of that gossip might not like it. “Gossip is probably in the eye of the beholder.” Do you gossip among friends? Let us know what you think in the comments section, below! Meredith Knight is a science journalist based in Austin, Texas.
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