Happy New Year 2012

Last year I bought Russell chocolate and saved covers because they were too cute. This year I used them to create The Ultimate Answer collage as a Holiday Card. It has the happiness formula in it. In 2012 be kind to yourself and those around you! Be happy 🙂

Good Faith Collaboration (Part Two)

I enjoyed learning about collaborative culture definitions from the book. Henry Jenkins defines participatory culture as one in which there are low barriers of engagement, support for creation and sharing, and some form of mentorship or socialization, and members believe that their contributions matter and they “feel some degree of social connection with one another”.

I agree with the author that openness and incrementalism may not be enough to create good quality content. “Wikipedia must reconcile their vision with the inescapable social reality of irritating personalities, philosophical difference and external threats”. He notes that “goodwill is not always necessary to Wikipedia’s production”.

Clay Shirky said: “Wikipedia is the product not of collectivism but of unending argumentation; the corpus grows not from harmonious thought but from constant scrutiny and emendation”.

Einbinder writes in the introduction to his critique, “since encyclopedia is a mirror of contemporary learning, it offers a valuable opportunity to examine prevailing attitudes and beliefs in a variety of fields.” Indeed, problems both in community’s culture and its content are a representation of our society.

“Thomas Mann, a librarian, argues we would be better … (know of) the pathologies that infect social organisms (ex. short-sightedness, selfishness, and ignorance are constant factors in human life), rather than celebrating the unproven presumption that technology can cure all. Wikipedia is said to favor mediocrity over expertise”.

It goes even further with this caricature: “fanatical mob producing Wikipedia exhibits little wisdom and is more like a Maoist cult of monkeys banging away on the keyboards and thumb pads of their gadgets, disturbing the noble repose of scholars and displacing high-quality content from the market place”.

I would say that any criticism should be constructive. I have no doubt that technology is capable of curing a lot of social problems; it just needs to be redesigned so that people cultivate their best qualities while using it.

Ideally, contributors should become more tolerant and compassionate in the process of collaboration. Today Wikipedia volunteers are restricted to behave with civility, but do they truly feel compassion to those with opposing views? Surely, they have a sense of purpose and connection to others, but at times Wikipedia becomes a vanity project for those proving their personal significance at the expense of others.

Georg von Krogh, in his article on “Care in knowledge creation”, identifies five dimensions relevant to the successful creation of knowledge within a community: mutual trust, active empathy, access to help, lenience in judgment, and courage. Benkler and Nissenbaum argue that “commons-based peer-production” entails virtues that are both self-regarding” (ex. autonomy, independence, creativity) and ”other-regarding” (ex. generosity, altruism, camaraderie, cooperation, and civic virtue).

The author says that “the central concern seems to be how we can conceive of our humanity in working together and its implications”. His definition of good faith is “assuming the best of others, striving for patience, civility, and humor”, and Wikipedia is trying to act with it.

From 2004 Letter from the Founder: “None of us is perfect in these matters; such is the human condition. But each of us can try every day, in our editing, in our mailing posts, in our irc chats, and in our private emails, to reach for a higher standard than the Internet usually encourages, a standard of rational benevolence and love”.

Personally, I think that Wikipedia is a great invention and a great resource, but it is just the beginning of an even better model of gathering knowledge and resolving misunderstandings and conflicts. Let’s call it 1.0 version where people work together towards one great goal. It is a good start. Next version would align personal goals of the members with community’s goals, and help them rediscover and develop themselves in the process of compassionate creation.

Good Faith Collaboration (Part One)

I recently finished reading Good Faith Collaboration book by Joseph Reagle. I was very curious about this book as not only it describes Wikipedia’s culture but also talks about its historical roots and contemporary criticism. Wikipedia is around for almost 11 years. So what is it?

First, there are actual Wikipedia pages and edits to them, as well as the meta pages documenting the policies and norms of Wikipedia itself. Second there is the talk/discussion page associated with each article. Third, there are mailing lists on which most abstract and difficult issues are often discussed. There are Wikipedia Signpost and Wikizine newsletter, other community forums such as popular “Village Pump”, and various Wikipedia related blogs, aggregators and podcasts. Fifth and finally, there are physical spaces in which some community members interact.

But mainly, Wikipedia is a snapshot of the community’s continuing conversation. Wikipedia culture encourages contributors to treat and think of others well, hence the name of the book. There are awards for best contributors like a “barnstar” (image placed on another’s user page to recognize merit). These awards are part of the Kindness Campaign and are meant to promote civility and WikiLove. There are more than 200 laws/norms by which Wikipedia contributors abide, including the guidelines of “Assume Good Faith” (AGF), “Please Do Not Bite the Newcomers” and “Neutral Point of View”.

This idea could be traced back to the beginning of the twentieth century, in particular Paul Otlet’s Universal Repertory and H.G. Wells’s proposal for a World Brain. Wells proposed the reference work compilers would be joined by world scholars and international technocrats to produce a resource that every student might easily access, in a personal, inexpensive, and portable format. This collection of the world’s intellect was envisioned to yield a greater sense of unity: wells hoped that such an encyclopedia could solve the “jig-saw puzzle” of global problems by bringing all the “mental wealth of our world into something like a common understanding”; this would be more than an education al resource, it would be an institution of global mediation.

As Wells said, “Without a World Encyclopedia to hold men’s minds together in a common interpretation of reality, there is no hope whatever of anything but an accidental and transitory alleviation to any of our world troubles.” I completely agree with the way Wells stated the problem. Additionally I question the transitory life cycle of one person’s knowledge. That knowledge must be reused even if the person is gone, as he/she may have insight into some solutions that are not easily generated, but the mankind desperately needs them.

One of the topics discussed in the book is who can really contribute. In Wikipedia’s predecessor Nupedia only educated and reasonable people were able to make final edits. Unfortunately, in my opinion, we often confuse formal school education and life experience, as one can be a PhD but uneducated in the matters of humanity. I am also not fond of the neutral point of view, as to be politically correct is not the same as being sincere and true. I would personally be more interested in hearing polar opinions to understand other people’s perspective and how they come to their conclusion. Only when people know of completely opposite opinions on the same topic then can they start a conversation to reconcile their differences. Having several versions of the most arguable topics is better than one bland version. Maybe views from the haters, the lovers and the neutrals. People need to learn Dalai Lama’s realistic approach, value every person’s input and become compassionate. Only then we will be able to understand our humanity.

It seems to me that the primary goal of Wikipedia is compiling knowledge, while finding compassion is somehow secondary.

I agree about verifiability policy that “the threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth”. If the material has already been published by a reliable source, not whether we think it is true. Even when it comes to voting, majority has more power over minority. Majority usually represents the most convenient opinion of the culture it represents. There should be international SMEs participating or at least rating the content in terms of trust ability. Otherwise there will always be an issue of quality due to the lack of expertise and diversity.

Here we come to another problem I see here – how globally disconnected are different language Wikipedia sites from each other. Language barrier is still present in the Wikipedia structure, which leads both to duplicated efforts (when the same articles are written separately in different languages) and the lack of content in one language when it truly exists in another language. It would add diversity if articles from different languages were swapped and became international. We would create a better version of reality if people of all nations worked on the content together, not separately. During search, there should be instant translation of all related content from other languages.

Finally, it feels that Wikipedia is not a hub of innovative views limited by its “no original content” norm, which means inclusion of referenced work only. Wikipedia is a repetition of what others said. Most importantly, it results in the loss of individuality and creativity both for their contributors and readers.

Today contributors appear to be simply compilers and hunters for good content. They are assemblers, not the creators. Everyone should be able to speak up and come up with new knowledge and solutions to the world problems. Only then will Wells’ statement become reality: “Our world has complex and urgent problems that need to be addressed. We believe there are innovative ways for solving them together online.”

Amazing Grace

There are many truly amazing inspirational movies and Amazing Grace about William Wilberforce is one of them. As a matter of fact, it is my favorite movie and I would like to share several quotes from it with you. Enjoy!

When people stop being afraid they find their compassion.

-It’s God. I have 10,000 engagements of state today but I would prefer to spend the day out here getting a wet arse, studying dandelions and marveling at… bloody spider’s webs.
-You found God, sir?
-I think He found me. You have any idea how inconvenient that is? How idiotic it will sound? I have a political career glittering ahead of me, and in my heart I want spider’s webs.
-“It is a sad fate for a man to die too well known to everybody else and still unknown to himself.” Francis Bacon. I don’t just dust your books, sir.

When I was 15 I almost run away with the circus. They said I could have been an acrobat.

We hear that you are a man who doesn’t believe what he is until he sees it with his own eyes. You are having problems whether to do a work on God or the civil activist, we humbly suggest that you could do both.

I wish I could remember all their names. My 20,000 ghosts, they all had names, beautiful African names. We’d call them with just grunts, noises. We were apes, they were human.

-You’re dressing very simply these days.
-I’m a simple man.

-I had heard your sight was fading.
-Well, now it’s faded altogether. I never do things by halves. God decided I’d seen enough.

God sometimes does His work with gentle drizzle, not storms. Drip. Drip. Drip.

-No one of our age has ever taken power.
-Which is why we’re too young to realize certain things are impossible. Which is why we will do them anyway.

It seems to me, that if there is a bad taste in your mouth, you spit it out. You don’t constantly swallow it back.

Trouble is, Doctor, he doesn’t believe he has a body. Utterly careless of it. He thinks he is some kind of disembodied spirit.

I find that the older I get, the more tender I become.

“Great changes are easier than small ones”. Sir Francis Bacon.

It’s only painful to talk about because we haven’t changed anything.

-Come, we’re late.
-The water has been here a million years, how can we be late?

-Why is it you only feel the thorns in your feet when you stop running?
-Is that some sort of heavy-handed metaphorical advice for me, Mr. Pitt?

-“I once was blind but now I see”. Didn’t I write that?
-Yes, you did.
-Now at last it’s true.

When people speak of great men, they think of men like Napoleon – men of violence. Rarely do they think of peaceful men. But contrast the reception they will receive when they return home from their battles. Napoleon will arrive in pomp and in power, a man who’s achieved the very summit of earthly ambition. And yet his dreams will be haunted by the oppressions of war. William Wilberforce, however, will return to his family, lay his head on his pillow and remember: the slave trade is no more.
[Wilberforce receives a standing ovation from the entire House and the Gallery]

-Noblesse oblige.
-What the bloody hell does that mean?
-It means: my nobility obliges me to recognize the virtue of an exceptional commoner.

The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World (Part One)

I loaned 11 disc audio book from the library and immediately felt overwhelmed about its size. Where would I find time to listen to it all? Maybe one hour per day after work. I knew listening would be different from reading and I’ll not be able to mark pages and highlight sentences, but at least I thought I could get a gist of things. After fifteen minutes of listening I jumped off my couch and rushed to get a pen and paper to write main ideas down as they were too important not to be captured. Over the course of next two weeks I took 24 pages of notes. In my opinion, this book is the best on humanity’s problems and potential and must read for all.

When Dalai Lama spoke about common bond as human beings over commonalities, I felt he was talking about the happiness formula, something that will unite people in spite of our differences. For example, two people could be from different countries, with different education levels, different age and gender, but both like tea or both are survivors in car accidents. So in spite of their differences, they have something in common! If Marcians invaded our planet, all humans would unite based on our sense of brotherhood.

To achieve that without Marcian invasion we need to cultivate awareness of interconnectedness. Once people have deep conviction that interconnectedness is good, they would analyze it until it becomes basic outlook, then change their behavior. But first they investigate it, think it over and over, which takes an effort. Reading, learning, hearing, then reinforcing affinity and connectedness to others. We exaggerate our differences/uniqueness and underestimate similarities.

We should focus on similarities. People like to divide themselves into groups – biological, psychological, social. There are “in group” and “out group”. And of course, people identify with the group that is successful.

It takes place because our brain categorizes in groups and does it to simplify information: social categorization, judging, classifying. “Does this person belong to us or them?”

Stereotypes (beliefs about groups) are shortcuts telling us how to behave. So we don’t assess every situation as if it is unique, but assume that our shortcuts help us. This is the evolution of the human brain, ie “catastrophic brain”. It evolved to max our odds of survival against attacks, predators and resource shortages. Brains are hardwired to have group preferences, to find special affinity is important for survival. But at the same time we might ignore good things or assume bad things.

It is not difficult to favorite our group, we have automatic positive bias for our group, but we have negative bias towards other groups (Just think of sports teams). We are positive toward friends and negative towards foes. Prejudice was an ancient conflict resolution technique, but not today.

Prejudice is an instinctual automatic bias based on fear and hostility. It is a belief in superiority of “in group” and inferiority of “out group”. But it is changing now as thousands of organizations donate supplies to help people in need, whether it is earthquake, famine or war victims in other parts of the world.

Dalai Lama says that collectivism and individualism could be balanced. And it is possible to have a sense of uniqueness and belonging to the group at the same time. Three steps to understand interconnectedness are to explain benefits of it, create awareness and action. Finding similar interests and what unites us with other people is easier than we think.

Depression vs Happiness

The How of Happiness book has a good insight into depression and what can cure it:

The world health organization predicts that by year 2020 depression will be the second leading cause of mortality in the entire world, affecting 30% of all adults. Many experts believe that depression has become an epidemic.

Depression has been described as a syndrome distinguished by a deficit of positive emotions: a lack of joy, curiosity, contentment, enthusiasm. Inability to take pleasure in joyful events is a hallmark of depression. The positivity deficit is also evident in how depressed people think about the future and the past. Their problem is not so much that they anticipate bad things to pass but that the good things will come.

Activities like practicing daily gratitude, being generous and spending quality time with loved ones can help to get out of depression. The most important is social support. Validation of people close to you. Confiding your worries and troubles to others can reduce stress if you learn that they are endured similar experiences and have survived or thrived. It can reduce anxiety when other people comfort and reassure. When I just started meditation I was not still (but was told that it was normal, otherwise I would make an assumption that I’m a failure and meditation doesn’t work for me). Peers, buddies, mentors, close ones can motivate you and remind you to continue to practice your happiness activities. Offer positive feedback, encouragement and warmth. Sometimes it is necessary to establish ties with a new group of people – perhaps from happiness-relevant chat groups or websites who might share similar goals and concerns as you. Or you might want to seek out new friends in your own work, school and neighborhood communities, as a way to find partners who support each other’s efforts. Remember you don’t need a posse, often just one caring friend will do.

Psychological vulnerability. What causes a depression?

The first explanation is Aaron Becks cognitive – behavioral therapy. He says that some people have dysfunctional attitudes that make them vulnerable to becoming depressed in the face of a negative event. These maladaptive attitudes often involve the notion that our happiness and self-worth depend on our being perfect or hinge on other people’s approval. If something happens, we automatically have negative thoughts about ourselves, our present experiences and our futures.

A related explanation for depression, called hopelessness theory, came from the work of Martin Seligman and his students. According to this theory having expectations that bad things will happen to us and that good things will not happen, and that we cannot do anything to change the situation, can cause depression. True hopelessness is thought to be at the root of depression. How we interpret life experiences influences our feelings about those experiences.

The most effective treatments for depression.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy. The job of the therapist is to help the depressed patient to recognize and dispute her negative beliefs. The behavioral part consists of teaching depressed patients skills that they might lack such as problem-solving (teaching you how to define life-problems and helping you generate possible solutions to those problems and choose among them), self-control (teaching you to set weekly goals and then to monitor your behavior and reward yourself for meeting those goals), and behavioral activation (encouraging you to take action rather than avoid difficult situations). The main goal of behavioral therapy is to engage depressed individuals in activities that they enjoy and that afford them a sense of mastery. This strategy increases positive emotions and distract the depressed person from overthinking about her feelings and problems.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is relatively short term, usually lasting from 4 to 14 sessions. However sometimes it is longer. Patients treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy until their depression have lifted are less likely to relapse or to suffer from a future depressive episode. There are other types of therapy discussed. As for antidepressant approach, I, fortunately, disagree with Sonja Lyubomirsky.

The most important solution to depression is finding your life’s meaning. We need a sense of meaning to feel that we matter, that our suffering and our hard work aren’t futile and our life has a purpose.

Life is more meaningful when you are pursuing goals that are harmonious and within reach, when you have the time, the ability and the energy to devote to your most important goals.

Write down your own life story. Who are you now and who were you before? What future do you imagine for yourself? What are the obstacles in your path? What assumptions do you hold about the world and why things are the way they are?

Try creativity – in the arts, humanities, and sciences and even self-discovery – it can impart a sense of living to many people’s lives. Fourth, there is sometimes powerful meaning in anguish and trauma, suffering may bring about posttraumatic growth. Timeless perspective on possible life paths. If you ever find yourself depressed, the result will be survival, recovery and thriving. I wish you the latter one.

Finally, an essential path to finding meaning in your life is to work on developing your faith. Faith provides answers to the big questions: Who am I? What is my life for? Who is the creator? How do I live a virtuous life and improve the world around me?

“May your days be many and your troubles be few. May all God’s blessings descend upon you. May peace be within you may your heart be strong. May you find what you’re seeking wherever you roam.” Irish Blessings quotes.

The How of Happiness Book

I recently finished reading The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirskiy, who is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside. I would like to share book’s highlights with you. She introduces the concept of happiness as a pie with three slices of different sizes: set point – 50%, life circumstances -10% and intentional activity – 40%. This representation clearly states that it is all in our hands to change our happiness fortune and become happy if we learn how. It is learnable. First, you need to find happiness activities that fit your interests, your values and your needs. The goal is person-activity fit. Three ways that strategies can fit are: fit with the source of your unhappiness, fit with your strengths, fit with your lifestyle. When you choose an activity that is a good fit you will feel motivated to try it, to persist at it, and experience its rewards. The problem is choosing an approach that is inherently fruitless (wealth, approval, beauty) or not well suited to you.

Happiness Activities are:

Practicing Gratitude and Positive Thinking

1. Expressing gratitude

2. Cultivating Optimism

3. Avoiding overthinking and social comparison

Investing in social connections

4. Practicing Acts of kindness

5. Nurturing social relation ships

Managing Stress, Hardship and Trauma

6. Developing Strategies for Coping

7. Learning to forgive

Living in the Present

8. Increasing Flow experiences

9. Savoring Life’s joys

Committing to your Goals

10. Committing to your goals

Taking Care of your body and your soul

11. Practicing Religion and Spirituality

12. Taking Care of your body (meditation, psychical activity, acting like a happy person)

The Five How of sustained happiness:

  1. Positive Emotions
  2. Optimal Timing and Variety
  3. Social Support
  4. Measurement, Effort and Commitment
  5. Habit

The mind is its own place. And “in itself can make a heaven of hell and a hell of heaven”, John Milton wrote in Paradise lost. Happiness is how you think about your world, yourself and other people. Avoid overthinking and social comparison topic is one of my favorite in the book:

She writes that when you have negative thoughts, the first strategy is to distract yourself. Read or watch something that is funny or suspenseful. Listen to a song that is transporting, meet a friend for a tea, do a physical activity that gets your heart rate up. Any activity could work, as long as it absorbs and compels you, and is not harmful to you or others. She adds that it is perfect time to hone resources and skills, like creativity and sociability and problem-solving skills. The second strategy is called Stop or no, when you resume overthinking. Think of something else. Forbid yourself of ruminating. The third strategy is from Dear Abby, who set aside 30 minutes a day for exactly this purpose –ruminating, and nothing else. The fourth strategy is to talk to sympathetic and trusted person about your thoughts and troubles. And the final strategy involves writing. Finding meaning in the trauma through writing seems to reduce how often and how intensely we express intrusive thoughts about it. I would add to this list volunteering.

Another helpful technique is to dodge overthinking triggers, learn to meditate, and take in the big picture. Like its extreme version: will it matter when you are on your deathbed?

Visualize yourself as a microscopic dot on Earth, which is a tiny part of the Milky Way, which makes an infinitesimal speck of the Universe. Few things in life are so significant that they are worth overthinking. I personally like Buddhist approach to temporarily delete meaning and think that all is void and empty of meaning and start afresh. It will give you a new point of view on life. If it will matter in one year, then think of it as a lesson and learn. Another way to stop overthinking is to act to solve problems and develop problem-focused and emotion-focused copying.

Based on this book, Signal Patterns developed a mobile app called Live Happy, and you can use some of the activities described in the book in your everyday life, like savoring, gratitude journal, acts of kindness, increasing flow experiences and social support. There are other good points in the book about the benefits of committed goal pursuit, taking care of your body and soul. On the topic of living in the present, I would recommend the book “Veronica decides to die” by Paolo Coelho and “The Heart of Paris” movie. Happiness is always in your memory bank…

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