Monday, November 24, 2008

Random Acts of Kindness

"No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted."
(Aesop, The Lion and the Mouse)

We've all certainly experienced an act of kindness - a memorable event when someone, perhaps even a complete stranger, came to our aid when we least expected it: a flat tire changed, a casserole baked, a helping hand with a heavy load. When we are at the receiving end of an act of kindness, no matter how small, we experience lowered stress levels and a lift in our spirits.

Apparently, so does the giver of the good deed. In recent years, there has been a host of research studies that indicate that doing good can indeed be good for you. "Helper's high," the rush of adrenaline that altruistic people can sometimes feel after doing a good deed for someone else, has been linked to lowered stress levels, improved immunity from illness, and longer life, in addition to a general sense of calm and positive well-being. And these feelings lead to the desire to do more good deeds, thus lifting your own spirits as well as those of whom you help.

According to Stephen G. Post, PhD, a professor of bioethics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and a prominent researcher in the study of the biological effects of altruism, "All the great spiritual traditions and the field of positive psychology are emphatic on this point -- that the best way to get rid of bitterness, anger, rage, jealousy is to do unto others in a positive way" (WebMD).

And so, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, if you're feeling anxious, stressed, or depressed (and who isn't in today's economy?), the best way to help yourself is by helping others.

The Science of Good Deeds, WebMD,

For more information:
The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation,
SmileCard Project,

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Going Car-Free

I am lucky to live in one of the most picturesque cities in America: Alexandria, Virginia. From cobblestone streets, tree-lined avenues, hike-and-bike trails along the Potomac River, an historic waterfront district and colonial-era architecture, Alexandria is a quaint little city with a small town feel.

Recently, the city of Alexandria passed an Eco-City Environmental Charter, committing to make Alexandria a place where its citizens can live healthier lives while reducing their impact on the environment. Alexandria is already a "walkable" city, pedestrian-friendly and with nearly-excellent public transportation options. The Eco-City Charter delineates the city's commitment to preserving green space, expanding hike-and-bike trails, and encouraging the use of public transportation in an effort to change the culture of the city from "cars first" to "people first."

I had been thinking about giving up my car for a long time. My Mazda 626 was ten years old and required extensive maintenance every year just to keep it running. I live right on a main bus line, so getting to work every day would not be a problem. Still I hesitated. I was worried that without a car I would feel a real loss of freedom.

The final straw came when I took my car in for its annual inspection and received the shocking news that it would need at least $1,500 in repairs to pass. That was it. $1,500 would pay for round trip bus fare every day for two years! Let's not even talk about the price of gas, rising then to outrageous levels. And when you consider insurance and taxes, it seemed like a no-brainer for my significant other and me to become a one-car family.

So I did it - I went car free! I was little anxious standing at the bus stop the first time. Would the bus actually come on schedule? (yes) Would I be late to work? (no) Would the bus driver be pleasant and helpful if I didn't quite know where my destination stop was? (yes)

I survived my first day on the bus , feeling really good about my contribution to the environment. And when, a few weeks later, I really needed a car, there was Zipcar ready and waiting for me. If you don't live in a city that has been Zipped yet (it's only a matter of time before "Zipcar" becomes a verb, like Google became "googling" and "googled") then let me fill you in. Zipcar is a car-share program, their tagline is: "wheels when you need 'em." They have cars in all sizes and shapes, and parked in convenient locations like metro stations. And they're reasonably-priced. Best yet, all gas included! You pay an annual membership fee (Alexandria reimburses your first year's fee, check to see if your city does too) and that allows you the privilege of reserving a car anytime throughout the year.

So I'm pretty happy with my decision to go car-free. And I find that I'm not too anxious to get a new car after all. I'm afraid that with all the maintenance and responsibility that comes with owning a car, I would feel a real loss of freedom.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What's Your Footprint?

What's YOUR footprint? No, we're not talking about your shoe size. Your "environmental footprint" is, simply put, how much water, trees, and other natural resources you consume in order to maintain your lifestyle. According to The Footprint Network, the ecological footprint of the world is now almost 25% larger than what the earth can regenerate. In other words, we are using up natural resources faster than we can replace them.

In environmental terms, "sustainability" is the equivalent of a balanced budget. Sustainability occurs when our demands on our natural resources are equal to or less than the earth's ability to produce those resources, resulting in a balanced environment. To estimate your individual impact on the environment, take the Ecological Footprint Quiz at

When you think about your ecological footprint, it might be worth remembering this old Native American saying: “We do not inherit the Earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children."

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Five Good Minutes

Five Good Minutes: 100 Morning Practices to Help You Stay Calm and Focused All Day Long (Jeffrey Brantley, M.D.)

I'm a big believer in the value of meditation. Even if you can only squeeze in five minutes a day for meditating, the benefits you will receive in stress-reduction and re-energizing yourself are enormous. This compact little book contains 100 simple exercises, all of which can be practiced in five minutes or less. Starting with “breathing mindfully,” Dr. Brantley recommends new ways of looking at and doing everyday things – like taking a shower or drinking coffee -- that transforms simple activities into peace-inducing meditative moments.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Why Wait? Meditate!

Why Wait? Meditate! Meditation techniques have been practiced for thousands of years in all countries and cultures. And the number of people engaging in meditation is steadily increasing. According to TIME Magazine, in a cover story published in 2003 on the health benefits of meditation, “ten million American adults now say they practice some form of meditation regularly, twice as many as a decade ago.” Meditation has been credited with many health and wellness benefits, including relieving stress, anxiety, and depression. A recent study has found that meditation can even increase brain size.

There are many different meditation techniques that are used for a variety of purposes. Some of the most popular techniques are: guided meditation, walking meditation, breath-awareness, and concentration (or calm-abiding) meditation. Whichever method you choose, meditation as a daily or weekly practice can help “calm your mind, relax your body, and soothe your spirit.” So, why wait? Meditate!

(sources: Harvard University Gazette,, TIME Magazine)