Six habits to boost happiness

This stuff makes sense, and it’s backed by scientific research.

Six habits that help people cultivate happiness in their lives:

  1. Pay attention.
  2. Keep friends close.
  3. Drop grudges.
  4. Get moving.
  5. Practice kindness.
  6. (No surprise!) Give thanks.

For more:

Thanks to First Unitarian Church of Rochester for sharing that link from the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, The center sponsors groundbreaking scientific research into social and emotional well-being and helps people apply this research to their personal and professional lives.


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Laughing-in the new year

I’m feeling luImagecky to have fun relatives who like to gather on New Year’s Eve for hours of game playing. This year a new game, Tellestrations, was a big hit. Each player is given a word/phrase (such as banana split, fashion photographer or jelly beans) and has a short time (maybe 30 seconds) to create a drawing on a hand-held white board notebook to convey the word or phrase. Then each player passes their notebook to the person next to him/her. You look at what your neighbor drew and have to guess what their word was. You write it down and pass the notebook on, so the next person draws what you wrote. By the time the notebooks had passed through all eight people, the original words often had morphed into something quite different. We laughed uproariously at the drawings and the interpretations. (Some of us, including me, stuck to stick figures.)

Today I greeted the new year with a hot date: my husband and I went to the blood donation center. I’m grateful for a smooth, comfortable experience giving blood. I admit I don’t particularlImagey like going, but I psych myself up twice a year because I know there’s a need. If I ever need a blood transfusion, I want there to be a good blood supply. Heck, I suppose it’s also an easy way to get my iron level and my blood pressure checked.

Happy 2012!

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Simple gifts

My niece, age 3, loves the princess dress-up clothes and the dolls she unwrapped today. She knows Snow White from the others by the color of their dresses and can tell the stories that go with each one.

I was happy that she and her brother, age 1, are also enjoying the large box that I painted white and then we decorated by taping onto it old Christmas cards and coloring it with crayons. The kids hide inside and want to be found. The smaller box inside becomes a doll bed or a TV or a table.

  After all the colorful gifts were unwrapped, my niece found two tiny pieces of folded cardboard and picked them up. “Books!” she said. One book had a story and the alphabet song in it, she said. She quietly started telling the story.

I’m grateful for the delight in simple gifts. Let us remember that children’s needs are quite simple and that small things can bring joy.

Merry Christmas.


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Reaching out to students who’ve missed school

   If you’re frequently missing school, you’re missing out on learning.

The average attendance rate has been just 86% this year at a Rochester city elementary school where I volunteer. So a slew of volunteers, including school staff and community folks, went to students’ houses on a recent afternoon to see what’s going wrong.

This was the city school district’s first Attendance Reach-Out for an elementary school. Of the 431 students in grades K-6, 48 students have had perfect attendance so far, but 21 students have already missed more than 20 days of school. The group with the worst attendance in this building: first grade.

Transportation came up repeatedly.

Among the stories the home visitors brought back:

  • One family had moved away, so now the enrollment records will be updated.
  • One mom whose two boys have missed 9 or 10 days of school said sometimes they miss the bus, which arrives at 6:55 a.m. (school starts at 7:50 a.m.). They live far from the school but the mom chose this school because her older daughter went there. The home visitors talked with the boys about ways they could help their mom and get themselves ready for school in time for the bus.
  • Another mom has 9 kids, including a baby and preschoolers. Two children go to two different schools. The three children on our list have all missed a lot of school. They live nearly 1 mile from the school and don’t qualify for busing. The mom said it takes the three kids 40 minutes to walk to school, which is exhausting in the cold, so she doesn’t always send them. (I wonder whether the children have appropriate winter clothing and coats/hats/mittens, and I wonder whether the route is safe.)
  • At another house, three older sisters attend a nearby school down the street, but that school was “full” so their first-grade sister travels 3 miles to a different school. That requires being ready for the school bus at 7:10 a.m., nearly 2 hours before her sisters have to go to school. (The sisters’ school starts at 9:15 a.m.) Her mother said the first-grader misses school when she misses the bus, because the mom can’t leave the other children unattended. A volunteer on that home visit recommended the mother go to the neighborhood school and insist that they take the first-grader. (I notice that the district’s student enrollment form asks for the names and ages of siblings but not which school they attend.)
  • One grandmother who is the caregiver for three children – including the smiling, sweet girl on this school’s list of students with poor attendance — pulled out her folders with each child’s school/medical records and showed that some of the attendance problems were due to meetings with Child Protective Services.

The district’s attendance office folks collected our notes and said they will follow up with each one.

I’m grateful for the district initiating this Attendance Reach-Out. I don’t know how much it will affect attendance. But at least families and school staff are talking about the situation.


Filed under Rochester City School District

Grateful for water

This morning there was no water. To wash hands. To shower. To wash dishes. To clean the kitchen counter. Suddenly the needs for water were everywhere.

A sticky note was left on our door by the Water Authority: Emergency repairs on the water mains.

Soon, water sputtered and gurgled again from the faucets. I newly appreciate the rhythmic hum and swish of my dishwater, a cup of tea and the chance to wash my hair.

I think of people in many parts of the world for whom water is a long walk away. The ponds, ditches or hand-dug wells they rely on are often contaminated and make them sick.  I am grateful for the work of people such as Salva Dut from South Sudan. He lives in Rochester now but continues to dedicate himself to drilling wells in remote villages in his homeland,

I made a donation just now, in gratitude for water and the efforts to get clean, safe water to people in great need.

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Virtual money provides quick solution

The laundry machine started making such loud banging noises that it seemed like it might explode. I still ran another load or two, trying to pretend I didn’t hear it.

Finally I called a repairman, who came yesterday. He didn’t even turn it on. He reached in and pressed against the drum and apologetically said it was time to say goodbye to the 12-year-old machine. Replacing the multiple parts it needed would cost twice as much as a new one.

My husband and I researched washers online, reading descriptions and reviews and even “Consumer Reports” ratings. We called two local appliance stores, where helpful employees talked us through the pros and cons of the options they had in stock in our price range.

Without even setting foot out of our house, we solved the laundry quandary. We selected a new machine (from a locally owned business), provided our credit card number and scheduled delivery for today. The new machine was installed and in use before lunchtime.

Bonus: We moved both the washer and dryer, thoroughly cleaned the laundry room floor and installed those self-stick vinyl tiles we’d been meaning to put down for months. (Yup, another hot Friday night date!)

The magic numbers on that little plastic card can be a real problem solver.

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City students eager to learn

At 8:15 one recent morning, I walked into an elementary school classroom. One of the  second-grade girls I tutor saw me and her face lit up. I sat with her and another second-grade girl, with worksheets about words with “ay” or “ai” in them. The girls vied for my attention, each wanting to show me each answer they figured out.

“Brain rhymes with train!”

“Did you know that ‘ay’ is usually at the end of a word?”

Around the room, two other volunteers and the teacher were working closely with other students.

At 8:50 a.m., I was sitting at a table in a classroom down the hall. My fourth-grade buddy walked in and smiled at me. She happily read aloud to me a story about a pilot and answered questions about it. We talked about what we knew about planes and flying. She told me she had flown to Puerto Rico. We made inferences about the pilot, since that concept was our focus for that session.

At 9:25 a.m., I sat waiting for a group of fifth-graders to walk in. The teacher was rounding up the students, all at the same reading level, for our intervention session. A boy whom I usually work with peeked his head into the classroom and darted back out. “Ms. Chris is here!” I heard him say. That was at least my third smile in just over an hour.

This is not always the image you see or hear about in the Rochester City School District.

But that’s where I was, at a city elementary school. I was one of 42 volunteers in that building this week, providing 111 hours of one-on-one or small-group support. As we do each week.

My inference is that low state test scores don’t sum up the students or their effort.

And I am grateful for the students’ excitement and eagerness to learn.

(If you are willing to volunteer in city schools, I’d be glad to connect you. E-mail

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The How of Happiness

I haven’t yet read The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky, a “positivity psychologist” and professor of psychology at University of California.

But based on Jacob Sokol’s great blog post about it —  — I can tell I’d like it. The psychologist lays out 12 ways to increase happiness in your daily life. They ring true for me, including:

  • Appreciating what you have makes your life happier.
  • See the endless opportunities around you, even in bad times.
  • Be kind to others, and you’ll feel good.
  • When life takes a bad turn, you have choices about how you react.
  • Cultivate opportunities to be so immersed in what you’re doing that time stands still. The psychologist calls these “flow experiences.”
  • Be physically healthy. Exercise is equivalent to Zoloft (the prescription antidepressant) in making people happier.

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Weekend food for needy children

Poor children can get free breakfast and lunch at school. So how well do they eat on weekends?

Colleagues of mine heard of an effort elsewhere that sends home nonperishable food with needy students on Fridays. In a wonderful coincidence, we discovered that Foodlink (the regional food bank) has a grant to start BackPack Food programs here. Studies have found that when kids eat better on the weekend, they do better in school.

There were obstacles to getting the program going. The application required a pile of documents. Details seemed to change each time we talked to a coordinator at Foodlink. We had to work out delivery plans. My church is sponsoring the program at the two schools where we provide volunteer tutors, and we had to decide whether we could afford the fees.

But thanks to great work by Tracy Smith and others, it’s happening. Today we delivered the first bags of food to one school. It looks like everything will be in place for our other partner school to start in January.

I’m grateful that people were willing to try something new that will help children have nutritious food.

ImageImageThis shows what was in one bag (for one student).

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Remembering my first blog

This is actually my second blog. The first was in 2007, for the Democrat and Chronicle’s website. It was a 10-week experiment, published in the time leading up to the annual Corporate Challenge. That event is the largest local running race and the largest local corporate event. It draws about 10,000 runners and walkers to a 3.5-mile course at Rochester Institute of Technology.

The blog was tied to a weekly column I wrote for the paper about training for the race.

How fun: A link to my first story with a training regimen still works,

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