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inspiration

Talk to me

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When I was 15, I took the bus from Stavanger to Bergen after saying goodbye to my boyfriend. The last thing I wanted, was to talk with anyone. I struggled to keep my tears back and wanted to have time to think about everything we did and he said (like a typical teenager). But to my horror, an old woman sat next to me and I knew immediately that she was a talker. Little did I know that this would be one of the very conversations I remember from that year. We talked about everything, and soon started on a philosophical journey together. I told her about my boyfriend, and how hard it was to live so far apart from him (over 10 hours with a car or bus). She responded by saying how healthy it is to meet people who live in a different place than where you grew up. Because they probably see the world a little bit different than you, and that means you might end up learning something new.
This woman was so wise, and I learnt something new too: By opening up to all kinds off people, even strangers, you might change the way you think and see the world. I was reminded of this event when I listened to “an organized mind” by Daniel Levitin in my car. He described a study where the researchers asked people if they thought they would prefer sitting alone or talk with a stranger on the bus. They were quite sure about what they would like the most, but it seems like we don`t always know how much we crave connections with others. The study is described below, and I hope you enjoy it as much as me. Maybe the next time you`r filled with dread, hoping that somebody won`t disturb you on a bus, plane or train, you might look at the commute as an opportunity instead of fear.

Why You Should Put Down Your Smartphone and Talk to Strangers

Credit: pio3 / Shutterstock.com

Talking to the stranger in seat 4B on a cross-country flight is often considered one of the torments of air travel, to be avoided at all costs. But new research suggests people are deeply wrong about the misery of striking up conversations on public transit.

Contrary to expectations, people are happier after a conversation with a stranger, the study revealed.

“At least in some cases, people don’t seem to be social enough for their own well-being,” said study researcher Nicholas Epley, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. “They think that sitting in solitude will be more pleasant than engaging in conversation, when, in fact, the opposite is true.” [7 Thoughts That Are Bad For You]

Talking to strangers

Epley, author of the book “Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Feel, Believe and Want” (Knopf, 2014), studies social connection. Humans are social animals, he said, to the extent that having more and stronger friends and family connections is linked with a healthier life.

But in waiting rooms, trains, planes and other public spots, people fail to show their social stripes, Epley told Live Science. During his own commute in Chicago, he sees “highly social animals getting on the train every morning and being remarkably anti-social … They might as well be sitting next to a rock.”

Perhaps people know that interacting with a stranger is likely to be less pleasant than sitting in silence, so they choose the latter, Epley said.

Or maybe, just maybe, everybody is wrong about talking to strangers. Maybe it’s actually fun.

Only connect

To find out which is true, Epley and his colleagues recruited real-life commuters at Chicago train stations. They also conducted a series of experiments with bus riders. In some of these experiments, they simply asked people to imagine striking up a conversation on the bus or train. Would it be pleasant? Would they feel happy afterward?

By and large, people said “no,” it wouldn’t be pleasant, and that such an interaction wouldn’t result in a happiness boost. In addition, people guessed, on average, that fewer than half of strangers would be interested in chatting. They expected to be rebuffed.

In other experiments, the researchers actually asked the commuters to go through with the conversations. At random, some participants were assigned to start a conversation. Others were asked to sit silently, and a third group was told to go about their normal commute routine (which involved silence for some and speaking to a friend for others). The participants were given sealed surveys to complete and mail in after their commute.

The results? People had a more pleasant time when they talked to a stranger versus when they stayed silent. Incredibly, the findings held even when the researchers controlled for personality traits, like extraversion and introversion.

 Does the finding that talking to strangers makes people happier make you more likely to strike up conversations in public more often?
  • No way. You couldn’t pay me enough.
  • Maybe. I can see the upsides.
  • Definitely. I’d like to meet new people.
  • No – but only because I already chat with strangers.

“Everyone seems happier and has a more pleasant interaction when they connect versus sit in isolation,” Epley said.

Perhaps even more surprising, their conversation partners seemed to welcome the connection, too.

“Nobody was rejected in any of our studies, as far as I can tell,” Epley said. “Everybody who tried to talk to somebody was able to.”

In another study, the researchers set up participants in a waiting room, so they could test the happiness of both the conversation starter and their target. Again, everyone was happier after chatting — even the person who hadn’t started the conversation. Pairs of strangers deep in conversation also reported that the wait seemed shorter.

Epley’s research isn’t the first to find that interactions with strangers influence mood. Findings reported in 2012 showed that even smiling and nodding at strangers makes people feel more connected. [5 Wacky Things That Are Good for Your Health]

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The richest and most beautiful county in the world 

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I promised one of my readers that I would include pictures from my country. I will  publish a post later with pictures of Bergen where I live now, but I want to give a taste of my wonderful county now with this tasty appetizer. Are you wondering where you should travel next? Well, maybe you will consider Norway. And if you need a guide, I would be happy to show you the best places to go. 

If you are interested you can also visit my Pinterest site for more inspiration 

Where I grew up (Jølster)

The sound of being colorblind 

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I have been listening to colorblind from glee cast a lot lately. Simply a beautiful song with lyrics that speaks to me. I am adding the video here and hope you like as much as me.

Being thankful 

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One way to feel better, is to practice thankfulness. I’ve either hear or read about collecting memories of what you are thankful for, and looking back at them at the end of the year. I don’t just want to practice what I preach when I tell clients what might be useful, so I have started my own thankful collection in January. Instead of using a jar or a box, I am working on a decoupaged book where is will put scraps of paper with that days events written on them. 


I can already feel how meaningful this is. By using just one minute every day to reflect on what’s good in my life, I feel grateful. It also boosts my mood, and I like to believe it also inspires me to do even more of what I love. I’ve also discovered a trend: What I write down and remember is when I’m with other people. I’ve written down things they have said and what we have done together. So for me, that’s what I’m most thankful for. 

There are myriads of ways to do this little excersise. Use your imagination and keep trying to record what is good in your life. There will always be something: For someone with depression it might be that they managed to take a walk. For traumatized individuals it might be a kind word, or the absence of flashbacks. For the anxious, it can be going into a supermarket with a thumping heart.

Manchester by the sea

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I have just watched “Manchester by the sea”. Instead of writing what it`s about, I have included the trailer so you can see for yourself.

http://www.imdb.com/videoembed/vi967947801
The movie was good. It almost made me cry several time, and even the old man sitting next to me seemed like he was moved by the story. How can you not be? The main theme as I see it, is living with guilt. We all know how terrible guilt is. It can lead to havoc in our lives, because unprocessed, you can`t focus on what you have and give it your all. I will not spoil the movie by writing about the end, but I found the ending led to more questions than answers. When I think back that is one of the things that made the movie watchable: The characters were believable and complex. There was no good or bad, just a mix of different emotions in one messed-up man.

We all make mistakes. And in this movie, the small ones have huge consequences. Just thinking about it makes me shudder. There is such a thin line between happiness and devastation. The worst thing is that you never see it coming. And if you had a chance to do things differently, you might do something else that turns your life around. Being reminded of how fragile life is, luckily makes us think about what we do with our lives and appreciate what we have more. For some, movies like these might be a reminder of what was lost and never can come back. I must admit that I started to think about people I have lost, but that is a part of the process. You can not ignore reality. You can not ignore the fact that life can be horrible. But you can decide how you spend your next day. What you say to people. If you smile to a stranger. If you tell your brother that you are sorry for something you have done.

In Manchester by the sea, some things could not be undone. But he could move on. And he tried it as best as he could.

Mindful walking

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Yesterday I had time between meetings, and chose to talk a walk. Norway has a plethora of places to escape to if you need some peace and quiet, so I went into the woods. A lot of people were out, since the sun was shining and that does not happen to often in Bergen.

I had no rush, an hour was at my disposal, so I could choose the pace I wanted. That suited me perfectly, because taking your time means being in the here and now. I saw the trees more clearly, and smell how they were preparing for spring. The road in front of me went in all directions, and it felt like a privilege that I could go wherever I wanted.

After a while I came to a small lake. It had a little sand beach, that was shining in the sun. Clear water licked the sand away, and the soothing movements brought my mind to rest. I also saw a lot of dogs, eager to smell and explore their surroundings. How free they were, how simple their lives seemed. I realized that sometimes it is that simple. You only need to look around you, take the world in. Even if my head sometimes tried to lure me into planning or worries, I would not let it. Instead I continued walking, one foot in front of the other. Feeling my feet touching the earth underneath.

Usually I am not very good at being in the present. I have thought that mindfulness is not for me. I am too busy and can`t be bothered to just sit and stare into the air. Even if I have discovered time and time again that doing just one thing at the time gives me pleasure and enjoyment, I so easily forget it. Because there is another email I must answer, another task I have to do before my next appointment.

When you think about it, there really is no rush. My roommate tells me that what you don`t manage to do, should not be a concern of mine. They are just small annoyances, and the world will not fall apart.

While I walked, letting the sun touch my face, I realized that he was right. The world is very much where it should be. And nothing that I have done or will do can change that. The world is always close to us, ready for us to explore it and enjoy.

 

Sotra-Øygarden

What about you?

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I write a lot about myself. But now I want to know more about my readers. What is going on in your life ? How has this year been ? 

Memories of positive associations get written onto DNA

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Epigenetic changes in nerve cells keep memories in place.


Nerve cells communicate through short, fleeting pulses of electrical activity. Yet some memories stored in the brain can persist for decades. Research into how the nervous system bridges these two radically different time scales has been going on for decades, and a number of different ideas have picked up some experimental support.

For instance, based on their past activity, nerve cells can dictate which partners they make contact with or increase or decrease the strength of those connections—in essence, rewiring the brain as it develops and processes experiences. In addition, individual cells can make long-term changes in the genes that are active, locking specific behaviors in place. In a paper released by Nature Neuroscience, scientists have looked at the changes in gene expression associated with memories of positive associations and found that they are held in place by chemical modifications of the cells’ DNA.

These chemical modifications fall under the broad (and somewhat poorly defined) category of epigenetic changes. Genetic changes involve alterations of the DNA sequence itself. Epigenetic changes, in contrast, alter how that DNA is processed within cells. They can be inherited as the cell divides and matures and, in rare cases, they’re passed on to the next generation. In some cases, epigenetic changes simply involve how the DNA is packaged inside a cell, which controls how accessible it is to the enzymes that transcribe it for use in making proteins. But in other cases, the DNA itself is chemically modified. That changes how various proteins interact with it.

The most common of these chemical modifications is called methylation, where a single carbon atom is attached at a specific location on one of the DNA bases. A number of studies suggest that methylation changes accompany the formation of long-term memories, so the researchers decided to test this in a well characterized experimental system that dates back to Pavlov: teaching a mouse to associate a sound with having a sugary treat appear in its cage. (Controls included playing the tone in a way that it wasn’t associated with treats and simply providing the tone.)

It only takes mice three tries before they start sniffing around the locations where the treat appears, and by five iterations, the behavior is pretty much locked-in. Past work in other systems has identified areas of the brain that are involved in this process, as well as some of the genes that are required. So, the authors started looking at how these changes came about when the association between the tone and a treat was being formed.

The researchers were able to confirm that the genes identified in past studies were involved in the formation of associative memories, and changes in the gene activity were detectable by the third trial just as behavior started to change. They were also able to detect significant changes in the DNA methylation that occurred at the same time, although only at a specific subset of the areas known to be methylated in that area of the chromosome. They were even able to show that the enzymes responsible for modifying the DNA appeared at these sites at around the time of the third trial.

All of that indicates that methylation changes are associated with the learning process, but it doesn’t get at the issue of cause and effect. So, the team injected a chemical that blocks DNA methylation into the area of the brain that’s involved with this form of associative memory, and they found that it would leave existing memories intact while blocking the formation of new ones. The effect was also specific to injections in this area of the brain. Injecting the drug into a different area, one that is involved in forming the associations involved in addiction, did not affect this particular form of memory.

Overall, the study adds another example to the growing list of cases where epigenetic changes seem to be involved in the process of locking memories into place. This doesn’t mean that the memories are permanent, as there are enzymes that can eliminate methylation as well. Still, it should help maintain the status of the memories for long periods of time—far longer than a brief burst of activity.

But it’s important to note that this sort of methylation is very context dependent: it’s specific to a subset of cells in a single area of the brain. Different methylation patterns—or even the same methylation pattern in a different set of cells—will probably encode something very different.

Nature Neuroscience, 2013. DOI: 10.1038/nn.3504  (About DOIs).

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