Once a Week Write Down What You’re Most Thankful For

We tend to take the most positive aspects of our lives for granted—good health; family; friends; a roof over our heads; freedoms; or warm, sunny, weekend days in October. It’s especially important that family and friends feel truly appreciated, because when they feel unvalued, those all important relationships suffer.

If you don’t stop to count your blessings on occasion, you’ll probably succumb to negativity. My friend is right when he says, “It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” Curse the darkness with any regularity and people will avoid you. When that happens, negativity usually spirals downward.

University of California, Riverside psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky studies “happiness interventions”. Her research team asks, what if, with just a few behavioral adjustments, we could maintain a high level of happiness throughout our days, our years, or even our entire lives?

Here’s an interesting experiment of theirs. One set of volunteers was asked to keep a gratitude journal once a week, while another was asked to do so three times a week. Those who counted their blessings once a week exhibited a marked increase in happiness–but those who did so three times a week displayed no such uptick. Lyubomirsky speculates that for the latter group, gratitude became a chore, or worse, they ran out of things to be grateful for. The initial burst of happiness was thus deflated by monotony and irritation.*

While pondering this research, and writing this, I’ve been thinking about my mom. As is true for all octogenarians, her health isn’t what it used to be and my dad’s sudden death almost two decades ago was an understandable blow to her happiness. I can’t truly walk in her shoes, or understand why this author wants to die at age 75, but I’m confident even she would benefit from starting a gratitude journal.

Scratch that. Especially she. The more challenging one’s life, the more important it is to account for every last blessing. Starting a gratitude journal is an admission. An admission that gratitude doesn’t come naturally, it requires intentionality.

As always, I appreciate your reading.

* as described by Mark Joseph Stern

What Chester Finn’s Fordham Institute Gets Wrong about School Principals

Jacoba Urist in The Atlantic asks, “Should Principals Be Treated Like CEOs?”

Urist references a new report just released by Finn’s Fordham Institute. Chester Finn’s answer is “Yes, principals should be treated like CEOs.” As usual, he’s clueless. And offensive.

According to Finn’s Fordham Institute, inadequate salaries and limited power over key hiring decisions make the job an increasingly tougher sell. Consequently, good principals come and go. Their solution? “Stop viewing principals as ‘glorified teachers’ and more as “executives with expertise in instruction, operations, and finance.” “To that end,” Finn believes, “principals should earn considerably more than other school staff who have less responsibility.”  As in $100k more.

Hey Chester, the term “glorified teachers” is revealing. Now we know how you feel about the lifeblood of schools. Most teachers have at least as much expertise in instruction as their principals most of whom haven’t taught on a daily basis for decades.

And your suggested pay “bump” reveals how little you know about school culture, administrator-teacher relations, and faculty morale more generally. A typical teacher makes $50k, a principal, $120k*. Both work extremely hard and have lots of responsibility if you count shaping 30 children’s or 150 adolescents’s lives. The current pay gap often breeds animosity and contributes to adversarial relations. You’re proposing doubling the gap again, so that school CEO’s make four times more than teachers. The predictable result? Twice the current animosity.

In fairness, Finn deserves credit for acknowledging that an additional $100k by itself won’t solve the problem of attracting and retaining a new generation of excellent principals if they’re not given greater professional respect and autonomy. But Checker fails to connect the dots. Those are the exact same things teachers want and deserve.

Far more insightful than Finn is Todd Whitaker, professor of educational leadership at Indiana State University and author of the book What GreatPrincipals Do Differently. Whitaker says, “. . . most principals would rather have a full-time assistant than a hefty raise. It’s not necessarily even the hours. It’s the intensity. The truth is, if we gave principals an assistant or a lot more money, we probably end up giving them increased responsibilities and we’re right back where we started.”

Urist adds:

In other words,  one way to fix the leadership shortage may be not increased salary, but additional funding for assistant principals, school counselors, and other administrative support staff. Principals are like all people with high responsibility, according to Kate Rousmaniere, professor of educational leadership at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio and author of The Principal’s Office: A Social History of the American School Principal. They work better in teams, where they can share the workload.

Urist honors the complexity of the topic by concluding with questions:

The task, then, is to strike the right balance. How much should we pay principals to attract new talent, and how much additional support do they need to meet the demands of the modern job? How do we make the role more appealing to promising candidates without pouring more money into retaining ineffective people already in place?

Given the ratio of administrators to teachers, even paying principals a lot more would be considerably less expensive for districts. However, doing so will result in unintended consequences, most of which will be negative.

* I call bullshit on the “in many districts some aspiring teachers take a pay cut on the way to the principal’s office” assertion. There may be an isolated case or two of that, the technical term being “outlier”, but the average teacher doubles his/her pay when they become administrators.

 

Twitter is Like a Very Large Dinner Table

Facebook seems to thrive on nostalgia for the past. I like Twitter because it’s present tense in orientation.

Twitter is like sitting around a very large dinner table with guests you get to choose. I have little interest in faux, electronic, celebrity friendships. I choose guests who 1) make me laugh on occasion; 2) keep me informed about things I care about; and/or 3) share links to articles and videos about things I care about. Those I follow sit around the table and slide reading and multimedia material to one another saying, “Have you read or seen this?”

Sometimes Bill Simmons at ESPN, Alan Shipnuck at Sports Illustrated (golf writer), and John Dickerson at Slate can be funny. Among a few others, I follow Slate Magazine, the Atlantic Magazine, The Economist, Bonnie Ford, Atul Gwande, Walt Mossberg, and some of the bloggers I regularly read.

Most people think of Twitter success in terms of followers, the more the better. I’m more interested in the quality of the dinner conversation than the quantity of guests. And some people think the secret to more followers is to tweet more often. For me though, the more you tweet the more you have to make me laugh or keep me informed. If you tweet just because you like the sound of your tweets, you’ll soon join the ranks of former dinner guests.

Speaking of laughter, this skit is comic genius.

Data Driven Parenting

There’s a new religion in town. Data collection. And unlike mainstream Protestantism, the number of adherents is growing rapidly.

In the Atlantic, Mya Frazier asks whether statistical analytics make for healthier, happier babies—or more anxious adults.

The answer Mya is more anxious adults. The data driven gospel continues to gain momentum and data skeptics like me are getting our asses whupped. As a fraternity brother said to John Belushi in one of the best movies ever made in Eugene, Oregon, “The war is over man.

Frazier writes:

THE DAY THEIR SON was born, Monica Rogati and her husband began obsessively plotting his life via thousands of bits of data they punched into the smartphone app Baby Connect. They called the data “baby I/O,” a reference to the computing expression input/output and the kind of “geeky joke,” as Rogati puts it, that you might expect from a pair of professional data crunchers with doctorates from Carnegie Mellon. With the baby’s feedings (input), diapers (output), sleep sessions, and other accomplishments duly registered, he generated 300 data points each month.

This may sound like a lot of information for a very small person, but it’s typical grist for apps designed to tally a baby’s every blink and burp and sniffle, in hopes of charting his development over time. Among Baby Connect’s competitors are Total Baby, Baby Log, iBabyLog, Evoz, and the new Bedtime app from Johnson’s Baby, as well as Web-based programs such as Trixie Tracker (which an enterprising stay-at-home dad named after his daughter). Since Baby Connect launched, in 2009, Rogati and 100,000 other users have logged 47 million “events,” including 10 million diaper changes (with annotations in exacting and unmentionable detail).

The goal of these apps is to make parenthood “a more quantifiable, science-based endeavor.” The statistical analytics or “crowdsourcing” will provide an early-warning system to help parents determine what is and isn’t out of the ordinary: “He’s in the 50th percentile, he is perfectly normal.” Or “This is in the 99.9th percentile. Maybe this is not normal.” It will be a way, Monica Rogati says, “to debug your baby for problems.”

Yikes, as they’re studying the spreadsheets, crawl kid! As fast as you can.

Well wait, before criticizing these apps, I have to confess, I’m a hypocrite. I like me some fitness data. I wear a watch that reads satellites so I know how far I’ve run, my time for every mile, how much elevation I’ve gained, and approximately how many calories I’ve burned. Despite my interest in some data that the Rogatis might find overkill, these baby apps strike me as super-superfluous. I understand parents want to know “what’s normal”, but that’s where conversation with grandparents, friends, and written references has served us well through the centuries.

Are the Rogatis leading us down a path to being more smart-phone dependent, and thereby, less likely to lean on family and friends? Is the passing down of wisdom from grandparent to parent passe´? Are we officially throwing in the towel on interpersonal conversation and community? And this classic?

I should probably just zip it and step to the side so I don’t get trampled upon as the masses storm the iTunes store for the latest and greatest app.

What is the world coming to?

A Paradoxical, Pervasive Prejudice

Most people want to be far wealthier, but dislike the wealthy.

What do you know about the wealthy? Do you know many well-to-do people? Know enough, well enough, to generalize about them?

Like old age, the notion of “wealth” is of course relative. Since 1970, Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy has conducted several studies of the wealthy. Mostly recently, they asked 165 households with at least $25 million in assets to write freely about how prosperity has shaped their lives and those of their children. Their average net worth was $78m, with two being billionaires.

The results of the study are not yet public, but The Atlantic was granted access to portions of the research which form the basis of Graeme Wood’s April essay titled, “Secret Fears of the Super-Rich“.

Fascinating read. The bottom line, to paraphrase Woods, the respondents turn out to be a generally dissatisfied lot, whose money has contributed to deep anxieties including a sense of isolation, worries about work and love, and fears for their children.

A few excerpts:

A vast body of psychological evidence shows that the pleasures of consumption wear off through time and depend heavily on one’s frame of evidence. Most of us, for instance occasionally spoil ourselves with outbursts of deliberate and perhaps excessive consumption: a fancy spa treatment, dinner at an expensive restaurant, a shopping spree. In the case of the very wealthy, such forms of consumption can become so commonplace as to lose all psychological benefit: constant luxury is, in a sense, no luxury at all.

Among other woes, the survey respondents report feeling that they have lost the right to complain about anything, for fear of sounding—or being—ungrateful.

The poor-little-rich-kid retort is so obvious—and seemingly so sensible—that the rich themselves often internalize it, and as a result become uncomfortable in their interactions with the non-wealthy. Once people cross a certain financial threshold, they have a tendency to hang out with one another, to enjoy the company of other people who know that money relieves some burdens but not others.

Interesting how clearly the poor-little-rich-kid retort shapes the comments at the end of Wood’s essay.

Our church has recently updated its “welcoming” statement which reads: We welcome all people—the poor and the rich; the young and the old; people who are single, married, blessed, divorced, separated, partnered, or widowed; people of all abilities; people of all sexual orientations and gender identities; and people of all nations and ethnic backgrounds.

Some probably assume the rich may not need as warm a welcome as the other referenced people and groups. But Boston College’s “The Joys and Dilemmas of Wealth” study suggests they do.

Understanding, care, and empathy shouldn’t be rationed out as zero-sum qualities.