Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Brain Candy, Beach Reading (Plus a Giveaway!)

by Phoebe Farag Mikhail

I used to consider one of my favorite pleasures in life a luxury. Losing myself in a good novel has always felt like candy for my brain. Now, studies have proven scientifically that reading is more like a brain multivitamin, and antidepressant, not just brain candy. In addition to increasing vocabulary, improving writing, staving off dementia and reducing stress, the most exciting outcome of reading discovered in all these studies, for me, is the discovery that reading literary fiction increases empathy and emotional intelligence.

The study was published in the journal Science, and its findings have been summarized in numerous articles, including these from the Scientific American and The New York Times. Five different experiments were done, each showing a direct causal relationship between reading literary fiction (versus nonfiction or popular fiction) and increased empathy among study participants. And another recent study by Emory University found that the effects on the brain of reading a novel can last over five days.

Reading, therefore, makes us all better people, in more ways than one. Reading is not only good for us as individuals, but good for  everyone around us as well. We not only become more knowledgeable, more capable, healthier and less stressed when we read, but we can also become more sensitive to the emotions of the people around us when we indulge in a good book.

So, in honor of the end of the school year and the beginning of summer vacation, I offer a giveaway and some recommendations for reading on your next physical or mental vacation. First, the giveaway: A hardcover copy of Illuminations by Mary Sharratt, a gripping historical fiction novel on the life of Hildegard of Bingen. One lucky blog reader will receive a free copy of this book. To enter the drawing, share the name and author of your own "brain candy" recommendation in the comments below by July 4th, 2014. You can also gain an entry by subscribing to this blog via email. I can only ship the book to a US address.

For more brain candy book recommendations, visit my "Brain Candy" category in my Amazon astore. I'll continue to add recommendations as I remember them. Please share your recommendations in the comments below, and happy, healthy reading!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Hey Buddy! (How to Enjoy Your Job and Spread Joy to Others)

By Phoebe Farag Mikhail

My kids call our crossing guard “Buddy,” because whenever we see him, whether in the car or walking, he greets us with a huge smile and a shout: “Hey, buddy!” and sends us off with a blessing: “Have a good one!” He does this with everyone who crosses his intersection. If we see him while walking, and the intersection is not busy, he’ll let my 4 year old son hold his “stop” sign for a minute. Drivers honk their greetings at him, and I’ve even seen cooler-than-thou high school students enthusiastically high-five him as they cross the street.

When there is no one to cross the street, “Buddy” keeps himself busy by feeding the birds and listening to music on a small boom box. On rainy days, he is even more cheerful in his big yellow raincoat, and no less boisterous in his greetings. He can’t be younger than 60 years old, but is as carefree in his demeanor as a toddler jumping in puddles, while responsibly keeping people safe as they cross the intersection. It’s abundantly clear that “Buddy” enjoys his job, and even more so, spreads this joy to everyone he meets—even the birds.

Many of us know people with “ordinary” jobs who manage to make them extraordinary. From the city bus driver who knows the names of all her regular passengers and waits for them if they run late, to the cashier who entertains a whining toddler while you dig for your wallet. These people manage to generously bring cheer to others, even others whose salaries and benefits may be 10 times theirs. This is what I’ve learned from “Buddy” and others like him about how to enjoy my job and spread joy to others:

"enable" by quickredfoxandkits
1- Do my job well, whatever it is.  When “Buddy” addresses every driver crossing the intersection, he gets the drivers eyes off their smart phones and reminds them that there will be little people crossing this street.\
2- Be generous with my smiles. The word generous is the key here. “Buddy” is generous with his cheer and it makes everyone else around him cheerful.
3- Make everyone I help feel special. Letting my son hold his stop sign is just one example of how “Buddy” makes everyone who crosses the street feel special. I’ve heard him address other students by name.
4-      Keep my energy level high. “Buddy’s” joy is authentic, and it shows that he is drawing from a wellspring somewhere that makes him able to give this to others. When not helping people cross the street, he snacks on small snacks and listens to music, both of which raise energy as well. 

Do you know someone who does an “ordinary” job exceptionally well? Share your story in the comments below.