Eating for greater Happiness

At this stage, we are experiencing challenging emotions around many issues in our lives. For some there may be a very real concern about where the next meal is coming from. Even for those of us who do not need to worry about this, the emotions regularly associated with food are often uncomfortable. Why? Michael Pollan claims that nutritionism has a lot to do with it. According to nutritionism, the point of eating is to maintain and promote bodily health, which means there are good and bad nutrients. The labels have changed over time, depending on what trend we are currently following. As a result, anxiety around whether we are eating correctly accompanies our meals. If we cheat and break the rules, we feel guilty. Many of us suffer from Orthorexia nervosa – an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. Pleasure, joy and gratitude for food have become counter-cultural. Eating for pleasure, as a social act or as an expression of identity are not considered much…

Some of the pitfalls of this approach include that the quality of our food is not discerned. When food is analysed into its nutrient parts, some parts are overlooked or not yet understood. Food can be taken out of its context:

  • If I eat a fruit with its peel, my body digests it differently to when I eat it without the peel.
  • In the context of my plate, one type of food interacts with other food on my plate.
  • The specific environment my food develops in makes a difference to the quality of my food, e.g. the food a cow is given influences the quality of the meat.
  • Food eaten needs to be seen in the context of my overall lifestyle.

As a result of nutritionism processed foods may mistakenly be regarded as healthier than natural ones because they have the required amount of a specific nutrient.  In reality, the less refined, the better the quality of our food is, but it is much easier to slap health claims on sugary cereal boxes than on raw foods.

How can we reclaim a more positive attitude to eating?

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Mahutsana mo nakong ya Kganelo-ya-Motsamao (SeTswana translation of Grieving during Lockdown)

Mmaago tsala ya me o tlhokofetse mo tshiping eno. Ka ntlha ya Motsamao o o kganelwang, le bokgalaka jwa magae go katogana, ga a kgone go gomotsiwa le go gomotsa ba gaabo jaaka tlwaelo. Batshedisi ka bontsi ba tlaa amega maswe mo dibekeng tse di mmalwa, Tse di latelang. (Tekanyetso ya Palo ya baswi ke 1500 ka letsatsi mo Aforika Borwa ka nako eno ya Kganelo-ya-Motsamao) Moswelwa a ka gomotsega jang mo nakong ya Kganelo – Motsamao? Re ka kgona jang go gomotsa bangwe ka rona? Re ka kgona jang go ba ama, go ba kgomarela magetleng le go Lela mmogo le bona fa le rona re tlhoka kgomotso gonne re tlhokafaletswe ke ba
balekane? Kgang eno e thata go umakiwa le go rarabololwa. Go nna thata le go feta fa re e akanya. Re pateletshega go buisana le go e sekaseka mmogo. Maikaelelo ke gore re seke ra iphitlhela re ketefalelwa ke go ithuta le go thusa bakaulengwe.
Ditshitshinyo tse di latelang ga di kake tsa dirolola se se diragetseng. Ka mokgwa mongwe, di ka gomotsa ba ba amelweng ke Leroborobo.
Molao ga o re letile go felegetsa setopo kwa dirapeng jaaka tlwaelo. Re ka romela melaetsa ya matshidiso.
Dithapelo tsa ka metlha di ka tsweletswa go fitlha letsatsi la phitlho. (Seno se ka dirwa ka mekgwa e e latelang)
Mokgwa wa ntlha:
 Tsamaiso yotlhe ya poloko e ka rulaganngwa  le ba tsa ditlhaeletsano ‘Apps’  kgotsa ‘social media’
Mokgwa wa bobedi:
Tsamaiso yotlhe ya poloko e ka dirwa go ntle le ba ditlhaeletsano gotlhelele.
Thuso kadiatla:
Ka maswabi, re palelwa ke go tshegetsa ba lapa ka matsogo, go rwala, go phutha le go baakanya dijo. Ka thulaganyo e e rileng, kwa metse-seteropong, go ka rekiwa dijo ka mefuta mme tsa romela kwa lapeng.
Matshidiso ka Madi.
Ba losika mmogo le batshegetsi ba ka romela madi ka tsela tse di latelang:
Mafaratlhatlha a ‘money transfer’ ka mefuta a ka dirisiwa.
Madi a tshegetso a ka romela ka tsela ya tlhaeletsano ka ‘App’
Madi a tshegetso a mogala-wa-letheka:
Madi ano a tlaa thusa lapa go begelwa batshegetsi ba ba gaufi le ba ba kgakala bonolo.
Molao ga o le tle setopo go lala kwa lapeng mme batshegetsi ba ka tswelela ka di fela tsa kgomotso kwa lapeng.
Tsatsi la poloko.
Molao o letla batho ba le 50 fela ka letsatsi la poloko. Tiro ya go khupetsa lebitla e tlaa ketefalelwa batshegetsi ka ntlha ya palo e nnye.
Batshegetsi ba ba kwa ntle ga palo 50, ba ka leba tsamaiso yotlhe ya poloko ka mokgwa wa tlhaeletsano ya ‘App’
Segopotso sa poloko.
kgatiso ya phitlho e ka dirwa ka’video’ gore e tle e nne segopotso le kgomotso go botlhe mo nakong e e tlang. Ba lapa ba ka abelana le batshegetsi kgatiso ‘video’ eno nako nngwe le nngwe mo isagweng.
Segopotso ka ba lapa:
Lenaneo la ba ba ithobaletseng e le ba lapa le ka kwalwa.  Ditshwantsho, dikgannyana tsa metlae, maitsholo a a tshegisang le dipina tse di neng di ratiwa di ka umakiwa. Ditiragalo tsa ‘Facebook’ di ka kwalwa mme tsotlhe tseno di tlaa nna le lefelo le le rileng mo lapeng go leboga le go ikgomotsa ka ba ba ithobaletseng.
Sejalo/malomo a ka jalwa mme a fiwa ba malapa jaaka Mpho, morago fa nako ya Kganelo-ya-Motsamao e khutlhile.
Tsweletso ya kgolagano le ba lapa:
Ka tiriso ya mogala wa letheka, matshidiso a ka romela  mo nakong ya mahutsana go fitlha nako eno e khutla. Ditumediso le keleletso masego, di ka dirwa gagwe le gape mo botshelong.
Ditebogo go batsaa karolo:
Ditebogo di lebisiwa go batsaa karolo ba ba itshokileng go tlatsa ka  tshitshinyo le maano a go tlhama lokwalo leno ‘Love Dignity Legacy’ le le imelang pelo, tlhaloganyo le mogopolo gonne le bua ka mahutsana le matshidiso mo lesong.
Thanks to Tiny Tshetlo for the translation!

Planning for laughter?!

Last time we had a closer look at the role of the neurotransmitters Oxytocin and Serotonin in experiences that lead to happiness. This time we will focus on how dopamine and the endorphins are produced and what we can do to stimulate their production.

 Dopamine produces a sense of excitement about an event that rewards us more than we expected. It can motivate us to take action toward goals, desires, and needs, and gives a surge of reinforcing pleasure when we achieve them. Many of the goals we had before lockdown have had to be postponed indefinitely, like celebratory events, or holidays we planned. So to produce more dopamine, we can focus on goals that are possible given our current circumstances. Is there something that challenges you, maybe something you always wanted to do? It could be learning a new skill, finishing something you previously started, tidying up a specific area, writing a journal, recording memories for your grandchildren. Breaking the task into bite-size pieces, maybe making a start of just a few minutes, makes success easier to reach. Crucial to the process is that we celebrate the achievements in some way – giving yourself a “gold star” obviously won’t work, but doing something you really enjoy after meeting your goal may do the trick.

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When last did you hug someone?

Although I am all for understanding our challenging emotions and growing through them, we need some happiness to keep us creative in the way we address our challenges. Happiness is associated with some of the experiences we cannot currently enjoy given current restrictions, like going to a party, a night out with friends or a long awaited holiday. If we break it down to brain chemistry, this is when neurotransmitters like oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine and endorphins are released. It may feel reductionistic, but maybe there is something useful to learn here. I have been reading about these neurotransmitters and practical ways (not medical) that stimulate our “happy chemicals”. It is a vast and complicated subject, and in writing briefly about it, I will no-doubt oversimplify. Perhaps it encourages you to find out more detail…

When we are isolated, our oxytocin levels fall. It is related to our sense of belonging. How can we increase our connection with others while keeping our spatial distance in one-to-one conversations? We have grown so accustomed to interacting with whatsapp messages and they definitely have their value, but hearing a human voice in a phone conversation connects us more. A video call where we can see a face without a mask has an even more positive effect. Could we aIso create more group experiences? Our extended family regularly meets up in group video calls, but there are many other options. Uniting towards a common goal is part of belonging. One of the classic ways we usually do this is in supporting a sports team, or belonging to a club with a common interest, or joining a support group around a common challenge. Many of these are now happening online or – in the case of sports – before cameras without live audiences.

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Nothing is exciting without a dance…

For a while I have been wanting to write something about exercise, but I am full of good intentions and little practical experience of regular exercise, so I have asked my friend Vivian Scheepers to do so instead. She is a better role model in terms of including exercise into her own routine and is passionate about children and the role exercise plays in a child’s life. She is currently teaching Sports and Gymnastics for ages 2 – 13 years and adult aerobic classes. In her own words:

Nothing is exciting without a dance…

Exercise defined:

  • Activity requiring physical effort, carried out to sustain or improve health and fitness.
  • Activity carried out for a specific purpose.

Some say it’s amazing, I feel good, look good and I want to know that my body is balanced with good eating habits and a good workout.

Yet, others say, “ Aargggh! Why would I do that to myself?”

Whatever your adult mind decides exercise can or cannot be, research demonstrates that it is very important for a child to be active and exercising regularly. It provides a good balance between a healthy mind and body. In fact, we have also learned that they exist together.

I grew up in a home where I was told exercise is not important. All I needed was to be smart and that needed brain power. Later, when I became a mother, I started to learn about gross and fine motor skills. What you do inside the classroom is as important as what you do outside the classroom. On discovering this new information, I realized no child should go without exercise, it should be part of their lives…. Because we all want healthy balanced individuals, right? Therefore, it should not be a choice, rather we should figure out what exercise we like and will continue to do.

As defined above, regardless of what exercise we do, it will require physical effort and is done for a specific purpose. So, how do we make it fun? Well, some of us like to dance, some like to play sports and others prefer strength & flexibility.

The pandemic has made many of us realize we can do this from the comfort of our homes.

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Dwelling on the positive

It is so easy for us to focus on the negative, especially at this time in history. The news headlines grab our attention with words that play into this human habit and feed our fears: “Jobs bloodbath”, “emergency budget”, “decimating and devastating storm”, “lockdown dictator”, “Eastern Cape battles shortages”.

We also have a tendency to replay our blunders from different angles and regurgitate our mistakes.

Pleasant emotions seem to be so much more subtle than negative ones. Our attention is arrested by numbing anxiety and we hardly notice the passing potential of the positive experience.

According to research in the field of positive psychology, pleasant incidents are more frequent than negative, but it is a choice to let those positive events become positive emotions by giving them more attention. Apparently our perspective is broadened and we become more creative when we are positive. I could certainly benefit from a broader perspective and more creativity right now!

So, I have decided to pause and prioritise those fleeting experiences – the fresh taste of the juicy grapefruit, the warm comforting glow of the open fire, the contagious belly laugh of the toddler, the colourful flower conquering the cracks in the pavement, the smiling eyes above the mask, the polite gesture from the stranger, the effort made by shop attendants to communicate despite the PPE barrier, the reassuring hug of a close family member. Let’s linger a little longer as we think upon these things…


Privilege 2

(A poem from the book “Dwelling in Dissonance)

Not an accusation
No verdict expected
Not an attack
Defense inappropriate

A historical fact
A present reality
Uncomfortable awareness
Given responsibility

Humble agency
Social leverage
Powerful potential
For participative change

I wrote this poem in 2016 in response to many conversations I had witnessed about privilege, where there was a lot of blaming and shaming going on, and the term “privilege” had become a heavily loaded label, which many people did not want to be associated with. Writing the poem was part of the process of grappling with my own privilege and what I could do with the privilege I have been given. In many ways, things have changed, and yet they have stayed the same.

Given the effects of the pandemic and world-wide lockdowns, and in light of the issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement, the division between privileged and disadvantaged has become even starker and I find myself exploring this idea of privilege once again.

I can count myself privileged if:

I am not re-traumatised by the videos that have been circulating for the last few weeks because I do not have previous experiences of racism or abuse

I think I can have an objective or intellectual discussion around Black Lives Matter because it does not emotionally trigger me

I have had the option to ignore these events because they did not directly connect with my world

I take certain things for granted – that others will have the same accessibility to things that I do – language, data, transport, networks, education

In the broader context, am I aware of the fact that my presence changes the atmosphere in a room (physical or virtual)? On a personal note, am I aware of the cost that a friendship with me might mean to a black person – do I know how my black friends’ families and other friends react to their friendship with me, a non-black person?

I may feel overwhelmed by the ongoing presence of systemic racism in South Africa and may think that I am not in a position to make much of a difference…but I (with whatever abilities, skills and personality I have) am placed in my specific setting with a number of people I come into regular contact with. How can I use my privilege in practical ways to move towards a more equal society here so that everyone can flourish more where our circles of influence intersect?

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This is not their battle…

All over South Africa, people have listened and watched with heavy hearts as videos of the events leading to the #blacklivesmatter demonstrations have circulated on social media. The complexity of emotions we are experiencing is too multi-layered for a short article like this. I can only mention a few thoughts, and yes, these are coming from a white South African. I have to own my come-from. Your perspective may be different.

Firstly, I am so aware of the fact that for many of my black friends/fellow South Africans watching these videos, reading people’s comments and listening to talk shows during the last 2 weeks has been re-traumatising. It has brought up pain, anger and feelings of helplessness from past experiences that feel like they happened today. Even in 2020, most black South Africans have their own list of very recent racism they were exposed to, some of verbal, some of physical abuse. Most of them without video evidence. Add to that the generational trauma of our racially-charged past. We stand on ground seeped in hurtful memories and traumas that have not all been honoured or worked through.

And maybe it is in this discomfort that we must stand a little longer. This is not “their” battle (the re-traumatised), it affects everyone, it is every South African’s battle…What could specifically white folk do here in this present moment? *

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This is not my battle…

I was chatting to a friend last week about the effect that the lockdown has had on us. We had hoped that we would have had time to assess what was really important to us, to learn to focus on what needs to change so that our lives display our values, to be grateful for what we have. Despite my friend being one of the most selfless people I know, she confessed that she had realised to her horror that she had become more selfish, rather than more outward looking. She had realised what important things she did not have, and what securities she wanted in the future. These things involve access to the private health sector and the required financial stability that gives access to it.

I could certainly identify. In terms of these longings, we are all on common ground. We don’t want to get sick. We want to be able to earn well enough to meet our needs for nutrition, shelter and health. The two are closely connected.

Taking a bird’s eye view of where we are as a country going into level 3, we also have these two common goals:

Limit the spread of covid 19 – don’t get infected, and don’t infect others.

Get the economy going – get to work, make an income, get others to work, so many of us can make a living.

These two are also interdependent. It feels too obvious to state, but I will any way: keeping infections low is key to keeping the economy open. I may feel I have little influence on getting the economy going, but I actually do have an important part to play:

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Preparing for the next work chapter…

Some of us are going to be returning to out-of-home work on level 3. After 2 months at home living with uncertainty, some of us may be surprised by our mixed feelings about this next step, with rising anxiety about going back to a daily workplace routine. Given the current circumstances, this is a fairly normal response. What can we do to make this transition as low-stress as possible?

What is the first thing that comes to mind – our biggest concern? If we can address that concern in a practical way, we will have come a long way in alleviating our anxiety. If your friend was telling you about this issue, what advice would you give him/her? I don’t know what your biggest worry is, but hopefully one of the possibilities below will spark some ideas that work for you.

Let’s think this through in a very practical way – what do we know about the circumstances we are going back to…and what changes to daily life can we make now that bring us closer to the daily work experience?

We know what work clothes we will be wearing. If practical, we could start wearing them during the day even now. Those of us who use make-up might want to start doing that again.

If we know what time we need to leave the house to get to work on time, we can set our alarms and practice our wake-up and go routine. This also means getting to bed on time. This may involve our children if they are in grades 12 or 7 (if they are willing to play along!) If we have children of other age groups, what will be happening to them  while we are at work? This may land up being a difficult question to navigate – we need to know they are safe.

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