Category Archives: Mind

Join us as we share our experiences in learning to live a healthier life. Including our explorations with Meditation and Mindfulness.

A lesson in bravery

Lois snorkeling, Pulau Bunaken, Sulawesi, Indonesia
Last week we went to Sulawesi in Indonesia for the week with family, and I got a lesson in bravery. Not from a grown up, but from a little girl.
We normally think of bravery as something macho. People who go into burning buildings. Who ignore fears, or are fearless. But I say that bravery is feeling the fear and doing it anyway, and that is what Lois did last week. 
Lois was horribly scared the first time we lowered her down the steps of the boat, mask on and snorkel ready. She was scared of the depth of the water. Worried about the fish and what there would be hidden in the water. Worried about the things she couldn’t see. 
It took some time, but we got her into the water. Hand in hand she panicked. It was too much, and she scampered back up the steps and into the safety of the boat.
We headed off and came back with stories of how amazing the under water life was. How beautiful the corals were. Would she like to have another go? Where we are now is not very deep, you can see the coral through the water, would you like to try?
She looked worried, but agreed to try again. Barry lowered her into the water, gave her some reassuring words, held her hand and pushed off from the boat over the shallow corals. Little fish swam below her, she could almost reach out and touch the coral. 
Slowly she increased in confidence. Slowly she dared to cross the deeper water to get to the reef. Eventually she even swam by herself without holding someone else’s hand. By the end of the week she could dive under the water in the swimming pool and blow the water out of the snorkel tube. She was comfortable in the snorkel and mask, she had felt the fear and done it anyway. 
And that to me is true bravery. 

You might also like:

GDP vs Social Progress

Biking in Copenhagen, Denmark
Since the Great Depression in the 1930s we have defined the progress of countries based on their Gross Domestic Product (GDP). We determine progress based only on wealth. We don’t look at social progress: the distribution of that wealth, the investment in education or healthcare, or the health and well being of the populations.
By focusing only on Gross Domestic Product as the standard of success in our global economy, we give ourselves a passing grade if the top 100 people in the county gets wealthier, or a lot wealthier. GDP counts bombs and prisons as progress. It counts overeating and over consuming as progress. It ignores environmental impact. It ignores whether the population is happy, and even whether their basic needs are being met.  
This counting ourselves rich while we make ourselves poor is something I have been thinking about for a while, and also talking about with some friends for a while. We need to change the metric for success. We need to move away from measuring wars and pollution as success. 
The Social Progress Index as an alternative
The Social Progress Index offers an alternative to GDP as a goal for nations to aspire to. It measures progress along 3 axis:
  • Basic human needs – Nutrition and basic medical care, water and sanitation, shelter and personal safety
  • Foundations of well being – Access to basic knowledge, access to information and communications, health and wellness, ecosystem sustainability
  • Opportunity – personal rights, personal freedom and choice, tolerance and inclusion, access to advanced education
The 2015 Social Progress Index Results
In the 2015 Social Progress Index Results, the Top 5 reads like a list of one of the “best places in the world to live”. #1 Norway, #2 Sweden, #3 Switzerland, #4 Iceland, #5 New Zealand. In fact, the recently published list of the happiest countries in the world in the UNs World Happiness Report is remarkably similar – #1 Switzerland, #2 Iceland, #3 Denmark, #5 Norway, #5 Canada (Canada was #6, Sweden #8 on the social progress index, Denmark is #8 and New Zealand is #9 in the happiest countries in the world list).
What this shows is that these countries have not only focused on GDP growth (in fact New Zealand’s GDP per capita is modest when compared to some other countries), but have had a focus on the welfare of their people, and the result is social progress and societal happiness. With universal literacy, welfare states, and universal health care, the basic human needs of (almost) all the population is taken care of.
These countries also score highly on personal rights and freedoms. Canada and New Zealand score highest on Opportunity, and surely the efforts both of these countries have made in redressing the rights of the aboriginal populations of these countries (not saying it is perfect yet, but they are making efforts compared to other countries) has contributed here too. 
Outside the top 5 what does the data show?
What else the data shows is actually quite interesting. It shows that increases in GDP only translates directly into improvements in Social Progress when the country has a GDP lower than $10,000 per capita. Once GDP per capita goes above this level, GDP becomes a poor indicator of social progress. We see the same relationship with happiness. Once your basic human needs have been met, each salary increase has a diminishing return on how happy you are, and above a certain point, it even makes you less happy, less satisfied with life. 
Once an economy has reached this threshold level, it depends on what they invest this wealth in to how the society progresses. The United States is an interesting case in this point. Without the universal healthcare and access to quality education that you find in the Nordic countries, it scores lower on Social Progress, relative to its wealth. Or Kuwait, with the highest levels of GDP per capita, but with lower levels of Social Progress than Costa Rica, with far lower GDP levels.
So what?
So how do we move to a world metric where we define success based on the social progress of a nation? How do we get politicians to be interested in the basic human needs of its population and not just the total wealth number? How do we get economies to invest in healthcare, education and equality of distribution of wealth as a key to success? How do we redefine success to one that does not include bombs and prisons in the metric of success?
I don’t know. That is the million dollar question. But having a different metric available, a different measurement system. Starting a conversation about how this alternative measures something more meaningful and sustainable can only help. 

You might also like:

Finding our ideal place to live

View from the pool at the Vivanta by Taj hotel  looking over Sri
Every couple of months an article about the best places to live in the world is published. They are all different – where to live as an expat by HSBC, the best cities in the world, the happiest countries in the world – but also more or less the same. Today I came across another of these articles but this one captured my attention for a little longer. While the world has become obsessed by improvements in GDP, this one said that we should look at a complete set of metrics, and not GDP alone. I like this concept, because I strongly believe that there is more in life than money alone. 
Living around the world
We are currently living in Singapore – a country obsessed with wealth, shopping and prosperity. Before that we lived two years in New Delhi, India – probably the most polluted, crazy, and interesting city in the world. And before that we lived in small, “gezellig”, 16th century Amsterdam which you can bike around and enjoy the parks and coffee. 
Living in these cities has made us think a lot about what really matters to us. What do we consider important and where do we actually want to live?
So what do we want for our lives?
So what is our favorite place to live? Is there any such thing? Are we even capable of living somewhere for the rest of our lives?
Genevieve is from New Zealand and I’m from Holland. Two opposites in the world, literally. But both countries we call home and we are very lucky that both of our countries normally end up pretty high on those best places to live lists. The fact that we were born in those countries, does not mean for us that we have to live in one of them, either now, or forever. I think too many people just live where they do just because they were born there, not because it makes them happy. Most people probably haven’t even thought about where they would like to live. It just is the way it is. That is human nature. 
What is important to us?
Over the last few months we have been thinking about this question. What is important to us in where we live? And after living in a few different countries, it became clear that a few things are important us. We love being outside, we like green stuff so being able to go out and have easy access to nature – forests, mountains, beaches – is really important. 
Keeping our bodies healthy
Living in Delhi also made us see first hand what pollution can do to your body. Running outside for 20 minutes was followed by coughing for at least the same length of time. Pollution is rapidly becoming one of the leading causes of death in Delhi. So a healthy living environment is also high on our list.
Equally important is a good education for Liam and quality health care. Space for Liam to run, and an ability for both of us to exercise and keep ourselves healthy so that we can call on that quality health care system as little as possible.
Eating safely
As you might have noticed, Genevieve and I love good food so access to good restaurants, cafes, but also healthy veggies or even the possibility to have our own vegetable garden, is also really important. The food scares that China has experienced over the last few years (pesticides, ingredients in oils, milk powders, the list goes on…) and some of the scares that we experienced in Delhi (our purified water supply being stopped because of a water scam that was refilling Purified Water canisters with filtered tap water, watermelons being sprayed with over the counter medicines and Yamuna river water…) has also made us extremely conscious of living somewhere where we can trust the quality of the food. In Delhi we found a way by finding a local organic farm who supplied our vegetables, but we would prefer that we can trust a wider portion of the system at large, or at least have a selection of local farmers that we can trust. 
People we care about
But life is also about people, relationships. While living in Singapore we met some lovely people – just like we did in India – and made some great friends. But we also came to realize that it is very difficult for a non-Singaporian to meet Singaporians and to mix in local life. Singaporians stick with Singaporians and so we mainly hang out with fellow Expats. Which is fine but Singapore is a country where most people only stay for a couple of years before they go back home or move on to their next destination.
So as soon as you have a group of friends, half of them will leave. For us relationships are very important so in our ideal place to live it should not be too difficult to make and maintain friends. Which basically makes living in a beautiful but remote mountain village in Nepal not ideal…
Work life balance
One of the other things we have learned from our time in Singapore is the importance of work – life balance. Genevieve’s job here is one in which she has to travel a lot. Almost every week she takes a flight, and by the weekend she is often jet lagged and exhausted. It impacts on our family life, and while she really tries to use the rest of her energy for us, it doesn’t leave any work – life balance for her. Where ever we choose to stay next, and for a longer time, we need to get a better balance than what we have had here. 
Job opportunities
Maybe this should have been higher on our list. Maybe a year ago it would have been higher on our list. Maybe we are changing and it has come lower on our list as our priorities have changed. We still want to have meaningful working lives, to have jobs where we feel that we are valued and can make a difference, but maybe climbing the corporate ladder, participating in the corporate games became less important for us the more of the world we have seen. 
Colour in our lives
We don’t want to live boring. We have a sense of adventure. We love to explore. We like to see and experience new things and new senses. We need sunshine and places to visit and opportunities to travel. We need open minded people around us who want to talk rubbish late into the night over a nice dinner. Who want to dream with us. 
So where is this place…?
We don’t know, we are still working on that. And maybe there isn’t one answer anyway. Maybe there isn’t one answer for the rest of our lives. Maybe we aren’t destined to live in the same place for the rest of our lives. Or maybe…
How did we get to decide all of these things?
Over the last months we have created a number of mind maps. Both together, and separately from each other. Basically we started with a blank piece of paper. We wrote one of the following questions on the middle of that paper, and we connected words to it that resonated with us to look for patterns in what we thought about.
  • What is important to me?
  • What is important for us as a couple?
  • What is important for us as a family?
  • What is important for us in where we live?

And then we talked about them together. We did this over the course of a few weeks, and were inspired by the book “