Former Associate editor Margret Aldrich on the hunt for happiness, community, and how humans thrive
1/18/2012 10:45:17 AM
The tiny house movement is undeniably romantic. Toss out your nonessential belongings, leave the responsibilities of your sprawling suburban home, and embrace the freedom and clarity of an unfettered life. Need more romance than that? Make your tiny home a real-life gypsy caravan.
In nineteenth-century Europe, elaborately painted wooden wagons, or vardos, were used by the Roma people (pejoratively called “gypsies”) as living quarters and work spaces. Several companies today, including Gypsy Vans, Windy Smithy, and Ingham & Fallon, produce modernized or replica wagons for sale.
Perhaps most appealing is Roulottes de Campagne, who offers caravans for rent in more than 75 windblown and wildflower-thick locations throughout the French countryside. “Roulotte de Campagne has redesigned the circus caravan, country caravan, or so-called gypsy caravan as a high-comfort way for city-dwellers to get away from it all and tap into their Bohemian spirit,” writes Kirsten Dirksen for *faircompanies.
“The Bohemian spirit is definitely a growing trend,” concurs Roulottes de Campagne. “More than ever before, caravans are the symbol of freedom without frontiers.”
Watch a video tour of one of their diminutive 10-foot by 26-foot dwellings below, and start cultivating your own bohemian dreams:
Images via Roulottes de Campagne.
11/30/2011 11:59:49 AM
Were you one of those students who made schoolwork look easy, earning a galaxy of gold stars and an alphabet of A’s between your first morning of kindergarten and your graduation day? Did everyone gush over how smart you were?
If so, you might know the curse of the gifted child. An overload of affirmations can hamper the future success of bright kids, reports Heidi Grant Halvorson for Harvard Business Review. Students who receive praise for intellect rather than effort, she says, develop a belief that their abilities are innate and unchangeable. As adults, they lose confidence in trying to develop new, difficult skills. They get stuck. Halvorson writes:
People with above-average aptitudes—the ones we recognize as being especially clever, creative, insightful, or otherwise accomplished—often judge their abilities not only more harshly, but fundamentally differently, than others do (particularly in Western cultures). Gifted children grow up to be more vulnerable, and less confident, even when they should be the most confident people in the room.
In a study conducted by Carol Dweck and Claudia Mueller of Columbia University, fifth graders were evaluated to determine how different kinds of praise affected their performances. The students were given three sets of problems—the first relatively easy, the second nearly impossible, and the third simple. Dweck and Mueller found that offering the praise “You did really well. You must be really smart!” to one group resulted in a 25 percent drop in performance on the third set of problems, after they had failed the second set. Conversely, the group that received praise that focused on their effort (“You did really well. You must have worked really hard!”) improved their performance by 25 percent. The “smart” group became stymied, doubting their abilities, while the “hard-working” group persisted, feeling that if they tried hard enough, they would succeed.
When gifted children who were praised for their brainpower grow up, they often feel shackled by self-doubt, avoiding challenges and sticking to easy goals. Halvorson posits, however, that it’s possible to get unstuck by realizing that capabilities are wonderfully elastic:
No matter the ability—whether it’s intelligence, creativity, self-control, charm, or athleticism—studies show them to be profoundly malleable. When it comes to mastering any skill, your experience, effort, and persistence matter a lot. So if you were a bright kid, it’s time to toss out your (mistaken) belief about how ability works, embrace the fact that you can always improve, and reclaim the confidence to tackle any challenge that you lost so long ago.
Source: Harvard Business Review
Image by ultrakickgirl, licensed under Creative Commons.
11/18/2011 4:02:29 PM
What would you do to improve on the Mona Lisa? Our friends at Booooooom!, the Vancouver-based art blog, are asking photographers to flex their creative muscles by remaking classic works of art. A sampling of the amazing results from the Remake project—modernizing paintings by Rembrandt, Ingres, van Gogh, Lichtenstein, and others—follows.
Above: Grande Odalisque remake, by Craig White
Above: Grande Odalisque, by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres
Above: Ohhh…Alright… remake, by Emily Kiel
Above: Ohhh…Alright…, by Roy Lichtenstein
Above: The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp remake, by Bruna Pelissari
Above: The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, by Rembrandt
Above: Self Portrait 1889 remake, by Seth Johnson
Above: Self Portrait 1889, by Vincent van Gogh
Above: Gabrielle d’Estrées et une de ses soeurs remake, by Emile Barret
Above: Gabrielle d’Estrées et une de ses soeurs, by unkown artist
Check out the Remake project website for more iconic works, redefined.
Images courtesy of Booooooom!
10/12/2011 4:51:47 PM
We can learn how to cook like the French. We can learn how to speak Mandarin and Swahili and Portuguese. Can we also uncover the secrets of happiness around the world and learn how to find our bliss?
What, exactly, makes people happy is difficult to discern, but psychologists Ed Diener and his son Robert Biswas-Diener have conducted dozens of international studies to dig up clues. “The researchers’ questions were part of a bigger project to measure happiness across the globe,” reports Suzann Pileggi Pawelski in Scientific American Mind. “The Gallup World Poll, which includes a psychological assessment of people in 155 countries, shows that nations vary enormously in how happy their citizens are.”
The Dieners, and other scientists like them, detect several basic building blocks to happiness, including “social capital” (which includes the amount of trust citizens have for each other), strong ties with family and friends, a sense of belonging, pride in your country, and a lack of materialism.
But, surveying a country’s happiness level can be tricky: There are multiple perceptions of happiness, and the questions researchers ask make a difference. When polled on “life satisfaction” (an overall appraisal of life, including work, income, and relationships), the rankings look like this:
Highest levels of happiness:
Lowest levels of happiness:
1. Sierra Leone
When polled on “positive feelings” (enjoyment, smiling, and laughing), the results changed:
Highest levels of happiness:
1. Costa Rica
Lowest levels of happiness:
4. Sierra Leone
The Diener father-son team and other happiness researchers still have more evidence to unearth before finding the formula for joy. For now, perhaps we should hedge our bets and live like Canadians….
Source: Scientific American Mind(excerpt only available online)
Image by J E Theriot, licensed under Creative Commons.
8/12/2011 2:54:45 PM
We at Utne Reader have been fascinated with the tiny house movement since its inception, tracking micro home enthusiasts on their quest for simple, nonconsumerist living.
Now Christopher Smith and Merete Mueller are giving us an inside look into the tiny-house experience. The two are making a short film called Tiny: A Story about Living Small, which documents Smith’s adventures building a micro home from scratch in the mountains of Colorado. Construction is underway, writes Mueller in elephant journal, but between raising walls and pounding nails, they are talking with people already living in homes the size of some peoples’ bathrooms.
Near Telluride, for example, Daniel Aragon resides in a 110-square-foot polyhedral structure he calls Ico, short for icosahedron, a 20-sided dome. “This is a laboratory for what’s essential, what’s not essential, what’s beautiful, what inspires me . . . what’s sustainable,” he says of the home that is made from at least 50 percent recycled and reclaimed materials. Watch a video tour of Ico here:
The space is minimalist, to be sure, but Aragon seems to have everything he needs. “I don’t have running water, but I like to say I have ‘walking water,’” he jokes, “as I do have a well on the property.”
Sources: elephant journal, Tiny: A Story About Living Small
8/10/2011 11:50:08 AM
“Don’t take too many pictures,” my father advised before my first trip to Europe, encouraging me to get out from behind the camera and engage with what was in front of it. The truth is, I had a ten-mile list of things to see and pictures to take on the three-week five-country trip that would exhaust my savings and me—Paris: Eiffel Tower; London: Tower Bridge; Venice: St. Mark’s. Check, check, check.
This kind of breakneck travel is an unfortunate trend, says BootsnAll, a site that bills itself as the one-stop indie travel guide. “So much of modern culture pushes us at a frenetic pace,” they write, and continue:
Americans seem to be the worst of the bunch, with 30% of people not taking their allotted vacation time and 37% not taking more than a week a year. For the rest, a sad 33%, we tend to vacation the same way we live: at warp speed with emphasis on performance and “box checking.” Hence, the proliferation of tours that cram three countries and five cities into two weeks and keep travelers moving on an itinerary that feels like anything but vacation. Sure, they get home with a lot of nice pictures, but have they accumulated much else in terms of experience, depth or personal growth?
BootsnAll—and a blooming slow travel movement—reminds us that traveling is not a contest and gives us several points to consider when embarking on mindful travel: Be present. Realize that true understanding takes time. And go deep instead of wide—rather than filling your vacation with three different cities, pick one and get to know the people and culture as well as the sites, whether they’re a country away or two towns over.
Several years after my first jam-packed venture overseas, I went back to Venice with my partner. It was a misty November and the floating city was mostly devoid of tourists, with tides that flooded the streets until 11 in the morning. We stayed in bed late, frequented the same osteria until the owners knew us, and sunk into the magic of the place.
One night, on a late walk, we stumbled upon a soup supper outside a church and were invited to join in. Chords from a guitar drifted across the cobblestone streets, and an old woman hiked her skirt above her ankles to dance an impromptu solo. While we clapped along with the small crowd, all of us huddling closer to beat the chill, the man tending the pot of soup motioned me over to refill my bowl. That simple, unexpected night remains one of my favorite travel memories. And a picture wouldn’t do it justice.
Image by Frank Kovalchek, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/30/2011 4:06:50 PM
You’re at the Salvation Army looking for a lamp, a canoe paddle, or a new old shirt when you hear something rustling in the clothes rack next to you. If you’re in Miami, it might be artist Agustina Woodgate, who is on a mission to spread poetry to the masses with a renegade needle and thread.
Woodgate is poetry bombing thrift stores, says Booooooom, a creativity-celebrating Vancouver website. She prints lines from Sylvia Plath and Li Po onto clothing labels, pre-threads a number of needles, nonchalantly enters the targeted second-hand store, and stealthily sews the labels into hanging garments. One tag features these lines from Po’s poem “Waking Up Drunk on a Spring Day”: “Life is a huge dream / why work so hard?” Woodgate hurriedly attaches it to a shirt collar, periodically looking over her shoulder for security guards.
Part of the poetry festival O, Miami, Woodgate’s guerilla-style project aims to surprise and inspire with verse out of context. She says:
Sewing poems in clothes is a way of bringing poetry to everyday life just by displacing it, by removing it from a paper to integrate it and fuse it with our lives. Sometimes little details are stronger when they are separated from where they are expected to be.
Watch the inarguably fetching video of Woodgate in action at Miami’s Community Family Thrift Store here:
Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.
Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!
Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of Utne Reader for only $29.95 (USA only).
Or Bill Me Later and pay just $36 for 6 issues of Utne Reader!