Mika’s One Earth

2013_1108_aguilos_survivor_mika“If there’s only one earth how come we had the typhoon in Tacloban, but not here in Manila?”, asked Mika, leaving her host dumbfounded.  The 5-year old Haiyan survivor,  along with her mother and three other siblings, evacuated to the Philippine Capital Region six days after the typhoon hit her town.  She had experienced the intensity of Typhoon Haiyan’s2013_1108_aguilos_survivors_shelter destructive force, the wind that rendered her family homeless , and the flood that killed thousands in her hometown.  She saw and smelled the rotting bodies as she and her family walked the streets of Tacloban, looking for a bus ride to Manila. They had waited to no avail,  for a  C-130 flight out of Tacloban, leaving them  thirsty and exposed to the elements for almost twelve  hours.

Mika and the rest in her household were among the lucky ones. Their community, which is about five  kilometers inland, was spared of the storm surge that inundated those areas closer to the sea.  However, the winds packing a maximum of 314 kilometers per hour, blew away most roofs, and the heavy rains of up to 30 millimeters  per hour soaked everyone and everything in her neighborhood.2013_1108_aguilos_clinic_damaged2

In Mika’s one Earth, the deadly supertyphoon started more than 3,000 kilometers east of the Philippines, giving it plenty of water over which to strengthen. (See “Clues to Supertyphoon’s Ferocity in the Western Pacific,” by Dennis Normile, Science , Vol. 342, p.1027, 11/29/2013.) With the storm moving over the warm ocean at a very fast clip of 32 kilometers per hour, researcher  I-I Lin of the National Taiwan University likened Haiyan  to a car moving without a break.   It was moving before the storm’s churn could be slowed down by pulling deeper and cooler water to the surface. Lin explained that “the warmer the subsurface layer, the faster the moving speed, the smaller the cooling effect.”

About the storm surge, there was mention of  the strong easterly wind that caused the piling up of water in western Pacific, where the sea-level rise over a 20-year period exceeds 20 centimeters.  “It is likely that the elevated sea level contributed to the flood and inundation problems  in the Philippines,” Bo Qiu of the University of Hawaii, Manoa was quoted saying. (Ibid. Normille, 2013)

2013_damaged_tacloban_sanjose_peninsula_After_1400With the official death toll from the Leyte and Samar islands almost 7,000 now,  there’s a consensus among the survivors and with some Philippine Government officials that  Tacloban City and neighboring cities were not prepared  for the impact of the super typhoon.  Warnings of storm surge were not fully understood, not even by the Mayor of Tacloban City nor by federal government officials like the Secretary of Interior and the Secretary of National Defense.  These officials sheltered in buildings less than a 500 meters from the ocean, rendering them too shocked and weakened to lead an effective rescue and relief operations at the most critical period. Anderson Cooper was spot on in his observation of November 13, 2013,five days after Haiyan made its deadly landfall in Tacloban.  “There is no real evidence of organized recovery or relief, ” he said on his tweet.

Among the first signs that things have improved came through Mika’s Uncle who wrote in an email of December 13, 2013:

Typhoon Haiyan's Path

Typhoon Haiyan’s Path

“I survived. My family survived from the strongest typhoon in the world ever recorded – Typhoon Haiyan , locally known as Typhoon Yolanda. After a little over a month my family is just fine. For three weeks my family stayed in a Barangay hall which served as the evacuation center.

We lost everything in that horrible typhoon but we are all alive. I only saved the important documents such as live birth certificates and other important matters. I was able to save my CPU and the monitor but not the printer. Our evacuation center was already congested.

The last time I opened my email was November 6. I informed you that a typhoon was coming and will hit Eastern Visayas. I was already monitoring that typhoon a week before the landfall. I knew it was powerful but the damage and the number of casualties were beyond my expectations. Maybe it’s  because of the storm surge that killed thousands in Waray region. Fortunately, Tolosa had only 18 casualties because it was not hit by the storm surge.

I received a US AID tent – a huge one – thru the effort of the Catholic Relief Services(CRS). We also received lot of relief goods coming from different countries and from the local organizations. I already  have a cell phone loading business(Smart & Globe). My family is okay and GOD BLESS US ALL.

 I have to cut this message because my time is limited. I am just renting in an internet Cafe’. Thank you again.”

Mika continues to stay in her temporary home in Metro Manila. She and her three siblings are back in school. While she initially had challenges adjusting  to the shift in medium of instruction from English to Tagalog, she has reported that she’s starting to understand her lessons a little bit better nowadays. Her mom has found a job several miles away in the big city, with a three-hour commute every day.  Her other cousins who have evacuated to Manila as well have since returned to Tacloban, where their home was  among the very few that sustained the strong winds but were spared from the storm surge.

As the public and non-profit sectors talk about rebuilding the region ravaged by Haiyan, both environmental and engineering solutions to mitigating the effects of storm surge on densely populated coastal zones must be part of the conversation.  A good resource are  The Dutch Dialogues workshops initiated, in connection with the rebuilding efforts post Hurricane Katrina. These workshops involved  Dutch engineers, urban designers, landscape architects, city planners and soils/hydrology experts and,  their Louisiana counterparts.



A traditional house in Batanes Island

Among those initiating a conversation on a post-Haiyan rebuilding effort is the United Architects of the Philippines,which, as recent news releases have it, are offering their pro-bono services on designing typhoon resistant homes. In a forum

20131121-roof_4aguasheld on November 20, 2013, they identified at least 8 features of a typhoon-resistant home: (1) Highly replicable components; (2) Durable materials – e.g., concrete; (3) 4-side slope roofs; (4) stilts; (5) tempered glass with protective film or sticker; (6) storm shutters; (7) safe elevated location; and (8) revised building standards.

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Of Eartha Kitt, Typhoon Haiyan, and Waray Grit

A Waray coconut vendor at Tacloban Public Market, 2010.

A Waray coconut vendor at Tacloban Public Market, 2010.

A month after Typhoon Haiyan ravaged my home town, stories of death, destruction, and survival linger. However, listening to the song “Waray Waray” never fails to snap me back into a positive mode. The popular version is in Tagalog and has been sung by artists of global fame, like the late  Eartha Kitt and Lea Salonga. It extols the grit of the Warays, especially its women.

A wounded Typhoon Haiyan survivor seeks help from Catherine, a Waray midwife.

A wounded Typhoon Haiyan survivor seeks help from Catherine, a Waray midwife.

Eartha Kitt had a saltier translation. In her spiels while performing at Cafe Carlyle she said,  “I suppose you wonder what language this is? It’s the language of the Philippine Islands called Tagalog. And it says, the women of Waray Waray have muscles of steel, and we can fight any battle, but our kisses are as sweet as wine.”

The original version was in Waray language (See rough translation into English below.)It’s poignant in its

Dried Fish Vendor - Tacloban Public Market, 2010

Dried Fish Vendor – Tacloban Public Market, 2010

narrative of abundance, especially these days. It also speaks of the people’s resilience, something that photojournalist David Guttenfeleder of the Associated Press and National Geographic captured in his photographs and shared through his Instagram. With this wealth in spirit, there’s no doubt that the Leyte and Samar region that Haiyan ravaged will recover.

“Waray  Waray “

(Original Version in Lineyte-Samarnon)

1. Waray-Waray, pirme may upay
Mayda lubi, mayda pa humay
Iton dagat damo it isda
Ha bungto han mga Waray.
2. Waray-Waray pirme malipay
Di makuri igkasarangkay
Nag-iinom kon nagkikita
Bas’ kamingaw mawara!

3. Lugar han mga Waray-Waray
Kadto-a naton, pasyadaha
Diri birilngon an kalipay
Labi na gud kon may fiesta.

4. Mga tawo nga Waray-Waray
Basta magkita, mayda upay
Diri kabos hit pakig-angay
Sayod kamo basta Waray.
5. Waray-Waray! Waray-Waray !

     Kabuhi maupay
Waray-Waray! Damo iton lubi pati humay)
Waray-Waray! It mga dagat riko hin isda)
Ha bungto han mga Waray!

6. Waray-Waray! Waray-Waray pirme la malipay
Waray-Waray! Diri makuri igkasarangkay
Waray-Waray! Nag-iirignom kon nagkikita
Bas’ kamingaw mawara!

Waray  Waray


1. Waray Waray, feast is constant

     With coconut and rice

     Its seas teem with fish

     In Waray-Waray land.

2. Waray-Waray, fun loving,


     They drink when they gather

     Vanishing loneliness.


3. To  Waray Waray land

    Let’s go visit

   It’s fun-filled

    Especially during fiestas.


4. The Waray-Waray people

    They have a feast when they gather

    Their hospitality never falls short

     You’re certain of this with the Warays.


5. Waray-Waray! Waray-Waray

     Life is good

     Waray-Waray! Coconuts and rice abound

     Waray-Waray! Its seas teem with fish

     In  Waray land.


6. Waray-Waray! Waray-Waray !Fun-loving

    Waray-Waray! Waray-Waray! Friendly

   Waray-Waray! Waray-Waray !

    They drink when they gather

     Vanishing loneliness.

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Feasts and Festivals of Fall

This gallery contains 13 photos.

Winter has already started dumping snow in Colorado since two weeks ago, but memories of the festivals of fall still lingers. Remembering the joyful times – before last month’s floods unhinged homes and lives in the Rocky Mountains – is … Continue reading

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Kuratsa – A Rich Life in Dance

Samar Congressman Marcelino Libanan dances "Kuratsa Mayor".

Samar Congressman Marcelino Libanan dances “Kuratsa Mayor”.

“You walk, swim, and fly,” coached an amazing lady we fondly call Nanay Charing. At 85 years old she can still out-dance everyone on the dance floor. Her life is a lively, inspiring kuratsa, a traditional dance of the Waray people with roots from the islands of Leyte and Samar.

“Walking, swimming, and flying as dance steps are limited to the girls,” stresses Mana Charing. Indeed, in the dozens of kuratsa dances I’ve watched in my lifetime, the guys’ ability to be graceful lie in their abilities to kee their upper bodies stiff. However,  their joints have to be very flexible as they have to bend their knees while doing mincing and jumping steps, all at the same time – especially in that part of the dance mimicking a chase.

Kuratsa has unlimited number of steps and figures, allowing the dancers to be creative. Innovation in the dance, as in life, freshens up this ritualistic workout that blends centuries-old narrative of courtship and celebration of the natives with the music and dance steps that are heavily influenced by their colonizers from Europe. This dance would not be out of place in those islands depicted in the ” Zorba the Greek” movie.

Kuratsa is not unlike the the sirtaki, the Greek dance which combines the slow and fast versions of the Greek folk dance, hasapiko. Kuratsa starts with the “walk”. In the middle part of the dance are the mincing and chasing steps that increasingly go faster. After the chase comes what I’d call the “hostage” phase where one partner is lead to seat down on a chair, signaling those in the camp of the other dancer to throw in their cash into the dance floor. Then the kuratsa resumes with the slow phase, followed by another round of chasing and holding the other dancer “hostage”. This time, those from the other camp take their turn in throwing in their money into the dance floor. The dance could go on forever, until the dancers slow down, bow, and return to their respective seats.

Unlike the sirtaki, kuratsa is danced by two dancers, traditionally male and female. While sirtaki eventually has most in the crowd participating in the dancing, in kuratsa, the crowd participates by opening their wallets and throwing in their cash.

The proceeds of the kuratsa dance go to the newly married couple, if the dance is performed during a wedding feast. However, if the kuratsa is performed during a fiesta celebration, the proceeds are used to finance projects of the fiesta organizers. With this fundraising element of the dance, kuratsa is popularly referred to as a prosperity dance. Imagine if all the members of the U.S. Congress could dance the kuratsa in a way that will allow their supporters to contribute their cash for building roads and bridges?

In many ways, kuratsa is a story of getting most from life – through grace, smarts and rhythm – with the support of family, friends and a whole village that cares. Listening to Nanay Charing’s stories, kuratsa embodies her life. As a school teacher with seven children, she needed to help augment the household income. She needed to help her husband, a military officer, support her brood. She started a peddling business that provided basic consumer goods to her customers through long-term payment schemes. Soon she would branch out into micro lending, and eventually into financing of large scale construction projects. From her stories, the most challenging point of her life was when her husband became fatally ill, even as they were putting four of her children through medical school in Manila. She learned to survive in the most hostile environment in Mindanao, where there was a raging insurgency and secessionist movement. As a military officer’s wife, she was a prime target for ambush. She learned all the security measures she could do to protect herself while keeping her business afloat and taking care of a sick husband.
Today, Nanay Charng takes pride in the successes of her children, four of whom are practicing medical doctors in the U.S., with the rest of the children having successful careers based on their nursing profession. The careers that her children pursued were her choices more than her children’s, she asserts. My niece of high school age, who was listening in to her stories could only exclaim, in teenager fashion, “She’s hardcore!”.

Nanay Charing was called on to dance the kuratsa at the fiesta that night. She didn’t miss a step on that particularly long dance sequence. With every dance step, the past and the future merge like a time machine – tradition enabling the fiesta organizers to move forward with their mission of service. This kuratsa generated over $800 in proceeds that night – and more: an enriched cultural experience for the next generation who participated in the event and saw the feat of keeping one’s balance, even if one has to swim, hop, and fly.

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Spring and Hibiscus


It’s spring! It may not feel like it with about a foot of snow outside, but with my red hibiscus in full bloom today, there’s reason to believe the season is moving ahead to be in sync with the Eastertide.



Spring in my book started earlier when on March 13, 2013, when Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio, S.J. became the 266th leader of 1.2 billion Catholics all over the world, choosing the name Francis.

Pope Francis - Photo by http://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=pope+francis&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&docid=FPkFDCkMZAFd-M&tbnid=cBNtZTEAFT84SM:&ved=0CAMQjhw&url=http%3A%2F%2Ftotallycoolpix.com%2F2013%2F03%2Felection-of-pope-francis-the-1st%2F&ei=6dlTUZ_0OqGFiAK8uoDACg&bvm=bv.44442042,d.cGE&psig=AFQjCNFSHxAt3mdwf7LmQX4PAHeRDpMrvg&ust=1364536102031261

In his homily at the mass inaugurating the Petrine Ministry on March 19, 2013, His Holiness Pope Francis stressed on the need to protect creation and humanity, echoing his consistent voice for social and economic justice, as well as the environmental message that his namesake is popularly associated with. Thus, Pope Francis said:

“The vocation of being a ‘protector’, however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!”

How does one become a protector? Pope Francis suggested starting with oneself, especially emotional fortitude, even as he reminded everyone the virtue of tenderness as a sign of strength.

“But to be ‘protectors’, we also have to keep watch over ourselves! Let us not forget that hatred, envy, and pride defile our lives! Being protectors, then, also means keeping watch over our emotions, over our hearts, because they are the seat of good and evil intentions: intentions that build up or tear down! We must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness!”

“Here I would add one more thing: caring, protecting, demands goodness; it calls for a certain tenderness. In the Gospels, Saint Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the weak but rather a sign of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love. We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness!”

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Living Sustainability in Germany

The Federal Government of Germany has what looks like a straightforward strategy for sustainability. The strategy is summarized into Ten Golden Rules. Its introductory remarks thus says:

“The national sustainability strategy is not intended to be a theoretical or academic paper. It seeks to provide practical guidelines to help politicians and society as a whole align their actions to the imperatives of sustainability. Rule of thumb: Every generation must solve its own problems rather than passing them on to the next generation. At the same time it must make provision for foreseeable future problems. This applies to conserving the natural resource base on which life depends, to economic development and to social cohesion and demographic change.”

Sustainability may be an idea that is quite a challenge to wrap one’s head around, especially if the intention is to translate the concept into actionable measures now rather than later. My recent visit to Berlin and Frankfurt showed me that far from being an esoteric concept, sustainability could actually be a mainstream ethos. On this trip, a sustainable lifestyle meant thoughtful consumption of resources, not necessarily making do with less, but focusing on what’s more important.

Public Transport Bias

Berliners impressed me as having an almost ideological preference for public transport. On arriving at the Tegel Airport, the advice was to take a combination of bus and train rides to our hotel. Asked about taxi service, the unanimous response was “No, it’s very expensive!” It did not seem to be a problem that we had with us heavy suitcases and an assortment of carry-ons.

The Berliners we met were generous with directions, both right or wrong way. Like superheroes, they would pry open the train door when they see you fail to board the train that you thought was the right one. Also, they will carry your pieces of luggage up dozens of steps of what seemed to be a climb to the Acropolis of Athens.

We reached our hotel in the south side of Berlin, after about three hours of intense commuter experience. What was meant to be  one train transfer took about five, with the route complicated by the fact that one train stop was actually closed for repairs. However, it was an opportunity to see how an efficient public transport system that, combined with the residents’ willingness to walk, makes for an impressive lifestyle. With over 4 million residents, traffic congestion seemed so mild.

Efficient Use of Space

Staying at the Dorint Adlershof-Berlin Hotel could easily make an American feel too cozy. It was rather disappointing when one realizes that free Wi-Fi service was available only at their business center, which consisted of one desktop computer at the hotel’s lobby; when coffee is available only if you shell out €3 a cup; when there are no brochures on local attractions and restaurants (instead one is told to contact the local tourist bureau). On the other hand, the customer does enjoy drinks in cups and tumblers that sing. The austere services and space limited physical and carbon footprint, while possibly increasing profitability.

Proactive Waste Reduction
At the Kaufland Supermarket near the hotel, where we savored traditional German deli food and delicate pastries, it was interesting to watch how shoppers minimize waste generation. They bring their own grocery bags, bag their their own purchases, and redeem their empty beer bottles. Eateries offered real, non-disposable tableware.

In Frankfurt, we had the luxury of being hosted by friends at their apartment located in a quiet and quaint town of Rödermark in Nue Isenburg. The young couple’s hospitality and graciousness were so heartwarming. They insisted that we use their master’s bedroom. Their only requirement was for us to leave our shoes outside their bedroom, and outside their door, if possible.

They took extra care in what and how much stuff and food to bring into their apartment, since the cost of waste disposal significantly goes up with the amount of waste generated. Our hosts mentioned that they can easily save €50 by taking time to redeem empty bottles. They don’t drink any alcoholic drinks, so potentially households that consume alcohol will save much more by redeeming empty bottles. The incentive to recycle is real. Theoretically, it’s possible to eliminate paying for waste pick-up services.

Smart Urban Planning and Housing

Housing accounts for much less footprint per household in Germany than in the U.S. as residents don’t seem to mind living in multi- family buildings. Home ownership is not much of a dream; most residents rent their homes.

Our hosts in Frankfurt’s suburb work about fifteen minutes away by car. With their son going to a school where his mom teaches, there’s less driving required. Flexibility in the husband’s work schedule allows him to prepare their breakfast and pack their lunches. While eating out is an option, it’s never the default meal practice. Since the family prefers not to have television, mealtimes are full of conversations. 

A few blocks from the building is the main street, which is also the way to the forest park and playground. Traffic is light; buses are popular for many residents. At around noon, many school children walk home. I didn’t see teenagers hanging out in public spaces. How this community could keep their teenagers invisible was intriguing.

Inconvenient Sustainability?

Mine may have been an experience of an idealized lifestyle. However, it’s always nice to be reminded that sustainability can be real in some pockets of this world full of breathing, consuming, living human beings. Of course, it can be argued that there are macroeconomic disadvantages to sticking to an austere lifestyle. But for the hotel owner, it could mean satisfying the profit incentive, as well as giving the customer a feel-good experience of reduced human footprint. For the grocer, encouraging their customers  to bag their own purchases allows their customers to be mindful of the amount of stuff and waste they could bring to their homes. For the restaurant owner, offering non-disposable plates, silver, and tumblers may just be a matter of taste, but it allows customers to enjoy their food, even as their waste generation is reduced. If sustainability is not about making rational choices about consumption, if it’s not about balancing economic, social, and environmental goals for current and future generations, what would it be about?

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A Younger Moon Turned Inside Out

At the ELS session on Disintegrative Capture Theory for the Origin of the Moon, Forum Adlershof, Berlin, Germany on April 20, 2012.

On April 19-20, 2012 the German Aerospace Center Institute of Planetary Research hosted the 2012 European Lunar Symposium in Berlin. The symposium, which was also sponsored by NASA’s Lunar Science Institute, was breathtaking in its inclusiveness, providing a forum for discussion on the over 50 papers presented  by lunar scholars from Europe, the United States, Japan, and Russia.

Among the most remarkably bold papers presented was that of Peter Noerdlinger   – “A New Disintegrative Capture Theory of the Origin of the Moon.”

In vigorously challenging the currently accepted Giant Impact theory, Noerdlinger pointed out the many problems of this GI theory, including the following:

  • The violent collision between Theia (the GI object about the size of Mars) and the Earth melts the entire Earth, contrary to geological evidence.
  • The Moon condenses out of the vapor cloud generated by the collision, despite evidence that the moon was NOT condensed out of vapor.

Noerdlinger’s version of how the Moon was formed which was based on his years of independent study features the following points:

  • The Proto Moon or the object that resulted in the creation of the Moon started in the same orbital path as the Earth around the Sun, but at Earth’s Lagrange Point 4 (L4). This Proto Moon, which was captured into Earth orbit, was 4 times less massive than the Giant Impact’s  object, Thea.
  • The Proto Moon had a 32% Iron-Nickel-Sulfur core supporting a dynamo, accounting for the magnetized lunar rocks. After being captured into the Earth’s orbit, the Proto Moon, tidal forces tore it apart, with its iron core and some of its rock mantle plastering onto the Earth’s surface, producing a “Late Veneer”.

    Magnetized Troctolite 76535 collected by Apollo 17

  • The remaining Proto Moon rock formed into what is now the Moon following a tidal stripping that drove the Proto Moon rock away from the Earth at a distance of about 3.8 times the Earth’s radius.
  • The Moon may be 3.8 to 3.9 billion years old, much younger than the commonly assumed age of 4.56 billion years.
  • The minerals in the Moon would be about as old as the Earth, with some rearranging during the capture and temporary disintegration process. Essentially, the Moon was turned inside out.
  • If the Moon is as young as suggested, its origin would coincide with the beginning of life on Earth – an aspect unexplained by the Giant Impact theory.

There is expectation that much of what is now a rather lopsided debate on the Moon’s formation will be decided by data that NASA’s  twin  GRAIL spacecraft started collecting since March 2012. (http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/grail/news/grail20120307.html)

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Positive Strive

It is said that when Adlai Stevenson II died in 1965, he had near his bedside the prose poem Desiderata. The famously erudite U.S. statesman had intended to use in his Christmas cards the then largely unknown poem that Max Ehrman wrote in 1927. Desiderata had been included in the devotional materials at Saint Paul’s Church in Baltimore since around 1959. Desiderata would also become a personal favorite after my Psychology 101 professor required our class to memorize the poem.

Desiderata turned out to be a timeless prescription for happiness, predating the research-based advice from the likes of Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage (Crown Business, 2010), and whose article, “Positive Intelligence” was featured in the recent Harvard Business Review issue.

As Desiderata counsels “Strive to be happy,” so does Shawn Achor imply that gaining a happy, productive, and positive state of mind requires individual purposive action. Achor argues that while environmental and genetic factors may influence an individual’s general sense of well-being, the brain can be trained to be positive. Based on research and case studies he conducted, and which were corroborated by other scholars’ studies, Achor recommended three strategies for improving one’s chances of happiness:

1. Develop new habits. From a 2008 experiment that involved participants’ engaging in a brief positive exercise every day for three weeks, Achor found that the experimental group scored significantly higher in optimism and life satisfaction metrics, compared to the control group’s scores. Participants in the experimental group performed exercises in gratitude, engaging positively with those in their social network, meditating, exercising, and documenting meaningful experiences in a journal.

2. Nurture co-workers. A March 2011 research by Achor revealed that social support providers were 10 times more likely to be engaged at work, and 40% more likely to get a promotion – as compared to those who kept to themselves. In adopting social support as a strategy for enhancing happiness, Achor cited Ochsner Health System’s “10/5 Way” as an effective practice. Employees are asked to make eye contact when within 10 feet of another person, and to say hello when within 5 feet.

3. Develop a positive relationship with stress. When stress is seen as enhancing to the human brain and body, rather than as a factor to diminishing performance, participants in Achor’s undated study were positively correlated with a drop in health problems incidence, and increased happiness in the workplace.

In asking his students to put to memory, Desiderata, which is Latin for “desired things,” my Psychology 101 professor nailed his message down, even without citing relevant studies. So one more time, let’s …

Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful.

Strive to be happy.



  1. Shawn Achor (2012), “Positive Intelligence,” Harvard Business Review, January-February issue.
  2. Wikipedia, “Desiderata” at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desiderata, accessed February 12, 2012.
  3. Wikipedia, “Adlai Stevenson II at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adlai_Stevenson_II, accessed on February 12, 2o12.
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Thriving at Work

Happy employees make for a consistently high-performing workforce. This is the gist of a research that took over seven years, and involved over 1200 white and blue-collar employees from a broad range of industries, including manufacturing, financial services, health care, and higher education.

The January-February 2012 issue of the Harvard Business Review featured the study by University of Michigan Ross School of Business professor, Gretchen Spreitzer, and Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business assistant professor, Christine Porath. The study found that employees fitting the researchers’ definition of thriving demonstrated the following:
• 16 % better overall performance (as reported their managers)
• 125% less burnout than peers (self reported)
• 46% more satisfied with their jobs
• 32% more committed to the organization

In addition, these happy employees logged in less absences from work and fewer doctor’s visits, saving their employers health care costs and lost times.

The concept of thriving, according to Spreitzer and Porath, consists of two elements: vitality or the sense of being energized and alive; and learning or the gaining of knowledge and skills. Leaders who have the combined attributes – i.e., with high energy and high learning – were found to be 21% more effective than those who were only high energy. Having high energy but with low learning appear to be bad for employee health; 54% fared worse in terms of health, compared to those employees who were high-energy and high-learning types.

In offering insights for managers, the authors identified four reinforcing mechanisms that must all be in place for employees to thrive at work:
1. Providing decision-making discretion.
2. Sharing information.
3. Minimizing incivility.
4. Offering performance feedback.

Linking employee happiness with empowering them to make decisions is pretty intuitive. This is about giving employees autonomy and allowing them ownership of what their company is trying to accomplish. Facebook’s “Move fast and break things” motto embodies this empowerment mechanism, says the study.

In acknowledging the need for transparency – i.e., sharing information at the workplace, the study appears to eschew the “need to know basis” policy of many companies, which leads to communication silos. Instead, companies are encouraged to build trust and to build capacity for decision-making among their employees through a conscious effort to let their employees focus on the big picture – e.g., the company’s mission and strategy – and showing these employees how their respective work fits in the broader scheme of things. Whole Foods, and YRC Worldwide were the companies the study mentioned as having used the open book policy to their best advantage.

The study further reminds managers that incivility and rude behavior have costs to the company, including intentional decrease in effort (50% of employees studied); intentional decrease in quality of work (30% +); and decreased performance (75% +). Apparently, this research skipped the workplace at the most famously productive company in Cupertino, California. At Apple, Steve Jobs was supposed to have given free rein to his emotional outbursts. I would surmise that Apple was/is strong in other mechanisms, compensating for its weakness on the “civility” dimension.

In Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs (Simon and Schuster, 2011), performance feedback from Mr. Jobs could be swift and brutal, yet the company under him has become an icon of innovation, productivity, and financial success. It could be that Apple is an exception, and the insights of Spreitzer and Porath may still apply to most companies. In advising performance feedback, the authors argue that it lends to learning opportunities and boosts energy levels, rather than overwhelm employees.

The authors caution that the four mechanisms reinforce each other and will not lead to thriving if only one or two are present. They offered that employees are least likely to be comfortable about making decisions when kept in the dark about information that matters, or when subjected to rude behavior. Providing an enabling environment for employees to thrive is not just a matter of organizational ethics; thriving employees lend to sustainable performance for the company.

An addendum article in the same Harvard Business Review issue reminds readers that even without additional organizational support, individual employees have ways of thriving on their own. Suggested strategies include the following:
1. Taking a break for creating positive energy.
2. Crafting one’s own work to be more meaningful – i.e., watching for opportunities to make the job more meaningful.
3. Looking  for opportunities to innovate and learn.
4. Investing in relationships that energize; spending less time with those that deplete energy.
5. Recognizing that thriving can spill over outside the office.

May we all work and thrive. 

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Revisiting Happiness

As Asia celebrates the Chinese New Year with greetings of “Kung hei fat cho!” (Congratulations and be prosperous!) , I find myself enjoying the “happiness issue” of the Harvard Business Review (January-February, 2012). It is so apt a reading for people like me who are in a reset mode at this time of the year. The magazine devotes five extensively researched articles on happiness:
1. The History of Happiness by Peter N. Stearns
2. The Economics of Well-Being by Justin Fox
3. The Science Behind the Smile – an interview with Daniel Gilbert by Gardiner Morse
4. Creating Sustainable Performance by Gretchen Spreitzer and Christine Porath
5. Positive Intelligence by Shawn Achor

Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci is a 15th century painting of Lisa del Giacondo, wife of wealthy Florentine silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo. An unnamed historian had, according to the author, surmised that the tentative smile in Mona Lisa's portrait was probably due to tooth decay.

Let us start with the History of Happiness.
According to Professor Peter N. Stearns of George Mason University, the happiness culture is relatively a modern concept in Western culture, tracing its origins to the Enlightenment period in the 18th century. It was during this period when Christians began embracing the idea of cheerfulness as something pleasing to God. Along with this shift in religious perspective were the technological advances of this period, including better home heating, umbrellas, and improved dentistry, which enhanced comfort for the middle class. By the end of the 18th century, the notion of happiness as a worthy life goal would transcend into the political dimension, with the American founding revolutionaries formally recognizing in the declaration of independence the “pursuit of happiness” as an unalienable right.

By the 19th century, the happiness value had become part of many facets of daily life, including the workplace and family life. Workplace standards would also embrace the happiness culture, in the same manner that businesses would see happiness of its employees as an advantage. The increasing cultural commitment to happiness translated into new emotional responsibilities and downsides, including the pressure to avoid unhappiness in family life and in workplaces, even diagnosing unhappy states as pathology. While the problems with the happiness culture may be outweighed by what he calls “cheerful artifacts”, the author sees such problems as a way to facilitate changes in such culture, moving forward.

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