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Sunday, April 12

Our last blog: Thoughts on gratitude.

Some have jokingly recommended that we celebrate Thanksgiving daily in order to improve our health. No pills, no diets, no exercises. Just a long-term positive emotion can be the key to long-term health, as old philosophy and recent research seem to suggest. The ancient philosopher Epicurus considered gratitude a chief prerequisite to happiness, the same way that ingratitude was the chief path to misery. The wise man believed that those who have the power to bury unhappy memories are able to reach happiness. Fools, on the other hand, recall the past just to regret it. They torture themselves with recollection of past mistakes.

Recently psychologists and mental health professionals have been assessing the relationship between gratitude and happiness. It looks like that eternally grateful people score higher on indicators of health, as they seem to be taking better care of themselves. Gratitude also fights stress, a leading cause of illness and responsible for 90% of doctor’s visits. Furthermore, grateful people are more optimistic and optimism seems to boost the immune system. The impact is even more significant on those whose immune system has been compromised or those who are preparing for a stressful event like taking an exam or undergoing surgery. And finally, gratitude appears to lessen the pain of a tragic loss as the sense of belonging may increase and somewhat compensate for the loss.

It may not be easy to feel gratitude, many will retort. Look at the poor in India and their low levels of satisfaction. Correct, but what about the low levels of satisfaction among the very affluent in the developed countries? In October 2008 I listened to David Whyte, a poet and corporate consultant speak of the toxic mentality of CEOs who were miserable because they were making $2-5 million a year and not $6-10.

Well, who appears to be happy then? Mostly, middle class folks. Especially those who rose from poverty.

How can we cultivate a culture of gratitude? It has been suggested that we keep a journal. We write down a list of blessings and ask to what extent we take those for granted. Keep a record of past problematic situations and how we dealt with them. Through resolving these situations, did we benefit by learning something? Keep a record of places you visited and carried a message for you. Keep the memory alive by posting it on a blog. Look for the good side of people and focus on that. Did someone do something for you? Thank them silently if you have not already done this in person. Or simply, as you go to bed, make a few mental entries of things you are grateful for.

I'll give you four entries of mine.
I am grateful for the students who showed resilience, fought the odds and are in school. They are my role-models.
I am grateful I visited Omaha Beach in Normandy. I was reminded of the precious gift of freedom, which was handed to my generation on a silver platter. (I wrote about this trip here)
I am grateful I did not have an accident today.
I am grateful you took the time to write on this blog and allowed me to get to know you a bit better. I thank you.

Back to you. Do you think that keeping a "gratitude journal" makes any sense or is gratitude an overated feeling? If you were to make a few mental entries of things you are grateful for, what would they be?

Sunday, April 5

Affirmative action to close the gender gap?

We seem to be approaching an enrollment ratio of 58% females to 42% males. However, as more men drop out during college than women, around graduation time the ratio will be a disturbing 60 to 40.The gap is even evident in our high schools as more girls graduate and more boys drop out.

"So what?" many girls wonder. Well, it does matter. As we tend to marry within our group, most people seek out partners with a similar educational background. And although men are more likely to date a woman with less education, women do not appear to be willing to lower the bar. So in ten years from now, where will the husbands come from? Another country maybe? International dating sites? What about the future organizations depending on educated personnel? How badly will be men outnumbered?

Many institutions simply ignore the disparity. Administrators are not likely to admit that the gap is a problem. For example, Stephen Farmer, director of undergraduate admissions at the University of North Carolina, where the males constitute 41% of the college’s populations, said: “We really have made no attempt to balance the class. We are gender blind in applications." Are other administrators trying to address the situation through some sort of affirmative action? Many say it would be politically incorrect. Also illegal, as Sarah Karnasiewicz reported in the article “The campus crusade for guys.” In 1999, a woman filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the University of Georgia in Athens, after it was revealed that the school had attempted to balance gender on campus by awarding preference to male applicants. The university responded that it was trying to reverse male flight from campus before it "became something bad." The judge however did not agree and ruled that "the desire to 'help out' men who are not earning baccalaureate degrees in the same numbers as women ... [was] far from persuasive."

This is how it works with public institutions. But when it comes to private ones, the law is fuzzy and the needs of the institutions serious. If they tolerate a 70/30 ratio how attractive will the college be to prospective students? Nancy Gibbs cited (TIME, 2008, April 3) a U.S. News & World Report according to which the admissions rate of men at the College of William and Mary was 12% higher than that of women--because "even women who enroll ... expect to see men on campus. It's not the College of Mary and Mary; it's the College of William and Mary."

So there you have it. Affirmative action to close the gender gap is translated into turning down female applicants with better qualifications than males. Some consider it a necessary reaction of a society addressing disparities. Others are fiercely opposing it. Your thoughts?