Creating Beautiful Art and Raising Money for a Great Cause Through #Inktober

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I’m a contestant in the Dancing with Our Stars fundraiser for the Northeast Wisconsin Chapter of the American Red Cross.  As part of that, I am working to raise as much money as I can and have put together and incredible fundraising team of people from across the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.  In late September, one member of my team, Kimberly Vlies, sent me a Facebook message that read,

I could draw ball point pen portraits of people for #Inktober. Proceeds to the team?

I, of course, had no idea what this meant.  I had no idea what #Inktober was and only sort of knew what she meant by ball point pen portraits.  What I knew was that (a) Kimberly is incredibly talented and (b) Kimberly has lots of great ideas.  So if she thought it would work, I was on board.

I did, however, go look up #Inktober.  And you know what?  It’s pretty great (learn more here: http://inktober.com/). Every October, artists from all over the world take the challenge by doing one ink drawing a day for 31 days.  It has spurred beautiful work, much of which can be seen on Twitter or Facebook, including this incredible series (near and dear to my heart as a psychologist) from Shawn Coss illustrating different forms of mental illness.

Kimberly’s idea was to draw ball point pen portraits by request for $15 each (or more when there were multiple people or it was otherwise more complicated).  She would draw either from photos that people submitted to her or from a live model when people were able to actually sit for the portrait.  She would do one a day, post the pictures to the Facebook page for the fundraiser, and the requester would get to keep the portrait.  Both Kimberly and I suspected that this fundraiser would be successful, but neither of us anticipated just how successful (more on that in a bit).

First, here’s a little bit about Kimberly.  She’s a graphic designer in the Marketing and Communication Office at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.  She has two degrees, Graphic Communications and Spanish, from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, but she has been interested in art since she was in the 4th grade and learned that her artistic skills were several years ahead of her age.  She first learned about #Inktober through a friend, Ivan San Martin, a fellow artist she had met years earlier when she studied in Spain.  He posted his own #Inktober art on Facebook and she was inspired.

I was interested in giving it a try myself, but knew that coming up with a subject for daily practice would be difficult.  Years ago I got the idea to draw portraits as a part of a social media campaign from a guy who would snap photos of people he met at conferences, draw them and post their drawings to social media. People got a huge kick out of being tagged in their drawings and it generated social engagement.

The initial launch of our #Inktober fundraiser was really fun.  There happened to be a Red Cross Blood Drive on campus the day we wanted to kick things off so we launched the campaign with her first drawing from there.

And here she is actually drawing me.

I can tell you as a non-artist who appreciates art, this was really interesting.  She talked me through her process, explained the challenges, and told me how she became interested in art.  For example:

Drawing from life is more challenging because there is an additional step of translating 3-D information to 2-D. If my model moves, I move or I look out one eye or the other, the whole reference point changes and I have to do my best to recalibrate. There is an immediacy to it that forces me to capture the energy of gesture lines, rather than train my tunnel vision on exact details.

And from that, the #Inktober campaign took off.  The 31 slots filled up in no time.  People wanted portraits of their kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, and pets.  They requested them as gifts for their partners and parents.  Each day when we posted a portrait on the Facebook page, it got liked, shared, and received a host of positive comments.  Here are just a few of those wonderful portraits (including the ones she did of my kids; check here for the rest):

We had hoped to raise $500, but because so many people donated a little extra when they paid for their portraits, we ended up raising far more than that.  I asked Kimberly if she expected this sort of response:

I did not expect the response to be this overwhelmingly positive. I was better than 50% sure it would work. I figured we could find 31 people who would buy a drawing. I set the price low just in case it would be hard to find takers, and I wanted it to be accessible/affordable for anyone.

What was most surprising to me, though, wasn’t the success of the fundraiser.  It was her response when I asked her what was most challenging about the fundraiser.  I expected her to say the hardest part was finding the time to draw.  Instead, though, she pointed to the self-doubt doubt she feels when she sits down to draw.

Each time I pick up the pen, I am confronted with self-doubt. It doesn’t matter that I have a B.F.A. or that I’ve been drawing my entire life, I’m so afraid that I can’t do it. I have to convince myself that whatever I do will be ok and just proceed with the drawing. As I work on each drawing, I vacillate wildly between thinking I’m doing ok and thinking I’ve ruined the drawing beyond repair. When each drawing is done, I’m surprised with how well it turned out and it feels like somebody else did it.

I didn’t expect someone so talented to talk about self-doubt.  I also know, though, as a psychologist and emotion researcher that people find inspiration and motivation in a variety of ways.  For many, some anxiety is part of the creative process.

The money she raised will go to a great cause, one that is near and dear to her heart.  Kimberly is not only a great artist and wonderful friend, she’s a dedicated blood donor.

The American Red Cross has a special place in my heart because I have blood type O-, which means I’m the universal donor.  This means that in life-or-death situations, when there’s no time to evaluate blood type, they can grab a bag of my blood and know it won’t contain conflicting antigens.  Type O- blood makes up 7% of the population and I’m really proud that I can help save lives. The Red Cross is known for their blood drives, but they also do very important humanitarian work, like responding to disasters world-wide, vaccinating children in 3rd world countries, helping individual families in military deployment or devastated by fire. The Red Cross also offers excellent training and certification programs for first aid, CPR, and AED, babysitting and child care, lifeguarding and CNA work.

You can follow Kimberly Vlies on Twitter at @kvlies or visit her website: http://kimberlyvlies.com

Debunking Pro-Gun Arguments: “I Just Feel Safer With a Gun”

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There are various versions of this one (e.g., “I need to be able to protect my family,” “It’s dangerous to be a single woman without a gun”) but they all boil down to this:

Having a gun makes you safer.

Ultimately, though, it’s the easiest claim to take down because, quite simply, having a gun doesn’t make you any safer.  In fact, in most ways, having a gun makes you less safe.

And here’s how we know.

As it turns out, there’s a big difference between feeling safe and being safe.  For instance, most people feel safer in a car than in a plane but, as I’m sure you all know, you’re way more likely to get hurt riding around in a car than flying in plane.

The same thing is true with owning and carrying around a gun.  You may feel safer, but you are actually way more likely to get hurt or killed with it than without it (and so is anyone who spends time with you).

Here are three reasons why:

  1. Having a gun makes you (and those, particularly children, around you) more likely to die as the result of a gun-related accident.  States with more guns see more accidental gun deaths.  This is particularly true when it comes to the safety of children, which is why the American Academy of Pediatrics says, “the absence of guns from children’s homes and communities is the most reliable and effective measure to prevent firearm-related injuries in children and adolescents.”
  2. You’re also more likely to kill yourself intentionally if you have a gun.  This 2014 study meta-analysis (which means it’s a study that looks at many already published studies) found that access to guns was a substantial risk-factor for suicide.  Their conclusion was that “access to firearms is associated with risk for completed suicide.”
  3. In the very unlikely circumstance (less than 1%) that you find yourself in a situation where you are the victim of an attack and need to defend yourself, a gun offers no safety advantage.  According to a 2014 study, your chances of being injured in that attack are approximately 11% whether you have a gun or not.  That same study points to running away, hiding, or calling the police as the options least likely to result in injury.

This is the point when most gun-enthusiasts point to the need for gun training and safety measures.

Fine, lets talk about training and safety measures.

First, there’s almost no research on the topic, probably because the National Rifle Association (NRA) has successfully prevented the Center for Disease Control (CDC) from doing research related to guns.

The data we have provides some evidence to suggest that safety training will lead to a decrease in accidents, but that is it.  No evidence to support the idea training leads to a decrease in suicide (we wouldn’t expect it to) or an increased likelihood of defending oneself with a gun.

The really tragic part of this story, though, is the research we have says we could cut down on accidental gun death by simply implementing mandatory training requirements across the nationA few states, less than ten, have those requirements already.  Not surprisingly, though, the NRA is opposed to such mandates.

By Ryan C. Martin

Click here to see more pro-gun arguments get debunked.

Debunking Pro-Gun Arguments: “But what about Chicago”

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Last time, I wrote about Switzerland, and how they really don’t have lax gun laws and shouldn’t be used as a pro-gun argument.  Today, in “Debunking Pro-Gun Arguments,” I’ll take on the opposite of that:

But what about [insert name of city, state, or country]. They have strict gun laws and some of the highest gun violence rates in the world.

Again, there are a lot of versions of this one, but lately gun enthusiasts seem to move directly to Chicago with things like this.

Chicago-Gun-Control

OK, so let’s get into why this and other arguments like it are nonsense.

First of all, yes, there are a lot of murders in Chicago, and many of them involve guns.

Second of all, yes, Chicago has stricter gun laws than much of the United States (though, they’ve been weakened as of late).

So, at face-value, such arguments are sorta, kinda true (or at least rooted in something that is sorta, kinda true).  Lots of murders despite strict gun-control.

But… Chicago does NOT have the highest murder rate in the country.  In fact, it’s not even in the top ten.  What the argument above skips is that the number of murders in an area is not the “murder rate” for that area (at least that’s not how experts calculate it).

The murder rate, or homicide rate, is the number of people murdered per 100,000 people in that region.

When you look at Chicago’s actual gun-homicide rate, things get much more clear.  In 2014, Chicago ranked 19th in the country with regard to gun-homicides,  In fact, the gun-homicide rate (15.1 murders per 100,000 people) was less than half of every city in the top five (St. Louis, Detroit, New Orleans, Baltimore, and Newark).

But wait, there’s more.

This only includes those cities with populations of 200,000 or more… so just 80 U.S. cities.  What happens when we look at the gun-homicide rate in those areas with smaller populations?  Well, it looks like this (red is high, blue is low, white means there isn’t enough data; if you want to look closer, click on the map and it will take you to an interactive version).

Gun homicide rate. nationalWhen we do that, Chicago’s gun-homicide rate is approximately the same as most of the south and southwest.  This isn’t just fun with statistics either.  Of course areas with more people are going to have more murders (just like they have more car accidents, more suicides, more cases of chicken pox, etc.).  That’s why we need to control for the size of the city.

Here’s the other thing you need to know about Chicago’s gun-homicide rate: The guns that are used to kill people in Chicago are usually bought legally somewhere else.

At the time I write this, there are no guns stores in Chicago (they were banned until just recently).  Chicago doesn’t have a wall around it, though, and every gun used in a homicide, suicide, etc. is bought outside of Chicago and brought there from some other city or state.  According to a recent report, 60% of guns used to commit a crime in Chicago were bought legally in states with more lax gun laws.  Indiana, for example, contributed 19% of the guns that were involved in crime (and while we’re at it, note that Indiana has seven counties with gun-homicide rates as high or higher than Chicago’s).  Mississippi, a full 600 miles from Chicago, contributed 6.7% of those guns (again, note per the map above that almost every county in Mississippi has a gun-homicide rate as high or higher than Chicago’s).

In other words, Chicago’s gun-homicide rate is, in part, the result of other states’ lax gun laws.

But this isn’t just about Chicago.  The point of the meme is to suggest that when you have gun control, only bad guys have guns and the murder rate goes up.

That’s not even sorta, kinda true.

Gun Ownership vs. Gun Deaths by StateThis chart shows a clear relationship between gun ownership and gun deaths.  And since I mentioned them earlier, I highlighted both Indiana and Mississippi so you can see where they are relative to Illinois.  Both have more guns and, expectedly, more gun deaths.

By Ryan C. Martin

Click here to see more pro-gun arguments get debunked.

Guns on Campus: A Terrible Idea (and what we can do about it)

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Here in Wisconsin, two legislators have proposed a bill that would “allow students and faculty to carry concealed guns inside public university and college buildings.”

To clarify, though, there’s already a law that allows that.  Wisconsin has a “carrying concealed weapon law” that has been on the books for almost three years.  However, that law allows business or property owners to limit or prohibit the carrying of concealed weapons on its premises.  Most, maybe all, public universities in Wisconsin have prohibited weapons on their campus.

In other words, this law doesn’t actually allow people to carry concealed guns so much as it bans public universities from being able to do what everyone else gets to do, prohibit weapons on their property.

Almost everyone reading this knows this is a terrible idea so I’m going to skip that for now and focus on what we should do about it (see my talking points below for some ammunition- pun intended).

  1. Write the two legislators, Jesse Kremer and Devin LeMahieu, and tell them this is a terrible idea.
  2. Write your own legislators (you can find them here) to tell them this is a terrible idea.
  3. Write these three legislators, Chris Taylor, Terese Berceau, and Melissa Sargent, to thank them for countering with a bill banning weapons on Wisconsin campuses.
  4. Write letters to the editor, explaining the multitude of reasons why this is a bad idea.
  5. If you work on a college campus in Wisconsin, encourage your various governance bodies to pass resolutions opposing this terrible idea.

Ok, so here are some talking points:

  1. Guns do not make people safer in self-defense situations.  This is not an opinion.  It’s a fact (and here’s the recent study that proves it).
  2. The more guns in an area, the higher the rate of gun violence. Again, not an opinion (and here is the data that proves it).
  3. Gun access increases the suicide rate.  This point is often lost in the gun debate Access-to-guns-and-risk-of-suicide-chartbut it’s really important.  Access to guns is a significant predictor of suicide (and if they say, those people who kill themselves with a gun will just kill themselves some other way if they don’t have a gun, point to the chart on the right and say, “No, they won’t, and this is not an opinion, it’s a fact”).
  4. College campuses are supposed to be safe environments where people challenge themselves and each other.  We share controversial ideas, and engage in the stressful, emotional process that is learning.  For all the ways that learning is wonderful and colleges are extraordinarily special places, there’s also the fact that sometimes what goes on here hurts.  Sometimes people fail.  Sometimes we offend each other.  Sometimes we get angry at each other.  And we need to be able to feel those things without the threat of danger.  Adding a gun to that mix of emotions and stress is a terrible mistake.

Debunking Pro-Gun Arguments: “But what about Switzerland”

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Gun enthusiasts are unified around a lot of things (like their odd hatred of people who confuse clip and magazine).  One of those things is making terrible arguments for how guns don’t play a role in societal gun violence.  With that in mind, I’m starting a new feature where I debunk these pro-gun arguments and myths… one at a time.

Today, I take on a recent favorite of the pro-gun community.  It looks like this:

But what about [insert name of city, state, or country]. They have lax gun laws and some of the lowest gun violence rates in the world.

Screenshot 2015-09-11 at 11.28.09 AM

There are a couple of iterations of this argument.  Lately, the focus has been on Switzerland and looks a little something like the picture on the left.

It sure sounds convincing.  Can’t we all agree that arming young cyclists will make us safer?

How to respond?  Well, if you are responding specifically to the Switzerland version of this, just show them this Salon article that discusses how “Switzerland’s high rate of gun ownership is tied to the fact that it does not have a standing army so virtually every male citizen is conscripted into the militia where they receive comprehensive weapons training… and keep their government issued weapons (without ammunition) at home.”

Nine times out of ten, the argument is dishonest from the start.  The city, state, or country doesn’t really have such lax laws or doesn’t really have such a low gun violence Gun Deaths By Staterate.  However, on the off chance they are correct about the law/gun violence rate and they just happened to have found an anomaly, you can show them this chart that illustrates how states with more guns have more gun deaths.

If they say, “well I wasn’t talking about states. I was talking about countries,”  you can just show them this statement from the Harvard Injury Control Research Center that finds that ” across developed countries, where guns are more available, there are more homicides. These results often hold even when the United States is excluded.”

And that will, of course, be the end of the discussion because EVERYONE listens to research and has a healthy respect for logic.

By Ryan C. Martin

PS. I tried to find some gun safety literature showing that you shouldn’t ride a bike with a loaded gun.  Regrettably, all I found was this YouTube video on the best gun for cycling. It seems we have a long way to go….

Click here to see more pro-gun arguments get debunked.

It’s Not Enough

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A few years ago, I taught a class with two police officers standing outside the door to the classroom.  I had received a series of strange and disturbing emails from a student who we discovered had a history of gun-related legal trouble.  Although they were not directly threatening, the emails referenced his gun collection multiple times, and the University and I thought it was best to error on the side of caution.

I didn’t really think the student would show.  If I had really believed that, I would have cancelled class.  I feel an obligation to protect my students under normal circumstances so I would never put them in danger if I had thought there was a high likelihood of his coming for me.  That said, few people ever thinks it will happen to them until it does.

Class that day was nauseating and probably pointless.  The students obviously noticed the two officers as they walked into class and were obviously uncomfortable with whatever was going on.  Every noise that came from the direction of the door was nerve-wracking.  A student came in late that day so the door opened somewhat abruptly a few minutes into class. Several of us startled.  Teaching is usually the best part of my day.  It’s a time when I can tune out everything I have going on and focus only on the students in front of me.  That day, though, was surreal, and sad, and scary, and painful.

When class was over, I went back to my office (still aware of the fact that I wasn’t really any safer now that class was over) and all I could think about was what a ridiculous world we had created.  How is it that we live in a world where students who want to learn and teachers who want to teach have to do so behind armed guards?  How have we let this happen?  How have we done nothing to fix it?

That night, I explained the situation to my wife.  I knew it would scare her even more than it scared me.  She listened while my son sat at the table, eating his dinner.  At just over a year, he was young enough that we could talk about such things around him without his noticing and he got to remain blissfully ignorant of the very real dangers that surround us.  When I explained what was being done to keep everyone safe, she simply said, “It’s not enough.”

I remember how her voice was shaking.  I remember how scared she was.  I remember how she kept glancing at our son as we talked about it.  I remember thinking how insane it all was.  I’m not a police officer, or a fire-fighter, or a soldier, or anyone else whose job comes with inherent risks and who has been trained to deal with those risks.  I’m a teacher.

She was right, of course.  It wasn’t enough.

Don’t get me wrong, the University did everything they could and I am thankful for the police officers who stood outside my classroom and the administrators who supported me and my students.  She’s right, though, that it’s not enough.  We have created a country where people are shot daily- where we live in constant threat of harm- where there have been 45 school shootings in the last nine months.  How is it that the response from America is a collective “meh” and “that’s the cost of freedom”?  How is it that we continue to debate whether or not we’re doing something wrong?  The evidence is right in front of us in the form of hundreds of dead and injured men, women, and children, and millions of people who go to work or school scared every day.  What is the matter with us?  What the hell are we doing?

The sad reality, though, is that I’ve lost hope that it will ever be different.  Even the most simple and meaningless suggestions for curbing gun violence are met with vitriol.  Every legislator who gives a speech on it is hailed as un-American before the speech is even finished, and the social web is littered with nonsense before the victims are even named.  There will probably be another shooting today or tomorrow and the cycle will repeat, and at some point in my life, I’ll probably have to teach another class with police protection.

Psychology Today: How Pixar’s Inside Out Gets Anger Right

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As an anger researcher, a teacher of a Psychology of Emotion course, and a parent, I couldn’t have been more excited to go see Inside Out, the latest Pixar movie about emotion, this weekend. The movie takes place mostly in the mind of a young girl, where each emotion is a character that controls her memories, thoughts, and personality. It did not disappoint and, most importantly, it really did a great job of providing a fun, entertaining, and powerful message about the value of emotions.

Read at Psychology Today

Smart Guns, the NRA, and What We Really Can Agree On

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I saw this article yesterday about how an 18-year-old may have created the “world’s Capturesafest gun” and it struck me as particularly strange.  Basically, Kai Kloepfer is developing a gun with “an advanced fingerprint sensor that’s outfitted on the grip of a gun.”  It scans the user’s fingerprint and won’t fire unless there is a match to the owner of the gun.

There are two reasons why this article was odd to me.  First, and I don’t want to take any credit away from Kloepfer who is obviously a very smart and dedicated inventor, but this idea isn’t at all new.  “Smart Guns,” as they are known, have been in development since the late 90s.  This is a new twist as others have used radio technology, magnetic spectrum tags, etc. but the concept is very similar; link the gun to a particular person somehow and only allow it to fire if that person is holding it.

Much more strange, though, was the opening of the article:

To say that gun control is a complex topic in American culture is a massive understatement, but there’s one point we can probably all agree on: Fatal accidents involving firearms are heartbreaking tragedies and any measure we can take to try to reduce or eliminate them is something we as a society need to consider. That said, 18 year-old Kai Kloepfer has a plan that could help end them for good.

Sadly this is not a point we can “probably all agree on.”  The National Rifle Association (NRA) has been fighting smart gun technology since the beginning.  Some doubt the reliability of the technology.  Would it really work in an emergency… and what if it fails?  However, the objection from the NRA appears to be much broader than the reliability issue.  To quote the NRA-Institute for Legislative Action:

NRA does not oppose new technological developments in firearms; however, we are opposed to government mandates that require the use of expensive, unreliable features, such as grips that would read your fingerprints before the gun will fire.  And NRA recognizes that the “smart guns” issue clearly has the potential to mesh with the anti-gunner’s agenda, opening the door to a ban on all guns that do not possess the government-required technology.

In other words, the development of such guns might lead to laws that regulate the sale of guns and they won’t stand for that.  They’re worried about the slippery slope that might lead up to the slippery slope.

In fact, Katie Trumbly of Highbrow Magazine argues that the NRA is actively working to prevent the sale of smart guns because of a particular law in New Jersey (New Jersey Law S1223).  The law has been on the books since 2002 and “would require all handguns sold in New Jersey to be childproofed within three years of the state Attorney General determining that childproof handguns are available for the consumer market.”  In other words, within three years of smart guns becoming available for sale in the U.S., only smart guns could legally be sold in New Jersey.  Trumbly suggests that the NRA is actively working to suppress the development of smart gun technology and sale of smart guns to prevent this law from taking effect.

To get back to my original point, we need to be honest about goals and what we can agree on.  We can’t grant the premise that the NRA actually cares about reducing fatal accidents involving firearms.  We simply have no evidence for that.  And even if they do care, the evidence we have clearly tells us that they don’t care nearly as much about safety as they do suppressing gun regulation.

By Ryan Martin

On Being Hangry

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We’ve all been there. We haven’t eaten all day, so we try and grab a quick bite only to find out there’s a wait at our favorite restaurant. BAM, we snap.

Jimmy Johns

YOU’RE DEAD TO ME, JIMMY JOHNS!

You’ve been struck by “hanger,” the combination of hunger and anger, an insidious little monster that works its way into our lives and destroys relationships with both our loved ones…

Capture

and our favorite fast-food employees.

Mcdonalds

YES I WANT FRIES WITH THAT!

No one should be surprised by the existence of hanger. In fact, we should be surprised that we took so long to come up with a word for it.

IMG_4334

COME ON!

We recognize hanger in kids with no problem. In fact, a cursory glance at most parenting books will tell you that the vast majority of child crabbiness is explained by sleeplessness, hunger, or both.

3_circle_venn_5

So what causes hangriness? Well, unlike shark anger, which remains a mystery despite my efforts, scientists actually know the answer to this one.

Here’s the key. Comparatively, food is fairly important when it comes to sustaining human life. We don’t live very long if we don’t eat, so our evolutionary history has provided us with a fairly simple set of eating reminders (stomach contractions and growling, low energy, difficulty concentrating, headaches, etc.). These reminders get more extreme the longer we go without food and feeling cranky, irritated, or frustrated falls in that moderate to severe food deprivation range.

2797109-hulk_marvel_4

Don’t Make Me Hangry…. You Won’t Like Me When I’m Hangry.

More specifically, it has to do with blood sugar. When our blood sugar gets too low, we get anxious, uncomfortable, and irritable. Ultimately, glucose helps regulate self-control in the brain. Without it, we have a more difficult time controlling our emotions and behaviors.

This means that hunger affects anger on both the front end and the back end of the experience. People get angry when they appraise a situation as unfair or unpleasant. They get even angrier, though, when they’re in a negative state (tense, anxious, hungry, etc.) right before the unfair or unpleasant event (the front end). But, since glucose helps us regulate our behavior, hunger also makes it harder for us to control that anger, and we’re more likely to lash out (the back end).

bill-oreilly-angry-pointing

Can someone get Bill a sandwich or something?

So, can we avoid it? Yes, by eating.

Maya Cooper Michele Perchonok

I’ve cured hunger!

If you’re looking for more than that, here are some helpful resources.

If none of those work, though, there’s always this:

Capture1

Psychology Today: Opportunities to Feel

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tumblr_m1p3j9qln51qa5woeThis morning, before I had my first sip of coffee, I had learned the following: (1) my friends’ daughter was sick, (2) another friend, more distant, was pregnant, and (3) that legislators in my state have been embracing all sorts of policies I find harmful. That’s right, within ten minutes of waking up, Facebook had provided me with opportunities to feel sadness, joy, and anger. Contrast that with ten years ago, pre-Facebook, when I would have spent that time… staring out the window, probably. Honestly, what did I do while waiting for my coffee to brew before I had Facebook?

Read at Psychology Today