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Yes! But How?

Your New Healthy Habits? They’re Ancient

The early Native traditions that lead to good health

Danielle Hansen descends from the Winnebago/Ho-Chunk peoples, and, through her mother's mother, the Cherokee.

Danielle Hansen descends from the Winnebago/Ho-Chunk peoples, and, through her mother’s mother, the Cherokee. She is a massage therapist in Eugene, Oregon. Photo by Sebastian Pitchler/Unsplash

Centuries before the arrival of Europeans in the Americas, Indigenous peoples had refined natural ways to become and stay healthy. Nowadays, modern medicine is discovering that the traditional practices and lifestyles of Native Americans improve your health. Before modern conveniences, here’s what they knew about vitality, health, and a better night’s sleep.

Move 1

Native Americans were constantly on the move — foraging, playing. Any light activity two minutes of every hour will lessen your risk of dying prematurely by 30 percent.

Get Outside 2

Lift your face to the morning sky and greet the day. Even a few minutes outdoors in the morning sets our circadian rhythm, manages weight, and improves sleep and vitality. Discover a nearby park. Our response to nature is powerful. It takes just a few minutes viewing trees, flowers, or water to induce relaxation and reduce anger, anxiety, and pain.

Go Barefoot 3

While you’re at the park, take your shoes off! Though not fully studied and incorporated into medical practice, some people report feeling relaxed and experiencing less pain, anxiety, and depression from stimulating their bare feet by connecting to soil.

Hydrate 4

Native Americans didn’t tote water bottles, so finding water in a lake or stream meant “time to drink up.” Drink enough water so that it flushes your system. Two 8-ounce glasses may be enough for one sitting. That can easily add up to the recommended daily intake of 64 ounces.

Fast 5

What about eating? Native Americans would fast intermittently because of the inconsistent availability of food. Extensive research links this pattern of eating to decreases in LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, inflammation, heart disease, blood sugar levels, and diabetes. Popular regimens include fasting for 16 hours and limiting eating within eight or a 14-hour fast followed by a 10-hour eating window.

Squat 6

As in, for pooping. You probably already knew that, but toilet designers don’t. Find a product that wraps around your toilet and lifts your legs into a squatting position, or use a stack of phone books. We should squat more, anyway. Children do it naturally. Instead of bending over to pick up something, drop into a squat to build stronger back and leg muscles and more flexible joints.

Block the Blue 7

Our circadian rhythm is tuned to day and night. The sun’s blue wavelengths block the production of melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone. But so does the blue light from energy-saving LEDs and electronic screens. Redder spectra after sundown, however, help us produce melatonin. So use your computer or phone’s night-light functions, or download an app like Twilight or F.lux. At night indoors, use amber light bulbs, especially in children’s rooms. Or you can wear orange-tinted glasses at night. Sleep problems have been linked to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

Sources: 1. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2015 2. International Journal of Endocrinology, June 2012; Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine; Scientific American, “Patients Heal,” Deborah Franklin, 2012 3. University of Minnesota, “Research on Reflexology” 4. Mayo Clinic, “Water: How Much Should You Drink Every Day?” 5. Annual Review of Nutrition, 2017 6. The Conversation, “What’s the Best Way to Go to the Toilet — Squatting or Sitting?” Vincent Ho, Western Sydney University, 2016 7. Harvard Health Publishing, “Blue Light Has a Dark Side,” 2018

All the Lonely People?

How people young and old are relearning the art of making friends.

Photo by Kiran Chahal

Photo by Kiran Chahal

As I wait for my first guest, I wonder what sort of characters would sign up for this? “This” is LokPal — a local cooking workshop, premised on strangers “sharing a meal and sharing a bond.”

Then Abby arrives, wearing cherry-red lipstick as bright as her smile. As I hand over her name tag and prepare to ask the usual barrage of small-talk questions, Abby makes the first move, deftly breaking the ice with tales of her kindergarten classroom.

Next is Tania, a marketing specialist with the down-to-earth manner characteristic of England’s “North.” She’s followed by Sana, an Indian woman with unending enthusiasm and a penchant for vegetarian cooking. Stanley arrives, and then Doris, two salt-and-pepper-haired strangers radiating a gentleness that makes you feel you’ve known them for years. Last is Alex, whose serious face stands in stark contrast to his neon-­yellow jacket and quirky sense of humor.

These six are joined by 40 others who’ve signed up for LokPal’s four-week series of cooking classes in which residents of Cambridge, England, can connect with their “local food, local area, and local neighbors.”

Yet what unites more than half of this Breakfast Club-esque crew of varied personalities goes beyond a longing for localism. Rather, it is a longing for meaningful social connection — an affliction the research literature calls loneliness.

“We all know why we’re here,” Alex tells the table, forking a wad of watercress into his mouth. “It’s not just to cook local food. It’s to make friends. And we don’t know how or where to do that anymore.”

Armed with a passion for farmers markets (and a practical need for a master’s degree research topic), I created LokPal to study the social dynamics of local communities in the era of e-commerce and friend networks over social media. Using questionnaires, participant observation, and focus group interviews, I’d hoped to gain some insight on the value of in-person interaction.

But what exceeded my wildest expectations — and completely shifted the thesis’s focus — was uncovering just how many Cambridge locals felt lonely. When signing up for the LokPal sessions, more than 50 percent of participants reported sometimes or often relating to all three signposts of loneliness: feeling “isolated,” “left out,” and “lacking in companionship.”

These 20 Cambridge residents are only a microsample of the 9 million Britons who chronically feel lonely, which studies have linked to weak immune systems, an increased risk of cancer, and shorter life spans. Perhaps that’s why Britain, with its overpressured and underfunded national health system, has taken preventive action by creating a government minister of loneliness.

Attempts to address this ailment are not totally new to the U.K. A quick Google search reveals the nation’s considerable number of loneliness-­combating charities. Yet among the biggest organizations, there’s a common misconception. AgeUK offers befriending services, but only to senior citizens. Silverline offers a 24-hour helpline specifically for older people in want of conversation. And even the inclusive-sounding Campaign to End Loneliness primarily targets the elderly population.

What national statistics reveal, and what LokPal’s demography helped illustrate, is that loneliness is no longer the preserve of the elderly and isolated. To the contrary, increasing evidence suggests that loneliness occurs in equal or greater proportions among the young and the employed. One recent study by Britain’s Office for National Statistics suggested that 16- to 24-year-olds are three times more likely to be lonely than those 65 and older.

“I had thousands of people around me at work, but I always felt very isolated,” confesses Sana. “You know, there were lots of colleagues, lots of dinners. But it was all very formal, and I’m not in touch with anybody now.”

Neuroscientist John Cacioppo offered an illuminating analogy: Just as hunger can happen where food is abundant, loneliness can happen where people are plentiful. Dr. Vivek Murthy, a former U.S surgeon general, recently echoed that point when he called loneliness an “epidemic,” as deadly as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.

Of course, dramatic analogies and talk of epidemics provoke the skeptics. Some doubt that loneliness is higher now than it’s ever been, blaming the apparent outbreak on a low bar of survey criteria or manipulative government public relations moves.

People's Kitchen volunteers gather donated food and spend their afternoons peeling, chopping, cooking, and chatting.

Fortnightly Feasts have been held at Weavers Adventure Playground in Bethnal Green, London. At different locations, People’s Kitchen volunteers gather donated food and spend their afternoons peeling, chopping, cooking, and chatting.Photo by Kiran Chahal

There may be some truth behind those claims. But it’s hard to deny that the friend-making climate has changed since 1966, when the Beatles first asked “All the lonely people, where do they all belong?” As highlighted in the book Bowling Alone, the mid-20th century demarked peak rates of community participation through sports, civic groups, religious institutions, shops, and social workplaces.

But over the past 50 years, the culture of individualism has slowly contributed to the social decline of community. Instead, in recent years, Britain has topped the charts for eating alone, shopping online, declaring “no religion,” and working in isolation. And perhaps as a result of this individualization of public life, Brits overwhelmingly view their neighbors as strangers.

Back in a cozy classroom of the University of Cambridge’s sociology department — LokPal’s makeshift kitchen — many participants speak, spontaneously, about the increasingly isolated nature of British life.

“My son is a student in London and lives in a shared house with four people. They actually share the kitchen, bathroom, everything … but they don’t speak to each other,” Doris reveals with astonishment. “I can’t believe it, they just pass each other. They live completely independently.”

Tania agrees, her voice tinged with nostalgia for her Yorkshire hometown, where, she says, neighbors are friends and strangers don’t think twice before pouring out their life stories.

“In Cambridge, I’ve never spoken to any of my neighbors, and I hate that,” she notes. “But it’s an area where everyone’s quite transient — people moving in and out — so you don’t really see the point of making friends with them. You think, ‘Well, they’re going to be moving out soon, so what’s the point?’”

That’s why Tania turned to the internet.

“So you’ve got social pages like ‘New in Cambridge — Want to Make Friends.’ From there, you could message someone and say, ‘Hey there, let’s meet for a coffee!’ And the following day you’ll have met the girl and made friends.”

Most other LokPal-ers say their online socializing is limited to keeping up with old friends, not making new ones. Indeed, the results are mixed when assessing the internet as a means to increase social well-being — with one experiment describing internet usage as both the cause and effect of loneliness.

That’s why the Beatles’ question resonates today more than ever: Where — if not the internet — can a lonely person go to find the in-person companionship and belonging they lack?

LokPal attendees deem a few factors crucial. Nearly all suggest that social spaces should bind those with “common interests and needs” and offer a regular commitment.

“I never felt like I was a part of community when living in Stratford,” confesses Laila, a LokPal-er who recently migrated to England from the Middle East. “Then later when I had a child here, I grew a community with other moms because we all have something we share. By going to the breastfeeding group every week, I made strong relationships through that common connection.”

But this sort of organic group socializing doesn’t come as easily for men in the group, who mention that they find small talk difficult.

“I know my sister can just ‘meet up’ with friends, but that could never happen with me,” Alex explains. “There has to be something we’re doing. Just sitting around and talking doesn’t appeal to me.”

Men's Sheds create community hubs that foster social bonds through collective activities.

Men’s Sheds create community hubs that foster social bonds through collective activities. The international nonprofit suggests that men best communicate shoulder to shoulder, so Men’s Sheds offer hands-on projects. Photo by Mark LIndsay

That exact philosophy helped found Men’s Sheds — community hubs that foster social bonds through collective activities. Originally founded in Australia, the now-international nonprofit suggests that men best communicate not face to face, but rather shoulder to shoulder.

To enable this, Men’s Sheds offer a variety of hands-on projects, including woodworking, metalworking, repairing and restoring electronics, and even building cars. But, as explained by Laura Winkley, membership and support officer of UK Men’s Sheds Association, “the essence of a [Men’s] Shed is not a building, but the connections and relationships between its members.”

Winkley says that many men come to a Men’s Shed with preexisting mental health issues but leave with a renewed sense of self. “We’ve met widowers who have struggled with depression and isolation, but have found a new sense of belonging and purpose through attending their local shed. Another Shedder I met with spoke of an addiction he had struggled with for many years. But having the [Men’s] Shed to go to several times a week gave him a new purpose and drive to gain control of it.”

Yet she adds that evidence of the success of Men’s Sheds goes beyond anecdotes. UK Men’s Sheds Association “was originally founded in 2013, when there were just 30. … Fast-forward to today and there are over 400 Men’s Sheds open, and an additional 100 in planning.”

While Winkley notes that UKMSA is in touch with the U.K.’s minister of loneliness, she adds that most Men’s Sheds are entirely self-sustained through a bottom-up approach, relying on support from grants and donors. In this regard, there are challenges in finding physical space and keeping them affordable, if not free, for all members. On the subject of including women, there are exceptions, but most Men’s Sheds exist purely for “the mental health benefits they bring to men.”

These shortcomings of affordability and exclusivity are less prevalent in People’s Kitchen, a London-based nonprofit where locals can regularly come to cook and consume community feasts. Securing funds from private foundations, individual donations, and the local government of the London borough of Hackney, People’s Kitchen has received international praise for its sustainable, scalable, and anecdotally successful model.

As promising as these initiatives are, many of the LokPal participants I interview believe the government — both local and national — should be doing more to support and spread grassroots initiatives, like People’s Kitchen and Men’s Sheds, and offer a more diverse range of activities.

“Just as there’s an Office of Tourism for people visiting Cambridge, there should be an Office of Loneliness, where people can come if they want more social connections,” explains one ­LokPal-er, Jolie, over a plate of potato salad. “Because even though there’s stuff to do for tourists, there’s something missing for local people.”

Loneliness requires more than Band-Aid fixes from the minister. It requires both a long-term investment in community spaces and a cultural investment to destigmatize the affliction.

Others add that loneliness requires more than Band-Aid fixes from the minister. It requires both a long-term investment in community spaces and a cultural investment to destigmatize the affliction.

“The big thing is not making people embarrassed to look for friendship,” says Carina, another LokPal attendee. “If [the minister] helps us to go beyond that, I think we could just say, ‘We all meet at this square,’ like how it is at the GP where you walk in.”

Of course, LokPal participants aren’t representative of all lonely folks, as Ayia, a recent college grad, explains: “For some people, coming into a place like this cooking workshop where they’ve never met anyone before would be like a nightmare. But they’re still lonely. So I think another barrier that prevents people from talking to other people is anxiety, especially social anxiety.”

Indeed, even talkative Tania admits coming to LokPal was a “really big step” and that her social anxiety almost prevented her from coming at all. But it’s for people like Tania that gestures of social inclusion mean the most.

“Two weeks ago, I moved to a residential area, and I’ve already been invited to their local bread club, where this lady makes bread for the local neighbors every Friday,” she recalls. “It’s really lovely — she’s telling me everyone’s names, their kids’ names, and I’ve only been there two weeks, but she already invited me back to her house next week. I’ve not felt a part of a community like this for years, but where I am now people are really happy to see me.”


The Secret to Swaying the Supreme Court

The court’s gone conservative. But there’s pretty clear evidence that public pressure can make a difference.

Aconservative majority is locked in place at the U.S. Supreme Court, most likely for a decade or two. But that doesn’t have to be the end of the world for liberal activists. Or even the end of civil rights. History shows us the tactic that can work: grassroots pressure for change.

For most of this country’s history, fights for social change have happened under a conservative court. There was a sliver of time, from the 1930s to the mid-1960s, when real people — people of color, labor, the accused — got pretty much a fair shake from the Supreme Court. But that era was not much more than 10 percent of the court’s existence.

For most of the court’s existence, its decisions on the rights of everyday people tended more toward the notorious than the notable.

Given the opportunity to strike a blow against slavery, the court delivered Dred Scott. When it could have enforced the 14th Amendment’s promise of due process and equal protection for all citizens, it worked overtime to say the amendment was surely meant to protect vulnerable corporations. When it could have shut down Jim Crow, it offered Plessy v. Ferguson. And when workers were unionizing and improving working conditions, the court in 1905 came up with Lochner, which said state worker-safety laws violated workers’ constitutional right to agree to work as many hours and under as dangerous conditions as they wanted.

The fate of Lochner illustrates one reason despair about the Supreme Court may be premature. In the depths of the Great Depression, and faced with President Franklin ­Roosevelt’s landslide reelection, increasingly powerful unions, and general unrest, one Supreme Court justice simply changed his mind about what the federal government was permitted to do, and that was the end of Lochner. (The chief justice unsurprisingly claimed that politics had nothing to do with it.)

What I do think we need is reparations, the democratization of wealth, the re-creation of the commons, and the outlawing of financial systems of theft and speculation.

Regardless of its own mythology about how it deals purely in abstract law, the court does respond both to political pressure and cultural change. It can rule differently than the court’s left-or-right makeup suggests.

In 1973, 20 states had legalized abortion in at least some cases; that was part of the background for the otherwise conservative Burger Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. Just three years ago, in the face of a tide of public opinion and legalization in multiple states, the Roberts Court, never remotely liberal, declared in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex marriage is constitutionally guaranteed. And Chief Justice John Roberts surprised a lot of analysts when he joined the liberal minority in the 5-4 decision that saved the by-then popular Affordable Care Act. In all these cases, it was clear that there would be public outcry if the court ruled other than it did.

In none of those cases did the Supreme Court conjure rights from whole cloth. The cases came before the court because change was already underway. There’s pretty clear evidence that, when a case could go either way, current cultural realities — the values communicated from broad grassroots pressure — play a part in the court’s decisions.

But the court can get it wrong in the face of public silence. For Korematsu, the 6-3 case that upheld Japanese internment, the court was made up of eight FDR appointees (the lone Hoover holdover dissented). Most telling, just ten years later, four members of the Korematsu majority joined the unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education. It’s difficult to believe that, had the public reacted to Japanese internment as it did to Trump’s Muslim ban, Korematsu would have been upheld.

There’s some hope too that things aren’t as tied up as they seem. The current panic is over Trump’s two appointments. Both Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh have spent their adult lives in the world of the Federalist Society, a far-right organization with a strong libertarian streak — rather like Justice Anthony Kennedy.

We’ll know soon enough. But there’s a better-than-zero chance that one of them might turn into a Kennedy-style swing vote on individual rights. Were that to happen, it’s still pretty much the Obergefell court.

One thing is certain. If we give up pushing for change because the Supreme Court’s gone conservative, the next time a close case comes up, the court will maintain the status quo. If it’s clear that there’s been a cultural shift, the court may reflect it. But it’s up to us to make that clear.

People We Love

Accessible Tech

These entrepreneurs are using technology to remove barriers and create more inclusive communities.
Liz Powers speaks with ArtLifting artist Jim Waters.

Liz Powers speaks with ArtLifting artist Jim Waters. Powers co-founded the online marketplace that sells artwork by homeless and disabled people. “I had a goal of ‘redefining’ what a job can be in order to include more people in the economy,” Powers said. Photo by Ali Campbell

Liz Powers
Liz Powers ArtLifting

Liz Powers never expected to pursue entrepreneurship. But after she graduated from Harvard University, Powers used her public service fellowship to form art groups in local homeless shelters.

Five years later, Powers and her brother invested $4,000 of their combined savings to create ArtLifting, an online marketplace that sells artwork by homeless and disabled people in 20 states.

Powers wanted the marketplace to provide a platform where homeless people can also build confidence. She knew that those who are homeless or disabled face barriers when searching for employment.

“I had a goal of ‘redefining’ what a job can be in order to include more people in the economy,” Powers said.

The artists earn 55 percent of the income, 44 percent is used for overhead, and 1 percent goes toward strengthening the art programs at social service agencies, shelters, and disability centers.

“Our artists have the most resilience that I’ve ever experienced from anyone I’ve met,” Powers said.

Nancy Lublin
Nancy Lublin Crisis Text Line

When Nancy Lublin was CEO of DoSomething, a nonprofit that mobilizes young people to create positive change in their communities, she received dozens of messages from their members asking for help with issues such as domestic violence or sexual assault.

In August 2013, Lublin created Crisis Text Line, a free 24/7 text messaging hotline. By texting “home” to 741741, people of all ages can receive help for a range of concerns, from relationship problems to suicidal thoughts.

Crisis Text Line uses an algorithm that allows volunteer counselors to cultivate more meaningful conversations with the texters.

They want to “be everywhere people are in pain and make it easy for people to use us,” Lublin said.

The algorithm also tracks trends that reveal the problems texters need the most help with or the keywords associated with specific issues.

For Lublin, it’s about learning from data to create better services. The data are freely available for other organizations to use to improve their services.

“[We want] to eventually put ourselves out of business,” Lublin said.

Hans Jørgen Wibergh
Hans Jørgen Wiberg

Imagine cooking dinner without being able to see the spices. Or getting dressed without knowing whether your shirt matches your pants. People who are blind or who have impaired vision face a unique set of challenges navigating everyday tasks. A nonprofit web service called Be My Eyes helps address these challenges by connecting its users to sighted volunteers.

Hans Jørgen Wiberg, who is himself visually impaired, created the app in 2015. He realized how often he and others like him relied on video calls with family or friends to guide them through these tasks.

Be My Eyes now has over 1.8 million volunteers across the globe providing services to 100,000 blind and visually impaired individuals. The service is available in more than 180 languages.

Alexander Hauerslev Jensen, the company’s chief commercial officer, said the app fills a need and creates a sense of community.

“It’s a sneak peek into a world that a lot of people don’t really understand,” Jensen said. “It breaks down barriers between people with disabilities and people without. It also breaks down barriers between cultures.”

The Page That Counts

The Numbers That Define Our World

Percentage of eligible voting population that turned out for the 1914 midterm elections50.4

Midterm elections that have garnered 50 percent turnout or higher since 19141 1

Percentage of eligible voting population that turned out for the 2018 midterm elections (as of Dec. 14, 2018)50.3 2

National margin of victory for the Democratic Party in the 1974 House of Representatives midterm elections, the largest House victory in history for any party, which took place immediately after the Watergate scandal8.7 million 3

National margin of victory for the Democratic Party in the 2018 House of Representatives midterm elections (as of Dec. 20, 2018) 9.7 million votes 4

According to a January study of 1,100 films from 2007 to 2017 by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, percentage of narrative films at Sundance Film Festival that were directed by women27.5

Percentage of top-100 grossing films in the United States box office from 2007 to 2017 that were directed by women4.3 5

Ranking of 2017’s Wonder Woman, the highest-grossing American film ever directed by a woman, in all-time domestic box office25 6

Of the three highest-grossing American films of 2017, number that featured a woman as the central protagonist3 7

Percentage of people surveyed in one study of 3,000 Americans age 15 or older who said they were harassed online47

Percentage who said they had witnessed online harassment72

Percentage of harassment victims who responded by changing their contact information or starting a new social media profile43

Percentage who responded by disconnecting from social media, the internet, or their cell phones26

Percentage who reported feelings of isolation or disconnectedness as a result of their experiences40 8

Estimated number of cyberstalking cases between 2010 and 20132.5 million

Number of these cases pursued by federal prosecutors10 9

Estimated federal tax revenue that could potentially be generated by 2025 if marijuana were fully legalized nationwide right now$105.6 billion

Number of jobs that would be created, according to the same study1 million 10

Estimated positive net economic impact of the marijuana industry in 2016 for Pueblo County, Colorado, according to research funded by marijuana taxes$57.3 million 11

Per capita annual income in Pueblo County as of July 1, 2017$22,431 12

Poverty rate in Pueblo County as of July 1, 201719.9 percent 13

Percent of population with a bachelor’s degree or higher21.2 percent 14

Sources: 1 & 2. United States Elections Project 3. United States House of Representatives 4. Cook Political Report 5. Annenberg Inclusion Initiative 6. & 7. Box Office Mojo 8. Data and Society Research Institute 9. Hate Crimes in Cyberspace, by Danielle Keats Citron 10. New Frontier Data 11. Colorado State University–Pueblo, Institute of Cannabis Research 12.–14. U.S. Census Bureau

Click to read more about these facts