What really happened to Hemingway…

Many years ago, I have the fortune to visit Key West with a great friend of mine who has a love for motorcycle experiences, we drove on the Harley from Miami to Key West on our latest adventure.

We decided to visit Ernest Hemingway’s House in Key West, Hemingway was an incredible man, truly a genius of his kind, who had an attitude toward living and life that was like no other, and very few have received a Nobel Prize.

Ernest Miller Hemingway (July 21, 1899 – July 2, 1961) was an American novelist, short story writer, and journalist. His economical and understated style had a strong influence on 20th-century fiction, while his life of adventure and his public image influenced later generations. Hemingway produced most of his work between the mid-1920s and the mid-1950s, and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. He published seven novels, six short story collections, and two non-fiction works. Additional works, including three novels, four short story collections, and three non-fiction works, were published posthumously. Many of his works are considered classics of American literature.

On July 2nd 1961 Ernest Hemingway committed suicide at the age of sixty-one. There have been five suicides in the Hemingway family in more than four generations – Hemingway’s dad, Clarence; children Ursula, Leicester and Ernest; and granddaughter Margaux. The generation skipped barely escaped: Hemingway’s most youthful child, originally called Gregory, died in 2001 after coming out as a woman, Gloria, of reasons that put a ton of strain on the expression “natural.”

What really happened to Ernest Hemmingway…….it is still a remaining mystery, his genius, the constant rewriting, the constant searching for a better phrase, a better word. Hemingway was completely ruthless with himself, as you would expect with such a successful author.

Adversity of any magnitude should make us stronger and fill us with life’s wisdom, why someone from whom became so successful at 61 in 1961 should take his own life, is something that I cannot quite comprehend or understand.

However, art in any form is born from adversity, I wrote ‘Freedom after the Sharks’ from adversity and set up a business in the double dip of 2008 and 2009, many people have done the same and it is almost a universal theme in the lives of many of the world’s most eminent creative minds. For artists who have struggled with physical and mental illness, parental loss during childhood, social rejection, heartbreak, abandonment, abuse, and other forms of trauma, creativity often becomes an act of turning difficulty and challenge into opportunity.

Much of the music we listen to, the plays we see, the books we read, and the paintings we look at among other forms of performing art are attempts to find meaning in human suffering. Art seeks to make sense of everything from life’s potentially smallest moments of sadness to its most earth-shattering tragedies. You have heard the statement ‘there is a book in everyone’ we all experience and struggle with suffering. In our individual and collective quest to understand the darker sides of human life, works of art like Kahlo’s self-portraits, which show us the truth of another’s pain and loneliness, carry the power to move us deeply in emotion.

We are constantly told, throughout our lives, that what does not kill us makes us stronger. It is difficult to think of a phrase that is more deeply ingrained in our cultural imagination than that one, Bob Marley once staid ‘“You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.” .Platitude though it may be, the expression has become common parlance because it expresses a fundamental truth of human psychology: Experiences of extreme adversity show us our own strength. And in the wake of trying times, many people not only return to their baseline state of functioning, but learn to truly thrive.

Writer Andrew Solomon has spent his career telling stories of the hardships of others. In the following video, a moving, heartfelt and at times downright funny talk, Solomon gives a powerful call to action to forge meaning from our biggest struggles:

My final word on the subject is that determination, resilience, and persistence are the enabler for people to push past their adversities and prevail. Overcoming adversity is one of our main challenges in life. When we resolve to confront and overcome it, we become expert at dealing with it and consequently triumph over our day-to-day struggles.

As Eckhart Tolle once said:

“Whenever something negative happens to you, there is a deep lesson concealed within it.”

Do we marry just people or real connections?

Some of you will remember a blog that I wrote in July 2015 called ‘Can Love Last Forever’ – this was written just before another interesting blog ‘Can Love Conquer All or is Love a Myth?’. I have often written on the subject of love and relationships and recently reminisced on the subject ‘Do we marry just people in our life, or do we marry real connections?’

Or as William Shakesphere once said in his play is ‘The World Just a Stage?

The meaning of this phrase is that this world is like a stage and all human beings are merely actors – Oscar Wilde has put his spin on this phrase, declaring that, “The world is a stage, and the play is badly cast.” Allan Moore in his novel, V for Vendetta, has taken it to a completely new level by saying that, “All the world’s a stage, and everything else is vaudeville.” Now notice how people love to quote this phrase, because it sounds very clever, and they believe that this line has something that still resonates today.

With the world stage aside the facts are instead of strong, meaningful conversations and relationships, we struggle through long series of bad dates and so called hook-ups. Instead of meeting people in real life, we are constantly swiping and messaging somebody new. Instead of telling people how we feel, we do not text back. We no longer have people cancel, we get flaked on, and then we flake on other people. We no longer date or commit, we “see” and “hang out” with each other. We are complicit in a dating culture that systematically prevents intimacy. I believe and evidence certainly supports this, that we have become a generation afraid of being in love.

One could say “We are complicit in a dating culture that systematically prevents intimacy”.

I read a recent article from UCLA called ‘What does being committed to your marriage really mean?’ UCLA psychologists answered this question in a new study based on their analysis of 172 married couples over the first 11 years of marriage.

“When people say, ‘I’m committed to my relationship,’ they can mean two things,” said study co-author Benjamin Karney, a professor of psychology and co-director of the Relationship Institute at UCLA. “One thing they can mean is, ‘I really like this relationship and want it to continue.’ However, commitment is more than just that.”

The psychologists’ report demonstrated that a deeper level of commitment, is a much better predictor of lower divorce rates and fewer problems in marriage.

Of the 172 married couples in the study, 78.5 percent were still married after 11 years, and 21.5 percent were divorced. The couples in which both people were willing to make sacrifices for the sake of the marriage were significantly more likely to have lasting and happy marriages, according to Bradbury, Karney and lead study author Dominik Schoebi, a former UCLA postdoctoral scholar who is currently at Switzerland’s University of Fribourg.

So, do we marry a ‘soul mate’ or a ‘life partner’?

Soul Mate:
Someone who is aligned with your soul and is sent to challenge, awaken and stir different parts of you in order for your soul to transcend to a higher level of consciousness and awareness. Once the lesson has been learnt, physical separation usually occurs.

Life Partner:
A companion, a friend, a stable and secure individual who you can lean on, trust and depend on to help you through life. There is a mutual feeling of love and respect and you are both in sync with each others needs and wants.

At different times of our lives we will need and want different types of relationships. Neither is better or worse than the other, it is all a personal decision and one that you will feel guided to as long as you are following your heart.

In summary, our childhoods taught us to value love; but our institutions, cities, and technology have taught us to fear commitment and put choice first. We are trapped in a self-perpetuating cycle of emotional distance with each other. Most of us really want love at some point, but our actions are at war with this desire. We maintain emotional distance because we fear commitment and rejection, not because that is our true self. We replace the feeling of true intimacy with short term flings, long term noncommittal hook-ups, and sex. We comfort ourselves knowing at least we’re not feeling the stinging pain of a broken heart, at least we don’t have to deal with real emotions. My belief is that we have trapped ourselves in a cycle that we are all complicit within.

This cycle is detrimental to us all. Happiness means different things to different people. For some, it is marriage and kids, for others it is traveling the world, and for others it is a rainy day with a good book. One thing that we all share, however, is that having strong, positive relationships in our life is one of the keys to happiness and fulfillment. Even anecdotally, we know this to be true.

When we keep emotional distance because of the fear of rejection, we lose out on one of the most important aspects of being human. Deep inside, we know we are unfulfilled but we do not know how to fix ourselves. So, we play the game where there are no winners. We must break free from this culture that damages us all and learn to love again.

For most of us, improving our relationships is one of the best things we can do in our lives. For me, with this realisation and my committed effort to being more open, honest, and straightforward, I have been able to not only improve how I treat other people, but also the quality of my relationships with my circle of wonderful friends.

Maybe, this is the answer to a happier and more fulfilling life, maybe it will just make me a better person, and maybe it has lead me to finding love, my true love and soul mate. I just know I do not want to be complicit in modern dating culture anymore. I am happy when building real emotional connections in business and in life, and I guess, that is what we all want in the end,  to be happy and in love with real connections, real people, real life – not a world stage.

One of my favourite quotes by Oscar Wilde:

“Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead.”

What exactly is the future of global digital payments?

I recently attended an annual event hosted by The Emerging Payments Association (EPA) called ‘The Pay360 Digital Payments Annual Conference’, which took place this year at the Coombe Abbey Hotel in Warwickshire. The EPA brought together commercial association of decision makers from around the world to share insights over two days, which also included a medieval banquet at the 11th century Abbey, about what is driving success in digital payments in local markets, and to share best practice.

With all these insights, technological disruption and overload of data to the market, what exactly is the future of global digital payments?

2017 will be the year of instant digital payment which does instantaneous validation, acknowledgement, and transmission of transaction data between the point of sale and merchants system as opposed to 2016, which was “near real time,” which refers to expedited batches that may range from minutes apart to an hour or even more, real time is truly instantaneous processing.

Today’s consumers are quickly coming to expect immediate processing of their payments. Technological constraints of mobile devices may impact upon how much information a consumer is provided with during m-commerce transaction. Security and liability as mobile devices are particularly vulnerable to theft and misuse it is important for consumers to understand what protections are available to them in the case of unauthorise transactions.
So how do consumers engage confidently with a market that is constantly changing? How do regulators identify failures when markets emerge, and then change equally as quickly? One way to address these challenges is to identify underlying principles that remain constant, despite technological change.

Payment systems are pivotal in any economy given their role to facilitate the intermediation process, which is key to achieve financial stability. Payments are a daily and routine activity carried out by people in most parts of the world. These payments cover daily human requirements from transportation, food and communication. Some people transact 2-5 times in a day while some more than 20 times making them heavy users of payment systems.
More than a billion people in emerging and developing markets have cellphones but no bank accounts yet they don’t stop their contribution to payment industries, they still do their contribution each day and many low-income people store and transfer money using informal networks, but these have high transaction costs and are prone to theft.

Mobile money is beginning to fill this gap by offering financial services over mobile phones, from simple person-to-person transfers to more complex banking services. To date, there have been more than 100 mobile-money deployments in emerging markets; at least 84 of them originated in the past three years. In markets with real-time payments infrastructures, banks have managed to fight back and actually have taken the lead in P2P payments.
For example, Swedish banks have developed an app called Swish, and in the UK, Barclays is leading with its popular PingIt app. Even in markets yet to move to real-time payments, such as the US, banks are trying to recapture their position in money transfers. Recent examples of activity include Early Warning acquiring clearXchange, BBVA partnering with Dwolla, and TD Bank exploring opportunities with Ripple.

The facts are fin-tech is changing the way we buy, sell and transfer money. It is creating an innovative worldwide marketplace in the face of shifting global politics.

Consumers, businesses and families are now starting to now enjoy a truly global financial network on the same fair terms, wherever they are. Inconsistencies can be ironed out and risks can be reduced. This is not just down to product features: fintech innovations that help international payments take place are actually behind some major shifts in how the world works.
Many fintech company’s have woken up to the potential of artificial intelligence (AI), and with investment ramping up, machines and algorithms will be an even more common sight in financial services.

Embracing AI in banking allows financial institutions to tap into the wealth of data at their fingertips. As well as collecting and sorting data, companies can use AI to make more accurate decisions, identify risks quicker, and better understand their customers, bringing the personal touch back to big business.

Chatbots are becoming more and more sophisticated, and their usefulness in customer services is becoming increasingly clear.
Instead of picking up the phone, making their way through menus, and then waiting on hold just to ask someone a few simple questions, customers could simply head to their favourite messaging app and speak to a chatbot. This lets customers connect using the channel of their choice; and gives them access to quick, easy answers to simple questions, so that staff are freed up to focus on the more complicated queries and building deeper customer relationships.

Chatbot interactions will also produce more accurate data on why our customers are getting in touch, which brands can use to better identify common problems and develop solutions.

As well as deepening customer relationships, AI in Fin-Tech also has the potential to improve security. Telephony services can make use of speech-recognition technology to verify the caller’s identity, but AI, in particular Machine Learning, can be used in real time to prevent fraud.

AI has been something of a hot topic in the world of sci-fi, with the themes ranging from the uncomfortable to the apocalyptic. The real world has not progressed that far. However, as AI becomes more capable, the onus is on the financial services industry indeed, on every business introducing AI into the workplace to make sure that they deploy AI in sustainable, intentional and responsible ways.
That means thinking carefully about the speed at which AI is deployed, the roles it takes on, and how employees can continue to add value. Where appropriate, that means putting measures in place to re-train or re-deploy employees. Businesses must be proactive when it comes to AI, as its impact will be as wide-ranging as it is inevitable.

And then there is cryptocurrency, that aspires to become a part of financial set-up and is making significant headway in 2017. Cryptocurrency may have heavily-regulated issues to deal with in the years ahead, if it has plans for an acceptance and a sustainable global future.

The emergence of Bitcoin has sparked a discussion concerning its future which of alternative cryptocurrencies. Despite Bitcoin’s recent problems, its success since its 2009 launch has impressed the creation of different cryptocurrencies like Litecoin, Ripple and MintChip. A cryptocurrency that aspires to become a part of the thought financial set-up would have to be compelled to satisfy terribly divergent criteria. whereas that chance appearance remote, there’s very little doubt that Bitcoin’s success or failure in handling the challenges it faces might verify the fortunes of alternative cryptocurrencies within the years ahead.

In summary and from the conference, here are five international payment points that are changing the world.

1. The power of mobile banking is being unleashed across borders

Mobile banking is nothing new, but its status in the developing world is being elevated thanks to ubiquity of mobile phones and cellular networks. But what happens when money needs to move across a national border and over to a different mobile network?
By developing smarter ways of integrating with, and crossing networks and borders, companies like Beyonic, for example, allow businesses to make two-way payments across borders and telecom networks with the security of a normal bank but over a mobile. This is leading to a growth opportunities in African nations, where smarter, more connected businesses can thrive with minimal infrastructure investment.

2. Payments are adapting to a global and migratory workforce

We’re living in a time of global migration, where workers are able to travel to meet demand for their services. They’re often far from the places where their earnings would do the most good; in many cases, they find it hard to transfer money back home, especially if it’s a rural area. Fintech is offering solutions to the growing need to send money to these kinds of places with services such as Valapay, which recruits local affiliates to work as ‘Human ATMs’ in places where infrastructure is weak and transfer fees are high.
Transferwise, the crowdsourced currency exchange service that grew out of the idea of ‘swapping’ currencies between consumers to lower the cost of exchanging money. It’s one of a number of fintech companies that have revolutionaied the way we make payments

Money from official development assistance is dwarfed in comparison to the amount of money being sent home by workers abroad. In 2016, three times more money was remitted internationally than was sent as aid. By giving the migrant workforce a chance to send money efficiently, and with lower fees, fintech can help raise standards of living where it’s needed most.

3. Cross-border e-commerce

By 2020, it’s expected that some 940 million online shoppers will spend almost $1 trillion on cross-border e-commerce transactions. The rising number of purchases made on devices like smartphones and tablets in particular will continue to help propel this growth, with shoppers taking advantage of being able to quickly and easily purchase goods whilst they’re on the go. World First, whose business is to facilitate cross-border payments and settlements, is helping this global boom by offering businesses and consumers a wider range of ways over how they get their money between countries in an efficient and cost effective way.

4. Lending in developing economies is growing

Companies like Oikocredit and Lendwithcare have made it easy and commercial to invest small amounts of money in small businesses in the developing world. The World Bank estimates that 2.7 billion people lack access to basic financial services, so by offering communities and businesses ‘microloans’ to buy materials or equipment, initiatives like these can support steady growth in poorer regions.

Although returns are modest, this process is risk-assessed and managed with oversight, and with interest rates low across the board in the West, the advantages of investing in these economies are clear.

5. We are seeing the emergence of real-time, anywhere payments

The emergence of national real-time payments systems such as Faster Payments in the UK, plus the development and uptake of mobile P2P services on top of them like paymare evolutionary steps show that a global, cheap and instant way to move money is possible. Instant payments mean more trust between people, with the benefits that will bring to the supply chain. Instant payments also mean more efficient, responsive business, less reliant on credit and with less exposure to risk. McKinsey’s latest Global Banking Report found that banks are likely to step into this space by merging or collaborating with fintech companies, so a future of traditional banking and fintech working together even more is already on the cards.

In conclusion, an innovative leap is currently taking place under the keywords of social media and Fin-Tech. Many banking services are being redefined. This includes technologies related to e-commerce, mobile payments, crowdlending, crowdinvesting and asset management. My belief is the result will be a future in which many services are only offered electronically.
Countless finance apps exist which generate added value for clients. These can be used to query master data, receive business news, create portfolios, enter payments, draw up charts, convert currencies, etc. These key challenges that banks and merchants need to know and have solutions ready when embarking on real-time payment processing.

See Arvind Sankaran’s quote:

The extraordinary life of challenging the status quo

I was discussing my first book, “Freedom after the Sharks”, recently with friends and in particular I was challenged on chapter nine, ‘Building the Dream’.

I was asked: “So is it only successful people that take risks?”

All people who achieve greatness take calculated risks and we all have the ability to make choices, but first we need to take a ‘leap of faith’. Entrepreneur’s do think things through and evaluate options. All ideas are researched to gain foresight that is required to make an informed decision. But, generally it comes down to the following three questions:

1. What’s the best-case scenario?
2. What’s the worst-case scenario?
3. What’s the most likely scenario?

As Denis Waitley once said: “Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing.”

Taking risks is not the secret to life, but taking risks does mean we are never at risk of doing nothing.

Too many people ‘play it safe.’ This is the playground of mediocrity. It is where average people live. They colour inside the lines, and always play by the rules. They fear the unknown, and rarely if ever venture outside the boundaries. People who ‘play it safe’ are predictable. Their life is run by rules and routine. Their actions are often dictated by the opinions of others. This is the crowd that fights to keep things the same…

Risk-takers are entrepreneurs, however, they a different and extraordinary breed. They live in the realm of possibility and greatness. They are not afraid to live beyond the boundaries and to colour outside the lines. To them, there is no such thing as failure; only experiments that did not work. Risk-takers are marked by a sense of adventure and passion. They care little for the accolades of the crowd. They are more focused on squeezing everything they can out of every moment of time. They are not afraid to ‘boldly go where no one has gone before.’

Success without risk?

Think about it. Try naming one historical figure that made a difference by playing it safe and being average. The vast majority of successful people are remembered for the difference that they made in their lifetime. And that difference required them to take risks and challenge the status quo.

We are inspired by people who go beyond the norm and push the boundaries of possibility. Mediocrity, on the other hand, does not inspire. Nor does it lead to greatness. Success, however you define it, will elude you unless you are willing to push the limits you have placed on yourself, and that others have placed on you.

The Orville brothers would have never made their historical flight if they had listened to the naysayers. Henry Ford would have never invented the automobile if he had paid attention to his critics. David would have never defeated Goliath if he had allowed his own family to discourage him. The list goes on and on.

Every major breakthrough in history, in business, science, medicine, sports, etc. is the result of an individual who took a risk and refused to play it safe. Successful people understand this. Their innovation is the result of their adventurous spirit. They invent, achieve, surpass, and succeed because they dare to live beyond the realm of normal.

However, many people have mixed feelings about risk, in part because they sense that facing the things we fear can present solutions to our internal dilemmas. Risk is something you want and don’t want, all at the same time. It tempts you with its rewards yet repels you with its uncertainties.

Take high diving, for instance. It’s been called a testament to man’s indulgent pursuit of the insignificant. After all, what did my own high-flying feats prove? That I could withstand two and a half seconds of plummeting hell? So what? The answer lies in my confrontation with my limitations and fears. For me, taking a high dive was more than an act of bravado or a flight of fancy. It was an act of liberation.

Like it or not, taking risks is an inevitable and in-escapable part of life. Whether you’re grappling with the possibility of getting married, starting a business, making a high-stakes investment, or taking some other life or career leap of consequence, one of these days, you’ll wind up confronting your own personal high dive.

Paul Brody, Chief Product Officer of CleverTap sits down with Mark Lack to discuss the right time to take a risk. Is there a right time? When is it?

Risk makes us feel alive. Life without risk is life stuck in a rut. If you feel like your job or life is getting boring and monotonous, then you’re not taking enough risk. The fact is we are built to take risk. We need change and growth in our lives. If you’re not growing, then you’re dying. Realize that nothing in this world truly stays the same.

Risk stretches us and helps us grow. Risk gets us out of our comfort zone to do something different. We learn by experience. Risk teaches us more about ourselves and helps us improve. How much more do we learn through the experiences of trying something big and failing? How much do you learn from taking risk and seeing the outcome?

Don’t let your fear of failure stop you. Fear of failure is often the single biggest obstacle that prevents us from reaching our full potential. We worry about what will happen if/when we fail. Realise that failure is relative. While you may interpret something as a failure, someone else may see it as a valuable learning experience. Often, failure is only failure to the extent you see it that way. What if true failure meant wasting your talent? What if failure was delaying action and missing opportunities because you didn’t take that risk?

Find your true calling. You feel most alive when you’re doing what you were meant to do. We’re not supposed to stay the same, but are charged with growing and developing. Everyone has greatness in them if they challenge themselves enough.

When you are faced with a decision and are wondering if it is worth the risk, it may help to ask yourself these questions:

– Am I risking more than I am able, physically, mentally, or emotionally, at this time?
– Will I be able to take this opportunity again at some other point?
– Are my fears based on real danger, or just on the fear of the unknown?
– What other possible opportunities do I risk by taking/not taking this opportunity?
– Is the risk of doing nothing greater than what I risk by taking this opportunity?

If we think about risks with these questions and process the risk of doing nothing, we are likely to make choices that seem risky, even crazy, to others, but make sense for each of us in our own lives.

The truth is that no matter how much we try to avoid risk and hide from pain, it will still find us, even if it is just in the form of regret. It’s far better to weigh each risk for ourselves and decide which risks are right for us to take than to always let the fear of risks force us to take the risk of doing nothing.

Let me leave you with this amazing quote by Mark Frost:

“Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body. But rather, to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming…. “

The pursuit of Happyness….

I have written many blogs on the subject of ‘What is Happiness’, ‘Happiness Explained’ and many more of the science of love and happiness in my latest book, ‘Meaningful Conversations’.

It seems that many people have been pursuing the stock exchange version of happiness with a vengeance, encouraged by the 2006 blockbuster “Pursuit of Happyness”, in which Will Smith starred in this incredibly moving tale inspired by the true story of Chris Gardner, a San Francisco salesman struggling to build a future for himself and his 5-year-old son Christopher (Jaden Smith). When his girlfriend Linda (Thandie Newton) walks out, Chris is left to raise Christopher (Jaden Smith) on his own. Chris’ determination finally pays off when he lands an unpaid internship in a brutally competitive stockbroker-training program, where only one in twenty interns will make the cut. But without a salary, Chris and his son are evicted from their apartment and are forced to sleep on the streets, in homeless shelters and even behind the locked doors of a metro station bathroom. With self-confidence and the love and trust of his son, Chris Gardner rises above his obstacles to become a Wall Street legend.

Do we have to suffer adversity to find happiness, is the thrill is the pain or suffering of the journey or in natural human circumstances?

Thomas Jefferson had meaning when he enshrined the “pursuit of happiness” as a basic right in the Declaration of Independence. However, he failed to explain why, at least not in the original document, nor in his official correspondence. One of the most influential theories doing the rounds is that Jefferson simply plagiarised the English political thinker John Locke, who championed “life, liberty and estate (property).” According to this view, Jefferson’s replacement of the word “estate” with the “pursuit of happiness,” was essentially a play on words. The “pursuit of happiness” was a euphemism for the pursuit of wealth. From this perspective, Jefferson’s vision of happiness was the “rags to riches” version of the good life

Rags to riches…or riches in rags?

A few years back I read that Jefferson was an “Epicurean.” In my mind it reinforced the credibility of the “rags to riches” theory. Over the year’s I had read textbooks and articles echoing the same refrain: Epicurus was an “egoistic hedonist”…i.e someone who championed the pursuit of personal pleasure.

In other words, if he was around now, you wouldn’t see Epicurus on Wall Street. He was not a proponent of the “rags to riches” view of happiness. Far from it. You could call it the “riches within rags” view of happiness. Simply put, if you cultivated close friendships, limited your desires to the essential necessities of life, and rejoiced in the moment, happiness was yours to keep.

On the internet and in bookstores, a thousand business philosophers will provide you with different remedies for human discomfort, which has become a billion-dollar global business. On the daily commute, you will see people reading books on ‘how to change your life by being happy’ from Millennial’s to old age pensioners.

So exactly how can we find out which remedies work? Do we need to consult a counsellor every time we are unhappy?

Recently we have seen a dramatic upsurge in scientific studies on positive psychology and the science of happiness or to put it simply, discovering what makes happy people happy. Fortunately, many of these studies point to specific ways of thinking and acting that can strongly impact our sense of well-being and happiness.

Psychologists Answer The Question: ‘What Is Happiness?’

It is in my belief that happiness comes to you when you feel satisfied and fulfilled. Happiness is a feeling of contentment, that life is just as it should be. Perfect happiness, enlightenment, comes when you have all of your needs satisfied.

While the perfect happiness of enlightenment may be hard to achieve, and even harder to maintain, happiness is not an either or case. There are nearly limitless degrees of happiness between the bliss of enlightenment and the despair of depression. Most of us fall somewhere between, closer to the middle than the edges.

Since happiness is when your life fulfils, and to each and every one of us will identify that we all have different needs, so how can we be happy?

Our individual needs vary based on our genetics, how we were raised, and our life experiences. That complex combination is what makes each of us unique, both in our exact needs, and in every other aspect of what makes us the person we are.
We may each be complex but we are all human and that provides the foundation on which we can discover our essential human needs. Just as we are all born looking human on the outside, we all share common basic needs on the inside. Where we differ is exactly how strongly we feel each of those needs.

A current theory, largely based on new scientific discoveries about how the brain works and on current happiness theories, has identified 9 universal and overlapping human needs that contribute to happiness:
• Wellbeing – mind-body connections, aspects of your physical body that affect your mood, and vice versa
• Environment – external factors like safety, food availability, freedom, weather, beauty, and your home
• Pleasure – temporary experiences such as joy, sex, love, and eating
• Relationships – as a social species, relationships are at the foundation of what it means to be human
• Outlook – how you approach the world through adventurousness, curiosity, and making plans
• Meaning – having a purpose and the wisdom to understand it
• Involvement – to be happy you have to be engaged and actively involved
• Success – confirmation from yourself and others that what you do has value
• Elasticity – how you recover from life’s inevitable negative events

Many have professed that Love is the Answer to happiness. A 75-year study concludes that Love is what ultimately makes us healthy and happy. A good life is built on loving relationships.

For over 75 years, Harvard’s Grant and Glueck study has tracked the physical and emotional well-being of two populations: 456 poor men growing up in Boston from 1939 to 2014 (the Grant Study), and 268 male graduates from Harvard’s classes of 1939-1944 (the Glueck study).

Specifically, the study demonstrates that having someone to rely on helps your nervous system relax, helps your brain stay healthier for longer, and reduces both emotional as well as physical pain.

The data is also very clear that those who feel lonely are more likely to see their physical health decline earlier and die younger.
‘It’s not just the number of friends you have, and it’s not whether or not you’re in a committed relationship,’ says Waldinger. ‘It’s the quality of your close relationships that matters.’

What that means is this: It doesn’t matter whether you have a huge group of friends and go out every weekend or if you are in a ‘perfect’ romantic relationship. It’s the quality of the relationships – how much vulnerability and depth exists within them; how safe you feel sharing with one another; the extent to which you can relax and be seen for who you truly are, and truly see another.

According to George Vaillant, the Harvard psychiatrist who directed the study from 1972 to 2004, there are two foundational elements to this: ‘One is love. The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.’

The data is clear that, in the end, you could have all the money you’ve ever wanted, a successful career, and be in good physical health, but without loving relationships, you won’t be happy.

The next time you’re scrolling through social media instead of being present at the table with your significant other, or you are considering staying late at the office instead of getting together with your close friend, or you catch yourself working on a Saturday instead of going to have tea with your grandparents, consider making a different choice.

“Relationships are messy and they’re complicated,” acknowledges Waldinger. But he’s adamant in his research-backed assessment:

‘The good life is built with good relationships.’

Do we ever forget where we came from…?

There are many people in the world who have struggled to have a better future, and they have accomplished it by hard work, dedication, sacrifices, and by the help of others. A great number of these people have made it big in business, and in the media and entertainment industries to name a few. I have tremendous respect and admiration for these people who are genuinely authentic, people who happily acknowledge their family and cultural roots, and who never forget where they come from.

Readers may remember I wrote my first book, ‘Freedom after the Sharks’, this was a non-fiction book on the tribulations of my life, from birth to entrepreneur, detailing the emotions of what being a child can really entail, I recall the first time I ran away from home, people have always said to me ‘you have always held an old head on young shoulders’, it is funny how you remember these statements.

I recently purchased a DVD from Amazon called Lion. The story of Lion, is up for six Oscars, including best picture, it tells the story of how, in 1986, Saroo, an illiterate, impoverished five-year-old in rural central India, got separated from his brother at a railway station in Burhanpur, and accidentally ended up alone on a train that took him almost a thousand miles to Kolkata (then called Calcutta). Unable to speak Bengali, and unaware of the name of his home town, he had no way to return. He lived as a street urchin and survived on his wits and scraps of food. He was later taken in by an orphanage, and was eventually adopted by an Australian couple, Sue and John Brierley, who took him to start a new life in Tasmania.

The trailer for Lion:

The saddest thing to see is how quick some of these people forget where they come from to a point that they feel ashamed to talk about their past and how they arrived to where they are now. I think this goes beyond sad because such stories can serve as a very valuable tool to encourage other people who have also embarked on a journey to pursue a better future. Why does this happen? What makes these people “forget” where they come from?

When people go through hardships in life, they often become resentful and frustrated for having struggled more than others. Even when they make it big, they are selfish, arrogant, boastful, disrespectful, and so on. It seems that in the way to pursuing a better future, their hearts were hardened by the circumstances they had to endure.

It is understandable that suffering and pain can cause any person to feel the most negative emotions; the difference is in getting over them, particularly when people’s goals have been satisfactorily met. Life is hard, no doubt. Fortunately, we can learn to be better people without forgetting where we come from.

According to Railway Children, it is estimated that a child runs away from home or care every five minutes in the UK. That’s 100,000 children every year.

Research shows this can happen to anyone, with children running away from affluent homes as well as low-income households. Running away is slightly more common among girls than boys.

The study estimated that of the 18,000 children under the age of 11 who run away for the first time, 6,000 are less than eight years old.

“It is very worrying that a small number of people at a very young age become detached from their families, their schools and their communities,” said Professor Stein. “They are outside the system completely.”

The research also reveals that 21 per cent of young people living in step-families had run away once, compared to 13 per cent in lone-parent families and 7 per cent of those living with their birth families.

Four out of five children said they ran away to escape family conflict, violence, or abuse. Children who ran away before the age of 11 were most likely to have experienced a death in the family or their parents’ divorce. Most children who ran away from care were runaways before going into care.

Ian Sparks, chief executive of The Children’s Society, which took part in the study, said: “The sheer scale of the problem tells us we have a crisis on our hands. It means in every classroom, in every school the chances are at least one child will run away in the next year.

“When children feel alienated and rejected, then running away can seem some sort of solution.”

He added: “This issue cuts across class boundaries – children are almost as likely to run away from a leafy suburb as an inner-city estate. The outcomes of ignoring their cries for help may be terrible.

“We spoke to a small but significant number of children who had been completely detached from any form of help and support for over six months. These are the children that no-one notices when they disappear.”

Children are often running away from problems at home or at school. Some are dealing with very serious issues at home, such as neglect, drug and alcohol addiction (their own or their parents’), mental health problems, violence and abuse. A few children are even forced to leave home by their parents or carers. Others are trying to escape common problems such as bullying, relationship difficulties, loneliness or family breakdown.

Many children run away on the spur of the moment, without any forward planning – meaning that they probably have not thought about where they will go, where they will sleep, or how they will manage to support themselves.

This means that many children end up on the streets, where the problems they face are often even worse than those they have endured at home. In many cases, children and young people who end up alone on the streets are at risk of sexual exploitation, drug and alcohol dependency, abuse and violence.

Here is a great video on parenting and runaway children: Runaway teens – Parentchannel.tv

Why do teens run away from home? We look at some of the reasons, the signs to look out for, and what you can do if you’re worried your teen might run away.

If your teenager has run away and decides to return do not expect all the problems to have disappeared. Discuss what returning home might be like before they come back so that neither of you have any false expectations.

Encourage them to talk to you about any problems they are facing and be prepared to listen. Be aware that some things that might have happened to them since they have been away may be difficult to talk about. Some local organisations offer mediation services which might be able to help and be prepared to make some concessions and meet your teenager halfway.

At first your teenager may get in touch but be unsure about returning home, you may have your own concerns about them coming back to your home as well. You may feel you need some time to sort things out in your mind. In this case it may help if a close friend or relative could allow your teenager to stay. You will then be reassured they are safe and you can start to talk things through at an agreed meeting point – somewhere that feels comfortable for both of you.

• Give each other space
• Be prepared to compromise
• Recognise it is going to take time to sort things through.
• Get help with talking things through.

It is very important to have people in your life who you love and trust, people that you can reach out to for advice and to keep a reality check on how you are coping with life. Your group may consist of two or more people who you highly trust and confide upon. Never forget where you come from will keep you grounded and in touch with reality. Embrace your life and love the people who have helped you to be where you are now, life is a journey, there are always ups and downs, the important factor to always remember is whatever the problem is or maybe ‘never, never, never give up’. You will recognise life is incredibly precious and the people you love and trust on this journey, family or friends are equally as precious.

A great quote in Chapter 1 of my book, ‘Freedom after the Sharks’ by Henry David Thoreau:

“Every child begins the world again”

Thinking outside of the box

“I need someone who thinks out of the box.” You hear it all the time. But what does it mean?

According to Wikipedia, ‘Thinking outside the box entails a thinking process, which comprehends the implementation of an unusual approach to the logical thinking structure. It’s a procedure which aims to escape relational reasoning and thinking’.

So where precisely, is this famous ‘box’ that we’re all supposed to think outside of? What’s up in that blue sky that we all ought to be thinking about? Business gurus seem to specialise in finding complicated phrases to describe something simple. But in essence, they’re right. We need to be more creative, the ‘light bulb moment’. You really do not need to go on a course or read a book to solve problems and to make decisions, right?

“Start thinking outside the box and find a solution for this problem”, is a statement when the quality of ideas and solutions starts to decrease. Imagine you would be living in an invisible atmosphere that envelops your whole body, which is symbolic for the box you are living in (the box you will have to abandon when trying to think outside the box).

Thinking outside the box means that you cast off the atmosphere that envelops you, step out of the box, leave all your experiences, mindsets and attitudes behind and start to view things from a completely different perspective: outside of the box; unfiltered, unbiased, open to suggestions, willing to empathise with others opinions, but also ready to swim against the flood and to think what no one else has ever thought of. It also means that you leave everything behind you thought you would know, everything that was thought to you in school and start to approach specific situations and problems from a completely different point of view than you did before.

Unconventional thinking leads to incredible new possibilities!

I think the above describes it pretty good what it means to think outside the box, however I would also like to show you an excellent example of a person who was clearly thinking within the box: Charles H. Duell, who was the Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, who said the following: “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

Duell’s statement is a fantastic example of thinking inside the box, par excellence. The quote, however, gets even more remarkable when considering that he made this statement in 1899, when people were still traveling by horse and train, long before automobiles, airplanes, jets, spaceships, microwaves, computers and mobile phones were invented.

The ability to think outside the box requires above all one thing: creativity. Especially creative people have discovered the approach to “think outside the box” as an immense advantage for various facets of their lives, often as a characteristic that helps them to earn a living.

The first part focused on the question what it means to think outside the box, which will erase one of the biggest problems that people have who struggle to think outside of the box: they do not clearly know what it means. The second part will show you effective ways on how to think outside the box.

Galileo Galilei is a wonderful example of a person who questioned the status quo, “The sun revolves around the earth” that was prevalent at the time when he lived. Galileo was one of the most famous outside the box thinkers in due course. Not only did Galileo not accept what he probably had been thought at school and disagreed with the status quo, but also questioned something that was considered to be a fact. Start to question things and do not accept these as predetermined straight away. Don’t take the facts your teachers, professors, and experts present you as ultimately correct or the one and only truth. Make it a habit of questioning things and discovering new and even better solutions or facts about things.

We may not all be Galileo but it is a natural known fact that all humans have creativity, here are a few tips that we have learned along the way that have aided us in getting outside the box:
1. Identify the issue.
2. Determine whether a regular or typical solution to the problem exists.
3. If one does, you’re done. If no, map out everything that went into creating the issue. In this aspect, be expansive. Include everything possible.
4. Once you start mapping out the issue more completely, start looking for ways to address the situation in one of the more outlying areas that was not considered previously.
5. Never dismiss a possible solution on the basis, “It simply cannot be done.” Consider everything. Go through every possibility until you know for a fact it can or cannot be done

The willingness to try things out does not only require courage but also the inner readiness to fail and to make a mistake. Whenever you are ready to search for the solution of a problem you have the chance to discover a way to solve whatever problem you face. However, if you are not willing to try you will not find a solution, never. Mistakes are another great way to view things from another perspective, in fact: recognising a mistake as an opportunity you can learn from in order to avoid it the next time is nothing else than outside of the box thinking. So many mistakes have helped people in many different ways, whenever they were ready to view it from another perspective. The next time you make a mistake, approach it positively: you can gain some new experiences, avoid similar mistakes the next time and you know what works not.

In summary, the goal of sharing thinking is to work with a new mindset, a new mindset shift prospective, this will introduce a common language and common problem solving process into our communities so we have a way to work together. In essence thinking can be perceived as the new Pidgin English. Pidgin was a way for people from different backgrounds and cultures to communicate, connect, and work together to get things done. Our thought processes create a common language and a way to work together to solve challenges – education, economy, environment, energy, transportation, housing, and so on. If we could truly work together as a team, using the same language and a human centered problem solving process, what might we achieve?

It was Henry Ford who said:

“Coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”

It’s been my experience that the ultimate success out of the box thinking can be found within this quote.

Have we learned from the Tudors and Storytelling

Long before I ever became a writer, and whilst a student, I embraced history, I would immerse myself into the Tudor era, with many visits to the Tower of London, looking at how these historians interacted with one another, and of course there were the ravens – if the ravens left the Tower, London would fall down, says the myth.
Many people have written on the subject and when you reflect on our ancestors, you start to have revelations that the Tudors actually were no different to our era and everyday life, their tribulations, adversity and problems.
Evidence and a perception of life often paints us an oppression on society, but this can sometimes be an oversimplification of a long life ago where the hierarchical society had complicated times.
There were many tales spoken in the sixteenth century, and let’s not forget the magnificence of work performed by William Shakesphere, these tales have had rework and revision, just like storytelling which is one subject I have written about extensively in my blogs.

Some of the phases of oral culture can be seen as follows:
“There is method in his madness”
Shakespeare used this in Hamlet:
Lord Polonius : Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t. Will you walk out of the air, my lord?
What does it mean today?
Reason behind apparent folly or disorder

“Too much of a good thing”
Shakespeare used this in ‘As you like i’t:
Rosalind: Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing? Come, sister, you shall be the priest and marry us. Give me your hand, Orlando. What do you say sister?
What does it mean today?
Excess may do you harm.

“Wear your heart on your sleeve”
Shakespeare used this term in Othello:
Iago: It is a sure as you are Roderigo, were I the Moor, I would not be lago: In following him, I follow but myself; Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty, but seeming so, for my peculiar end: For when my outward action doth demonstrate the native act and figure of my heart in compliment extern, ’tis not long after but I will wear my heart upon my sleeve for daws to peck at: I am not what I am.
What does it mean today?
Show or display your feelings openly for everyone to see.

“Let your hair down”
During Tudor times it was the fashion for woman to wear their hair up. They usually wore them in ‘wimples’ – those pointed bonnets seen in paintings; their hair was piled high and pinned in these wimples.
The only time it was acceptable for a woman to ‘let her hair down’ was in their private quarters. Hats, wimples and other garments were disposed of. It was a sign of wanton behaviour and abandonment and was only acceptable behind closed doors.
What does it mean today?
To behave in a free or uninhibited manner.

“Sleep tight”
In Tudor times, mattresses were secured on a bed frame with the use of ropes crossed in a grid like pattern. If these ropes were pulled then the mattress would tighten and therefore seemed firmer and more comfortable to sleep on.
Note: the expression ‘sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite’ was an extended expression used later on in histroy.
What does it mean today?
Sleep well

Although we all know these are just words set down simply, they did have significance, and hold the same meaning in the global language today.

The Tudor dynasty is probably one of the best known in history, popularised by the likes of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and Edward VI. But do we really know all there is about this turbulent period?

1) The Tudors should never have got anywhere near the throne
When Henry Tudor defeated Richard III at the battle of Bosworth in 1485, the vast majority of his subjects saw him as a usurper and they were right. There were other claimants with stronger blood claims to the throne than his.
Henry’s own claim was on the side of his indomitable mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, who was the great granddaughter of John of Gaunt, fourth son of Edward III, and his third wife (and long-standing mistress), Katherine Swynford. But Katherine had given birth to John Beaufort (Henry’s great grandfather) when she was still John’s mistress, so Henry’s claim was through an illegitimate line – and a female one at that.
Little wonder that he was plagued by rivals and ‘pretenders’ for most of his reign.

2) School was for the ‘lucky’ few
Education was seen as something of a luxury for most Tudors, and it was usually the children of the rich who received anything approaching a decent schooling.
There were few books in Tudor schools, so pupils read from ‘hornbooks’ instead. Pages displaying the alphabet and religious material were attached to wooden boards and covered with a transparent sheet of cow horn (hence the name).
Discipline was much fiercer than it is today. Teachers would think nothing of punishing their pupils with 50 strokes of the cane, and wealthier parents would often pay for a ‘whipping-boy’ to take the punishment on behalf of their child. Barnaby Fitzpatrick undertook this thankless task for the young Edward VI, although the two boys did become best friends.

3) Tudor London was a mud bath
Andreas Franciscius, an Italian visitor to London in 1497, was horrified by what he found. Although he admired the “fine” architecture, he was disgusted by the ‘vast amount of evil smelling mud’ that covered the streets and lasted a long time – nearly the whole year round.
The citizens, therefore, in order to remove this mud and filth from their boots, are accustomed to spread fresh rushes on the floors of all houses, on which they clean the soles of their shoes when they come in.”
Franciscius added disapprovingly that the English people had “fierce tempers and wicked dispositions”, as well as “a great antipathy to foreigners”.

4) Edward VI’s dog was killed by his uncle
Edward was just nine years old when he became king, and his court was soon riven by faction. Although the king’s uncle, Edward Seymour, had been appointed Lord Protector, he was undermined by the behaviour of his hot-headed and ambitious brother, Thomas.
In January 1549, Thomas Seymour made a reckless attempt to kidnap the king. Breaking into Edward’s privy garden at Westminster, pistol in hand, Thomas tried to gain access to the king’s bedroom, but was lunged at by the boy’s pet spaniel.
Without thinking, he shot the dog dead, which prompted a furore as the royal guard rushed forward, thinking that an assassin was in the palace. Thomas Seymour was arrested and taken to the Tower. He was found guilty of treason shortly afterwards, and his own brother was obliged to sign the death warrant.

5) Elizabeth I owned more than 2,000 dresses
When her mother, Anne Boleyn, was executed, Elizabeth was so neglected by her father, Henry VIII, that she soon outgrew all of her clothes, and her servant was forced to write to ask for new ones.
Perhaps the memory of this humiliation prompted Elizabeth, as queen, to stuff her wardrobes with more than 2,000 beautiful dresses, all in rich fabrics and gorgeous colours.
But despite her enormous collection, she always wanted more. When one of her maids of honour, Lady Mary Howard, appeared in court wearing a strikingly ostentatious gown, the queen was so jealous that she stole it, and paraded around court in it herself

Finally, the Tudor age was the era of the English Renaissance. The monarchs surrounded themselves with brilliant people like Hans Holbein, who was at the forefront of this first age of portraiture (painting the first full-length, life-size portrait of an English monarch), or the poets Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, who wrote the first sonnets in English. Henry VIII was the first king to authorise a Bible in English, and the lyrical phrasing of William Tyndale’s New Testament, which infused the Great Bible of 1538–9 and the King James Bible of 1611, earned Tyndale the title of “architect of the English language”. It was also the age of William Shakespeare. Ben Jonson described him as being “not of an age, but for all time”, and his verse is so timeless and universal, so ingrained in our culture, so globally ubiquitous, that we forget that the bard was of a time: he was a Tudor.

So, one reason we are fascinated by the Tudors is simply because they matter. The other is the sheer weight of character. It is easy to caricature the much-married tabloid king, Henry VIII, or the unmarried virgin, Elizabeth I. Yet, in an age of personal monarchy, the sovereign’s character was of crucial importance, and continues to attract us. There is something about the Tudor combination of bluff, prodigious majesty coupled with deep, abiding insecurity and continual intrigue that creates a sense of awe and suspense, even when we know the outcome of events.

Distrust is, arguably, the defining characteristic of the dynasty, and this quality was pivotal to the successes and failures of the reigns. Suspicion meant that no English king ever shed more blood than Henry VIII; while Elizabeth’s reign was defined by her decision not to choose a successor even on her deathbed! The only Tudor monarch who seems to have escaped this sense of paranoia was the young Edward VI, the only one born to the throne.

The irony is, then, that the great changes of the Tudor period, everything from the birth of the Church of England to the creation of the secret service were a direct result of the inherent weakness of the dynasty: its distrust and suspicion.

As Elizabeth 1st once said in her life letters:

“My care is like my shadow in the sun, Follows me flying, flies when I pursue it, Stands and lies by me, doth what I have done.”

From Louis Braille to leading edge technology that helps people see again

I recently visited the theatre in London to see The Braille Legacy, a fascinating theatrical story about Louis Braille – the man who invented braille for the blind.

Louis Braille was born in Coupvray, a town in north central France, on January 4, 1809. At the age of three, he accidentally blinded himself in one eye with a stitching awl taken from his father’s leather workshop. His other eye went blind because of sympathetic ophthalmia, an inflammation of both eyes following trauma to one.

Louis was a young blind boy who wanted the same chance in life as those who see and ended up improving the lives of millions of blind people around the world.
When he was 15, he invented a universal system for reading and writing to be used by people who are blind or visually impaired that now bears his name. He published the first Braille book, Method of Writing Words, Music, and Plain Songs by Means of Dots, for Use by the Blind and Arranged for Them, in 1829, at age 20. A talented musician, he also developed a Braille musical codification.

In Paris in the 19th century, blind people were victims of profound discrimination. Louis Braille, a bright young mind with a mad dream, arrives at the Royal Institute of Blind Youth, searching for the same chance as everyone else: to be free and independent. But he soon discovers that people and things aren’t always what they first seem. By sheer determination and courage, he stumbles upon something revolutionary: a simple idea, a genius invention, a legacy.

Two hundred years ago, Louis Braille changed the world by inventing the tactile system of communication the Braille alphabet, liberating the “People of the Night” and introducing literacy, knowledge and culture to a people who were otherwise trapped. It was their journey into the light.

As an adult, Braille became the first blind apprentice teacher at the New School for the Blind in Paris, France. There, he taught algebra, grammar, music, and geography. He later became the first blind full professor at the school. Braille saved enough money from his teaching position to buy himself a piano so he could practice whenever he wished. Despite his small salary, he also made many personal gifts and loans to his students to help them purchase warm clothing and other necessities. Braille developed tuberculosis in his mid-20s, and for the rest of his life had periods of health interspersed with times of pain and illness. When in good health, he maintained a heavy teaching load and held several jobs playing the organ.

Braille is read by passing one’s fingertips over characters made up of an arrangement of one to six embossed points. The relative positions of these points represent different alphanumeric characters. Braille can be written with a Braillewriter (similar to a typewriter) or by using a pointed stylus to punch dots through paper using an instrument called a Braille slate, which has rows of small cells in it as a guide. Braille has since been adapted to almost every known language and is an essential tool for blind people everywhere.

It’s hard to think about language as being endangered or replaceable. But as our culture and means of communication evolve, certain languages find their utility in decline.

Braille and sign language are in just such a predicament. Technological advancements, such as voice-to-text, digital audio, and the cochlear implant have steadily decreased the demand for these once-revolutionary facilitators for the disabled.

Those who master Braille can reap big benefits. Blind children struggle to learn spelling and grammar without it. Calculations and musical scores are easier to hold at the fingertips than in the head. Even so, more blind people are deciding not to bother.

In the 1950s half of blind American children learned Braille. Now 10% do, and the share globally has fallen so steeply, says Kevin Carey of the London-based Royal National Institute of Blind People, that Braille is on “life support”.

One reason is a shifting market. Since doctors learned 60 years ago that pure oxygen in incubators damaged premature babies’ sight, the number of blind children has fallen in rich countries, where Braille was most used. Changing educational norms mean more attend mainstream schools, where Braille is less likely to be taught. As the population ages, more people are losing their sight late in life, when they are less likely to invest in new skills.

PwC uncovered the compelling link between restoring sight and economic development. It found that for every £1 invested in ending avoidable blindness, there was a £4 economic benefit for a country’s economy. By looking at our key goal through an economic lens, it was demonstrated that ending avoidable blindness has benefits reaching far beyond health alone. If more people in a nation can see, more people can go to school, work, raise children or start businesses. Ending avoidable blindness improves the economy, equality, skills, GDP and development of a nation, while reducing its financial and social burden.

Here are some findings from the research:
• An estimated 32.4 million people are blind around the world
• A further 191 million are visually impaired
• 90% of people who are blind live in developing countries

It’s not just people who are suffering
• Ending avoidable blindness could inject as much as £517 billion into struggling economies over a decade
• Every year, avoidable blindness costs developing countries around £49 billion in lost economic activity
• Ending avoidable blindness in the developing world can be achieved for as little as £2.20 per person, per year

Another is stiffer competition. In the 1960s schools started to use cassette tapes; by the 1980s computers could convert written words to speech, albeit clumsily, or display magnified text. Today’s phone apps read text aloud almost flawlessly.

The advancement with technology now enables reading using a Braille display that sits unobtrusively on a person’s lap and connects to a iPhone via Bluetooth, electronically converting the onscreen text into different combinations of pins. A person reads by gently but firmly running their fingers over the pins with their hand navigating through the phone.

Ebooks could be a game changer if they’re properly designed because it would allow blind people to get access to the same books at the same time at the same price as everyone else. Publishers and manufacturers have to ensure they are designed to be accessible to work with braille displays.

And for partially blind people there are even glasses to improve one’s sight of vision. Blind people can now effectively ‘see’ thanks to a brilliant new British invention – glasses that tell wearers what they are looking at. The glasses, which contain tiny cameras, can identify everything from shop doorways to the contents of a fridge – giving a verbal commentary through a phone app and earpiece. Users can even have printed text read out loud simply by pointing at the words, while those with partial sight can zoom in as they need.

However, for those who own both an iPhone or laptop and a Braille display, having to choose between audio and Braille isn’t necessary. Nowadays, the two go hand in hand – literally. Many of the technologies that convert text to speech also convert it into a form that can be read on a refreshable Braille display, making Braille far more accessible for those who own both devices.

Now technology is offering Braille a shot at reinvention. And whilst Apple are leading the race for Braille technology and innovation, Sumit Dagar, an Indian designer, is working on a smartphone exclusively for the blind. The National Braille Press, an American charity, has developed a prototype Braille tablet. Both emboss Braille by using an alloy that changes shape according to temperature.

In the longer term, built-in cameras could take photos to be etched on screens. And tactile touchscreens being developed by Disney’s researchers could do away with the need for embossing. These use electrical impulses to trick fingers into feeling bumps and ridges. Vibrations create friction; the level of resistance matches the on-screen pattern. Thus rebooted, Braille could live alongside audio technology instead of being replaced by it.

The Technology That Could Make Blind People See Again

Louis Braille created reading for the blind, he was revolutionary in his time improving the lives of millions of blind people around the world – with further investment into technology we now have the ability to improve sight across the world within communities and support people through disability and vision.

As professor Fred Hollows once said:

“To help someone to see was a tremendous feeling and with medical and technological advances, we have greatly increased the ability of eye doctors to give that help.”

Social Media, H2H relationships and the smartphone

I recently had a very intriguing conversation with my social media and blog agency – we have those conversations normally at 11pm London time, every Sunday night. Jacques will ask me: “How are you my friend? Your blog for Monday is all set.” I will respond with: “I am Social Media worked out, so tired”, to which Jacques responds: “So just come off Social Media and concentrate on your writing, I still want to see your next book!”
At this point I laugh loudly, but the facts are, when Jacques said this to me it was a precious moment of introspection and reflection – some people call this a light bulb moment, the result is he is so right, and this is a subject I have written extensively about: ‘Is Human 2 Human Communication Dying’, ‘In the praise of speed or not, as the case may be’, ‘Has technology killed love and romance’, ‘Why are our H2H relationships so disconnected from life?’ – just to name a few.

One month after truly quitting Twitter (we even removed the Twitter-share buttons from the site), I feel much better: no incessant alerts anymore, no more sending only (without feedback). And, I actually found a true quality-alternative: interaction, feedback and participation – you can find me here: Geoff on beBee.

If you are emotionally attached to your smartphone and rely on it every waking minute, it may be harming your relationships – I find most accidents happen with people texting when they walk, not to mention what happens when you are in their line of the street. The new education for humans is how to avoid being knocked over by the person texting on their smartphone.

So how does social media affect interaction in our society? Will face-to-face communication ultimately diminish because of these new social technologies? These questions are ones that many researchers have found extremely intriguing since the advent and popularisation of social media in the last decade. Within this topic, social competency is an important ideal that most people strive towards, but there is evidence to support the claims that social media is actually harming people’s ability to interact competently in an offline setting.

Psychologists claim that increasing numbers of people in long-term partnerships are having to compete with their partner’s smartphone for attention, making it the ‘third wheel’ in their relationship.

A survey found that almost three quarters of women in committed relationships feel that smartphones are interfering with their love life and are reducing the amount of time they spend with their partner.

Scientists found that what they describe as this ‘technoference’ – even if infrequent – sets off a chain of negative events: more conflict about technology, lower relationship quality, lower life satisfaction and higher risk of depression.
• 62 per cent of women in long-term relationships who were surveyed said technology interferes with their free time together
• 35 per cent claim their partner will pull out his phone mid-conversation if they receive a notification
• 25 per cent said their partner actively texts other people during the couple’s face-to-face conversations
• 75 per cent said their smartphone is affecting their relationship.
The poll, which was conducted by Brandon McDaniel of The Pennsylvania State University and Sarah Coyne of Brigman Young University in Utah, surveyed 143 women.

Further studies on the social competency of youths who spend much of their time on social media networks are sometimes very conflicting. For example, a study executed by the National Institute of Health found that youths with strong, positive face-to-face relationships may be those most frequently using social media as an additional venue to interact with their peers. As a pretty outgoing person myself, I find myself using social media as an extra outlet to obtain real-time news feeds, research and interact with people who are interested in my book. Although I personally agree with this study’s findings, I also believe that social media can be an excellent avenue for introverted people to find a comfortable setting to interact and from the opposite it can drive a highly-motivated individual to isolation, loneliness and to mental health disorder.

I definitely believe that face-to-face interaction must continue to be our main source of communication. According to Forbes magazine, only 7% of communication is based on the verbal word. That means that over 90% of communication is based on nonverbal cues such as body language, eye contact, and tone of voice.

Scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences found that the brain chemicals of people who habitually used the Internet and were perhaps addicted to it had abnormal connections between the nerve fibers in their brain. These changes are similar to other sorts of addicts, including alcoholics.

Take “ghosting,” which has been discussed regularly in the media lately. The name refers to someone simply vanishing from another person’s life, usually after the two have gone on several dates. It’s a frustrating, confusing and, certainly, impolite way to end a relationship, but it’s not new.

The connected world’s larger behavioral impact is more on how we interact with each other on a daily basis. A 2014 study: “The iPhone Effect: The Quality of In-Person Social Interactions in the Presence of Mobile Devices” looked at the effects that phones have when people talk face-to-face. Observing 100 friendly couples having a 10-minute conversation while their phone was present, researchers noticed that the individuals still continued to fiddle with their phones. When those same couples conversed without a phone present, their conversations resulted in greater empathy.

A very interesting white paper named “Information in the Study of Human Interaction” by Keith Devlin and Duska Rosenberg states that in today’s world, most of us think of information as a commodity that is largely independent of how it is embodied. It can be bought, sold, stolen, exchanged, shared, stored, sent along wires and through the ether, and so forth. It can also be processed, using information technologies, both concepts that would have sounded alien (and probably nonsensical) to anyone living in the nineteenth century, and even the first half of the twentieth.

Little by little, Internet and mobile technology seems to be subtly destroying the meaningfulness of interactions we have with others, disconnecting us from the world around us, and leading to an imminent sense of isolation in today’s society. Instead of spending time in person with friends, we just call, text or instant message them. It may seem simpler and easier, but we ultimately end up seeing our friends face to face a lot less. Ten texts can’t even begin to equal an hour spent chatting with a friend over coffee, lunch or dinner. And a smiley-face emoticon is cute, but it could never replace the ear-splitting grin and smiling eyes of one of your best friends. Face time is important, people. We need to see each other.

This doesn’t just apply to our friends; it applies to the world around us. It should come as no surprise that face-to-face interaction is proven by studies to comfort us and provide us with some important sense of well-being.

There’s something intangibly real and valuable about talking with someone face to face. This is significant for friends, partners, potential employers, and other recurring people that make up your everyday world. That person becomes an important existing human connection, not just someone whose disembodied text voice pops up on your cell phone, iPad or computer screen.

While technology has allowed us some means of social connection that would have never been possible before, and has allowed us to maintain long-distance friendships that would have otherwise probably fallen by the wayside, the fact remains that it is causing us to spread ourselves too thin, as well as slowly ruining the quality of social interaction that we all need as human beings.

As Anthony Carmona once said:

“Social media websites are no longer performing an envisaged function of creating a positive communication link among friends, family and professionals. It is a veritable battleground, where insults fly from the human quiver, damaging lives, destroying self-esteem and a person’s sense of self-worth.”