Between you and me

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Many of us sit through meetings of one kind or another: business meetings, community meetings, even social gatherings. But did you know that the air we breathe in those closed spaces might not be so healthy for us? If you come out of such a gathering and the air around you then feels fresher and cooler, consider this: “Small rooms can build up heat and carbon dioxide from our breath to an extent that might surprise you.”  So explained a recent article in the Science Times section of The New York Times.

When we breathe, we exhale carbon dioxide. That gas, which we might characterize as stale air in such a situation, can actually affect decision-making as a result of its impact on the mind. Some eight studies over the past seven years have considered the effects on cognitive function in small, airless rooms over a couple of hours. The results suggest that perhaps we should not entirely trust decisions made there.

Carbon dioxide, when inhaled, dilates blood vessels in the brain and reduces activity among cerebral neurons, thus decreasing communication between brain regions. We know this to be true when a large amount of the gas is inhaled but we don’t know so much about the effect of smaller amounts. If student test results are compared in rooms with 600 parts per million (ppm)  of CO2 and similar rooms with 2,500 ppm, the scores of the test takers with the high concentration are significantly lower. It is interesting to note that carbon dioxide levels can be twice that high in some classrooms.

Such studies were repeated in the workplace, with workers taking problem-solving and strategy tests, and the results were the same. In today’s energy-sensitive world, many office buildings are better sealed, with less fresh air seeping indoors. Another interesting fact was that not every type of test showed that same result.  Less complex test material, like some proofreading, for example, did not show a comparable shift.

So the next time you are in such a situation, open a window or keep the door ajar. Perhaps the intellectual level of the conversation will rise.

Now here is another tip for better living that is also from The Times, although published a different day. For those of you who, like me, love to sit around sometimes and do nothing, here is exoneration from the charge of laziness in an otherwise busy world. The Times tells us that the Dutch call this “niksen.”

What is doing nothing, exactly? A psychologist named Doreen Dodgen-Magee, who studies this matter, likens it to a car whose engine is running but isn’t going anywhere. It’s “coming to a moment with no plan other than just to be,” she writes. She calls that boredom, which she doesn’t intend in a negative way.

But the idea of niksen is to take conscious time to do activities like gazing out of a window or sitting motionless. I like that, although it flies in the face of our always-be-productive American culture. According to some experts, “the benefits of idleness can be wide-ranging.”

Daydreaming, “an inevitable effect of idleness — literally makes us more creative, better at problem-solving, better at coming up with creative ideas,” according to Sandi Mann, a psychologist at the University of Central Lancashire in England, who has done research in this area. “Let the mind search for its own stimulation. That’s when you get the daydreaming and mind wandering, and that’s when you’re more likely to get the creativity,” she explained.

It’s not easy to do nothing and certainly to do so and not feel guilty about it. We have to set time aside deliberately to disconnect — and not just from our devices. The reward is that we can refocus with more energy. I have a chair in my living room that I can sink into and just have my mind go blank. It’s even tempting to fall asleep there, and sometimes I do for a few minutes.

Delightful! 

As of May 1 James Holzhauer won his 20th game of "Jeopardy!" Wednesday, which means he now ties for the second-longest winning streak in the show's history.

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Did you know that the Boston Tea Party, during which colonists boarded British ships anchored in Boston Harbor and pitched their precious cargoes of tea into the sea, was organized by a local chamber of commerce? In 1773, in response to the onerous Tea Act imposed on the North American colonies by the British Parliament, the Charlestown Chamber of Commerce — that’s always been a tough part of town — called its members together and dramatically displayed their displeasure at yet another tax. And the rest is history — our history. 

All of which is to say, chambers of commerce have been around for a long time and, in their own way, can be quite powerful.

How do I know about this? I was watching the television program, “Jeopardy!” the other night, fascinated by the latest contestant who has won well over a million dollars so far and in record time, when the answer to the final question about a group founded in 1599 was, “Who was the chamber of commerce?” Intrigued, I looked up the history of chambers and discovered that in Marseille, France, tradesmen had banded together at that time to protect and promote business. They called themselves “chambre de commerce,”
chartered by King Henri IV.

There are all sorts of chambers today: international, national, national-international, state, regional and particularly local such bodies. They still have the same mission and generally are respectfully regarded by the public. They tend to be a nonpartisan source of information about their towns, especially regarding business, and membership in them suggests a certain authenticity. There are roughly 4,000 local chambers in the United States today, according to the internet, and they often advocate with government on behalf of business. 

Our media group belongs to eight of them in the areas we serve across three townships. Some are larger, like Huntington and Smithtown, some are just getting started, like Rocky Point Sound Beach. Earlier this week I attended the Brookhaven Chambers of Commerce Coalition, usually referred to as the BCCC. Founded in 1992 by Barbara Ransome of Port Jefferson, among others, the BCCC was celebrating the 20th anniversary of its annual gala, honoring a member of the year chosen by each of 16 chambers. Some 230 people filled the room and patiently applauded as the chambers in turn introduced their winners.

The now-famous “Jeopardy!” contestant, James Holzhauer, did have the right answer but only barely squeaked by one of the other two challengers to enlarge his winnings and earn the right to return the next night. Holzhauer is one of the more unforgettable characters that have appeared on the show. He is both “extraordinarily knowledgeable,” as described in The New York Times, but also has brought an unprecedentedly aggressive strategy to the game program. He is, by his own description, a professional sports gambler, and starts with the high value questions first, then bets shrewdly and big on the Daily Double. He thinks nothing of interrupting the amiable chatter from host Alex Trebek and moving the pace of the traditionally polite game faster. Married, with children, he is laser focused most of the time but seems to have relaxed a bit and even joked with the audience, as the days go by and his winnings pile up.

Holzhauer is different from the long line of previous contestants in key ways. By his own admission, he is used to winning and losing large sums of money all the time, so he doesn’t tremble when he bets $60,000 on the Final Jeopardy question. And he knows he is well prepared for the game.

What is the secret to his immense knowledge of trivia? He wasn’t a diligent student in school, he admits, but he prepared for “Jeopardy!” by reading children’s books in libraries where facts are presented in an interesting way. He worked really hard to achieve his longtime goal of getting onto the game show, and he studied to win.

Three cheers then for chambers of commerce and libraries. 

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Celebrations are a beautiful thing. Besides being festive, they tell us who we are, where we come from and maybe even where we are going. For example, the Fourth of July reminds us that we are Americans, Thanksgiving Day prompts stories about our history and that we have aspects of our lives to be thankful for. Religious holidays strengthen our beliefs and traditions. And the best part of celebrations can be that they bring us together — as a nation, as sports fans of a winning team, as members of a particular block or just as a family.

My family looks to ceremonialize as much and as often as we can. The month of May has been especially kind to us in that regard this year. For starters, my oldest grandson will be graduating from college in Boston in May. My granddaughter will graduate from high school in Charlotte, North Carolina, later in the month. Both have earned their next stage in life. To continue the party, my youngest son will celebrate a big birthday at the beginning of July. We try to get together for some of the Dunaief birthdays each year. And any other excuse — new job, acceptance to college, a new success at work, an honor bestowed on a member — any occasion serves. A triumph by one can be an opportunity to rejoice by all.

Celebrations can establish traditions, and traditions can provide structure for each year. With such framework can come togetherness and the security of a community. The community can be as small as a family coming for Sunday dinner to eat the tomato sauce that’s been cooking slowly on the stove in grandma’s kitchen much of the day. Or it can be as large as one of the world’s great religions that transcend national and international boundaries. A community can be of one’s sex, or age, or station, or nationality, or village, or school district or neighborhood. There is great power in community — a defining and anchoring identity, a sense of inclusion.

So how do most people celebrate?

The answer is usually with food, but not always or only that way. For my grandson’s graduation, we will all come together in the bleachers of Fenway Park and variously cheer or boo the Red Sox, depending on our individual intelligence. We will stay in the city a couple of days and perhaps visit one of the many terrific museums. Maybe we will even take a duck boat ride on the Charles River or a swan boat ride on the Boston Common or a historic walk through the many hallowed neighborhoods. Any and all of those will make for lifetime memories that will encourage us to further celebrate by making them into traditions and perhaps repeating them or recalling them with amusement whenever we get together. Common stories are part of what unite us, as a people and as a family. Oh, and there will surely be lots of seafood throughout our stay in Beantown.

In Charlotte, we will be newcomers eager to explore the new hometown for one of my sons and his dynamic family. Before they moved, we were already acquainted with how long the flight was from here to there, and which airlines made the trip. It is inherently exciting to explore a new region of the country, with its different festivities, histories and traditions — and regional foods. By now you have surely gotten the correct impression that my family enjoys traveling and celebrating on its stomach.

For my youngest son’s birthday, there is always a baseball game involving us. He gets to stay up at bat as we take turns pitching to him, and he typically knocks the ball out of the park. Other times we get to chase it all over the field. Such is the privilege of the birthday kid.

They are completing one stage and entering the next one, members of my family, and that is so significant as to be noticed and marked with congratulations and optimism. By celebrating together, we are saying, “Well done! And we are with you all the way.”

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Listen, my children, and you shall hear

Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,

On the eighteenth of April in Seventy-Five:

Hardly a man is now alive

Who remembers that famous day and year.

So begins Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” about the famous midnight gallop that happened 244 years ago. The poem was first published in The Atlantic Monthly on January 1861, and I dutifully learned the first lines as a young student. As a result, every April 18 I think of Paul Revere. 

Who, exactly was Paul Revere?

I know that he was a talented silversmith because I have seen some of his work, starting with teapots and engravings, at antique shows. I also assumed that Revere was an ardent colonialist, hanging out with the likes of Samuel Adams and John Hancock, to whom he rode through the night in Concord to warn them of imminent capture by the British troops. That was about it until I did a little research, and here is what I found.

Revere was born in Boston on either Dec. 21, 1734, or Jan. 1, 1735, depending on different calendar conversions. That still makes him 40 years old that famous night. His father was Apollos Rivoire, a French Huguenot immigrant who had come on his own at the age of 13 to the New World and eventually married Deborah Hitchborn, the Boston-born daughter of an artisan and wharf-owning family (whose last name was also spelled Hichborn and Hitchbourn). Revere, the third of 12 children, attended school from age 7 through 13 and then learned the silversmithing trade. He was married twice, having been widowed in 1773 and remarried that same year, which means he was little more than a newlywed the night of the ride. 

In addition to his work with silver, Revere did some dentistry to augment his income. He participated in the Boston Tea Party, during which Bostonians threw tea into Boston Harbor from the holds of ships anchored there to protest against parliamentary taxation without representation. 

The colonists were increasingly angered by severe taxes imposed on them by their mother country to help repay the considerable debt Britain had incurred from fighting the French and Indian War. Revere, as a rider for Boston’s Committee on Safety, had devised a system of signals with lanterns to communicate the whereabouts of the British soldiers. Hence that night, the message was, “One, if by land, two, if by sea.” In a sense, Revere was Boston’s first media man.

With others, he was aware that the British troops might shortly be on the move because on April 16, 1775, he rode out to Concord, Massachusetts, to urge the patriots there to move their military stores to a different location.

On the night of April 18, Dr. Joseph Warren told Revere and William Dawes that the king’s troops were about to embark in boats from Boston to go to Cambridge, and from there to Lexington and Concord by road that night. Revere borrowed a swift mare named Brown Beauty, and waited on the far bank of the Charles River for the signal from the steeple of the Old North Church. Revere and Dawes made the ride from different locations should one of them be blocked from leaving Boston.

Revere, however, had the benefit of a distinguished publicist, Longfellow, who honored him accordingly. Also left out of the story was Dr. Samuel Prescott, who rode on to Concord after Revere was captured by a British patrol in Lexington. Revere soon escaped, while Dawes lost his horse and had to walk back to Lexington. But Prescott made it through to carry the warning.

Revere and the others surely did not yell, “The British are coming!” despite tales to the contrary. They were, in the final analysis, all British. They probably said, “The redcoats are coming!” and they surely didn’t yell since British troops were stationed throughout the countryside. Such is the mystique of history. 

But “that famous day and year,” we know from ensuing battles, is true and to be celebrated this day.

The cover of the first issue of The Village Times in 1976 by Pat Windrow

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

This is a week of celebrations, and it gives me great pleasure to share them with you, our readers. First is the delightful news that Times Beacon Record newspapers won 12 awards for outstanding work over the past year from the New York Press Association this past weekend.

The convention was in Albany, and we loved hearing our names called out before a group of more than 300 attendees from weeklies and dailies, paid papers and free, representing communities throughout New York state. The prizes are listed elsewhere in the paper, and I am particularly pleased that they span the two primary responsibilities we carry: good editorial coverage and attractive advertising. Those are our two masters, and we need to serve both well in order to survive.

Speaking of surviving, a major part of the convention and its workshops was concerned with just that. As most of you know, newspapers — and the media across the board — are engaged in a gigantic struggle. Small businesses, long the backbone of community newspapers like ours, are falling by the wayside. Consumers are buying from Amazon and Google. It’s so easy to toddle over to a computer in one’s pajamas and order up Aunt Tillie’s birthday present, have it wrapped and delivered in no time at all, and perhaps even save some money in the transaction. Only small stores with highly specialized product for sale can compete. Or else they offer some sort of fun experience in their shops, making a personal visit necessary. And it’s not only small stores that are disappearing. Stores like Lord & Taylor — “a fortress on Fifth Avenue,” according to The New York Times — are also gone, directly impacting publications like that esteemed paper.

But that is only one existential threat to media. The other is the drumbeat of fake news. The internet and social media have been significantly discredited as news sources. Cable television hasn’t done much better in the public’s regard. Print, which has always been considered the most reliable source of fact-based news, mainly because it takes longer to reach the readers and is vetted by editors and proofers, can be dismissed with a wave of the hand and the accusation, “Fake news!” 

On the other hand, polls show that print is still the most trusted source. And that is particularly true for hometown newspapers, where reporters and editors live among those they write about and have to answer to them in the supermarket and at school concerts.

Which brings me to my next cause for celebration. Monday, April 8, marked the 43rd anniversary of the founding of The Village Times, which began the Times Beacon Record expansion. We were there in 1976, we are here in 2019, and I believe a good measure of success is simply survival. We are still just as committed to the high ideals of a free press — carrying those ideals and passion to our website and any other of our other platforms and products — as we were that day of wild exhilaration when our first issue was mailed to our residents. We will remain so in the future with the support of the communities we serve.

There is one other happy occasion this week. My oldest grandchild, Benji, is celebrating his birthday. When Benji was born, 24 years ago, I became a grandmother. This is, as we know, a club one cannot join on one’s own. One needs a grandchild to be admitted to this lovely existence. And in addition to the joy of watching him grow up into an honorable and talented young man, I have the exceptional pleasure of working with him as he goes about his chosen career of making quality films. It was he who directed and helped write our historical movie, “One Life to Give,” and now its sequel, “Traitor.” It is he who will be the first of our family’s next generation to graduate from college next month.

I am writing this column on the eve of your birthday, Benji. Happy Birthday, Dear Grandson! And I salute your parents for letting you follow your heart. 

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

friend mentioned an article he had seen that asked the question, “What’s the best restaurant if you’re over 50?” and proceeded to ask me the same question.

Now he well knows that I am over 50, and he also knows I eat in restaurants, sometimes for business and occasionally as a social event. In fact, as we have gotten older, my friends and I seem to do less cooking each year and more splurging on dinners out when we get together. So it was a relevant question in more ways than one. I don’t know what the article he was referring to concluded, but I can tell you what is important to me when I dine in a restaurant.

First and most critical is the food. It is certainly not the ambience or even the picturesque location. Those last are pleasant enough, but the quality and taste of the meal are most vital. I like food that I would describe as, for lack of a better term, clean. That means the ingredients should be allowed to speak for themselves and should not be buried under cheese or slathered on top with butter. Both of those can make food taste good, but unless the dish particularly calls for those ingredients, they should not drown the main offering.

I also like seasoning but again not with a heavy hand. To my mind, a heavily spiced meal knocks out my taste buds. But I know lots of people, even a couple of my sons, like their food “hot.” For me, it is fun to try and analyze what spice or combination of spices make the food so tasty. Sometimes I can tell; sometimes I have to beg the answer from the chef, and surprisingly the answer is usually forthcoming. And sometimes I bring along a dear friend, who is herself a celebrated chef, to sleuth out the mystery.

I don’t have a large capacity for food at one sitting, so I frequently bring home half the meal to eat the next day. That not only makes me feel economical but also not wasteful, and I especially like a meal that will still be tasty when it is reheated. Not all dishes are up to that challenge, but occasionally one, like chicken, will be even better after it has lolled around in its spices in my fridge for 24 hours.

When I go out to a restaurant with other people, I need to hear them when they speak. I also do not care to shout while I am chewing. That means it has to be reasonably quiet wherever we are eating. And unless the experience is deliberately family style, which can be fun, I don’t care to be stuffed into a crowd of diners. A moderate distance between tables is nice. So is a comfortable chair. I try not to be interested in the conversation at the next table — although there have been a few exceptions to which I will admit — and a little privacy is welcome. That also helps to keep the ambience low key. Ditto for the background music, if there is such. I am not looking to have my large intestine jitterbug during a meal.

Finally, it is pleasant to have a waiter or waitress who is not conspicuously weighed down by the problems of the world. Although I well understand that being a server in a restaurant is one of the hardest jobs, because pleasing so many different people with so many individual tastes has to be challenging, I prefer not having to deal with someone cranky or impatient. It is helpful when servers introduce themselves by name because it facilitates getting their attention and nicely personalizes the service in both directions. And I feel the tip ought not be an automatic percentage. That’s just a minimum. Exceptional service should be acknowledged in the one way that is most meaningful. That person after all is earning his or her bread, even as we are eating ours.

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

For those of us who daily or occasionally drive into Manhattan, it looks like congestion pricing is going to happen. New York would be the first such city in the nation to impose this, but other countries have embraced charging vehicles entering the downtowns of their major cities as a solution to overcrowding, accidents and especially air pollution and revenue shortfalls. London, Stockholm and Singapore have congestion pricing, although critics insist that it is an unfair tax that particularly targets the poor who do not otherwise have easy access to public transportation.

Debate on this subject has continued ever since former mayor, Michael Bloomberg (R, I), introduced the idea in 2008. But the state, which has to approve such a move, wasn’t interested then. Now, however, with shortfalls in income tax revenue coupled with the immediate need to upgrade the city’s deteriorating subway system pressing upon them, the legislators seem to be agreeing to approve the move. The Democratic Assembly had been the holdout but at this point is willing to charge for city driving. The Senate has indicated support, as has Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Mayor Bill de Blasio (D). Suburban legislators are willing to go along with the plan if some of the added revenue will be
designated for commuter railroads.

Once having reached this remarkable consensus, work still remains for most to agree on what exemptions to allow. So far these might include drivers who are poor, have disabilities or are going to medical appointments, according to this week’s articles in The New York Times. The more exemptions, the less revenue, as the legislators well recognize. One pricing plan is projected to raise about $1 billion annually.

So how would we be affected?

Electronic tolls might be imposed on vehicles heading south from 60th Street to the Battery. “That money would, in turn, be used to secure bonds totaling $15 billion for MTA capital projects through 2024,” according to The Times. Some consideration would include a credit for drivers entering the congestion zone through tolled tunnels or the Henry Hudson Parkway on Manhattan’s West Side, as well as for drivers coming over the Brooklyn Bridge to travel north on the East River, or FDR Drive beyond the zone.

One Queens assemblyman, David Weprin (D), insists that all city residents should be exempted, pointing out that many in Queens do not have public transportation. This is the type of detail still being discussed.

In Central London, where congestion pricing has been in effect since 2003, drivers pay about $15 per day to enter the roughly 15-square-mile zone between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. Those with disabilities are exempt, while residents living in the zone pay 10 percent of the fee to enter during those hours. The plan has been a success in many ways, earning £122 million (about $160 million) a year net benefit in 2005-06, although some aspects are being updated this year. The number of vehicles in the zone has decreased by some 25 percent in the last decade. However, the private hire vehicles, like Uber, which have not been taxed, have increased by more than 75 percent from 2013-17. City officials are looking to change that
exemption this year.

Further, the number of private cars in Central London has fallen by 39 percent between 2002-14, while cycling has increased by 210 percent from 2000-16. Congestion in London, though, is still a severe problem, the blame now being placed on those same private hire vehicles and more deliveries. The congestion zone there is less than 1.5 percent of the city.

In Stockholm, there is a variable charge in the congestion zone, depending on the time of day, distance and location, with a maximum of about $11.30. Technological advances make such determination possible. The zone covers two-thirds of the city, as opposed to London, but then London is eight times the size of Stockholm. Londoners may soon be subject to all of London falling into the zone, as well as fees applying on weekends and for all road users. London’s changes, after 16 years, may predict where New York’s plan may morph.

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Probably the worst part of the fraud committed by parents to get their children into top colleges is the message it sends to their children. The parents are saying plainly that the children are not capable of succeeding on their own. Regardless of what they may have told their children, actions speak louder than words, and these parents have demonstrated that in order to succeed, one has to lie, cheat, bribe and otherwise con one’s way to the goal. 

And what is the goal here? Just getting into college, not making a million-dollar deal or getting on Easy Street for life. Yes, a college degree usually helps a person to get a better job. It also supposedly helps that person to become a more developed human. But a college graduate is merely on the threshold of the rest of his or her life, with no guarantees of any sort except the number of years one has spent in schools.

There are colleges considered top tier, but they promise nothing more than a sheepskin if one passes all the requisite courses. Are the professors better in a top-tier college? One might think that. Or one might suspect that some of the big name faculty use postgraduate teaching assistants to do the daily teaching with little student contact while they do research, travel to give lectures and win grants, contributing to the university’s standing more than to that of the students’ education. A top college degree might be a good name to drop in social circles, but in a long life performance is ultimately what counts.

Who gets the benefit of that name? Is it the child? Or is it the parents when relating the successes of their offspring? I remember a cartoon in one of the magazines about the time my children were going through that nerve-racking period of receiving acceptances — and rejections. In the center of the cartoon was the back of a car, with a close-up of the rearview window. And at the bottom left corner of the window, proudly displayed, was the sticker of the desired college, followed by the words, “also accepted in” with the other top-tier college stickers paraded across the width of the glass. Exactly whose victory was that touting? Why, that of the parents, of course. Many of the kids probably didn’t have a car or couldn’t even drive yet.

Now let’s be honest here. Some parents have always tried to help their kids succeed, whether by throwing in a hand with the eighth-grade science project or polishing French pronunciation. And those parents who could afford it have sometimes made lavish donations to colleges in the hopes of aiding the admissions process. But those donations, if they build a new room for the library or contribute to the purchase of equipment in the lab, ultimately help many students. Most important, they are visible and not dishonest. And whether we like it or not, people with more money sometimes use their money to their own advantage. Even the ability to pay for tutoring for the SATs divides the students into the haves and the have-nots. But that’s not illegal.

The other truism is this. Whether in college or in life or just inputting on a computer, garbage in means garbage out. If a student is committed and diligent about studying in college, and there are many good colleges in this country, that student will benefit from the college experience. The opposite is also true. It doesn’t so much matter where one goes to college, but rather what one gets from the college in addition to the piece of paper documenting one’s attendance and tuition payments.

My granddaughter is a high school senior this year and waiting to hear where she will go for the next four years. We all are waiting to hear with her. She has already received acceptances so she knows she will be a college student by fall. Wherever she goes, she will get there honestly and because of the exceptional person that she is. We are so proud of her.

 

 

Leah Dunaief

By Leah S. Dunaief

So, how are those New Year’s resolutions going? Do you even remember what they were? If you are sticking to them, heartfelt congratulations. You are one of few with the discipline and tenacity to hang on. But if you are in the majority for having slipped or temporarily abandoned your resolves, here is some help. It’s called habits.

Habits can be a valuable tool to change your life, both for the better and not. By that I mean, we can slip into some unwelcome behaviors and they become habits almost before we realize it. Or we can consciously take control and set out to break or redefine or make new ones, and as they become part of a routine, they become easier to follow.

This is all far simpler than it sounds, of course. There is a whole branch of science dealing with habits, the unconscious behavioral patterns formed to deal with actions. “We do not so much direct our own actions as become shaped by them,” wrote Jeffrey Kluger in his introductory chapter for a special edition from Time Inc. called “The Power of Habits.”

He points out, by quoting Léon Dumont — the 19th century French psychologist and philosopher — that “a garment, after having been worn a certain amount of time, clings to the shape of the body better than when it was new. There has been a change in the tissue, and this change is a new habit of cohesion.” That is certainly true of the old, comfy pair of slippers that, despite their age, you hate to replace them, and the old pair of pants that have come to fit you like a glove.

Accordingly, the manner of our actions “fashion for themselves in the nervous system more and more appropriate paths.” Kluger here is again quoting Dumont, who studied the science of laughter, of gratitude, of empathy and, for our purposes here, the science of habits.

William James, the American philosopher greatly influenced by Dumont, suggested that people were little more than “bundles of habits.” The point of all this is to build on the idea that if we can shape our brains and the rest of our nervous systems the way we shape a pair of pants, we can control and redirect our lives to follow the actions we wish to take, namely our resolutions to be better.

Think about how many of our daily moves are just programmed in. We get up in the morning and automatically brush our teeth, take a shower, dress, put up the coffee, get our keys, slide behind the wheel of the car, place the coffee cup in the holder, drive to work, all probably while thinking of something else. Occasionally we are surprised to find we have arrived at our destination without consciously paying attention to the route. Almost all of that execution was the result of habit.

Well, suppose you built another step in there, like running 20 minutes on that treadmill or stationary bike collecting dust in your basement before you got into the shower. You like to watch the morning TV shows? Jog along with them as you watch. If you repeat that action for awhile, it could become a habit and presto! You are doing the recommended minutes of exercise a week without the ironclad discipline seemingly required each day.

It just becomes as much a habit as brushing your teeth. If you are forever locked into dipping into the candy jar in the evenings, and you find you are gaining weight, substitute chilled blueberries or red grapes from a cut-glass bowl within reach of your fingers. Of course you have to remember to buy the blueberries or grapes beforehand, wash them and keep them in the refrigerator at the ready.

Complex habits, like procrastination or chronic lateness or smoking are harder to unlearn — but not impossible. We can rewire ourselves, using substitutions or rewards, splinting a bad habit onto a good one for support or hanging out with those whose actions we would like to emulate.

Here’s the bottom line: We can do it. It will just take time for a new behavior to feel part of our routine, an average of two weeks or so. To become a habit will average 66 days.

Mayor Jeanne Garant Harborfront Park in Port Jefferson on March 5. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

This is the time of mixed seasonal emotions. On the one hand, the deep cabin fever that sets in with February is still with us. Winter is upon the land, the trees are skeletons, the bushes just sticks and the lawns an anemic greenish brown. Even the evergreens, instead of being a lusty hunter green, are more like a drab olive, branches hanging dutifully but limply, to remind us that all color has not entirely disappeared from view.

That’s probably also an apt description of our souls, suffering from winter’s darkness and yearning for color and warmth. Patches of snow, remnants of the recent storm, have also lost their luster and serve only to nudge us that winter still has us in its grip. So do the ever widening potholes.

But — and this is only a tiny “but” — March is here. That means we have made it through the coldest, darkest months. This weekend, we will switch to daylight savings time, so those who work past 6 o’clock in the evening will not be stumbling out from their stores and offices into the darkness. There will still be evidence of some day left. Remember, though, to drive with extra care during the week following the change, for statistics tell us there are more car incidents after losing even one hour on one’s biological clock.

Mill Creek in Port Jefferson on March 5. Photo by Kyle Barr

With the advent of March, if we hold on three weeks, comes the official start of spring. Now we know that Mother Nature doesn’t check the calendar, and we can get wicked snowstorms after spring officially begins. But that likelihood is less and would be a grand finale rather than the beginning of a long siege. So there is the smallest whiff of hope for the return of better weather. Also if you look closely at the bushes, you can see buds. Buds! That means flowers will be coming, and leaves, the bright green leaves of early spring. If we really want to get delirious about color, we can trek to Philadelphia to drink in the world’s oldest and largest indoor flower show, now happening at the Pennsylvania Convention Center until Sunday, March 10. This year’s theme is Flower Power, celebrating the contribution of flowers to our lives.

Sometimes on a winter day when the sun is shining, the sky is cloudless and intensely blue and the air, with its low humidity, crisp and invigorating. For those who ski downhill or through the woods, snowshoe or ice skate or even take a walk on a country road, the scene is poetic, an artist’s dream. To come inside after such activity and be greeted with the scent of hearty soup or freshly baked chocolate chip cookies is a treat most keenly appreciated when the temperature is low.

As the season turns, and we think about putting away the shovels and salt — not yet though! — we can also cheer ourselves on a bit by conjuring up the benefits of winter. What are they, you ask? Well, no mosquitoes for one. And the ticks have disappeared. No lawn to mow, although we do sometimes have to shovel snow, so that’s probably only a trade-off at best. We can gain a few pounds and hide beneath our tunics and sweaters until the change in wardrobe forces us to acknowledge the slothful truth. There are no emergency calls to fix the air conditioner in winter. But the boiler is no angel either. It always seems to give way on the coldest nights. A dark and cold winter night can be cheered with a crackling fire, as we sit before the fireplace sipping a favorite beverage and exchanging deep thoughts with a loved one. Even the dog seems to enjoy the warmth and glow, curling up at our feet.

But we are willing to cast all that away for the excitement of spring, with its birdsong, flowers and warmth. The return of light, longer with each day, is a magical salve for our moods. Just for a little while longer, dear friends, hang in there.

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