Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 3.4.18

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

  • Here's an interesting – and positive – development. Sunny Spain enjoyed a boom in investment in solar energy before La Crisis saw the government abandon - overnight – its subsidies for the industry. Cue collapse. But investors are now again betting on solar power. Sharp falls both in the price of solar panels and in construction costs have changed the economics and new projects are moving forward again. 
  • As an aside . . . Rather less sunny Germany maintained its subsidies and now has more than 40,000 megawatts of solar power, compared with 5,400 in Spain at the end of 2015. All that said, Spain's government still doesn't see solar power as a priority. Noted one commentator: We only use the sun for tourism not for electricity. Long-termism against short-termism, I guess. Which is surely what our friend Mr Warner would've expected.
Life in Spain
  • For whatever reason, Spaniards seem to be rather more at ease with blood and gore than other Europeans. Last weekend saw the first fatal goring of the year – during a bull-run in Cádiz – and, if so inclined, you can now view it on Youtube. And, indeed, on The Local. Or, I'm certain, the Spanish News programs on TV. There was also a death on the Catedrales beach here in Galicia and I got to wondering if the poor woman had been filmed falling down a cliff we'd now be able to witness her landing – and dying - at the bottom of it. Well, I say, 'wondering' but I know the answer, of course.
  • I've just seen on my news feed that the UK's worst newspaper, the Daily Mail on Line, has a video of the Cádiz goring, albeit with a warning that some viewers might find it upsetting. So, that's alright then.
  • Just in case you're not familiar with Spain's (eerie?) Semana Santa processions, here's an El País article on the subject, in English. It has to be said it's not Spain's fault that the Ku Klux Klan copied the bizarre garb of the anonymous penitents.
  • El País here asks What do visitors from Europe, Japan and Africa make of Spain’s religious processions? They find them crazy, is the short answer. Why? Try these fotos.
  • Personally, I find the little kids dressed as (?)soldiers of Christ to be the hardest to take. But that's what atheism does for you, I guess. Not to mention rejection of Catholic indoctrination.

  • Finally on this subject, a pertinent query re the penitents . . . .
Does anyone know what's going on inside those in the procession?

The EU
  • Prague is to ban bikes from historic squares and streets. What a great idea.
  • Livy, a couple of thousand years ago: The language of men bred up in courts is always full of vain ostentation and false testimony, every one indifferently magnifying his own master, and stretching his commendation to the utmost extent of virtue and sovereign grandeur.  
  • Plus ça change. Or whatever that is in Latin.
  • Could being British hold the secret to long-term happiness? Read the article below for one answer to this question:-

© David Colin Davies, Pontevedra: 31.3.18

Could being British hold the secret to long-term happiness?

Martin Seligman believes the secret of happiness doesn’t reside in the power of now, but in the way we feel about the future Credit: Digital Vision /Plume Creative 

Mindfulness. Living in the moment. The Self Care Revolution. Barely a week goes by without another earnest self help book promising fulfilment.

Fed up about the month-long wait for the next bank holiday? There’s a book for that. Feeling blue about Brexit? And that. Work-life balance bringing you down? That too.

The search for happiness has become something of a national obsession in recent years, as we’ve craved contentment the Danish way, with candlelit hygge; the Swedish way, with lifestyle balancing lagom; and even given shelfspace to Norway’s cosy concept of koselig.

But according to the founding father of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, we would be better taking our cue much closer to home. There’s a growing body of evidence that the British way could be the key to optimism. It seems the perennial cry, “Cheer up love, it may never happen”, is a far more useful mantra in boosting the national mood than any guide to inner joy.

Why? Because Seligman believes the secret of happiness – or as he prefers to put it, optimism and hope – doesn’t reside in the power of now, but in the way we feel about the future. In his new book, The Hope Circuit: A Psychologist’s Journey from Helplessness to Optimism, he makes a compelling case for looking forward, in every sense.

“We call ourselves ‘homo sapiens’, which means ‘wise man’, but we are actually ‘homo prospectus’, because we thrive when we consider our prospects and it is our species’ ability to create civilisation and sustain complex societies that makes us unique,” says Seligman.

“Thinking about the future can lift our spirits or it can make us depressed and anxious. In recent years I have found myself drawn to understanding why optimists bounce back from adversity and what valuable lessons that can teach pessimists.”

New Yorker Seligman, 75, is the author of numerous books and a former president of the American Psychological Association. He was also the inspiration behind David Cameron’s Happiness Index, which the former PM launched in 2010 amid much sniggering.

Whereas Americans have the pursuit of happiness enshrined in their Declaration of Independence, here in Britain we are far less comfortable with conspicuous displays of emotion. Unless you have won a reality TV programme, the lottery or backed the 3.15pm winner at Lingfield Park, too much joie de vivre is viewed with narrow-eyed suspicion.

“I know that the whole ‘Have a nice day’ thing is not the British way,” says Seligman, whose wife is from the UK. “But your traditions, your history and your resilience in adversity demonstrates your optimism as a nation.” Incidentally, the most recent Office for National Statistics happiness index shows we are enjoying the highest level since 2011, with happiness at 7.50 out of 10.

Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology Credit: David Mariuz

“Is there room for improvement?” asks Seligman. “Yes, because people who have a sense of hope about the future are happier, more fulfilled and have a greater sense of well being.”

Seligman’s philosophy harks back to the famous experiment carried out at the University of Stanford in the Sixties and Seventies, when pre-school children were sat at a desk with two marshmallows. They were told they could either eat one straight away or be given both after an unspecified time.

The children who resisted temptation and focused on the prize of two treats, demonstrated greater self control and showed themselves able to defer gratification. In follow-up studies years later, they were found to be not only slimmer and better socially adapted, but they also scored higher points in college application tests than the most impatient children.

“We know that individuals who can think ahead and feel optimistic about what their future holds tend to plan better, save money, invest in strong relationships and stay engaged,” says Seligman. “So the question is how can we use their mindset to boost those who feel more pessimistic?”

Interestingly, in the course of his 50-plus-year career, Seligman has come to positivity relatively late. At the start, he and the rest of his profession were far more interested in its absence.

He gained fame in 1965 for coining the phrase “learned helplessness”, following his experiments on dogs, in which animals were given electric shocks (itself horribly upsetting to our 21st century sensibilities). A bell would ring and the dogs would be given a light shock. After a number of these, the dogs started to react as soon as they heard the bell; conditioned to expect a shock from which there was no escape.

Seligman says he has spoken to Theresa May's people Credit: RUSSELL CHEYNE

Next, they were each placed in a large crate divided down the middle with a low fence the animals could easily jump over. The floor on one side was electrified. When Seligman administered a light shock, he expected the dogs to jump to the other, non-electrified, side.  But experience from the first part of the experiment told the dogs there was no escape from the shocks, so instead, two thirds of them lay down and accepted their fate; they had learned helplessness.

“Back then psychology focused on misery and suffering and how trauma affects well being,” says Seligman. “But as time went on I became interested in the third of the dogs who refused to succumb to hopelessness. “Research into people found that a similar proportion would always keep going and bounce back, no matter what we threw at them. I wanted to learn more about their inherent optimism.”

Seligman’s interest is in populations rather than individuals, and how people react en masse to events and perceived threats, although he does take a swipe at the current vogue for mindfulness.

“Mindfulness is a bit overblown,” he says, dismissively. “Staying absorbed in the moment is a distraction from looking to the future – ours and the world’s. “The trouble is there’s a gap between our personal optimism, which averages at six out of 10, and our global optimism, which is as low as three or four out of 10.”

He places blame on the media, but also on national leaders who employ the politics of fear over hope. “Our media brings us bad news about all the things going wrong and it’s impossible not to feel anxious when confronted with footage of wars, famines, floods and terrorism,” he says. “The reality is that over the past 200 years, and especially the past 60, things have got objectively better for so many people in healthcare, education, life expectancy, infant mortality. There is hope for the future, but you’d be hard-pressed to know it watching the latest news bulletin.”

As far as politics are concerned, Seligman has kept a close eye on US and European elections, as well as Brexit.  In America, analysis of swing voters who eventually plumped for Trump has revealed that 30 per cent voted for him because they believed their wellbeing would be worse in five years – and it was his hugely positive message of hope that swayed them (just five per cent were influenced by economics, on the other hand).

"I’ve had talks with Theresa May’s people and right now I feel that leaders need to stop dwelling on what’s wrong and instead tell the public they are going to build on what’s right,” says Seligman. This could certainly account for Mrs May’s recent stirring rhetoric about post-Brexit Britain. Talking up such a momentous event is crucial, not just for morale but in order to cement success.

“After Brexit things may or may not be wonderful, but right now it’s important to believe in a positive future and that is not going to happen unless your country seizes opportunities and plans for that future with hope,” he adds.

We Brits might not care for happiness hyperbole, but Seligman might just be right - an injection of optimism never goes amiss. Providing of course, that we don’t talk about it and are allowed to just keep calm and carry on.

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