Take this simple positivity test and remember the magic number

three smiling boxes and one frowning box

What if I told you the secret to happiness and success is a line and a number?

The line is called the Losada line and the number is 2.9013 which is the ratio of positive to negative interactions you need to have to be happy and successful. Simply put, you need to have at least three positive interactions to every negative one to be happy.

The Losada line and ratio came out of a study done in 2005 by two psychologists, Marcial Losada and Barbara Fredrickson who analyzed the interactions of management teams and how successful they were. The mathematical formula they used was subsequently challenged and discredited by some experts, but many psychologists still cite their work and adopt the principles of the Losada line in sport, business, and to help individuals achieve positive mental health.

They found if teams generate more than 2.9013 positive feelings, emotions or interactions to every 1 negative feeling, emotion or interaction, the team has positive energy needed to feel good about themselves and flourish. A 5:1 ratio is a culture everyone wants to be part of. Teams below the Losada line of 2.9013 have a deteriorating culture, and at 0.73 to 1, the team culture destructs.

In another study, Dr. John Gottman looked at similar research in marriages. Gottman claims he can predict divorce with 90% accuracy by counting the number of positive versus negative interactions a couple has.

In marriage, the magic ratio is 5:1 (why the ratio is higher in marriage is an interesting question, presumably because marriage is hard and there are two individuals’ happiness at stake!)

Happy couple have at least 5 positive interactions for every negative one. You can read more about Gottman’s study and the types of positive interactions between happy couples here.

This week’s #HappyAct is to take the personal positivity test and strive to increase your personal to negative interactions to 3:1 or higher. Gottman also has a quiz on his website called “How Well Do You Know Your Partner” (note you have to provide your email address to get the results emailed to you but a summary pops up on the screen as soon as you provide your email).

And don’t worry if you score low initially on the personal positivity test. I expected to because I’m at home nursing a broken ankle right now. Think of it more as a check in with how you’re feeling, then start working towards improving your positive interactions and on a path to better mental health and happiness.

You’re never too old

Teenager Clare with Santa

You’re never too old to learn something new

You’re never too old to get your picture taken with Santa

You’re never too old to dance when no one is watching

You’re never too old to skinny dip

You’re never too old to snuggle

You’re never too old to listen with your heart

You’re never too old to sing loud and clear for all to hear

You’re never too old to seek out new adventures

You’re never too old to love

You’re never too old to share a smile and a laugh

You’re never too old to play

You’re never too old to believe

This week’s #HappyAct is dedicated to my father-in-law John Swinton who turns 91 tomorrow. Many happy returns.

A Christmas Memories Box

Christmas tree with cardinal garland

We finally decorated the house for Christmas this weekend. Twenty minutes in, Clare shook her head in disgust and asked, “Can someone become Jewish?”

You see my family doesn’t approve of my decorating skills which are somewhere between a cross of Clark Griswold and anything on the Worst Tacky Decorated Homes for the Season list. Last year after we were done, and I asked everyone how the house looked, Clare surveyed the room blandly and said, “It looks like Christmas barfed up all over the house.”

So this year I tried to take their criticism to heart and not put out every broken ceramic Santa and faded snowman cushion.

The one area I refuse to scale back on is tree decorations. Every year when we open up the box with the ornaments for the tree, Clare says we have way too much and should throw some of it away. But I can’t. To me, our battered old green box is a treasure trove of memories. Each ornament tells a story of a different period in our lives.

There are ornaments I painted by hand after I finished a term at university when I was in my twenties, ornaments made by the kids out of popsicle sticks when they were toddlers, and decorations from every trip we’ve ever taken as a family.

There are ornaments that reflect every aspect of our lives: birdhouses and kayaks, dogs, bagpipers, skates, hockey, musical instruments, wine glasses, plenty of fish (we have an entire tree of fish ornaments!), even a Grinch one that says “2020: Stink, Stank, Stunk”. 

There are scores of snowmen because every year Dave’s sister MaryAnne gave the girls a snowman ornament. When they move out, our tree will become less cluttered. And there are at least half a dozen cardinals in memory of loved ones who can no longer be with us in person, but are always with us in spirit at this time of the year. This year I found a beautiful cardinal ribbon garland we added to the tree in memory of my two sister-in-laws who passed away from cancer.

So I will continue unapologetically to put every ornament in my Christmas memory box on the tree. Tacky be damned.

This week’s #HappyAct is to cherish the memories the holidays bring.

Stink Stank Stunk 2020 ornament

Take back Christmas

Bentley beside my holiday urn

I watched Bad Mom’s Christmas last week. There’s a line in the movie when Moms Amy, Kiki and Carla rebel against the pressure of trying to create the perfect Christmas for their families and declare they are “taking back Christmas”.

I’m not sure at what point Christmas became a thing we needed to take back. If I had to pinpoint a timeframe, I’d say somewhere in the early 2000s, when gifts spiralled into electronics costing hundreds and thousands of dollars, pre-lit trees made an appearance, and suddenly decorating your yard became a Griswold-like affair.

Wise man Dave especially hates how commercialized Christmas has become. I’m still a lover of the holiday season, but admit I sometimes feel the pressure of finding the perfect gift, and especially this year, finding time to decorate, bake, send out cards and all the trappings and wrappings of Christmas.

So this year, I’m pledging to Marie-Kondo-the-flock-of-sheep out of Christmas by only doing things that bring me joy.

This is what brings me joy over the holidays:

  • Collecting pine boughs and decorating festive urns (what doesn’t bring me joy? When Bentley eats all the twigs with the red berries I picked)
  • Watching a small town Santa Claus parade—highlights this year were the unicycle club from the local high school, seeing our friend Jay ride the beat up Zamboni they use to clear Sydenham Lake rink, and of course the jolly old elf himself—even Dave was singing Christmas carols
  • Going to a church cantata or concert and listening to holiday music
  • Watching Christmas movies eating homemade caramel corn in front of a crackling fire and festive tree
  • Getting together with the neighbours and of course, spending time with family

You’ll note shopping and wrapping didn’t make my nice list, so I think I’ll cut back this year.

So who’s with me? This week’s #HappyAct is to take back Christmas or Hannukah, or whatever you celebrate. Seek joy and peace this holiday season and avoid the trappings.

Santa Claus float in parade
Old Zamboni in parade

Seven holiday movies you can watch in November

Scenes from Office Christmas Party

There is a raging debate that goes on in our household this time of year: how soon is too soon to start watching holiday movies and listening to Christmas music.

Dave and the girls are on the bah humbug, Scrooge side of the mistletoe, saying November is way too early, whereas I’m ready to curl up with a cup of tea or some hot chocolate and start watching holiday movies as soon as the first feathery snowflakes start to fall.

In the spirit of the holiday season and keeping harmony in households across the nation, this week my gift to you is my personal list of holiday flicks that will keep everyone in your family happy from now until December. I’ve checked it twice and all of these selections have some naughty bits but made it on my nice list:

Laurie’s list of holiday movies you can watch in November

  • Bad Mom’s Christmas: a sequel to the popular Bad Moms, rebellious Moms Amy, Kiki and Carla rebel against the pressure to create the perfect holiday for their families
  • Love Actually: I’ve always loved this ensemble movie for its beautiful acting (the scene where Emma Thompson sits on her bed listening to Joni Mitchell after she learns her husband is having an affair is masterful) and exploration of the meaning of love on different levels
  • Just Friends: still one of my favourite Ryan Reynolds’ movies of all time—a Hollywood movie executive Chris Brander finds himself stranded in his hometown over Christmas with his psychotic pop diva client played by Anna Ferris. The scene where Reynolds visits his former flame’s house and Ferris shows up makes me laugh out loud every single time 
  • The Family Stone: Another great ensemble cast movie about a dysfunctional family and the ties that bind the ones we love set over the holidays
  • The Holiday: Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz switch houses and lives for two weeks over Christmas
  • The Holidate: this Netflix original is a cute romcom starring Emma Roberts who finds a guy who agrees to be her plus-one for every holiday all year long
  • Office Christmas Party: Tired of going to boring office Christmas parties? Grab some spiked nog and enjoy this epic ultimate party thrown by a bunch of employees whose company is failing and vow to go out with a bang. Starring Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman with Kate McKinnon stealing the show as the HR person.

Of course, if you really want to embrace the Christmas/non-Christmas holiday movie debate, you can always watch Die Hard.

Finally, here are three movies I wouldn’t bother with that are on the naughty list: Four Christmases, New Year’s Eve and Bad Santa. And any Hallmark/Women’s Channel movie–all the producers deserve coal in their stockings for the terrible tripe this movies have become.

Kind it forward

Dalai Lama quote: When we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner peace and happiness

“Do things for people not because of who they are or what they do in return, but because of who you are.”
– Harold S. Kushner, prominent American rabbi, and author.

Today is World Kindness Day, a day to celebrate and promote good deeds and kindness. Last week I reflected on the state of kindness in the world in “Take the high road”. This week, I’m adjuring all of us to do one #KindAct to spread happiness and kindness in the world. Here are some ideas on how you can kind it forward:

Ways to kind it forward

  1. Reach out to a friend or family member you haven’t spoken to in a while.
  2. If there’s been a rift, forgive them. Apologize and be a good listener.
  3. It seems everyone is sick with some kind of cold or flu right now. Take someone who’s feeling under the weather a bowl of soup, magazine or some baked goods.
  4. Many communities right now are holding food drives for their local food bank. I spoke to our local food bank the other day and their shelves are desperately low and they anticipate higher demand with food prices soaring. South Frontenac Township is holding a food drive during the whole month of November. You can drop off items at the arena, 4432 George Street or 2490 Keeley Road.
  5. This one’s my favourite: do a random act of kindness that will make someone’s day, like buy a coffee for the next person in line or the drive-through or leave a beautiful card with an inspirational saying in a neighbour’s mailbox.
  6. Hug your family and tell them you love them.
  7. Be kind to yourself.

Kindness isn’t a day. It isn’t a single act. It defines who we are as individuals and a society and who we aspire to be.

The best way we can make the world more kind is simply engaging, listening and caring for others.

What will your act of kindness be today? More importantly, what will it be tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that? Leave a comment—I’d love to hear about how your day went.

The King of Chips

Dunn's potato chip bag

Anyone who knows the Swintons, knows we love food. After all, one of our favourite sayings is “You can call me anything, just don’t call me late for supper.”

So for our family to anoint a food as the best ever is a big deal. Well, I’m happy to report that we’ve discovered the best potato chips in the world and can officially declare Dunn’s dill pickle potato chips the King of Chips.

You probably know Dunn’s, the famous Montreal deli known for their smoked meat and dill pickles that has been around since 1927. I was trying to find out when they started to make their potato chips and couldn’t find anything on their website, but they started selling their chips in Costco in 2020, and the rest, they say is history.

What makes them the King of Chips? In a word, they are simply, perfection. Each rippled bite contains a burst of dill and garlic flavour that sends your mouth into its very own happy place.

You know how with some chips, after half a bowl, you get that tart, yucky after taste in your mouth? Not with Dunns. They are so good, you could probably eat a whole bag in one sitting (but don’t try it, the bag is humungous)! One person on Dunn’s Facebook page described them as “heaven in my mouth”.

What gives us the authority to declare them King of Chips? Well, in addition to eating a few different brands of chips in our day, our family has been on three different potato chip factory tours: Herr’s in Pennsylvania, Cape Cod potato chips in Cape Cod, and the Old Covered Bridge chip factory in New Brunswick. Herr’s was definitely the best tour since you were right on the factory floor, eating chips after they came off the conveyor belt.

I also lived with the ultimate chip connoisseur for a year, my old college roommate Scott Milne, aka Skeeter Milkman, or just “the Milkman”. I never knew anyone who loved chips as much as Scott. He’d make up not one, not two, but three different kinds of dips for any chip-eating event like watching the Toronto Maple Leafs get smoked on a Saturday night. His signature dip was some strange ketchup and mayonnaise concoction, a staple in his chip repertoire.

So Scotty, if you’re reading this week’s blog, I’ll let you render the final ruling: are Dunn’s Dill Pickle Potato Chips the King of Chips? Leave a comment.

And for the rest of you dear readers, give your mouth a happy act, and buy a bag today at Costco—they’re worth the cost of the membership alone.

Happy munching!

Just hang in there

Happy couple of 30 years

This weekend, Dave and I celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. We’ve always been there for each other and supported one other, but I’m sure if you asked Dave, he’d say at times it hasn’t been easy living with me. (He on the other hand is the President’s Choice of Husbands).

I think the best advice I ever received about how to have a long, successful marriage was from an older gentleman who I met earlier this year at the Old Mill in Toronto. Leslie and I were there having brunch, and were seated next to a large party, a family celebrating some special occasion.

At the end of the brunch, while his children and grandchildren were visiting, the gentleman who was sitting at the head of the table must have noticed me watching him so I smiled at him and he smiled back.

He reminded me of my father with piercing blue eyes, a kind smile and gentle goodness about him. After a few minutes, he came over to talk to me.

We exchanged greetings and chatted casually as strangers do. When I asked if it was a special occasion, he told me he and his wife were celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary. He told me how he met his wife, and a bit about their life together. When I asked what the secret to a long, successful marriage was, he thought for a moment, then answered, “Just hang in there.”

Such sage, simple advice.

To my loving husband of 30 years, thanks for hanging in there with me. As we often say, I can’t imagine going through this crazy life with anyone but you.

What’s your once a day?

Lake and clouds

When life is challenging, it’s important to have an escape, something that helps take your mind off things and help you face what’s to come. For me, it’s always been swimming.

Last Saturday was a particularly difficult day. I was in Westport helping my brother-in-law. I knew it was going to be a long, stressful day. In between chores and calls, I slipped down to Westport Beach for 45-minutes and went for a long swim in Sand Lake.

The minute I splashed into the water, all the stresses and sadness began to wash away. My weary eyes concentrated on the beautiful sunshine sparkling on the water and dreamy white clouds floating up above. With each stroke, I swam away from my troubles, towards what I thought was a white buoy bobbing in the water, but on closer inspection was a very large gull. I felt cleansed, refreshed and at peace with what would come.

For my neighbour Kim, her once a day is her garden. As long as she can spend 30 minutes a day in her garden, she feels happy, balanced, ready to face what life brings.

Dave says his once a day is to look at our beautiful lake and remind himself every day how lucky we are, knowing there are so many people in the world who are not so fortunate.

What’s your once a day? Leave a comment.

The end or the beginning

Special guest blogger in sunlight

Special guest post by Dave Swinton

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the end.  How will it unfold?  How will people remember me? Will people remember me at all?

What will be my most remembered quality? Hardworking, caring, empathetic, or just a latent comedian telling lame jokes to captive family members.

I have also been thinking about some other people near and dear to me who are also thinking about the same subject.

For me it is only about retirement; for others it is a different beginning.

I am always in awe of how my father at 91 views his future as not an end but rather a new beginning. An ascension from his earthly form to something much better.

Always a deeply religious person, he sees a new beginning with my mother and all the benefits of a life deeply rooted in faith.

For me it is much simpler. Puttering around my gardens, cutting firewood with the odd day of fishing sprinkled in. Long walks with our dog and of course spending endless days travelling with my loving partner.

The point is to think less about the end of one chapter and more about the beginning of the next.