Love is All Around Us

Haven’t we often had trouble paying attention to our parents at dinner because we’re too busy checking our phones to see if that one person texted us back? Mom might be trying to have a conversation with us, asking about how our day went. All we’re giving is cold, short answers. We’re there, but we’re not there. I know and admit with plentiful guilt that this has been me.

Love, in a unique sense, is one’s connection to the world. An experience that we create rather than something we have to wait for to be given. But the truth is, we ever so often take little moments of love for granted. I often think about, if I ever reached a point where I only had the chance to experience one more day of life, what would I want? The answer always comes back to this. I would want to re-see and feel again, all the love and beauty that I take for granted. The music that gives me goosebumps. The feeling of putting on a warm pair of fuzzy socks in a wintery morning. The softness of the hands of a loved one. The cozy feeling of newly washed linens against my skin. The chirpings of the birds that wake me up every school morning, or the warmth on my face from the sun on a frosty day, giving the rare moment of apricity. These are the moments, the moments that connect me to the world and make me appreciate my special little place within it.

I recently took an Architecture course to try something new and different. It sounds odd at first glance, but even a rudimentary understanding of architecture and buildings gave me a deeper appreciation for them. When I stumbled across the Amazon Spheres located in Seattle, Washington, I wondered why it houses 40,000 plants from 50 different countries. Architects at NBBJ chose to build these Spheres over the last seven years with the goal of inspiring Amazon’s employees to generate new ideas through an immersion into the nature. Every piece of architecture we see on a daily basis similarly took significant amount of time and energy to build. When we connect with it, try to understand it, that’s what generates love!

“A meaningful life is built on many different forms of love”, writes Natasha in her book Conversations on Love. So there is no need to yearn fretfully for love and wonder why it isn’t here — it is right here when we start to view our world differently by recognising, love, it’s all around us…

⁃ SaaniaSparkle 🧚🏻‍♀️

The Power of Storytelling

An ancient parable remains close to my heart: a Jewish man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was attacked by robbers, leaving him half dead. A priest and a Levite saw him, yet passed by. But a Samaritan came to where the man was and bandaged his wounds. Then, put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn, and cared for him until he healed. Today, this beautiful story is the etymology of the phrase “good Samaritan”, a person who is a “neighbor” not just to people of their own group (at the time, intense hostility existed between Samaritans and Jews). We understand it, remember it, and retell it later because the idea of love, compassion, and a man crossing a tremendous social gulf to help a wounded man sticks with us. The story may even change behaviors as we remember to help others in times of distress. Legendary stories like these encapsulate: stories hold a miraculous power.

Made to Stick is a book I read written by two brothers, Chip Heath, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University and Dan Heath, a senior member for Social Entrepreneurship at Duke University. The brothers explain, “stories are told and retold because they contain wisdom. A story’s power is that it provides simulation (knowledge about how to act) and inspiration (motivation to act).” Being a health and fitness freak, the key example highlighted in the book sticks with me: the Jared Campaign for Subway. In the late 1990’s, Subway launched a campaign to tout the healthiness of a new line of sandwiches. This campaign was based on the statistics: seven subs under six grams of fat. Sounds pretty good yeah? But this 7 under 6 idea didn’t stick quite like Subway’s next campaign which focused on the remarkable story of Jared. Jared, a college student, was seriously overweight, ballooning up to 425 pounds. But by spring, Jared decided to slim down. He had his first Turkey sub. He eventually developed his own all-Subway diet: a foot long veggie sub for lunch and a six-inch turkey sub for dinner. After 3 months of this diet, he dropped almost 100 pounds. Coad and Barry, president of the advertising agency Hal Riney, found out about this and thought, “we’ve got a great story on our hands”. They decided to run an advertisement for regional Subway franchisees. The idea blew the internet. Unlike the 7 under 6 idea which only held logos, the tale of Jared holds a simulation value as well as pathos, the emotional resonance. Perhaps we’re not all looking to lose weight. But ‘fighting big odds and prevailing through perseverance’ rings inspiration to any ear. And inspiration drives action.

That being said, not all stories stick. Chip and Dan hence came up with 3 types of plots if our goal is to inspire others through stories. First, the challenge plot. We all recognize this one, where a protagonist overcomes a formidable challenge yet succeeds in the end, attracting triumph and glory. As someone obsessed with Disney princesses, my personal favorite, much similar to the Jared story, is the story of Princess Mulan. Mulan is a loving and determined daughter. Desperate to prevent her ailing father from being drafted by the army, she disguises herself as a man and enlists in his place. In the army, she must try to hide her true identity while battling the enemies. With determination and bravery, Mulan ends up saving both her father and her country. Seems like the quintessential challenge plot, right?

Second, the connection plot. The story of the good Samaritan fits well here. We live in a world where we are constantly surrounded by people. Connection plots are all about the relationships we make with these people. In the business world, connection plots create an emotional connection between a company, its products and its customers. Always is a company that produces period products. As a girl, watching the advert from Always titled ‘Like a girl’ made me feel proud being one. It showed a group of teens acting out certain actions such as “Can you throw like a girl?” or “Can you fight like a girl?”. Girls were illustrated as soft, wimpy, and sloppy. The ad then contrasted this by asking the same questions to little girls. These girls this time ran, threw, and fought normally. “When did doing something “like a girl” become an insult?” was the food for thought. All over the nation, this advert empowered women. Our power was unleashed!

Third, the creativity plot. As a frequent flyer, I often observe how on-flight safety instructions are given little attention by passengers. One of my favorite examples of the creativity plot is hence the one about flight attendant, Karen Wood. Karen wanted to make people care about the safety instructions on-flight. “And as the song goes, there may be fifty ways to leave your lover, but there are only six ways to leave this aircraft:…”, she spoke. It didn’t take long for passengers to tune into her comic spiel. We can’t demand attention, we must attract it. Creativity plots help us achieve this as we experiment with new approaches (within certain regulations, of course).

The power of storytelling fascinates me. Thousands of years ago, myths and legends were told through oral cultures. These developed profound ways of communicating so that cultures were kept alive. Think also about the way we get lost in fictitious worlds from books and movies. I often marvel over how the horror movies I watch haunt me in my sleep, or how tales of adventure like Princess Moana’s venture into the sea drive me to go set out on my own, or how romance novels set expectations in love I’d possibly carry with me throughout my life. In the marketing world, too, it is through storytelling that the audience is able to connect, engage, and most importantly remember messages. As Steve Jobs exceptionally summarizes, “the most powerful person in the world is the storyteller who sets the vision, values and agenda of an entire generation that is to come.”

– SaaniaSparkle 🧚‍♀️

The Psychology of Persuasion

I was once taking a stroll around my campus in the subnivean city of Seattle. On the floor, I suddenly spotted before me a petite sparrow. She was seemingly in pain and unable to fly. Around me were a good number of collegers streaming by. Several passed by and went on with their day without paying attention. The few who noticed the struggling bird or the bothered look on my face checked the social evidence around them and, seeing no one reacting with any real concern, walked on convinced that nothing is wrong. A little while later, for no other reason other than my intense love for nature and its animals, I stopped two of my friends to come and stand next to me and the bird. To my surprise, passerbys started to join us after absorbing the scene: a snow coated street, a helpless little bird, three people with troubled looks on their faces. Together we rescued the sparrow, putting her in an area of safety.

I recently read the book Influence, a New York Times Best-Seller, by Robert Cialdini on the Psychology of Persuasion. Robert, a professor of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University, explains, “when we are unsure, we are more likely to use others’ actions to decide how to behave”. Here comes the power of “the many”. A chain of restaurants in Beijing partnered with researchers as owners wanted to see if they could get customers to purchase a specific item in the menu. As it turned out, a simple label did the trick that read: “most popular”. Sales of this dish jumped by an average of 13 to 20%. Entire phobias can be gotten rid of in a similar fashion. Albert Bandura, a Canadian psychologist, provided live demonstrations of children interacting with dogs to children who had a fear of dogs. 67% of them were willing to climb into a playpen with a dog after watching the demonstration. Both examples involved achieving targets through a persuasive practice, a potent lever of influence: the social proof. Moreover, all of us have a natural desire to fit in with others. But often, we are unsure of ourselves. So, we determine the behaviours of others as more correct. During my first few days of Freshman year at the University of Washington, I was desperate to get along with other students but was unsure if I would blend in the unfamiliar American environment. I then naively assumed that everyone else had a better grasp of what they were doing. However, majority of the students must have felt equally unsure about things as me. Social proof works in a similar way where we take clues from the ones around us as to what counts as acceptable, correct, better behavior (perhaps this could also rationalize why I was hesitant to help the bird alone).

So how does this social proof manifest itself in real life?

Firstly, popularity is effective in the business world. Cavett Robert, a sales consultant, captured this principle beautifully: “since 95% of us are imitators and only 5% are initiators, we are persuaded more by the action of others rather than any proof we can offer.” Smart advertisers and marketing minds are well aware of this tendency so they use the leverage of social proof to better connect with their target audience. For instance, I looked at consumer reviews before purchasing my trendy Dyson airwrap, where I judged the opinions of ordinary people ‘like me’ as more trustworthy than the Dyson company. But there are PR companies who specialize in ensuring “great” consumer reviews on popular sites, even paying some of these reviewers. So, we as consumers can be manipulated by these shrewd, unscrupulous advertisers. We are influenced to make decisions we would never have made otherwise (there were other less expensive hair stylers than the Dyson airwrap!).

Secondly, a harsh reality in our world is that the more people do something, the more acceptable that thing becomes. So social proof might be problematic since groups of people can reach suboptimal or even outright wrong conclusions, the classical herd behavior. But “everyone’s doing it, so it must be okay” mindset is highly debatable as American writer Walter Lippmann fantastically summarized, “Where all think alike, no one thinks very much.”

Also, a very happy New Year and Happy Holidays. Here’s to a blissful 2023!

– SaaniaSparkle 🧚‍♀️

Weekend Trip to Cyprus!

“Scratch the soil anywhere in Cyprus and you’ll find traces of its magnificent past”.

This weekend, my family and I flew to Cyprus for my mom’s birthday get-away, a mystical paradise complete with stunning beaches, refreshing breeze, and mouth-watering food.

Cyprus enjoys almost 320 days of sunshine a year. Me coming from Seattle and my twin sister coming from London, we thoroughly enjoyed absorbing all the Vitamin D! 8 months of sunny weather sounds like a dream to me after the gloomy Seattle wintery rains.

The Amathus Ruins make up an archeological site with a history stretching back more than 3,000 years. Amathus was the most royal kingdom in Cyprus which was later destroyed due to the Arab invasion, but here we can see the crumbling remains of the agora (marketplace), a temple complex, and the city’s water system. Interestingly enough, the world’s largest stone vase was found in this site. It is now displayed in Le Louvre museum, Paris.

Cyprus is also home to the oldest manufactured wine in the world. The Guinness World Record claims that this wine traces its origins back to 2000 B.C. Fun Fact: in 1223, King Philip of France named it ‘The Apostle of Wines’, and it suddenly gained popularity all around Europe as ‘Commandaria’, the region of its production. I didn’t try it of course, but my parents did. It’s an amber coloured sweet dessert wine.

Cats of Cyprus

The island of Cyprus is said to have more cats than people! It is no wonder that every restaurant we went to had cats gawking at us while we ate our food. Legend has it that St. Helena brought an entire shipload of cats to the island as a solution to its serious snake problem. The snakes were supposed to be consumed by these cats. However, it appears that they loved Cyprus so much that they didn’t want to leave!

Some more clicks for you to enjoy 📸

Traditional Cypriot Meat Platter
Beach Day 🏖️

Marina Area

As always, voyaging the world helps me experience the unfamiliar and acquire new knowledge. The enchanting island of Cyprus had so much to offer, 100% recommended place to visit!

– SaaniaSparkle 🧚‍♀️

Why is delayed gratification so hard?

This is me most of the time: “I want something, I want it NOW!”. Delayed gratification, however, is our ability to resist temptations of instant pleasure. And for me, it’s not easy…

A 1960’s Stanford professor named Walter conducted the Marshmallow Experiment. A group of children were brought to a room. In the room, one white fluffy marshmallow stared at each of them. At this point, the researcher told each child that he was going to leave the room. If the child didn’t eat the marshmallow while he was away, they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow. However, if the child did eat the marshmallow, they wouldn’t get a second. These children were studied years later and were found to be more focussed, disciplined, and happier in a number of different areas of life if they had chosen not to eat the first marshmallow. These results shocked everyone. Delayed gratification is exactly this: resisting the temptation of an immediate reward in anticipation that there will be a greater reward later.

One of the most relevant examples in my own life has been around giving in to urges when it comes to food. I remember as a tween I couldn’t resist the sugary glazed iced cookies sitting on the top shelf of my pantry. It would never be long before I found myself binge eating. However, delayed gratification is when instead of feeling the satisfaction of consuming delicious foods by giving into intense cravings, we get to feel the gratification of being healthier in the long term. Since the past few months, I’ve significantly cut down on my sugar and carbs. I can genuinely attest that my body has never felt better.

Another example from my personal experiences is when it comes to physical pleasure. When I scroll through Shien or Amazon and spot a pink comfy cotton top with the perfect mix of cute and elegant, in my mind I’m telling myself: Saania, you NEED to buy this! But living the student life has made me realise that money doesn’t grow on trees and I’ll be way better off saving.

The final example I can think of is when someone speaks over me or is just too full of themselves, I have trouble controlling my urge to give them a piece of their mind. Often in a not-so-polite manner. However, this reaction leads to arguments where no one emerges victorious. (This doesn’t change the fact that sometimes you really do need to teach people a lesson 🙄).

Generally speaking, I think success comes down to choosing the pain of discipline over the ease of distraction. And knowing our values reminds us of what we’re working towards. For instance, I see beauty in kindness and in clean, healthy lifestyles. As a result, it has started to become easier to remind myself of my purpose when I experience someone messing with me or when a big fluffy marshmallow stares at me, too. Regardless, it isn’t easy. With my teenage hormones and urge to fulfil every momentary desire, good luck keeping all that in mind Saania! Baby steps, baby steps…

– SaaniaSparkle 🧚🏻‍♀️

Make Others Feel Important

I was at my favourite vegan café relishing my chocolate brownie when I witnessed two friends talking. Let’s call them Sarah and Angel. Sarah kept speaking away about her life and her problems, ranging from how her schedule is too hectic at school to how her roommate is too loud, leaving Angel with no opportunity to speak.

Similarly, yesterday I was at a dance party and I met a guy who wouldn’t stop boasting about how his family always spoilt him with luxury so he could live an opulent life. People who speak like that somehow imply that they are above and the other person is below. So I despised every moment of the time we spent with each other.

Though, it was interesting for me to witness these situations because it made me understand what makes some people more attractive than others and what makes us enjoy someone’s company over another’s. Think about…

The person who includes you in conversations when they sense you’re feeling awkward. The person who asks you to text them when you reach home safely. And if you forget, they text you to make sure you’re okay. The person who wishes you Happy Birthday at midnight. The person who remembers the tiny details of something you casually said at a point. The person who gets back to you on a book you recommended. The person who is simply patient with you. What is the one thing these people have in common?: they make others feel important.

I know I love it when someone makes me and my opinions seem like they matter. So why shouldn’t I make someone else feel that way? My learning: Make people feel good. Make them feel special. It makes a difference.

⁃ SaaniaSparkle 🧚🏻‍♀️

How do Ideas Survive?

In Made to Stick, Chip and Dan discuss fables. My favourite fable growing up was The Fox and the Grapes story. A fox strolls through an orchard and sees a bunch of grapes ripening high on a grape vine. Despite multiple attempts to run, jump, and grab the grapes, the fox always misses. Finally, he gives up out of exhaustion. Walking away, he sighs, “I’m sure they are sour anyway.”

What’s interesting about fables is that they give us morals. After reading The Fox and the Grapes, readers resonate: ‘it’s easy to despise what you can’t get.’ Another lovely fable is The Hare and the Tortoise with the prominent message of ‘slow and steady wins the race’. Morals like these reflect some profound truth about human nature and they are memorable because they contain a concrete idea that readers take out of the story. As a result, the idea travels the world. I heard my Swedish friend once say, “Surt sa räven om rönnbären” which translates to “Sour, said the fox about the berries” (they weren’t even berries, they were grapes 😛). But the point is, concrete ideas are easy to remember, allowing their message to universally persist.

Business taglines and mission statements aim to exhibit a similar effect on customers. I’m a chocolate fanatic. But as much as I love the feeling of chocolate melting in my mouth, I despise the feeling of sticky chocolate in my fingers. For this reason, my favourite candy in the whole wide world is M&M’s, with its advertising slogan that in fact sold millions: “Melts in Your Mouth, Not in Your Hands”. Sweet, catchy, concrete.

Another example is my Economics teacher in high school who devised a distinctive way to teach his students. Every economics term was taught to us through mnemonic devices. For instance, factors that shift the demand curve are PIRATES. Population, income, related goods, advertising, tastes and fashion, expectations, and seasons. (3 years later and I still remember this 😛).

Concreteness helps people learn and remember ideas. By avoiding abstract language but rather conveying ideas in terms that are comprehensible by all, the message hidden inside comes to mean the same thing to everyone.

⁃ SaaniaSparkle 🧚🏻‍♀️

How are ideas made interesting?

My curiosity about communication and the expression of ideas urged me to read the book Made to Stick written by two incredible brothers, Chip and Dan Heath. It aims to answer: why do some ideas survive while others die? Most importantly, what makes ideas stick?

The book talks about this particular example…

One day, The Centre for Science in the Public Interest sent bags of theatre popcorn from three big US cities for a nutritional analysis. In a typical bag of popcorn, there was found to be 37 grams of saturated fat when a normal diet should contain no more than 20. Shocking.

Despite the alarm, the CSPI needed to spread the message in a way that everyone would understand how serious this was. I mean, think about it, most of us have no idea when looking at the nutritional content behind our favourite bag of cookies. 37 grams. So what? Is that good or bad?

So in the September of 1992, CSPI held a press conference. The message it presented was “A medium sized movie butter popcorn contains more artery clogging fat than a bacon and eggs breakfast, a Big Mac, and a dinner of steak.” They laid out these foods for display for the television cameras, and the idea was to demonstrate that all this saturated fat is stuffed into a single bag of popcorn.

The story was a sensation, making the front pages of USA today, with headline writers cracking, “Lights, Camera, Cholesterol!”

CSPI’s success makes me question: if I know something about the world, how do I communicate my idea so that people care?

We are humans. We are wired to feel things. By watching the display of food, people were utterly disgusted, they felt gross, their emotions were elicited, and they were moved. Similarly, in my university lecture for Communications, I always wonder how every word of my professor makes an impact. When Dr. Rahman speaks, we understand, remember, and re-tell. How so? Because content never lives on its own. Through the constant sparking electricity between him and us, he makes it come to life.

Amongst many other factors, I’ve learnt that at least one thing that nurtures ideas so they can make a difference is emotion. A good idea awakens emotion. And good speakers know how to open emotion gates.

⁃ SaaniaSparkle 🧚🏻‍♀️

Why Well Being Matters

Nothing too deep for this week’s post, but something I feel like I need to let out regardless 🙂

I often have a series of flickering moments where I feel overwhelmed. So overwhelmed that my mind feels like it is in a million places all at once. Sometimes it feels like I can’t take it anymore. But that is when I remember, my well being is more important than anything else…

We all have mental health. It is how we feel from the inside. But with the constant ‘doing’ and going on and on with our lives without taking breaks, sometimes we forget that it is even there. And I have realised that I can’t do anything – whether it’s studying, being productive, working, talking to people – properly if my mind isn’t at the right place. The mind is the most powerful muscle in our body, so why be ashamed to talk about mental health?

Friday for me was super hectic with assignments and friends and quizzes one after the other to the point where I felt burnt out, needing a day to relax. So that is exactly what I did this Saturday!

Here are a few pictures and videos to help you relax if you, too, had a very busy week:

The Seattle Sunrise from my balcony 🌅
Mr. Rabbit said hello in my evening jog 🏃‍♀️
Raspberry Plants
A Walk in the Nature

What I keep telling myself is: when you feel better, you will do better.

⁃ SaaniaSparkle 🧚🏻‍♀️