Scientists have found that a mindfulness meditation practice is linked with actual physical changes in the brain -- changes that may even have protective effects against mental illness.
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Everything you need to know about The Art Of Negative Thinking: How Negativity Can Make You Happier
Jim Manske's insight:
All thoughts, perceptions, sensations and emotions are beacons to Life, the vital energy of universal needs!
We will be on retreat for a week in LA. Wish you were there! More News to Feed your Inspiration and Aspiration next week!
I was recently in a shop with a friend when a young man in his late twenties came in to get his hair cut. Friendly and likeable he was amusing the hairdresser with some stories of his birthday. It was not until he struggled to get the money out of his wallet, that I realized his hand was quite deformed. I was so struck by this positive young man that I said to my friend, “ I love his resilience.” I was very surprised when my friend replied, “ I envy it.”
Given that she had managed a considerable amount of anxiety over the course of the year while working and dealing with family loss, I was struck that she seemed unaware of her own resiliency.
Do you recognize your own resiliency?
Resilience can be understood in a number of ways. The most common definition of resilience is the capacity to adapt in the face of adversity – essentially the ability to bounce back from traumatic and difficult life events.
As such, resiliency is neither a single trait nor a static quality. Resilience looks different in different people because it is a function of many different factors including inborn traits like physical strength, intelligence, artistic ability; family of origin, early attachments, learned skills, emotional regulation, social skills, verbal abilities, problem solving, life experiences and more…
From her earliest years, a woman who spent her life in foster placements knew that the one thing she could depend upon was her intelligence.Choosing to do manual labor to pay his bills, a man regulated his stress and felt enlivened by playing his guitar every night.A woman had learned from her mother that when you face a crisis, you turn to God and your church communityA family rebuilt after Hurricane Sandy with the plan to stay on the water. It was a given that they would flood again, be evacuated again and live again in the place they loved.
The Importance of Recognizing Your Resiliency
There is common acknowledgement of the value of self-reflection and identifying negative and painful feelings in the aftermath of adversity or traumatic events as a step toward coping, support, and processing.There is less invitation to personally identify and acknowledge our resiliency traits.While we speak of resiliency, it is often as a vague abstraction associated with natural disasters and bigger than life feats of courage and accomplishment.As a result, we can easily fail to account for the obstacles of childhood we have weathered; the personal strength it sometimes takes to just get up in the morning; the self-resolve it takes to deal with looking for a job, dealing with a relationship break-up, or facing a frightening medical diagnosis.
Central to coping is the belief that we can find a way to cope.
Remembering our comebacks as well as our setbacks is essential to our resiliency. It is an aspect of our known self that we need to affirm.
In the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, a young woman acknowledged,
Haitians are like Bamboo, they bend but they don’t break.
Dispelling the Myths about Resiliency makes our own resiliency easier to recognize.
Resiliency is not time bound
In his conceptualizations of resiliency, expert Glen Roismanclarifies that resiliency is the capacity to find a way back to successful adaptation and functioning even after a period of disorganization and disruption.Often in the aftermath of a traumatic event we are frozen. A normal reaction to danger and threat, we need time to move from the fight/flight response to reassess how we go on with our life. It can take time to remember – “ I have coped before.” “ I will find another job.” “ I will take it day by day.” It can take time to make that happen. People cope in their own time and in their own way.
It took a number of years before a woman could feel entitled to feel joy after the death of her son. Despite the fact that she kept on with her family and job, she judged herself by world’s message “to get on with it.”
Resiliency is not incompatible with pain
My young friend in the opening vignette dismissed her resiliency because of the anxiety she had faced, and the fact that she often still had difficult days at work. Sadly her negative judgment of self-detracted from the resilience she was actually using.
Resiliency is not the absence of tears, anxiety, anger or despair. It is dealing with them, sometimes carrying them with you, while finding the way to go on.
Resiliency is not diluted by support of others
Dr. Siddharth Ashvin Shah in his international disaster work, reminds us that in times of stress there is not only a release of stress hormones but of oxytocin, the hormone associated with mother-infant attachment and the breast-feeding bond. It would seem we are wired to attach in the face of adversity and trauma. Our urge and ability to connect expands resiliency.We are aware that in the face of war, natural disaster and even the trials of everyday life, the presence of family and loved ones serves to buffer stress. Particularly for children, connection to loving parents or caregivers is the most important antidote to traumatic impact.Attachment serves to enhance resilience as it offers the opportunity to affirm “ the capacity to go on.” It is not a replacement for attunement or empathy for suffering. It is the self-message or message shared that balances human coping.
“ It is scary to move to the shelter, but we always figure out how to make it work.”
“ It is so hard that Mom isn’t here, but we know how to make the holiday the way she would have been proud.”
“ If I know you, you may not run the way you used to—but you will be competing in something.”
Strategies to Identify and Own Your Personal Resiliency
What do you use to regulate your stress on a day-by-day basis?
Walk, bake, pray, read, draw, garden, read the paper, watch sports…Your daily activities are the infrastructure for dealing with life events.
What do you do to regulate stress in the moment?
Did you know that just sitting and placing your hands around the back of a chair or singing in your car (keep your hands on the wheel) puts you in the position to regulate your breathing which lowers stress?Do you have an image of a happy or peaceful time that you can call upon when stressed? The more details and the more you call it up–the more effective a resource it will be.Do you have a family default position that you use when life has just gotten too rough? “ We need a road trip.” “ Someone make the popcorn!”
What would you identify as the personal trait that has been a life gift?
Patience, intelligence, social skills, artistic talent, spirituality, love of nature, athletic ability, persistence, curiosity, sense of humor?
Do you have flexibility of perspective?
When the future seems difficult to fathom are you able to focus on achievable tasks of the day?Can you be mindful of the joy of walking in nature, preparing a delicious meal or playing with your dog while suspending worry about the future?Are you aware that the dark moments will come side by side with good moments and that cooking, walking, or praying through them is worth trying?
Can you feel and receive gratitude?
Can you feel gratitude for the small things, the human connections, and the reasons to go on even in the face of pain and suffering? Can you accept the gratitude of others? Gratitude is expansive as it involves positive perspective and propels movement.
Can You Feel Hopeful?
Hope is related to resiliency because it is the ability to have options, to believe the future can be different from the traumatic past or difficult situation.
Do you wish to be hopeful?
Consider that the wish itself is a sign of resilience!
The comedian Louis C.K. has a routine in which he talks about his daughter’s understanding of fairness. He begins, “My five-year-old, the other day, one of her toys broke, and she demanded that I break her sister’s toy to make it fair.” This would make the sisters equal but the joke here is that something here doesn’t feel right: “And I did. I was like crying. And I look at her. She’s got this creepy smile on her face.”
Other intuitions about fairness are simpler. Imagine you have two toys and two children, and you give both toys to one child. If the other child is old enough to speak, she will object. She might say “That’s not fair!” and she’d be correct. An even split would maximize the overall happiness of the children — give each child one toy and they’re both happy; divide them unevenly, and the child who gets nothing is miserable, her sadness outweighing the extra pleasure of the child who gets two. But more to the point, it’s just wrong to establish an inequity when you don’t have to.
Things quickly get more complicated. Questions about equality and fairness are among the most pressing moral issues in the real world. For instance, most everyone agrees that a just society promotes equality among its citizens, but blood is spilled over what sort of equality is morally preferable: equality of opportunity or equality of outcome. Is it fair for the most productive people to possess more than everyone else, so long as they had equal opportunities to start with? Is it fair for a government to take money from the rich to give to the poor — and does the answer change if the goal of such redistribution is not to help the poor in a tangible sense, but just to make people more equal, as in Louis C.K.’s story of breaking his other daughter’s toy?
The psychologist William Damon, in a series of influential studies in the 1970s, used interviews to explore what children think about fairness. He found that they focus on equality of outcome, and ignore other considerations. As an illustration, consider this snippet from one of his studies (children are being asked about an uneven division of pennies).
Experimenter: Do you think anyone should get more than anyone else?
Anita (7 years, 4 months): No, because it’s not fair. Somebody has thirty-five cents and somebody has one penny. That’s not fair.
Experimenter: Clara said she made more things than everybody else and she should get more money.
Anita: No. She shouldn’t because it’s not fair for her to get more money, like a dollar, and they get only about one cent.
Experimenter: Should she get a little more?
Anita: No. People should get the same amount of money because it’s not fair.
You see the same equality bias in younger children. The psychologists Kristina Olson and Elizabeth Spelke asked 3-year-olds to help a doll allocate resources (such as stickers and candy bars) between two characters who were said to be related to the doll in different ways: sometimes they were a sibling and a friend to the doll; at other times, a sibling and a stranger, or a friend and a stranger. Olson and Spelke found that when the 3-year-olds received an even number of resources to distribute, they almost always wanted the doll to give the same amount to the two characters, regardless of who they were.
The equality bias is strong. Olson and another researcher, Alex Shaw, told children between the ages of 6 and 8 a story about “Mark” and “Dan,” who had cleaned up their room and were to be rewarded with erasers: “I don’t know how many erasers to give them; can you help me with that? Great. You get to decide how many erasers Mark and Dan will get. We have these five erasers. We have one for Mark, one for Dan, one for Mark, and one for Dan. Uh oh! We have one left over.”
When researchers asked “Should I give [the leftover eraser] to Dan or should I throw it away?” the children almost always wanted to throw it away. The same finding held when researchers emphasized that neither kid would know about the extra eraser, so there could be no gloating or envy. Even here, the children wanted equality so much that they would destroy something in order to achieve it.
I wonder if adults would do the same. Imagine being given five 100 dollar bills, to be placed into two envelopes, with each envelope to be sent to a different person. There’s no way to make things equal, but, still, would you really put the fifth bill into a shredder? The children in the Shaw and Olson studies seem to care about equality a little bit too much, and one might wonder if this single-minded focus is due to their experiences outside of the home. After all, the preschools and daycare centers where American psychologists get most of their subjects are typically institutions in which norms of equality are constantly beaten into children’s heads; these are communities where every child gets a prize and everyone is above average.
This sort of experience probably has some influence. But there are a series of recent studies showing that an equality bias emerges long before school and day care have a chance to shape children’s preferences.
In one of these studies, the psychologists Alessandra Geraci and Luca Surian showed 10- and 16-month-olds puppet shows in which a lion and a bear each distributed two multicolor disks to a donkey and a cow. The lion (or the bear, on alternate trials) would give each animal one disk and the bear (or the lion) would give one animal two disks and the other nothing. The children were then shown the lion and the bear and asked, “Which one is the good one? Please show me the good one.” The 10-month-olds chose randomly, but the 16-month-olds preferred the fair divider.
The psychologists Marco Schmidt and Jessica Sommerville did a similar study with 15-month-olds, using actual people instead of toy animals, but again showing a fair division and an unfair division. They found that the 15-month-olds looked longer at the unfair division, suggesting that they found it surprising. (A control study ruled out the explanation that toddlers just look longer at asymmetric displays.)
Other research suggests that children can sometimes override their focus on equality. In an experiment by psychologists Stephanie Sloane, Renee Baillargeon and David Premack, 19-month-olds observed as two individuals playing with toys were told by a third party to start cleaning up. When both individuals cleaned up, the toddlers expected the experimenter to later reward them equally, looking longer if she didn’t. But when one character did all the work, and the other was a slacker who continued to play, babies looked longer when the experimenter rewarded both characters, presumably because they didn’t expect equal reward for unequal effort.
Also, when given an uneven number of resources to distribute, children are smart about what to do with the extra resources. As mentioned above, 6- to 8-year-olds would rather toss away a fifth eraser than have an unequal division between two characters who cleaned a room. But if you just add one sentence ― ”Dan did more work than Mark” — almost all children change their answers. Instead of throwing away the eraser, they want to hand it over to Dan. Remember also the experiment where children got to distribute resources through a doll and, when there was an even number of resources, tended to distribute them equally. The same researchers found that if there is an odd number of resources and children weren’t given the option of throwing one away, 3-year-olds would have the doll give more to siblings and friends than to strangers; give more to someone who had previously given the doll something than someone who hadn’t; and give more to someone who was generous to a third person than to someone who wasn’t.
Young children don’t know everything. Some experiments that I’ve done with the psychologists Koleen McKrink and Laurie Santos find that older children and adults think about relative generosity in terms of proportion — an individual with three items who gives away two is “nicer” than someone with ten items who gives away three — while young children focus only on the absolute amount. And other studies find that our understanding of the factors that can justify inequality — such as luck, effort and skill — develop even through adolescence.
What we do see at all ages, though, is an overall bias toward equality. Children expect equality, prefer those who divide resources equally, and are strongly biased to divide resources equally themselves. This fits well with a certain picture of human nature, which is that we are born with some sort of fairness instinct; we are natural-born egalitarians. As the primatologist Frans de Waal puts it: “Robin Hood had it right. Humanity’s deepest wish is to spread the wealth.”
Jim Manske's insight:
From a libran point of view, I can say this seems like a fair article. :) Happy Gratitude week. May you thrive!
1. Journaling Helps You Reflect on Your Life
Life moves quickly. Journaling offers an opportunity to stop and reflect on everything in life. Reflecting can help ensure you’re doing what you need to do to stay satisfied with your life.
2. Journaling Encourages Gratitude
Use a journal to keep track of everything you’re thankful for each day. Making this a regular habit can help you to become more optimistic and can remind you to enjoy the little things in life each day.
3. Journaling Helps You Turn Dreams into Goals
When you start writing down your dreams, you’re more likely to establish a timeline of how to accomplish them. As soon as you establish a timeline and the steps you’re going to start taking, you’ve turned a dream into a goal. You’re much more likely to reach those dreams once you begin writing down action steps of what you’re going to do.
4. Journaling Allow You to Keep Track of Your Accomplishments
Writing down your accomplishments help you keep track of the success you’ve had in life. Reviewing a list of accomplishments can be very helpful when you are considering whether or not to take another risk. Remembering all those times when you’re hard work has paid off can give you the extra push you need to ask your boss for a raise or ask someone out on a date.
5. Journaling Provides an Emotional Outlet
A lot of people don’t feel comfortable talking about their feelings out loud. Journaling can provide an emotional outlet. Labelling feelings and writing down how you feel without the fear of being judged by others can be very therapeutic.
6. Journaling Increases Problem-Solving Opportunities
Journaling helps you analyze your options when you’re looking for a solution to a problem. You can write down the pros and cons of each solution and really analyze which solution is likely to yield the best results. It can help you identify creative ways to solve problems and it can help you to feel more confident about your choices.
7. Journaling Reduces Stress
Journaling can help you reduce mental clutter and stress. Instead of feeling like you need to keep track of everything in your head, simply knowing that you’ll be journaling later can free up your mental energy to address other tasks.
Knowing you can write down your worries can also help reduce your anxiety. Rather than waste time during the other parts of the day worrying about something, remind yourself you’re journal about it later.
8. Journaling Will Let You Understand Yourself Better
Writing things down about your experiences, thoughts, and feelings can help you develop a much better understanding of yourself. Putting the pen to paper about what’s going on in your mind really helps lay out information about you.
Reading past entries can be helpful as well. It can provide you with a better understanding of how you were feeling when you made certain decisions in your life. You may understand why you made mistakes or avoided risks. It serves as a good reminder of how much progress you’ve made.
9. Journaling Helps You Live According to Your Values
Writing about your daily activities can really give you insight into where your time goes. If you say family is important but you notice you’re working much more than your participating in family activities, it can be an eye opening experience. A journal can keep you honest and can help you make changes to your life that are more in line with your value system.
10. Journaling Improves Your Relationships
Writing in a journal can be good for your relationships. Writing down angry thoughts instead of saying them out loud can prevent you from saying something you regret. Journaling can also help you look at the big picture, which can allow you to forgive and let small transgressions go.
I have been writing something about myself or my everyday for almost 2 years now.
Rather than letting more days rush by why not practice three ways to become more deeply connected in each encounter?
Ironically, the more successful we are in proving our competence, the greater the distance we create with others. That's because we see warmth and competence as inversely related. Thus, if we view someone in a situation as competent, we assume she feels less warm toward us, according to social psychologist Amy Cuddy's research. This is vital to know because our first impressions of others is based on how warm or cold they act towards us. Thus acting competent, upfront, can cause others to be wary.
Hint: Demonstrate warmth first when connecting with others, develop a bond and then be competent in the work you do together.
2. Lead Like a Conductor
We all hunger for work that's meaningful and, in our increasingly connected world, we see more options for where and how to work. That's why leaders who enable us to use best talents together will become more visible, valued and sought-after. "A conductor is not someone who tells people what to do, but rather orchestrates the work," says Elance CEO, Fabio Rosati, who adds, "A conductor is also an extraordinary motivator and, like a great chef, understands how to use the available ingredients, each person's skills and how those skills can be brought together."
3. Cultivate Interdependence You Can Relish and Rely Upon
An African notion of interdependence, called Ubuntu, is based on the notion, that, "I am what I am because of what we all are." The secret to developing that we're-in-this-together feeling, according to Melinda Blau, co-author of the 2014 book Family Whispering is getting REAL. "It makes us better people and thus better in relationships with each other." Blau suggests we have four essential needs to get R.E.A.L.:
Need: To be part of. This need is met when we strive towards: Responsibility
Need: To be seen. This need is met when we strive towards: Empathy
Need: To be safe. This need is met when we strive towards: Authenticity
Need: To be Nurtured. This need is met when we strive towards: Leading with Love
Hint: For the next four days, keep one of these needs top-of-mind, each day, and practice connecting well with others in the explicit way of "how it works" to have that need met more often.
Roughly speaking there are only two reasons you do anything in life:Because you want to.Because someone else wants you to.
The first category of internally motivated activities might include things like eating, socialising, hobbies and going on holiday. The second category of externally motivated activities might include working a job, studying, or loading the dishwasher.
The reason I say ‘roughly speaking’ and ‘might include’ is because the two types of motivation can be difficult to disentangle. Yes, you enjoy your work, but would you do it for less money or for free? Maybe, maybe not. Yes, my wife wants me to load the dishwasher, but maybe I’d do it anyway. Or maybe not.Turning work into play
And one type of motivation can slowly morph into another over time. For example, things originally we did for their own sake can become a chore once we are paid for them. More hearteningly, sometimes things we once did just for the money can become intrinsically motivated.
This latter, magical transformation is most fascinating and probably happens because the activity satisfies one or all of three basic human needs. As the eminent motivation researchers, Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci, say, it’s these three factors that are at the core of intrinsic motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000):Competence. We want to be good at something. Things that are too easy, though, don’t give us a sense of competence; it has to be just hard enough.Autonomy. We want to be free and dislike being controlled. When people have some freedom—even within certain non-negotiable boundaries—they are more likely to thrive.Relatedness. As social animals we want to feel connected to other people.
Look for these in any activity if you want to harness the power of self-guiding, internal motivation.
“On a deeper level you are already complete. When you realize that, there is a playful, joyous energy behind what you do” ~Eckhart Tolle
I was recently speaking with a friend about what it feels like to connect with your underlying, always-there state of well-being. I attempted to describe the indescribable—the feeling underneath the mental chatter that is who you truly are.
The peacefulness. The clarity. The stillness. I told her that in my experience, the most prominent feature was the deep knowing that all is well—that it always has been and always will be, no matter what might be happening on the surface.
Although my verbal description did almost no justice to the actual feeling, our conversation put her at ease. It put me at ease too.
As we visited that place in our minds, we felt the pressure of our thought-based lives lessen. My friend recognized a sense of truth in what I was describing as she reconnected with the peace that’s always there.
I’ve never met a person who doesn’t recognize that all is well feeling of peace. Many of us don’t live there on a permanent basis, but we’ve visited. I would be willing bet that we’ve all touched it at times, and that many of us experience it quite regularly, albeit fleeting or short-lived.
Yet, there are always people who will question that that state is who we really are. There will always be people who say:
“How do you know my true nature is well-being? What if mine isn’t?”
Or, “How do you know well-being isn’t the exception rather than the rule?”
They are great questions, aren’t they? I’ve asked them many times in my life. There were times when it felt likely that anxiety or insecurity were how I was wired—they were part of my default setting—with occasional blips of relief from anxiety and insecurity.
I would have bet the farm that there was something just a bit “off” in my nature—my mind was strung a little too tight from birth or my parents did something wrong.
Those “problems” were part of who I was, I thought. With enough therapy or self-help I might be able to counteract some of it, but it was going to take a lot of work and I was likely to slide back to my innate flaws at any time if I wasn’t careful.
So how can I be so confident now that every human on earth is essentially well with blips of pain, rather than essentially flawed with blips of relief?
1. You bounce back.
Humans effortlessly “bounce back” to peace and clarity when we feel separated from peace and clarity. Notice this the next time you’re upset: If you do nothing, meaning you don’t add to your upset byelaborating on your story, feeding into it, and bringing it back up in your own mind, it naturally fades. The slate clears and you’re bounced back to your more peaceful set-point.
It takes effort to stay mad. In order to say mad, you have to keep the thoughts creating the emotion of mad alive in your consciousness. You don’t usually recognize you’re doing this, but you are.
Here’s an example that happened to me recently: I was disagreeing with my husband about something and tensions were starting to rise. In the midst of our conversation, I kept noticing my attention shift. The kids were dancing around in the other room, the dog was snoring in the corner, what should we have for dinner tomorrow?
With each shift in focus I felt an accompanying break from the heavy feelings of the conversation.
At one point, when my son and daughter decided to strip down to their respective diaper and underwear and put on a show for us, I was totally unaware of what I was so upset about. The disagreement was literally gone in that moment. When their show was over I noticed the thought, “oh yeah, I’m mad” and dragged those tension-filled thoughts back into awareness.
The slate is cleared when you’re not holding on to old thought.
The fact that the slate clears by no effort of our own, always returning us back to a state of greater clarity and peace, convinces me that the clarity and peace must be natural and stable—our default, return-to-sender state.
If stress or anxiety was your natural state, why would you be bounced back to wellness so easily?
2. The less you do, the better you feel.
It’s generally true that the less you do, the better you feel. This makes perfect sense if wellness is your true nature. If who you already are is the perfection you seek, the act of seeking actually removes you from the well-being which is already yours.
When something is the default, you see it when you strip away anything that covers it. Think about an electronic device. When you click to “restore factory default settings,” programs, downloads, and all extraneous stuff are wiped away, leaving you only with the bare essentials.
The same is true when you see your extra stories, habits, and judgments for what they are—extraneous stuff. When you stop replaying them, focusing on them, and trying to fix them, they fall away. You essentially restore your “factory default settings” which means the slate is wiped clear and you feel less pressure than ever.
3. You strive to feel better when you’re down.
Ups and downs are a natural part of life for every human on earth. But have you ever wondered why you instinctively try to feel better when you’re feeling down?
If you weren’t wired for wellness, feeling bad would feel normal. If anxiety, insecurity, or fear were part of your innate wiring, those emotions would feel familiar and somewhat comfortable. But they don’t feel comfortable or familiar; in fact, we intuitively fight like hell to feel better.
We even call the process of going from pain to peace “getting back to normal.” Interesting, no?
Well-being is home. It’s what feels right and you will always feel out-of -whack unless you’re there. Well-being what you were born into and it’s where you will strive to return.
4. You were well as a baby.
I’ve never met an unwell baby. Physically unwell, yes. But I’ve never met a mentally or emotionally unwell baby. Have you?
We simply aren’t born this way. We aren’t born with confidence issues or a lack of self-love. We don’t come out judging our neighbors or setting unreasonably high standards for ourselves. I’ve never met a baby who was jealous or antisocial or narcissistic.
Babies have different temperaments. Some startle more easily than others. Some crave more attention than others. Those temperaments and preferences appear to be part of their innate makeup.
But they are all fundamentally well. Barring our judgment of them, they are all mentally and emotionally healthy.
I’m sure there will always be people who don’t see how their true nature could possibly be wellness. And that’s okay. But these are a few of the reasons that I began to believe it, and perhaps they might convince you too.
Life gets much easier and you notice those moments of peace much more when you believe that they are always there.
Photo by Abhishek Singh Bailoo
Jim Manske's insight:
Here's why violent uprisings tend to fail, but nonviolence works.
Jim Manske's insight:
The belief that violence “saves” is so successful because it doesn’t seem to be mythic in the least. Violence simply appears to be the nature of things. It’s what works. It seems inevitable, the last and, often, the first resort in conflicts. If a god is what you turn to when all else fails, violence certainly functions as a god. What people overlook, then, is the religious character of violence. It demands from its devotees an absolute obedience-unto-death.
This Myth of Redemptive Violence is the real myth of the modern world. It, and not Judaism or Christianity or Islam, is the dominant religion in our society today. When my children were small, we let them log an unconscionable amount of television, and I became fascinated with the mythic structure of cartoons. This was in the 1960s, when the ”death of God” theologians were being feted on talk shows, and secular humanity’s tolerance for religious myth and mystery were touted as having been exhausted.
I began to examine the structure of cartoons, and found the same pattern repeated endlessly: an indestructible hero is doggedly opposed to an irreformable and equally indestructible villain. Nothing can kill the hero, though for the first three quarters of the comic strip or TV show he (rarely she) suffers grievously and appears hopelessly doomed, until miraculously, the hero breaks free, vanquishes the villain, and restores order until the next episode. Nothing finally destroys the villain or prevents his or her reappearance, whether the villain is soundly trounced, jailed, drowned, or shot into outer space.
Few cartoons have run longer or been more influential than Popeye and Bluto. In a typical segment, Bluto abducts a screaming and kicking Olive Oyl, Popeye’s girlfriend. When Popeye attempts to rescue her, the massive Bluto beats his diminutive opponent to a pulp, while Olive Oyl helplessly wrings her hands. At the last moment, as our hero oozes to the floor, and Bluto is trying, in effect, to rape Olive Oyl, a can of spinach pops from Popeye’s pocket and spills into his mouth.
Transformed by this gracious infusion of power, he easily demolishes the villain and rescues his beloved. The format never varies. Neither party ever gains any insight or learns from these encounters. They never sit down and discuss their differences. Repeated defeats do not teach Bluto to honour Olive Oyl’s humanity, and repeated pummellings do not teach Popeye to swallow his spinach before the fight.
Something about this mythic structure rang familiar. Suddenly I remembered: this cartoon pattern mirrored one of the oldest continually enacted myths in the world, the Babylonian creation story (the Enuma Elish) from around 1250 BCE. The tale bears repeating, because it holds the clue to the appeal of that ancient myth in our modern media.
In the beginning, according to the Babylonian myth, Apsu, the father god, and Tiamat, the mother god, give birth to the gods. But the frolicking of the younger gods makes so much noise that the elder gods resolve to kill them so they can sleep. The younger gods uncover the plot before the elder gods put it into action, and kill Apsu. His wife Tiamat, the Dragon of Chaos, pledges revenge.
Terrified by Tiamat, the rebel gods turn for salvation to their youngest member, Marduk. He negotiates a steep price: if he succeeds, he must be given chief and undisputed power in the assembly of the gods. Having extorted this promise, he catches Tiamat in a net, drives an evil wind down her throat, shoots an arrow that bursts her distended belly and pierces her heart. He then splits her skull with a club and scatters her blood in out-of-the-way places. He stretches out her corpse full-length, and from it creates the cosmos. (With all this blood and gore, no wonder this story proved ideal as the prototype of violent TV shows and Hollywood movies).
In this myth, creation is an act of violence. Marduk murders and dismembers Tiamat, and from her cadaver creates the world. As the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur observes (The Symbolism of Evil, Harper Collins 1967), order is established by means of disorder. Chaos (symbolised by Tiamat) is prior to order (represented by Marduk, high god of Babylon). Evil precedes good. The gods themselves are violent.
The biblical myth in Genesis 1 is diametrically opposed to all this (Genesis 1, it should be noted, was developed in Babylon during the Jewish captivity there as a direct rebuttal to the Babylonian myth). The Bible portrays a good God who creates a good creation. Chaos does not resist order. Good is prior to evil. Neither evil nor violence is part of the creation, but enter later, as a result of the first couple’s sin and the connivance of the serpent (Genesis 3). A basically good reality is thus corrupted by free decisions reached by creatures. In this far more complex and subtle explanation of the origins of things, violence emerges for the first time as a problem requiring solution.
In the Babylonian myth, however, violence is no problem. It is simply a primordial fact. The simplicity of this story commended it widely, and its basic mythic structure spread as far as Syria, Phoenicia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Germany, Ireland, India, and China. Typically, a male war god residing in the sky fights a decisive battle with a female divine being, usually depicted as a monster or dragon, residing in the sea or abyss (the feminine element). Having vanquished the original enemy by war and murder, the victor fashions a cosmos from the monster’s corpse. Cosmic order requires the violent suppression of the feminine, and is mirrored in the social order by the subjection of women to men and people to ruler.
After the world has been created, the story continues, the gods imprisoned by Marduk for siding with Tiamat complain of the poor meal service. Marduk and his father, Ea, therefore execute one of the captive gods, and from his blood Ea creates human beings to be servants to the gods.
The implications are clear: human beings are created from the blood of a murdered god. Our very origin is violence. Killing is in our genes. Humanity is not the originator of evil, but merely finds evil already present and perpetuates it. Our origins are divine, to be sure, since we are made from a god, but from the blood of an assassinated god.
Human beings are thus naturally incapable of peaceful coexistence. Order must continually be imposed upon us from on high: men over women, masters over slaves, priests over laity, aristocrats over peasants, rulers over people. Unquestioning obedience is the highest virtue, and order the highest religious value. As Marduk’s representative on earth, the king’s task is to subdue all those enemies who threaten the tranquillity that he has established on behalf of the god. The whole cosmos is a state, and the god rules through the king. Politics arises within the divine sphere itself. Salvation is politics: the masses identify with the god of order against the god of chaos, and offer themselves up for the Holy War that imposes order and rule on the peoples round about.
In short, the Myth of Redemptive Violence is the story of the victory of order over chaos by means of violence. It is the ideology of conquest, the original religion of the status quo. The gods favour those who conquer. Conversely, whoever conquers must have the favour of the gods. The common people exist to perpetuate the advantage that the gods have conferred upon the king, the aristocracy, and the priesthood.
Religion exists to legitimate power and privilege. Life is combat. Any form of order is preferable to chaos, according to this myth. Ours is neither a perfect nor perfectible world; it is theatre of perpetual conflict in which the prize goes to the strong. Peace through war, security through strength: these are the core convictions that arise from this ancient historical religion, and they form the solid bedrock on which the Domination System is founded in every society.
The Babylonian myth is far from finished. It is as universally present and earnestly believed today as at any time in its long and bloody history. It is the dominant myth in contemporary America. It enshrines the ritual practice of violence at the very heart of public life, and even those who seek to oppose its oppressive violence do so violently.
We have already seen how the myth of redemptive violence is played out in the structure of children’s cartoon shows (and is found as well in comics, video and computer games, and movies). But we also encounter it in the media, in sports, in nationalism, in militarism, in foreign policy, in televangelism, in the religious right, and in self-styled militia groups. What appears so innocuous in cartoons is, in fact, the mythic underpinnings of our violent society.
The psychodynamics of the TV cartoon or comic book are marvelously simple: children identify with the good guy so that they can think of themselves as good. This enables them to project out onto the bad guy their own repressed anger, violence, rebelliousness, or lust, and then vicariously to enjoy their own evil by watching the bad guy initially prevail. This segment of the show – the “Tammuz” element, where the hero suffers – actually consumes all but the closing minutes, allowing ample time for indulging the violent side of the self.
When the good guy finally wins, viewers are then able to reassert control over their own inner tendencies, repress them, and re-establish a sense of goodness without coming to any insight about their own inner evil. The villain’s punishment provides catharsis; one forswears the villain’s ways and heaps condemnation on him in a guilt-free orgy of aggression. Salvation is found through identification with the hero.
Only the names have changed. Marduk subdues Tiamat through violence, and though he kills Tiamat, chaos incessantly reasserts itself, and is kept at bay only by repeated battles and by the repetition of the Babylonian New Year’s festival where the heavenly combat myth is ritually re-enacted. Theologian Willis Elliott’s observation underscores the seriousness of this entertainment: ”the birth of the world (cosmogony) is the birth of the individual (egogony): you are being birthed through how you see ’all things’ as being birthed”. Therefore “Whoever controls the cosmogony controls the children”.
The Myth of Redemptive Violence is the simplest, laziest, most exciting, uncomplicated, irrational, and primitive depiction of evil the world has even known. Furthermore, its orientation toward evil is one into which virtually all modern children (boys especially) are socialised in the process of maturation. Children select this mythic structure because they have already been led, by culturally reinforced cues and role models, to resonate with its simplistic view of reality. Its presence everywhere is not the result of a conspiracy of Babylonian priests secretly buying up the mass media with Iraqi oil money, but a function of values endlessly reinforced by the Domination System. By making violence pleasurable, fascinating, and entertaining, the Powers are able to delude people into compliance with a system that is cheating them of their very lives.
Once children have been indoctrinated into the expectations of a dominator society, they may never outgrow the need to locate all evil outside themselves. Even as adults they tend to scapegoat others for all that is wrong in the world. They continue to depend on group identification and the upholding of social norms for a sense of well-being.
In a period when attendance at Christian Sunday schools is dwindling, the myth of redemptive violence has won children’s voluntary acquiescence to a regimen of indoctrination more extensive and effective than any in the history of religions. Estimates vary widely, but the average child reported to log roughly 36,000 hours of television by age 18, viewing some 15,000 murders. What church or synagogue can even remotely keep pace with the myth of redemptive violence in hours spent teaching children or the quality of presentation? (Think of the typical “children’s sermon” – how bland by comparison!)
No other religious system has even remotely rivalled the myth of redemptive violence in its ability to catechise its young so totally. From the earliest age, children are awash in depictions of violence as the ultimate solution to human conflicts. Nor does saturation in the myth end with the close of adolescence. There is no rite of passage from adolescent to adult status in the national cult of violence, but rather a years-long assimilation to adult television and movie fare.
Not all shows for children or adults are based on violence, of course. Reality is far more complex than the simplicities of this myth, and maturer minds will demand more subtle, nuanced, complex presentations. But the basic structure of the combat myth underlies the pap to which a great many adults turn in order to escape the harsher realities of their everyday lives: spy thrillers, westerns, cop shows, and combat programmes. It is as if we must watch so much “redemptive” violence to reassure ourselves, against the deluge of facts to the contrary in our actual day-to-day lives, that reality really is that simple.
Redemptive violence gives way to violence as an end in itself. It is no longer a religion that uses violence in the pursuit of order and salvation, but one in which violence has become an aphrodisiac, sheer titillation, an addictive high, a substitute for relationships. Violence is no longer the means to a higher good, namely order; violence becomes the end.
Our world is pretty messed up. With all the violence, pollution and crazy things people do, it would be easy to turn into a grouchy old man without being either elderly or male. There's certainly no shortage of justification for disappointment and cynicism.
But consider this: Negative attitudes are bad for you. And gratitude, it turns out, makes you happier and healthier. If you invest in a way of seeing the world that is mean and frustrated, you're going to get a world that is, well, more mean and frustrating. But if you can find any authentic reason to give thanks, anything that is going right with the world or your life, and put your attention there, then statistics say you're going to be better off.
Does this mean to live in a state of constant denial and put your head in the sand? Of course not. Gratitude works when you're grateful for something real. Feeling euphoric and spending money like you just won the lottery when you didn't is probably going to make you real poor, real quick. But what are you actually grateful for? It's a question that could change your life.
Recent studies have concluded that the expression of gratitude can have profound and positive effects on our health, our moods and even the survival of our marriages.
As Drs. Blaire and Rita Justice reported for the University of Texas Health Science Center, "a growing body of research shows that gratitude is truly amazing in its physical and psychosocial benefits."
In one study on gratitude, conducted by Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., at the University of California at Davis and his colleague Mike McCullough at the University of Miami, randomly assigned participants were given one of three tasks. Each week, participants kept a short journal. One group briefly described five things they were grateful for that had occurred in the past week, another five recorded daily hassles from the previous week that displeased them, and the neutral group was asked to list five events or circumstances that affected them, but they were not told whether to focus on the positive or on the negative. Ten weeks later, participants in the gratitude group felt better about their lives as a whole and were a full 25 percent happier than the hassled group. They reported fewer health complaints, and exercised an average of 1.5 hours more.
In a later study by Emmons, people were asked to write every day about things for which they were grateful. Not surprisingly, this daily practice led to greater increases in gratitude than did the weekly journaling in the first study. But the results showed another benefit: Participants in the gratitude group also reported offering others more emotional support or help with a personal problem, indicating that the gratitude exercise increased their goodwill towards others, or more tehnically, their "pro-social" motivation.
Another study on gratitude was conducted with adults having congenital and adult-onset neuromuscular disorders (NMDs), with the majority having post-polio syndrome (PPS). Compared to those who were not jotting down their blessings nightly, participants in the gratitude group reported more hours of sleep each night, and feeling more refreshed upon awakening. The gratitude group also reported more satisfaction with their lives as a whole, felt more optimism about the upcoming week, and felt considerably more connected with others than did participants in the control group.
Perhaps most tellingly, the positive changes were markedly noticeable to others. According to the researchers, "Spouses of the participants in the gratitude (group) reported that the participants appeared to have higher subjective well-being than did the spouses of the participants in the control (group)."
There's an old saying that if you've forgotten the language of gratitude, you'll never be on speaking terms with happiness. It turns out this isn't just a fluffy idea. Several studies have shown depression to be inversely correlated to gratitude. It seems that the more grateful a person is, the less depressed they are. Philip Watkins, a clinical psychologist at Eastern Washington University, found that clinically depressed individuals showed significantly lower gratitude (nearly 50 percent less) than non-depressed controls.
Dr. John Gottman at the University of Washington has been researching marriages for two decades. The conclusion of all that research, he states, is that unless a couple is able to maintain a high ratio of positive to negative encounters (5:1 or greater), it is likely the marriage will end.
With 90 percent accuracy, Gottman says he can predict, often after only three minutes of observation, which marriages are likely to flourish and which are likely to flounder. The formula is that for every negative expression (a complaint, frown, put-down, expression of anger) there needs to be about five positive ones (smiles, compliments, laughter, expressions of appreciation and gratitude).
Apparently, positive vibes aren't just for hippies. If you want in on the fun, here are some simple things you can do to build positive momentum toward a more happy and fulfilling life:
1) Keep a daily journal of three things you are thankful for. This works well first thing in the morning, or just before you go to bed.
2) Make it a practice to tell a spouse, partner or friend something you appreciate about them every day.
3) Look in the mirror when you are brushing your teeth, and think about something you have done well recently or something you like about yourself.
To practice it further, join thousands of others in a transformative 21-Day Gratitude Challenge starting November 7th leading upto Thanksgiving. Grow and learn through your own experience by inviting gratitude into your life. Through this challenge, you'll receive a daily email with inspiration and ideas. You'll join a vibrant online community of like-minded people from all over the world, and you'll have a chance to share your experiences, read stories of what others are doing, and support each other's journeys along the way.
Takaku’s research offers important insights on how apologies “work.” Mutual empathy is key. While the offer of an apology may be the result of, and an expression of, the offender’s empathy with the offended party, forgiveness requires empathy from the offended to the offender. Empathy must be experienced by, and communicated by, both parties to the conflict, not simply one or the other. In other words, to be effective in resolving conflict, apology and forgiveness are best viewed as interactive processes, not simply one-sided speech events.
Dorothy J. Della Noce
Via Edwin Rutsch
Imagine walking along a road past a pond, when out of the corner of your eye you see a toddler boy flailing about in the water. You quickly look around. There is no other adult in sight. If you don’t jump in to save him, no one else will. He will drown. You know what you have to do. You dive right in and drag the drowning toddler from the water.
But what if that little child were drowning—proverbially—half a world away? What would you do to save him then?
This is one of many questions Peter Singer, an Australian professor of bioethics at Princeton University, asks undergraduates during his popular semester-long course on practical ethics. The lecture course covers euthanasia, animal rights, infanticide and abortion, effective altruism, and other weighty topics.
Singer puts a uniquely practical spin on how he gets his students to stretch their thinking. This semester, each discussion group in his course of almost 400 students was given $100 to donate to one of four organizations: the Future of Humanity Institute, the Fistula Foundation, GiveDirectly, and Princeton University. The Future of Humanity Institute is an interdisciplinary research center based at Oxford; the Fistula Foundation provides life-changing surgery to correct a devastating childbirth injury that affects women in poor countries; GiveDirectly is a charity that gives 90 cents of every donated dollar directly to impoverished families in Africa; and Princeton University is, of course, the prestigious Ivy League university these students are attending. Singer is not asking his students to play this giving game just to make things interesting. Singer wants them to consider why Americans and other privileged citizens of affluent countries show so little generosity towards those who have so much less. Why we don’t we give more? What gets in our way, and what would it take for us to overcome that?
Singer is one of the world’s most controversial philosophers. He supports a parent’s right to end the life of a severely disabled infant and argues that animal and human suffering are on an exactly equal moral level; his views have inspired both fervent admiration and fierce denunciation. Shortly after Singer first arrived at Princeton in September 1999, billionaire publisher Steve Forbes told Princeton’s trustees that he would stop giving money to the university until Singer left. The trustees refused to rescind the appointment. Still, Singer has been what the New York Times once called a “public relations nightmare” for his employer. Nevertheless, over the decade since Singer first arrived at the university, his Practical Ethics course has become famous on campus, enrolling nearly 400 students this past semester.
In his book, The Life You Can Save, Singer cites OECD figures that show that the United States is “at or near the bottom of the list of industrialized countries in terms of the proportion of national income given as foreign aid.” Though many Americans consider themselves charitable, and as a people we give 2 percent of gross domestic product to charity, we overestimate the amount of money we spend on helping those who are far away; in fact, the amount of foreign aid we give as a percentage of gross national income has fallen. A third of our donations are to religious organizations; educational institutions are the second largest recipients of American charitable giving. All the while we continue to spend tremendous amounts of money on ourselves. We spend money on bottled water and daily lattes that, Singer argues, could save a child’s life.
Singer tells his students that though almost anyone would dive in to save a drowning child, Americans eschew giving to the world’s most desperately poor—including the 19,000 children dying every day of sheer poverty-related causes—even though it is well within our means to help. By failing to do so, Singer claims, we cannot consider ourselves to be living a “morally good life.”
It’s human nature to feel compelled to save those who are close to us—our immediate kin, our friends, the little boy we stumble upon whose desperate movements in the water tug at our hearts. It’s much harder to feel that sympathy for faceless children somewhere else (whether in another neighborhood in our town, or halfway across the world). Studies have shown that people tend to give more generously when they are shown a photo and told a story about one, identifiable, specific child. They will spend more on a child they know something about than on saving several statistical lives—in one study, people told that a single child needed a $300,000 dollar lifesaving medical treatment gave more than those who were told that $300,000 would cover medical treatment for eight children.
One reason, according to Singer, that people are so hesitant to give is they think their kindness will not matter. This tendency to think that one can’t do very much, or to dismiss all forms of aid as useless, is what researchers call “futility thinking:” What difference can one person even make? Research indicates that money makes people more individualistic and less altruistic. In other words, as societies become wealthier, their citizens become more individualistic and depend less upon one another. Self-interest becomes the norm.
But one antidote against futility thinking is to carefully research charities and organizations—something that Singer’s $100 donation experiment allowed students do. They were presented with four organizations, asked to research and discuss their merits, and vote on where the $100 should go. They applied the lessons they’d learned in the course: that not all donations are equal, and that some donations have a measurably more positive impact than the same amount donated elsewhere (consider, for instance, the difference between donating $2000 to an organization ranked highly by the charity evaluatorGiveWell, such as the Against Malaria Foundation, which provides mosquito nets to help protect children from contracting malaria, versus the same amount of money donated to an arts museum in the United States). They learn that their money will always go much further overseas: that a very small amount of money for an American can be life-saving to someone who is desperately poor. In other words, they learn about the tenets of effective altruism: how to evaluate organizations for transparency and benefits, and figure out which forms of aid are the most cost-effective. This is information that tends to inspire more giving.
What would ultimately help people overcome their tendency to not give? “We don’t really have a good answer to that question,” Singer admitted. He did mention research that indicates that people are more influenced by emotions than by reasoning, which is why that picture of a small girl in a distant landwould promote more spontaneous giving than information about African girls in general. A photograph is specific and concrete. In his book, Singer argues that global tragedies that have been filmed have attracted more contributions than those that have not, regardless of the actual amount of casualties and damage. Altruism is often, at a gut level, emotionally prompted. But when combined with an understanding of human nature and the right sort of rational information, emotions and reasoning can combine to cultivate a formidable culture of giving.
“I’ve always been inclined to give to charity,” Adam Tcharni, a junior at Princeton who took the course his freshman year, told me. But the class made him think about giving differently. He now believes that geographical borders don’t matter, that there is no difference between his obligation to the hypothetical drowning child in front of him and the dying child half a world away. As Singer calls his students’ attention to the tremendous inequality in how the world’s resources are allocated, he suggests that it’s hardly ethical to live in luxury when so many do not and that it’s unethical to fail to save a single life when so little money would be needed to do so.
The result of the $100 giving game? The 36 discussion groups in Singer’s class chose unanimously to donate to the Fistula Foundation ($1750) and GiveDirectly ($1850). None chose to donate to the Future of Humanity Institute or Princeton University. “It seems that students believed the money would do more if it went to people who are very poor, rather than to an already wealthy university or to promoting research about the future of humanity,” Singer told me.
One group did seriously consider donating to Princeton with the specific goal of funding an endowed chair in ethics similar to Singer’s, the idea being that helping to educate more students in the ethics of effective altruism might serve a greater good. Although in the end the group decided their limited resources would go further if donated to GiveDirectly, Singer’s impact on a generation of Princeton students is clear. Laura Hildebrand, a senior at the university, says Singer’s course was enlightening. “He shows all perspectives; at the same time, he presents what is really entailed in being entirely altruistic and entirely unselfish. He teaches his students: This is how you can maximize your impact on the world.”
The one thing all humans have in common is that each of us wants to be happy, says Brother David Steindl-Rast, a monk and interfaith scholar. And happiness, he suggests, is born from gratitude.
Jim Manske's insight:
Now, we set aside one day of the year to focus on gratitude, kinda like a Memorial Day for thankfulness. I look forward to the moment when gratitude is so deep in our ongoing expereince that we need a day to remember, with a sense of wispy relief, that once upon a time we struggled with feeling separate and unhappy...We can call it Jackalmas.
When stress strikes, self-care often takes a backseat. “The ability to care for oneself is predicated on the ability to consistently go inward and listen to what is there with open, compassionate ears,” said Amy Pershing, LMSW, ACSW, a clinical director at The Center for Eating Disorders in Ann Arbor, Mich.
However, during stressful periods in our lives, we tend to focus outward. We diminish or disregard our inner life, ignoring our needs and limits, she said.
And yet, it’s during hectic or difficult times when we need to care for ourselves the most.
That’s when we need to move our bodies, get enough sleep, not skip meals, take a breather and preserve our boundaries. That’s when we need to attend to our needs and engage in the activities that nourish us.
Practicing self-care not only helps us feel better. It also helps us function at our best. It replenishes our reserves, boosts our energy and provides clarity. We’re able to do everything from making smarter decisions to helping others. In short, self-care supports our health and well-being.
Here are some ideas on practicing self-care in stressful times, whether you’re navigating the holiday season, work deadlines or a loved one’s illness.
Be honest with yourself.
“Self-care for me means making sure that a stressful time is in the service of something important to me,” said Pershing, also an executive director of the Pershing Turner Centers, which offers treatment for eating, weight and body image disorders, in Annapolis, Md.
So she evaluates her underlying reasons and motivations. For instance, she considers if a specific project that’s spiking her stress is her heart’s true calling or an external expectation.
She suggested readers ask themselves what they truly want to accomplish and define how “busy” they’d like to be.
You might need to streamline your self-care practice, according toAshley Eder, LPC, a psychotherapist in Boulder, Colo. “Allow yourself the flexibility to decide when your ‘relaxing’ activities actually contribute to your stress and scale them back temporarily until things ease up.”
Engage in self-care activities that you enjoy the most, Eder said. For instance, if you usually carve out time to watch your favorite sitcom and read the Bible before bed, you might skip the show in favor of meeting your spiritual needs. Or you might watch your show because you really need some laughs.
Address unmet needs.
When you can’t meet a certain need it can be incredibly frustrating (on top of your stress). Silently acknowledge that you’d like to satisfy this need in the future, Eder said. “Addressing our needs — even when they can’t be met — is a meaningful form of emotional self-care that can help hold us over until the storm passes.”
Check in with yourself.
For Pershing, self-care is all about listening. Her biggest tip, she said, is to sit still and pay attention. “I literally sit for five minutes — somewhere quiet and comfy – and do a quick check-in physically, intellectually, emotionally [and] spiritually, asking ‘What do I notice? What do I need?’ in each area.”
Ask for help.
When her plate is too full, Pershing reminds herself to reach out. Specifically, she asks herself: “Can someone else do this piece?”
If not, she considers if she’s able to do it while maintaining the balance between movement and stillness (which, she said, self-care requires). If not, she considers if she can give herself permission to let it go.
Decide what really matters.
Eder also suggested considering if you can relinquish some of your responsibilities and really hone in on what’s important.
“Stressful times can be instructive if you let them be. What is most important for you to accomplish today? What can wait?”
Self-care is personal. What you choose to do will depend on your personality and preferences. “One person’s spa treatment is another person’s half-marathon training,” Eder said. Your self-care practice might be active or restful, interactive or solitary, quiet or noisy, she said.
Whatever you choose, remember, too, that self-care is not a luxury or needless practice.
“Self-care is necessary to anything important we hope to do, any meaning we hope to have, and any difference we hope to make,” Pershing said.
If I asked you to judge how smart someone is, you’d know where to start. But if you were going to assess how wise that person is, what qualities would you consider?
Wisdom is the ability to make sound judgments and choices based on experience. It’s a virtue according to every great philosophical and religious tradition, from Aristotle to Confucius and Christianity to Judaism, Islam to Buddhism, and Taoism to Hinduism. According to the book From Smart to Wise, wisdom distinguishes great leaders from the rest of the pack. So what does it take to cultivate wisdom?
In an enlightening study led by psychologists Paul Baltes and Ursula Staudinger, a group of leading journalists nominated public figures who stood out as wise. The researchers narrowed the original list down to a core set of people who were widely viewed as possessing wisdom—an accomplished group of civic leaders, theologians, scientists, and cultural icons. They compared these wise people with a control group of professionals who were successful but not nominated as wise (including lawyers, doctors, teachers, scientists, and managers).
Both groups answered questions that gave them a chance to demonstrate their wisdom. For example, what advice would they give to a widowed mother facing a choice between shutting down her business and supporting her son and grandchildren? How would they respond to a call from a severely depressed friend? A panel of experts evaluated their answers, and the results—along with several follow-up studies—reveal six insights about what differentiates wise people from the rest of us.
1. Don’t wait until you’re older and smarter. The people with the highest wisdom scores are just as likely to be 30 as 60. It turns out that the number of life experiences has little to do with the quality of those experiences. According to the data, between ages 25 to 75, the correlation between age and wisdom is zero. Wisdom emerges not from experience itself, but rather from reflecting thoughtfully on the lessons gained from experience. Further research shows that intelligence only accounts for about 2% of the variance in wisdom. It’s possible to be quick on your feet and skilled in processing complex information without reaching sensible solutions to problems. Cultivating wisdom is a deliberate choice that people can make regardless of age and intelligence. Here’s how they do it.
2. See the world in shades of grey, not black and white. Imagine meeting a 15-year-old girl who plans to get married next week. What would you tell her?
Here’s a response that scored low in wisdom:
“A 15-year-old girl wants to get married? No, no way, marrying at age 15 would be utterly wrong. One has to tell the girl that marriage is not possible. (After further probing) It would be irresponsible to support such an idea. No, this is just a crazy idea.”
In contrast, wise people embraced nuance and multiple perspectives.
Consider one answer that receivedhigh marks for wisdom:
“Well, on the surface, this seems like an easy problem. On average, marriage for 15-yearold girls is not a good thing. But there are situations where the average case does not fit. Perhaps in this instance, special life circumstances are involved, such that the girl has a terminal illness. Or the girl has just lost her parents. And also, this girl may live in another culture or historical period. Perhaps she was raised with a value system different from ours. In addition, one has to think about adequate ways of talking with the girl and to consider her emotional state.”
Wise people specialize in what strategy expert Roger Martin calls integrative thinking—"the capacity to hold two diametrically opposing ideas in their heads”—and reconcile them for the situation at hand. In the words of the philosopher Bertrand Russell, “fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.”
3. Balance self-interest and the common good. A second defining quality of wisdom is the ability to look beyond our personal desires. As psychologist Robert Sternberg puts it: “wisdom and egocentricity are incompatible… people who have gotten where they are by not taking other people's interests into account or even by actively thwarting the interests of others… would not be viewed as wise.”
This doesn’t mean that wise people are self-sacrificing. In Give and Take, I report evidence that well-being and success both suffer if we’re too focused on others or on ourselves. It’s neither healthy nor productive to be extremely altruistic or extremely selfish. People who fail to secure their oxygen masks before assisting others end up running out of air, and those who pursue personal gains as the expense of others end up destroying their relationships and reputations. Wise people reject the assumption that the world is a win-lose, zero-sum place. They find ways to benefit others that also advance their own objectives.
4. Challenge the status quo. Wise people are willing to question rules. Instead of accepting things as they have always been, wisdom involves asking whether there’s a better path. In Practical Wisdom, psychologist Barry Schwartz and political scientist Kenneth Sharpe describe a Philadelphia man who was convicted of holding up a taxi driver with a gun. The sentencing guidelines called for two to five years in jail, but the facts of case didn’t fit: the man used a toy gun, it was his first offense, he had just lost his job, and he stole $50 to support his family. A wise judge gave him a shorter sentence and permission to hold a job outside of jail during the day so that he could take care of his family—and required him to repay the $50.
5. Aim to understand, rather than judge. By default, many of us operate like jurors, passing judgment on the actions of others so that we can sort them into categories of good and bad. Wise people resist this impulse, operating more like detectives whose goal is to explain other people’s behaviors. As psychologist Ellen Langer is fond of saying, “Behavior makes sense from the actors’ perspective, or else they wouldn’t do it.” Over time, this emphasis on understanding rather than evaluating yields an advantage in predicting others’ actions, enabling wise people to offer better advice to others and make better choices themselves.
6. Focus on purpose over pleasure. In one surprising study, Baltes’ team discovered that wise people weren’t any happier than their peers. They didn’t experience more positive emotions, perhaps because wisdom requires critical self-reflection and a long-term view. They recognized that just as today’s cloud can have a silver lining tomorrow, tomorrow’s silver lining can become next month’s suffering. However, there was a clear psychological benefit of wisdom: a stronger sense of purpose in life. From time to time, wisdom may involve putting what makes us happy on the back burner in our quest for meaning and significance.
On the way to success, many people pursue money and power over wisdom. As Benjamin Franklin once wrote:
“Who is wise? He that learns from everyone.
Who is powerful? He that governs his passions.
Who is rich? He that is content.
Who is that? Nobody.
But a truly wise person would refuse to accept that conclusion.
Psychologists have conducted research which shows that money can’t buy happiness. That is, once you have enough money to meet your basic needs, having more money will impact your level of happiness only slightly.
However, Elizabeth Dunn, an associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, and Michael Norton, an associate professor of marketing at Harvard Business School, have set forth the proposition that this is only partially true. That is, how much money you have won’t determine your level of happiness, but how you spend it will.
Most people think that they can be happier by doing things such as the following:
Buying a faster, sleeker, more luxurious car.Moving to a bigger house.Purchasing a better version of whatever it is that their neighbors just bought (and making sure that the neighbors see it).
Nonetheless, research conducted over the past ten years shows that this way of thinking is wrong. Buying these things won’t make you happier.
In their recently published book, titled “Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending”, Dunn and Norton claim to have uncovered how you can buy happiness. They set forth five spending principles which they argue will transform your currency into “happy money”.
The five principles are the following:
Make It a Treat
Pay Now, Consume Later
Invest In Others
Each of these is explained after the jump...
We’re all familiar with the positive feeling of amusement we get when watching “America’s Funniest Home Videos” or when laughing about a good joke with friends at a party. What many people are less aware of, though, is the fact that humor actually is a prototypical human social emotional state that differentiates us from nearly all other animals.
With this knowledge, it’s tempting to ask how humor is processed on a neural basis by the human brain, and what function humor could play in humans in evolutionary terms. To stimulate future research on these and other questions, Jessica Black, PhD, Allan Reiss, MD, and I wrote a review paper, “Neural Basis of Humor Processing in Humans,” that was recently published online by Nature Reviews Neuroscience.
We also found evidence for altered humor processing in adults suffering from psychological or psychiatric disorders… Such findings are of potential clinical relevance as they provide valuable information on [the] conditions…
The central part of our review paper consists of a summary of all functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) papers on humor that have appeared during the last 13 years. In our eyes, the findings of those studies nicely converge with previously derived psychological humor models in suggesting that humor perception involves two core processes.
In a first step, also referred as to the cognitive humor component, an apparent discrepancy or incongruity between two or more elements of incoming information is detected and resolved. For example, incongruity can be introduced by the occurrence of an unexpected twist in successive events, which then has to be resolved by associating the new outcome with an alternative meaning. In terms of functional neuroanatomy, one area of the temporal parietal cortex, the temporo-occipito-parietal junction, appears to be particularly well-suited for such incongruity processing. In a second step, incongruity resolution is then linked to a positive feeling of amusement or mirth, also referred as to the emotional humor component. The latter appears to be mainly maintained by high activity in reward-related brain circuits, making us feel good about the successful resolution of incongruity.
Along with reviewing the fMRI literature on the core processes involved in humor, we looked at the influence of sex, personality and brain disorder on humor processing. The available data indicates that there are sex differences in humor processing in the sense that girls and women more strongly activate brain regions sustaining both cognitive and emotional humor components than boys and men. One possible underlying mechanism might be relatively lower reward expectation in females, making them more susceptible to humor effects on reward processing circuits.
We also found evidence for altered humor processing as a function of personality traits in healthy children and adults (e.g., shyness or extraversion), as well as in adults suffering from psychological (e.g. depression and social anxiety disorder) or psychiatric (e.g. autism) disorders. By describing the potentially separable effects of these characteristics on cognitive versus emotional humor components, such findings are of potential clinical relevance as they provide valuable information on conditions involving altered experience of social reward.
Finally, we suggest that our review of the neural basis of humor in humans can also inform theories on the evolutionary significance of humor. In particular, this applies to a theory of humor associated with sexual selection. This theory states that humor may contribute to mate selection choices for women, allowing them to evaluate potential mates on otherwise difficult to discern characteristics like intelligence, social skills and resilience. (For more details, see my previous blog).
While our perspective paper provides valuable insights into the present knowledge of humor processing in humans, it clearly shows there are many outstanding questions that need to be addressed in the future. Our investigations will continue.
Pascal Vrticka, PhD, is a postdoctoral scholar in Stanford’s Center for Interdisciplinary Brain Sciences Research.
When is the last time you wrote something? Really wrote something, putting pen to paper, and not just typing away an email or report on a computer or smartphone. If it's been awhile, you might want to consider getting back into the practice -- writing (whether it be expressive writing, like you would do in a diary, or keeping a gratitude journal) has been linked with a number of benefits for both body and mind. Read through the list for some ways to write your way to a better you.
Writing by hand can help you learn better.
Expressing emotions through words may speed healing.
Writing down your thoughts and feelings after a traumatic event can actually make physical wounds heal faster, according to a study from New Zealand researchers. In this study, participants were assigned to write in a journal either about their deepest, most innermost thoughts and feelings, or about anything except their feelings or beliefs. Then, after two weeks, they had skin biopsies taken -- which left a wound on their arms. Researchers followed up with the participants until those wounds were healed, and found that those assigned to expressively write in the journals had faster healing times than those told to avoid writing about their feelings, TIME reported.
It could help change the way cancer patients think about their disease.
Consider it a fundamental part of your gratitude practice.
And writing down what you're thankful for could help you sleep better, too.
It makes your mind -- and body -- better.
As the prison population spirals out of control in the United States, Sweden finds itself with an interesting and opposite predicament: it has too many prisons and not enough prisoners.
The issue isn't lack of crime in Sweden—in fact, the crime rate has actually increased slightly there—but rather a strong emphasis on rehabilitating criminals, rather than locking them up. The prison population declined 6 percent between 2011 and 2012. In the United States, by comparison, federal facilities are 40 percent over capacity.
The New York Times highlighted this contrast in an editorial last week describing what the U.S. can learn from European prisons, where the vast majority of stays are less than 12 months. In U.S. state prisons, for example, the average is three years. It's not just that prison stays are shorter in Europe, however; prisons treat prisoners differently, giving them more privacy and freedom, and generally gearing their time behind bars toward reentering society. And, at the end of the day, that produces better results than locking people up and throwing away the key. [The Guardian]
‘So if we love someone, we should train in being able to listen. By listening with calm and understanding, we can ease the suffering of another person.’ ~Thich Nhat Hanh
While the idea of being more compassionate is appealing to many people, what stands in the way is that we get irritated by other people, often actually strongly disliking them.
How can you be compassionate with others when they irritate you, rub you the wrong way, make you angry?
It’s difficult. I have a hard time with this fairly often, so I’ve been studying it inside myself. What’s really amazing is how much we get in our own way.
My “self” is the thing that stands in the way of true compassion, I’ve been learning.
And my “self” is almost always putting itself in the center of the universe, demanding things, and becoming angry when it doesn’t get what it feels it deserves.
I’m really blown away by how much I think about myself, and how often I believe (without admitting it to myself) that I deserve to be treated a certain way, that others should act the way I want them to act.
Watch Your Selfish Thoughts
Try monitoring those kinds of thoughts in your own head:
When someone irritates you, your “self” is angry because they aren’t acting the way you want them to act. You think you’re entitled to quiet, entitled to being treated fairly or with respect, entitled to have the world behave the way you want it to behave.When someone doesn’t clean up after themselves, you get irritated because you think you’re entitled to everyone acting the way you want them to act (being clean and considerate).When someone gets in your way or cuts you off in traffic, you get irritated, because you think they should not be in your way.
Maybe everyone should watch for where you’re going and clear a path?When someone else needs help, you think first about how it will affect you, rather than how it will affect the other person.When something unexpected happens at work or in your personal life, you think first about how it will affect you.When people are talking, you think about how what they’re saying relates to you, how you’ve had a similar experience, what they’re thinking of you.
There are many other variations, but you get the idea. These are self-centered thoughts. I have them all the time — way more than I would have believed before I started monitoring them.
It’s natural for us to have these self-centered thoughts. When we are kids, we believe we’re the center of the universe. When we grow up, we mostly still believe this, and it’s probably a self-defense mechanism to create a universe where we’re at the center of it, entitled to what we want.
But it gets in the way of compassion. Let’s see what happens when we remove ourselves, get out of the way.
Compassion starts with empathy — imagining putting ourselves in the mind of another person, and imagining what they’re going through. We are probably wrong about what they’re going through, because we can’t know, but without this imaginative process we can’t have compassion.
Once we’ve empathized, and feel their suffering, the second half of compassion is wanting to end that suffering, and taking action to ease that suffering in some way.
So empathy is incredibly important, but if we are thinking about ourselves first, and only ourselves, we can’t empathize.
We must get ourselves out of the way, and think of the other person. When we think about how we should be treated, what we want, how something will affect us, we cannot also be thinking of the other person and how something will affect them, how they should be treated, what they want.
So to empathize, we must get out of the way. Be self-less rather than selfish.
How do we do that? Honestly, I’m still learning.
The first step for me has been to become aware of my selfish thinking. And it happens all the time.
The next step, when I recognize this selfish thinking, is to pause, and try to put my mind in the mind of the other person, to empathize, to try to understand what they’re going through. To feel their suffering, and then to want to end it.
And then ask, how can I end that suffering?
Get yourself out of the way, so that compassion becomes possible.
Jim Manske's insight:
I like the reminder that my judgmental thinking is often veils empathic connection...
A new study from the University of Toronto Scarborough shows that people who are aware of and their own thoughts and emotions are less affected by positive feedback from others.
The study, authored by UTSC PhD candidate Rimma Teper, finds that individuals high in trait mindfulness show less neural response to positive feedback than their less mindful peers.
"These findings suggest that mindful individuals may be less affected by immediate rewards and fits well with the idea that mindful individuals are typically less impulsive" says Teper.
Trait mindfulness is characterized by an ability to recognize and accept one's thoughts and emotions without judgment. Mindful individuals are much better at letting their feelings and thoughts go rather than getting carried away.
Using electroencephalography (EEG) the brain activity of participants was recorded while they completed a reaction time task on a computer. The authors were interested in participants' brain activity in response to receiving performance feedback that was rewarding, neutral or negative in nature. Not only were mindful individuals less responsive to rewarding feedback compared to others, they also showed less difference in their neural response to neutral versus rewarding feedback.
The findings also reflect further clinical research that supports the notion of accepting one's emotions is an important indicator of mental well-being.
"Individuals who are problem gamblers for instance show more brain reactivity to immediate rewards, because they are typically more impulsive," says Teper.
"Many studies, including our own past work, have shown that people who meditate, and mindful individuals exhibit improved self-control. If mindful individuals are also less affected by immediate rewards, as our study suggests, this may help explain why," says Teper's PhD supervisor and UTSC psychology professor Michael Inzlicht.
The research was published this week in the journal Emotion.
Students in Matamoros, Mexico weren't getting much out of school -- until a radical new teaching method unlocked their potential.
Jim Manske's insight:
A long read, and worth it! Inspiring!
In our relentless pursuit of happiness, it's easy to shove aside, make light of, or otherwise evade negative emotions. But the truth is that unpleasant feelings are not only inevitable, they can also play a key role in health and well-being.
A small study from Olin University published earlier this year showed that being comfortable experiencing and expressing mixed emotions was a predictor of improvements in well-being, while ignoring or evading negative feelings was not associated with boosts in well-being.
"We found that those participants who were making meaning out of their experiences with a mixture of happiness and sadness actually showed increases in their psychological well-being, compared to people who were just reporting sadness, just reporting happiness, or some other mixture of emotions," Jonathan Adler, Olin assistant professor of psychology and one of the study's authors, told HuffPost Live. "It seems that there is something to be gained for your mental health in taking both the good and the bad together."
When we allow our negative emotions to become a source of shame or guilt, we could inadvertently be making those feelings worse and missing out on their benefits. And paradoxically, negative emotions can be a powerful catalyst for positive experiences and realizations, if we respond to them well.
Here are six negative emotions worth embracing.
Anger can be fueled into creativity.
Negative emotions sometimes stifle creativity, but science suggests that they can also be used to spark it. Recently, Ghent University researchers studied the habits of 100 creative professionals, having them rate their emotions at the beginning and end of each day. They found that those who stared the day with negative emotions but ended it with positive ones had the greatest creative output -- uniformly, the most productive days were those that began with some sort of negativity, meaning that they channeled their anger into their work 99U reported. In a separate experiment, the researchers found that negative emotions could help subjects focus longer while brainstorming.
"When you’re in a bad mood, it may be best to return to a particularly difficult problem or a project that has stalled out," Myths Of Creativity author David Burkus wrote on 99U. "Think of the negative emotion as fuel that you can burn on the path to creation. The negative emotions might just help you dig deeper into the problem and find a solution your happier self would never have uncovered."
Struggling with adversity can profoundly alter your perspective.
The old cliche that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger might have some truth to it. Life's greatest challenges can be opportunities for significant personal growth and development. Many people say that life-threatening health scares became blessings in disguise that fundamentally altered their perspectives and highlighted what's really important in life.
"On reflection, I realized that my most valuable lessons arose from difficulties and setbacks I had to confront, and imperfections I had to accept," Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal, author of The Gift Of Adversity, wrote in a Huffington Post blog. "Paradoxically, these adversities yielded unexpected gifts."
Sometimes these unexpected gifts come in the form of a new career path or life direction. When 32-year-old Kris Carr was diagnosed with a rare and untreatable form of cancer, she didn't lose hope: Instead, she challenged her diagnosis and turned to holistic healthcare, eventually becoming a wellness expert and New York Times-bestselling author. Now, she spreads inspiration to thousands who are looking to live healthier lifestyles.
Working through shame can help you cultivate compassion.
What did Daring Greatly author Brene Brown discover in more than a decade of researching shame and vulnerability? "Shame is deadly," she told Oprah. "And I think we are swimming in it deep."
Shame -- that painful feeling of humiliation or distress rooted in the belief that we're somehow deficient -- is what causes us to avoid connecting with others for fear that they'll see the flaws we are trying to hide. But the one upside of shame is that we can overcome it, building greater connections with others and becoming more compassionate towards ourselves and others.
"Shame depends on me buying into the belief that I'm alone," Brown says. "Shame cannot survive being spoken ... It cannot survive empathy."
Pessimism can make you more productive.
As a culture, we tend to prize looking on the bright side over seeing the glass half empty. But optimism untempered by some degree of negativity or pessimism isn't necessarily a productive attitude. As Wharton professor Adam Grant explains in aLinkedIn blog post, studies show that "defensive pessimists" -- those who tend to picture what could go wrong in any given situation -- perform just as well as "strategic optimists" in a variety of tasks.
“At first, I asked how these people were able to do so well despite their pessimism,”psychologist Julie Norem writes in The Positive Power of Negative Thinking. “Before long, I began to realize that they were doing so well because of their pessimism … negative thinking transformed anxiety into action.”
Ultimately, Grant notes, what most determines success is achieving the right balance between optimism and pessimism, and choosing preparation strategies that match your thinking styles.
"If you’re a defensive pessimist, when preparing for a performance that really matters, you might want to list your weaknesses instead of your strengths, and drink a glass of anxiety rather than a shot of confidence," Grant writes.
Envy can spur you to become better.
From a young age, we're told to beware the green-eyed monster. Envy can trigger us to feel that who we are and what we have is in some way lacking. But the emotion (in its more benign form) can actually spur us to better ourselves, according to a recent Scientific American article.
"After you realize other people don’t necessarily have everything you think you want, the next logical step is to figure out what that really is. What is it you really envy? Your sister’s boyfriend, or a sense of belonging? Your cousin’s job, or a sense of accomplishment? Your uncle’s schedule, or a sense of adventure?," writes Lori Deschene, founder of Tiny Buddha, in blog post. "You can have everything you want in life if identify specifically what those things are, and accept they may look different for you than they do for someone else."
Loss can lead to gratitude.
It can sometimes take losing something important to us to feel grateful for what we still have. But in the long term, overwhelming loss can become a powerful catalyst for deep, life-affirming gratitude.
Lynne Hughes, founder of Comfort Zone Camp for Grieving Children, says that losing both her parents at a young age ultimately taught her to appreciate the gifts, both big and small, that stem from every relationship in her life.
"That's one of the gifts and lessons from loss," Hughes wrote in a 2011 HuffPost blog. "Sprinkled with sadness, I felt blessed for the moments I had and the unexpected gifts that [my relationships] gave."
Negative thoughts and emotions present an opportunity to cultivate mindfulness.
The practice of mindfulness -- which aims to cultivate a focused awareness on the present moment -- can change our relationship with negative emotions, allowing us to experience them without judgement or shame.
"Feeling bad about having a negative emotion is a surefire way to compound and amplify the situation," writes Google's Search Inside Yourself Training Program. "You can quickly build a tower of negative emotions that can all come crumbling down."
But as Tibetan Buddhist teach Sogyal Rinpoche explains, mindfulness practices like meditation allow us to experience negative thoughts and emotions without judgment, resistance or struggle.
He writes in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying:
"We often wonder what to do about negativity or certain troubling emotions. In the spaciousness of meditation, you can view your thoughts and emotions with a totally unbiased attitude. When your attitude changes, then the whole atmosphere of your mind changes, even the very nature of your thoughts and emotions. When you become more agreeable, then they do; if you have no difficulty with them, they will have no difficulty with you either.”