Now that we have come out of hiding, Why would we live again in the tombs we’d made out of our souls?
And the sundered bodies that we’ve reassembled
With prayers and consolations,
What would their torn parts be, other than flesh?
Now that we have tasted hope
And dressed each other’s wounds with the legends of our
Would we not prefer to close our mouths forever shut
On the wine that swilled inside them?
Having dreamed the same dream,
Having found the water behind a thousand mirages,
Why would we hide from the sun again
Or fear the night sky after we’ve reached the ends of
darkness, Live in death again after all the life our dead have given us?
Listen to me Zow’ya, Beida, Ajdabya, Tobruk, Nalut,
Listen to me Derna, Musrata, Benghazi, Zintan,
Listen to me houses, alleys, courtyards, and streets that
throng my veins,
Some day soon, in your freed light, in the shade of your
Your excavated heroes will return to their thrones in your
Lovers will hold each other’s hands.
I need not look far to imagine the nerves dying,
Rejecting the life that blood sends them. I need not look deep into my past to seek a thousand hopeless vistas.
But now that I have tasted hope I have fallen into the embrace of my own rugged innocence.
How long were my ancient days?
I no longer care to count.
I no longer care to measure.
How bitter was the bread of bitterness?
I no longer care to recall.
Now that we have tasted hope, this hard-earned crust,
We would sooner die than seek any other taste to life,
Any other way of being human.
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
Happy New Year! It’s that time again. It’s the season for vision boards, desire maps, and visualizing your future successes. Gym memberships will see a huge spike (per usual), as will various addiction-themed groups, and the forgive/forget/organize/improve/live/love vagueness is at an all time high.
Unfortunately, statistics show that only 8% of the population is successful at keeping their resolution. How can you revamp your resolutions so that you’re part of that 8%? By taking the following actions…
1. Start with a review of your previous year.
Don’t rush right into making resolutions without taking stock of the previous year. Make a list of accomplishments from 2014. What kind of person did you have to be in order to accomplish those feats? What worked for you and what didn’t? What obstacles did you face in implementing your resolutions? Reviewing the previous year helps you to better understand what you need to focus on and improve and perhaps what you need ditch.
Implement a cyclical review for 2015. Take a look at your calendar and mark times to review your progress—be it monthly, quarterly, or maybe centered around some big events you have planned during the year. Waiting a full year to review is too long. You want to make sure you have up-to-date data and a fresh memory so you can continually improve.
2. Get specific and get real.
Many people aren’t successful with their resolutions because the resolution is vague. What’s your actual accomplishment? How will you know you achieved the goal? Don’t be afraid to articulate a specific goal, even if you’re afraid you won’t achieve it. And notice I said real, not “realistic.” I think it’s important to get real with yourself, and set goals that align with what you actually want, instead of what you feel like you’re supposed to want or that you can “realistically” achieve.
Vague resolutions may seem easier to accomplish, as they give wiggle room. Specificity sets a target in our minds and feels more restrictive. However, as Parkinson’s Law points out, a task expands to fill the time allotted for completion. For example, one of my resolutions last year was to “research how to make a blog.” Does that mean spend one minute on the Internet? Do a little research everyday? How was I supposed to know if I accomplished the goal? I wouldn’t, so I amended it to “start a blog by the end of the year.” Then I noticed myself dragging my feet because I knew I had until the end of the year. I amended it to, “start a blog by March 31st.” I launched the first week of March.
3. Give yourself the power.
I think this is the most important step. Most goals depend upon or are based on other people’s actions and decisions, or something outside of your control. However, to be successful at accomplishing your goals, you have to rely on yourself.
Instead of saying “I want to get 100 paying customers by the end of the first quarter,” change it to, “I will reach out to 100 customers by the end of the first quarter.” If you’re in the sales or service industries, you have customers. And you want to make your customers/clients/etc. happy. So you want to make goals that revolve around them. But you are doing yourself a disservice by setting a goal over which you have no control. Focus on upholding your end of the deal and see the magic that ensues.
4. Identify your WHY.
Dig a little deeper: Why do you want to achieve this goal? What will it mean to you? You may have to ask why several times to get to the bottom of the matter. Your “why” will be your motivation on the not-so-good days. Most people focus much of their energy on HOW they will accomplish a goal. But understanding your “why” will not only inspire and motivate you to persevere, it will also give your goal meaning and clarify if it’s really what you say you want.
5. Plan ahead.
At some point during the year, you will not feel like doing what you promised yourself. If you know that will happen, why not plan for it? Since you’ve done your review for 2014, you know what you want to avoid. You’ll understand your triggers. But you’ll also know how to react to a funk and how to get out of one. During your scheduled reviews, it’s OK to amend your resolution based on what you know about yourself and what has happened. In addition, be gentle, be nice, and be kind to yourself.
6. Set up a support network.
We all need people encourage, support, and hold us accountable. As part of planning ahead, you’ll need help along the way. Identify certain people you can count on to motivate you, be your drill sergeant, or offer words of comfort. Let them know ahead of time you’ll be counting on them. They can be anyone—spouse, family member, close friends, or co-workers. You may also choose to hire someone, like a life coach, nutritionist, or personal trainer. Whoever it is, make sure you can really trust them. And also, don’t forget that you must still hold yourself accountable. You’re your own first go-to in your support network.
Remember: resolutions are supposed to focus on the positive. By anticipating the reality that you will have a few bad days or weeks (which is inevitable), you can proactively combat the obstacles and struggles you may face. Figure out how to work through feeling less than 100%. What baby steps or progress can you make even when you’re tired? And don’t be afraid to ask others for help! While you’re in control and self-accountability matters, the more people you get on board to root for you, the merrier!
Stephanie is the founder and life coach of Cultivated Sense, a movement that promotes ordinary ways to live extraordinarily and encourages people to stop settling in life and love. She’s also the Director of Logistics for the Paul C. Brunson Matchmaking Agency, an award-winning boutique matchmaking and lifestyle coaching agency. She loves helping people through life transitions and empowering them to cultivate their own sense of how to manage their daily lives. You can find more about Stephanie at www.cultivatedsense.com or on Twitter: @CultivatedSense.
When Tara Brach, PhD, speaks, a lot of people listen. Even when she doesn’t speak, they listen — or simply join her in silence.
Brach is a popular presenter at spiritual centers across the country, leading about 10 workshops and two or three meditation retreats each year. Followers in more than 150 countries download her talks and guided meditations for free and devour her best-selling CDs and books, including her 2013 book “True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart,” which discusses how people can find “their true home” — what Brach calls “a timeless, loving presence” — under even the most challenging conditions.
“What I have found over time is that the more I can recognize what is happening in the present moment and simply open and allow the experience without judgment, the more I come back home.”
Her approach blends Buddhist and psychological teachings in ways that are easy for people to apply in their daily lives, say colleagues.
“Tara has an incredible ability to bring the teachings alive with stories that are personal, that show she is vulnerable, but at the same time, not make them about her, but about others’ development,” says Cheri Maples of the Center for Mindfulness and Justice, a non-sectarian mindfulness training center for criminal justice professionals and others.
Over the last decade, Brach’s teaching and writing have helped to inspire a line of research that has made mindfulness techniques more mainstream, says one such researcher, University of Toronto psychologist Zindel V. Segal, PhD. He was a key founder of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, an approach that uses mindfulness techniques to prevent depression relapse, first outlined with colleagues J. Mark G. Williams, DPhil, and John D. Teasdale, PhD, in a 2000 article in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.
“Coming at a time when the field was still grappling with how mindfulness and compassion practices could be integrated into clinical treatment, Tara’s work was profoundly influential,” Segal says.
‘The trance of unworthiness’
Brach came to her path by studying psychology, meditation and yoga, as well as by examining her own life and conflicts, which include a 1991 divorce, a 2003 diagnosis of a genetic disorder that affects the connective tissue and a family that — like her — is “neurotic as hell,” she laughs.
Now 60, Brach experienced an “aha!” moment at age 22 as a psychology and political science student at Clark University. While on a camping trip, a friend told her she was “learning how to be her own best friend.” Hearing this, Brach burst into tears, she remembers. “I realized I was just the opposite. Everywhere I looked I had another judgment about myself — I was a bad daughter, I was a bad friend, I was too heavy, I couldn’t control my eating, I wasn’t doing what I could be doing academically, I didn’t help the world enough,” she says.
That observation led to an ongoing attempt to understand and free herself and others from what Brach has come to call “the trance of unworthiness.” It’s a particularly strong habit in the West, she thinks, because our competitive, individualistic culture pressures us to feel we’re never good enough.
To pursue healing and explore her spirituality, Brach decided to move into an ashram after college. For 10 years, she lived in this spiritual community, teaching at the ashram’s yoga center and working in a vegetarian restaurant to stay afloat. She immersed herself in practicing yoga, breath-based meditation and devotional chanting, which quieted some of her mental obsessing and helped her gain more openheartedness and peace. While still living in the ashram, she began graduate school at the Fielding Institute in Santa Barbara, Calif., where she earned her doctorate in clinical psychology in 1991.
Her psychology training and internship practice provided her with two core insights, Brach says. The first is that therapy should create a sufficiently safe and accepting space so that clients can connect with areas of dissociated emotional pain, learn to relate to that pain with sturdier internal resources and start to heal. The second is that recognizing and mirroring the client’s strengths is powerful medicine.
“It serves as a key element in clients’ ability to release limiting self-narratives, open to unprocessed pain and discover a greater sense of wholeness,” says Brach from her quiet, woodsy home in Great Falls, Va. But it was Buddhist meditation that really helped to gel her direction, she says. After attending a number of silent retreats, in 1995 Brach embarked on a three-year teacher training program led by psychologist and Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield, PhD, at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, Calif.
“Over those years, my spiritual life went much deeper because I came to trust my heart and awareness and who I am beyond these changing moods, thoughts and ways of behaving,” she says.
The core Buddhist teachings about how “to awaken to the vastness, mystery and intrinsic goodness of who we really are” became a central focus of her life, therapy work and teaching, she says. These teachings are grounded in practices of mindfulness, and lead to a natural love of and generosity toward the world.
“When we are mindful and awake in the moment, we have the capacity to empathically sense the suffering within and around us, and to respond with compassion,” she says.
A dual strategy
In the ensuing years, Brach sought to share her experiences and insights with others, through psychology practice and teaching. As a private practitioner, she worked with clients with anxiety, depression and trauma symptoms who were interested in spiritual work. She also offered classes and workshops that combined Buddhist teachings, meditation and psychology, such as psychodrama and meditation, for instance, or applying meditation to emotionally challenging situations. She no longer practices individual therapy but teaches both lay practitioners and professionals seeking to integrate mindfulness into psychotherapy.
Her Eastern practices intimately informed her psychology path, and vice versa. She has seen how combining an ongoing meditation practice with psychotherapy can provide a powerful path for healing.
“Therapy helps us to recognize and accept our patterns and imperfections, while meditation gradually opens us to the confidence that we have an inner refuge, a way to hold our lives in our own caring and healing presence,” she says.
When people train in these ways, the results can be dramatic, she says. Researchers agree, with studies showing that meditation helps to activate regions of the brain involved in higher functions and offering a behavioral and psychological alternative to the instinctive “fight or flight” response of the reptilian brain. A 2010 study by Britta K. Hölzel, PhD, and colleagues in Psychiatric Research, for example, shows that meditation leads to increases in brain density in the cerebral cortex, associated with improved executive functioning, concentration and emotional regulation. Meanwhile, a 2003 study in Psychosomatic Medicine by Richard Davidson, PhD, and Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, showed that eight weeks of mindfulness-based meditation produced significant increases in left-sided anterior brain activity, which is associated with positive emotional states.
Brain activity aside, “you can think of spiritual practice as a kind of spiritual re-parenting,” Brach adds. “You’re offering yourself the two qualities that make up good parenting: understanding — seeing yourself for who you truly are — and relating to what you see with unconditional love.”
Today, Brach’s work extends to many populations. Practitioners whom she has trained teach mindfulness techniques in schools, prisons, corporations, nonprofit organizations and on Capitol Hill. They have offered classes at the World Bank, the Environmental Protection Agency and to superior court justices. A sure sign these ideas are becoming a part of the nation’s consciousness: In October, Brach and Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), another champion of mindfulness and author of the 2012 book “A Mindful Nation,” teamed up to launch a mindfulness program at a large public high school in Bethesda, Md.
“To me, bringing mindfulness-based practices to students, teachers and parents is some of the most important work we can be doing,” Brach says. “If we can help the next generation become more self-aware, empathetic and emotionally resilient, they will bring their wisdom to healing the earth and creating a more peaceful world.”
This article first appeared on Greater Good, the online magazine of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.
More than a decade after Greater Good first started reporting on the science of compassion, generosity, happiness—what we call “the science of a meaningful life”—the research in our field is acquiring ever more nuance and sophistication. New studies build on and even re-interpret findings from previous years, particularly as their authors use more exacting methods, with bigger and broader data sets, and consider additional factors to explain prior results.
These nuances are clearly reflected in this year’s list of our Top 10 Insights from the Science of a Meaningful Life—the fourth such list compiled by Greater Good’s editors. Indeed, many of this year’s entries could be described as “Yes, but” insights: Yes, as prior findings suggest, being wealthy seems to make people less generous, but only when they reside in places with high inequality. Yes, pursuing happiness makes you unhappy, but only if you live in an individualistic culture. Yes, Americans are less happy than they used to be, but only if they’re over the age of 30. The caveats and qualifications abound.
And these are not just signs of academic hair splitting. Instead, they demonstrate that researchers are sharpening their understanding of the actual causes, consequences, and current state of humans’ social and emotional well-being. And that, in turn, means that Greater Good is able to report on the practical implications and potential applications of this research with greater confidence and detail than ever before.
To do that, of course, we rely on a brain trust of some excellent guides and advisors. In addition to our staff and faculty here at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, we polled more than 150 outside experts in our field, asking them to identify the findings from 2015 that they considered most novel, provocative, profound, and (potentially) enduring from the science of a meaningful life. From the scores of nominations that we received, it was challenging to whittle the list down to 10, as it always is. But after much discussion and debate, here are our top choices.
1. Experiencing awe makes us, well, awesome.
Before 2015, there were just a handful of studies ever published about the experience of awe. It was one of those emotions—like gratitude and happiness before it—that had been neglected as a topic worthy of serious scientific attention.
That started to change in a big way last year. Several studies published suggest some profound, previously overlooked benefits associated with awe, which is defined by researchers as feeling like we’re in the presence of something larger than ourselves—be it a natural wonder, a work of art, or feats of athleticism or altruism—that defies our understanding of the world and makes us feel like we’re just one small part of a vast, interconnected universe.
Two studies in particular stood out. A paper published last April in the journal Emotion linked awe to special health benefits. The researchers found that people who experience high levels of positive emotions in general had significantly lower levels in their bodies of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are proteins associated with type-2 diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, depression, and other health problems.
Closer analysis of the results revealed that awe was the emotion most strongly associated with lower levels of cytokines and thus better health. In fact, the more frequently participants reported feeling awe, the lower their cytokine levels.
A separate study, published in June in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggests that awe might not only boost our health but also make us more kind and helpful to others. In one part of the study, participants either gazed up at some towering eucalyptus trees, which induced feelings of awe, or stared up at a large building. When a passer-by (who was actually working with the researchers) “accidentally” dropped some pens in front of them, the people who had looked at the trees were significantly more likely to help pick the pens up.
Both of those studies were conducted by a team that included Greater Good Science Center Director Dacher Keltner, who has been a pioneer in the study of awe. As the field takes off and attracts more interest from other scientists, it’s likely that new awe findings will make this list in the future.
2. Cynicism can hurt your pocketbook.
Don’t be so trusting. Watch your back. You can’t be too careful. That’s the way to get ahead in life, right?
A paper published in May in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychologycasts some doubt on that mentality.
In an analysis of more than 68,000 Americans and Europeans over nine years, researchers at the University of Cologne in Germany found that cynicism isn’t the path to financial success. If you are wary of trusting others, worry about being taken advantage of, and see others as self-interested and deceitful, you’re likely to have a lower income now (and in the future) than people with a rosier view of humanity.
There was just one exception: Cynicism is less financially detrimental in countries where it seems justified—where the murder rate is high, the giving rate is low, and more people see each other as selfish and predatory. In a few countries, cynics actually earned slightly more money.
“Cynical individuals are likely to lack the ability (or willingness) to rely on others,” the researchers explain. That may be helpful in the roughest areas of the world, but not so helpful in civilized society, where they miss out on valuable opportunities attained by asking for help, making compromises, and collaborating.
In other words, if you’re a cynic among people who would be happy to offer help and support, you’re basically shooting yourself in the foot—a good reason to put a little faith in humanity.
3. We can bridge political divides by appealing to the other side’s moral values.
American political debates seem shaped by sides unwilling or unable to find common ground. Partisans sometimes feel intense frustration that the other side won’t buy their (clearly correct) point of view. However, research by Jonathan Haidt, Joshua Greene, and others has suggested that we often fail to recognize how moral systems undergird political divisions, and that this obliviousness may explain the intractability of today’s political climate.
In a study published last month in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Matthew Feinberg and Robb Willer hypothesize that political advocates make arguments grounded in their own morality, not the values of those they want to persuade—which the researchers memorably describe as a “moral empathy gap.” They also wondered if arguments appealing to the moral values of those targeted for persuasion will be more effective.
To test these assumptions, they ran six studies. The first two asked 93 participants to write essays that try persuade the other side—the results of which did indeed confirm the hypothesis that both liberals and conservatives tend to write from their own moral foundations without, apparently, considering the morality of their opponents.
The next four studies tested the idea that re-framing political arguments in the moral terms of the other side would prove more persuasive. In the third study, for example, Feinberg and Willer presented 288 participants with arguments in favor of universal health care that invoked either the value of fairness (i.e., health care is a right for all) or the value of purity (i.e., sick people are disgusting and therefore we need to reduce sickness). This and similar studies did indeed confirm that arguing from moral foundations made a difference: Conservatives who heard the purity argument for Obamacare became friendlier toward it.
In addition to establishing more links between morality and politics, this paper reveals on an empirical level that efforts to bridge the moral empathy gap can pay off in persuasion. “Morality contributes to political polarization because moral convictions lead individuals to take absolutist stances and refuse to compromise,” conclude the authors. “Our research presents a means for political persuasion that, rather than challenging one’s moral values, incorporates them into the argument.” (Or, perhaps, advocates need to directly address the morality of opponents, instead of ignoring its importance to their political positions or bickering around specific policies.)
Will moral arguments be effective on every highly charged political issue—for instance, could they convince Bernie Sanders that a flat tax is a fair, sound fiscal policy? Or, of greater concern to people dismayed by anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States, could they persuade Donald Trump to welcome people to the U.S. who don’t look like him? Probably not. But they may influence enough of his supporters to make a difference. No matter what, it’s worth the time to try to put yourself in the shoes of political opponents.
4. Inequality—not wealth—is the enemy of generosity.
But this year, a new study offered a significant twist: The earlier research, it seems, may have told only part of an important and timely story.
According to the new study, published online in November in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), higher-income people are less generous—but only when they live in a place that has high levels of inequality. When the gap between rich and poor is low, the rich might actually be more generous.
Those conclusions were based on data from a big national survey of United States residents that found that in states with greater inequality, people with higher incomes were less willing to share a prize with a stranger, but in states with low inequality, they more were willing. A subsequent experiment—where the researchers told people their state had high or low inequality—suggested that the rich become more selfish only when they believe that they live amidst great inequality. The researchers speculate that’s because great inequality impels the well-off to convince themselves that they truly deserve their good fortune and thus don’t need to share it.
Those findings echo the results from another recent study, published in October in Nature, in which researchers made an unequal distribution of resources among members of a group. The wealthier members were less likely to cooperate when the inequities were made visible; when they weren’t apparent, the rich weren’t less cooperative.
So why did previous studies suggest that the rich were unequivocally more selfish? One possible explanation: Many of those earlier studies were conducted in California, a state with some of the highest inequality in the country.
According to the PNAS study’s authors, their findings don’t contradict the prior research as much as offer a caveat to it. What’s more, says study co-author Robb Willer of Stanford University, their work offers more targeted prescriptions for public policy.
“If you’re concerned about the relationship between income and generosity,” he says, “one way to counteract that is to adopt policies that promote equality.”
5. Pursuing happiness makes you unhappy—but only if you live in an individualistic culture.
Americans want to be happy. But some recent studies have found a paradox: The pursuit of happiness tends to make individual Americans unhappy.
A new study sheds some light on this peculiar American contradiction, suggesting that the relationship between pursuing happiness and decreased well-being, far from being universal, may actually be a product of our individualistic culture.
Brett Ford, of the University of California, Berkeley, teamed up with researchers from around the world to look at the pursuit of happiness in four culturally-distinct locations: the United States, Germany, Russia, and East Asia. College undergraduates living in each location answered questionnaires measuring their psychological and physical well-being, their motivation to pursue happiness, and the extent to which they viewed happiness in social terms—meaning that, for them, happiness was linked to social engagement and helping others.
Ford and colleagues then analyzed the data to find out how these factors interacted with one another in different cultural settings. The results, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, showed that the pursuit of happiness did indeed lead to less well-being for Americans, a finding that replicates prior studies. This wasn’t the case elsewhere in the world.
The impact of culture on the pursuit of happiness seems to be related to the way different cultures view happiness, says Ford. In Russia and East Asia, study participants were shown to strongly equate happiness with social relationships—something Ford says is in line with their more “collectivist,” or group-oriented, cultures. In Germany and the United States this wasn’t the case, probably a result of their more “individualistic” orientation.
This suggests that in collectivist cultures, people seek social solutions for becoming happier, says Ford. Since social ties are well-known predictors of well-being, this may explain why happiness pursuers in Russia and East Asia tend to actually feel happier.
The upshot? Try to focus less intensely on your desire to be happy and just concentrate on building social relationships—hang out with friends and family, seek out social opportunities when possible, and develop practices like compassion and gratitude, which can make you feel more connected to others.
6. Older Americans are becoming less happy.
American society has undergone significant upheavals in the past few decades, from the invention of social media to the globalization of the economy. We have more money, bigger homes, and more education, but also greater inequality. Have all these changes made us happier?
Only some of us, suggests a study published last year in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. According to survey responses from 1.3 million people spanning 1972 to 2014, today’s American adolescents are happier than teens were in the past, but adults over age 30 have become less happy.
Note that this isn’t a longitudinal study, when researchers follow the same individuals over time; instead, this study compared the subjective well-being of specific age groups at different points in recent history. Previous studies have found that happiness jumps up and down over the course of individual lives, with most finding that happiness falls dramatically in middle age and then gently increases as we enter the senior years. By comparing age groups over time, Jean Twenge and her colleagues were able to detect social trends in happiness. Their results are echoed by a report this year from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which showed that the suicide rate for Americans aged 35 to 64 years has jumped by 28 percent since 1999, while the rate for younger people has stayed steady.
These findings are important because they reveal a previously hidden problem, although the research hasn’t yet told us exactly why this shift is happening. Something about American cultural changes over the past 40 years seems to be hitting adults hard while buoying up adolescents, and the researchers can only speculate. One suspicion? We’re seeing a rise in individualism and a weakening of social ties that may be primarily harmful to adults. Many adults over 30 have moved through a stage of independence and exploration and now crave connection, but may have difficulty finding fulfilling relationships and communities.
If this is true, Americans have something to learn from other societies where social ties remain strong even in our modern age.
7. Good peer relationships are essential to adolescent wellness.
Social isolation hurts humans of all ages, but a new wave of studies published this year shows just how sensitive teens are to their social environment.
To start, a new longitudinal study in Psychological Science suggests that teens who have close friendships and follow their peer group grow up to be healthier than the loners, or those who only pursue self-interest. Even when taking into account other potential contributors to health outcomes, like adult drug use, friendship quality and group-focus in one’s early teens predicted health in one’s mid-20’s better than the combined effect of one’s body mass index or prior history of serious illness. “We had no idea how important peer relationships would be, or that their reach would spread as far as physical health,” says Joseph Allen, who is the principal investigator at the University of Virginia’s Adolescent Research Group.
Two other studies suggest why this might be the case.
One paper published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neurosciencelooked specifically at how social context relates to risk-taking in the teen brain. In a two-year study, researchers at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and UCLA asked 46 teens to keep daily diaries about experiences with peer conflict and support. Researchers then scanned the brains of participants as they inflated a virtual balloon. How close participants take it to the point of explosion reveals their attitudes toward risk; previous studies have found this task correlates “with real-life risk behaviors such as adolescent smoking, sexual promiscuity, addiction, and drug use, suggesting that this task provides a scanner-compatible proxy for measuring real-world behaviors.”
In analyzing the diaries in relation to the brain scans, researchers found that less support and more conflict with peers was associated with greater risk-taking behavior. Risk-taking teens showed greater activation in the ventral striatum, which has a large amount of dopamine receptors, and the insula, which is involved in sensing other people’s feelings as well as your own. While the implications of the neural findings aren’t yet entirely clear, this study reveals how critical teen friendships are to healthy choices.
It’s a finding echoed in another paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. After a research team from the University of Warwick analyzed interview and questionnaire data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, they concluded that a healthy mood spreads through teen social networks, but that depression did not—and, in fact, friendship could reduce both the frequency and depth of depression.
During adolescence, kids start to turn from their parents to their peers to find approval, values, and company. These studies reveal the circumstances in which that can be good or bad. “That desire to be like other people and look the part, that’s a built-in human desire,” says Allen. “We kind of pillory adolescents a bit unfairly for being overly focused on peers, not recognizing that as humans we need to get along and fit in, in order to get by.”
8. Happiness is contagious—via our sense of smell.
Wake up and smell the happiness! A study published in Psychological Sciencesuggests that happy people give off an odor that makes others smile.
In an exploratory study, the researchers collected sweat samples from male participants as they watched videos designed to elicit positive feelings, such as the “Bare Necessities” clip from the movie The Jungle Book and a comedic prank from a TV show. Sweat samples were also collected from participants who were made to feel afraid or no emotional response at all. All of the sweat samples were then presented to female participants to smell while their facial expressions were recorded.
When sniffing sweat from someone who felt happy, the women were more likely to exhibit an authentic smile. According to the researchers, this means that happy sweat may have a distinct chemical makeup that our noses pick up on.
This research sheds light on a subtle yet everyday way in which happiness can be communicated. It suggests that, by surrounding ourselves with happier people (and their scents), we could bring more positive emotion into our lives. And by becoming happier ourselves, we could be boosting the happiness of our friends and family without even realizing it.
9. Teaching kids social-emotional skills has profound health and safety benefits.
Skills like kindness and empathy are sometimes dismissed as a luxury in education, not nearly as practical or important as teaching math and reading.
But a study published in November by the American Journal of Public Healthsuggests that those social-emotional skills are a key to doing well in school and avoiding some major problems later in life. In fact, the study even suggests that neglecting these skills could pose a threat to public health and safety.
Researchers from Penn State and Duke University analyzed a wealth of data from a long-term project that tracked 753 low-income students in four states from the time they were in kindergarten until they turned 25. They found that if a student’s kindergarten teacher rated him or her as being high in “pro-social” skills—such as cooperating with peers or understanding others’ feelings—that student was significantly more likely to finish high school and college, and to hold down a steady job; he or she was also significantly less likely to receive public assistance, have run-ins with the law, abuse alcohol or drugs, or go on medication for mental health problems. That held true regardless of the student’s gender, race, socioeconomic status, the quality of their neighborhood, or several other factors.
The results echo other recent findings that point to the profound and varied benefits of nurturing students’ social-emotional skills. One study, for instance, found that feeling socially connected as a kid is more strongly associated with happiness in adulthood than academic achievement is; another found that children who participate in social-emotional learning (SEL) programs do better academically.
Indeed, the researchers say their results make a convincing case for investing more in students’ social-emotional skills—which, according to prior research, are malleable and can be improved, with lasting and meaningful results.
“Enhancing these skills can have an impact in multiple areas,” they write, “and therefore has potential for positively affecting individuals as well as community public health substantially.”
10. Mindful people seem to make healthier choices.
To that end, two studies published last year in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine found that people who are more mindful have a lower risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease.
But the missing link in this research—and previous research on mindfulness as treatment for bingeing and weight loss—is how exactly mindfulness affects health and health behaviors. Another study, published this year in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found at least one piece of that puzzle: Mindfulness can actually make unhealthy food seem less appealing.
Across two experiments, the researchers found that hungry participants were drawn to unhealthy foods. But that attraction completely disappeared after participants learned mindful attention, the ability to see our thoughts and feelings (including a craving for M&Ms) as transient—temporary mental events, nothing more. Most encouragingly, this finding held in a real-life cafeteria setting: The mindful participants chose lower-calorie meals and more salads than the non-mindful participants, who preferred cheese puff pastries and donuts.
Mindfulness—in this case, a mere 12-minute exercise that involved no meditation—seems to allow us to disengage from our problematic cravings and thus make healthier choices. The researchers found a similar dynamic with the desire for casual sex, and speculate that it could apply in many other domains, as well—wherever a little distance from our urges or phobias might improve behavior.
“Mindful attention offers a promising and novel strategy for self-control,” they conclude.
Greater Good’s acclaimed free online course exploring the roots of a happy, meaningful life launched January 5, 2016; you can register here. Jason Marsh is the founding editor in chief of Greater Good and the GGSC’s director of programs. Jeremy Adam Smith is producer and editor of the Greater Good Science Center’s website. Kira M. Newman is an editor and web producer at the Greater Good Science Center. Kirra Dickinson is a research assistant at the Greater Good Science Center. Jill Suttie is Greater Good’s book review editor.
In order to turn small achievements into a solid foundation on which to build your life you need to develop the qualities of a successful person.
Many people say they want to write a book or run a marathon and some even try. But when faced with the first difficulty — writer’s block, a rejection, an injury, or interference from a toxic person or sheer laziness — they give up.
Those who succeed in publishing a book or running the marathon are the ones who embark on the journey knowing that they need to be committed to the goal, that it won’t always be easy and that they need to do whatever it takes to make it.
A failure, just like a success, is circumstantial. Some people accumulate many failures but they use them as stepping-stones to achievements that lead to one huge success. For instance, Thomas Edison failed numerous times before he invented the light bulb.
Other people pile on achievements but can’t manage to make them lasting or profitable and they soon find themselves again engulfed by failure. For example, someone who lands good jobs but can’t manage to keep any of them.
So far I’ve overcome an eating disorder, faced unemployment, reinvented myself professionally, survived poverty, published a number of books, and come out on top. That does not prevent any of these challenges from happening again, it just makes me feel better prepared to deal with them, should they arise.
1. Patience — Don’t expect to see results immediately. If you are a writer and submit your manuscript, get used to waiting weeks, months or even years to see your work published.
2. Perseverance — Be ready to work “in the dark,” without knowing if what you are doing is taking you where you need to go. Trust your instincts, trust yourself and keep on going, no matter what.
3. Resilience — Develop the ability to bounce back from failure, from poverty, unemployment, divorce, bankruptcy, a death in the family, illness — everyone goes through rough patches in life. If you are resilient, you will thrive.
4. Creativity — Be creative in finding solutions to life’s problems. Creativity is not restricted to the arts. Think beyond the “normal” ways of doing things.
5. Adaptability — Be open to change, always. Life is change. It may sound trite, but you need to embrace this. If you hang on to old ways of doing things, you will not be able to go forward.
6. Joy — Of course there will be times in which you will feel sad or depressed. But, exercise the muscle of joy, and you will become a joyful person, even in the direst circumstances.
7. Compassion — Put yourself in other people’s shoes, often. Look at things from their perspective. It will prevent you from blaming and complaining and you will feel empowered.
8. Productivity — Talent is a good thing to have, but if you don’t produce, nothing will happen. Don’t wait for things to happen: make them happen.
Gone are the days of spraying Axe and having women’s shirts fly off, or having buxom models throw themselves at you in a stampede of passion — this week Axe, which you might be surprised to learn is 30 years old, rebranded itself with a new ad campaign that encourages guys to “find their magic.”
“Who needs a six pack, when you’ve got the nose,” the commercial asks, rotating through a group of guys with distinct features: full beard, big nose, good dance moves, high heels.
That’s right — new Axe wants to highlight all that makes the individual special: high heels, affection for kittens. It’s a far leap from its earlier reputation as the secret potion for finding naked women.
Matthew McCarthy, senior director for Axe and men’s grooming at Unilever, told The Huffington Post that the move was a reaction to a larger cultural shift.
“In the past, a guy’s self-confidence was determined a lot by whether or not girls found him attractive,” he said. Now, “guys certainly want to be attractive but they want to feel attractive … how they get there is changing.”
Guys no longer want to be defined by society’s idea of masculinity, he said, and the new campaign, designed by the agency 72andSunny Amsterdam, focuses on finding your confidence in whatever makes you unique.
“Guys today are basically calling bullshit on many of the outdated stereotypes and archetypes of masculinity, which are linked to feeling confident and feeling attractive. Now they’re saying, ‘I want to decide how I’m going to express my masculinity.'”
Axe’s rebranding coincides with the launch of a new line of pomades, hair gel, antiperspirants and deodorants, called the Axe Advanced Collection, which is available in most drug and grocery stores in North America.
“The campaign isn’t about, ‘Hey guys, have more confidence,'” McCarthy said. “It’s about your individuality and what makes you special. That’s what matters. Go work on it. Find your magic.”
Jane Long is a Brisbane-based fine art photographer and artist, who is the mind behind the wildly imaginative Dancing with Costicăseries. According to Long, she was looking for photos to test her retouching skills on, when she stumbled upon the Flickr account of Costică Acsinte, a Romanian photographer who took the original photos throughout the 1930s and ’40s.
After seeing them she felt the need not only to reimagine them, but also create a story for them. “I will probably never know the real stories of these people but in my mind they became characters in tales of my own invention,” Long said of her thought process in creating the surreal images,”Star crossed lovers, a girl waiting for her lover to come home, boys sharing a fantasy, innocent children with a little hint of something dark.” The results are these series of images that take on an otherworldly dreamlike look.
Sharline Chiang is a Berkeley-based journalist who has written for the New York Daily News, Los Angeles Daily News and Mutha Magazine. She’s a longtime member of VONA, a national community of writers of color.
I permed my hair.
Saved up for eyelid surgery, breast implants. I wanted blue contacts, badly. I only had white friends. I listened to Bon Jovi.
None of it made me white.
I remember being 8 years old and wishing Santa would make me white. I woke up Christmas day to find the same me in the mirror: same small eyes, sallow skin, straight black hair. Same ugly, Chinese-looking me. Somewhere inside, I was saying, “Fuck you, Santa! Thanks for nothing!” I grew up in suburban New Jersey in the ’70s and ’80s. At school there were a few black kids and a couple of Latinos and Asians, but we were scattered, like dim stars along the Milky Way.
I wanted to be white.
White was not being asked questions like you were a foreigner even though you were born in New York City (“Where are you really from?” “How is your English so good?”). It meant not having Jeff, the boy you had a crush on, place tacks on your chair and shout, “I GOT THE CHINK!” It meant not having kids set your trees on fire two Mischief Nights in a row.
I wanted to be blonde. Blonde Barbie ruled. Farrah ruled. Chrissy was hot. Janet was not.
When I was little and played with my favorite Honey Hill Bunch dolls, guess who all the boys tried to get with? Darlin’ — the sweet blonde who carried a pink purse, whose motto on her packaging was “I’m so pretty, don’t you agree?” No one wanted the girl with a high IQ. There was an Asian doll literally named “I.Q.” She wore glasses on her head and carried a book. Her motto was (I shit you not) “I always get straight As in school!”
The author at 14.
Source: Sharline Chiang
When I was 14 my mother wouldn’t let me bleach my hair, but she did consent to my getting a Mohawk. A girl I admired showed up at school with one. My hair could not do perfect Farrah wings, but I was pretty sure I could rock spikes. Except, my mother said I had to get a perm first. She had a thing about perms, said they were the only things that made our “lifeless” hair look good. Here’s what happened:
My mother to hairdresser: “Give her a perm. And a ma-huck.”
Hairdresser: “A what?”
Mom: “A ma-huck. Long on back, short on top.”
Here’s what I got: a tight perm — and a mullet.
Do you know how long it takes to grow out a mullet? About the same time it takes to graduate from junior high. That year, I tried out for several school plays and finally got a role.
My father: “How could you be cast as the daughter of an American family? Won’t the audience be confused?”
“No,” I said. “They can put makeup on me. I could look, you know, French.”
My mother winced. “Sharline, you will never look French. You will always look Chinese.”
In ninth grade, when I wasn’t busy dressing up like Madonna or Cyndi Lauper, I focused on becoming popular. I tried out for cheerleading; didn’t make it. Signed up for field hockey; sat on the bench. In a desperate move I joined the marching band. I couldn’t play an instrument, so I “played” the cymbals.
The author today.
Source: Sharline Chiang
Over the next two decades I went on to date a lot of white guys (eventually I married a white guy). Still, I wasn’t white. I made my first non-white friend, a black woman in LA, when I was 28. To this, she said: “Are you shitting me?”
Somewhere in my 30s I stopped trying to be white. Living in California and making friends with proud African-Americans, Latinos, Middle Eastern Americans and Asian-Americans, my world opened. My old self-hatred slowly dissipated, replaced by a new appreciation for myself, of how I had spent my life internalizing racism and perpetuating the notion of white supremacy.
As writer Junot Díaz put it: “White supremacy is the great silence of our world … white supremacy would not fucking operate without people of color to run it. It’s not that white people don’t contribute to it. They do. But it couldn’t continue to exist without people of color. White supremacy is inside all of us. And that’s why it’s so malign and difficult to confront.”
I try to confront it by talking about it. I read works by writers like Maxine Hong Kingston and Toni Morrison. They remind me to feel proud to be Chinese-American and a woman of color. They remind me of my ancestors’ resilience and the courage of people of color in this country. I read books featuring kids of different races to my daughter — a hapa toddler with eyes like mine but curly auburn hair — in hopes that this will help her love herself even though she looks “different.” I send her to a Mandarin preschool; she takes pride in being able to speak Chinese. I take a moment to celebrate the show Fresh Off the Boat, because it matters that for the first time in 20 years, I can see an Asian-American family on TV (hey, we exist!).
And these days, I just leave my hair the fuck alone. It’s not revolutionary, but it’s a start.
Check out the creations of SOZOMAIKA (aka Maika Sozo) – a visual artist whose stunning work consists of both 2D and 3D pieces. She states, “My vision encompasses multifaceted character creation that ranges from conception to fully articulated models.” Explore those breathtaking characters below.