Category Archives: Midlife Conflict and Renewal

Why Are Women More Likely To Initiate Divorce?

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 11.08.14 AMAugust 25, 2015

Some new data about divorce and non-marital breakups contains an unexpected finding, and I think it underscores an ongoing evolution in what people want and seek in their romantic relationships. The study, based on a survey of over 2000 heterosexual couples, found that women initiated nearly 70% of all divorces. Yet there was no significant difference between the percentage of breakups initiated by women and men in non-marriage relationships.

How to explain? I find that this data is consistent with what I and others have seen clinically. When men and women seek couples therapy and then subsequently divorce; or, when either partner seeks individual therapy about a marriage conflict that ends in divorce, it’s often the woman who expresses more overt conflict and dissatisfaction about the state of the marriage. On the other hand, the man is more likely to report feeling troubled by his wife’s dissatisfaction, but “OK” with the way things are; content to lope along as time passes.

In contrast, I find that younger couples – who are more likely to form non-marital but committed relationships — experience more egalitarian partnerships to begin with. When the relationship crumbles beyond repair, both experience that disintegration. Both are equally likely to address it – and part, if it can’t be healed.

These clinical observations are consistent with what the study’s lead author, Michael Rosenfeld, suggests — that women may be more likely to initiate divorces because the married women reported lower levels of relationship quality than married men. In contrast, women and men in non-marital relationships reported equal levels of relationship quality. Rosenfeld said his results support the feminist assertion that some women experience heterosexual marriage as oppressive or uncomfortable.

He adds, “I think that marriage as an institution has been a little bit slow to catch up with expectations for gender equality. Wives still take their husbands’ surnames, and are sometimes pressured to do so. Husbands still expect their wives to do the bulk of the housework and the bulk of the childcare. On the other hand, I think that non-marital relationships lack the historical baggage and expectations of marriage, which makes the non-marital relationships more flexible and therefore more adaptable to modern expectations, including women’s expectations for more gender equality.”

Credit: Moms Magazine

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Divorce, Separation, Co-Habitation — Good For Your Health?

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We’re in the midst of a steady, major transformation of how we think about intimate relationships — what we seek from them; and how we engage in them for mutual benefit. Increasing numbers of men and women pursue relationships that they define as positive, meaningful and healthy, although they may differ from traditionally accepted norms. So it’s good to see research evidence that sheds light on which of those shifts demonstrate positive outcomes with respect to emotional and physical health.

One recent study looked at the health outcomes of people who are divorced, as well as those who co-habit without marriage. Contrary to previous studies suggesting that divorced and unmarried couples experience less health than those who are married, this study, conducted by London-based researchers, found evidence to the contrary. Published in the American Journal of Public Health, the study found that individuals who have divorced and remarried are no more likely than those who have remained married to have cardiovascular or respiratory health problems in early middle age. The study has implications for younger generations as more people pursue unconventional relationships, and the reality of divorce continues to be an option for some.

“…Our research shows that people born in the late 1950s who live together without marrying or experience divorce and separation, have very similar levels of health in middle age to those who are married,” said lead author Gerge Ploubidis, in a Medical XPress summary. In fact, some even experienced health benefits, in the long term, despite going through divorce, according to the researchers. “Surprisingly, those men who divorced in their late 30s and did not subsequently remarry, were less likely to suffer from conditions related to diabetes in early middle age compared to those who were married.” In fact, although couples who married in their 20s and early 30s and remained married had the best levels of health, unmarried couples living together had almost identical standards of health.

The impact of a relationship, per se, was underscored by the finding that men and women who had never married or lived with a partner, had the worst health in middle age, with higher likelihood of conditions related to diabetes, cardiovascular and respiratory problems. In that respect, the missing element in this research, of concern to those of us in the mental health field, is what we can learn about the impact of shifting definitions of relationships upon psychological health. Recognizing that they are intertwined is crucial, and the subject of increasing study. For example, the links discovered between the gut, the brain, emotions, types of food consumed and inflammation.

Credit: Funologist

 

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Your View of the Future: It Can Increase Your Mental Health….Or Create Depression

Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 10.14.00 AMJune 30, 2015

If you’re suffering from depression, you’re likely to believe that your emotional state generates negative thoughts and expectations about the future. After all, depression can color everything, so it’s natural to assume that a negative outlook reflects your depressed mood. And that’s the conventional thinking among most of us in the mental health professions, as well. But for many people the reality is the other way around: It’s how you envision the future that can make you depressed.

A new study supports this. I was happy to come across it because it’s what I’ve observed and emphasized for years: Your vision of your future “self” shapes your mental health. Specifically, a positive vision of what you aspire towards –– a picture of what you’re aiming for, a sense of new possibility –– acts like a kind of psychological magnet. It pulls you towards it, helping you find the path that will take you there. Picturing what you strive towards can feel as though it has tether connected to you, steadily tugging you towards it. That generates positive energy and wellbeing.

But if you lack that vision of possibility, you’re likely to remain more stuck if you’re already depressed. Or you may become depressed, as the new research shows. And even if you’re not, you’ll tend to feel stagnant and flat-lined about some important dimension of your life –– your relationship, your career, your sense of purpose.

The study I referred to was published in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology and conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania. It concluded that a pessimistic view of the future may not be the result of depression but the cause of it. The researchers found that three kinds of pictures of the future, or “prospection,” can drive depression:

  • poor generation of possible futures
  • poor evaluation of possible future
  • negative beliefs about the future

According to the researchers, “Prospection belongs front and center in the study of depression…(and) that faulty prospection does drive depression. An understanding of how prospection shapes psychopathology may enable researchers to create more effective treatments and help distressed individuals to create brighter futures.”

Credit: Triometric

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Positive Emotions Are Linked With Long-Term, Healthy Life

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 12.04.47 PMJune 23, 2015

This should be obvious, but it’s good to see another study showing the links between how we deal with stress and the ups and downs of life, emotionally; and our body’s inflammatory response. The level of inflammation affects many forms of disease. It’s significant for our long-term health.

This study, conducted by researchers at Penn State, and summarized in this report, found that adults who fail to maintain positive moods such as cheerfulness or calm when faced with the minor stressors of everyday life have elevated levels of inflammation. 

I think this research is particularly important because it shows that “resilience” to stress is more than the capacity to absorb, handle, and rebound in the face of stressful experiences. It also includes a pro-active mentality; a positive outlook and positive emotions in the face of life’s conflicts, negative experiences and unpredictability. That mental and emotional orientation plays a key role in the body’s level of inflammatory response when we’re stressed.

That is, the research showed that the frequency of daily stressors, in and of itself, was less consequential for inflammation than how an individual reacted to those stressors. “A person’s frequency of stress may be less related to inflammation than responses to stress,” said lead author Nancy Sin. “It is how a person reacts to stress that is important.” These findings add to growing body of evidence regarding the health implications of emotional response to daily stressors. 

In the short-term, with illness or exercise, the body experiences a high immune response to help repair itself. However, in the long term, heightened inflammatory immune responses may not be healthy. Individuals who have trouble regulating their responses may be at risk for certain age-related conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, frailty and cognitive decline, Sin said. “Positive emotions, and how they can help people in the event of stress, have really been overlooked,” Sin added.

Click here for the full summary from Penn State.

Credit: CPD Archive

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Workers With a “Spirit of Life” Are More Productive – At Any Age

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 4.45.50 PMJune 9, 2015

Are the most energized and creative workers young, per se; or are they “young at heart?” A new study sheds some light on this: It found that your own sense of yourself; your overall attitude about life influences your work. I describe the findings below, but the study brings to mind that we often speak of the “spirit of youth” when describing an older person who conveys vitality, passion and engagement. However, I think it’s more accurate to think of that spirit as a spirit about life itself. It may be more embodied within or visible among younger people, but I attribute that to this: Many people in our culture enter a long descent into emotional, creative and spiritual stagnation — via the values of a self-centered, overly materialistic society. That’s what I see in so many of the people who have come to me for help – either for personal issues or career-related conflicts.

The study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, was described in The British Psychological Society’s publication, Research Digest, and it concludes that If you want a dynamic workforce, seek not the young, but the young at heart. The study surveyed over 15,000 employees from 107 companies to determine how subjective age influences workplace performance. It found that employees who felt substantially younger than their chronological age were more successful in meeting the goals they’d promised their managers they would achieve. Companies with more of these “young at heart” employees also tended to perform better overall, in terms of financial performance, efficiency and a longer tenured workforce. The survey also showed that organizations tended to have more young at heart workers when they offered both age-inclusive policies and, on average, their employees felt that their work was more important and meaningful.

This raises questions about what’s needed to counter that long descent that I described above. Among the possibilities are more meaningful, engaging work, which can enable people feel more vibrant and experience some impact upon the consequences of their contribution. When workers can feel young, energized by their work — and not judged and stereotyped — that facilitates the kind of dynamic performance thought to be limited to younger workers…until they begin that slow descent into stagnation.

Credit: Pharic Crawford 

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Why Low Self-Esteem Will Keep You Stuck Within a Bad Relationship

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 10.20.38 AMMay 5, 2015

I’ve often worked with individuals and couples who experience a diminished sense of their self-worth; low self-esteem. And when they find that their relationships have entered the dead zone, they are often stuck within them, unable to push for revitalizing them, if possible; or leaving. Even as they uncover the roots of their low self-worth, they often remain frozen in a bad, even destructive relationship.

Some recent research provides some empirical confirmation of what we know, clinically. It found that the partner with diminished self-esteem tends to avoid confronting problems or conflicts. That avoidance often reflects feelings of insecurity about the partner’s feelings for them, and leads to hunkering down and withdrawing from conflict that might be resolved through more open, transparent communication.

The research, conducted by the University of Waterloo, confirmed in essence that partners with low self-esteem tend not to voice relationship complaints with their partner because they fear rejection. “There is a perception that people with low self-esteem tend to be more negative and complain a lot more,” says Megan McCarthy, the study’s lead author. “While that may be the case in some social situations, our study suggests that in romantic relationships, the partner with low self-esteem resists addressing problems.”

And, “If your significant other is not engaging in open and honest conversation about the relationship,” says McCarthy, “it may not be that they don’t care, but rather that they feel insecure and are afraid of being hurt. We’ve found that people with a more negative self-concept often have doubts and anxieties about the extent to which other people care about them,” she says. “This can drive low self-esteem people toward defensive, self-protective behavior, such as avoiding confrontation.”

A summary of the research points out that people with low self-esteem’s resistance to address concerns may stem from a fear of negative outcomes. Sufferers may believe that they cannot speak up without risking rejection from their partner and damage to their relationship, resulting in greater overall dissatisfaction in the relationship.

“We may think that staying quiet, in a ‘forgive and forget’ kind of way, is constructive, and certainly it can be when we feel minor annoyances,” says McCarthy. “But when we have a serious issue in a relationship, failing to address those issues directly can actually be destructive.”

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The Enduring Impact of Loss…In Love and Life

Screen shot 2014-12-23 at 12.30.09 PMApril 28, 2015

As a young boy living in upstate New York, I loved roaming through the nearby woods and fields by myself, on summer days. One sunny afternoon I came upon a tall, thick-trunked tree that had a deep scar on it’s lower portion. It looked like it had been struck by lightning some years before, and was damaged there. Yet it continued to grow.

That memory came to mind recently, as I reflecting on experiences of loss in our relationships and lives, over time; and what endures from them. I recall an essay by the novelist Walter Mosley, who wrote about an awakening, as a small child – his first “mystery.” He described a memory of his three-year-old self in the backyard of his parents’ house, in which he realized, “These must be my parents” and he called out to them. “My mother nodded. My father said my name. Neither touched me, but I had learned by then not to expect that.”

He described ”an emptiness in my childhood that I filled up with fantasies,” and noted that “the primitive heart that remembers is, in a way, eternal.” Interestingly, Mosley grew into the acclaimed mystery novelist he is, today.

Sometimes an unexpected event triggers a memory of a once-meaningful adult relationship. It may have faded over time, but had etched itself onto our soul. For example, the writer Lee Montgomery described a drop-in visit by the son of her first lover, with whom she had many romantic and adventurous experiences in her early youth, during the 1970s. “When I think of Ian, I think of endless days hanging out in the woods and fields around our New England prep schools, sucking dope out of a metal chamber pipe. Ian showed me the world and taught me to live in it. New York City. The Great West. And Europe, where we lived for several months during his first college year abroad.”

Eventually, their relationship ended. She went on with her life, married, began a career. He inherited money, married, “…had no career that I knew of and shot himself when he was in his 30s.”

The son, quite young at the time his father committed suicide, was now about the age Montgomery when she and his father were lovers. He had dropped by her office hoping to hear some stories of what his father was like. Montgomery describes how fresh and alive the memories felt to her, as she drew into them: “Sitting across a booth studying this young man, I was overwhelmed. So many years later, I was stunned to find the feeling of first love still there.” Continue reading

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Money, Gratitude, Happiness: Are They Linked?

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 11.55.32 AMApril 21, 2015

A new piece of research suggests people who feel thankful and grateful experience greater happier in life than those who are more focused on material wealth and possessions. Interestingly, when the more materialistic people experience gratitude in some form, their level of happiness rises.

The study, summarized in BioSpace, was led by James A. Roberts of Baylor University. The researchers wanted to examine “the relationship between materialism – making acquisition of material possessions a central focus of one’s life – and life satisfaction.”

Many studies have shown that more materialistic people are generally less satisfied with their standards of living, their relationships and their lives as a whole. Given that, the researchers wondered if anything could moderate that relationship; that is, help materialistic people more satisfied with their lives.

That is, they raised the possibility that the experience of gratitude — viewed as the positive emotions you experiences when another person intentionally gives or does something of value to you — might stimulate greater overall happiness within the more materialist and less happy individual.

The research, described and published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, initially confirmed what previous studies had found: “People who pursue happiness through material gain tend to feel worse, and this is related to negative appraisals of their satisfaction with life.” But they also found that the experience of gratitude, when it occurred, also raised their satisfaction with their lives. On the other hand, the more materialistic people who experienced little gratitude or positive emotions had the least life satisfaction.

I think the most useful aspect of this research is not so much the finding that materialistic people might become happier if they experience gratitude, but rather the importance of seeing that appreciation, thankfulness and gratitude is part of health human development, and is a feature of positive, mutually supportive connections with others, in contrast to serving self-interest, alone – especially in the form of material acquisition.

Photo credit: CPD Archive

 

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Must You Feel Trapped By Regrets About The Past?

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John, a 57 year-old man, consulted me for a mixture of “personal and career stagnation,” as he put it. His thoughts soon turned to a decision he made in his 20s, when he reluctantly entered a career path and profession that his father urged him to follow. He said he now saw that his need for parental approval back then was part of a larger pattern that also led him into a marriage with the “wrong” partner. “I feel so much regret, about how foolish I was not to listen to my own heart – if I even knew what it was back then.”

Throughout the decades I’ve heard many men and women express similar laments about turning points in their lives – significant experiences or choices they made, which they look back upon with deep regret and feelings of entrapment. They tell me the sadness they feel about the direction they took; what they turned away from, especially when they see the consequences over time that they feel entrapped by.

However, it’s possible to experience your regrets in life differently. Those regrets have likely taught you something about yourself and changed you. But you may not realize it. And, you may not have acted upon what’s changed within you, as you go forward in your life today.

To explain, lets first take a look at two examples of people’s regrets and how they can paralyze one’s present life: The woman who dropped out of graduate school when she was offered an entry-level editorial job with a newspaper. She was attracted by the seeming security of the position, and she said she had doubts about her journalistic skills, anyway. She remained with the paper for many years, while feeling increasingly stagnated. Ultimately, she was let go during a retrenchment. Now, at midlife, in a tight job market and an unforgiving life situation for people like her, she tells me, “If only I had stayed in grad school, how different my life would have been. But now…” She says she feels trapped and depressed about her life.
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Lulled Into Numbness at Midlife?

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March 10, 2015

Note: Some midlifers who consulted me recently about relationship and career conflicts brought to mind an article I wrote for the Washington Post a few years back. I think these issues will remain current for some time — and people of all ages would be wise to heed them — so I decided to repost it here: 

As a psychotherapist and a member of the booming midlife generation, I’ve heard many expressions of midlife distress, but few as poignant as this: A 47-year-old married mother of three told me about a dream. She’s on one of those moving sidewalks and can’t get off. On either side, scenes pass by of herself living different lives, with different people. Suddenly she recognizes the Grim Reaper standing at the end of the sidewalk, arms outstretched, awaiting her.

She wakes up, screaming.

Why the dream? And why did it provoke such distress?

The symbolism may be obvious, but I’ve found much of the research on midlife contradictory. A decade-long MacArthur Foundation study suggested that most people don’t experience a midlife crisis, that they sail through their 40s and 50s. More recently, though, two new studies suggest that midlife is a time if not of crisis then of common and sometimes severe depression.

One study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found a 20 percent rise in suicide among people ages 45 to 54 from 1999 to 2004 — a rise that exceeded that of all other age groups.

Another reported an increase in depression during people’s 40s to early 50s, after which happiness rises again. Researchers from the University of Warwick and Dartmouth College, who studied 2 million people from 80 nations, found this pattern to be consistent across sex and socioeconomic levels and among developed and developing countries.

Explanations for these data remain elusive. Some experts think the rise of midlife suicide may reflect something as specific as the decrease of hormone replacement therapy among women or as general as the stress of modern life. As for the rise in happiness after midlife depression, some speculate that people may simply have learned to set aside aspirations they know they will never realize.

I find these explanations unconvincing. What the data underscore is the need for a new understanding of the complexities of midlife, one that would enable people to deal more effectively with the positive and negative changes they encounter. Here’s my understanding: Continue reading

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5 Essential Mind-Body-Behavior Practices That Enhance Everything

Screen shot 2015-02-24 at 10.47.46 AMFebruary 24, 2015

Evidence from both clinical observations and empirical research increasingly confirms that how you engage your entire being in the world significantly impacts your physical, mental, emotional and relationship health. Moreover, each of several life practices enhances the others; they are synergistic. Let’s look at some:

Cultivating a positive outlook is associated with a healthier heart and lower incidence of osteoporosis. This study of 5100 adults from the University of Illinois found that “Individuals with the highest levels of optimism have twice the odds of being in ideal cardiovascular health compared to their more pessimistic counterparts,” according to lead author Rosalba Hernandez. And, “This association remains significant, even after adjusting for socio-demographic characteristics and poor mental health.”

Similarly, research conducted by the University of Eastern Finland found that post-60 year old women who have higher levels of satisfaction with their lives were found to have higher bone density, and suffer less frequently from osteoporosis than those who are more unsatisfied with life. The study, published in Psychosomatic Medicine,assessed life satisfaction by looking at such factors as “interest in and easiness of life, happiness, and loneliness,” as reported in an AAAS summary. Although the study focused on women, men, as well, suffer from osteoporosis; and more significantly, would experience greater overall health with a positive mentality about life.

And still another study finds that people who experience positive emotions also have greater longevity, as do those who express self-determination in life.

Western empirical science is validating the benefits of such Eastern mind-body-spirit practices as meditation and yoga. 
Their benefits have been well known to practitioners, but they are now increasingly embraced in the West because the evidence from research makes their benefits more “believable” and acceptable to Western thinking.

Two recent examples: Continue reading

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Do Couples Prefer Conflict Over Shared Power?

Do-Couples-Prefer-Conflict

January 20, 2015

Want a fast track to divorce? Paul and Kim can show you the way. Like many couples, they jockey around for power, control and “winning” arguments when there’s conflict. And their intimacy fades, as a result. Even when one of them apologizes for their role in the conflict, nothing changes. Neither of them realizes that they hold the key to turning things around before it’s too late. New research and observations from therapy show how that’s possible.

A typical situation of theirs: Married about 15 years, they’re on a long road trip to a vacation at the beach with their kids. They’re already locked in combat, having arguing over how much time to spend on a stopover visit to one set of in-laws. They fought until one of them just gave in and acquiesced to the other one’s wishes. That’s how they tend to “resolve” conflict. As they drove along the crowded highways they hunkered down into a mixture of sullenness and half-hearted efforts to change the subject. But the residue of their fight hung in the air, like dark clouds threatening rain at any moment.

Both know that “winning” doesn’t improve their relationship, but their conflicts often end with one “giving in” to the other, but then remaining angry and resentful. The “winner” feels smug with power, but also realizes that’s not a path towards a lasting, positive relationship. Both tend to turn inward and shut down regarding their feelings. Doing so has diminished their intimacy. They know they’re adding another brick in the wall, and that they could be headed down a path to a chronic, adversarial relationship or eventual divorce.

Periodically, new research and clinical insights pinpoint what it takes to reverse course Continue reading

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Why A Family Tradition Had To End…And The Life Lesson It Taught

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January 13, 2015

After the holidays, discarded Christmas trees appear on the streets of my neighborhood. They’re left curbside, awaiting the special trash pickup. Seeing them, denuded and shorn of their holiday ornaments, I always feel a bit pensive, along with a tinge of humor, as I recall a Christmas tree tradition my then-young children and I had years ago. Each year we’d gather together for a special ritual we had created around putting up, and eventually taking down the Christmas tree.

It had begun when we were still an intact family. And it continued for some years, post-divorce, until, that is, a time came when their flagging interest got my attention. It happened one post-holiday year when I realized that I’d have to do the dismantling part by myself. But instead, I let it just sit there for a very long time, even as the dry tree kept shedding its needles and became, well…a fire hazard.

The back-story: Beginning in my children’s earliest years, and on through my divorce and Continue reading

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Negative Relationships at Midlife Can Cause Mental Decline

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November 25, 2014

Hey, midlifers, this is definitely worth noting: New research led by University College London finds that stressful, difficult, or otherwise negative relationships can contribute to mental decline during the middle years of life.

The study was summarized by Reuters, and published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. The study found that those who reported more negative aspects of close relationships also tended to have more rapid cognitive aging. People who reported the most negative aspects of close relationships were also more likely to have symptoms of depression and diabetes than others.

In the Reuters report, the lead author Jing Liao said “Any relationship involves both positive and negative exchanges, especially those close relationships that are most likely to evoke ambivalent sentiments. Negative aspects of close relationships refer to unpleasant social exchanges when the recipient finds the relationship ineffective, intrusive or over-controlling,”

Similarly, “Previous studies…have found that close relationships that involve strain and conflict are associated with poorer executive functioning,” said Margie E. Lachman, director of the Lifespan Initiative on Healthy Aging and Lifespan Lab at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Liao pointed out that “There is evidence that, in general, those with a partner or those who are less socially isolated report better quality of life and live longer…but healthy people are more likely to have a partner and be more socially engaged.”

For Reuter’s full report of the research and how it was conducted, click here.

 

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Can Distancing Yourself From A Conflict Help A Relationship?

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September 30, 2014

By “leaving” a conflict you can gain the expanded perspective needed to solve it. That means stepping out of your limited ego, and some new research shows how that can help.

It’s easy to become rigidly fixed and sclerosed within a view of who you are (“This is just the way I am”) — unable to envision possibilities for expanding your personal capacities, your thinking or emotions — outside of that fixed view. Unfortunately, that disables you from enlarging your perspective, which can be essential for solving conflicts or problems that you feel stuck inside of, unable to change or alter. That’s especially true for solving relationship difficulties.

President Eisenhower once said that if you’re having difficulty understanding a problem and how to solve it, “enlarge” the problem. Certainly that applies to life beyond the battlefield. That is, “enlarging” how you envision the problem or situation you’re stuck within can free yourself from the limitations of the perspective that imprisons you to begin with.

How can you do that? Some new empirical research shows that, in effect, distancing yourself from a problem or conflict enhances your reasoning; it helps you find new solutions through a broadened perspective. And that provides greater wisdom to bring to bear on the conflict. Researchers from the University of Waterloo and the University of Michigan, as reported in Psychological Science, examined “the ability to recognize the limits of one’s own knowledge, search for a compromise, consider the perspectives of others, and recognize the possible ways in which the scenario could unfold. The research found that you may think about a conflict more wisely if you consider it as an outside observer would.” Continue reading

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Does Your Sex Life Improve By Fighting With Your Partner?

Screen shot 2014-08-26 at 12.02.38 PMAugust 26, 2014

“Of course, we fight!” John said, “All couples do; that’s normal!” He looked at me incredulously, as Mary quickly added with a tight smile, “But then we have ‘make-up sex. And that makes things better.” Nevertheless, they sought therapy over their concern about the long-term impact of this “normal” pattern.

Perhaps you share John and Mary’s experience views. Many do. But the sex lives and relationships of couples today often descend over time into diminishing sexual excitement and passion; and increasing boredom and routine. Call it “marital sex,” in contrast to what couples often experience at the beginning of their relationship. In “marital sex” you’re bringing into the bedroom all the other parts of your relationship – the logistics, disagreements over finances or even over trivial things, like where to place the furniture or where to vacation. Or parenting challenges, which become a large part of any couples’ relationship. And aside from your relationship and family issues, each of you have your own, individual concerns – about your career, perhaps your own aging parents, or sibling relationship issues (“I don’t want us giving money to your dysfunctional sister!”)

Couples often assume that fighting and conflict are inevitable – “normal,” even, to be tolerated and managed, at best. They may not recognize that their diminished sexual and romantic life is interwoven with how and why they conflict as they do in their relationship overall. Then, they may focus on ways to re-energize their sex life, as though it’s disconnected from the rest of their relationship; and as though that will compensate for their relationship conflicts.

There’s a huge marketplace for that: Volumes of books and articles; websites like Your Tango, all of which offer ever-“new” techniques purporting to bring back passion and better orgasms. Of course, if they worked, there wouldn’t be an endless stream of them. This disconnect between what people want and what they do is visible, for example, in a recent survey of women who go to Ashley Madison in search of an affair. It found that most were looking for more sexual excitement, but they also wanted to keep their relationship with their partners.

Why Fighting Is Destructive

Most couples who seek help for their relationship conflicts want to stay together but often assume that they need to accept a slow downhill slide; inevitable conflict and fighting. And that if they can just learn how to manage it better, things will be fine; as “good as it gets,” perhaps. But they’re wrong. Emotional and physical damage accrues from how couples relate to each other while dealing with conflict and disagreement. And that has direct bearing on their emotional sexual intimacy.

Think of fighting as different from Continue reading

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At Midlife, Arguing Can Kill You!

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August 5, 2014

This is worth heeding, if you’re in midlife: Frequent arguing with partners, children, other relatives or neighbors may significantly increase the risk of middle-aged death from all causes, according to a new study. Reported in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Healththe study is described in Medical News Today

All of us have engaged in arguments with others in the past, whether it is with partners, relatives, friends or neighbors. Although these experiences are stressful, we do not necessarily think about the health risks they pose. But a new study suggests that frequent arguing may dramatically increase the risk of middle-aged death.

According to the research team, led by Dr. Rikke Lund of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, past research has indicated that good social relationships with others have positive effects on general health and well-being. But they say there are limited studies looking at how negative relationships impact health. With this in mind, the investigators set out to determine whether there was a link between stressful social relations with partners, children, other family members, friends and neighbors, and all-cause mortality. Continue reading

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Does Short-Term Meditation Work? Here’s What New Research Found

Screen shot 2014-07-23 at 11.11.03 AMJuly 22, 2014

This updated and expanded version of my July 15 article originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

I regularly encourage the people I work with to practice meditation. It builds a kind of inner “shock absorber” that helps you maintain calm and focus in the midst of daily stress and the multiple demands of living in today’s world. While that’s not the true purpose of meditation (another subject altogether), it’s certainly a by-product benefit. The problem for many people is that they say it takes too much time to devote to regular meditative practice.

Well, some new research looked the results of short-term meditation for your thought processes — your judgment in making decisions — and also your level of resilience in the face of negative emotional states. Here’s what they discovered:

Research conducted at INSEAD and The Wharton School, and published in Psychological Science, found that even short-term mindfulness meditative practice of about 15 minutes can help you make wiser choices when making decisions. In mindfulness meditation, you build awareness of the present moment and try to let go of other thoughts that intrude and distract.

The researchers found that meditation can help counteract the tendency to people to “have trouble admitting they were wrong when their initial decisions lead to undesirable outcomes,” according to the lead author Andrew Hafenbrack, from INSEAD. “They don’t want to feel wasteful or that their initial investment was a loss. Ironically, this kind of thinking often causes people to waste or lose more resources in an attempt to regain their initial investment or try to ‘break even.'” The researchers referred to this tendency as the sunk-cost bias — commonly known as “throwing good money after bad.”

Co-author Zoe Kinias added: “We found that a brief period of mindfulness meditation Continue reading

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30 Minutes of Meditation Reduces Anxiety And Depression

Screen shot 2014-07-15 at 10.01.07 AMJuly 15, 2014

I regularly encourage the practice of meditation to people I work with. It builds a kind of inner “shock absorber” that helps you maintain calm and focus in the midst of daily stress and the multiple demands of living in today’s world. While not the true purpose of meditation (that’s another subject), more effective management of stress and distressing emotional states is a byproduct that benefits many people – and with minimal investment of time.

Some new studies find that even 30 minutes of daily meditation has a noticeable impact upon symptoms of anxiety and depression — at least equal to antidepressant medications; without the side effects of the latter. Such studies add to the growing research on the multiple effects of meditation upon our mind-body system.

One recent study is the first to show that brief mindfulness meditation practice — 25 minutes for three consecutive days — alleviates psychological stress. Researchers investigated how mindfulness meditation affects people’s ability to be resilient under stress. Published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, this study was in contrast to most research that has focused on lengthy, weeks-long training programs.

In the study, conducted by J. David Creswell and his research team at Carnegie Mellon University, participants went through a brief mindfulness meditation training program; for 25 minutes for three consecutive days. Mindfulness meditation is a practice that focuses on nonjudgmental attention to the moment at hand. It emphasizes acceptance of feelings and thoughts without judgment and relaxation of body and mind. In subsequent testing, participants were found to experience reduced stress, indicating that the mindfulness meditation fostered increases resilience.

In another study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers focused on 47 clinical trials performed among 3,515 participants underwent what was typically an eight-week training program in mindfulness meditation. Researchers found evidence of improvement in symptoms of anxiety, depression and pain after just 30 or so minutes per day of meditation. The findings held even as the researchers controlled for the possibility of the placebo effect.

“in our study, meditation appeared to provide as much relief from some anxiety and depression symptoms as what other studies have found from antidepressants,” says Madhav Goyal of Johns Hopkins University, and a lead researcher in the study. He adds, “A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing. But that’s not true. Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways.”

 

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Having Trouble Resolving A Conflict? Detach Yourself From It, Says New Research

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July 8, 2014

We can become rigidly fixed and sclerosed within a view of who we are (“This is just the way I am”) — unable to envision possibilities for our personal capacities, thinking, and emotions outside of that fixed view. That also disables us from an enlarged perspective, which is necessary to solve conflicts or problems that we feel stuck inside of; unable to change or alter. President Eisenhower reportedly said that if you’re having difficulty understanding a problem and how to solve it, “enlarge” the problem. And that applies to life beyond the battlefield — “enlarging” how you envision the problem or situation you’re stuck within can free yourself from the limitations of the perspective that imprisons you to begin with.

Some new empirical research demonstrates this. It shows that, in effect, distancing yourself from a problem or conflict enhances your reasoning, and helps you find new solutions through a broadened perspective. That provides greater wisdom to bring to bear on the conflict. Researchers from the University of Waterloo and the University of Michigan, reported in Psychological Science, examined the ability to recognize the limits of one’s own knowledge, search for a compromise, consider the perspectives of others, and recognize the possible ways in which the scenario could unfold. The research found that you may think about a conflict more wisely if you consider it as an outside observer would.

“These results are the first to demonstrate a new type of bias within ourselves Continue reading

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Your Emotional Attitudes Affect Your Entire Being

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In a previous post I described new research showing that a sense of purpose in life is linked with greater longevity. That’s just one of an increasing number of studies that add to the recognition that we are biological-psychological-spiritual-social beings. All dimensions – internal and external – interact with each other and shape our total experience of life: our overall health, level of wellbeing, growth of our capacities – or stagnation and illness.

Here are some other new findings that add to this picture. All have implications for our emotional attitudes, our mental perspectives our physical health and our behavior through life.

Materialistic People Have A Higher Likelihood Of Depression

This research, conducted at Baylor University, found that the more materialistic your attitudes and behavior are, the more likely you are to be depressed and unsatisfied with life. Published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, the research suggests, according to the researchers, that materialistic people find it more difficult to be grateful for what they have, which causes them to become miserable. Gratitude appears to be the key.

That is, a news release from Baylor reports that the research found those who rated low on gratitude were more likely to be materialistic and less satisfied with life. “Materialism tends to be “me-centered. A material outlook focuses on what one does not have, impairing the ability to be grateful for what one already has,”researchers said.

The new research, they reported, is similar to previous findings that materialists, despite the fact they are more likely to achieve material goals, are less satisfied overall with their lives. They are more likely to be unhappy and have lower self-esteem. They also are more likely to be less satisfied with relationships and less involved in community events. Meanwhile, those who are grateful are likely to find more meaning in life, previous research shows.

Frequent Arguing Increases Risk of Mid-Life Death

This research indicates Continue reading

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Why Having A Vision Is Important — In Business And Life

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Writing in Entrepreneur, Virgin founder/CEO Richard Branson cites the importance for a company to develop a vision. I find Branson’s views relevant not only to business, but to life itself.

In response to a reader’s question, he writes, “You do need to develop an overall vision for your company — one that is strongly supported by a more targeted strategy at each business that falls under your umbrella. The two things are not mutually exclusive, but complementary: One should not override the other.” And, “…we have started up more than 400 companies…and as the success of our group has proved, your vision for your company should not be so restrictive that it limits your team’s imagination.”

This applies to one’s personal development, as well, in my view. That is, we need an overarching vision of what we’re living for; a sense of meaning and purpose to our lives that provides overall integration and direction. And that requires flexibility and adaptability as we “evolve” along the way. Branson reflects this same perspective with respect to business, writing that “Starting up a business is always an adventure, and not everything comes together for every entrepreneur in the same way. As you face the challenges of keeping your business going, you may find that your vision for the company needs to be adjusted as you go.”

That’s a valuable perspective for your life development, as well — in your relationships, your career, your life goals. Branson adds, “Looking back, our goals certainly changed and expanded over time, but there was a key element that was common to all of those enterprises: They were created to enhance people’s lives.” I think that latter point is relevant to your personal and societal development as well, because in out interdependent world personal success is interwoven with support of and enhancement of others’ lives — the larger common good. It’s clear that this reality is stirring major turmoil in business, public policy and personal lives, today.

For Branson’s full article, click here.

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Cynical? You’re Increasing Your Risk Of Dementia

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Science continues to demonstrate the active interconnections between all “parts” of ourselves and the physical/social environment that we experience and deal with throughout life. This is more than “brain-behavior” or “mind-body” connection: we are biological-psychological-spiritual-social beings. All dimensions of ourselves are constantly at play. A recent study reveals a new connection between a personality dimension — cynicism — and the likelihood of dementia. The research, published in the journal Neurology, found that people with high levels of “cynical distrust” were three times more likely to develop dementia than people with low levels of cynicism.

I think such research shows the system-wide impact of the emotional attitudes and perspectives about life that we consciously create and shape — or let take root from unexamined, unresolved life conflicts — upon our entire being.

The researchers, led by Anna-Maija Tolppanen at the University of Eastern Finland,  defined cynical distrust as the belief that others are mainly motivated by selfish concerns. They assessed level of cynicism by asking people how much they agreed with statements such as “I think most people would lie to get ahead,” “It is safer to trust nobody” and “Most people will use somewhat unfair reasons to gain profit or an advantage rather than lose it.” The researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect dementia risk, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking. Moreover, the link between cynicism and dementia was not accounted for by depression; they appear to be independent factors. Continue reading

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Having a Life Purpose Increases Your Longevity

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In the “all things are connected” department, a large-scale longitudinal study has found that people who having a sense of purpose live longer. The research, published in the journal Psychological Science, found that those who had died over the course of the study had reported lower purpose in life and fewer positive relations than did survivors.

Summarized in a report from the Association for Psychological Science, the study also found that having a life purpose consistently predicted lower mortality risk across the lifespan, whether for younger, middle-aged, or older participants.

According to the lead researcher, Patrick Hill, the findings indicate that creating “…a direction for life, and setting overarching goals for what you want to achieve can help you actually live longer, regardless of when you find your purpose.” The study examined data from over 6000 people, including their self-reported level of purpose in life, across a 14-year follow-up period.

The study also found that a sense of purpose had similar benefits regardless of retirement status, a known mortality risk factor. And, that the longevity benefits of life purpose held up even after other indicators of well-being, such as positive relations and positive emotions, were taken into account. “These findings suggest that there’s something unique about finding a purpose that seems to be leading to greater longevity,” says Hill.

Can Your Create a Sense of Purpose?

I think he’s right, but it’s more likely that they are interwoven factors: A sense of purpose is likely inseparable from a positive spirit about living, which infuses both physical and emotional wellbeing over the long-run.

So how can you create a sense of purpose within today’s turbulent, often confusing world? Most people acknowledge there are “parts” of themselves – desires, imaginative capacities — that remain stifled or dormant. Family experiences and conditioning into your beliefs and values often result in a limited, constricted definition of who you are. For example, Continue reading

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Depressed and Married? Here’s Why

 

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This is a no-brainer, but it’s always good to see research that confirms what seems obvious — or your personal experience.

This study found that stress within your marriage can make you more vulnerable to depression. It found that people who experience chronic stress within their marriages have diminished enjoyment of positive experiences, as well as higher incidence of depressive symptoms.

The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Wisconsin and published in the journal Psychophysiology. In a summary by the University of Wisconsin News, Richard Davidson, founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the UW’s Waisman Center states that “This is not an obvious consequence, if you will, of marital stress, but it’s one I think is extraordinarily important because of the cascade of changes that may be associated. This is the signature of an emotional style that reveals vulnerability to depression.” He adds that the findings are important because “…they could help researchers understand what makes some people more vulnerable to mental and emotional health challenges.”

By understanding the mechanisms that make individuals more prone to depression and other emotional disturbances, Davidson is hoping to find tools — such as meditation — to stop it from happening in the first place. “How we can use simple interventions to actually change this response?” he asks. “What can we do to learn to cultivate a more resilient emotional style?”

As reported by the UW’s News, the researchers thought chronic marital stress could Continue reading

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The Passing of Peter Matthiessen

Screen shot 2014-04-08 at 12.41.47 PMSo sad…the unexpected passing of Peter Matthiessen at 86. A great literary figure, non-fiction & fiction; Zen teacher, environmentalist, human rights advocate…

My personal contact with him was minor, really, and scattered over the years. But he’s always been a model for me – disciplined and focused; a gifted writer, keenly aware of the nuances of human character. Always generous with his time, I found him humble and wise; open and authentic…

The New York Times obituary appeared, ironically, on the same day a scheduled retrospective of his career and life was published in the Times Sunday Magazine. From the obit:

Peter Matthiessen, a roving author and naturalist whose impassioned nonfiction explored the remote endangered wilds of the world and whose prizewinning fiction often placed his mysterious protagonists in the heart of them, died on Saturday at his home in Sagaponack, N.Y. He was 86.

His son Alex said the cause was leukemia, which was diagnosed more than a year ago. Mr. Matthiessen’s final novel, “In Paradise,” is to be published on Tuesday by Riverhead Books. Mr. Matthiessen was one of the last survivors of a generation of American writers who came of age after World War II and who all seemed to know one another, socializing in New York and on Long Island’s East End as a kind of movable literary salon peopled by the likes of William Styron, James Jones, Kurt Vonnegut and E. L. Doctorow.

In the early 1950s, he shared a sojourn in Paris with fellow literary expatriates and helped found The Paris Review, a magazine devoted largely to new fiction and poetry. His childhood friend George Plimpton became its editor.

A rugged, weather-beaten figure who was reared and educated in privilege — an advantage that left him uneasy, he said — Mr. Matthiessen was a man of many parts: littérateur, journalist, environmentalist, explorer, Zen Buddhist, professional fisherman and, in the early 1950s, undercover agent for the Central Intelligence Agency in Paris. Only years later did Mr. Plimpton discover, to his anger and dismay, that Mr. Matthiessen had helped found The Review as a cover for his spying on Americans in France.

For the rest of the obit, click here. For the Sunday Times Magazine article, “Peter Matthiessen’s Homegoing,” click here.

 

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“Your Money Or Your Life!”

Screen shot 2014-02-25 at 10.34.49 AMIn one of Jack Benny’s classic comedy skits, a robber confronts him, demanding, “Your money or your life!” Benny — in character as a notorious tightwad — pauses for a long moment. The robber shouts his demand one more, with urgency. Finally, Benny says slowly, “I’m thinking it over!”

Many people today are caught up in a real life version of this dilemma. They acknowledge the stress, the physical and psychological perils of our prevailing view of success. The Third Metric movement is raising awareness of this, and surveys continue to document it. But, while most would prefer a more balanced, integrated life, they also feel reluctant or frightened to alter their endless pursuit of money and related measures of success. One of the reasons many keep “thinking it over” is visible in a lament coursing through the lives of many successful careerists: That “I don’t like the person I’ve become,” as one corporate executive expressed it to me.

George is an example. A highly successful executive in his mid 50s, he’s had a solid educational background, a steady career rise, and a functioning though not especially energized marriage, and two children. As he worked with me to deal with chronic anxiety and general malaise in his “always on” life, he awakened to having always “followed the program” in his life. That is, performing well, shaping his values, personality and goals along a path that was laid down and expected by his parents.

George was drawn to public service and journalism when younger, but that wasn’t part of the “program.” He craved Continue reading

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The Fast-Changing Face of Corporate Leaders

Screen shot 2014-02-18 at 12.15.38 PMWho are the people in senior leadership roles today? An interesting report by Jena McGregor in the Washington Post sheds light on this. She summarizes the findings of a new study, published by the Harvard Business School, of Fortune 100 executives. It finds that the majority of senior executives were educated at state universities, not at the elite schools. Nearly 11 percent are foreign born. And while women still deal with the glass ceiling, they have a more rapid rise to the top ranks, today.

I think these findings have potentially significant implications for corporate cultures. For example, what will be the impact on outlook, vision, and management perspectives from ever-increasing numbers of ever-increasing diverse people? Moreover, what will emerge from this rising diversity of executive leaders in conjunction with a growing shift in worker’s orientations to the job, to what they look for from management, and to what they define as “success?” There are several moving parts.

The study was conducted by researchers from Penn’s Wharton School and from the IE Business School in Madrid. For McGregor’s article, click here. For the full report in the Harvard Business Review, click here.

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Feeling Self-Determination Increases Health And Longevity

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 10.24.04 AMA new study by Brandeis University and the University of Rochester, published in Health Psychology, finds that people who have a sense of “control” in their lives and believe they can achieve their goals — despite hardships — are more likely to live longer and and healthier lives. This was found to occur even among less educated people, which contradicted previous research that indicated shorter, less healthy lives among less educated people.

However, what’s meant by a sense of “control?” What constitutes it?

I think the research findings reveal the importance of having a vision, an ideal, to aim for and pursue — “control” in that sense. That’s different from a belief that one is in control of, or can dominate and bend circumstances, to one’s will. Or, the need to control and cling to what inevitably changes and evolves in life. That is, positive “control” means maintaining a belief in what is possible. That’s what sustains energy and flexibility in pursuit of an ideal or goal in life, whatever one’s current circumstances.

 

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Why Your Therapist Should Go “Back to the Future”

Screen shot 2014-01-28 at 9.22.27 AMI recently spoke to psychology doctoral students about the innovative contributions of some pioneering psychoanalysts in New York and Washington and who collaborated during the 1930s -1950s. Several found commonalities in their work to expand traditional psychoanalytic understanding about emotional conflicts and their treatment. Some were European, having fled the Nazis; others, American. Among the most prominent were Erich FrommKaren Horney and Harry Stack Sullivan. Their ideas were often rejected—or attacked—by the psychoanalytic establishment back then.

After I spoke to the students about the contributions of those three, it struck me that both the emerging generation and current psychotherapists could help patients by reclaiming their legacy. And not just their creative mindset, but an overlooked, core part of their contributions.

That is, most therapists today recognize the significance of interpersonal and relationship issues that those three contributed: that our sense of self and much dysfunction is rooted in the web of relationships we experience from birth. That part isn’t overlooked. What many ignore is that Fromm, Horney and Sullivan also drew attention to social and cultural forces in our “outer” world, forces that shape—for better or worse—who we become: Our values, attitudes, personalities and level of emotional health or dysfunction. That dimension of their work became increasingly marginalized and disregarded over the decades, with few exceptions. That loss diminishes therapists’ capacity to discern the roots of patients’ conflicts and provide effective help.

Ironically, those early analysts’ insights about social conditioning are highly relevant to life conflicts in this second decade of the 21st Century—a time of great transition and turmoil affecting peoples’ relationships, career and life challenges. It would benefit psychotherapy patients if more therapists went “back to the future” in two ways:

First, Continue reading

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Caught Between “Longing” vs. “Settling” In Your Midlife Marriage?”

Screen shot 2013-12-24 at 11.50.23 AMOnce the world was new
Our bodies felt the morning dew
That greets the brand new day
We couldn’t tear ourselves away
I wonder if you care
I wonder if you still remember…

The Moody Blues, “Your Wildest Dream

Linda, a 53 year-old psychotherapy patient, was talking with me about a recent New York Times article about the rising numbers of midlife men and women who are divorcing. That, despite other data that the overall divorce rate has dropped somewhat, to around 40 percent. Linda was worried. She and her husband had been experiencing more conflict lately, especially since their two children had finished college and were off on their own. She said it felt like they were on different wavelengths about nearly everything – sex, money, lifestyle. “Sometimes I think we’re ‘on the brink’…” Linda said, not wanting to use the “D” word. “Maybe we’d both be happier going separate ways. Life is short…”

Linda is prone to anxiety, and has a lot on her plate with her career as a public relations executive. But given the rising numbers of midlife divorce, marital conflict is an understandable concern. (Disclosure: I’m a midlife baby boomer; been there, done that). There are several likely reasons for this trend, but I think there’s a particular dilemma that may remain under the radar. It’s that many midlife baby boomers are caught between feelings of longing for a relationship ideal that they think might be real but unfulfilled; and a pull towards settling for what they have, with all it’s imperfections and disappointments. This is a huge conflict. It’s worth understanding what it reflects, in order to deal with it in a healthy way; especially in the context of transformations occurring in people’s emotional and sexual relationships today.

Linda and her husband know of couples who had announced they were getting divorced, often to the surprise of many: “They seemed perfectly fine; no hint of trouble.” They knew of more than one couple in which one partner said, “I just felt the need to experience more of my own life, at this point.”

Linda wondered, were she and her husband mismatched to begin with and just didn’t realize it, back in their 20s? Had they grown in such different directions that they no longer wanted or cared about having a life together in their years ahead? Or had their work become their true “lover” rather than each other?”

Good questions for any long-term couple. But what is it that’s made baby boomers more prone – or receptive – to divorce? Continue reading

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Why Reading Serious Fiction Benefits Your Psychological Development

Screen shot 2013-11-26 at 12.37.38 PMThe recent death of Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing—one of the most significant writers of our time, in my view—brought to mind that serious fiction spurs your spiritual and psychological development, your essential soul. It’s a gateway to “evolving” yourself during your lifetime, rather than stagnating within the person you’ve become. The latter path—which so many people descend into to—was captured by Norman Mailer in The Deer Park: “It is a law of life that one must grow, or else pay more for remaining the same.”

Delving into serious fiction engages you in the core human issues that everyone grapples with, consciously or unconsciously. The prime one is the question of, “What’s the meaning of life; of my life?

And, there are related issues concerning moral judgment, the impact of social conventions, conflicting paths in life, and so on. When you’re awakened — or threatened — by portrayals of those in good literature, you’re often forced to confront your own life choices and dilemmas in new ways, with new perspectives. You’re likely to resonate with the George Eliot quote, “It is never too late to be what you might have become.”

Lessing’s vast body of work is especially relevant to stimulating your soul’s evolution. Or, in Western psychology’s language, your “true self.” She portrayed the intertwined political, personal, sexual, cultural and ideological forces in people’s lives from pre-World War II, through the sexual and social revolution of the ’60s, to the present era. Among her novels is an interconnected series under the umbrella title, Children of Violence. Thery chronicled a woman’s character and life development via her social, sexual and political awakening.

Her final volume of the series, Continue reading

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Take This Job And…Shove It?/Love It?

Screen shot 2013-11-12 at 11.34.24 AM It may be hard to say, when you see this contradiction: A new survey finds that 90 percent of older workers, and nearly 40 percent of younger workers say they’re satisfied with their work. But many other surveys report high levels of dissatisfaction, stress, unsupportive management and disengagement from work altogether — across age groups.

How to make sense of such divergent findings? Actually, they all make sense when you look at the surveys more closely, in the context of the career and management environments of many organizations. People of different ages, attitudes and desires deal with their workplace environments in different ways, both subtle and overt.

First, the new survey, reported by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research: It found that “9 in 10 workers who are age 50 or older say they are very or somewhat satisfied with their job.” Specifically, 65 percent said they were “very satisfied,” while the remaining 26 percent were just “satisfied.”

The survey did find that nearly 40 percent of younger workers reported dissatisfaction with their jobs. But on the face of it, the findings suggest that the older you get, you become more “satisfied” with your work. Tom Smith, director of the General Social Survey, observed that “Older workers generally have already climbed the career ladder, increased their salaries and reached positions where they have greater security, so more satisfaction makes sense.”

These findings may appear puzzling in the face of many other surveys that report high levels of stress, hostile, unsupportive management, and other negative, debilitating experiences that many workers deal with.

My take is that the AP-NORC Center survey unintentionally masked several underlying phenomena. The result was the high level of reported “satisfaction” among all older workers. Some examples: Continue reading

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J. D. Salinger — New “Revelations” Miss the Vision Within His Glass Family Stories

Screen shot 2013-09-10 at 11.59.18 AMThe new book and documentary about J. D. Salinger by Shane Salerno and David Shields promote themselves as revealing substantial new information about Salinger’s writings and his famous reclusiveness. I think the most intriguing information from it is confirmation that several new works from Salinger will be published in the next few years. However, I think this new project misses the point about his writings and their meaning, as have previous critics over the years — including Mailer, Updike and others. They seem fixed on interpreting his work and life as indicating withdrawal and detachment from the world. However, quite the opposite is reflected in reading his Glass family stories. Contained within them is a vision of engaged connection and love — that’s his overriding theme, within an acknowledgement of our human flaws and failings (including his own.) No wonder Salinger disengaged from responding and replying to those who tried to interpret him within a Hemingway-esqe framework.

Now, in a very thoughtful and insightful piece about Salinger’s vision contained within his Glass stories, beyond the Catcher In The Rye, Andrew Romano presents a more accurate understanding of Salinger’s work. He writes in The Daily Beast, “Neither Mailer nor any of his fellow travelers seemed to notice that Salinger was trying to accomplish something different than what he was after when the Glass series began in the late 1940s.” And, “By the time Franny and Zooey came out in 1961, followed by Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction in 1963, Salinger’s style had changed. Gone was the idiomatic cool, the chic minimalism, and the formal shapeliness of “Bananafish”; in its place was something shaggier, more digressive, more self-conscious, and more explicitly spiritual.”

Romano’s essay is well-worth reading and reflecting upon. Click here for the entire piece.

 

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How To Align Your Money, Personal Values and Sustainability

This is a guest post by Brian Kaminer, founder of Talgra, which provides consultation to people on ways to create positive social and environmental change, through aligning money and values with investing. It was previously published on Green Money.

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My Roadmap

After 17 years in the brokerage business at a boutique trading firm, I got the chance to explore areas that were of greater personal interest to me and felt in alignment with my values. Sustainability quickly got my attention and my role as the father of three boys also furthered my interest on the topic. I initially focused on resource / energy conservation and solar energy for about 2 years. After learning about the concept of Slow Money and attending various conferences in 2010, my awareness about the role of money and investing was elevated to a new level. Since then I have immersed myself in this field while working to commit financial resources to support my core values and understanding of sustainability. This is very much an evolving and rewarding personal process.

While doing so, I have been overwhelmed by the amount of information and resources available on this subject. It seems to be exponentially growing in content and visibility. Organizing and connecting what I have been learning has increased my understanding of the field and presented the opportunity to share this with others by creating a resource document. This process enables me to see the bigger picture.

Towards that, I created the Money and Impact Investing Directory Continue reading

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Wealth, Entitlement and An Inflated Self

Screen shot 2013-09-03 at 9.55.27 AMResearchers at Berkeley have found that higher social class is associated with an increased sense of entitlement and narcissism. This is another study in the realm of “demonstrating the obvious,” but that’s good, because it gives research data underpinnings to clinical observations. The study, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, also found that promoting values that reflect a sense of equality with others had a diminishing affect on their narcissism. And that’s especially interesting because it links with other studies that find that empathy and compassion are innate; we’re “hardwired” that way, as this recent study finds, for example. But that capacity can be dulled or diminished by socially conditioned values and rewards, which then shape our conscious sense of self. We then define ourselves in ways that limit and constrict our sense of who we’re capable of being.

The current study about social class and narcissism was summarized by Eric W. Dolan in The Raw Story:

Climbing the economic ladder can influence basic psychological processes within an individual. According to a new study , wealth tends to increase a person’s sense of entitlement, which in turn can lead to narcissistic behaviors. Continue reading

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Do Couples Prefer Conflict Over Shared Power and Emotional Exposure?

Screen shot 2013-08-27 at 10.20.29 AMWant a fast track to divorce? Paul and Kim can show you the way. Like many couples, they jockey around for power, control and “winning” arguments when there’s conflict. And their intimacy fades, as a result. Even when one of them apologizes for their role in the conflict, nothing changes. Neither of them realizes that they hold the key to turning things around before it’s too late. New research and observations from therapy show how that’s possible.

A typical situation of theirs: Married about 15 years, they’re on a long road trip to a vacation at the beach with their kids. They’re already locked in combat, having arguing over how much time to spend on a stopover visit to one set of in-laws. They fought until one of them just gave in and acquiesced to the other one’s wishes. That’s how they tend to “resolve” conflict. As they drove along the crowded highways they hunkered down into a mixture of sullenness and half-hearted efforts to change the subject. But the residue of their fight hung in the air, like dark clouds threatening rain at any moment.

Both know that “winning” doesn’t improve their relationship, but their conflicts often end with one “giving in” to the other, but then remaining angry and resentful. The “winner” feels smug with power, but also realizes that’s not a path towards a lasting, positive relationship. Both tend to turn inward and shut down regarding their feelings. Doing so has diminished their intimacy. They know they’re adding another brick in the wall, and that they could be headed down a path to a chronic, adversarial relationship or eventual divorce.

Periodically, new research and clinical insights pinpoint what it takes to reverse course and turn towards deepening your intimacy and connection. The latest is a large-scale study from Baylor University. It found that couples really long for Continue reading

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Couples In Conflict Want Shared Power And Intimacy, Not Adversarial Strategies For “Winning”

Screen shot 2013-08-09 at 10.28.45 AMHere’s an interesting study that confirms what I find clinically true for couples, whether they’re in conflict or seeking to sustain positive energy and connection for the long-term. The research confirmed that couples seek what I call “mutuality” and “transparency” in their relationships. The researchers described those desires as seeking “shared control” and more investment in “sharing intimate thoughts, feelings and listening.” The research was published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology and summarized in Medical News Today. I have found that mutuality — shared power in decision-making; transparency — two-way openness, showing and receiving each other’s intimate feelings, hopes, and fears; and “good vibrations” — an engaged physical/sexual connection — form the basis of sustaining positive connection in an intimate relationship; the source of feeling that you’re growing together, emotionally and spiritually. I’ve written about these in previous posts, here. This new research study focuses on two of those: mutuality and transparency, and provides empirical evidence for them.

From the report: Continue reading

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Work-Life Balance Is Impossible — Here’s Why

Screen shot 2013-07-25 at 10.22.07 AMIt’s increasingly visible that our workplace culture and conventional views of success damage people emotionally and physically, and harm productivity and innovation as well. In a recent post, I emphasized the overlooked role of unhealthy management practices because they reflect and reinforce a narrow, self-interested view of success that’s equated with the pursuit of “more” — more money, power and recognition. New efforts to redefine success in healthier directions are encouraging. But most of them focus on ways to achieve better work-life balance. And that’s a problem.

In my view, you can never “balance” work and life. It’s impossible. But knowing why this is the case can lead to redefining success in ways that can really take root in one’s life and career.

To explain, look at the visible conflicts and how they’re typically understood: Research shows that people at all career levels suffer from the emotional and physical damage of workaholic expectations; destructive, stifling management practices; and a lack of sufficient vacation and leisure time — all in the pursuit of “success.” Typically, we frame such damage as products of an imbalanced “work” and “life.” But the two can’t be balanced because both work and life are on the same side of the scale — your outer life.

That is, the true scale is between your outer life and your inner life. On one side is Continue reading

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Why “Learning” Compassion Leads to Greater Altruism

Screen shot 2013-06-08 at 10.12.13 AMIt’s good to see research that demonstrates our capacity to awaken and evolve our consciousness and become more fully “human” – in our mental perspectives, our emotions and our behavior towards others. Two recent strands of such research illustrate this. One is the increasing, legitimate research on the beneficial powers of psychedelic drugs, especially psilocybin and MDMA (ecstasy), being conducted after a long stretch of unwarranted legal prohibition. The other strand provides accumulating knowledge of how we are able to alter our brain, our attitudes and conduct through conscious effort and practice. And, that meditation is powerful vehicle for this.

For example, new research demonstrates that you can “learn” compassion through specific meditative practices fairly quickly; and, intriguingly, that teaching yourself to become more compassionate directly translates to altruistic behavior. This latest study was summarized in a University of Wisconsin press release. Conducted at the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, founded by Richard Davidson, the leading researcher in this field, it investigated whether you can train adults to become more compassionate; and whether that results in greater altruistic behavior and changes in related brain activity. Well, you can, and it does. Continue reading

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Is It Good To Sacrifice In A Relationship?

Screen shot 2013-05-22 at 12.30.57 PMAn interesting new study indicates that it may not always be good or useful to make sacrifices or be giving to your partner in a relationship. It may depend on the level of stress you experienced during the day. The study, from the University of Arizona, suggests that while making sacrifices in a romantic relationship is generally a positive thing, doing so on days when you are feeling especially stressed may not be beneficial. Researchers found that individuals who made sacrifices for their significant others generally reported feeling more committed to their partners when they performed those nice behaviors. But when they made sacrifices on days when they had experienced a lot of hassles, they did not feel more committed.

The study found that the daily hassles reported by an individual affected feelings of closeness and satisfaction for both partners, regardless of which one experienced those hassles. The study, published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships is summarized in the following report by Science Daily: Continue reading

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The Link Between Depression And Your Love Relationship

Screen shot 2013-05-09 at 2.38.38 PMAn interesting new study of 5000 adults conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan finds that there’s an important link between what goes on in your relationship with your intimate partner and the likelihood of depression over the years. That is, the poorer the quality of the relationship, the more likely the person was to become depressed over time, Researchers found that people with the lowest quality relationships had more than twice the risk of depression than people with the best relationships. The quality of a person’s relationships overall was also linked with future depression potential, but the relationship with one’s spouse was most significant.

From the research, published in PLOS ONE, and reported by Science News: The study assessed the quality of social relationships on depression over a 10-year period, and is one of the first to examine the issue in a large, broad population over such a long time period. Nearly 16 percent of Americans experience major depression disorder at some point in their lives, and the condition can increase the risk for and worsen conditions like coronary artery disease, stroke and cancer. Continue reading

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6 Keys to Well-Being and Growth Relevant to Life in Today’s Unpredictable World

Screen shot 2013-04-23 at 11.10.31 AMJim, who’s in his early 40s, consulted me about a troubling dilemma. He told me that he’s worked on himself for years, both with and without the help of therapists, and that he’s “tamed many demons” from the traumas and family dysfunctions he experienced growing up. He’s now living a stable and reasonably successful life. Yet he finds himself asking “Now what?” and “Is this it?” He explained that he’s learned to manage and cope pretty well with the residue of conflicts that had, in the past, derailed successful relationships as well as his career. Nevertheless, he feels trapped by the past actions that continue to have a shelf life. And, especially, he wants to experience a more fulfilling, expansive existence, beyond the “flat-lined comfortableness” that Cheryl, a 38-year-old small-business owner, described about her own life.

They and others reflect the impact of living in today’s world, especially since the new century began. Our lives now exist within a new normal of uncertainty and turmoil, of unpredictable events and rapid social change, as well as ever-evolving technology that infiltrates every aspect of daily life. This new environment raises an important question: What describes a fulfilling, positive and psychologically healthy life today? Moreover, what can you do to create it?

That’s where our traditional thinking and prescriptions fall short. Continue reading

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Daily Stress Affects Long-Term Mental Health

Screen shot 2013-04-06 at 10.51.03 AMOnce again, we find more evidence that daily stress has a long-term negative impact on mental health. Any research that highlights this fact is helpful, but it also draws attention to the role our social conditioning plays in generating the stress that debilitates mental health. And that’s not addressed as much as it should be. I’m referring to the ways we learn to behave in our public and private roles – in relationships, in our careers — that define “success,” and what you learn to do to achieve it, in ways that steadily create emotional conflicts. Without addressing those issues, which include over-emphasis on manipulation, self-centeredness, domination-submission struggles, to name a few — it’s difficult to describe what can support the “emotional balance,” the researchers cite as crucial for avoiding long-term emotional problems.

The latest research about this, published in the journal Psychological Science, was conducted by Susan Charles, UC Irvine professor of psychology and social behaviour, and her colleagues. Here’s what they reported:

Our emotional responses to the stresses of daily life may predict our long-term mental health. The research suggests that maintaining emotional balance is crucial to avoiding severe mental health problems down the road. The study examined this question: Do everyday irritations add up to make the straw that breaks the camel’s back, or do they make us stronger and “inoculate” us against later tribulations? Using data from two national, longitudinal surveys, the researchers found that participants’ negative emotional responses to daily stressors – such as arguments with a spouse or partner, conflicts at work, standing in long lines or sitting in traffic – predicted psychological distress and self-reported anxiety/mood disorders 10 years later. Continue reading

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If Everyone Is Disturbed, Then Who’s Healthy?

Screen shot 2013-04-01 at 8.51.31 AMFollowing a recent talk to a group of business people, a man cornered me and said, “I work hard, I’m pretty successful, I have stable, second marriage and kids who are doing well…and yet I often feel unsatisfied with my life and don’t know why. Am I disturbed?”

His question reminded me of an ongoing controversy over the forthcoming revision of the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM-5. Many are criticizing it for turning normal variations of human emotions and behavior into mental disorders. That’s likely to generate more diagnoses for depression or ADD, for example. Its most prominent critic is Allen Frances, the psychiatrist who chaired the committee that drafted the previous edition. Among his and others’ criticisms is that the revisions will lead to more drugs to “treat” ever-expanding definitions of mental disorder.

This drift towards defining mental disorder upwards is troubling. But I think it masks another important, but largely ignored, problem on the flip side: There’s no good definition of what psychological health looks like in today’s world, in contrast to disturbance.
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Why “Powerful” People Are More Connected With Their Future Selves

Screen shot 2013-03-19 at 11.52.07 AMNew research finds that “powerful” people are more likely to wait for future rewards, rather than rewards in the present, because they are more able to anticipate their future. I think this research illustrates the frequent flaws contained in academic research that utilizes artificial, experimental conditions, from which it draws broad conclusions. In this study, researchers from the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California conducted a series of four experiments, in which people were given “high-power” and “low-power” roles in a group activity. The study reports that “Afterwards, the participants were asked to make a series of choices between receiving $120 now or increasing amounts of money in one year. On average, low-power team workers were only willing to take the future reward if it was at least $88 more than the immediate one. High-power team managers, on the other hand, were willing to wait for future rewards that were only $52 more than the immediate one.”

From that and the subsequent experiments, researchers concluded that “power holders may be willing to wait for the larger rewards because they feel more connected with their future selves, a consequence of experiencing less uncertainty about their futures along with an increased tendency to see the big picture.”

But here’s the problem with the research: It confuses “power” with a sense of perspective and larger vision of what one is aiming for in life. The latter Continue reading

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Does Meditation Make You More Politically Liberal?

Screen shot 2013-03-13 at 10.11.16 AMA new research study finds that people become more politically liberal following meditation or other spiritually oriented experiences. The findings concerning political orientation can be questioned because of how the researchers constructed the study, but I think they reveal something of broader significance: that meditation and developing one’s inner life has a transformative effect upon emotions, mental perspectives and behavior, in general. And that can lead to politically liberal positions in our current political culture.

First, the research findings: In a series of studies, researchers at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management initially assessed people’s differences regarding their “religious” vs. “spiritual” orientations. The researchers defined “spirituality” in terms of direct experience of self-transcendence and the feeling that we’re all connected. In contrast, “religiousness” was defined as a code of conduct that’s part of a tradition.

In my view, the two definitions are not at all mutually exclusive, and that contaminates, somewhat, the findings associating political conservatism with religiousness, and spirituality with political liberalism. The researchers explained those in terms of underlying values, that conservatism and religiousness both emphasize the importance of tradition, while liberalism and spirituality both emphasize the importance of equality and social harmony.

The Key Finding
When participants in the study meditated they subsequently reported significantly higher levels of spirituality, and they expressed more liberal political attitudes. That is, meditation led both liberals andconservatives to endorse more liberal political positions. Continue reading

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How Fears Shape Your Political Views…And Much More

Screen shot 2013-02-15 at 12.17.30 PMMobilizing your fear of an opposing political party’s agenda and policies has become pretty commonplace in political campaigns, today. Now, some new research sheds light on a previously unrecognized link between fear, its source, and just how it shapes one’s political position on polarizing issues. However, I think these findings also point to a much broader but overlooked role that fear plays in many facets of people’s lives. That includes career dilemmas, conflicts around personal values, and problems in intimate relationships. Fears can be subtly conditioned by society’s norms and family pressures. They remain largely unconscious, and can fuel a range of emotional conflicts and dilemmas about life-shaping decisions.

To explain, let’s look at the research. Conducted by a team from Brown University, Penn State, and Virginia Commonwealth University, and published in the American Journal of Political Science, it found that some people appear to have greater inborn tendencies toward social fears. That is, they tend to experience fear at lower levels of threat or danger than others. In effect, they’re wired that way.

The researchers found that such individuals tend to have more negative attitudes toward “outside” groups, such as immigrants and racial-ethnic groups. When the researchers looked at the self-reported political attitudes of the research participants — on a liberal-conservative scale — they found a correlation between negative attitudes toward those groups and conservative political views.

However, as the researchers pointed out, Continue reading

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Self-Examination And Success

Screen shot 2013-02-12 at 11.42.52 AMOne of the themes I’ve been writing about and highlighting in recent years is the crucial role that self-examination and self-awareness play in life — for internal wellbeing, personal relationships and external success in your work and career. In this recent New York Times essay, Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield provide a range of examples of just how important self-awareness is to “success,” in whatever form it takes. They write:

WHAT does self-awareness have to do with a restaurant empire? A tennis championship? Or a rock star’s dream? David Chang’s experience is instructive.

Mr. Chang is an internationally renowned, award-winning Korean-American chef, restaurateur and owner of the Momofuku restaurant group with eight restaurants from Toronto to Sydney, and other thriving enterprises, including bakeries and bars, a PBS TV show, guest spots on HBO’s “Treme” and a foodie magazine, Lucky Peach. He says he worked himself to the bone to realize his dream — to own a humble noodle bar. He spent years cooking in some of New York City’s best restaurants, apprenticed in different noodle shops in Japan and then, finally, worked 18-hour days in his tiny restaurant, Momofuku Noodle Bar. Mr. Chang could barely pay himself a salary. He had trouble keeping staff. And he was miserably stressed.

He recalls a low moment when he went with his staff on a night off to eat burgers at a restaurant that was everything his wasn’t — packed, critically acclaimed and financially successful. He could cook better than they did, he thought, so why was his restaurant failing? “I couldn’t figure out what the hell we were doing wrong,” he told us. Mr. Chang could have blamed someone else for his troubles, or worked harder (though available evidence suggests that might not have been possible) or he could have made minor tweaks to the menu. Instead he looked inward and subjected himself to brutal self-assessment.  Click here to continue.

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The Harmful Effects Of Loneliness Are Rooted In Our Culture

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A recent psychotherapy patient, Ms. A., tells me that she’s felt lonely throughout her life. Her intimate relationships have been brief; her friends, few. In recent years she’s been suffering from one physical ailment after another. Another patient, Mr. B, has an active social life with friends and business associates, a long-term marriage and an extended family. Despite this socially full life, he complains of feeling lonely “right in the midst of everyone around me.” He, too, suffers from frequent illness.

Some new research finds that loneliness can harm your immune system and set the stage for a range of illness. Of course, our mind/body/spirit is all one. Each “part” affects each other “part,” so that’s no surprise. But there’s a lot more to the story. People like Ms. A and Mr. B appear different, yet are alike in other ways. That is, some people’s loneliness reflects an absence of positive relationships. That, in turn, may be rooted in long-term emotional issues that interfere with forming and maintaining relationships. Yet others have a full social life but feel lonely anyway. These apparently different situations raise a question: What promotes or creates the conditions for loneliness in today’s society? And, what would help alleviate the painful isolation and disconnection that some feel, regardless of the extent of their social connections? Continue reading

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