Tag Archives: interconnection

Seeking Greater Health And Well-Being? Try Showing Gratitude, Research Finds!

April 25, 2017

You’re probably aware of the periodic reminders we receive about the importance of feeling and showing gratitude towards others’ acts of kindness and generosity. And, that it’s also good to feel grateful for whatever’s positive in your own life. But such reminders are often couched in a moral or religious framework: that it’s good to do. But realistically, you might think that it isn’t all that relevant to what’s really important in life – like making money, or acquiring status and power.

So consider this: A new study finds a direct link between expressing gratitude and increasing your physical and emotional well-being. Not just a moral exhortation, showing gratitude increases your overall health.

I’m not surprised to see empirical confirmation of what I’ve found – and have recommended – to people for many years. So often we’re caught up in a sense of self-importance regarding our own troubles, whether major or trivial. We can easily sink into victimhood while ignoring all that we have to be grateful for in our lives; all that is positive in our life circumstances, despite the “negatives” that we may dwell in. Or comparing ourselves with others whom we imagine to be better off, in some way. 

In short, practicing an attitude of gratitude – really experiencing it – is a component of increasing resilience in the face of the fluid, ever-changing world we live in; and building greater psychological health.

This new study provides evidence of that. From the University of Montana and published in the Review of Communication, it examined the evidence of the connections between expressing gratitude and overall health. The authors find that gratitude – which stems from the actions of another and your response to them — is associated with psychological well-being and increased positive states such as life satisfaction, vitality, hope, and optimism. It also contributes to decreased levels of depression, anxiety, envy, and job-related stress and burnout. Moreover, people who experience and express gratitude have reported fewer symptoms of physical illness, more exercise, and better quality of sleep

The study’s authors, Stephen M. Yoshimura and Kassandra Berzins, suggest that “gratitude promotes social relationships by giving grateful people an appearance of warmth and responsiveness, increasing their trust in others, and motivating them to approach and bond with their benefactors.” Further, they point out that gratitude can help people find high-quality relationship partners and can lead to greater long-term relationship satisfaction because of the mutual support and caring it generates. And that, in turn, is an essential part of long-term psychological well-being.

The authors conclude, in a low-key way, “Social connectedness, perhaps through the increased willingness and ability to communicate gratitude, could serve as a recommendable health practice.”

No argument there!

Credit: Regenerate

A version of this article also appeared in Psychology Today

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East-West Exchange Has A Much Longer History Than Assumed

Part of the Tabula Peutingeriana, a 13th-century copy of an ancient road map, with Rome at center.

February 7, 2017

In this age of growing nationalistic reaction to globalization and the effects of international trade upon nations, it’s good to step back and gain a broader historical perspective about mutual influences that have occurred from antiquity. This new book by Michael Scott, Ancient Worlds: A Global History of Antiquity, provides that needed perspective. And it reminds us that interconnection and interdependence has always existed throughout history, but has become a daily, living reality in our global community.

Reviewed in The Wall Street Journal by Peter Thonemann, Scott’s book presents an illuminating and fascinating exploration of the multitude of connections and communications between Eastern and Western societies — long before the Silk Road: “From Carthage and Rome through Iran and Afghanistan to Xiaanyang and the Ganges basin.”

In his review, Thonemann writes:

Three and a half thousand miles east of Athens, near the modern city of Bhopal in central India, stands a brown sandstone pillar, 21 feet tall. Carved into its surface is a seven-line Prakrit-language inscription from the late second century B.C., giving us a fleeting glimpse into a life of unimaginable strangeness and wonder. “This Garuda-pillar of Vasudeva, the god of gods, was constructed here by Heliodoros the devotee, son of Dion, of Taxila, the Greek ambassador who came from the Great King Antialkidas to King Kasiputra Bhagabhadra, the Savior, prospering in his fourteenth regnal year.”

Heliodoros the Greek ambassador: what a person to find in central India! We are all too accustomed to think of ancient history as the history of Greece and Rome, with Europe and the Mediterranean at its center. But as Michael Scott reminds us in his sweeping “Ancient Worlds: A Global History of Antiquity,” the Greco-Roman world formed only a small part of a vast, interconnected network of highly sophisticated and literate Old World cultures, stretching from Carthage and Rome in the west through Iran and Afghanistan to Xianyang and the Ganges basin in the east.

These far-flung societies engaged in a long, slow-moving conversation with one another. The pillar of Heliodoros shows us a Greek from northern Pakistan proudly proclaiming his status as a “devotee” of the Indian god Vasudeva-Krishna. A century earlier, the Indian king Ashoka had placed a long inscription at the Greek city of Alexandria in Arachosia (modern Kandahar, Afghanistan), proclaiming his Buddhist faith in immaculate Hellenistic Greek prose; a century later, 120 merchant ships were sailing from Roman ports on the Red Sea to the Indian subcontinent each year. Mr. Scott’s book is an ambitious attempt to evoke this “big” ancient world, from the sixth century B.C. to the fourth century A.D. Continue reading

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Our Human Contradictions…At Year’s End

December 27, 2016
A few end-of-year thoughts, stirred by a recent NPR report about the ways our universe is likely to end, eventually. It reminded me that we organic entities, endowed with consciousness, are but specks on a planet that itself, is just a speck in this vast galaxy; just one of billions of galaxies. If we grasp that reality, we see how foolish we humans are: All in the same boat, all heading for demise and the infinite unknown. But rather than unite with love and joy and caring, and in the embrace of our common state – and fate – we descend into petty slights, grievances, anger, resentments, hatred. Never forgiving, never letting go. And, of course, we kill each other, as well. That’s what we do, whether in our family relationships, our own society, or throughout the world. Yes, as Shakespeare wrote, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

Credit: BBC

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Being Kind To Others Elevates Your Wellbeing, Research Finds

screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-3-11-46-pmNovember 1, 2016

This small but useful study from Oxford researchers underscores our human interconnectedness; and that doing something positive for others enhances our own happiness. In a review of 400 published studies about the relationship between kindness and happiness, the researchers found that being kind did have a modest, but noticeable impact on the person’s happiness. 

Although the review of the 400 studies found that the effect is lower than some pop-psychology articles have claimed, the researches pointed out that future research might help identify which kind acts are most effective at boosting happiness. They noted that existing research does not distinguish between kindness to family and friends versus strangers and, taking this into account, targeted kindness rather than indiscriminate kindness may have a greater effect on happiness.

The study’s lead author Oliver Scott Curry pointed out that “Our review suggests that performing acts of kindness will not change your life, but might help nudge it in the right direction. We recommend further research is done to compare the effects of being kind to family and friends as opposed to strangers. This is an area about which we know surprisingly little at the moment.”

Nevertheless, this brings to my mind the teachings from most spiritual and philosophical traditions, which describe the greater joy and happiness one experiences when doing something positively for others; when giving to others. For example, this from the Sufi teacher Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882-1927):

“A person who, alone, has seen something beautiful, who has heard something harmonious, who has tasted something delicious, who has smelt something fragrant, may have enjoyed it, but not completely. The complete joy is in sharing one’s joy with others. For the selfish one who enjoys himself and does not care for others, whether he enjoys things of the earth or things of heaven, his enjoyment is not complete.” 

Credit: Explore Curiocity

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Mental Health Professionals Ignore Their Responsibility to The Public

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 10.20.39 AMJuly 20, 2016

Those of us in the mental health professions are too silent and disengaged from an important responsibility we have to individual lives and society today. To explain, we live with increasing fears and insecurity, as we worry about what may lie ahead in this world: The increasing disruption and violence. Steady, unrelenting transition to a diverse and non-white majority U.S. culture. Continuing economic uncertainty. The impact of not dealing with climate change, and how it will alter the lives of future generations. And, especially, growing cynicism about the capacity of our social and governmental institutions to really understand or deal with any of these new realities of life.

In view of the above, we psychologists and psychiatrists should be playing a visible role in identifying what psychologically healthy living consists of, in the midst of today’s world: What it looks like, in our ideas, our emotions, our behavior; and in our public policies. And, what supports those features of mental health in the face of today’s challenges. I think we’re abdicating this role. I plan to write more about this in the future, but want to sketch out some ideas here, for discussion.

Generally, we can describe health as whatever promotes positive, constructive adaptation to change; what enhances flexibility and proactive behavior when dealing with changing or unexpected life circumstances; and mentally embracing the reality that our internal wellbeing and outward success are interdependent with those of others. Overall, that means behaving in ways that promote the common good, publically and privately. Interdependence, much of which is fueled by globalization and the merger of technology and communication, requires it.

This perspective asks us mental health professionals to take some positions and voice them publically. That is, articulate and advocate those social, cultural and political issues that promote psychologically healthy lives and society, rather than ignore those that undermine or impede them. To do so, we’re aided by a wealth of knowledge and information to draw on. It comes from clinical experience with a range of people who seek our help; and from extensive, published empirical research. The two sources converge. But too many of our mental health professionals don’t connect the dots. Or they don’t want to, perhaps in fear that voicing a position would erode their professional authority with their patients. Continue reading

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The Impact Of Long-Term Resentment Among Family Members

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Thoughts I was reflecting on the other day….It’s so pervasive – and so debilitating, for so many families: Allowing anger, resentment, rivalries and related negative, unforgiving, emotional attitudes prevail in their relationships, up through and even beyond death. I’ve observed this to some degree in the majority of my patients and research, over the years. Such a waste of energy and spirit. Certainly confirms Tolstoy’s comment, “…each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Credit: CPD Archive

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Prejudice Reduced After Just Brief Periods of Meditation

Screen Shot 2016-04-23 at 10.57.28 AMApril 19, 2016

This new research is both interesting and encouraging: It found that just seven minutes of meditation can reduce racial prejudice. The study, from the University of Sussex, was published in the journal Motivation and Emotion. It used the Buddhist mediation technique of loving-kindness meditation, which promotes unconditional kindness towards oneself and others.

Before describing this particular study, I want to point out that one important implication of this research, in my view, is that prejudices of all sorts are learned and conditioned from a variety of social and cultural forces; and, they can be consciously altered. Knowing this is especially important in our current era of reactive prejudice towards those who are “different,” and whose presence is becoming more visible as our society becomes increasingly diverse.

Regarding this study, the lead researcher Alexander Stell, said: “This indicates that some meditation techniques are about much more than feeling good, and might be an important tool for enhancing inter-group harmony.” This form of meditation is aimed at generating feelings of happiness and kindness towards oneself and others through conscious focus on repeating thoughts and phrases that are positive and beneficent, while visualizing a particular person.

According to Stell, “We wanted to see whether doing loving-kindness meditation towards a member of another ethnic group would reduce the automatic preference people tend to show for their own ethnic group.”

In the study, a sample of 71 white, non-meditating adults were each given a photo of a gender-matched black person and either received taped LKM instructions, or instructions to look at the photos and notice certain features of the face. Both conditions lasted just seven minutes. Details of the experiment are described in this summary from the University.

The researchers found that just seven minutes of loving-kindness meditation directed to a member of a specific racial group (in this case, a black person) was sufficient to reduce racial bias towards that group. Additionally the researchers measured levels of positive emotions that were either “other-regarding” (e.g., love, gratitude, awe, elevation) and those that were more self-directed (e.g., contentment, joy, pride). They found that people doing loving-kindness meditation showed large increases in other-regarding emotions. Those emotions were found to be what drives the reduction of bias.

Credit: CPD Archive

A version of this article also appeared in The Huffington Post

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Wisdom Requires Both “Head” and “Heart”

Screen Shot 2016-04-09 at 2.51.47 PMApril 5, 2016.

Of course! Our cognitive, logical, linear thought processes must be joined with our capacity for perspective and understanding of the larger context of a problem, for “wisdom” to emerge. This new study finds an interesting dimension of that “oneness”: the variability of the heart rate.

The research was described in this summary from the University of Waterloo. It found that heart rate variation and thinking process work together to enable wise reasoning about complex social issues. The study by Waterloo and the Australian Catholic University was published in  Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.

The authors state that their study breaks new ground in wisdom research by identifying conditions under which psychophysiology impacts wise judgment. “Our research shows that wise reasoning is not exclusively a function of the mind and cognitive ability,” says the lead author,Igor Grossmann. “We found that people who have greater heart rate variability and who are able to think about social problems from a distanced viewpoint demonstrate a greater capacity for wise reasoning.”

The study extends previous work on cognitive underpinnings of wise judgment to include consideration how the heart’s functioning impacts the mind. It points out that a growing consensus among philosophers and cognitive scientists defines wise judgment to include the ability to recognize the limits of one’s knowledge, to be aware of the varied contexts of life and how they may unfold over time, to acknowledge others’ points of view, and to seek reconciliation of opposing viewpoints.  Continue reading

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Actions That Benefit Others — Not Just Oneself — Lead to More Effective Work Teams

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 11.56.25 AMDecember 1, 2015

Although we’re seeing political and cultural calls for policies that advocate self-interest; and social-political positions that ignore or deny evidence of continuing global interdependence, the reality on the ground tells a different story: There, we find data that positive benefits for individuals, business and society accrue from serving the common good; actions that support the benefit of others enhance all, including oneself.

A recent study from Notre Dame and the University of Illinois is a good example. The research, published in the Academy of Management Journal, found that when members of a work team are supported and motivated to benefit others, those teams are higher performing. Moreover, its members remain in their teams for longer periods.

The study examined 67 work teams from both the U.S. and China, as well as 124 student teams at Notre Dame. According to lead researcher Jasmine Hu, “Findings from both the field study and lab research showed that the greater motivation to benefit others, the higher the levels of cooperation and viability and the higher the subsequent team performance.”

She added, “These types of teams were also less likely to have members voluntarily leave their teams. Furthermore, we discovered that these positive effects of team motivation to benefit others were stronger the more the tasks required close interaction and higher interdependence among its members.”

The researchers concluded that the research provided evidence for the importance of management practices that enhance motivation to benefit others. That, in turn, increases the collaboration and cooperation necessary for high-performing teams. It produces “…higher performance, more organizational citizenship behavior, and (members) stay in their teams for a longer period,” Hu said. Moreover, “The highest level of team effectiveness was achieved when team motivation to benefit others and the interdependence of tasks among team members were both high.”

In my view, this study’s findings emphasize the key management role of building and supporting positive relationships among team members. The latter is interwoven with and dependent upon positive management and leadership behavior. That is, by demonstrating belief in and commitment to collaboration and support for individual growth and development at the same time.

Credit: jps, inc

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Even Short Periods of Meditation Will Reduce Racial Prejudice

Screen Shot 2015-11-28 at 6.01.45 PMNovember 24, 2015

Now this is encouraging news: A new study finds that just seven minutes of meditation can reduce racial prejudice. The study, from the University of Sussex, was published in the journal Motivation and Emotion. It used the Buddhist mediation technique of loving-kindness meditation, which promotes unconditional kindness towards oneself and others.

The lead researcher Alexander Stell, said: “This indicates that some meditation techniques are about much more than feeling good, and might be an important tool for enhancing inter-group harmony.” This form of meditation is aimed at generating feelings of happiness and kindness towards oneself and others through conscious focus on repeating thoughts and phrases that are positive and beneficent, while visualizing a particular person.

According to Stell, “We wanted to see whether doing loving-kindness meditation towards a member of another ethnic group would reduce the automatic preference people tend to show for their own ethnic group.”

In the study, a sample of 71 white, non-meditating adults were each given a photo of a gender-matched black person and either received taped LKM instructions, or instructions to look at the photos and notice certain features of the face. Both conditions lasted just seven minutes. Details of the experiment are described in this summary from the University.

The researchers found that just seven minutes of loving-kindness meditation directed to a member of a specific racial group (in this case, a black person) was sufficient to reduce racial bias towards that group. Additionally the researchers measured levels of positive emotions that were either ‘other-regarding’ (e.g. love, gratitude, awe, elevation) and those that were more self-directed (e.g. contentment, joy, pride). They found that people doing loving-kindness meditation showed large increases in other-regarding emotions. Those emotions were found to be what drives the reduction of bias.

Credit: Bigstock

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Feeling Emotionally Connected To Work Is Linked With Greater Psychological Wellbeing…But Why?

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 10.47.20 AMNovember 3, 2015

I came across this new research finding that people who feel emotionally engaged and connected with their work experience greater psychological wellbeing. That may sound obvious, though it’s good whenever empirical data confirms the obvious. But I think the missing piece in the research is what, exactly, promotes that sense of emotional connection with your work to begin with?

This study from Denmark, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, examined the well-being and other health-related outcomes in 5,000 Danish workers. It found significantly higher well-being for employees in workgroups with “the employee’s emotional attachment to, identification with, and involvement in the organization.” They also had lower sickness absence rates and fewer sleep disturbances.

The lead author, Thomas Clausen, suggests that efforts to increase emotional connection with work may lead to a happier, healthier workforce. This makes sense, of course. Most companies would likely agree. The problem is that sense of connection with work reflects many factors that organizational leadership often fails to recognize or address. For example:

  • Does senior leadership promote a positive work culture, in which workers are valued and provided opportunities for continued learning and development?
  • Is diversity encouraged and valued in practice, not just in company mission statements? 
  • Is there a workaholic and/or sexist management culture permeating the organization?
  • Perhaps most importantly, do employees experience a sense of impact their work has upon the product or service the company provides? The latter appears increasingly important to younger workers, as surveys show. 

I’ve written about these issues previously, and they are crucial for long-term, sustainable success within our culture of increasing interconnection, transparency and constant flux; of rapid technology change and generational shift regarding values, life goals, and how people re-define personal and career success. 

Credit: Forbes

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Feelings of Awe and a Sense of Meaning Alter Your Mental Health and Behavior

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 3.26.14 PMAugust 18, 2015

One of the themes I write about is that our vision of our future self – what we aspire to “become” over time – can affect our mental health, positively or negatively. I’ve described how the absence of a positive vision of your future can actually create depression over time. In our society it’s easy to become encased within oneself; too self-absorbed and disconnected from our interconnections with others that are part of reality of life, today. Some recent research illustrates that how we experience ourselves in the larger world impact on tendency towards anxiety and depression. Moreover, it affects how we relate to other people.

A good empirical confirmation of this comes from research from the UC Berkeley and UC Irvine. It found that people who experience a sense of awe – a sensation of being part of something much larger than themselves – prompts them to behave more benevolently, in a more giving manner, towards others. I think what happens, there, is that the awe-struck experience pulls you outside of yourself. It propels you into an experience of “forgetting yourself.” And that expanded awareness that your are part of, and interwoven with, something much larger than just your individual being carries over towards behaving more positively and generous towards others.

Participants in the research, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, consistently reported that awe produced “a reduced sense of self importance relative to something larger and more powerful that they felt connected to,” according to the lead researcher, Paul Piff. Subsequent analysis of the research data confirmed that this feeling of the “small self” was responsible for the increase of ethical, generous behavior they subsequently demonstrated in the study.

In a different but related way, a study of the impact of a sense of meaning and purpose upon one’s mental health found a strong connection. The research, published in the Journal of Social Service Research, found that people who create a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives, and seek to find and experience their “true self,” experience fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety. This study looked at role of having a sense of meaning and purpose in treatment programs for addiction, in particular. It found that, in that population, more symptoms of emotional disorders were found among those who lacked a sense of meaning in their lives. However, I think that it has implications for the population at large, and corroborates the larger theme that I described above about the value of learning to “forget yourself.”

Credit: Spirit Science and Metaphysics

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A Leftward Shift on Key Moral and Political Issues

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As our society becomes increasingly interconnected and generational shifts occur, we’re witnessing continued evolution in peoples attitudes and behavior about “moral” issues, as well as increasing acceptance of diverse values and ways of life. This recent Gallup survey highlights the direction of these shifts. It reports that “Americans are more likely now than in the early 2000s to find a variety of behaviors morally acceptable, including gay and lesbian relations, having a baby outside of marriage and sex between an unmarried man and woman. Moral acceptability of many of these issues is now at a record-high level.”

At the same time, another Gallup survey finds that more Americans now rate themselves as socially liberal than at any point in Gallup’s 16-year trend, and for the first time, as many say they are liberal on social issues as say they are conservative. This reflects a shift from older surveys that tended to show greater numbers who identify as conservative on social and political issues. Currently, thirty-one percent of Americans describe their views on social issues as generally liberal, matching the percentage who identify as social conservatives for the first time in Gallup records dating back to 1999.

Moreover, according the Gallup report, Americans are becoming more liberal on social issues, as evidenced not only by the uptick in the percentage describing themselves as socially liberal, but also by their increasing willingness to say that a number of previously frowned-upon behaviors are morally acceptable. The biggest leftward shift over the past 14 years has been in attitudes toward gay and lesbian relations, from only a minority of Americans finding it morally acceptable to a clear majority finding it acceptable.

The key trends that Gallup cites include:

  • The substantial increase in Americans’ views that gay and lesbian relations are morally acceptable coincide with a record-high level of support for same-sex marriage and views that being gay or lesbian is something a person is born with, rather than due to one’s upbringing or environment.
  • The public is now more accepting of sexual relations outside of marriage in general than at any point in the history of tracking these measures, including a 16-percentage-point increase in those saying that having a baby outside of marriage is morally acceptable, and a 15-point increase in the acceptability of sex between an unmarried man and woman. Clear majorities of Americans now say both are acceptable.
  • Acceptance of divorce and human embryo medical research are also up 12 points each since 2001 and 2002, respectively.
  • Polygamy and cloning humans have also seen significant upshifts in moral acceptability — but even with these increases, the public largely perceives them as morally wrong, with only 16% and 15% of Americans, respectively, considering them morally acceptable.

For a longer description of the survey’s findings, click here.

Credit: CPD Archive

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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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Look Over Your Shoulder: Generation Z is Rising!

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“These children are so mature and they learn so fast, they might just be ready to take over by the time they’re 22.”

Generation X and the aging baby boomers often have trouble understanding and dealing with the millennials. But now, Alexandra Levit’s article in the New York Times calls attention to the rise of Generation Z. Take note, in case you forgot: Everyone grows up and everyone becomes older. Levit writes, “While executives have been fretting over the millennials, though, a new generation is growing up behind the scenes — Generation Z (born starting in the mid-90s to the early ’00s depending on whom you ask). Within the next three years, Gen Zers will be the college grads in my audiences, and they are poised to be somewhat different from the millennials.” Moreover, “These children are so mature and they learn so fast, they might just be ready to take over by the time they’re 22.”

Levit describes her own encounter with them and, more seriously, points out some of their attitudes, values and behavior regarding work, diversity, and activism on issues that concern them. They are the future, and the older generations would do well to pay attention to them — and maybe even learn something from them. She writes:

I recall the exact moment the temperature changed in the workplace. It was 2005, and I was speaking to an audience of 100 young professionals. I was relating my experiences building a career as a Gen Xer (born 1964-79) in a world of traditionalists (born before 1945) and baby boomers (born 1946-63).

Every time I threw out phrases like “paying your dues” and “playing the game,” the audience stared at me blankly. This was not the reaction I had come to expect from early twentysomethings. Usually they took notes on how they could get ahead in corporate America as quickly as possible. Continue reading

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The Rapid Transformation of American Families

Screen shot 2015-03-30 at 10.50.17 AMMarch 24, 2015

A recent analysis from the Pew Research Center shows the continued evolution underway in the American families. It finds that less than half of children who are less than 18 years old live with two married heterosexual parents in their first marriage. The Pew report finds that this is a notable change from 1960, when the figure was 73%; and in 1980, when it was 61%.

 A good illustration of this is the rapid diversification of Astoria, Queens, as described in this recent NPR report. It shows the steady transformation of a traditionally Greek and Italian community to a highly diverse international population.

These findings join with the steady rise of multi-ethnic Americans, and the growth of diversity of our population from nation of origin. They show that American culture and society is becoming more mixed and diverse, both individually and within families.

The Pew analysis was based on the American Community Survey (ACS) and Decennial Census data. It found, for example, that

Americans are delaying marriage, and more may be foregoing the institution altogether. At the same time, the share of children born outside of marriage now stands at 41%, up from just 5% in 1960. While debate continues as to whether divorce rates have been rising or falling in recent decades, it’s clear that in the longer term, the share of people who have been previously married is rising, as is remarriage. According to our analysis, today 15% of children are living with two parents who are in a remarriage.

This summary from Pew contains visual depictions of these changes.

Photo credit: CPD Archive

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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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Become More Productive at Work by Giving it Less Attention?

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February 17, 2015

I often suggest to business clients — as well as to some of my psychotherapy patients — that they create a “life project” in which they commit to personal development within these six interrelated dimensions of life: intellectual, emotional, relational, creative, spiritual and physical. Note that none of these relate explicitly to work and career. But when you do this — creating new goals or aspirations for each dimension, and taking steps that pull you towards them, you find that it also enhances your effectiveness and productivity at work. You realize how interrelated the different “parts” of your life is.

In an interesting Harvard Business Review article, Stew Friedman of the Wharton School describes research confirming that building an integrated life will, in fact, increase work effectiveness and productivity. This is important, because I think we’re seeing increasing evidence that when you seek to develop and “grow” more fully, in all dimensions, it enhances your overall life — your inner wellbeing and your outer success.

Friedman’s study has a somewhat different take on the dimensions of life from those I described above, but it confirms the value of bringing “parts” of your life into greater integration and harmony. That leads to a seeming paradox: By giving less focus to your work, you perform better at it.

He writes, “…what if the secret to performing better at work, and feeling more satisfied, isn’t to put more effort and energy into work but less? Instead of working harder and longer, what if you better integrated the four domains of your life – work, home, community, and self? My research has shown just that: By focusing more on the areas of life you care most about, even if those aren’t work, you’ll perform better at your job.”

In the research, Friedman asked participants to experiment with small changes “to see how those tweaks affected all four domains over a short period of time.” He pointed out that there are, of course, barriers to integrating the dimensions of one’s life, such as fear of change. But learning to minimize them can make it more likely to try, “thereby getting more done and creating greater harmony in your life.”

He suggested these three ways of minimizing the barriers: Continue reading

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A Positive Mentality About Life Increases Both Cardiovascular and Bone Health

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February 3, 2015

Do you want to increase your heart health and keep your bones strong throughout your lifetime? Cultivating a positive mentality about life helps, according to new research findings. Such studies add to accumulating data that your emotional, mental and spiritual states are interwoven with your physical wellbeing. We’re seeing Western empirical science steadily confirm what’s been observed and known about the mind/body/spirit interconnection within the ancient Eastern traditions.

One new study found a strong connection between optimism – a generally positive outlook on life – and cardiovascular health. 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.”

Optimists had significantly better blood sugar and total cholesterol levels than their counterparts. They also were more physically active, had healthier body mass indexes and were less likely to smoke, according to the research, published in Health Behavior and Policy Review. This was the first study to examine the association of optimism and cardiovascular health in a large, ethnically and racially diverse population.

According to Hernandes, “This evidence…suggests that prevention strategies that target modification of psychological well-being — e.g., optimism — may be a potential avenue for…improving Americans’ cardiovascular health.”

Similarly, research conducted Continue reading

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Meditation and Yoga Enhance Creative Imagination and Positive Emotions

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November 18, 2014

Western empirical science continues to validate the benefits of such Eastern mind-body-spirit practices as meditation and yoga. Such benefits have been well known to practitioners for eons, but the practices and the philosophical perspectives associated with them are now increasingly embraced in the West. Not only because they are beneficial, but also because of confirmation from the kind of research studies that are acceptable to Western thinking.

Two recent examples add to the list: One finds that meditation can promote creative thinking –even of you’ve never meditated before. Findings from the study, conducted at Leiden University and published in Mindfulness, show that meditation can have a long-lasting effect on your thought processes, including the creation of new, imaginative ideas. Interestingly, though, the study found that enhanced creative thinking was associated only with such meditation practices as mindfulness – observing and acknowledging thoughts and emotions that arise; being receptive to them without “following them.” In contrast, an increase of creative thinking was not associated with meditation practices that involve singular concentration on an object.

The other recent study found that yoga practice diminishes anxiety and improves overall mood. This study, led by Boston University researchers and published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, examined brain levels of GABA among participants in a yoga practice of one and a half hours over twelve weeks, compared with other forms of physical movement.

Low levels of GABA are associated with higher levels of depression and anxiety. Continue reading

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How Positive Relationships Help You Grow And Thrive

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September 16, 2014

It’s always good to see research that reveals how and why positive human connection in necessary for emotional and physical health, wellbeing, and growth — especially during adverse circumstances. A new study, reported in Personality and Social Psychology Review does that.

The researchers, Brooke Feeney of Carnegie Mellon University and Nancy Collins of University of California at Santa Barbara, looked at the ways in which relationships can promote or hinder “thriving” in life. That is, not just with what helps people “cope with stress or adversity, but also in their efforts to learn, grow, explore, achieve goals, cultivate new talents, and find purpose and meaning in life,” said Feeney.

The researchers focused on five aspects of thriving: : happiness and life satisfaction; having purpose and meaning in life and progressing toward meaningful life goals; psychological well-being (positive self-regard, absence of mental health symptoms/disorders); social well-being (deep and meaningful human connections, faith in others and humanity, positive interpersonal expectancies); and physical well-being (healthy weight and activity levels, health status above expected baselines).

They found that positive relationships fuel thriving in two ways: One is enabling the person to embrace and pursue opportunities that enhance positive well-being, broaden and build resources and foster a sense of purpose and meaning in life. Here, the “support provider” serves as an active catalyst for thriving. This form of support emphasizes that the promotion of thriving through life opportunities is its core purpose.

The other function relates to situations of adversity. Here, positive support not only helps buffer individuals from negative effects of stress, but also by enabling them to flourish either because of or in spite of their circumstances. “Relationships serve an important function of not simply helping people return to baseline, but helping them to thrive by exceeding prior baseline levels of functioning,” Feeney said. “We…emphasize that the promotion of thriving through adversity is the core purpose of this support function.” Continue reading

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Why Compassion Gives You a Competitive Advantage In Business

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Accumulating research and observational evidence show that the capacity for compassion and empathy are innate, and can be strengthened through conscious effort and focus. That these capacities enhance positive, effective relationships as well as greater internal wellbeing. It’s also becoming evident that these emotional attitudes and corresponding behavior are linked with greater business success, especially in the form of increased competitive advantage.

It’s good to see examples cited by successful business leaders, such as billionaire founder/CEO of Virgin Group, Richard Branson: “In business, as in nature, companies that want to survive aren’t mindlessly pursuing profits at the expense of people and the planet; they are smart enough to know that caring and cooperation are key.”

Branson was writing in Entrepreneur, in response to a question by a business owner about the reluctance of business leaders to consider anything but profit. According to Branson, “Business used to be a cutthroat world where the only thing that mattered was profit — but that’s changing quickly. It has become easier for people to learn which companies pursue profits at all costs and which behave ethically, and to make purchases based on those decisions.”

He emphasizes, “Don’t spend time worrying about organizations that don’t welcome or accept change — they’re not going to be around for long. Just keep looking for people who are willing to listen to your message and who genuinely care about something greater than themselves — those are the investors and partners you’ll be working with in the years ahead.”

And, “…recent research demonstrates the strategy’s benefits. 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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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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Humble Leaders Support Greater Employee Innovation and Engagement

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Google’s SVP of People Operations, Lazlo Bock, says humility is one of the traits he’s looking for in new hires. A new study by Catalyst supports this, finding it a critical leadership factor. Jeanine Prime and Elizabeth Salib’s Harvard Business Review Blog describes these new findings, which indicate that altruism makes employees more innovative and engaged – especially when working with employees from diverse backgrounds, which is increasingly common. The authors write:

In a global marketplace where problems are increasingly complex, no one person will ever have all the answers. That’s why Google’s SVP of People Operations, Lazlo Bock, says…“Your end goal is what can we do together to problem-solve. I’ve contributed my piece, and then I step back.” And it is not just humility in creating space for others to contribute, says Bock—it’s “intellectual humility. Without humility, you are unable to learn.”

recent Catalyst study backs this up, showing that humility is one of four critical leadership factors for creating an environment where employees from different demographic backgrounds feel included. In a survey of more than 1500 workers from Australia, China, Germany, India, Mexico, and the U.S., we found that when employees observed altruistic or selfless behavior in their managers — a style characterized by 1) acts of humility, such as learning from criticism and admitting mistakes); 2) empowering followers to learn and develop; 3) acts of courage, such as taking personal risks for the greater good; and 4) holding employees responsible for results — they were more likely to report feeling included in their work teams. This was true for both women and men.

Employees who perceived altruistic behavior from their managers also reported being more innovative, suggesting new product ideas and ways of doing work better. Moreover, they were more likely to report engaging in team citizenship behavior, going beyond the call of duty, picking up the slack for an absent colleague — all indirect effects of feeling more included in their workgroups.

For the full article, click here.

 

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Walking Increases Creative Thinking

Screen shot 2014-04-29 at 1.48.01 PMAnother bit of research adds to the continuing empirical evidence for the interconnections of mind/body/spirit/behavior. This study found that the act of walking increases one’s creative thinking. In this study, Stanford University researchers examined creativity levels when people walked versus sitting. They found that one’s creative output increased by 60% when they walked. The research was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, and described by May Wong in a Stanford University release. She writes:

Steve Jobs, the late co-founder of Apple, was known for his walking meetings. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has also been seen holding meetings on foot. And perhaps you’ve paced back and forth on occasion to drum up ideas. A new study by Stanford researchers provides an explanation for this. Creative thinking improves while a person is walking and shortly thereafter, according to a study co-authored by Marily Oppezzo, a Stanford doctoral graduate in educational psychology, andDaniel Schwartz, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education.

The study found Continue reading

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We Need To Wake Up To ‘The Next America’

Screen shot 2014-04-17 at 2.22.27 PMThe new report from the Pew Research Center describes significant shifts and ongoing evolution in American culture. This emerging face of “the next America” will have profound impact upon our lives, work and politics. I plan to write a longer piece about the implications of the Pew report as they relate to new challenges for personal relationships, careers and public policy. But among the basic findings are that America is becoming less white, more diverse and older.

The Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza has summarized the key findings and their implications, writing, ” The America of today bears little resemblance to the country of 50 years ago. It is older. It is less white. And those two demographic trends will only accelerate over the next 50 years.” Cillizza quotes Paul Taylor of the Pew Research Center: “Each of these shifts would by itself be the defining demographic story of its era,” writes “The fact that both are unfolding simultaneously has generated big generation gaps that will put stress on our politics, families, pocketbooks, entitlement programs and social cohesion.”

For Cillizza’s full article, click here.

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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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Why Empathy Triggers Physical Pain

Screen shot 2014-03-11 at 11.28.22 AMEvidence from empirical research continues to demonstrate that we are one organism, interconnected with our environment. Our consciousness and physical structure are one entity, and our whole being is, in turn, interwoven with our “external” experiences. Much research using MRIs has already shown a core aspect of this — that our brains and consciousness react to the emotional experiences of others: the “mirror neurons” that activate when we experience another’s emotional state. This latest study, published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience provides another dimension of this link. In essence, it found that social pain we experience in others (we can call that empathy or compassion) and in ourselves triggers physical pain.

It’s good to see Western science demonstrate and confirm the perspective that’s been part of Eastern and mystical traditions. Researchers in the current study found that when a person experiences social pain in another, a region of the brain associated with physical pain is aroused. In two separate experiments, researchers found that that both situations activated that brain region that processes physical pain. As in other studies, brain activity was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The research was summarized in Medical News Today. It joins with findings from a previous study that when a spouse experiences chronic pain, the other spouse may be affected by lack of sleep and may develop health problems.

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The Value Of Not Going It Alone

Screen shot 2014-03-05 at 11.36.53 AMThe Virgin Group founder and business visionary Richard Branson provides some interesting and — in my view — valuable perspectives about the importance of building connections, both in business and in life. He highlights a theme that I think is part of a psychologically and socially healthy life in today’s fluid world. In EntrepreneurBranson writes, “To achieve your goals, you need to be on the lookout for the opportunity to make connections wherever you go. Welcome chance encounters and opportunities to dream up outlandish plans. The person with the skill set you need to get your new business idea off the ground may be sitting at the next table in the cafe. Go over and say hello.”

In his full article Branson writes:

I love bumping into people and finding out who they are and what they’re working on. You never know who you’re going to meet. Such encounters can be valuable: If you think about how your most important relationships began — with business partners, your spouse, with friends and mentors — the stories will almost all involve chance meetings. My curiosity about others and ability to connect with people have helped me to succeed — after all, if people don’t know who you are, they are not going to do business with you.

Many people think that an entrepreneur is someone who operates alone, overcoming challenges and bringing his idea to market through sheer force of personality. This is completely inaccurate. Few entrepreneurs — scratch that: almost no one — ever achieved anything worthwhile without help. To be successful in business, you need to connect and collaborate and delegate.

Finding ways to meet with people in the real world and build business relationships is becoming ever more important in the digital age. Continue reading

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Six Traits Common To Empathic People

Screen shot 2014-02-04 at 11.37.48 AMAs the impact of empathy and compassion upon social and personal wellbeing receives more public attention, it’s good to see accumulating research that documents it. A recent article by the sociologist and empathy researcher Roman Krznaric, “Six Habits of Highly Empathic People,” describes six attitudes and behavior common among empathic people. They illustrate, as well, how those patterns can be cultivated by most anyone. The article was published in  Greater Good, from the University of California, Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, which “studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society.”

Krznaric writes, “…empathy doesn’t stop developing in childhood. We can nurture its growth throughout our lives—and we can use it as a radical force for social transformation. (Research) reveals how we can make empathy an attitude and a part of our daily lives, and thus improve the lives of everyone around us.”

The six habits he describes are, in essence: curiosity about strangers; searching for commonalities beneath differences and prejudices; envisioning oneself in the life of another; two-way openness — giving and receiving; active engagement with some purpose larger than yourself; and putting yourself in the mindset of those whom you disagree with. To me, this last feature is similar to the third, but all are practices that build positive emotional connection with others and are worth cultivating.

For the full article, click here.

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Research Finds That Green Spaces Improves Mental Health

Screen shot 2014-01-20 at 11.47.58 AMMore evidence that everything is interconnected and interdependent: A new British study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technologyexamined the impact of green areas in one’s living environment. It found that green spaces not only improved people’s mental health, but that the effect continued over time – even after people moved. However, those who moved back to more congested, less green urban areas, their mental health declined, measurably. The study was summarized in Science Daily as follows:

Analyzing data that followed people over a five year period, the research has found that moving to a greener area not only improves people’s mental health, but that the effect continues long after they have moved. The findings add to evidence that suggests increasing green spaces in cities — such as parks and gardens — could deliver substantial benefits to public health. The research is one of the first studies to consider the effects of green space over time and has used data from the British Household Panel Survey, a repository of information gathered from questionnaires filled in by households across Great Britain.

Using data from over 1,000 participants, the research team at the University of Exeter Medical School focused on two groups of people: those who moved to greener urban areas, and those who relocated to less green urban areas. Continue reading

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More Research Finds Humans Are Hardwired For Empathy and Connection

Screen shot 2013-09-28 at 9.01.15 AMResearch evidence continues to mount that humans are hardwired for empathy and connection. Despite our surface differences and conflicts, both minor and major, we are one, beneath those differences, like organs of the same body. But we haven’t evolved enough quite yet to enact that truth. The latest research, from a University of Virginia study, published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscienceindicates that we experience people who we become close to as, essentially, our own selves.

“With familiarity, other people become part of ourselves,” said lead researcher James Coan. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging brain scans (fMRIs), the study found find that “Our self comes to include the people we feel close to.” He added, “The finding shows the brain’s remarkable capacity to model self to others; that people close to us become a part of ourselves, and that is not just metaphor or poetry, it’s very real. Literally we are under threat when a friend is under threat. But not so when a stranger is under threat.”

“It’s essentially a breakdown of self and other; our self comes to include the people we become close to,” Coan said. “If a friend is under threat, it becomes the same as if we ourselves are under threat. We can understand the pain or difficulty they may be going through in the same way we understand our own pain.” And, “A threat to ourselves is a threat to our resources,” he said. “Threats can take things away from us. But when we develop friendships, people we can trust and rely on who in essence become we, then our resources are expanded, we gain. Your goal becomes my goal.”

The research underscores that humans need to have friends and allies who they can side with and see as being the same as themselves. And, as people spend more time together, they become more similar.

In my view, that indicates that our essential “sameness” emerges as we become familiar with people whom we initially experience as “different,” or threatening. Hopefully, we will continue to evolve in that directions before fear of “the other” and self-interest destroy us.

The research summary in Science News describes how the research was conducted: Continue reading

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A Good Love Relationship Is Associated With Good Parenting

Screen shot 2013-09-21 at 11.08.26 AMThis new research, published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, found that a positive, mutually supportive and sensitive love relationship was associated with positive, supportive and nurturing behavior towards one’s children. This is one of those “demonstrating the obvious” studies that I “love” from academic researchers, who always sound amazed at their “discoveries.” But it’s good for convincing people who are skeptical about believing their own experience and what they see around them.

I think the upshot of this “new” finding is that everything is connected in our lives — how we think, feel, relate, behave — are all part of an interconnected whole. The problem is that our life experiences often generate fragmentation, isolation, retreat into ego attachments which disconnect us from ourselves, within; and from others.

But to get to the research: The lead author, Abigail Millings of the University of Bristol, commented in a summary published in Science Daily, that the study sought to examine how caregiving plays out in families — “…how one relationship affects another relationship. We wanted to see how romantic relationships between parents might be associated with what kind of parents they are. Our work is the first to look at romantic caregiving and parenting styles at the same time.” Previous studies had looked at similar caregiving processes within romantic relationships or between parents and children, but rarely for both groups.

The research found – no surprise – that “a common skill set underpins caregiving across different types of relationships, and for both mothers and fathers. If you can do responsive caregiving, it seems that you can do it across different relationships.”

Millings added, “It might be the case that practicing being sensitive and responsive — for example, by really listening and by really thinking about the other person’s perspective — to our partners will also help us to improve these skills with our kids.”

Well, yes…

The full summary of the research in Science Daily: 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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The Life and Contributions of Albert Murray, Writer and Social Critic

Screen shot 2013-08-23 at 5.46.57 PMIn a recent, well-deserved front-page obituary, the New York Times described the life and contributions of Albert Murray, a major writer, cultural and social figure, who died at 97. In the Times article, Mel Watkins writes, “Albert Murray, an essayist, critic and novelist who influenced the national discussion about race by challenging black separatism, insisting that the black experience was essential to American culture and inextricably tied to it, died on Sunday at his home in Harlem. He was 97.”

And, “As blacks fought in the streets for civil rights, black integrationists and black nationalists dueled in the academy and in books and essays. And Mr. Murray was in the middle of the debate, along with writers and artists including James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Romare Bearden and his good friend Ralph Ellison.”

Younger people may be unfamiliar with Murray’s writings and contributions, so it was good to see the Times give prominent coverage to his passing. Click here for the complete article.

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Having Power Diminishes Your Empathy For Others

Screen shot 2013-08-13 at 10.51.47 AMSeveral research studies have shown that increasing power in an organization (or in any kind of relationship) tends to diminish capacity for empathy, compassion, and seeing another person’s perspective. This is especially damaging to effective leadership of people subordinate to those in power. Studies have shown that increased power diminishes activity of your “mirror neurons,” which provide the sense of connection with another person’s experience, and fuels empathy. Here’s the latest study that sheds more light on what happens. It shows the need for helping leaders develop and strengthen their capacity to connect with others’ reality and experience, which helps counter the tendency towards self-absorption in one’s own perspective, when one is in a higher-power status.

From the study, summarized in Digital Journal:

Researchers have some new insights into how power diminishes a person’s capacity for empathy. According to scientists, a sense of power shuts down a part of the brain that helps us connect with others. For their study that builds on past information about how the brain operates, the researchers found that even the smallest bit of power – for instance from a job promotion or more money – can shut down our ability to empathize with others. 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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Train Your Brain To Become More Compassionate

Screen shot 2013-06-01 at 4.36.21 PMThis isn’t new, but it’s good to see accumulating research demonstrate that we are able to alter our consciousness, attitudes and behavior in positive directions. This research, published in the journal Psychological Science, and conducted at the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, examined whether training adults in compassion can result in greater altruistic behavior and related changes in neural systems underlying compassion. It found that it does.

“Our fundamental question was, ‘Can compassion be trained and learned in adults? Can we become more caring if we practice that mindset?'” says Helen Weng, lead author of the study. “Our evidence points to yes.” In the study, the investigators trained young adults to engage in compassion meditation, a Buddhist practice to increase caring feelings for people who are suffering. In the meditation, participants envisioned a time when someone has suffered and then practiced wishing that his or her suffering was relieved. They repeated phrases to help them focus on compassion such as, “May you be free from suffering. May you have joy and ease.”

Participants practiced with different categories of people. They began with a loved one, someone whom they easily felt compassion for, like a friend or family member. Then, they practiced compassion for themselves and, then, a stranger. Finally, they practiced compassion for someone they actively had conflict with called the “difficult person,” such as a troublesome coworker or roommate. “It’s kind of like weight training,” Weng says. “Using this systematic approach, we found that people can actually build up their compassion ‘muscle’ and respond to others’ suffering with care and a desire to help.”

I’ve found this to be true, clinically, with psychotherapy patients, and also with others to whom I’ve recommended some exercises that help expand and enhance their experience of empathy and compassion. That is, Continue reading

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The Life and Work of Albert Hirschman

Screen shot 2013-04-29 at 11.59.46 AMI’ve long-admired the writings of economist and public intellectual Albert O. Hirschman, who died a few months ago at 97. In addition to his ideas, he had a remarkable, little publicized and heroic life during World War II, as this New York Times obituary reveals. And this essay by Roger Lowenstein in the Wall Street Journal shows how Hirschman offered some interesting perspectives about the role of dissent, relevant to politics and organizations. Lowenstein writes, “Once you start looking at the world through the Hirschman lens, the paradigm of exit and voice is all around. Suppose you are unhappy at work: Should you complain to the boss or simply quit? Or maybe you are the boss: How much should you mollify employees—or customers—to keep them from leaving? It might depend on the presence of a third Hirschman factor: loyalty. Broadly speaking, markets are all about exit, while politics deals in voice. What Hirschman grasped is that the strongest organizations (in either sphere) foster exit as well as voice.”

The complete essay: 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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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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Loneliness Can Harm Your Overall Health

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A new study finds that loneliness has a negative impact on your immune system, and makes you more susceptible to illness. This should be no surprise: Everything is connected; we are one mind-body-spirit interwoven system, interconnected with the social and other “external” forces that shape our experience of life. The research, conducted at Ohio State University, was summarized in Science Daily as follows:

New research links loneliness to a number of dysfunctional immune responses, suggesting that being lonely has the potential to harm overall health. Researchers found that people who were more lonely showed signs of elevated latent herpes virus reactivation and produced more inflammation-related proteins in response to acute stress than did people who felt more socially connected.

These proteins signal the presence of inflammation, and chronic inflammation is linked to numerous conditions, including coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as the frailty and functional decline that can accompany aging. Reactivation of a latent herpes virus is known to be associated with stress, suggesting that loneliness functions as a chronic stressor that triggers a poorly controlled immune response. Continue reading

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Gun Violence, Mental Illness and Their Hidden Roots

Screen shot 2012-12-23 at 1.40.33 PMI expanded my previous post for this Huffington Post article, as follows:

Much of the discussion about gun violence, mental illness and public policy is like looking at the branches of the tree and its trunk. But we don’t consider the roots, which fuel how the tree grows. Those roots lie within some of our cultural values and aspirations that we absorb as we grow through our families, schools, and into adult relationships and careers. They are murky, hard to see. But here I suggest some worthy of facing and dealing with.

First, it’s quite likely that not much will happen following the Newtown elementary school killings, in terms of curbing gun violence. As Dana Milbank recently wrote inThe Washington Post, the tendency has been to “slow-walk” discussion about change. And then it never occurs. But if a sea change of attitude and action does result, it would require a critical mass of Democrats and Republicans to summon the courage to confront the political power of the NRA, and enact reasonable gun laws, one’s that would be enforced. Such laws would respect the rights of sportsmen, target-shooters, and hunters, as well as those who want firearms to protect their homes. But they would also limit the availability of assault-type weapons that serve none of those purposes. Protecting the public from the danger of being killed by people wielding assault weapons with multiple rounds of ammunition is no less a “right” than that of possessing a gun.

At the same time, Continue reading

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Gun Violence And Its Social Roots

Screen shot 2012-12-19 at 11.54.15 AMIt’s quite likely that nothing at all will happen following the Newtown elementary school killings, in terms of curbing gun violence. But if there is a sea change of attitude and action, it would result from a critical mass of Democrats and Republicans who summon the courage to oppose the NRA’s threats to defeat their reelection campaigns, and then enact and enforce reasonable gun laws. Such laws would occupy the “middle ground” that respects the rights of sportsmen, target-shooters, and hunters, as well as those who want to possess firearms for protection of their homes; and yet, limits the availability of assault-type weapons that serve none of those purposes. At the same time, legislators’ actions would also include creating additional resources for mentally disturbed people, including helping families, schools, and the general public recognize potential signs of disturbance and greater sources of help. Legislation that protects the public from the easy availability of assault weapons and multiple rounds of ammunition would recognize the rights of people to be protected from the use of such weapons for killing.

But keep this in mind: Most mentally disturbed people never become violent. In fact, most killings aren’t committed by the severely mentally disturbed. Moreover, we can’t predict who might become violent. We know that certain combinations of emotions, such as intense anger, fueled by alcohol or drugs, may result in violence. But many people fit that profile and never commit a violent act, let alone murder anyone.

A deeper, more complex issue is harder to address. It concerns underlying cultural attitudes and norms within American society that Continue reading

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In Northern Mali, Extremists Silence Music And Drive Out Artists

This is a sad, destructive situation for both people and culture. Sudarsan Raghavan’s story in the Washington Post describes the efforts by extremists in Mali to attack and destroy all forms of music. He writes, “Northern Mali, one of the richest reservoirs of music on the continent, is now an artistic wasteland. Hundreds of musicians have fled south to Bamako, the capital, and to other towns and neighboring countries, driven out by hard-liners who have decreed any form of music — save for the tunes set to Koranic verses — as being against their religion.”

And yet, within the range of Islamic traditions, music is highly regarded and a vital resource for spiritual development. The form of Sufism that is more closely linked with Islam is a good example. Raghavan points out that “playing music brings lashes with whips, even prison time, and MP3 and cassette players are seized and destroyed.” For the full article click here, or read on: Continue reading

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Can True Solitude Be Found In A Wired World?

This article, by AP writer Martha Irvine, highlights an issue worth deeper exploration: the simultaneous upside and downside of being always wired. Especially its impact on both well-being and a sense of interconnection, of community. The latter is visible during Hurricane Sandy’s impact on our lives.

She writes:

When was the last time you were alone, and unwired? Really, truly by yourself. Just you and your thoughts — no cellphone, no tablet, no laptop. Many of us crave that kind of solitude, though in an increasingly wired world, it’s a rare commodity. We check texts and emails, and update our online status, at any hour — when we’re lying in bed or sitting at stop lights or on trains. Sometimes, we even do so when we’re on the toilet.

We feel obligated, yes. But we’re also fascinated with this connectedness, constantly tinkering and checking in — an obsession that’s starting to get pushback from a small but growing legion of tech users who are feeling the need to unplug and get away.

“What might have felt like an obligation at first has become an addiction. It’s almost as if we don’t know how to be alone, or we are afraid of what we’ll find when we are alone with ourselves,” says Camille Preston, a tech and communication consultant based in Cambridge, Mass.

“It’s easier to keep doing, than it is to be in stillness.”

One could argue that, in this economy, Continue reading

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The 2012 Campaign Reveals Two Contrasting Views of Personal Success

The 2012 presidential campaign exposes a clash between an older, narrowly focused — and declining — view of success, and one that’s both broader and steadily rising. It has both social and political implications worth our attention.

The view that Mitt Romney conveys is the older one. It’s essentially that success means achieving power, money and career position for oneself and family. Period. It’s a traditional, self-focused vision of a successful life. It’s also embodied in Paul Ryan’s positions about the “makers” and the “takers.”

The other view, conveyed by President Obama, is closer to what I call “whole life” success. That’s a growing shift towards viewing a successful life as one that includes personal achievement, but extends beyond it to supporting and helping others elevate their own lives. It’s based on awareness that we’re all interdependent and interconnected in today’s world. And, that your own life course – including your financial and career success — is highly interwoven with everyone else’s.

The latter perspective is not new, of course. But it’s been steadily rising in our culture; increasingly visible in the values and actions of younger generations, in particular. Let’s look at some statements that contrast the older, traditional view of success with the broader, whole life view. Then, let’s look at where the latter is taking root, and why President Obama retains one foot in the older view when he describes the path to success, today.

First, Romney emphasizes that Americans should be Continue reading

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Green Leadership: Learning It And Doing It

A previous post described what a green business leadership mindset consists of. I argued personal buy-in among leaders is essential to establish, communicate and enact sustainable and socially responsible practices. Here, I describe how leaders can learn to build that mindset, and how that underlies successful and innovative practices.

I see two linked pathways to developing and applying green leadership: First, acquiring and learning relevant facts and evidence-based understanding about emerging global and workforce realities. These require new actions for long-term survival and success. The second is leadership self-development, through self-awareness awareness and other sources of learning. Both must become part of the leader’s “DNA” in order for sustainable practices to be successful.

Two Pathways To A Green Leadership Mentality

Learning Facts and Information

This includes acquiring information: Documented research findings; related, science-derived data; and evidence-based understanding and interpretation of current environmental and workforce realities. For example: Continue reading

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Being in Awe Can Expand Time and Enhance Well-Being

It’s good to see a research study confirm and therefore give more credence to observational or anecdotal experiences. In this case, the study looked at the impact of experiences or moments that pull you out of your usual focus on yourself and your own daily life issues; and propel you into expanding your consciousness and sense of connection with larger realms, the larger fabric of the universe that we’re a part of.

This study was summarized in Science Daily, from the journal Psychological Science:

It doesn’t matter what we’ve experienced — whether it’s the breathtaking scope of the Grand Canyon, the ethereal beauty of the Aurora Borealis, or the exhilarating view from the top of the Eiffel Tower — at some point in our lives we’ve all had the feeling of being in a complete and overwhelming sense of awe.

Awe seems to be a universal emotion, but it has been largely neglected by scientists — until now.

Psychological scientists Melanie Rudd and Jennifer Aaker of Stanford University Graduate School of Business and Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management devised a way to study this feeling of awe in the laboratory. Across three different experiments, they found that jaw-dropping moments made participants feel like they had more time available and made them more patient, less materialistic, and more willing to volunteer time to help others.

The researchers found that the effects that awe has on decision-making and well-being can be explained by awe’s ability to actually change our subjective experience of time by slowing it down. Experiences of awe help to brings us into the present moment which, in turn, adjusts our perception of time, influences our decisions, and makes life feel more satisfying than it would otherwise.

Now that’s awesome.

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