Science of the Spirit


Creativity: A path towards happiness?

What does being creative mean to you? Is it about finding the time to sit down with a sketchbook and draw your latest imaginings? Are you the kind who plays an instrument in a jam band on weekends? Or do you spend your spare hours immersed in the theater scene? However you define "creativity," there's no denying the fact that being creative adds spice to our lives — plus, if you actively make the time to pursue creative ventures, you may find that your own personal happiness will grow. Fostering your creative side both gives you a cathartic outlet and an escape from the tedium of everyday life, and now science is proving that it can help boost your mood, too.

This isn't saying that you have to be an artist, per se. It doesn't matter if you were born without perfect pitch or unable to draw anything more than stick figures. Instead, being creative is something that comes instinctively to all of us — you just have to determine what your channel is. And as extra good news, you also don't need to be constantly sad or depressed to tap into your creative side — it seems that just as creativity breeds happiness, so do happier people become more creative. It's a self-fulfilling cycle that can go a long way towards helping you find satisfaction in your personal and professional life.

Let's take a look at how creativity at work and play makes you a happier individual, and just what science is saying about it.

Comment: Creativity Explained
But creativity is not magic, and there's no such thing as a creative type. Creativity is not a trait that we inherit in our genes or a blessing bestowed by the angels. It's a skill. Anyone can learn to be creative and to get better at it. New research is shedding light on what allows people to develop world-changing products and to solve the toughest problems. A surprisingly concrete set of lessons has emerged about what creativity is and how to spark it in ourselves and our work.


Instilling caring and fairness in children

The Making Caring Common Project, done at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, came up with some interesting findings that seem even more relevant given that World Random Act of Kindness Day is just around the corner on November 13th. According to the study, a large majority of youth across a wide spectrum of races, cultures, and classes appear to value aspects of personal success—achievement and happiness—over concern for others.

It's interesting because if you ask most parents how important instilling kindness into their kids is, they will rank it pretty high on the list. However, the findings say differently. From 2013-2014, researchers spoke with 10,000 kids in either middle and high school in the United States. Nearly 80% said that their parents taught them that personal happiness and high achievement were more important than caring for other people. Youth were also 3 times more likely to agree than disagree with this statement:
"My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my classes than if I'm a caring community member in class and school."
Is this really the message we want to send our youth? Parents are usually concerned with their children's moral state, so perhaps a hard look at the messages we send to children and youth on a daily bases would be a good idea. The survey shows that although caring and fairness are subordinated to achievement and happiness, they are still important to youth and their parents. Great!

Comment: Research has also shown that children who make an effort to perform acts of kindness are happier and experience greater acceptance from their peers.

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Loneliness: The deadly truth

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A lonely old man
Almost all of us have experienced loneliness at some point. It is the pain we have felt following a breakup, perhaps the loss of a loved one, or a move away from home. We are vulnerable to feeling lonely at any point in our lives.

Loneliness is commonly used to describe a negative emotional state experienced when there is a difference between the relationships one wishes to have and those one perceives one has.

The unpleasant feelings of loneliness are subjective; researchers have found loneliness is not about the amount of time one spends with other people or alone. It is related more to quality of relationships, rather than quantity. A lonely person feels that he or she is not understood by others, and may not think they hold meaningful relationships.

Comment: The pain of modern life: Loneliness and isolation
Indeed can the emptiness of loneliness be satiated by anything external to oneself? "If we have experienced and found one escape to be of no value, are not all other escapes therefore of no value?" Krishnamurti logically argued.

Silence and the space to look within are rare jewels in our World, particularly in western societies. The current socio-economic model is a noisy, poisonous system based on negative values. It has polluted the planet and is making us unhappy and ill in a variety of ways.

It is a system that ardently promotes material success and the indulgence of personal desires, all of which encourages dependence on methods of 'escape' of one kind or another - drugs prescribed, (legal and illegal), alcohol, sex, entertainments in all shapes and sizes - including organized religion, to fill the chasm of loneliness, and keep the mind in a constant state of agitation and discontent.

But as Krishnamurti rightly states, such transient distractions will never sufficiently drown out our innate need for union with oneself, with the Self; a realization brought about by self-awareness; by negation - ceasing to identify with the fancies of the mind, and as the 19th century Indian sage Sri Ramana Maharshi taught, by constantly challenging one's thoughts and feelings with the deconstructive enquiry 'who am I'. These Men of Wisdom assure us that, with sustained commitment and effort, a relationship can be established with the Self, which reveals separation and isolation to be an illusion, and establishes a deep, non-dependent sense of unity - with others and the world in which 'we live and breathe and have our being'. Purpose, contact with others and activity are essential to battle loneliness, but if one becomes dependent on these externals and does not, at the same time, seek to overcome the underlying cause, then it seems clear little will have been achieved and the 'modern giant' will rise up again.


The vicious cycle of addictive buying has consumed the average American's life

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Slave to our possessions
Our addiction to consuming things is a vicious cycle, and buying a bigger house to store it all isn't the answer. Here's how to get started on downsizing

The personal storage industry rakes in $22bn each year, and it's only getting bigger. Why?

I'll give you a hint: it's not because vast nations of hoarders have finally decided to get their acts together and clean out the hall closet.

It's also not because we're short on space. In 1950 the average size of a home in the US was 983 square feet. Compare that to 2011, when American houses ballooned to an average size of 2,480 square feet - almost triple the size.

And finally, it's not because of our growing families. This will no doubt come as a great relief to our helpful commenters who each week kindly suggest that for maximum environmental impact we simply stop procreating altogether: family sizes in the western world are steadily shrinking, from an average of 3.37 people in 1950 to just 2.6 today.

So, if our houses have tripled in size while the number of people living in them has shrunk, what, exactly, are we doing with all of this extra space? And why the billions of dollars tossed to an industry that was virtually nonexistent a generation or two ago?

Comment: Excessive shopping is like any other addictive activity, an unsuccessful strategy attempting to fill a void in our lives. Education is a vital key to breaking addictions Compulsive behavior is also a way to deal with life's pressures. A more healthy way to de-stress would be to practice the Eiriu Eolas Stress Release program.

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Do we choose to be anxious, stressed and afraid?

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Salon speaks to a psychologist about stress, parenting, and ways to deal with both.

As if we weren't already feeling stressed out enough - today is National Stress Awareness Day - a new report by the Pew Research Center just came out, describing the levels of stress that otherwise privileged American families are under. "The data are the latest to show that while family structure seems to have permanently changed," a New York Times story reports, "public policy, workplace structure and mores have not seemed to adjust to a norm in which both parents work."

Comment: More important information about stress:


Surprising truths about stress: Research confirms an old lesson from Yoga

Benjamin Franklin once said: "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." While he was right about those two, he forgot to add a third to the list: stress.

Despite our best efforts, stress remains inevitable, whether at work or at home. Although we can't escape stress, yoga and other mind-body approaches offer skills for appraising our experiences to better cope with life's challenges. A new study published in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology suggests that interpreting physiological arousal as a tool for enhancing functioning rather than a threat can increase our performance and potentially decrease our experience of physiological stress.

Comment: Yoga And The Brain: A Possible Explanation For Yoga's Stress-Busting Effects

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Study reveals children from atheist or non-religious families are more altruistic and generous

Religious parents are more likely to describe their children as empathetic and concerned about justice than are non-religious parents. But, new evidence reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on November 5 suggests that the opposite is in fact true.

In the study, children growing up in households that weren't religious were significantly more likely to share than were children growing up in religious homes. The findings support the notion that the secularization of moral discourse may serve to increase rather than decrease human kindness, the researchers say.

"Some past research had demonstrated that religious people aren't more likely to do good than their nonreligious counterparts," said Jean Decety of the University of Chicago. "Our study goes beyond that by showing that religious people are less generous, and not only adults but children too."


Seven frequently neglected causes of stress

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We are all familiar with the usual sources of stress — work, money, love and health. Our lives can greatly improve once we address not only those but the hidden causes of stress.

Here are seven frequently neglected stressors:

1. Too much bad, too little good.

Depending on your answers to the following questions, you might need a lifestyle adjustment:
  • Have I been consuming too much caffeine, alcohol, sugar or junk food?
  • Have I been sleeping at least 7 to 8 hours daily?
  • Have I been engaging in moderate exercise for at least 150 minutes a week?
  • Have I been eating enough greens and healthy food daily and staying hydrated daily?

Comment: Stress leads to some of the most debilitating diseases of our time, including higher rates of heart disease, cancer, accidental injury and even suicide. Lowering stress is imperative, whether we do it by spending time in nature, practicing yoga or Tai Chi, laughing more often, or by unplugging from our computers and smart phones for at least a few hours every day.


Pessimism: A recipe for life

There's an old Prairie Home Companion bit that involves Garrison Keiler and others singing a parody to the tune of Beethoven's Ode to Joy. The darkly humorous last line goes, "when nothing's all that you expect - then nothing's not that know."

But having low expectations is only part of what makes embracing your pessimism a good thing. If you're a pessimistic leopard who has struggled to change its spots - take comfort in the testimony of Anita Moorjani (look her up on YouTube too). She had a near-death-experience and came back with the most expansive wisdom that flies in the face of the modern pressure to always be happy. She wrote Dying to Be Me and encouraged listeners on her speaking tour to embrace themselves whether an optimist or a pessimist; positive or negative. She believed that fear, the lack of self-acceptance and self-love led to her getting cancer and initially dying.


Jamming with your toddler boosts their development

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Jam sessions with your toddler can be an enormous developmental asset.
Forget the Mozart Effect and Baby Einstein, take it easy on acquisitions for your two-year-old's private library, and don't fret if your three-year-old hasn't started violin lessons just yet.

The key to unlocking a child's potential intelligence and happiness may indeed lie in music, but succumbing to the commercial juggernaut that is the baby-genius-making industry may not be in either your child or your wallet's best interest.

Instead, try making up songs with your toddler. A new study suggests that regular informal music-making with very young children may even have benefits above and beyond those of reading.

But there's an important, interesting, and somewhat beautiful catch - for best results, make it shared music-making in your home.

Comment: Also see:

Sing rather than talk to babies to keep them calm