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Fri, 28 Apr 2017
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Positive relationships: The common denominator of happiness

How people describe both positive and negative events in their lives influences their perception of their own life. When scientists began tracking the health of 268 Harvard sophomores in 1938 during the Great Depression, they hoped the longitudinal study would reveal clues to leading healthy and happy lives. They got more than they wanted.

After following the surviving Crimson men for nearly 80 years as part of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the world's longest studies of adult life, researchers have collected a cornucopia of data on their physical and mental health.

Of the original Harvard cohort recruited as part of the Grant Study, only 19 are still alive, all in their mid-90s. Among the original recruits were eventual President John F. Kennedy and longtime Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee. (Women weren't in the original study because the College was still all male.)

In addition, scientists eventually expanded their research to include the men's offspring, who now number 1,300 and are in their 50s and 60s, to find out how early-life experiences affect health and aging over time. Some participants went on to become successful businessmen, doctors, lawyers, while others ended up as schizophrenics or alcoholics, but not on inevitable tracks.

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Paying attention: What adults can learn from young children

Thinking like a five-year-old can help you learn more in a new environment.
Young children have one cognitive talent that most adults have forgotten.

That is the ability to pay attention to everything.

As adults we learn to focus our attention and block out distractions.

But, sometimes being distracted means noticing and learning more.

Comment: Missing the gorilla: Why we don't see what's right in front of our eyes


Depression now the number one cause of disability in the world

Something is dreadfully wrong in the world when depression has become such a major cause of dis-ease. Even the most successful members of our society are plagued with this illness, and it has become so prevalent that it is now the number one cause of disease and disability in the world.
"According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is now the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide,1,2 affecting an estimated 322 million people worldwide, including more than 16 million Americans. Globally, rates of depression increased by 18 percent between 2005 and 2015.3

According to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, 11 percent of Americans over the age of 12 are on antidepressant drugs. Among women in their 40 and 50s, 1 in 4 is on antidepressants.4

In addition to the human suffering, the financial impact of depression is also severe. WHO estimates the global economic loss by households, employers and governments is at least $1 trillion annually.

Depression is also strongly linked to an increased risk for substance abuse, diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, and suicide." [Source]
These numbers only reflect cases of reported depression, suggesting that in actuality, the crisis may be much worse.


Emotional sea level - the balancing point

More than any other group in history, modern Americans are told to be cheerful, no matter the circumstance. In her book, Bright Sided - How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America, Barbara Ehrenreich explores this culture of "toxic optimism" in various ways, but the most persuasive account she provides is a personal one.

Ehrenreich wrote that when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, she found the wildly optimistic books, support groups and popular media surrounding the condition nearly as daunting as the disease itself. Instead of allowing her to have perfectly normal responses to a potentially life-threatening diagnosis - fear, worry, anger - she was told over and over that cancer was her chance to grow spiritually, to embrace life, to find God. The result, from her perspective, was simply exhaustion - denied the opportunity to react instinctively, recover her emotional balance, and then move on to therapy, she felt profoundly stressed. She surmised that others in her condition felt this way too, at least privately.

Comment: Psychology study cautions: Think twice before overdoing the positive thinking


What is the best strategy for attaining empathy?

According to a new study, we overestimate how well we can read emotions in other people's faces.

People often assume that a person's face will betray their true emotions—even when that person is trying to hide them. As we go about our days, we watch other people's facial expressions and mannerisms, looking for signs of stress, sadness, and happiness in our coworkers and our loved ones.

But if we want to understand the mind of another person, is that the best way?

Not always, according to a recent study. It turns out people tend to overestimate their ability to read other people's emotions from their facial expressions—which means that we may be missing out on opportunities for understanding and connection.

The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, compared observing facial expressions with a second perspective-taking strategy: putting ourselves in a similar situation, or "taking a walk in someone else's shoes." It's the first study to examine how effective people think these different methods are with how effective they actually are.

Comment: Some more insights into understanding how empathy works:


Racist babies? Infants prefer to learn from adults of their own skin color

© Gettyimages.com
Babies who aren't old enough to walk or talk still manage to exhibit racial bias, according to a new study. The research found that infants prefer to learn from adults who share their skin color.

As part of the study, researchers from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) and the University of Toronto - along with collaborators from the US, UK, France and China - gave infants a series of videos to watch.

In each video, a female adult looked at one of the four corners of the screen. In some videos, an animal image appeared in the direction she had looked. In other films, an animal image appeared at a non-looked at location.

The results showed that the infants followed the gaze of members of their own race more than they followed the gaze of members of other races.


How to heal the wounds in your heart

In each of us, there is a young, suffering child. We have all had times of difficulty as children and many of us have experienced trauma. To protect and defend ourselves against future suffering, we often try to forget those painful times. Every time we're in touch with the experience of suffering, we believe we can't bear it, and we stuff our feelings and memories deep down in our unconscious mind. It may be that we haven't dared to face this child for many decades.

But just because we may have ignored the child doesn't mean she or he isn't there. The wounded child is always there, trying to get our attention. The child says, "I'm here. I'm here. You can't avoid me. You can't run away from me." We want to end our suffering by sending the child to a deep place inside of us and staying as far away as possible. But running away doesn't end our suffering; it only prolongs it.

The wounded child asks for care and love, but we do the opposite. We run away because we're afraid of suffering. The block of pain and sorrow in us feels overwhelming. Even if we have time, we don't come home to ourselves. We try to keep ourselves constantly entertained - watching television or movies, socializing, or using alcohol or drugs — because we don't want to experience that suffering all over again.


Beat the blues by hanging out with your friends

Those suffering from feeling unhappy and experiencing elevated depressive symptoms--respond to positive experiences with a marked reduction in their depressive mood according to a recent study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

They found that experiencing or even just anticipating uplifting events in daily life was related to feeling less depressed that same day. Happiness changes your cells.

The study, conducted by University of Rochester assistant professor of psychology Lisa Starr and Rachel Hershenberg, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University, found that a decrease in depressive mood was especially marked when the experience included interpersonal uplifts, such as participating in fun activities with friends or family.

"It's the social activities--positive, everyday experiences that involve other people--that may be most likely to brighten the mood of those struggling with depression," says Starr.

Comment: Thank you, Dr. Obvious.

Snowflake Cold

Cool, calm and collected: The perception of cold increases cognitive control

The perception of cold temperatures brings about greater cognitive control, even from a photo, according to researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Cognitive control is the ability to deliberately inhibit responses or make choices that maximize the long-term best interests of the individual. For example, when a person is very hungry and sees a sandwich but does not eat it, he is exhibiting cognitive control.

Lead researcher Dr. Idit Shalev of the Ben-Gurion University (BGU) Department of Education says:
"Metaphorical phrases like 'coldly calculating,' 'heated response,' and 'cool-headed' actually have some scientific validity, which we demonstrate in our study. Previous research focused on the actual effect of temperature on the psychological phenomenon known as 'cognitive control.' But this is the first time we were able to measure the effects of perceived temperature."

Heart - Black

Pet loss: Lessons in grief

"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened." — Anatole France

© shutter stock
On Jan. 22, following a three-week whirlwind diagnosis and decline, my husband and I said goodbye to our 6.5-year-old goldendoodle, Lily. Her disease had rendered this Frisbee-catching superstar unable to stand or walk. She needed to be carried outdoors to "get busy," and she no longer had the stamina to stay awake for extended periods of time.

We spent the entire last weekend with Lily in the emergency room as she struggled against various gastrointestinal issues and, finally, internal bleeding. Her vet and neurologist felt that the disease had progressed and her prognosis was bleak. It was then that we made the most difficult decision we have ever made — to let her go. We took time lying with her, holding her, reminiscing ... and stayed with her until her last heartbeat.

Comment: Why losing a dog can be just as hard as losing a relative or friend