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Sat, 01 Oct 2016
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The neuroscience of gratitude: Small acts of generosity

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© KonstantinChristian/Shutterstock
Gratitude is defined as, "the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness." Millennia ago, Cicero proclaimed that gratitude was the 'mother of all virtues.' Seneca spoke of gratitude as being a fundamental motivational drive that was critical for building interpersonal relationships.

Recent studies have shown that generosity and gratitude go hand in hand both at a psychological and neurobiological level. Generosity and gratitude are separate sides of the same coin. They are symbiotic. Fortunately, each of us has the free will to kickstart the neurobiological feedback loop—and upward spiral of well-being—that is triggered by small acts of generosity and gratitude each and every day of our lives. Why not practice a small act of generosity today?

Comment: Innate tendency of humans to appreciate another's hospitality: Scholars study the evolution of human generosity


Bulb

Courage: Mastery of fear, not its absence

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© Helmut Hess
Our experience of the world is the most basic stuff of life. In other words, the most basic human reality is to live our lives in this world of experiences. Unlike the Earth, the world that we inter-subjectively share has been conceived, shaped and signified by our very own humanity. We are the creators of this world of fleeting delights and sorrows, momentary satisfactions and disappointments, transitory elation and desolation, ephemeral triumph and defeat. Moment by moment, each of us navigates the cultural fiber of this world in a complex landscape dominated by problems and difficulties, anxiety and despair, apprehension and pain. Faced with all of this, the human will is expected to stand courageously to confront the challenges and engage in the struggle.

People 2

5 red flags to watch for when you're starting a relationship

© Unknown
It would be great if relationships could come with warning labels. You'd be able to head off problems before they materialize with partners who didn't turn out to be such good matches for you. Unfortunately, unlike the choices you have when you buy prescription drugs, cigarettes, or hazardous substances with their bold-faced risks and side effects, you're on your own when it comes to deciding on a relationship partner.

In the very rich area of relationship research, there's a surprisingly small sector of the literature that deals directly with warning signs. As reported by Kansas State University's Nathan Hardy and co-authors (2015), those warning signs form part of the equation in determining relationship risk. The bigger and brighter those red flags, the higher the risk. Adding to the red flags, additional risk factors include how compatible you are with your partner and how committed each of you seems to be.

It's particularly important to weigh relationship risk factors in the early stages of the game with a potential new partner. According to inertia theory (Stanley & Rhoades, 2009), the longer you're in a relationship, the greater the inertia factor that prevents you from leaving it when it becomes emotionally unfulfilling or perhaps even dangerous. The theory also suggests that you're best off making a conscious choice as you enter a new relationship. You'll work harder to keep that relationship strong the more effort you put into the decision to get involved with your partner in the first place. Even if you decide to disregard the red flags and go ahead anyhow with a commitment to the partner, you will be better prepared to handle the problems that may follow down the road.

Comment: Beginning a relationship is like taking a hormonal roller coaster ride. Those who are able to keep their heads on their shoulders while navigating these drug-like twists and turns are going to be able to learn who their partner really is. And that information can help both parties by either substantially enhancing a relationship, or ending one that is doomed from the beginning.

Also see: Romantic love can lead to growth or stagnation


Smiley

How a joke looks to your brain from start to finish

© shutterstock
The search for the elusive funny bone has ended; it's located in the brain...and it isn't a bone.

Humor sometimes relies on culture and social mores to generate a laugh, but the foundation for everything funny is the same for all people—it's grounded in an expanded network of brain areas, each working to process one aspect of this multifaceted cognitive experience we call a joke.

How does the brain get it? It all starts when visual signals from a cartoon or auditory signals from a pun hit the brain. But the heart of what's funny in a joke is the mismatch between what we expect to see and what we get, something researchers call incongruity. Once certain brain areas process and flag this mismatch, a flurry of happy emotions and boats of laughter ensue, according to research studies with decidedly un-funny language.

Rainbow

Simple habits proven to make you happier

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"You are good enough!" Self-acceptance is a key happy habit, yet it's one people practice the least.

A new survey of 5,000 people has found a strong link between self-acceptance and happiness, despite the fact that it's a habit not frequently practiced.

The finding comes from a survey carried out by the charity Action for Happiness, in collaboration with Do Something Different.

For their survey, they identified ten everyday habits which science has shown can make people happier.

Comment: What happens to your cells when you experience happiness?


Oscar

Temple Grandin: Overcoming Autism & achieving greatness

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© pages.presencelearning.com
Her mother prayed for good news as she sent 3-year old Temple Grandin to a speech therapist.

Diagnosed with autism, Temple was thought to be incapable of learning how to speak. In the 1950s, that meant institutionalization all of her life. That is, unless she could prove she was capable of learning in school.

Her parents tried everything, and speech therapy was her last hope of a good life.

Somehow, against all odds, young Temple started to make progress. It was slow, but Temple was able to speak well enough to be enrolled in school.

This was a huge win for Temple, but still her future still seemed limited. She struggled throughout her entire school life because she simply did not think the way "normal" children did.

Comment: Read more about Temple Grandin's work: Do Animals Think Like Autistic Savants?


Gear

How modern life destroys problem solving abilities

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Our world today would seem magical to our ancestors. Our needs are met almost immediately, we have clean water at the turn of a knob, heat at the push of a button, and light with the flip of a switch. Food is purchased in a box, ready to heat, and a person can prepare a meal in under 6 minutes using the microwave oven that's a fixture in most modern kitchens.

Our world is clean, convenient, and loaded with abundant resources, things that took significant time and effort to produce in days gone by.

But all of this convenience comes at a high price, one we don't even realize exists until a situation arises in which the ready answers aren't there, the food is not available, and the dial on the thermostat no longer has any effect at all.

Modern life destroys survival instinct. Most folks just buy the answers to all of their problems and they have lost the ability to think. Self-reliance is an act of epic rebellion against the status quo.

Green Light

Study: The brain's response to others' good fortune depends on our levels of empathy

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The way our brain responds to others' good fortune is linked to how empathetic people report themselves to be, according to new UCL-led research.

The study, published today in the Journal of Neuroscience and funded by the Medical Research Council, shows that a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) seems particularly attuned to other people's good news, but how it responds varies substantially depending on our levels of empathy.

For people who rated themselves as highly empathetic, the ACC responded only when another person had good news coming, but for people who gave themselves lower empathy scores, the ACC also responded when bad news was predicted for themselves.

This new insight could prove important in understanding the role of the ACC in disorders of social behaviour and empathy, including psychopathy and autism. Further studies could focus on how the brain responds to our own success compared to others' in people with these disorders.

Researchers scanned the brains of 30 male volunteers aged 19-32 using functional magnetic resonance imaging while they saw symbols that predicted how likely either they or another person was to win money.

Participants also completed a questionnaire that assessed their empathy level in the week before they had the scan.

Comment: See also: Polyvagal theory: The biological fingerprint for compassion and empathy


Butterfly

Ways to get motivated when trapped in a state of inertia

When we're trapped in a frustrating state of inertia, nothing makes sense and hope of an escape eludes us.

Remember, we are never truly stuck. Even when we are bounded physically, when the mind feels free, our reality changes.

Below are eight ways to break free of a rut:
  1. Exercise.
    We often indulge in vices to get rid of negative emotions and tension. Personally, I find exercise to be the healthiest outlet for releasing stress and anxiety. Whenever I feel pent-up energy within me, I'll go running and only stop when I feel completely exhausted. Negativity seems to disperse with each step forward.
  2. Music.
    Music can quickly change your state of mind. When you feel like running to a mountain and yelling into space, try instead to sing your heart out. While you're at it, dance and jump away!

People

Why breaking up with a friend hurts as much, or worse, than the breakup of a romantic relationship


Lucy and Ethel: BFFs
Breaking up with a partner is universally accepted to be an awful experience, no matter how amicable the breakup. Often, it's our closest friends who support us through the healing process. But what happens when we lose that support system? Ending a close friendship is awkward and devastating—and it's so rarely discussed that we don't even have specific language to talk about it.

We asked psychologists and researchers who specialize in relationships to help us understand why it hurts when it ends.

This calls into question the nature of relationships and how people experience connection within them.