Saturday, December 24, 2016

Inspirational Quote for December 24, 2016

“May you live every day of your life.”

What a lovely wish and profound few words. Sometimes, most of us are so busy dealing with the everyday needs and demands our busy lives make on us, that we forget to just “live!” By this I mean actually being aware and realizing just how very precious life is and that every second, minute, hour, day that passes has gone forever. So, slow down a little, try to live in the moment, appreciate the blessings you have instead of whining about what you think you should have but don’t. Basically, live a life surrounded by those you love most and make sure it’s full of love, laughter, adventures, new beginnings, dreams………. Off you go!


I Am Not I: Jacob Needleman on How We Become Who We Are

In 'I Am Not I' Jacob Needleman delves into the timeless, searching questions of humanity. "Out of the inquiry itself arises an immensely hope-giving offering -- a sort of secular sacrament illuminating what lies at the heart of the most profound experiences we're capable of having: joy, love, hope, wonder, astonishment, transcendence." Maria Popova shares more.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Secrets to a Stress-Free Season

Cut Your Holiday Travel Stress

Being home for the holidays is part of the joy of the season. But for many of us, getting there is super-stressful. It’s you -- with gifts, luggage, and kids in tow -- up against flight delays, crowded airports, and wintry roads. Here are 10 tips to help you escape the heartache and headache of holiday travel. We've focused mostly on air travel, but these principles can apply to any way you hit the road.

Book early

Set your travel plans as early as possible to get cheaper deals and more flexible schedules. Pick non-stop flights if you can. Early morning ones are less often delayed than later ones. Avoid traveling on the busiest dates -- the day before Thanksgiving and the two days before and after Christmas and New Year’s. Better yet, fly on the actual holidays and you’re likely to face minimal crowds.

Let’s get digital

Before you leave home, download plenty of entertainment to your tablet, e-reader, smartphone, laptop, or portable DVD player. The familiarity of a favorite show or video game fights boredom and stress. If ever there was a time to let your little ones zone out on cartoons for an hour or two, an unexpected delay on the road is it. Be sure to bring earphones that fit them, backup batteries, and chargers.

Allow lots of time

Leave the house an hour earlier than usual to beat delays. Imagine relaxing as you explore the airport or train station, versus hurtling down the terminal with bags in tow -- it's an easy choice. Also, the earlier you’ve checked in, the less likely you are to be bumped off an overbooked flight. Plus you get more time to eat or pick up food for the journey.

Travel light

Even if you’re checking bags, consider shipping gifts and non-essentials ahead of time. You'll cut down luggage hassle and how much you have to drag around. Plus you can insure and track them better. You can even mail items already packed in a suitcase. Or, buy presents online and toss some gift bags into your carry-on. Allow two to three weeks for shipping. If you must fly with gifts, keep them unwrapped in case security needs to examine your stuff.

Prepare for security

If you're flying, make sure you're organized before entering security. Put your change, keys, belts, phone, and jewelry in your carry-on instead of emptying pockets in line. If you’re traveling with kids, use the family lane if one is available. Make sure your child knows what to expect. Any “lovies” or carry-on toys need to be screened, so be sure they know they’ll have to hand it over. Kids under 12 can keep their shoes on.

Plan for delays

Prepare mentally to be delayed or rerouted. It’ll help you take charge, minimize stress, and figure out Plan B. In case you’re stuck overnight, carry snacks, extra clothes for everyone, and some small toy surprises to whip out as a diversion. Just in case, program your phone with numbers for airlines, rental cars, and friends or family in connecting flight towns.

Stay well-fed

An empty stomach makes for super-cranky travelers. And it’s easier to beat boredom with some on-board noshing, especially for your pint-sized passengers. Since airlines are increasingly unreliable for keeping your tummy satisfied, stock up on healthy non-sticky snacks. Choose protein or high-fiber foods to keep you feeling fuller, like nuts, dried fruit, cheese, and hard-boiled eggs. Or, pick up your next meal after security before boarding.

Remember: Others are stressed too

Holiday travel is hectic for all involved. Take deep breaths, put a smile on your face, and stay positive. Getting away from everyday schedules and surroundings is especially tough on kids’ stress. So include them in the trip planning and bring favorite small toys, books, and other familiar items. And remember that getting upset with airport personnel doesn’t help as much as calm, kind words and an upbeat attitude.

Stay healthy

Being sick while away from home only worsens holiday stress. Winter travel raises the risk of colds and flu. Plan ahead by getting a flu shot or nasal flu vaccine. Wash your hands often and carry antibacterial hand gel to ward off germs. Dress in loose-fitting, tightly woven clothing layers to stay warm.

Conquer the roads

Get an early start to avoid the heaviest traffic. Try to make the drive fun. Involve the kids by singing and playing games. Stop often to stretch your legs, refocus, and give everyone some space. Bring plenty of snacks and water. Before leaving, have your car checked for brakes, battery, fluids, and tire pressure. Take a first-aid kit, flashlight, blankets, flares, jumper cables, and an ice scraper.

Inspirational Quote for December 23, 2016

“Don’t promise when you’re happy. Don’t reply when you’re angry, and don’t decide when you’re sad.”

Brilliant advice! Emotions can tend to make our decisions for us, and that isn’t always a good thing. Acting from a calm and steady place assures us that our intuition is guiding us. That way, there are no regrets. So the next time you’re facing a decision, stop and take the time to make sure you are responding from the heart!

by Susyn Blair-Hunt

Are You a Conformist or a Rebel?

By Kira M. Newman

According to a new book on social influence, we might all be a little of both.

The partisanship of today’s politics in America may be shocking, but it also reveals something significant about human behavior: the power of social influence. Personal beliefs can be strengthened when people surround themselves with those who share their views and distance themselves from the demonized other side.
In the new book Invisible Influence, Wharton professor Jonah Berger shows us the insidious way other people’s opinions affect us, including in the political realm. He puts forth fascinating evidence illustrating how the thoughts and actions of others influence what we see, buy, and believe, without us being consciously aware of it.
For example, in a 2003 study, researchers found that how people evaluated a particular welfare policy depended little on how generous it was—and mostly on whether their own party supported it. Yet participants claimed that party loyalty had nothing to do with their decision, although they thought other people were surely influenced by partisanship. 
But the drive to conform isn’t all we feel. In his book, Berger illustrates how we also try to be different from others, forging our identities through similarity and distinction.
Recognizing the far-reaching power of social influence—and its limitations—can not only make us more self-aware, Berger argues, but can also help us build a better society. 

When we conform

According to Berger, the urge to imitate others is built into our nature: It’s how we learn language as babies, for example, or avoid getting eaten by a tiger when our hunting companions bolt. But not all forms of imitation are as useful as these.
In a series of studies, researchers presented participants with a picture of four lines, and then asked them to pick which of the last three lines was most similar in length to the first.
This test, in fact, is incredibly easy: It’s obvious which line matches up, and most people are confident in their choice—until they hear everyone else in the group pick a different answer. Unbeknownst to them, the other group members are research assistants in disguise, and about a third of participants follow their lead and choose the wrong line. 
Signals from other people are sometimes helpful, Berger writes. Social cues help us figure out where to park, for example, or whether we need to wear a heavy jacket today. But in cases like the line test, where social influence can sometimes unhinge even our most solid convictions, it may lead us (and our institutions) astray.
“Group decisions often suffer from something called groupthink, where conformity and the desire for intragroup harmony lead groups to make worse decisions,” Berger explains.
Social influence also operates in more subjective phenomena, like music preferences. In one famous experiment, researchers set up a website offering free music downloads and split it into separate “worlds”: One was free of social influence, while the others included download counts or ordered songs by popularity. Although there was some correlation between how well songs did across worlds, different songs emerged as hits in different worlds; the first few ratings by early users helped tip the scales in their favor.
In other words, Berger explains, hits like Harry Potter and “Baby One More Time” may owe their success more to social influence than we think.
Yet we’re largely unaware of this influence—and even deny it when confronted. For example, campaigns for energy conservation work when they refer to neighbors’ behaviors—“77% of neighbors use fans instead of air conditioning”—but not cost savings or environmental impact, even though people rate those values as more important. We all conform, but without even realizing that we’re doing it. 

When we rebel

Actors on the show Jersey Shore got a product placement offer from Abercrombie—but not the usual kind. Instead, the brand offered to pay the actors not to wear Abercrombie clothes, Berger recounts. 

Abercrombie was aware of something powerful: the negative version of social influence. If we don’t want to be associated with a certain group, we may avoid behaviors and signals that link us to them.
“People don’t just care about whether others are doing something, or how many others are doing it, they also care about who those others are,” Berger writes.
Wanting to be different is a phenomenon that’s familiar to another group of people: younger siblings. Research has found a reliable pattern of differences between firstborns and their brothers and sisters, whereby younger siblings tend to be sportier, more liberal, and more risk-taking. Why? According to Berger, many firstborns get a reputation for being smart and conscientious, and their siblings try to find a different way to stand out.
Anyone who’s ordered in a group at a restaurant has also seen negative social influence at work. The first guy picks whatever he wants, but then it becomes lame to ask for the same beer or entrĂ©e—so people actually switch their choices to be different and end up less satisfied with what they ordered.
Similarly, “snob effects” are when the popularity of a band or trendy food makes certain people avoid it. It’s the “I liked them before they were popular” refrain, which can lead us to abandon things we actually enjoy because they’re no longer a symbol of uniqueness.
Some research suggests that this desire to be different is stronger among the middle class than the working class. For example, imagining that someone else bought the same car as them, MBAs tend to be irritated—while firefighters get a boost. We all may have a little nonconformist inside us, but some more than others. 
In the end, Berger explains, we want to conform in the ways that count, associating us with groups we want to belong to, but also find ways to show off our individuality.
“We want to be similar but we want to be different,” he writes. “We want to do the same thing as others but we also want to be special.”

How social influence can better society

How can we put social influence to work for us, and for society? According to Berger, we can appeal to people’s inner rebel to discourage harmful behaviors—the way a successful alcohol prevention poster did when it portrayed a geeky hipster drinking. We can rely on their tendency to imitate when it serves a good end, like voicing our opinion first in a meeting or (my favorite) fighting over the broccoli with our spouse so it seems more appealing to the kids.
According to Berger, we should also be on the lookout for destructive instances of conformity and exclusion. For example, women are more willing to enroll in a computer science class if the room isn’t filled with Star Trek decorations and “I code, therefore I am” t-shirts, a stereotype of the geeky, male computer scientist that prospective female students feel excludes them.
Perhaps most importantly, we might be able to make strides in transcending political partisanship by redirecting social influence. As that welfare study demonstrated, it’s best if we form opinions about policies before learning our own party’s stance. In the same vein, rather than focusing on our identity as Republicans and Democrats, calls for constructive collaboration can appeal to our larger identity as human beings—and the values that unite us all, like human rights and fairness.
Fighting partisanship will also take inner strength and courage. Taking issue with your group’s beliefs—whether that group is your family, your team, or your own political party—“requires the capacity to accept the fact of opposition without a lowered sense of personal worth,” wrote Solomon Asch, creator of the line-matching studies. Disagreeing with others can be a source of stress, confusion, and doubt; the urge to conform is strong for those who try to stand alone.
Yet one dissenting view can make the difference between passive consensus and healthy disagreement. This was the case in Asch’s study, where conformity decreased significantly if just one other group member disagreed with the majority opinion.
“Through better understanding how social influence works, we can harness its power,” writes Berger. “Through understanding social influence, we can improve our own lives, and the lives of others.”

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Why Sex Gets Better in Old Age

By Miri Forbes, Robert Krueger, Nicholas Eaton

According to a new study, our sexual priorities change as we age and that keeps our sex lives satisfying.

Aging is generally associated with improvements in our quality of life: We become more proficient in our work, learn how to manage our finances better, and our bonds with loved ones deepen. With time and practice, most of the core domains of our lives improve as we develop skills and strategies to manage our lives with more mastery. An exception to this pattern is the quality of our sex lives, which has consistently been reported to deteriorate with age.
While this fits with the messages we receive from popular culture, which tell us that sex is a young person’s domain, it is somewhat at odds with the fact that older adults continue to explore and enjoy sexuality well into old age. The majority of men and women over 60 in the U.S. are sexually active, most at least two to three times per month (more often than many younger adults). They also rate sex as an important part of life.
So, if there is no epidemic of age-related frigidity, why would sexual quality of life take a nosedive in later life? A common answer to this question cites declining physical health and sexual functioning with age. Another answer might be: The quality of our sex lives doesn’t decline with age.

Studying sex and aging

There is a key element missing from nearly all studies of sex and aging: studying change over time. If we ask a group of people how satisfied they are with their sex life, and the younger people are more satisfied than the older people, does that mean that aging is responsible for this difference? What if instead the apparent age difference is because people born in the 1930s have different attitudes toward sex than people who grew up after the sexual revolution of the ’60’s and ’70’s?
To get to the bottom of how aging affects sexual quality of life, we analyzed patterns in longitudinal data collected from over 6,000 individuals followed over a period of 18 years, spanning ages 20-93. In 1995, 2004, and 2013, the representative sample of English-speaking Americans completed extensive self-administered survey questionnaires in private and returned them by mail.
A key question for our study was: How would you rate the sexual aspects of your life these days, from the worst possible situation (0) to the best possible situation (10)?
The basic trends in the data suggested that—without taking any other factors into account—sexual quality of life declines with age. But as people in the study aged, they placed more emphasis on the quality—not quantity—of sexual encounters. For example, frequency of sex became less important with age, and the amount of thought and effort invested in sex became more important.
These changing priorities were key predictors of sexual quality of life for older adults, and appeared to buffer its decline. When we matched older and younger adults on key characteristics of their sex lives—along with sociodemographic characteristics, and mental and physical health—older adults actually had better sexual quality of life.
For example, if we compared a 40-year-old man and a 50-year-old man with the same levels of perceived control over their sex life, who invest the same amount of thought and effort in their sex life, have sex with the same frequency and had the same number of sexual partners in the past year, we would expect the 50-year-old to report better sexual quality of life.
This is consistent with the improvement we see in other life domains with age, and highlights the benefits of life experience for sexuality as people learn more about their sexual preferences and their partners’ likes and dislikes. The positive relationship between sexual quality of life and aging was strongest in the context of good-quality romantic relationships, where sexual exploration and a focus on partners’ pleasure is more likely to take place.

Life experience related to a better sex life

Together these findings suggest that as we age, our sexual priorities change and we develop knowledge, skills, and preferences that protect against aging-related declines in sexual quality of life. Since wisdom is “the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment,” our study suggests that life experience is fostering sexual wisdom.
We now know that age-related declines in sexual quality of life are largely related to modifiable factors, so we can target sexual skills, beliefs, and attitudes in clinical interventions. Given that our life expectancy continues to grow, this research highlights the opportunity to facilitate positive sexual experiences across the lifespan.

Inspirational Quote for December 22, 2016

“You are free to choose, but you are not free from the consequences of your choice.”

This reminds me of free will, which really isn’t free. When I hear people say they have free will, I wonder what they are thinking? Every action causes a reaction, and it’s only through time and experience that we come to realize that consequences await. So to quote one of my favorite lines from “Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail,” choose wisely….

by Susyn Blair-Hunt

The Women Who Restored Jungles

When a governmental effort to encourage cash crops threatened their food security and native land, India's indigenous families came together to revive their traditional food systems.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Is the Drive to Be Masculine Hurting Your Mental Health?

By Jeremy Adam Smith

A wave of studies in 2016 suggest that masculine ideals can hurt men's physical and mental health. But they also hint at a healthier aspiration for men.

Man up. Grow a pair. You run like a girl. Don’t be a wuss. We’re number one.
Could trying to live up to these platitudes fuel depression, anxiety, and other kinds of mental illness in boys and men? A new study suggests that the answer can often be “yes”—but a lot depends on which masculine ideals you embrace.
An international team of researchers led by Y. Joel Wong of Indiana University, Bloomington, searched for scientific papers that all used the Conformity to Masculine Norms Inventory (CMNI), a widely-used and research-tested scale. The researchers were especially interested in fine-grained analysis of the CMNI’s 11 distinct dimensions of masculine norms, including:
  • Winning: Do you want to be admired and respected? Are you competitive?
  • Emotional control: Can you keep feelings in check?
  • Self-Reliance: Can you disconnect from others, when necessary?
  • Violence: Can you be tough? Can you throw a punch?
  • Power over women: Can you handle when a woman is taller, stronger, or smarter than you?
  • Playboy: Does your self-esteem rest on success in pursuing sex? Do you actively suppress traits that might make you seem feminine or non-heterosexual?
  • Primacy of work: Are you driven to succeed on the job? Do you prioritize financially supporting a family over providing emotional support to its members?
  • Disdain for homosexuals: Do you avoid touching other men? Do you feel threatened when other men display feminine traits?
Many previous studies have found strong correlations between these norms and mental illness, which may be because they work together to discourage help-seeking. It may also be the case that these masculine ideals have become maladaptive in the 21st century: If your boss is a woman, you might find yourself a trifle depressed that you’re not living up to your own manly power fantasies; when gay men are more visible than ever in the media and daily life, they may seem even more threatening to straight ones.
To find out if some norms were less healthy than others, the researchers searched for specific correlations, theorizing that many of men’s mental health problems might spring more from dysfunctional relationships to other people than from their relationship to themselves. In other words, norms like “winning” and “power over women” might lead to fraught relationships, which may in turn feed unhappiness.
Their findings don’t just point to problems with traditional masculine ideals. They also hint at solutions—and a new brand of masculinity that emphasizes connecting with other people, rather than pushing them away.

Masculine norms and mental health

The researchers found 78 samples, with participants totaling almost 20,000, that fit their criteria. (While the studies were all conducted in English, the sample was international.) Their meta-analysis of this research—the first of its kind to look at men and mental health—confirmed that a strong commitment to these kinds of masculine norms, overall, was associated with mental health problems, and that, yes, many of these problems seemed to spring from social difficulties. They also found, predictably, that men who aspire to traditional masculine ideals were not likely to seek support or professional help for emotional or mental problems like depression.
In general, it seems, traditional masculinity makes it hard for men to connect with others—and this in turn hurts their mental health, an insight supported by decades of research showing that social and emotional connection is the single biggest predictor of personal well-being.
The study’s most interesting finding, however, has to do with which masculine ideals seemed to hurt the most. Only three of the 11 dimensions seemed to substantially, negatively related to mental health: self-reliance, playboy, and power over women. The first may cut the man off from social connection. The next two are associated with hostility toward women—as well as, in the case of the playboy dimension, hostility to gay men. They write:
The robust and unfavorable association between conformity to these two norms and mental health-related outcomes underscores the idea that sexism is not merely a social justice, but also has deleterious mental health-related consequences for those who embrace such attitudes.
But the news wasn’t all bad. On average, primacy of work wasn’t associated with any mental health outcome at all, positive or negative, which, suggest the authors, might speak to the complexity of work: Some days it makes us feel good and sometimes it just seems meaningless. In any event, men across the social spectrum appear to take paying work for granted, as a fixed and non-negotiable part of their lives.
The most interesting finding involved risk-taking, which was strongly associated with both good and bad mental health in the studies they analyzed. It was, in fact, the only masculine norm that had a clear-cut positive association (along with the usual negative one).
Why? The researchers don’t know. It may be that men with mental illness engage in more risky behavior, which creates the relatively strong negative correlation. At the same time, a certain level of controlled risk-taking can, perhaps, be very good for mentally healthy men who need to blow off steam or push their own limits, thus building self-confidence. There are many implications here, one of which is that we might encourage risk-taking in mentally healthy men but discourage it for guys who are struggling with illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder or depression. Or it may simply be the case that risk-taking is a kind of barometer for male mental health, revealing what pressures the man is under.
This wasn’t the only study to appear this year that found masculine norms can be bad for men. An Australian study found a strong but unsurprising correlation between masculine norms and both heavy drinking and barroom brawling, a finding ratified by another study published in the journal Psychology of Men & Masculinity. At least three other studies found that manly men were less likely to use condoms—and thus catch or spread HIV and other sexually-transmitted infections. These attitudes don’t just affect the men themselves. One study of 52 parents concluded that those who embraced masculine norms were significantly less likely to seek professional help for troubled children.

Can masculinity evolve?

Taken together, these studies suggest that traditional masculine norms can hurt both men and the people around them.
But other papers appeared in 2016 that hinted at solutions. A study of male rats found that low levels of stress drove increased bonding between them, elevating oxytocin levels, which in turn improved their well-being. While human males are not rats, obviously, this line of research does have implications for understanding the impact of stress on human bodies—and possible treatments. For example, doses of oxytocin may help men with post-traumatic stress disorder to turn toward other people instead of pushing them away.
Researchers and clinicians are also using this kind of research to craft mental-health and anti-violence programs that will appeal to men. In their paper, Wong and his colleagues argue that it’s not helpful to throw out the baby with the bathwater, when it comes to masculine norms: Some are healthier than others, and programs that seem to disparage masculinity as a whole will turn some men off. Their more-precise analysis identifies specific barriers to seeking help for mental-health problems, and might help therapists link the norms to problem-causing consequences in the lives of men.
“For instance, men who are extremely self-reliant and emotionally controlled might potentially struggle with seeking help and developing intimate relationships with others,” they write. The researchers persuasively argue that:
Clinicians should guard against pathologizing individuals who adhere strongly to the masculine norm of primacy of work (e.g., by labeling them “workaholics”), given our finding that this norm was not significantly associated with any of the mental health-related outcomes in our study. Instead, clinicians could explore how the importance of work can be both a source of stress as well as a source of meaning in one’s life.
Ultimately, of course, it’s up to men to shift masculinity in a healthier direction. This research suggests men should strive to connect with each other, emotionally and even physically, while simultaneously trying to be more comfortable with feminine men and women who have succeeded in creating non-traditional roles for themselves. Given how much women have changed in two generations, it’s not far-fetched to imagine men, as a group, might evolve as well. Perhaps the next generation of fathers and teachers will urge boys to help each other out instead of beating each other in competition.