Saturday, August 12, 2017

Inspirational Quote – August 12, 2017

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Two options offered here. Your decision as to which one is for you. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, just like everything in life. If you want to get where you want to go as quickly as possible, with no thought for anybody or anything else, then best not to feel hampered by too much “baggage” which may hold you back or slow you down. However, when you get “there” you might be disappointed there is nobody there to applaud your efforts or offer a welcome. If, however, if you want to go a bit further, then perhaps some company to offer support and encouragement would be a good plan. There would also be the added benefit of two heads being better than one, and someone to acknowledge your achievement and success. Which one would you opt for?

The Solace of Wild Places in Nature and Ourselves

Most of us live far from truly wild places that could give us comfort from the troubles of this world, yet we badly need this healing found in nature. The Japanese recognize this need for connection to nature and have a custom they call "shinrin-yoku," which means forest bathing. In this piece, Lucia Bettler recommends that we each take time to rest our minds and hearts in the quiet greenness of Mother Earth. "This wild world brings us solace, peace and grace." Knowing that most of us don't live near forests or mountains, she suggests developing simple relationships with nature to restore our spirits -- things like taking a walk with a pet, watching the insects in the grass or sitting in the herb garden to rejuvenate ourselves. She reminds the reader that the medicine we all need is found in connection to the earth.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Drug Addiction, Social Connection, and the Brain

A new study of opioids reveals a tie between drug addiction and social connection.

Science has long known that having positive social connection is important to a happy and healthy life. But less is understood about how our brains support and encourage connecting with others.
While prior research has suggested oxytocin plays a role in nurturing and trusting others, thereby strengthening social bonds, many researchers also suspect that brain opioids are important to social connection. Opioids are naturally occurring brain chemicals—perhaps the most well-known being endorphins—that cause pleasurable sensations in the body and encourage us to enjoy whatever we are experiencing. It’s possible that opioids also cause the warm feelings we get in social encounters, thereby encouraging us to be more engaged with others.
But, according to a recent study, the role of opioids may be a little more complicated than that—and there are practical implications for how we treat drug addiction.

Opioids target social connection

Naltrexone, a medication that inhibits opioidsNaltrexone, a medication that inhibits opioids
Participants unaware of the study’s purpose took an opioid inhibitor called naltrexone for a four-day trial and a placebo for another four-day trial in randomized order, with a break in between to clean out their system.
Over the course of the experiment, the participants kept daily track of how socially connected they felt and how positive their moods were. On the fourth day of each trial, they completed a task in the lab, reading six very kind messages that loved ones had sent to the researchers in advance, unbeknownst to the participants—messages like “I am so grateful to have you in my life” and “Thank you for loving me at my worst.” Then participants reported how connected they felt toward the message writer, as well as how good it felt to read the messages.
Afterwards, the researchers compared how much social connection participants had in their everyday lives, as well as how much of a sense of connection they felt during the lab task. Results showed that participants felt more connection in both everyday activities and during the lab task when they were on placebo than when on naltrexone, suggesting that naltrexone was blocking opioids important to social closeness.
“We tested a long-standing theory—based on animal data—that suggests brain opioids contribute to feelings of connection. But no one had shown that relationship causally in humans,” says the study’s lead author, Tristen Inagaki.
She and her colleagues also found that taking naltrexone did not decrease positive emotion in everyday life, even though it affected the participants’ sense of connection to others. This suggests that opioids play a targeted role in social connection that is above and beyond just feeling good.
“All of this work is trying to get at what makes us feel connected to others and how we can help those who are feeling lonely or socially isolated.”
―Tristen Inagaki
“Opioids seem to affect our response to the most rewarding or most pleasurable stimuli in the environment,” says Inagaki. “For humans, being social or being around your loved ones is likely to be the most salient rewarding stimuli.”
Inagaki points to other research showing that opioids reduce the sense of connection people get from simply holding a warm object, but don’t affect ratings of pleasure. This lends further support to her own findings.
“The mechanisms for opioids must be smarter than we think,” she says.

The addiction connection

While much of the research on opioids and social connection is preliminary, Inagaki thinks her study warrants attention, given that opioid inhibitors like naltrexone are often used with patients to treat addictions. Though naltrexone may indeed inhibit the high people feel when taking illicit drugs—and thereby help them kick the habit—it may also shape their social relationships.
“Lots of research shows that people really need their social networks when they’re dealing with major stressors—addiction being a major stressor,” says Inagaki.  “So, if the drug prescribed to help someone overcome addiction is also reducing how connected they feel toward others or reducing the time they spend with other folks, that’s not a great outcome.”
At the very least, she says, clinicians should be aware of the potential downside of using naltrexone, so they can warn patients about social side effects and make sure patients are remaining socially integrated.
While Inagaki’s findings are intriguing in their own right, they may also be relevant to understanding the current opioid addiction. Research has shown that genetic differences in opioid receptors lead to increased risk of addiction, just as her research suggests blocking opioid receptors decreases social closeness. Doesn’t that suggest feelings of disconnection and addiction could be related?

Inagaki thinks so.
“One offshoot of the opioid theory is that those with low opioid tone show exaggerated responses to social stressors—like feeling lonely, feeling socially rejected,” she says. “So, the idea that negative social encounters could produce a risk factor for all kinds of mental health issues, including addiction, is being re-appreciated right now.”
While the jury is still out, Inagaki and her team will continue to research the role that opioids play. She is currently running a neuroimaging study to see how naltrexone impacts neural activity in response to social connection. She hopes that her research will help inform how we humans bond, with implications beyond addiction.
“All of this work is trying to get at what makes us feel connected to others and how we can help those who are feeling lonely or socially isolated,” she says. “My hope is that people who are struggling don’t have to turn to drugs.”

Inspirational Quote – August 11, 2017

“Accept what is, let go of what was, and have faith in what will be.”

Occasionally, we need to realize that there is just no point in railing against Fate, Karma etc, because of the suffering or disappointment we may be experiencing because of it. Nothing will change as a result of us feeling chagrined because we may feel unfairly singled out for “punishment” or troubled times. So, in that situation, it would pay us to accept, deal with and consign to the past anything of this nature. Trust that whatever transpired happened for a reason, perhaps not obvious to us at the time, but that things will get better in the future so it would benefit us greatly to look forward not back.

Elisabet Sahtouris on Ecosophy

In this interview Elizabet Sahtouris shares how society must unite to work toward the common goal of creating a better future for our planet. In order to overcome our tendency toward destruction, we must put aside our competitive nature to work in global harmony. Ecosophy, or "the household which is wise", she describes, is one that does not separate ecology from economy. "The old and the new worlds are living side by side or within each other right now. If we want to have a better future, all we have to do is start to create it now by living it now". Elizabet beautifully describes the phases through which our planet has gone, and how we can improve upon the next.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Why You Should Take More Time Off from Work

Not only are vacations relaxing, but they can boost our productivity and creativity—if done right.

Americans generally believe that they need to “deserve” their vacations—that they should work hard, even push themselves, before they actually take a break. 
Consider these statistics:  
There may be cultural reasons for this phenomenon. Countries most influenced by the Protestant work ethic, like the United States, place a lot of value on industriousness and proving oneself—as opposed to countries influenced by Catholicism, which is a salvation-based religion. In Catholic-influenced France, for example, 90 percent of people take all of their vacation days (despite having more than twice as many—30!—as most Americans).
Ironically, while Americans may pride themselves on their hard work and dedication, research suggests that we will actually work harder, perform better, and have greater health, stamina, and enthusiasm for our work if we take time off. 

Three ways vacation is good for you

Research suggests that leisure is an important predictor of our well-being and satisfaction with life, including our health, work engagement, creativity, and even marital satisfaction.
1. Vacation is relaxing. We often take vacations in order to relax, but do they actually work? Scientists out of the University of California, San Francisco, examined this question with a rigorous study: They looked at the impact of a resort vacation and a meditation retreat on biological measures of stress and immune function. The data showed that a resort vacation not only makes us feel more energetic and less stressed than we were before we took the vacation, it also leads to a strong and immediate impact on molecular networks associated with stress and immune function. Participants who attended the meditation retreat also showed a boost in antiviral activity.
So pick your favorite leisure activity: surfing in the sun and hanging under the cabana, or sitting on a zafu and taking yoga. 
2. Breaks make you more productive. Another personal and professional advantage of taking vacations is the ability to detach from work.
Sabine Sonnentag, professor of organizational psychology at the University of Mannheim in Germany, finds that the inability to detach from work comes with symptoms of burnout, which of course impact well-being and productivity. However, disengaging from work when you are not at work, she finds, makes us more resilient in the face of stress and more productive and engaged at work. Even a short weekend getaway can provide significant work-stress recovery, while longer trips away provide even more relief.
After a vacation, 64 percent of people say that they are ”refreshed and excited to get back to my job.” It’s a win-win both for employees and organizations alike, especially given the fact that unused vacation costs U.S. business $224 billion per year.  
“Fun times are fun times no matter what, and we enjoy them just as much whether they come before or after hard work. ”
―Emma Seppälä
3. A change of pace boosts creativity. Another professional advantage from taking time off is a boost in creativity. Across countries and industries, CEOs rate creativity as the #1 most important trait for all incoming employees. Yet researcher Kyung Hee Kim, author of The Creativity Challenge, has shown that we are facing a dramatic “creativity crisis,” with creativity scores dropping significantly in younger generations. Here again, more vacations and leisure may help. 
Many workers tend to specialize in their own field, and fail to explore new areas or diversify their interests. Yet research shows that being exposed to new and different experiences actually boosts your creativity. For example, one study showed that hiking in nature disconnected from all devices for four days—a very unusual experience in our day and age—led to a 50 percent spike in creativity. 
Brain imaging studies show that doing nothing, being idle, daydreaming, and relaxingcreate alpha waves in the brain that are key to creative insights and innovative breakthroughs. And research by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson has shown that positive emotions—the kind we feel on a relaxing, playful vacation—make us more inventive and able to think outside the box.

How to make the most of your vacation

When planning your time off, keep in mind that all leisure activities are not created equal. A German study comparing different leisure activities showed that while spending time with friends, doing sports, and vacationing boost your well-being substantially, other leisure activities including Internet browsing and TV watching do not; in fact, they lead to lower satisfaction with life. That means that your couch isn’t necessarily the best vacation destination.
Depending on your age and gender, research by Iva Sverko and colleagues has shown, different leisure activities may lead to greater well-being—but for people of all ages, leisure activities like visiting friends and family and going to church are positively linked to well-being. Later in life, for example, social activities seem to be particularly important. This finding makes sense since a large and growing body of research shows that the degree to which we are socially connected across our lifespan significantly improves our physical and psychological health, and even our longevity.
When should you schedule your time away from work? Some of us are so good at delayed gratification that we’re constantly putting off our vacations, thinking we’ll enjoy our “well-deserved” leisure more later—after we write that report, finish that big project, or get a promotion. But this is not necessarily true: A new study shows that fun times are fun times no matter what, and we enjoy them just as much whether they come before or after hard work. Also, the professional and personal benefits that we get from leisure time may help us succeed at our work goals. 
So plan your vacation now. Better yet, don’t get caught up in too much planning. Another recent study suggests that spontaneous leisure activities are more rewarding than planned ones. So let your hair down, play hooky, and let loose once in a while. There’s still some summer left, so enjoy!

Inspirational Quote – August 10, 2017

“If a man wants his dreams to come true, he must wake them up.”

In order to make your dreams come true it is a good idea to have a dream in mind in the first place. Then, once you have decided on your dream, or dreams, it’s down to you to do everything you can to make it or them a reality. Be careful not to get distracted and perhaps risk losing sight of your dream(s), as it’s only by your focus, determination and perseverance that they can come true for you so very precious indeed.

Looking Past Limits: The Remarkable Story of Caroline Casey

Activist Caroline Casey tells the story of her extraordinary life, starting with a jaw-dropping revelation (no spoilers). In a talk that challenges perceptions, Casey asks us all to move beyond the limits we may think we have. At age 34 she realized the three dreams she held as a teenager: to become an elephant handler, to work for herself, and to drive a race car at 185 km/h. She went on to start the Aisling Foundation, which looks deeply at disability, its attendant loneliness and its inherent positive aspects. Follow her incredible, inspiring journey here.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

How Anti-Latino Rhetoric Hurts All Americans

American society would be stronger and safer if it embraced people of all ethnicities, suggest the preliminary results of an on-going study.

We all want to be valued members of the groups to which we belong. For Latinos in the United States, this isn’t easy. Rhetoric that casts Latinos as a threat to other Americans is a fact of life.
Do words matter? To Latinos? To all Americans?
In a study that started last summer, we learned that anti-immigrant and anti-Latino rhetoric can leave psychological damage in its wake. But the findings also point to a pathway for undoing that damage, by the simple act of bringing attention to a group’s positive contributions and membership in the larger group. If we can replace hateful rhetoric with language that is positive and inclusive, we won’t just help Latinos feel good about themselves. We’ll also help to build a stronger United States.

Seeing Latinos as a threat

Some may be tempted to think that anti-Latino rhetoric is a new phenomenon, a product of changes to the political discourse that first appeared during the presidential campaign in 2015 and 2016. That would be wrong. The history is much longer. During the era of the Great Depression, for example, people who looked “Mexican”—including U.S. citizens—were deported to Mexico as a way to reduce competition for scarce jobs or conserve poverty relief funds for people deemed more deserving. In Los Angeles alone, these actions cut the Latino population by one third.
That’s the history Donald Trump tapped into when he began his campaign on June 16, 2015, by calling Mexican immigrants drug dealers, criminals, and rapists. But Trump did not stop with immigrants, going on to target Americans with Mexican heritage. In a highly publicized attack on Judge Gonzalo Curiel that members of his own political party called “the textbook definition of a racist comment,” Donald Trump questioned the Judge’s ability to perform his job—overseeing a lawsuit involving Trump himself—because his parents had been born in Mexico. Trump’s attack on Curiel, an American citizen by birth in the United States, was an attack on all Americans of Mexican descent.
Far from punishing this anti-Latino rhetoric, significant numbers of Americans voted for Donald Trump—and today he is president of the United States.
Trump isn’t alone, of course. Earlier this year, Iowa congressman Steve King suggested that Latino children are a threat to the nation’s future: “Culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” This rhetoric drew a clear distinction between “us” (legitimate members of the nation) versus “them” (those who don’t belong) that casts Latinos as “other” who cannot be Americans.
Though it’s not possible to establish a causal link between this rhetoric and real-world violence, it is probably not an accident that hate crimes in nine U.S. cities rose more than 23 percent in 2016, according to a study by criminal justice professor Brian Levin at California State University, San Bernardino.
The psychology that drives these forces is well studied. Humans are social animals and group living is part of being human. Indeed, the tendency to form groups is so strong that the basis of group memberships need not be meaningful—it can be sudden and arbitrary. A set of famous studies used a method called the “minimal group paradigm” to divide people into groups. Whether the group distinction was “overestimators” versus “underestimators,” or an implied preference for one type of art versus another, people quickly start favoring their group at the expense of the other group.
Real or perceived competition, especially for resources that are valuable and scarce, exacerbates these tendencies to separate into groups and favor the in-group. These dynamics quickly set the stage for overt group conflict that is dangerous to members of devalued groups. Thus, it is no surprise that times of economic hardship are associated with increased acts of violence and discrimination toward members of devalued groups.

How words hurt

What is the impact of anti-Latino rhetoric on the mental health of Latinos?
To find out, we presented 285 college students of Mexican-heritage with three types of visual and written information: positive, negative, or neutral. Both the positive and negative information were conveyed through two statements and two images each. All were drawn from public discourse and findings from social-science studies about Latino immigrants and their children. The neutral information consisted of two statements and two images about the color of buildings on college campuses. Participants were randomly assigned to receive one of the three types of information. Afterward, we asked participants to comment on the information, and then respond to a series of questionnaires measuring anxiety, belonging, health status, identity, and community participation.
While our analysis is still in the early stages, preliminary findings indicate that hurtful public discourse can cut deeply. The comments of participants who received negative information frequently included words such as “sad,” “upset,” “angry,” and “hurt.” For example, a 24-year-old Mexican American woman who saw negative information said:
Anger, rage, frustration, impotence are just some of the words that come to mind, but I have so much to say that I am not able to properly articulate what I am trying to say, much less express myself in a healthy manner. These types of aggression’s [sic] are not new to me, so I know what it’s like to have these words and images being shouted at you, and making you feel out of place, ashamed and inferior, even though you were born in the U.S.
Her comment vividly describes the experience of despair and alienation that Americans of Latino background can feel after reading and viewing negative rhetoric.
In contrast, positive words and images can have a salutary effect. Participants who viewed positive information peppered their comments with words such as “proud,” “happy,” “benefit,” and “contribution.” For example, this 19-year-old woman who was born in the U.S. said:
As I read the quotes and see the images I think that individuals that come to America should be welcomed. Parents that are not citizens but have children that are U.S. citizens encourage their children to be successful and make them proud and it is clearly shown. There is sufficient evidence that “immigrants” contribute to society and I believe that individuals should be more accepting of foreigners because they arrive to the U.S. with the goal to persevere and be successful. As a Mexican-American, I feel proud reading the quotes and seeing the images. I feel very emotional because in the present-day individuals discriminate not only against immigrants but their children. I am glad to see that we are contributing to society and I wish Americans could see that. I wish that they can see we are not harming “their” country; we are helping it grow.
In our study, the prominence of the anti-immigrant and anti-Latino rhetoric in the presidential election was anxiety-provoking among participants of Mexican heritage. We compared participant responses collected before and after the November 8, 2016, election on a scale of perceived stress, which measures a person’s perception that demands or pressure exceed their ability to control things in their life and cope with its problems—and we did indeed find much more anxiety after the election. This doesn’t seem unreasonable. After all, their new president came to power by denigrating and stigmatizing people like them.
Should this matter only to Latinos? Rhetoric that seeks to divide people by increasing a sense of threat—and then targeting members of devalued groups as the source of that threat—may lead to short-term political gains, but it also has long-term societal costs. Those costs come in the form of disintegration of the societal fabric—a sense of disconnect from people deemed “other.” In turn, this disintegration can lead to unwillingness to work together to build and maintain strong, stable, and safe societies. When that happens, we all lose.
In fact, history and recent events are replete with examples of the social and economic costs that occur when groups are singled out as “other” and denied social integration. In 2005, French-Algerian and French-Moroccan youth who, despite their many generations in France, are alienated and unaccepted by the larger French society acted on their frustrations by setting fire to cars and buildings in one of France’s worst incidents of urban violence. Sadly, these tensions continue today.
Fortunately, there are alternatives.

How words can help

Taken together, our preliminary findings highlight the fundamental importance of belonging and its role in psychological well-being. Indeed, the positive implications of the study’s findings dovetail nicely with the broader research on the psychological forces necessary to bring people together and amend the wrongs brought on by excesses of ethnocentrism. 
As our own research highlights, facts must be better known. This is particularly urgent for members of devalued groups who might psychologically, and perhaps physically, suffer as a result of internalizing negative rhetoric about their group as truth. Public discourse that fails to recognize U.S. Latinos as an integral part of the American fabric does special harm to U.S. Latinos, but it does all Americans a disservice. This is a difference we can all make, at home, in our neighborhoods, at work, or on social media. By knowing, and openly acknowledging, our shared history in public and private discourse, you can do your part to ensure that Latinos are socially integrated into the larger American group.
Second, we can recognize that immigration requires people to figure out where and how they belong to their new societies. Depending on the circumstances that led them to leave their home countries, immigrants may arrive with little knowledge of their new country’s language, history, or cultural norms. It takes time to figure this all out. Psychologists call the challenges that can accompany the immigration process “acculturation stress.” The degree of stress experienced depends in part on the reception one receives. Among U.S. Latinos, there is a saying “ni de aqui, ni de alla” that can be translated as “not from here, nor from there” which captures the feeling that one is neither accepted in the new country or the old one. But by expressing acceptance and appreciation for the contributions of new Americans, you can help make the incorporation process easier on new immigrants.
Third, the benefits of group living and group membership can be harnessed to include rather than exclude. Humans form groups, yes. But at any given time, everyone belongs to multiple social categories and, thus, multiple groups. U.S. Latinos are one flavor of American identity. The key is shifting from “they” to “we.” Research studies highlight the power of “we”—when separate groups of people become “we,” the processes that favor members of the in-group kick in for all members of the group. Social interaction and activities that highlight shared social categories can do this work of building a sense of “we” among people. You can look for opportunities—with friends, parents, children, and coworkers—to highlight the “we” among Americans of all ethnic groups. 
Fourth, the comfort of “we” can serve as a spark to deeper connections among Latinos and non-Latinos. The use of “we” may prompt relationship-building self-disclosures or bring invitations to social events that replace the unfamiliar with a new pleasure (e.g., music, food). From these deeper connections, people can carve out a space for mutual acceptance of difference as a positive opportunity to engage with novelty. For members of devalued groups, messages of acceptance can transform feelings of alienation into feelings of belonging and all the psychological benefits that belonging can bring. If you are a member of the majority, reminders of all that “we” have in common can reduce the sense of threat brought about by exposure to anti-Latino rhetoric. Once the “we” is in motion, personal stories that build empathy and connection can be more easily shared, new kinds of similarity may be found, and even conflict can be more constructively resolved.
The current outbreak of the “Latino threat narrative” is not an isolated incident—but it gives us all an opportunity to contribute to the greater good by openly contesting it. The key is “we” over “they.” This goal is already enshrined in the national motto—e pluribus unum, which translates to “Out of many, one”—but we all need to be active agents in giving that motto the weight of psychological truth.