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By Markham Heid
In 1991, on a trail high in the Austrian-Italian Alps, two hikers stumbled onto a man’s 5,000-year-old corpse. Now known as “Ötzi” the Iceman, the corpse bore more than a dozen clusters of skin tattoos.
Experts first assumed the tattoos were ornamental. But researchers have since noted that many of Ötzi’s inkings are located in places along his back and spine that correspond with traditional Chinese acupuncture points—points targeted for the treatment of digestive disorders. An analysis of Ötzi’s gut turned up the remnants of parasitic worms, and Ötzi’s pack contained a fruit known to help treat GI problems.
Experts broadly agree that acupuncture has been around since at least 100 B.C. While controversial, the Ötzi tattoo researchers say their findings suggest that a “treatment modality similar to acupuncture” may have existed more than 5,000 years ago.
If nothing else, acupuncture qualifies as a “time-tested” form of therapy. And while many conventional doctors and scientists dismiss it as pseudo-medicine, it’s hard to believe acupuncture could have persisted for millennia if there weren’t something to it. The research to date, while incomplete, suggests acupuncture may provide real therapeutic benefits.
Traditional Chinese medicine holds that a sort of vital energy or life force—known as a person’s qi (pronounced or also known as “chi”)—flows through the body along defined pathways or “meridians.” Diseases are believed to cause (or be caused by) disruptions or “disharmonies” in the flow of a person’s qi. The needle pokes we all associate with acupuncture are meant to correct or influence these disharmonies.
Some contemporary acupuncture practitioners play down the stuff about qi and meridians. Also, acupuncture comes in many shapes and sizes: for example, some acupuncturists incorporate electrical stimulation. But needle insertions in specific points are a universal trait of the therapy.
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From the perspective of conventional medicine, a therapy doesn’t “work” unless it both outperforms a placebo and does so via an identifiable “mechanism of action.” Like a high schooler taking a math exam, it’s not enough to for acupuncture to come up with the right answer—it also has to show its work.
A lot of researchers have gone looking for evidence that acupuncture “works,” but experts disagree in their interpretations of the study results. “There have been several recent meta-analyses [on specific conditions] that concluded acupuncture had a statistically significant benefit,” says Vitaly Napadow, an acupuncture researcher and director of the Center for Integrative Pain Neuroimaging at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. “But depending on who you talk to, you’ll get different answers about whether they believe in specific acupuncture effects or if they think the role of placebo effect or expectancy made the difference.”
Napadow’s take: It’s not a panacea that will cure all ills, but there are some areas where acupuncture is promising and, given its safety profile, should be recommended. “I think its mechanisms depend on the disease it’s trying to treat,” he says.
For nausea- or pain-related conditions, acupuncture may activate nerve receptors in the skin that modulate levels of nervous system chemicals or signals involved in these ailments, he explains. Meanwhile, for conditions like arthritis or tendonitis, the micro-injuries caused by acupuncture pin pricks may draw blood and its healing elements to the affronted area—causing a temporary reduction in symptoms, he says.
But as of today, all these mechanisms are speculative and need to be confirmed by more research. There’s also debate over whether the stuff about qi or meridians is useful. Some studies that have compared sham acupuncture—basically, needles stuck in at random—to true acupuncture have failed to find a difference in patient outcomes, while others have concluded that legit acupuncture outperformed the sham procedure.
To sum all this up, everything to do with acupuncture is controversial. But for some conditions, the existing research suggests the practice may confer real and meaningful benefits.
“This is the area where we have the most data,” Napadow says. And the results are encouraging.
A comprehensive 2018 review found that, for patients managing chronic pain, acupuncture outperformed a sham procedure and “standard” care, which usually meant pain pills. “If our study had been on a drug, we’d say the drug works—there’s a statistically significant effect there,” says Andrew Vickers, first author of that study and a biostatistician at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
Vickers’ study focused on patients suffering from pain associated with four common ailments: back and neck pain, arthritis, shoulder pain, and headaches. Acupuncture was similarly effective for each of these conditions, his study found. Also, acupuncture’s benefits were durable: After a year of treatment, the average patient reported only a minor drop it its efficacy.
“It could be that acupuncture is just a very effective placebo,” Vickers says. But when you consider the lack of good treatment options for long-term pain—and the risks associated with prescription pain pills or surgeries—acupuncture is “a reasonable referral option” for patients with chronic pain, he says.
The evidence on acupuncture for gut problems is mixed. A 2017 study inAnnals of Internal Medicine found that, for patients suffering from severe constipation, acupuncture significantly outperformed a sham procedure when it came to improving the frequency of bowel movements. But more research is needed to assess the long-term effects of acupuncture, that study’s authors write.
Meanwhile, a 2013 review from a group of Chinese researchers found evidence that acupuncture may beat out some common prescription drugs for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). But the authors of that review say the studies they turned up were generally of “low” quality. A 2007 review from a German team linked acupuncture with significant improvements in quality of life and “disease activity scores” (a measure that determines whether symptoms have reduced) among patients with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis—the two most common forms of IBD. But the authors of that review say the studies they turned up were generally of “low” quality—meaning the design or execution of the studies was poor, and so the results are shaky.
Long story short, the jury’s still out.
Proponents of acupuncture have long recommended it for female menstrual health and fertility. And a 2014 research review from Australia found “preliminary” evidence that acupuncture could help regulate a woman’s menstrual cycle and “assist” healthy ovulation.
How (in the hell) could it do that? Some research has hypothesized that acupuncture may help stimulate and also regulate uterine and ovarian blood flow, which could help thicken the lining of a woman’s uterus, which in turn could facilitate embryo implantation and successful pregnancy. But all this is theoretical.
A 2018 study, also from Australia, tracked more than 800 women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF). It found no significant uptick in successful births among those who underwent acupuncture versus those who didn’t.
Again, the research is all over the map. A 2010 review found “insufficient” evidence backing acupuncture for the treatment of depression. But, more recently, a team of UK academics determined that there was “promising” clinical evidence showing acupuncture could help treat depression—enough to warrant further research.
It’s probably worth noting that, even when it comes to prescription antidepressants (namely, SSRIs), there’s considerable expert disagreement about whether these pills outperform placebos. While the data on acupuncture for the treatment of depression is inconsistent, some studies suggest it’s “at least” as effective as prescription drugs.
Pick a medical condition or mental health disorder, and there’s probably some evidence suggesting acupuncture may help treat it. But the reality is that, as of today, experts are still trying to wrap their heads around acupuncture and its role in medicine.
There are two things that can be said for acupuncture: It’s relatively inexpensive, and it comes with very few side effects, Napadow says. If the alternative is an expensive procedure or pills—especially opioids or other medications with serious side effects—you lose very little by giving acupuncture a try first, he adds.
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By Michelle Darrisaw
You may want to rethink hitting your snooze button in the morning. According to a new study, the time you decide to rise and shine could impact your overall mental and physical health.
Jacqueline Lane, an instructor of medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, recently conducted a sleep study and published her findings in the Nature Communicationsjournal. In an interview with TODAY, the professor revealed that early risers are essentially happier and healthier than nighthawks. Lane observed that those who wake up early have a specific genetic component that lowers their risk of developing depression and chronic illnesses.
“Individuals who tend to be happier tend to be morning-type individuals,” Lane said.
The population sample for the study was comprised of two groups: 250,000 people in the U.S. who used the DNA and ancestry services of biotech company, 23andMe and 450,000 people in the U.K. who enrolled in the biorepository Biobank across the pond. Lane and her team of researchers used sleep timing measures to evaluate circadian biology as it relates to genes.
They separated the group by those who identify as morning people and those who can’t pry themselves away from Netflix at night (or, ya know, just go to bed late in general). From there, Lane and her associates examined their genomes to determine the relationship between their genes and their preferred wake-up time and how it connects to their health. And what they found was pretty interesting.
“We show that being a morning person is causally associated with better mental health but does not affect body mass index or risk of Type 2 diabetes,” stated Lane in the study’s results.
“There is also a link between evening preference and a higher risk of schizophrenia (and depression),” she explained to TODAY.
But don’t think that just because you don’t hit the hay as soon as the sun goes down that you’re at risk for developing a mental health disorder.
“It is incredibly complicated,” she added. “The genetics about being a night owl is only part of it. It is more about environment, with living out of sync with your internal clock. Trying to change a night owl to a morning lark has serious health consequences.”
Still, Lane admitted more research needs to be done on how our genes are affected by our sleep cycles. However, it couldn’t hurt to set your alarm to get up a tad earlier.
“Understanding if you are a morning or evening person can really impact the schedule you choose,” Lane said. “It might determine when you choose activities or the timing of your meals.
So, now you know there’s a quasi-scientific reason why all the those morning people in your life tend to wake up so darned peppy.
In the quest for happiness, I have come to understand it as a fleeting emotion, as fluid as tidal waters. Rather than looking outward for nirvana, I should instead seek a better sense of self. In the end, I know for sure that the only measurement that matters is my own. I do not give myself permission to measure my worth against the earthly achievements of others; that is as superfluous as it is harmful.
I have walked through many passages of life and never have I met anyone who is completely and absolutely in a constant state of euphoria or happiness. That being said, I am blessed for having met a rare few who despite the noise of the world and the scars and blooms of their own experiences, are truly at one with themselves. It is they who find the closest state to pure bliss.
Every time I have met such a person, they seemed to have the same traits:
I hope I shall find this balance of the wisdoms one day.
From where I stand, those that deny the varied degrees of darkness that molest their minds and sometimes their very souls—always seeking a distant light, always measuring always desiring—make victims of themselves. There is that terrible saying that goes: “the happier my friends the more I die.” Trying to measure one’s happiness by the rule of others can be dangerous.
Most times the best of things are right there with us, if only we did less reaching out and more listening to the voice within.
I have come to believe that it is important to see happiness not as something that is an additional benefit but an inextricable part of existence; what we value and our values are often not the same thing. There is no constant state of mind.
Another’s perceived success should not be allowed to serve as the ultimate measure of our own worth or happiness! How would one really know what history remains in their quest? Do you know where the bones may lie, or what tears have fallen?
To my mind, any sense of enduring happiness is much more about benevolent values, things that don’t disarm or harm. A person’s fame or another’s wealth does not make him special, just different. I am different and unique and so are all others. Whether one is very public or considers themselves an unknown is of no real consequence.
Only you—and you alone—know who you really are. You have the power of self. Social measures are a man-made delusion. Social strata are pretty much medieval. Human knowledge: a knowledge of self and one’s effects upon others is what truly matters.
It is incredible how often we can watch without seeing, hear without listening, speak without reflection and judge without understanding. Blind assumption is the mother of all disaster. Space, reflection, and listening to the whispers of those who care as much as your own inner voice are your true and important companions.
The pursuit of happiness is like trying to catch feathers in the wind; it’s a whimsical folly and will not last forever. We will have many spikes and many valleys.
From the moment we have basic cognitive power we are taught how to react to and assimilate things. I have more chance to stay balanced, with less teetering—even in this world of uncontrollable wonders—if I listen to myself and am open to constant discovery. If I have the courage to reshape and to retreat, I can then spring forward with an open mind and spirit.
In the search to belong we are all too often lost while surrounded by many. Being part of the madding crowd is, I guess, a part of most of our lives and we have to deal with it. One can’t just simply get off the proverbial bus while it speeds along the motorway.
But that does not mean for one moment that you can’t step away from the invading noise. You’re only good to others when first you take care of yourself.
Search for the right thing—a sense of self and of things that you value that will keep you appeased even when outside conditions are rough. Perfection is best found in embracing our imperfections: We are none of us perfect but like an aged oak table: gnarled and blemished but still standing as something utterly specific.
Your sense of worth and your sense of self belong entirely to you. The only place to look for them is within. To search for these essential feelings is the most important work many of us will do, and a continual state of being. This is in and of itself a happy state.
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By Brian Bull
If you’re a beer aficionado who likes developing strength, flexibility, and a sense of well-being, you’ll want to roll out a mat at the annual KLCC Brewfest this weekend. KLCC’s Brian Bull reports on the trend of “beer yoga.”
The event is being coordinated by Stop, Drop, and Yoga, which already holds beer-yoga classes at the Public House in Springfield. Its lead instructor, Benjamin Wilkinson, says the concept is simple.
“It’s yoga plus beer,” he says, chuckling. “And traditionally we do the yoga first, then we drink the beer afterwards.
“However, the idea is to combine some of your favorite things. Adding yoga to a beer festival is just one more way to enjoy that festival.”
Wilkinson says there’s two beer-yoga sessions Saturday afternoon, and all are welcome regardless of experience.
“Come for the ‘ohm’, stay for the ale. But if you’re a lager fan, we don’t discriminate.”
As to what Wilkinson likes to drink after yoga?
“I’m a big fan of open fermented sours,” he tells KLCC.
“There’s nothing like a little mindfulness to put you in the place to drink and enjoy a complex and interesting beer.”
The sessions are free to all Brewfest participants.
Copyright 2019, KLCC.
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By Peter Bregman
A feeling of discomfort may mean that you’re on the right track.
It was the last race of the ski season. My son Daniel, 10 years old, was at the starting gate in his speed suit, helmet and goggles, waiting for the signal.
“3… 2… 1…” The gate keeper called out and he was gone in a flash, pushing off his ski poles to gain momentum. One by one, each gate smacked to the ground when he brushed by. As he neared the end, he crouched into an aerodynamic tuck to shave a few milliseconds from his time. He crossed the finish line —48.37 seconds after the start — breathing hard. We cheered and gave him hugs.
But he wasn’t smiling.
48.37 seconds put him solidly in the middle of the pack.
I had coaching ideas. Ways I could help him get faster. While I am an executive and leadership coach, I coach skiing on the weekends and I was a ski racer myself at his age. But I held back my feedback, hugged him again and told him I loved him. That’s what he needed in that moment.
Later though, I asked him how he felt about the race.
“I never get in the top 10.”
This is delicate terrain — coaching your own kids — and I chose my words carefully.
“I have two questions for you,” I said. “One: Do you want to do better?”
If the answer is “no,” then to attempt to coach would be a fool’s errand (a mistake I have made in the past).
“Yeah,” he said.
“Here’s my second question: Are you willing to feel the discomfort of putting in more effort and trying new things that will feel weird and different and won’t work right away?”
He was silent for a while and I let the silence just hang there. Silence is good. It’s the sound of thinking. And this was an important question for Daniel to think about.
I believe — and my experience coaching hundreds of leaders in hundreds of different circumstances proves — that anyone can get better at anything. But in order to get better — and in order to be coached productively — you need to honestly answer “yes” to both those questions.
Maybe you want to be a more inspiring leader. Or connect more with others. Maybe you want to be more productive or more influential. Maybe you want to be a better communicator, a more impactful presenter, or a better listener. Maybe you want to lead more effectively, take more risks, or become a stronger manager.
Whatever it is, you can become better at it. But here’s the thing I know just as clearly as I know you can get better at anything: you will not get better if 1) you don’t want to and 2) you aren’t willing to feel the discomfort of doing things differently.
One senior leader I worked with became defensive when people gave him feedback or criticized his decisions. He wanted to get better, he told me, and he was willing to feel the discomfort. So I gave him very specific instructions (learned from my friend Marshall Goldsmith): Meet with each member of your team and acknowledge that you have struggled with accepting feedback and tell them that you are committed to getting better. Then ask for feedback — especially ways you can be a better leader — and take notes. Don’t say anything other than “Thank you.”
“It took every restraint muscle in my body not to get into a conversation about their comments,” he told me afterwards. “Especially because I felt they misunderstood me at times. It was beyond uncomfortable. And I messed up a few times and had to apologize. But I did it — and they haven’t stopped talking about what a welcome change it’s been.”
Learning anything new is, by its nature, uncomfortable. You will need to act in ways that are unfamiliar. Take risks that are new. Try things that, in many cases, will be initially frustrating because they won’t work the first time. You are guaranteed to feel awkward. You will make mistakes. You may be embarrassed or even feel shame, especially if you are used to succeeding a lot — and all my clients are used to succeeding a lot.
If you remain committed through all of that, you’ll get better.
I now ask those two questions before committing to coach any CEO or senior leader. It’s a prerequisite to growth.
I sat silently with Daniel for long enough that I thought he might have forgotten my question. Sitting in the discomfort of that moment, I realized that this was a new behavior for me too. I’m used to jumping in and trying to help him. Now, I was sincerely asking him whether he wanted my help. I was honestly OK with whatever answer he gave me — and it felt a little weird. But the more I settled into the silence, the more comfortable I got with just sitting with him — which I found I loved doing.
Finally, he spoke up.
“I think so” he said, “but it’s the end of the season. Can we talk about it at the beginning of next season?”
“Sure,” I said, “I’ll ask you again then.”
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By Gustavo Razzetti
Our perception of life is a matter of perspective. We were taught that pessimists see the glass as half-empty while optimists see it as half-full.
I’ve always liked to challenge truisms— metaphors like this oversimplify life. It makes us approach optimism and pessimism as opposite and fixed concepts — you are forced to choose a side. Life is not static, but fluid. You can drink it down and then refill the glass.
Our society worships optimists and stigmatizes pessimists — people will like you or reject you depending on your view. However, this right or wrong approach is deceiving. Both optimism and pessimism have bright and dark sides — what you do matters more than how you see the glass.
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” — Oscar Wilde
Optimism wasn’t always the ruler. Historically, it was associated with simplistic and unrealistic people, especially in literature such as Porter’s “Pollyanna.” Psychologists, like Freud, dismissed it considering it ‘illusory denial.’
Since the 1960s, there’s been a change in sentiment supported by growing research that correlates positivity to being successful. Positivity became king and we, inadvertently, became its servants.
Many psychologists classify the population as predominantly optimistic — some claiming 80% of people are optimistic, others stating that 60% of us are somewhat optimistic. This seems an optimistic appraisal to me. Some experts agree — they believe that optimism itself may affect the validity of research on positivity.
Research shows that optimism is correlated with increased life expectancy, better health, increased success in academia, work, and sports, and greater chances of recovery from adversity. However, many experts think most studies can’t discriminate cause from effect. Does thinking positively make us healthier? Or is it that being healthier lead us to think positively?
Optimism is a broad personality trait — it makes us believe that good things will be plentiful in the future, and bad ones scarce. But, those who weren’t born on the right side, can they learn to be more optimistic?
This simple question creates many discrepancies. Some researchers believe that yes, we can. Others think that interventions don’t make us more optimistic but instead just reduce our pessimism.
“Optimism is not simply the absence of pessimism, and well-being is not simply the absence of helplessness.” — Christopher Peterson
Alison Ledgerwood doesn’t buy that most of us see the glass half-full — she believes that our perception of the world tends to lean toward negative thoughts.
Research by this social psychologist proposes a fixed approach to the glass dilemma. We either have a ‘gain’ or a ‘loss’ frame — we see the upside or the downside in things. Even worse, our mind gets stuck in the negative more than in the positive.
Ledgerwood and her colleague studied people’s reaction to a surgical procedure by testing both a bright and dark side approach. Participants who were told the surgery had a 70% success rate, reacted positively to the prospects of going through it. Conversely, those who were told the procedure had a failure rate of 30%, reacted negatively.
To challenge the initial reaction, the first group was afterward presented with the 30% failure rate and the second one with the 70% success rate. Surprisingly, the ones who originally reacted positively now had a negative view and the others didn’t change theirs — they continue to see the procedure as negative.
This exercise proved not only that positivity can be affected by negative information but, also, that our mind can get stuck in an initial pessimistic view.
But, can we switch from one frame to another?
Another study presented people with the same challenge: 600 lives are at stake. Only that one group was asked to focus on the lives that could be saved and others on the ones that could be lost. Though both had to do the same simple math calculation (600 -100=?), the group that had to convert losses to gains took almost twice the time to get to the result than the other.
We tend to tilt toward the negative, according to Ledgerwood. We need to work harder to recover from negative views — to see the glass half-full requires an extra effort.
So, who’s right? Are we mostly optimistic? Or do we lean towards negativity? Maybe both.
“What day is it?” asked Pooh.
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.”
― A.A. Milne
Seeing the glass-half-full has many benefits, but there’s a downside that most optimists miss.
Optimists pay less attention to detail and fail to seek new information to challenge their rosy views leading to poor decisions. That explains why many hiring decisions go wrong. Recruiters favor candidates who look more excited and enthusiastic — both indicators of optimistic employees.
The Optimism Bias is one of the two key factors why we inaccurately calculate big projects — we tend to underestimate both time and cost. Some Governments, like the British, are now adding an extra percentage by default to offset overly positive estimations.
According to Tali Sharot, a London professor of cognitive neuroscience, 80% of us suffer from the Optimism Bias — we overestimate the likelihood of experiencing good events and underestimate the likelihood of experiencing negative events.
How do you choose your credit card? Most people prefer a low annual fee to a high APR even though they regularly fail to clear their balances. The smaller fee is deceiving — optimists act as is they would never need the credit but end paying much more in interests
“We are more optimistic than realistic, but we are oblivious to the fact.” — Tali Sharot
Interestingly enough, as Sharot explains in this entertaining talk, we are more optimistic about ourselves and families, but not so optimistic about others, including our own country.
Positive people overestimate their abilities. When it comes to driving style, smarts, honesty, and modesty — to name a few — most of us believe we fare better than the rest. And consider ourselves above average. However, that’s statically impossible — we cannot all be better than everyone else.
That’s why most warning signs fail to change behavior. People agree that smoking kills, but they believe it will harm others, not them. Seeing the glass half-full creates an unrealistic view. Protect yourself from the dark side of optimism, but remain hopeful.
“The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.” ― James Branch Cabell
Trying too hard to have an optimistic look can make you miserable, Oliver Burkeman explains in his book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.
There’s a difference between being pessimistic and facing the facts. That’s what Burkeman discovered after speaking to countless psychologists, life coaches, and other experts. He invites us to challenge the assumptions and oversimplified advice regarding positive thinking.
Burkeman coined the term ‘the negative path to happiness,’ which requires, instead of trying to be always overly positive, to turn toward uncertainty and insecurity, even pessimism — to find a different way that might be more durable and successful.
Multiple research has shown that optimism has a dark side too. Not only it can lead to poor outcomes, but it makes us underestimate risks or take less action. For example, positive affirmation might work for positive people but have detrimental consequences for those with low self-esteem — they result in worse moods.
By making optimism king, we’ve stigmatized pessimism — it has become the demonized opposite end of optimism.
Pessimism is not uni-dimensional with optimism but a separate construct — it doesn’t always have the negative outcomes that juxtapose it with optimism’s positive ones. Also, sometimes, pessimism pays off.
Defensive Pessimist is a particular type of pessimist that takes negative thinking to a whole new level. It’s a strategy that helps people reduce their anxiety— it drives focus rather than avoidance.
That’s why some pessimism comes handy from time to time.
“Most people have the will to win, few have the will to prepare to win.” — Bob Knight
The defensive pessimist focuses on the worst-case scenario — s/he identifies and takes care of things that optimists miss. This approach can help us better prepare for events that are out of our full control such as a job interview.
Also, this approach is very effective to boost confidence. A study showed how college students experienced significantly higher levels of self-confidence by embracing a defensive pessimist approach — their self-esteem rosed to similar levels of the optimists is nearly four years.
In The Power of Negative Thinking, former basketball coach Bob Knight — who has over 900 wins — believes that victory goes to the team that makes the fewest mistakes. His approach aims to prevent mistakes — it encourages players to focus on the negative, not positive. Recognizing the team’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities becomes a call to action.
Optimism and pessimism are not antagonist concepts but rather the two sides of the same coin — we need both to live a more balanced life.
“Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact.” — Henry James
Do you see the glass-half-full or half-empty?
Binary questions limit how we see life by forcing us to choose one option. To escape this trap, we must unask the question, as I wrote here. Rather than choosing one or the other, how can we integrate both?
Labels get us stuck
Calling people — yourself included — either optimistic or pessimist gets them stuck. It forces us to adopt one view rather than switching between them as necessary.
Being a pessimist isn’t necessarily bad — it’s what you do with that pessimism that matters. When you overplay either a positive or negative view, that’s when you limit your possibilities.
Integrate both negativity and positivity
A positive approach to life is not just about seeing only the bright side but accepting the two sides — both optimism and pessimism have advantages and disadvantages.
Positive thinking encourages us to take needed risks and expand our horizons. But it also leads us to ignore life’s dangers or exaggerate our own capabilities. Negative thinking can be detrimental when it takes over and darkens how we see the world. But a little bit of worry and doubt can keep you on your toes — a dose of “defensive pessimism” can help you neutralize the optimism bias.
Life is fluid — empty the glass (and fill it again)
A positive life is more about what we do than the labels we wear.
As positive psychologist Suzanne Segerstrom said, “Optimists are happy and healthy not because of who they are but because of how they act.”
In philosophy, Meliorism is a concept which drives our ability to improve the world through alteration — we can produce outcomes that are considered better than the original phenomenon.
Meliorism doesn’t mean ignoring the world’s evils. But to accept life’s setbacks as challenges to overcome. This joie de vivre energizes us — it boosts our desire and enthusiasm. Rather than observing if the glass is half-full or empty, we learn to enjoy it. We drink life and then find ways to refill it.
Pessimists complain that the world is hard; optimists see the bright side and ignore real challenges — they expect positive thinking will change things for the better. Negativity reminds of us being realistic; positivity gives us hope — we need both.
Our actions, not perception, help us improve the world. Idealizing things is avoidance. The same with being negative. Life is not easy — focusing on your progress will keep you motivated. You must recover the joy and pleasure in doing the work.
Enjoy the glass — what you do with it matters more than how you see the glass.
This article first appeared on Medium.
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By Dave Stropera
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By Sarah Garone
How do you answer when someone asks, “What are your hobbies?” Playing guitar, competing in triathlons, decorating show-stopping cakes? As it turns out, engaging in a hobby means more than just having something to chat about at parties or fill your Saturdays with. Research shows that keeping up with the activities that interest us actually has measurable benefits for mental health.
Wondering how your knitting project or instrument practice could bring you peace of mind? We chatted with Dr. Daniel Levitin, neuroscientist, musician, and consultant for Fender’s guitar-learning app Fender Play about various ways investing in a hobby enriches the life of the mind.
Many hobbies are inherently creative. Whether you’re painting, woodworking, or baking muffins, you’re not only producing something that never existed before, you’re engaging the creative network of your brain. Creative pursuits are experimental acts, says Dr. Levitin: “These acts of experimentation expand the neural networks in our brains, making connections between circuits in the brain that might not have otherwise been connected.” This type of neural linking-up boosts mood in a measurable way. It actually modulates levels of the feel-good hormones dopamine and opioids in the brain, says Dr. Levitin. And although popular perception tends to associate “creative types” with mental illness, research indicates that imaginative pursuits are actually restorative for mental health.
While engaged in a creative hobby, you may also find yourself in a mental state known as “flow.” Described by psychologist Mihály Csikszentmihályi, the concept of “flow” is sometimes better known as getting “in the zone.” It occurs when you’re engaged in an activity to the point of almost meditative focus. Ever find that when you sit down to or scrapbook or play piano, your mind doesn’t even wander? That’s flow. Getting into this focused state promotes mindfulness, known for its positive effects on stress and anxiety.
When your self-image needs a pick-me-up, you might typically take to social media to rack up likes on a cute photo or funny meme. But for better results, try diving into your favorite hobby. Spending time on your own leisure pursuit is a self-care gift you give yourself — and some hobbies result in actual gifts you can give others. Taking pride in a handmade card or blessing friends with your musical talents could go a long way toward boosting your good vibes.
Hobbies also serve to keep the blues away by helping us hone valuable expertise. Maybe your years of dabbling in web design could lead you to teach a class on it, or perhaps your persistence with running has helped you place in your most recent competitive 5K. This type of skills mastery has been associated with reduced psychological distress. Tellingly, a survey conducted by Fender found that people who played guitar as a hobby had “increased patience, confidence in self and skills, work ethic and persistence.” Sounds like devoting time to improving a skill could make you feel like a rockstar (even if you’re not playing guitar).
A number of hobbies are meant to be performed in a group, or lend themselves well to collaborating with others. Picking up a new pastime can be a great way to meet new people and establish friendships. Shared experiences enhance our enjoyment of activities and help us to feel less isolated. Dr. Levitin confirms this phenomenon: “People who play music together experience increased levels of oxytocin, a hormone that promotes social relationships and bonding.” So if you’re looking for the best hobby for your mental well-being, try something interactive, like joining a band or improv group.
With some hobbies, of course, it’s natural to fly solo. (Let’s be honest, it’s a little difficult to do sudoku in a group.) But even your solo pursuits make you a more diverse and interesting person — qualities that attract social engagement.
Finally, hobbies simply give us a break we can look forward to. Creative hobbies in particular “are the perfect antidote to high-stress jobs of multitasking and computer-based work,” says Dr. Levitin. (We’d argue that physical hobbies are too!) Turning to something non-work-related allows us to “hit the reset button in the brain, replenishing neurochemicals in the brain that have been depleted by a few hours of high-stress work,” he says.
As long as you enjoy your hobby, it really doesn’t matter what it is. Research shows that both physical health and mental health benefit when we use our leisure time for something constructive but fun. So whether it’s continuing your lifelong love affair with soccer or picking up the guitar for the first time, maybe it’s time to make your favorite hobby a priority.
My friend Avi is a great barber. His customers, myself included, refer to his golden hands — his ability to satisfy my son’s desire to look like Ronaldo, or a woman’s desire before her daughter’s wedding to look like Grace Kelly. Putting his phenomenal skills together with his sound business sense, Avi could have easily expanded his business far beyond his little salon.
So I asked him one day why he chose not to grow his business by adding a bigger place in a more central location in the city, or by opening other branches. Avi said he’d thought about it several times but in the end decided against it: “I asked myself, is this something I really want, or is it something others think I should do?” He went on to describe the can-must link that’s so pervasive in our culture: the belief that if you can grow, you must grow. But why?
Avi explained that over a decade ago, he understood that no matter how much he had — a bigger house, a faster car, a fatter bank account — he would always want more. He could choose to continue in the rat race and never satisfy his desires, or he could stop the race and be satisfied with what he had. He went on to quote a Jewish source, the Chapters of the Fathers: “Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot.”
Cutting hair in his small salon gives Avi the emotional gratification no amount of money could buy. His daily experiences were worth more than all of the gold in Fort Knox because happiness, not wealth or prestige, is the ultimate currency.
What, for you, is worth all of the gold in Fort Knox? Can you envision something in your life that would provide you with an abundance of happiness? To identify sources of the ultimate currency in your life, follow these four steps:
For a week (or two), keep a record of your daily activities. Throughout the day, write down how you’ve spent your time, from a twenty-minute session responding to e-mails to a night of binge-watching TV. This record doesn’t need to be a precise, minute-by-minute account of your day, but it should give you a sense of what your days tend to look like.
Once your activity list is complete, create a table that lists each activity, how much meaning and pleasure the activity provides, and how long you typically spend doing it. Indicate whether you’d like to spend more or less time on each activity by adding a “+” for more time or a “++” for a lot more time. If you’d like to spend less time on the activity, put a “−” next to it; for a lot less time, write “−−.” If you’re satisfied with time you’re investing in a particular activity, or if changing the amount of time you spend isn’t possible for one reason or another, add an “=” next to it.
Which of your activities provide the most happiness in the least about of time? Are there things you don’t do now, but would yield significant profits in the ultimate currency? Would going to the movies once a week contribute to your well-being? Would it make you happier to devote four hours a week to your favorite charity and to work out three times a week? If you have many constraints and can’t introduce significant changes, make the most of what you have.
What happiness boosters — brief activities that provide both meaning and pleasure –could you introduce into your life? If your commute to work is a drag but is unavoidable, try to infuse it with meaning and pleasure. For instance, you could listen to audio books or your favorite music for part of the ride. Alternatively, take the train and use the time to read. Then, as much as possible, ritualize these changes.
One of the many lessons I learned from my barber is that material wealth is not a prerequisite for the ultimate currency, and that dollars and cents are no substitute for meaning and pleasure. As the psychologist Carl Jung once said, “The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.”