Taghappiness

Is Being Spiritual But Not Religious Dangerous To Your Mental Health?

A recent paper published in The British Journal of Psychiatry looks at surveys of 7,400 people in the United Kingdom for links between mental health and religiousness and spirituality. I could only find the abstract online, but Mark Vernon (a former priest turned agnostic Christian journalist) wrote about the paper for The Guardian here.

Vernon focused on the paper’s finding that spiritual but not religious people are more prone to . But there were two other unusual findings:

-Non-spiritual, non-religious people were no more likely to have mental health disorders, other than heavy drinking (the abstract notes that they also are more likely to have tried drugs, but doesn’t indicate that they are more likely to have developed a habitual drug habit). This conflicts with previous studies that assumed that religion was a key part of happiness.

-According to Vernon’s write-up, non-spiritual, non-religious people tended not to have education beyond secondary school, challenging previous findings that atheists are more intelligent (or perhaps the assumption that intelligent people go to university).

Vernon concludes that churches in Britain should do a better job of reaching spiritual people who don’t have religious affiliations. He’s holding on to the idea that religion can treat mental health issues, but I think he’s reading too much into the study. First of all, it will need to be repeated and compared with other studies with conflicting results. Second, it’s not clear that religiosity is what “healed” anyone — correlation vs. causation and all that. But it does lend some credence to concerns about religious practices being taken out of context.

Is Getting Paid to Do What You Love All It’s Cracked Up to Be?

Drawing on stairs

David McRaney writes:

The Misconception: There is nothing better in the world than getting paid to do what you love.

The Truth: Getting paid for doing what you already enjoy will sometimes cause your love for the task to wane because you attribute your motivation as coming from the reward, not your internal feelings.

If you pay people to complete puzzles instead of paying them for being smart, they lose interest in the game. If you pay children to draw, fun becomes work. Payment on top of compliments and other praise and feeling good about personal achievement are powerful motivators, but only if they are unexpected. Only then can you continue to tell the story that keeps you going; only then can you still explain your motivation as coming from within.

Consider the story you tell yourself about why you do what you do for a living. How vulnerable is that tale to these effects?

You Are Not So Smart: The Overjustification Effect

Interesting stuff. I wonder if this is part of why self-employed people are happier even though self-employment is far more stressful than working for hire?

(Photo by Bo Nielsen)

The Neuroscience of Depression – And What to Do About It

Meditation

Math for Primates co-host Nick Horton wrote a personal post on how he manages his depression. Here’s a bit on the neuroscience of depression:

The Prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain that deals with (among other things) the regulation of mood states. If it is atrophied, then your ability to deal with these tasks gets downgraded. This becomes particularly problematic given that without the prefrontal cortex running at full speed, you can’t dampen the negative emotions generated by the Amygdala. The amygdala is that part of your brain that deals with Fight or Flight responses. It is your brains Fear Factory. To add fuel to the fire, in depressed people the amygdala tends to be overactive.

Think of the Amygdala and the prefrontal cortex as the brains Yin and Yang. You need both to be strong and healthy to have a strong healthy brain that is in balance. Depressed folk ain’t in balance. Generally, the prefrontal cortex is responsible for saying, “Hey, Amygdala, I got your message. We’re cool here. No need to freak out, dude!” But, when your brain is broke (like mine), you can be flooded with negative emotional responses that can result in despair and overwhelming helplessness.

The Iron Samurai: Managing Depression With Weightlifting? Or, How You Feel Is A Lie

I found this part interesting as well:

Depression is so debilitating precisely because of the trick your mind plays on you. It tricks you into believing that how you feel is valid. This sparks a downward spiral of sadness that makes life impossible. The more you play into its tricks, the harder it gets to drag yourself out of it.

It gave me an idea. People of above average intelligent are known to be prone to depression, right? Could it be because smart people are better at finding reasons to be depressed, locking themselves into this downward spiral? Could people of average or less intelligence be better at talking themselves out of being depressed? I’m not sure how to test this hypothesis.

Does Religion Make People Happier – Or Conformity?

A couple months ago I linked to a story about the happiest guy in the world. One of the ways this was calculated was based on religion – religious people are typically assumed to be the happier than non-religious people. And apparently religious Jews are expected to be happiest of all.

But are religious people actually happier? According to Nigel Barber, an evolutionary psychologist, that might not be the case. Barber writes:

Much of the research linking religiosity and happiness was conducted in the U.S. where more religious people are slightly happier. Researchers saw this as evidence for the universal benefits of religion (a perspective that interests evolutionary psychologists like myself because it helps explain why religion is so common around the globe). Yet, there is no association between religiousness and happiness in either Denmark or the Netherlands (3).

Why the difference? Religious people are in the majority in the U.S., but in a minority in Denmark and the Netherlands. Feeling part of the mainstream may be comforting whereas being in the minority is potentially stressful. Ethnic minorities around the world tend to have higher blood pressure, for example – this being a reliable index of stress.

If religion contributes to happiness, then the most religious countries should be happiest. Yet, the opposite is true.

Psychology Today: Does religion make people happier?

Could it be then that the level of happiness enjoyed by religious people in the U.S. is a result of conformity, rather than religion itself? If that were the case, we should expect religious people in more secular countries, controlled for income, to be less happy than non-religious people in those countries. Is this the case?

Here’s a recent ranking of the top 10 happiest countries in the world.

Commuting is Making Us Fat and Miserable

traffic jam

People who commute more than 45 minutes a day are more likely to get divorced, according to a Swedish study. And that’s just one of many studies indicating that commuting ruins lives that Slate’s Annie Lowrey shares in a recent story on the subject. “The joy of living in a big, exurban house, or that extra income leftover from your cheap rent? It is almost certainly not worth it,” she writes.

Long commutes are associated with neck and back pain, high levels of stress, obesity and a high level of dissatisfaction with one’s life and work.

Despite everything, commuting time has only increased over the past 50 years. The number of “extreme commuters,” who commute 90 minutes each way, has doubled since 1990 to 3.5 million. Why? The number one reason seems to be housing costs. People tend to want to buy larger houses, even if that adds significant time to their commute. According to Lowrey, economists have been warning us since at least the 60s that we tend not to take the value of our time into account when we buy houses far from work.

It’s not always that easy, though. I don’t own a home, so I have more flexibility in where I live. But back when I was doing IT contracting I would work in one place for a couple-few months, then move on to the next gig. I worked in one northwestern suburb of Portland (Hillsboro) for six months, then in a southwestern suburb for 3 or 4 months (Tualitin) and then in a northeastern suburb (Gresham) for a month or so. Eventually I found a full-time job in the city. I could have tried moving closer to that workplace, but my wife worked on the other side of town. And really, I could have been laid off at any time and had to start commuting to another corner of the metro area. Living centrally (close-in southeast) helped – my commute was never more than about 45 minutes (by car) each way. But not everyone can live in the middle of a city.

Slate: Your Commute Is Killing You.

(photo by epSos.de)

Top 5 Most Common Regrets of the Dying

Bonnie Ware spent many years working in palliative care, nursing patients in the final weeks of their lives. She shares what she says were the five most common regrets of the dying.

Dying by Alex Grey

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard. (“This came from every male patient that I nursed,” Ware wrote).

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Bonnie Ware: Regrets of the Dying

The Most Anxiety-Producing Jobs Are Those In Which the Workers Have Little Control Over Their Day to Day Activities

Salon interviewed Taylor Clark, author of Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool:

In your research, which jobs did you find to be the most stressful?

You might think that jobs that require the biggest amount of work or the longest hours would be the worst, but that’s not actually the case. The most anxiety-producing jobs are the ones in which the employee has very little control over what he or she does during the workday. One of the more compelling studies that I talk about in the book compares musicians in smaller, chamber groups with those that play in a larger orchestra. The former proved to be a lot less anxious than the latter because they got to decide their own schedule. Orchestral musicians tend to be at the mercy of a tyrannical conductor who decides when they play, what they play and when everyone can take a bathroom break. The notion of executive stress syndrome — the idea that bosses and corporate executives experience much higher levels of anxiety than their underlings — has proven to be total bullshit. Executives tend to have more control over what they’re doing, and they often displace their anxieties on the people that work beneath them.

So a run-of-the-mill production assistant is more stressed out than an air traffic controller?

We love to point a finger at air traffic controllers, but we may need to stop. Objectively speaking, their job has gotten more stressful in the last quarter-century. There are fewer of them employed now and they’re dealing with more traffic than at any point in the history of air travel. The difference is that Ned Reese, who headed the training for our country’s air traffic controllers for a number of years, has completely radicalized the selection process. Rather than pick people based on their physical proficiency, he began hiring controllers with a very a specific psychological makeup. We might see their work as stressful, but they tend to think of it as simply challenging.

Salon: “Nerve”: Why is America so anxious?

(via Alex Pang)

More Happiness and Longevity Research: Working During Retirement is Good for You?

Slate has some coverage of the Longevity Project, a decades long research project tracking the lives of geniuses. This could just be propaganda to make us happier about the fact that many of us will never be able to retire, but it makes sense. I don’t want to spend my golden years eating TV dinners and watching Jeopardy reruns.

Retirement is usually seen as the severing of oneself from the work of a lifetime. Friedman, who is 60, dislikes this notion, and from his research he’s come to believe such an attitude is bad both for society and individuals. Of course, for those in miserable work situations, a departure can mean liberation. But most of the Terman males (given the attitudes of the times, far fewer of the women Termites worked) had solid, sometimes even exceptional careers. Interviews done with successful Termites in their 70s, several of them lawyers, showed a striking number continued to work part time.

For those who contemplate retirement as decades filled with leisure and relaxation, The Longevity Project serves as a warning. As Friedman says, “fun can be overrated” and stress can be unfairly maligned. Many study participants who lived vigorously into old age had highly stressful jobs. Physicist Norris Bradbury, who died at age 88, succeeded J. Robert Oppenheimer as director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, overseeing the transition of the U.S. atomic weapons research lab from World War II into the Cold War.

Slate: Don’t Stop Working!

(via Alex Pang)

After Middle Age, People Get Happier As They Get Older

U-Curve

Via the MetaFilter discussion on the happiest man in America:

Ask a bunch of 30-year-olds and another of 70-year-olds as Peter Ubel, of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, did with two colleagues, Heather Lacey and Dylan Smith, in 2006 which group they think is likely to be happier, and both lots point to the 30-year-olds. Ask them to rate their own well-being, and the 70-year-olds are the happier bunch. The academics quoted lyrics written by Pete Townshend of The Who when he was 20: “Things they do look awful cold / Hope I die before I get old”. They pointed out that Mr Townshend, having passed his 60th birthday, was writing a blog that glowed with good humour.

Mr Townshend may have thought of himself as a youthful radical, but this view is ancient and conventional. The “seven ages of man”—the dominant image of the life-course in the 16th and 17th centuries—was almost invariably conceived as a rise in stature and contentedness to middle age, followed by a sharp decline towards the grave. Inverting the rise and fall is a recent idea. “A few of us noticed the U-bend in the early 1990s,” says Andrew Oswald, professor of economics at Warwick Business School. “We ran a conference about it, but nobody came.”

Since then, interest in the U-bend has been growing. Its effect on happiness is significant—about half as much, from the nadir of middle age to the elderly peak, as that of unemployment. It appears all over the world. David Blanchflower, professor of economics at Dartmouth College, and Mr Oswald looked at the figures for 72 countries. The nadir varies among countries—Ukrainians, at the top of the range, are at their most miserable at 62, and Swiss, at the bottom, at 35—but in the great majority of countries people are at their unhappiest in their 40s and early 50s. The global average is 46.

The Economist: Age and happiness: The U-bend of life

The Importance of Solitude

Fortress of Solitude

“There’s so much cultural anxiety about isolation in our country that we often fail to appreciate the benefits of solitude,” said Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist at New York University whose book “Alone in America,” in which he argues for a reevaluation of solitude, will be published next year. “There is something very liberating for people about being on their own. They’re able to establish some control over the way they spend their time. They’re able to decompress at the end of a busy day in a city…and experience a feeling of freedom.” [...]

With his graduate adviser and a researcher from the Forest Service at his side, Long identified a number of different ways a person might experience solitude and undertook a series of studies to measure how common they were and how much people valued them. A 2003 survey of 320 UMass undergraduates led Long and his coauthors to conclude that people felt good about being alone more often than they felt bad about it, and that psychology’s conventional approach to solitude — an “almost exclusive emphasis on loneliness” — represented an artificially narrow view of what being alone was all about.

“Aloneness doesn’t have to be bad,” Long said by phone recently from Ouachita Baptist University, where he is an assistant professor. “There’s all this research on solitary confinement and sensory deprivation and astronauts and people in Antarctica — and we wanted to say, look, it’s not just about loneliness!”

Boston Globe: The power of lonely

(via Andrew McAfee)

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