Breathe and Smile

Breathe & Smile - Find Happiness

You can scroll the shelf using and keys

#Happiness is about how we relate to each other.

January 28, 2013 1 Comment

The Happy Movie, Breathe & Smile

By Roko Belic, Creative Activist Member, Creative Visions Foundation

A dirt poor rickshaw puller in a slum in India once told me that he was the luckiest person alive. His hut was made out of bamboo sticks and plastic tarps, with raw sewage trickling out front, but still, Manoj Singh said he was happy, very happy, in fact. Though sometimes he only had only a few bowls of rice to feed his family, he said “I feel that I am not poor, but I am the richest person in the world.”

How could this be? I have friends who can become unhappy by bad cell phone reception or a delayed flight.

For the past six years I have been working on a documentary film about happiness called Happy. The idea came from my friend Tom Shadyac, a filmmaker who had achieved great commercial success with hits like Bruce AlmightyLiar Liar and The Nutty Professoramong others. Tom had read an article that compared countries in terms of happiness, and the gist was that while America is one of the richest countries, we are nowhere near the happiest. Tom knew quite well what it was like to have money but not be happy, as he had noticed how much happier his gardener and his housekeeper were than the millionaire movie stars and producers that he worked with every day. So Tom suggested we make a documentary exploring happiness, to discover its true causes.

I have long considered myself to be a lucky person, but spending six years focused on happiness for this film has been even more rewarding than I could have imagined. One of my most profound experiences occurred when I spoke with one of the leading researchers of happiness in the world, Ed Diener, at the University of Illinois. He told me that a person’s values are among the best predictors of their happiness. People who value money, power, fame and good looks are less likely to be happy than people who value compassion, cooperation and a willingness to make the world a better place. That astounded me — but it somehow made sense. People who express their love — who rejoice in the health and happiness of others — are more likely to feel loved and happy themselves.

I was well on my way to finding the keys to happiness when I got a very upsetting phone call. One of my best friends, a reporter for the New York Times, had been kidnapped in Iraq. It was around the time that beheading was becoming popular, and we didn’t know if he was alive or dead.

I started to wonder about my own life and how I was spending it. Was I doing as much as I could be doing? While I was exploring existential questions about the meaning of life, sitting for months in a comfy editing suite, my friend was risking his life to tell the stories of people whose voices would otherwise not be heard. He was putting everything on the line to try to make the world a better place. Was I living my life with as much courage?

But in the course of making my happiness film, I learned something simple but completely illuminating. Research showed that just about all happy people have strong relationships. They are healthier and have happier children. They are more likely to find a creative solution to a problem and to help a stranger in need. Happy people have fewer conflicts and are less likely to commit crimes, pollute the environment or go to war. In other words, just about everything I cared about, everything I wished I could change in the world, was improved with being happy. So although my job was much safer than my friend’s, I realized we were working toward the same goals — to improve the world in which we live. On one of the happiest days of my life, my friend called from Iraq to tell me what had happened: he had been kidnapped and nearly killed but he had survived.

So now my film takes on new meaning. I am striving for nothing less than to change the world with it. Thankfully, I have some help — a lot of it. With happiness being good for everyone, it’s no surprise why a happiness movement has begun. A field of science called “positive psychology” has sprung up. Countless books and magazine articles are now being written about happiness, and every day it seems there is another website or blog dedicated to exploring or promoting happiness.

I asked Ed Diener if there is a single key to happiness, a secret happy ingredient that every happy person in the world possesses. He said that the formula is different for everyone, but the one constant is good relationships. He said every happy person he’s studied in over three decades of research had someone to love and someone to be loved by.

When I asked Manoj Singh, the rickshaw puller, what enabled him to be so happy, despite the grinding poverty that surrounds him he pointed straight to his family. “When I return home and see my son waiting for me, and when he calls out to me ‘Baba!’ I am full of joy.”

The greatest lesson I learned while making this film is that my pursuit of happiness is not about me. It’s about our relationships and how we help each other. It’s about us.

Roko Belic is a Creative Activist Member at Creative Visions Foundation ( Please visit for more information on the film.




5 Gifts You Can Give and Receive Today

January 1, 2013

Welcome to the new year.  May it be your best ever.

by Lori Deschene

“Each day comes bearing its own gifts. Untie the ribbons.”  ~Ruth Ann Schabacker

Regardless of what holiday you celebrate, or how you honor it, there’s no denying this is an emotionally loaded time of year.

We either remind ourselves how grateful we are for all the people we love, or we remember how much it hurts that we don’t have people like that in our lives.

We either celebrate all our blessings, or we look toward the year to come, wondering if we’ll have more then.

You may find yourself reflecting on last Christmas in awe of how much has changed for the better in just one year’s time.

Or you may look back on the last twelve months wistfully, wishing things could be the way they were.

We’ll all experience the holiday season in many different ways over the course of our lives.

Whatever your unique situation this year—whether you’re in a growth cycle or working through feelings of loss—you have a lot to give and receive.


1. Your breath.

It’s one of those things we take for granted—the air that gives us life. We don’t even need to think about breathing; we do it automatically.

Clearly we can appreciate that our breath sustains us, but it can do so much more. When we focus on breathing deeply, it can ground us, calm us, detoxify us, and even heal us.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Look at your hands, your feet, the tip of your nose. Fully inhabit your body. You’re here. You’re alive.

2. Your freedom.

I write this knowing this may not be true of everyone, but I’m willing to bet most of us have our freedom.

Most of us can choose what we do today. We can choose what we think, where we go, who we surround ourselves with, and whether or not we allow ourselves to appreciate what’s in front of us. It’s not a question of whether we have freedom; it’s a question of whether we’ll use it.

3. Your senses.

The smell of warm pie, which evokes something visceral from happy childhood memories. The crisp air that makes you feel alert and alive. The full blend of voices harmonizing holiday songs.

We have the capacity to perceive and feel so much. Fully experience it all. Let yourself breathe it in. See it, hear it, taste it—live it.

4. Opportunities for connection.

Whether we spend the day with family, friends, or acquaintances that have yet to become them, we all have the opportunity to really connect with the people in front of us.

We can open up, invite them to do the same, and remind each other that we are part of something greater than ourselves.

5. Lessons for growth.

Every day teaches us something that can help us going forward. If we’re self-aware and open, we can learn about ourselves, who we want to be, how we want to live, and what we need to do to facilitate that.

Whether it’s a laid back, relaxing day, or a challenging, stressful day, take something from this experience that will guide you on the journey ahead.


1. Your attention.

As adults, we often rush children to get to their point, when sometimes they’re just excited to have the spotlight. It’s not about finishing their story; it’s about their joy in getting to share it without interruptions.

We still want and need that as grown-ups, and we’re always grateful to receive it. Listening fullybeats a sweater any day.

2. Your appreciation.

Everyone enjoys a compliment. That might mean praising someone’s stuffing or festive shirt, but I’ve found the most gratifying compliments are the ones that come from thoughtful observation.

It’s recognizing someone’s consistently upbeat nature, or how often they try when others would give up. It’s noticing the things we all want others to recognize, but fear that maybe they don’t.

3. Your acceptance.

There may be some people in your life you simply don’t understand. Try as you may, you just don’t get why they do what they do.

We should never tolerate being mistreated; we need to set boundaries to take care of ourselves. But once we’ve done that, we can then choose to accept people for who they are.

We can focus on the things we can control—our choices and responses—and then release the need to push others to change.

When we treat people how we want to be treated, we not only treat them with care; we also show them how it’s done.

4. Your forgiveness.

The other day I found a quote by Henry Ward Beecher that read: “I can forgive but I cannot forget is only another way of saying ‘I don’t forgive.’” I disagree.

We need to remember so we can learn and make smart decisions in the future. But that doesn’t mean we can’t fully feel compassion, release our anger, and free ourselves from the pain of bitterness and resentment.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: No one gets to the end of their life and says, “I wish I stayed angry longer.” One day, you’ll know it’s time to let go. Why not make that time now?

5. Your light.

Somewhere underneath all our fears, insecurities, and hurts, we each have a light.

Those lights may actually be brighter because of the darkness we’ve experienced, but in order to access them now, we need to take a deep breath and see beyond all the weight we carry around.

We need to clear our heads and hearts of worries and gripes and choose to be fully where we are.

We are all worthy, beautiful, and valuable to the world around us. Believe it and then act on it by doing something from your heart.

Even it’s something small—especially if it’s something small. Every tiny act of love and kindness makes the world a better place.

I’d appreciate the gift of your thoughts! Leave a comment and let me know if there’s anything you’d add to the lists. :)

Finding happiness in five easy lessons

November 1, 2012

By Ina Hughs

Some 30 years ago, Robert Fulghum made a name for himself by saying everything he really needed to know he learned in kindergarten:

Share everything. Play Fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. Cookies and a nap after lunch.

Unfortunately, those inclinations and habits too often get rooted out of us by the time we’re on our own in the real world.

The current issue of Psychology Today seeks to add scientific validity to this kind of simplified road map to happiness in an article they push as “Life Lessons: 5 Truths People Learn Too Late.”

All the artwork with the article features babies and toddlers who haven’t even been to kindergarten to learn what Fulghum learned, but who just the same come into the world gung-ho ready for happiness, eager to explore ways of being. The article says the most important lessons in life are:

Lesson No. 1: The role of radical acceptance, which, translated into lay terms, means accepting people as they are, appreciating their strengths, making peace with their foibles, and if you try to “fix” anybody, make it yourself.Lesson No. 2: The beauty of benign neglect, which psychologists who study such things explain by telling us it is more harmful to over-parent than to under-parent. The trend among many young parents today is to run interference for their children, to co-pilot their way through life.

Lesson No. 3: Opposites don’t forever attract, which the article fleshes out by saying relationships last longer and go deeper when your mate’s background and values echo your own.

Lesson No. 4: Social networking matters, because, as the article puts it rather graphically, “low levels of social interaction have the same effects as smoking 15 cigarettes a day — and worse effects than being obese or not exercising.”

Lesson No. 5: Lust diminishes, but love remains. Well, duh. But try telling that to a swooning teenager.

People have always looked for those quick-fix slogans, the cross-stitched proverb, bumper-sticker zingers that define happiness or the world as it should be. Card bins in the drugstore are full of calligraphy summing up every moment, from birth until death.

We tear out and put on our fridge and under the glass on our desktops bits and pieces of wisdom and advice shrunk into a short, crisp litany. The two I have on mine at the moment are: “Take a deep breath. You’re home.” and “My life was half over before I realized it was a do-it-yourself project.”

It’s nice to think one article in a magazine can give us the keys to happiness, even better if they can dumb it down to just five. Hal Urban, in his book, “Life’s Greatest Lessons,” had a hard time keeping it at 20. He says that happy people cultivate character above all other goals because high test scores, big bank accounts and lots of toys are fleeting. Bonnie Ware, who wrote a book naming the five things dying people regret most about their lives, says taking risks should trump logic if you really want to pursue your dreams. Rigina Brett, in her book, “Be the Miracle,” has 50 lessons for reaching happiness, and one important one is to avoid assuming your own wishes, viewpoints, dreams and needs are, or should be, the same as everybody else’s.

But none of these, not even the Psychology Today article, includes one of Robert Fulghum’s best lessons from kindergarten: “Think what a better world it would be if all — the whole world — had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap.”

Happiness Defined: When Was I Happy?

October 21, 2012

What makes us happy? What puts a sparkle in our eyes? What makes our step lively and our heart quicken? Do we know? Where do we find happiness?

Some look for it in a special someone; others in the fulfillment of a life ambition. Unfortunately, for too many, it has everything to do with the bottom line of their bank statement.


We live in a world obsessed with wanting to be happy. We go to extremes and do things that are sometimes ridiculous and often harmful and we invest all our time and treasure in its passionate pursuit.

Someone e-mailed me a story and I will share it, just to make a point.  Please, don’t charge me with plagiarism. It isn’t mine and I don’t know who wrote it.

“One day, a young lion asks his mom: “Mom, where is happiness?”

Mom replies: “It’s on your tail.” So the young lion keeps chasing his tail. But after a whole day of trying, he fails to find happiness.

When he tells his mom about this, she smiles and says: “Son, you don’t really need to chase after happiness. As long as you keep going and moving forward, happiness will always follow.”

Are you chasing your tail?

Best time

If you ask a person my age to describe our best time, it will probably be whatever we remember made us very happy. And because we have lived long and experienced life from different vantage points, we also know that our happy moments, like the sad ones, were not meant to last forever.

These were snippets of time, that had they lasted longer, would today not be half as precious as they are.

Instead, they are now suspended somewhere in space and time, just as they happened then, and we can bring them back by simply remembering.

I believe being happy is not a state of life, but merely a moment, or string of moments when all our “happiness gauges” hit an all-time high. Like the poet Robert Frost says: “Happiness makes up in height for what it lacks in length.”

Sad but true, we don’t know what we have until it is gone.  Happiness flees like an elusive butterfly, leaving behind just a glimpse of the flutter of its gossamer wings, and a subtle taste of honey.

One must, therefore, learn to live in that precise moment, to grasp it with both hands and with all our hearts etch it upon our souls.

I remember practically jumping out of my skin with excitement every time my older children came to visit.  I lived in Hawaii and they came in the summer and during the holidays. This was my happy time. I couldn’t wait to see them and hold them in my arms; but as soon as I did, I could taste the bitter tears of having to say goodbye.

Summers are not forever and holidays are over too soon.

I asked my cousin what makes her happy. “It is when I give to someone in need.”  There is no return expected. Not even gratitude. “Giving is its own reward.” Because I know her well, I also know she must be very happy indeed.

My daughter believes happiness is a place she can go to when the sad times come.  She draws from it as she would from a bank. A little bit like Peter Pan, she feels that all one needs is a little fairy dust.

Is life a state of happiness interrupted by moments of sadness or is it the other way around? Can anyoneanswer that?

Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish who is happy and who is not.  Like the proverb says, “that same girl who laughs and talks a lot and seems very happy is also the girl who may cry herself to sleep.”


Studies claim that people are happier in a small town, as opposed to a big metropolis where it is crowded and congested. So pray tell, how is it that I was so happy those many months in Manhattan?

My heart was in ribbons when I packed my bags and flew to New York, there to assist and lend moral support to a friend in legal trouble. It was a high-profile case and we were at once celebrity and pariah.

But in that nerve-wracking atmosphere I learned to set my woes aside. The tension over someone else’s troubles helped me keep my sanity.  It was not exactly the happiest place on earth to be.  But we had our moments: cheering when my friend was acquitted; sharing memories with an old writing buddy; gushing over the Christmas sights on 5th Avenue; weeping proudly watching Lea Salonga do “Miss Saigon.”

Polls show that 70 percent of people gainfully employed are happy. In studies of different age groups, the happiest are between 16 and 19. In the 65-79 bracket there is satisfaction.  Lowest in the polls are those between 55 and 59.

The measure of being happy is too often based on appearance, wealth or success. But one finds out soon enough that none of these give long-term happiness. It is not surprising to learn that the same study reveals being successful offers no guarantee.

My happiness

What makes me happy? Being with family tops my list; knowing that I am loved. What gives me the greatest satisfaction?  When I recognize my parents’ values in my children and grandchildren and realize that I may have been the bridge that caused those values to cross over to the newer generations. At least I would like to think I had something to do with it.

When was I happiest? I cannot give you a specific place, date or time. But today a whiff of cologne, a song, the sound of waves crashing on the beach, or the sight of a rainbow across a blue sky can bring it all back.  In a few seconds, I am transported to that time and place and, yes, I am happy.

But this is by no means the end of the line. I believe that no matter how happy I may have been at any moment in my life, I can expect to be much happier still in the future. Am I dreaming?

Find Happiness Before Marriage

September 10, 2012


With many of us starting to talk “happily ever after” with our significant others, it’s fairly common to see updates on Facebook and Twitter about our friends becoming engaged. For some of us, monogamy is right around the corner. But for a lot of us, walking down the aisle isn’t happening anytime soon.

When we dream of having bling slipped on our left ring fingers, seeing others do it first can send us reeling. However, despite where we are in our relationships (or lack there of), it’s important to keep in mind that flashy ring or not, what matters more is understanding that marriage isn’t the solution to having what we really desire.

A friend of mine from sixth grade tied the knot this past summer, and for awhile it made me ask, “When’s my turn?” Literally a quarter of all of my friends online are married or engaged, and now that my class and I have graduated, it seems like I never need wait long for news that another person I know is set to wed.

According to a marriage study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, marriage is not the key to happiness and should not be viewed as such. It sounds simple enough, but when culture and instincts combine to suggest that not tying the knot means something is wrong with us and that we’re therefore being weeded out by evolution, it can be a difficult concept to process, especially for us women.

Harvard University professor Daniel Gilbert, who holds a doctorate degree in social psychology, says that generally, married people are happier than those who are not, not because they are married, but because the biggest indication of happiness in one’s life is whether or not he has good relationships with people around him. In that same way, people who were once unhappily married often have spikes of happiness once the divorce finalizes.

So rather than walking down the aisle, what generally makes people happiest is when they’re engaging in some kind of positive social interaction from chatting on Facebook to lounging at The Java Break to having sex.

Further, basic psychology tells us that happiness is relative. My relationship with my own long-term boyfriend is a good one, but I do get bored and become frustrated with it. As long as that’s addressed, though, it’s okay and to be expected.

When he and I engage in new and exciting things, our happiness as a couple spikes but regresses to its normal point with time. And that’s not a warning that our relationship is doomed to crumble out of boredom. All it means is that we’re like everyone else, including my old newlywed friend.

Therefore, as long as our happiness doesn’t fall below our normal level and stay there, whether my boyfriend throws a proposal into the equation is irrelevant. I may dream of weddings on Pinterest, but because what I have with my beau is good, we’re happy with where we are, even against the backdrop of our peers saying “I do.” In the end, I’m really just pinning links of dresses, finger desserts and flowers, not actual marriages.

Despite many of us having desires for our future relationship endeavors, we must first be satisfied with the here and now. Not reaching that point sooner can wreak havoc on our nuptials later.

We need to be satisfied with our single lives because betting on our happiness can come at a terrible price, namely of a marriage, half of our stuff, and $500 an hour. In the end, it’s a gamble no one should take lightly.

Earlier this month when I became a redhead I thought about my old friend and told my hair stylist about my plans to move in with my boyfriend next August and start a life together. I expressed my excitement but also told her about my anxiety about such a major life change. She just kept dying my hair and said, “There’s plenty of time to play house.” It was so simple yet some of the best advice I’d ever heard.

When I left the salon I got in my car, and as I took a picture of my new hair, I looked at my left hand. There was no ring. But I had love.

I was in a good place.

Rachel Keith is a graduate student in education from Wichita. Follow her on Twitter at @Rachel_UDKeith.

How to Ditch Happily-Ever-After and Build Your Own Romantic Narrative

August 22, 2012


Good Lifestyle Blog

“If we were 28, I’d ask you to marry me right now,” an ex-boyfriend told me once, my face in his hands outside the group house where we shared a mattress on the floor. The face-in-hands move: Tired cliché. Marriage: A bureaucratic nightmare. Twenty-eight: The age the average American man gets married for the first time.

We were a couple of broke, cynical feminists whose relationship bore no resemblance to a Nicholas Sparks joint. But we were both emotionally drained from a fight, about what I don’t remember. Standing there on the stoop, it felt oddly comforting to anchor our unconventional relationship into some grander romantic context, even if just for a moment.

When real-world relationships get confusing, we grasp for the closest romantic trope that helps everything make sense: Love at First Sight. Always a Bridesmaid. The One That Got Away. The Love of My Life. At best, these stories make imperfect fits for our big, complicated lives. At worst, they force us into ways of thinking that make us miserable and set us up for failure. That’s why it’s so important for us to build alternative romantic narratives for ourselves, ones that conform more closely to our lives as we want to live them. We need our own tropes to fall back on, our own arcs to lean on in times of stress and doubt and confusion.

I’m 26 now—the age the average American woman marries for the first time. And though society’s stock romantic narratives and rigid gender roles may seem like childish stories you grow out of with age and experience, I’ve noticed that the older I get, the more they attempt to exert their influence over my life. My peers and I—out of the dorm room but not yet into a mortgage—have found ourselves squirming under the slow suck of societal pressure, which encourages us all to settle down and get married already, or else acquire our dozen cats and our witching license and shut ourselves in forever.

Intellectually, we know that these narratives can be sexist, boring, and alienating. But emotionally, they can be clarifying, simple, and temporarily satisfying. Even if we do not lean so heavily on these stories, we end up befriending and rooming with and falling in love with people who do. We set out trying to live an unconventional life, then wake up to realize that despite our best intentions, we have filed into place. One friend told me with horror how she had begun scoping out the ring fingers of attractive men. Another expressed confusion over whether, “as a man,” he’s expected to make the first move in a relationship—he wants to approach the situation as equals, but fears that his crush might be playing off an outdated gender rulebook. “I am going to get married,” my best college friend wrote when she announced her engagement last year. “I am eating my words for all the times that I said that I would never get married.”

I’ve had enough experience with the traditional romantic narrative to know that the husband, kids, and picket fence scenario is not for me. But I still carry around this confusing emotional investment in these big romantic stories that have seemingly little application to how I actually want to live my life. Then, I read a study about what happens to your brain when you get drunk, and everything started to make a lot more sense. The study found that the higher a person’s blood alcohol level, the more conservative their thinking became—it didn’t matter whether the drinker identified as liberal or conservative while sober. When drunk, their thought processes became streamlined—they reached for the simpler narrative, not the nuanced one. Related research has found that liberals start to think more like conservatives at times when they’re particularly distracted or overwhelmed. The same can be said for our romantic thinking. These big universal tropes catch hold of us when we get stressed, tired, sick, older.

Only recently have I come to understand that the real-life feeling of “romance” is really just the tension and release that occurs when a series of seemingly unrelated events suddenly all make sense. Think of a relationship like a long flip book—yours might be filled with years of makeouts and petty fights and amazing records and intellectual arguments and good sex and bad sex and takeout Thai curries and Netflix Instant screenings. But as time passes, our memory has a tendency to dog-ear select pages, so that when we flip through again we only see certain story lines. If we’re not careful, our flip book will be flagged into one of those big romantic narratives. It will encourage us to dwell on the private moments that conform most closely with public ideas about how a relationship should be, and where it should go.

After time, these narratives don’t just shape our perception of our memories after the fact—they start to affect us on the memory creation level. We begin to interpret an ambiguous text in the particular way that stokes our worst anxieties. We delete a Gchat record that’s too painful to remember. We buy a diamond to try to silence the competing narratives once and for all.

One of my favorite ways to escape this trap is to take a narrative that society has framed as deviant or unacceptable or sad and flip it on its head to occupy it with my own meaning. This can take many forms. GOOD executive editor Ann Friedman, who has no interest in getting married, has proposed reframing the term “spinster”: “I want to reclaim it, like ‘bitch,’ until it carries the same connotation as ‘bachelor’: free, fun, independent, loving life.” For long-term singles like us, constructing jokes around the #foreveralone hashtag helps recode activities society sees as lonely and pathetic to ones we see as lonely and awesome. I often listen to a sad song that has a lyric that goes like this: “I know you feel how I do, too, and even though I’m close to you, I can’t be what you need, ‘cause you’re just as lost as me.” He sings it like it’s a sad thing, but I think it’s really romantic—one of my life goals is to be close to other people, but not to get tied down to them, and that song helps me remember that.

The upside of the relationship flip book is that it contains endless little details that do not fit into the big stories society has written around it. We can use that scrap material to build new arcs. (Modern love pro tip: Keep every Gchat on the record—a targeted search is all it takes to get some new perspective on old memories). I have a peculiar insight into this romantic narrative construction process—I edit a column called Dealbreakers in which writers dig into the reason that they broke off a previous relationship. Often, these exes don’t know how to begin to spin a complex relationship into a story—one with a beginning, end, climax, theme, and emotional thread. They broke up for a lot of reasons. Life is complicated.

In those moments, I encourage them to settle on one framework for filtering that relationship—something as literal as He’s A Crack Addict or as loose as She Needed Me—then shake out the flip book onto the page to see what sticks. At first, that framework might seem limiting, but it actually forces you to think deeply in a direction you haven’t before. In the process, these writers take their memories, mix them up and turn them over. They go back and tear out more pages from the back of the book that they forgot even existed. Then, they rearrange them into their own personal narrative that still builds to that satisfying emotional release.

This doesn’t make for a full and complete account of a relationship—nobody wants to read about all those curries you ingested together. But it’s a way of making sense of the world on your own terms, and it’s one that can be remixed over and over again to create as many stories as speak to you. It’s important for us to tell these stories, to write them down and pass them on or just file them away in the back of our minds. Those standard romantic tropes provide us with so many big finishes—Get Married, Break Up, Delete your Grindr, Roll Credits. I think it’s endlessly more satisfying to always look for those little endings, the personal insights that help you make sense of your own developing story.

Here’s one of mine: Six months after my ex and I broke up, I came down with the flu. Tired and weak, I could feel my own personal narrative receding—I missed my boyfriend, someone who would crawl into my bed with me and confirm the temperature of my forehead and bring me something hot to drink. Then I remembered how I used to grow a little too comfortable in that sickness, to almost push for the fights that would force a kind of clarity into my romantic life. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, and I don’t need to beat myself down anymore to remember what I want.

A nasal spray that can stop arguments?

August 16, 2012


Scientists might be a bit sniffy about this latest research, but a nasal spray containing a hormone can help bring happiness to warring couples living together.

A study has shown that breathing in a compound containing oxytocin makes women calmer and friendlier and men more sensitive and positive during arguments.

Dubbed the ‘cuddle drug’, oxytocin is naturally made in the body and is involved in sex, sexual attraction, trust and confidence.

Conflict: Study involved couples who have regular disagreements about contentious issuesConflict: Study involved couples who have regular disagreements about contentious issues

It is released into the blood during labour – triggering the production of breast milk – and floods the brain during breastfeeding, helping mother and baby bond.

Oxytocin spray: It has been dubbed the 'cuddle drug'Oxytocin spray: It has been dubbed the ‘cuddle drug’

The research, reported in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, looked at how the hormone affects stress and the autonomic nervous system during disagreements between couples.

When there is an argument, there is an increased heart rate and higher blood pressure.

Forty-seven couples, aged 20 to 50, were involved in the experiment at Zurich University. They were either married or had cohabited for at least a year.

They chose a topic which caused conflict in their relationship before having five puffs of oxytocin or a placebo spray. After 45 minutes they were left alone in a room and filmed discussing the contentious issue.

Researchers monitored the participants, taking saliva swabs to check for compounds showing how the nervous system was working.

The findings revealed that compared to those who took the placebo, women who sniffed oxytocin were more friendly, less demanding while men were more positive and more likely to engage.

There was a drop in nervous system activity for women while in men it went up.

According to the researchers, women tend to show demanding behaviour more frequently and men tend to withdraw. ‘In out study, oxytocin might have driven quiescence in women and social salience and approach behaviour in men,’ the journal reported.

Nottingham University professor Kavita Vedhara believes the study has shown that oxytocin reduces women’s ’emotional and physiological arousal following verbal conflict’ while the opposite happens to men.

Scientists have previously found that a man’s libido was improved when he sniffed a spray containing oxytocin.

Research at the University of California reported that a married man who sniffed the spray twice a day saw a considerable improvement in his sexual performance.

His libido went from ‘weak to strong’ while arousal levels went from ‘difficult to easy.’

In an unusual scientific experiment, couples who sprayed themselves with a compound containing the hormone oxytocin before they discussed contentious issues then behaved more positively.

Women were less emotionally aroused and men more aroused after using the spray. According to researchers, the women who took part in the tests were more friendly, less demanding and less anxious, while men were more aware of social cues, more positive, and more likely to engage.

Oxytocin is produced mainly in the hypothalamus region of the brain. It had been studied in women because it is released during labour to dilate the cervix, boost contractions and to trigger the release of milk in the breasts.

In the new study, reported in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, researchers looked at its effects on stress and the activity of the autonomic nervous system during disagreements between couples.

This part of the nervous system automatically regulates organs of the body, and research has shown it is more active during conflict between couples, leading to increased heart rate and blood pressure.

Forty-seven couples, aged 20 to 50, who were married or had been cohabiting for at least a year, took part in the study at the University of Zurich. Couples chose a topic to discuss about which they continually disagreed, and then self-administered five puffs of either the oxytocin or a placebo spray.

Forty-five minutes later, each couple was left alone in a room and filmed while they talked about the subject that usually rubbed them up the wrong way.

At various times during the experiments, the researchers took saliva swabs to check for compounds that show how the nervous system is working.

The results showed that, compared to those who had sniffed the placebo, women who had the oxytocin spray experienced a drop in nervous system activity, whereas in the men it went up. The men displayed increased positive behaviour; the women became more friendly.

In general, the researchers say, women tend to show demanding behaviour more frequently, while men tend to withdraw: ‘In our study, oxytocin might have driven quiescence in women and social salience and approach behaviour in men.”

Kavita Vedhara, professor of health psychology at Nottingham University, said the findings were very interesting: ‘We are much clearer about the biological role of oxytocin in women, but these data suggest it could have significant effects in men.

What they have shown is that oxytocin appears to reduce women’s emotional and physiological arousal following verbal conflict, but that the drug has the opposite effect on men, increasing both their emotional and physiological arousal.

It is not clear if the increased emotion in men was always positive, but it was certainly associated with more positive behaviours during the conflict situation.’

The researchers now want to look further into the possible benefits of oxytocin on warring couples.

‘It is possible that the effect simply produced short-term changes in how couples interact with each other,’ said Professor Vedhara.

‘This might help to take the heat out of an argument. But whether it helps to resolve the issues that lead to the arguments is not clear.’

Read more:

Early relationships key to adult happiness

August 12, 2012

MELBOURNE, Aug. 3 (UPI) — Social connectedness during adolescence — including attachment with parents, peers and school — are key to adult well-being, Australian researchers say.

Craig Olsson of Deakin University and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Australia, and colleagues analyzed data for 804 people who were part of the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study in New Zealand and were tracked for as long as 32 years.

The researchers analyzed the relationship between level of family poverty in childhood, social connectedness in childhood, language development in childhood, social connectedness in adolescence, academic achievement in adolescence and well-being in adulthood.

Social connectedness in childhood was defined by the parent and teacher ratings of the child being liked, not being alone and the child’s level of confidence, while social connectedness in adolescence was demonstrated by social attachments and participation in youth groups and sporting clubs, Olsson said.

The study, published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, said there was an enduring significance of positive social relationships that lasts into adulthood, but early language development and adolescent academic achievement had a weak connection to adult well-being.

Read more:

The TomKat Split: Divorce in America by the Numbers

July 12, 2012

AFP / Getty Images

AFP / GETTY IMAGES – Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise arrive at the Vanity Fair Oscar party for the 84th annual Academy Awards on Feb. 26, 2012, in West Hollywood, Calif.

You may have noticed that Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are getting divorced. Their marital liquidation was preceded by news of another: Dominique Strauss Kahn, former head of the IMF and former defendant in a sexual assault case, was reportedly being left by his hitherto supernaturally loyal wife, Anne Sinclair.

The two men have something in common; or rather, the two departing women have something in common: they’re both third wives.

While Holmes’ divorce filing apparently blindsided Mr Cruise, who was away on location filming a movie, neither split was all that unexpected. It’s not just because celebrity magazines have been predicting a TomKat rupture since the day their wedding vows were uttered, or that, you know, Mr. Strauss Kahn was a cheat. It’s because third marriages break up more often than first or second unions.

(MORE: Planning a Vacation…With Your Ex-Spouse?)

There’s a figure floating around the Internet that some 70% of third marriages fail, but the real numbers tell a slightly different story. It’s also commonly agreed that about half of all marriages fall apart, but while true, that stat also doesn’t tell the full story.

Overall, divorce rates are actually falling. And among the well-educated and wealthy who marry after the age of 26, they’re falling quite dramatically. The vast majority of American marriages between two people like Cruise and Holmes make it to the 10-year mark. (Theirs lasted six.) About 30% of people in Cruise’s demographic — white American men between the ages of 40 and 49 (Cruise’s age when Holmes filed for divorce) — have ever been divorced, according to the most recent (2009) Census figures. And half of them had remarried. About 12% of those guys had then divorced again. That is, 24% of fortysomething white guys’ second marriages had failed.

Which brings us to third marriages, after which point the Census stops counting. It feels like a lot of people are in — or leaving — their third marriage (hello, Kelsey Grammer!), but they aren’t. Cruise’s case is quite unusual (even apart from his weird superstar-stinking-rich-Scientologist combo). Only about 3.4% of Cruise’s age-race cohort have been married three times or more, according to the Census. And about 0.9% of them were divorced. So, although not many white guys in their 40s have married three times or more, more than a quarter of the ones who have, get divorced again.

(MORE: Do Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes Disagree on Religion for Suri?)

This may be grim news for the next Mrs. Cruise. For Ms. Holmes, however, the outlook is somewhat rosier: only 17% of women in Katie’s cohort, white women between the ages of 30 and 34 have ever been divorced. Nine percent of her ilk have been married twice. And almost 8% of women that age are still married to their second spouses. So about 90% of those marriages are surviving. She’s young, she’s professionally successful, she’s wealthy, she’s got a very cute kid. The numbers are on her side.

Suri may be the one we  have to watch out for. Kids whose parents cycle in and out of too many relationships have a higher chance of getting divorced themselves; they also have a lower chance of getting through college and face a whole bunch of other unfortunate life outcomes. Some of this, though, is connected to poverty. If all of the fine legal minds that will be pressed into service on the Cruise-Holmes divorce case do their job responsibly, Suri shouldn’t have to worry about that.

Read more:

Success in Parenting — Avoiding the Happiness and Self-Esteem Traps

July 7, 2012

Ellen Galinsky, Huffington Post

The Aspen Ideas Festival (AIF) is designed as a marketplace of “ideas of consequence.” Its purpose, according to Kitty Boone, Director of AIF, is “to bring leaders, problem solvers, deep thinkers and enthused champions to inspire us to imagine the possible for change and progress.”

Thus, it is notable that this year, amid subject tracks like Democracy, the Economy, Our Planet, Technology and War and Peace, AIF added a track on “The Child: Raising the 21st Century Child.”

I have always wondered why raising children has been viewed primarily as a “how-to” or less serious subject of inquiry. So the very fact that AIF included a program track devoted to Raising the 21st Century Child is noteworthy in itself.

There was one question woven throughout many sessions on The Child this year that was noteworthy, too: What is success in parenting? What do we and what should we want for our children? That, in fact, was the topic of the session I did with Lori GottliebAmy ChuaLarry Cohen and Erika Christakis.

Is it economic success? A common response was that economic success is absolutely necessary — children need to grow up to be able to support themselves — and family poverty is crippling, creating what Peter Edelman and his colleagues on a panel called “the lost generation,” but this as a goal is not sufficient.

Is it status success? Status success was described as going to the “right” schools and having the “right” jobs. A popular response was to beware of adults imposing a narrow view of success on their children or imposing their own insecurities.

If there was a consistent response to the overall question of what constitutes success in parenting, it was that we shouldn’t shield children from making mistakes or if they do, think that the adults in their lives will jump in to rescue them and fix things. Katie Couric told the story of a graduate of the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia who took his mother on a job interview. And Erika Christakis told of a student at Harvard emailing a professorto say that he hadn’t been aware of an assignment that was due imminently and asking the professor what “WE” were going to do to resolve this situation.

Adults — teachers and parents — need to help children understand that making mistakes is a normal part of learning. And when children make mistakes, they need to learn what Paul Tough and others call the character trait of “grit;” that is, trying hard even when experiencing failure. I call the same characteristic a social, emotional and cognitive life skill, the skill of “taking on challenges.”

Stories of how to promote this skill were woven throughout the sessions on “The Child.” My favorite came from a lunch where the retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen spoke to the Bezos Scholars at AIF, a group of rising high school seniors and their educators as well as students and educators from the African Leadership Academy. Admiral Mullen said that in his first leadership position at 26 years old, he failed miserably — he crashed his ship into a buoy. Calling this a very bad day, he said: “My report card was F. To recover, I had to fight the system. It took me 11 years to get back on track.”

He attributes this eventual recovery to having others who saw his potential and to his own persistence: “I learned to be accountable for my own actions.”

His advice to the Bezos Scholars was to have passion and to have multiple options for realizing that passion? “Don’t try to run your life through a single straw. Someone, some event will cut it off.”

He went on to encourage these young leaders not to give up, but to continue to pursue their passion, wherever they are — on the top of the heap or on the bottom.

Two well-intentioned strategies were cited in a number of sessions as standing in the way of helping children learn to have grit and to take on challenges: the happiness and the self-esteem traps.

Lori Gottlieb warned against the happiness trap — the notion that our goal in parenting is to make children happy. That can lead to trying to rescue children. Jonah Lehrer noted that we — children and adults — are happiest when we are having flow experiences, fully absorbed in something we care about. Happiness is clearly a by-product, not a goal.

Others, including me, warned against the self-esteem trap. Citing research, including studies by Carol Dweck, it is clear that when adults praise children for seemingly in-born characteristics like being smart, it creates the opposite effect. Children become less willing to take on challenges because they don’t want to risk losing their label of smartness. Praising children for their effort and their strategies is much more effective. Like happiness, self-esteem is a by-product of trying hard, making mistakes, failing and learning to go forward toward a goal.

At AIF this year, having a track to consider these issues was significant in itself. Great conversations based on research and experience were sparked. Here’s to continuing the conversation of these critically important issues! By increasing the social focus on parenting and child rearing, we can not only “image” but enact “the possible for change and progress.”

Follow Ellen Galinsky on Twitter:
%d bloggers like this: