(1) Modern Day Parenting - Amy Morrison's Why You're Never Failing as a Mother made me feel better about life lately.
"[W]e are part of a generation that considers parenting to be a skill. Like a true skill that needs to be mastered and perfected and if we don't get it right, we think our kids suffer for it -- and that's hard sh*t to keep up with. That's not to say other generations didn't have it tough or think parenting was important, but there just wasn't the same level of scrutiny that could be liked, tweeted or instagramed all at once."
(2) Happiness vs. Meaning - In There's More to Life Than Being Happy, Emily Esfahani Smith questions whether Americans' emphasis on the miraculous "H" word causes them to neglect finding actual meaning in their lives.
"How do the happy life and the meaningful life differ? Happiness, they found, is about feeling good. Specifically, the researchers found that people who are happy tend to think that life is easy, they are in good physical health, and they are able to buy the things that they need and want. While not having enough money decreases how happy and meaningful you consider your life to be, it has a much greater impact on happiness. The happy life is also defined by a lack of stress or worry.
Most importantly from a social perspective, the pursuit of happiness is associated with selfish behavior -- being, as mentioned, a "taker" rather than a "giver." The psychologists give an evolutionary explanation for this: happiness is about drive reduction. If you have a need or a desire -- like hunger -- you satisfy it, and that makes you happy. People become happy, in other words, when they get what they want. Humans, then, are not the only ones who can feel happy. Animals have needs and drives, too, and when those drives are satisfied, animals also feel happy, the researchers point out.
"Happy people get a lot of joy from receiving benefits from others while people leading meaningful lives get a lot of joy from giving to others," explained Kathleen Vohs, one of the authors of the study, in a recent presentation at the University of Pennsylvania. In other words, meaning transcends the self while happiness is all about giving the self what it wants. People who have high meaning in their lives are more likely to help others in need. "If anything, pure happiness is linked to not helping others in need," the researchers write.
. . . .
Meaning is not only about transcending the self, but also about transcending the present moment -- which is perhaps the most important finding of the study, according to the researchers. While happiness is an emotion felt in the here and now, it ultimately fades away, just as all emotions do; positive affect and feelings of pleasure are fleeting. The amount of time people report feeling good or bad correlates with happiness but not at all with meaning.
Meaning, on the other hand, is enduring. It connects the past to the present to the future. "Thinking beyond the present moment, into the past or future, was a sign of the relatively meaningful but unhappy life," the researchers write. "Happiness is not generally found in contemplating the past or future." That is, people who thought more about the present were happier, but people who spent more time thinking about the future or about past struggles and sufferings felt more meaning in their lives, though they were less happy.
Having negative events happen to you, the study found, decreases your happiness but increases the amount of meaning you have in life. Another study from 2011 confirmed this, finding that people who have meaning in their lives, in the form of a clearly defined purpose, rate their satisfaction with life higher even when they were feeling bad than those who did not have a clearly defined purpose. "If there is meaning in life at all," Frankl wrote, "then there must be meaning in suffering."
(3) "Real Careers" - When the girls were younger, I had a really hard time with the princess craze (you can read our story here), so I really wanted to like Andy Hines' Atlantic article on his ill-fated battle against the princesses, but somehow I ended up routing more for his young daughter who doesn't want "a real career." Maybe my lack of empathy for the father is caused by my own lack of a "real career" or maybe I've just loosened up now that my own daughters have outgrown princesses or maybe there's something to be said for dreaming of impossible things, I can't decide. Regardless of my own issues, Hines' rant is worth a read.
(4) Quinoa - For some depressing news, quinoa (love that stuff) has become so expensive that "poorer people in Peru and Bolivia, for whom it was once a nourishing staple food, can no longer afford to eat it. Imported junk food is cheaper. In Lima, quinoa now costs more than chicken. Outside the cities, and fuelled by overseas demand, the pressure is on to turn land that once produced a portfolio of diverse crops into quinoa monoculture." You can read more about it here.
[UPDATE (from an awesome reader) apparently the situation is not so bleak - "The world market for quinoa may be very, very hungry, but to some extent, that’s good news for Andean farmers, who are actually able to make a living from farming, even though they allegedly can’t afford to eat what they grow. And quinoa production on the whole seems like good news for the rest of us, too.
The United Nations declared 2013 the Year of Quinoa, claiming that the crop can “contribute to world food security,” in part because the 3,000 varieties of the hardy stuff can be grown at many different temperatures and humidities. “While the main producers are Bolivia, Peru and the United States, quinoa production is expanding to other continents and it is currently being cultivated in several countries in Europe and Asia with good yields,” according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization." Finally, happy news!!!]
(5) Life After High School - And for entirely different, but still somewhat depressing news, New York Magazine uses quirky anecdotes, wonderful photos, and psychology research to explain Why You Never Truly Leave High School.
"It turns out that just before adolescence, the prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain that governs our ability to reason, grasp abstractions, control impulses, and self-reflect—undergoes a huge flurry of activity, giving young adults the intellectual capacity to form an identity, to develop the notion of a self. Any cultural stimuli we are exposed to during puberty can, therefore, make more of an impression, because we’re now perceiving them discerningly and metacognitively as things to sweep into our self-concepts or reject (I am the kind of person who likes the Allman Brothers). “During times when your identity is in transition,” says Steinberg, “it’s possible you store memories better than you do in times of stability.”
At the same time, the prefrontal cortex has not yet finished developing in adolescents. It’s still adding myelin, the fatty white substance that speeds up and improves neural connections, and until those connections are consolidated—which most researchers now believe is sometime in our mid-twenties—the more primitive, emotional parts of the brain (known collectively as the limbic system) have a more significant influence. This explains why adolescents are such notoriously poor models of self-regulation, and why they’re so much more dramatic—“more Kirk than Spock,” in the words of B. J. Casey, a neuroscientist at Weill Medical College of Cornell University. In adolescence, the brain is also buzzing with more dopamine activity than at any other time in the human life cycle, so everything an adolescent does—everything an adolescent feels—is just a little bit more intense. “And you never get back to that intensity,” says Casey. (The British psychoanalyst Adam Phillips has a slightly different way of saying this: “Puberty,” he writes, “is everyone’s first experience of a sentient madness.”)"