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Quid Pro Quo Managing relationships is a task that most people perform fairly adeptly. That’s not to say that we do so flawlessly – we certainly don’t – but we manage to avoid most major faux pas with regularity. Despite our ability to do so, many of us would not be able to provide compelling answers that help others understand why we do what we do. Here’s a frequently referenced example: if you invited your friend over for dinner, many of you would likely find it rather strange – perhaps even insulting – if after the meal your friend pulled out his wallet and asked how much he owed you for the food. Though we would find such behavior strange or rude, when asked to explain what is rude about it, most people would verbally stumble. It’s not that the exchange of money for food is strange; that part is really quite normal. We don’t expect to go into a restaurant, be served, eat, and then leave without paying. There are also other kinds of strange goods and services – such a sex and organs – that people often do see something wrong with exchanging resources for, at least so long as the exchange is explicit; despite that, we often have less of a problem with people giving such resources away. Alright; not quite implicit enough, but good try This raises all sorts of interesting questions, such as why is it acceptable for people to give away things but not accept money for them? Why would it be unacceptable for a host to expect his guests to pay, or for the guests to offer? The most straightforward answer is that the nature of these relationships are different: two friends have different expectations of each other than two strangers, for instance. While such an answer is true enough, it don’t really deepen our understanding of the matter; it just seems to note the difference. One might go a bit further and begin to document some of the ways in which these relationships differ, but without a guiding functional analysis of why they differ we would be stuck at the level of just noting differences. We could learn not only that business associates treat each other differently than friends (which we knew already), but also some of the ways they do. While documenting such things does have value, it would be nice to place such facts in a broader framework. On that note, I’d like to briefly consider one such descriptive answer to the matter of why these relationships differ before moving onto the latter point: the distinction between what has been labeled exchange relationships and communal relationships.  Exchange relationships are said to be those in which one party provides a good or service to the other in the hopes of receiving a comparable benefit in return; the giving thus creates the obligation for reciprocity. This is the typical consumer relationship that we have with businesses as customers: I give you money, you give me groceries. Communal relationships, by contrast, do not carry similar expectations; instead, these are relationships in which each party cares about the welfare of the other, for lack of a better word, intrinsically. This is more typically of, say, mother-daughter relationships, where the mother provisions her daughter not in the hopes of her daughter one day provisioning her, but rather because she earnestly wishes to deliver those benefits to her daughter.On the descriptive level, then, this difference between expectations of quid pro quo are supposed to differentiate the two types of relationships. Friends offering to pay for dinner are viewed as odd because they’re treating a communal relationship as an exchange one. Many other social disasters might arise from treating one type of social relationship as if it were another. One of the most notable examples in this regard is the ongoing disputes over “nice guys”, nice guys, and the women they seek to become intimate with. To oversimplify the details substantially, many men will lament that women do not seem to be interested in guys who care about their well-being, but rather seek men who offer resources or treat them as less valuable. The men feel they are offering a communal relationship, but women opt for the exchange kind. Many women return the volley, suggesting instead that many of the “nice guys” are actually entitled creeps who think women are machines you put niceness coins into to get them to dispense sex. Now, it’s the men seeking the exchange relationships (i.e., “I give you dinner dates and you give me affection”), whereas the women are looking for the communal ones. But are these two types of relationships – exchange and communal – really that different? Are communal relationships, especially those between friends and couples, free of the quid-pro-quo style of reciprocity? There are good reasons to think that they are not quite different in kind, but rather different in respect to the  details of the quids and quos. A subject our good friend Dr. Lecter is quite familiar with To demonstrate this point, I would invite you to engage in a little thought experiment: imagine that your friend or your partner decided one day to behave as if you didn’t exist: they stopped returning your messages, they stopped caring about whether they saw you, they stopped coming to your aid when you needed them, and so on. Further, suppose this new-found cold and callous attitude wouldn’t change in the future. About how long would it take you to break off your relationship with them and move onto greener pastures? If your answer to that question was any amount of time whatsoever, then I think we have demonstrated that the quid-pro-quo style of exchange still holds in such relationships (and if you believe that no amount of that behavior on another’s part would ever change how much you care about that person, I congratulate you on the depths of your sunny optimism and view of yourself as an altruist; it would also be great if you could prove it by buying me things I want for as long as you live while I ignore you). The difference, then, is not so much whether there are expectations of exchanges in these relationships, but rather concerning the details of precisely what is being exchanged for what, the time frame in which those exchanges take place, and the explicitness of those exchanges. (As an aside, kin relationships can be free of expectations of reciprocity. This is because, owing to the genetic relatedness between the parties, helping them can be viewed – in the ultimate, fitness sense of the word – as helping yourself to some degree. The question is whether this distinction also holds for non-relatives.) Taking those matters in order, what gets exchanged in communal relationships is, I think, something that many people would explicitly deny is getting exchanged: altruism for friendship. That is to say that people are using behavior typical of communal relationships as an ingratiation device (Batson, 1993): if I am kind to you today, you will repay with [friendship/altruism/sex/etc] at some point in the future; not necessarily immediately or at some dedicated point. These types of exchange, as one can imagine, might get a little messy to the extent that the parties are interested in exchanging different resources. Returning to our initial dinner example, if your guest offers to compensate you for dinner explicitly, it could mean that he considers the debt between you paid in full and, accordingly, is not interested in exchanging the resource you would prefer to receive (perhaps gratitude, complete with the possibility that he will be inclined to benefit you later if need be). In terms of the men and women example for before, men often attempt to exchange kindness for sex, but instead receive non-sexual friendship, which was not the intended goal. Many women, by contrast, feel that men should value the friendship…unless of course it’s their partner building friendship with another woman, in which case it’s clearly not just about friendship between them. But why aren’t these exchanges explicit? It seems that one could, at least in principle, tell other people that you will invite them over for dinner if they will be your friend in much the same way that a bank might extend a loan to person and ask that it be repaid over time. If the implicit nature of these exchanges were removed, it seems that lots of people could be saved a lot of headache. The reason such exchanges cannot be made explicit, I think, has to do with the signal value of the exchange. Consider two possible friends: one of those friends tells you they will be your friend and support you so long as you don’t need too much help; the other tells you they will support you no matter what. Assuming both are telling the truth, the latter individual would make the better friend for you because they have a greater vested interest in your well-being: they will be less likely to abandon you in times of need, less likely to take better social deals elsewhere, less likely to betray you, and the like. In turn, that fact should incline you to help the latter more than the former individual. After all, it’s better for you to have your very-valuable allies alive and well-provisioned if you want them to be able to continue to help you to their fullest when you need it. The mere fact that you are valuable to them makes them valuable to you. “Also, your leaving would literally kill me, so…motivation?” This leaves people trying to walk a fine line between making friendships valuable in the exchange-sense of the word (friendships need to return more than they cost, else they could not have been selected for), while maintaining the representation that they not grounded in explicit exchanges publicly so as to make themselves appear to be better partners. In turn, this would create the need for people to distinguish between what we might call “true friends” – those who have your interests in mind – and “fair-weather friends” – those who will only behave as your friend so long as it’s convenient for them. In that last example we assumed both parties were telling the truth about how much they value you; in reality we can’t ever be so sure. This strategic analysis of the problem leaves us with a better sense as for why friendship relationships are different from exchange ones: while both involve exchanges, the nature of the exchanges do not serve the same signaling function, and so their form ends up looking different. People will need to engage in proximately altruistic behaviors for which they don’t expect immediate or specific reciprocity in order to credibly signal their value as an ally. Without such credible signaling, I’d be left taking you at your word that you really have my interests at heart, and that system is way too open to manipulation. Such considerations could help explain, in part, why people are opposed to exchanging things like selling organs or sex for money but have little problem with such things being given for free. In the case of organ sales, for instance, there are a number of concerns which might crop up in people’s minds, one of the most prominent being that it puts an explicit dollar sign on human life. While we clearly need to do so implicitly (else we could, in principle, be willing to exhaust all worldly resources trying to prevent just one person from dying today), to make such an exchange implicit turns the relationship into an exchange one, sending a message along the lines of, “your life is not worth all that much to me”. Conversely, selling an organ could send a similar message: “my own life isn’t worth that much to me”. Both statements could have the effect of making one look like a worse social asset even if, practically, all such relationships are fundamentally based in exchanges; even if such a policy would have an overall positive effect on a group’s welfare. References: Batson, C. (1993). Communal and exchange relationships: What is the difference? Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 19, 677-683. DeScioli, P. & Kurzban, R. (2009). The alliance hypothesis for human friendship. PLoS ONE, 4(6): e5802. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005802 Topics:  Evolutionary Psychology Subtitle:  Understanding the difference between friendship and consumerism Blog to Post to:  Pop Psych Teaser Text:  Why are men upset when they land in the friendzone and why don't dinner guests pay their hosts for meals? If only exchange relationships could be made more explicit such problems might be avoided, yet many relationships do not opt for transparency. Why is that? Teaser Image:  Mature Audiences Only:  Images:  Content Topics:  Empathy Personality Motivation Altruism Friends Gratitude Optimism Consumer Behavior Environment Sex Quote
How Do We Tell the Kids About the Divorce? One of the most challenging and painful tasks for parents deciding to separate is telling the children about the impending divorce. The key to talking with children is to understand the experience of separation from their point of view, and to develop strategies that fit with each child’s age and stage of development. Children have a limited ability to understand what is happening during divorce, what they are feeling and why, and they struggle to understand. Younger children see things from their own perspective, and tend to see themselves as the cause of events, often blaming themselves for their parents’ divorce. Many children firmly believe that they are the reason for the divorce. Further, most children secretly believe their parents will get back together, or wish that they would, and try to “fix” things and figure out ways of keeping them together. Some fear that their parents will walk out the door and never come back, and need reassurance that they will not be abandoned. Too afraid to tell anyone, they believe they are the only one in the world who feels that way. Like adults, children manifest the classic stages of the grieving process, including denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, rejection and guilt. Some may also experience relief, which may bring about further feelings of guilt. The process varies from child to child. Some children may have suspected a separation, for others the news will come as a complete shock. Although children of all ages are deeply affected, younger children are particularly vulnerable and often suffer the most. It is thus very important for parents to be attuned to children’s reactions, and watch for changes in sleeping, eating, and behavior. With all this in mind, what do parents say and how should they talk with their kids about the separation?  First, wherever possible, it is useful for parents to jointly have the conversation with their children, well in advance, to reassure them that they will not be abandoned and that as co-parents they will cooperate in the future. Second, find a time and place that will be safe and comfortable, and speak with them together, and then with each of them alone; children will benefit from several shorter talks, rather than receiving all of the information at once. Here are some key strategies and guidelines for talking with your children about the impending separation: It is not their fault. Children assume that if they had behaved better, fought less with their siblings, received good grades or helped more around the house, they could have prevented the divorce. Tell children, in general terms, why the separation is taking place, keeping in mind their age and stage of development. Above all, children need to know that the separation is not their fault; regardless of what they may have heard when their parents fought, children are never the cause of a divorce. In other words, separation and divorce is an adult problem: “Mom and Dad could not find a way to work out our problems or to make things any better. We’ve made mistakes and we’re sorry that we’re causing you pain.” “Separation is a grown-up problem and you are not to blame. It is our problem and we will work it out.” As parents, you will always be there for them. Tell your children you love them, over and over again, and that you will both always be there for them. Reassure them that you will continue to take care of them and keep them safe. The relationship you have with them will go on forever, and although feelings can change between adults, they never change between parents and children. Similarly, relationships with grandparents and other relatives will continue. “You will always be part of a family.” “We won’t be living together any more, but we both love you no matter what.” Be clear about the reality of the separation. Children need to know, and to come to realize in tolerable doses, about the reality of the separation, “The separation was not an easy decision to make. We put a lot of effort into making our relationship work, but we have decided that we can no longer live together.” One of the saddest consequences of a divorce is the pressure some children put upon themselves to fix the problem. Feeling responsible for getting you back together is a huge emotional burden that you do not want your children to undertake. Reflect your children’s feelings, and be a good listener. As children’s grief is quite profound, it is important to encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings. They are also anxious about how the divorce will affect them. But children need time to digest the information you give them. Don’t force a discussion of feelings, but be patient, look for cues and clues about what they are feeling, and reflect back what they may be going through. “We want you to say what you feel and think. You may feel worried, angry and hurt. Adults have these same feelings too.” For younger children, use books, storytelling, hand puppets, dolls, action figures and drawings to help children talk about what they are feeling and experiencing. Be as clear and specific as you can about your future co-parenting plans. Children need to know the specifics of the future time-sharing arrangement, where they will be living, and how much time they will be spending with each parent. Address their particular needs such as friends, activities, toys and school. Before you embark on this conversation, make sure that you have made clear plans, and that the children are ready for the discussion about their future living arrangements. Provide them with choices. Over time, it is important that children know that their voice will be heard when adult decisions are made about issues that affect their lives. As much as possible, encourage your children to express their needs and opinions, and to be part of family decisions, but never put them in a position where they are responsible for making adult decisions. Just as important as what to say is what not to say. Never blame the other parent for the divorce, or give children the message that you are the good parent and the other parent is the bad one: children hear criticism of the other parent as criticism of half of who they are. Also, do not discuss details of what went wrong between you as a couple: children do not need to know about affairs, money problems, personality conflicts or other problems in your relationship. Subtitle:  Guidelines for Talking with Children About Parental Separation Blog to Post to:  Co-Parenting After Divorce Teaser Text:  Many children firmly believe that they are the reason for the divorce. Further, most children secretly believe their parents will get back together, or wish that they would, and try to “fix” things and figure out ways of keeping them together. Teaser Image:  Mature Audiences Only:  Content Topics:  Personality Parenting Teamwork Sleep Grief Divorce Anger Fear Quote
Odd Couple House Mates Last summer, I became a pioneer in a sort of a May-December living arrangement. That’s when my 25-year-old grandson – I’ll call him Tom - decided to move from Chicago where he, like I, had grown up, move to New York and move into my West Side New York City apartment with me. My one-bedroom apartment barely had room for me. But its amenities included a minuscule sleeping alcove, a second, half-bathroom, a dishwasher, a washer/drier,  and a balcony on which he could both stash his bike and, in less than freezing temperatures, withdraw to converse in private on his cell phone – all attractions, according to Tom, that were lacking in the still tinier apartments of his friends in which he’d first thought he’d stay. A graduate of an art school, Tom had dozens of friends who’d already moved to, or who’d moved back home to New York. Though I keep hearing that New York has become so prohibitively expensive that no one can afford to live here anymore, let alone move here, Tom’s social circle seemed to far exceed my own rapidly dwindling number of friends who lately had been succumbing, at an ever more alarming rate, to the ravages of death, disease and/or dementia.  My few remaining, cognitively- intact friends, hearing of Tom’s arrival, were shocked. “How long is he staying?” they kept asking. “Don’t you find it a huge imposition?” Actually, I didn’t. I’d had trouble adjusting to living alone after thirty-plus years with my artist/companion, David. But in the three years since he died, while I’d gotten used to my privacy, Tom and I both understood our arrangement would be temporary – breathing space for him to take stock and look for a job. Truth to tell, from his arrival, I found it exhilarating, to be privy to Tom’s boundless, energetic bursts of optimism as he outlined his hopes and goals for his future.  For the past seven years – through high school and college – he’d held a part time and summer job in a Chicago bike shop. He was interested in retailing, design, plus he could sew. With his myriad contacts and talent, he felt sure that the world lay open before him. Then, a scant week after his arrival, Tom landed a job in a bike shop less than a mile from my West Side apartment – a far easier commute than any he’d had in Chicago, Before long, my son, Tom’s uncle, along with his whole family, and even I, had all stopped by the bike shop to say hello to Tom at work. At home, Tom regaled me with tales about his customers. On West 72nd Street, they comprised a cross section of Manhattan; like people I’d see when I reported on civil and criminal trials in Manhattan courtrooms, they ranged from foreigners, Orthodox Jews, working class people, to lawyers, psychoanalysts and other professionals, along with celebrities or an occasional biking-adicted world leaderg.  There were, of course, some minuses. Living alone, aside from an occasional steamed artichoke, I’d given up on cooking for myself. Now I felt a nagging guilt over my typical dinners -  meals that mainly consisted of take-out food, or an ordered- in cheese burger or pasta. Despite vowing to take up cooking again, however, Tom’s erratic home-coming hours did little to bolster my resolve. Plus I soon found that he shared my taste for junk food -  from pizza, or mac and cheese, to anything on Chipolte’s menu. My main concession to Tom’s presence was that at dinners with friends, I took to bringing home my leftovers, or an extra main dish  for him - looking more like a bag lady than my image of a gracious grandmother. I was surprised to find that Tom never looked at the newspapers I spent too much time studying each morning, or watched my favorite evening news or other TV programs.  His chief – actually, his only - source of information was his computer – and his main choice of TV viewing was roller blade videos. `He’s not my son,’ I reminded myself, each time I’d return home to be confronted anew with what struck me as these more abysmal life choices. But by my advanced age I’d learned to keep my mouth shut – a trait I never came close to mastering in the stormy years before and during my divorce, when Tom’s mother was growing up – the third of my four children. Nor did I lie awake listening for his key in my door at whatever early morning hour he might return.  At night, I just closed my bedroom door, read or watched TV and  fell asleep. Occasionally, however, in a unique role reversal, when I had opera or theater tickets, it was I who sometimes texted Tom to tell him I wouldn’t be home until around midnight. “I would have worried if you hadn’t shown up much after 11,” Tom said, sounding just like the real Jewish mother in his - and my - family: my daughter. As weeks turned to months, friends and family began to ask me a new question: “Are you still getting along?’ “We call you `The Odd Couple’,” my granddaughter, Sarah, not her real name, who’d grown up in New York and was the same age as Tom, told me one night.   She'd meant it as a joke, but I said: "That's a good description. He's an exercise addict; I'm an exercise phobic."  I continued to take everyone’s assumption of impending disaster in stride. Even when he was little, Tom and I had always gotten along. He’d shared my taste in reading about Jeffrey Dahmer and some of the other grisly true crimes I’d reported on. Unlike his bookish younger brother, he also had always loved visiting New York. Like me, he felt invigorated by the city’s noise and hectic pace – by the jammed, chaotic mess of the city that, in just days, left his mother and brother limp and exhausted. A few friends remained alarmed. “Is your grandson still there?” Roz asked, every time she phoned. Then, as if fearing disaster: “Are you feeling okay?” Diane, another friend, continued to inquire how much longer my son, not my grandson, would be staying with me. Did these friends fear I’d embarked on a taboo relationship – a mama cougar out to ensnare my much younger grandson? They didn’t seem to know about today’s `boomerang’ generation – what writer Sally Koslow, in her book, Slouching Towards Adulthood: How To Let Go So Your Kids Can Grow Up terms `adultescents.’ Koslow was describing today’s often jobless college graduates of around my grandson’s age who opt to move back into their parents home – more than 21 million, according to 2012 statistics - and a few million more  who  choose to  move in with one or both grandparents. Tom soon got busier, working three days a week in the bike shop, the other three in a skate board shop down the street. And I got introduced to a whole new group of his co-workers.  My friends went from appalled to dismayed. “Is he ever going to get a real job?” they asked? “He’s just going through a delayed adolescence,” I said. “Or maybe a second one.” So long as he seemed happy, I doubted it mattered.  Not everyone has been as upset as my friends. My dermatologist said she  has four patients in Manhattan - four! - whose grandchildren are living with them. “If their grandchild lives in some other city, how can they possibly afford to move here unless they’ve already got a great high- paying job?" she said. "And after all - some young people would rather live with a grandparent than a parent. (Photo of Sally Koslow; Property of the author) “Do you ever get embarrassed”, I asked Tom. “Living with your grandmother?” “No, not at all,” Tom said. He noted that he’d grown up with friends in Chicago whose parents – thanks to their divorces, remarriages and second families-  were all different ages.  Some were as young as his parents, but others wre about the same age as me.  “Besides,” Tom looked at me from his perch at his computer on my living room couch. “My colleagues all think you’re a really cool grandma. When I told them I was living with my grandmother, they thought you’d be a little old bedridden lady. But I told them no, you’re busier than I am. You go out to the theater, to movies, your Shakespeare group – and when they met you, they said `wow! She’s really cool!’” I’d thought of myself as pretty doddering – prone to falling, arthritic ridden- the next broken bone just one footstep away. Never, until now, as cool. I was more surprised when Tom, never that interested in films, piped up one night and said: “I know about a movie we should watch. “Grandma’s Boy.” It was a flop, then it became kind of a cult thing.” So far Tom’s been too busy to watch it when I stream it on my Roku. Whenever he gets the time, I know he’ll find it a hoot. The movie grandma and grandson  enrich each other. She gets her grandson, Alex to shape up - grow up? -  and do chores around her apartment. IAlex manages to turn his grandma and her two mostly sedentary women roommates onto TV remotes, then to TV cooking programs, foul language, then accidentally onto drugs, and finally he gets them addicted to playing video games. Alex’s grandma becomes such a wiz at the new video game her movie grandson is developing, that, spoiler alert - she ends by saving the day. I haven’t yet gotten hooked on speed, taken up video games or tried skate boarding. But I have introduced Tom to Bill Maher (he’d never had HBO), and to Larry Wilmore’s new Nightly Show – things I consider huge pluses. Mainly, what struck me about the movie, however, is that the cool reel- life grandma and grandson in Manhattan get along just as well as I have so far with my cool real- life live- in grandson in Manhattan. As half of a pair of real-life `Odd Couple' housemates, I also plan one day soon to ask my exercise-devotee- grandson to take this exercise-shunning grandma downstairs into our building's gym and forcibly show me what I need to do to start regularly working out.  Topics:  Aging Family Dynamics Bystander Effect Self-Esteem Subtitle:  Family and friends wonder if I'm wise to be temporarily rooming with my grandson Blog to Post to:  Uncharted Customs Teaser Text:  Decades ago intergenerational living was widespread, ofen for economic reason. From the mid-1950s, nuclear families became the norm. Today's convulsive economic upheaval has seen a return of multi-generational housing situations. And as my recent experience with my grandson attests, while it may not be a familar phenomenom, it definitely has its pluses for young and old. Mature Audiences Only:  Images:  Content Topics:  Adolescence Optimism Sleep Dementia Parenting Divorce Guilt Psychopharmacology Motivation Personality Fear Quote
Chicks Might Map Numbers From Left To Right – Just Like Us! When you think of the numbers 1–10, you probably envision them running along a line, with 1 on the left and 10 on the right. Scientists have long debated whether this tendency is hardwired or culturally instilled. This week, the hardwired camp scored a major point. Young chickens, it seems, also map numbers from left to right....
Day 28: Seizing 9 Golden Meaning Opportunities This series supports the free Future of Mental Health virtual conference I’m hosting from February 23 – 27, 2015. Please get your free ticket to the conference now by visiting here. And plan to attend! ** Each day in this series of 30 days to better mental health I want to propose one simple idea and one simple strategy in support of that idea. If you’d like to view other posts in this series, please visit here: You might like to ask a friend to join you for these 30 days. The two of you can chat about the ideas I’m presenting and support each other in your efforts to try out some new strategies. You might even want to get a whole group involved! Today we look at the following. Our mental health depends on us having a good sense of what promotes the experience of meaning in us—that is, a good sense of what sorts of things give us the subjective psychological sense that life is meaningful. This array—or menu of meaning opportunities—is naturally different person by person. What would you put on your menu of meaning opportunities? Consider the following nine possibilities: 1. One meaning opportunity is love We are built to experience love as meaningful. Unless life has harmed us to such an extent that we have stopped daring to love or unless we’ve become so self-involved that all the love we need is self-love, love is a golden meaning opportunity. You could love today—all it takes is a softening of your heart and an object of affection. If you bestow some love today, your life will feel more meaningful. Think of any of the words in the family of love, words like affection, kindness, generosity, and intimacy. They paint a picture of what loving means. You can take today as an opportunity to invest meaning in loving someone or in loving something. 2. A second meaning opportunity is good works Action makes us feel more alive. So does living our principles and our values. When we marry these two ideas we get the idea of “good works”: real work of our own choosing that reflects our principles and our values. Maybe your everyday work feels short on real value but you must continue with it because it pays the bills. So be it. Try to supplement that everyday work with some good works of your own choosing. Your life will feel more meaningful if you pick “good works” as one of your meaning opportunities. 3. Creativity Creativity is a rich, large word that stands for the way we make use of our resources and talents. We can approach anything creatively—creativity is not reserved for certain pursuits like writing a novel or inventing software. Life feels richer when we turn on that inner tap and allow our natural creativity to flow. Creativity in this everyday sense is an excellent meaning opportunity. You can choose to approach some challenge at work with grudging energy and a feeling of boredom or you can decide to invest something of yourself in meeting the challenge, bring to bear your inner resources and talents, spend a little of your passion, and attack it creatively. Life feels more meaningful when you approach it this way. 4. Excellence As children we start out with two energies, both of which appeal to us greatly: we love to experiment and we love to excel. Soon, though, because we’re pressured to get things right, we start to lose our taste for experimentation; and because much of what we do doesn’t rise to the level of excellence, we begin to fear that excellence isn’t in us. Out of this dynamic arises a middle-of-the-road approach to life. Still, excellence remains a golden meaning opportunity for you. You can decide to bite into something and do it really well. Maybe you’ll flounder at first; maybe you’ll make some heroic messes. But if you apply yourself and if you persevere, excellence is waiting. And how good it will feel! Give excellence a chance and add it to your list of meaning opportunities. 5. Relationships Protecting our individuality requires that we remain separate: We can’t think our thoughts or dream our own dreams unless we stay in our own skins. But while separateness and solitude are precious, relationships remain golden meaning opportunities. They are the place to love and be loved; the place to befriend and be befriended; the place to make work, business, and career connections; the place to be human in the presence of other human beings. Some of these relationships are rather like traps; others are the very beauty of life. Consciously decide where you want to relate, choosing the riches and avoiding the traps, and put relating high on your list of meaning opportunities. 6. Stewardship It is reasonable enough to focus on our own survival needs, appetites, and desires. Evolution has built that primacy right into us. But nature has also provided us with a sense of right and wrong and an understanding of ideas like responsibility, mutuality, and shared humanity. Therefore we feel better if we aim ourselves in the direction of stewardship: in the direction of care for and attention to the world in which we live, the creatures of this world, and the ideas and institutions that maintain civilization at its best. We can aim to steward our children, civil rights, democratic institutions, the environment, or anything small or large that we think is worth our concern. It could be the stream at the edge of town; it could be the freedom of one person to speak. Stewardship meets both our ethical and psychological needs. Pick something to steward—a person, an ideal, a resource—and life will feel more meaningful. 7. Experimentation Many of us curtail our natural desire to experiment as, during our formative years, we are instructed in school, at home, and among our peers to get things right and not make mistakes. Often we are literally punished for experimenting; and so we lose our taste for experimenting. However experimenting is a crucial core element of creativity, growth and learning. We can’t learn a new art medium unless we experiment with it. We can’t learn how to run our business except through trial-and-error experimentation. If you’ve lost your taste for experimentation, see if you can reacquire it by choosing experimentation as one of your meaning opportunities. Let go of needing a successful outcome, don’t worry whether you will get it right or wrong, and rejoice in the experimental process. 8. Pleasure It goes without saying that people find pleasure pleasurable and a source of meaning. Yet because of familial, cultural, and religious injunctions against enjoying pleasure or because we think that pleasure is too low a thing to honor, many people reject pleasure as a significant meaning opportunity. In a well-rounded life where we are making meaning on many fronts, by creating, by being of service, by entering into relationships, and so on, pleasure ought to take its rightful place. If our life were only about garnering pleasure we might rightly feel that we had strayed too far from our principles. But if we’re living a value-based life we’re certainly entitled to include plenty of pleasure! Pleasure is not a suspect or second-rate meaning opportunity. 9. Self-Actualization Self-actualization, like creativity, is a word that stands for our desire to make the most of our talents and inner resources. Instead of using only a small portion of your total being, you make the heroic decision to employ your full intelligence, your emotional capital, and your best personality qualities in the service of your meaning investments. This is hard to do. Your personality shadows may get in the way. The facts of existence may get in the way. We may want to use our full potential in the service of writing a novel, say, but that embroils us in the very real process of writing a novel, with all of its mysteries and difficulties. Despite these built-in problems, we know in our heart that we would love to “actualize our potential” and by doing so make ourselves proud.  There are many other meaning opportunities, too. Today, do the following “simple” thing. Just think a little bit about the idea of “seizing meaning opportunities” and the related idea of creating your own personal “menu of meaning opportunities.” Just do a little dreaming and thinking on these important ideas. To summarize: Today’s goal: To begin to understand the extent to which creating meaning positively influences mental health Today’s key principle: You can create the psychological experience of meaning by seizing meaning opportunities and if you do so that will improve your overall sense of wellbeing Today’s key strategy: Calmly considering the related ideas of “seizing meaning opportunities” and “creating your own personal menu of meaning opportunities” Good luck today! ** Dr. Eric Maisel is the author of 40+ books including Life Purpose Boot Camp, Rethinking Depression, and Coaching the Artist Within. In 2015 he will be launching a Future of Mental Health initiative. You can learn more about Dr. Maisel’s books, services, trainings, and workshops at http://ericmaisel.com. Contact Dr. Maisel at ericmaisel@hotmail.com. And don’t forget to attend the free Future of Mental Health virtual conference in February: https://www.entheos.com/The-Future-of-Mental-Health/Eric-Maisel Topics:  Self-Help Depression Subtitle:  Day 28 of 30 days to better mental health Blog to Post to:  Rethinking Psychology Teaser Text:  you increase your sense of wellbeing, improve your mental health, and experience life as more meaningful when you create your menu of meaning opportunities Mature Audiences Only:  Images:  Content Topics:  Empathy Intelligence Environment Personality Depression Altruism Creativity Religion Dreaming Coaching Beauty Health Career Fear Quote
Fluorescent dyes 'light up' brain cancer cells Two new fluorescent dyes attracted to cancer cells may help neurosurgeons more accurately localize and completely resect brain tumors, suggests a new study. Removing all visible areas of cancer (gross total resection) significantly improves survival after brain cancer surgery.
Coming to Terms With the Fact that You Can’t I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that I can’t do everything. For a long time I’ve been haunted by this notion that I’m not good enough and that no matter what I do it will never be enough to prove myself. That said, I don’t know why I...
Looking For Approval In All The Wrong Places? Chuck grew up in an extremely abusive family environment. His mother was the primary abuser of the children. From a very early age, Chuck was subjected to extremely vicious and violent beatings, which often came completely unprovoked. He never knew when the next attack would come and consequently, he lived...
6 Essentials in Healing from an Affair I got a call from a TV reporter after the infamous “blue dress” incident during Clinton’s presidency. He wanted to do an interview about the likelihood that the Clintons would break up, given the stress of Hillary discovering Bill lying and cheating. I started smiling. Arkansans, and I am one,...
What is Your Theory of the Person? Over the past few months I have found myself repeatedly asking the following question: “What is your theory of the person?” Most of the time this question is a private thought, and I am simply noting to myself the relevance of this question. I find it to be relevant when I am listening to my fifteen year old daughter talk about what she is learning in school about why people behaved the way they did. I find it relevant when politicians are making claims about the direction our country should move. I find it to be relevant when someone is trying to explain why a friend of theirs behaved in an unexpected way. And on and on. The reason I normally keep the thought to myself is that when I literally ask this question out loud—for example, if I ask it when I am supervising a doctoral student who is trying to effect some change on a client—I often get blank face staring back at me. Who even asks a question like that, yet alone is working off some semblance of an answer to it? The primary reason I have found myself asking that question is because I have come to see it as an excellent way of framing what it is that I am trying to get at with my “unified approach”. I want a working theory of people in general and of the specific person in front of me. And when I frame it that way, I realize that the unified approach is the only system I know of that is actually positioned to offer an adequate outline of an answer to the question. One of the reasons that I have found the question to be so helpful is that it frames for me what is missing in the field of human psychology. Not only does mainstream psychology lack a theory of the person, it is now functioning in such a way that it will never find one unless it fundamentally changes course. Rather than focusing on generating a working theory of the person, mainstream psychologists have a completely different identity. If you doubt this, check out how mainstream texts like Keith Stanovich’s How to Think Straight About Psychology characterize the field. After explaining that there is no grand theory of human behavior (i.e., the person), Stanovich explains that what psychologists do is ask questions that can be researched via behavioral science methodology and then goes on to articulate how to think like a behavioral scientist. In accordance with this characterization, the vast majority of academic/scholarly/research psychologists have as their skill set the capacity to develop empirical research programs on specific research questions (i.e., questions that can be addressed by gathering data). Even professional psychologists now largely operate via the empirical lens. A huge chunk of training professional psychologists centers on the question: What does the research say about this or that intervention for this or that disorder in terms of producing desirable outcomes? I, of course, have no problem with empirical research per se. I base an enormous amount of my understanding on empirical research, and we absolutely need research endeavors to refine our existing knowledge, to point out errors, and to lead to new domains of inquiry. And there will always be a need for “more research”. However, the data and information gathered from the empirical method ultimately achieves its utility when it is integrated into existing knowledge systems and referenced with and against other data and information. In other words, to achieve any genuine sense of understanding, the facts uncovered by the empirical method must be integrated into a theoretical understanding of the objects and causes under consideration, which in the case of human psychology is human individuals behaving in context. Currently, empirical facts are referenced in mainstream psychology against a bewildering array of “theories” about specific parts or particular aspects of being human or particular contexts. Thus, we have “theories” of memory and attention, learning, cognition and perception, mood and emotion, gender differences, social attraction, bias and prejudice, depression and anxiety, cognitive dissonance, dreams, dominance and minority status, defense mechanisms, implicit and explicit processing, decision making and choices, individual trait differences, the impact of trauma or rejection, the impact of culture, and on and on. But the problem is that these are “part-level” theories, not theories of the person as a whole. And apart from my work and that of a few others,** mainstream psychology doesn't even begin to offer an outline of how to put them together to make a whole. And that is why we need to be asking this question because the current state of the field of human psychology is such that there is now a striking lack of recognition that we need work on putting the parts together into a workable model of the whole person.     It is the case, of course, that historically, many pioneers in human psychology did strive to essentially offer a holistic theory of the person. This was true especially in the first half century of psychology’s existence. Psychology’s so-called grand theorists (i.e., Freud, Skinner and Rogers) essentially attempted to work out the outlines of a theory of the person. Indeed, it was in large part because the major initial paradigms in human psychology failed to produce an adequate theory of the person that human psychology retreated to more “manageable”, mid-level, part-level, empirical questions. However, in my estimation—especially in relation to my view of the field and of people via my unified approach—that retreat to methods and researching mid-level parts has come with a whole host of new problems. To the extent that everyone is engaged in empirical research about parts and problems they themselves define and measure and there is limited or no attention is paid on how all this knowledge is connected to address the issue of how people actually work as whole entities, the field will produce an ocean of information, but will offer very limited authentic, cumulative knowledge about people. Indeed, this is, in essence what I think has happened and why I am critical of the current state of affairs in human psychology. So next time you are hanging with a psychologist, ask them: “What is your theory of the person?”. To the extent that the question elicits a blank stare that is followed by some justification that psychologists no longer think that way, follow it up with the question, “But, when you really think about it, isn’t that human psychology’s ultimate goal?” ______________________ *I am happy to say that there does appear to be the beginning signs of a resurgence of interest in developing frameworks for understanding the whole person. Some work in evolutionary psychology (e.g., Steven Pinker’s How the Mind Works) is in the ballpark, although still not adequately up to the task. More recently in the field of personality psychology folks like Dan McAdams and John Mayer and others are working toward a more integrated and unified view of personality. Likewise, Jeffrey Magnavita and Jack Anchin have offered a broad unified approach to personality and psychotherapy that moves us in this direction. And Arthur Staats has, for a long time, offered a broad vision that is congruent with the framing of the question raised here. Topics:  Personality Subtitle:  The task of human psychology is to develop a working theory of the person. Blog to Post to:  Theory of Knowledge Teaser Text:  Although human psychology started by trying to develop a theory of the person, that goal has largely been abandoned by the mainstream. But the question is an excellent one for all of us to consider, and one that human psychologists should not lose sight of. Teaser Image:  Mature Audiences Only:  Content Topics:  Evolutionary Psychology Cognitive Dissonance Decision-Making Empathy Therapy Personality Bias Cognition Identity Dreaming Memory Trauma Gender Freudian Psychology Quote
Bipolar and Physical Health When I was first diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and for the last four years, I have let Bipolar dictate my life. Sure, I thought I had my symptoms under control but they kept popping their ugly heads into my daily life. I take my medication like I’m supposed to, but...
Key discovery to preventing blindness, stroke devastation Gene interactions that determine whether cells live or die in such conditions as age-related macular degeneration and ischemic stroke have been discovered by researchers. These common molecular mechanisms in vision and brain integrity can prevent blindness and also promote recovery from a stroke.
The Alcoholic Drink That Could Help Fight Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases Study finds compound in this alcoholic drink may have protective effect against neurodegenerative diseases. Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick" Advertisement6 Foods That Fight Belly Fat Brought On By Yo-Yo Dieting. Related articles:Three Ways To Fight Disease With Your Mind Discovered: How The Brain Repairs Itself After a Stroke Drug Reverses Schizophrenia in Mice by Curbing Synaptic Pruning Genetic Trigger Discovered For Most Common Form of Mental Disability and Autism Dementia Treated Successfully With Anti-Aging Diet
Focusing on What You — And Only You — Can Give Even though I feel much better about my body than I did years ago, even though I am taking much better care of myself than I did years ago, I still feel the pricks of comparison. When I’m in an exercise class, some days I find myself looking around. What is...
Hard Problem defeats legendary playwright I’ve written a review of legendary playwright Tom Stoppard’s new play The Hard Problem at the National Theatre, where he tackles neuroscience and consciousness – or at least thinks he does. The review is in The Psychologist and covers the themes running through Stoppard’s new work and how they combine with the subtly misfiring conceptualisation […]
Treating Cerebral Malaria: New Molecular Target Identified A drug already approved for treating other diseases may be useful as a treatment for cerebral malaria, according to researchers who discovered a novel link between food intake during the early stages of infection and the outcome of the disease, identifying two molecular pathways that could serve as new targets for treatment.
Best of Our Blogs: January 30, 2015 Imagine trying to live your life normally when you have an injured knee, physical illness or disease. We do the same with emotional problems we try to avoid. We try, for example, to pretend like we can do it all. We blindly hope we don’t need that medication anymore, that we’ll start taking...
ADHD And Sleep ADHD is such a varied thing. There’s a grab bag of symptoms and you don’t always get the whole bag. Sometimes things that are supposed to be symptoms are so not for you that they make you wonder whether the doc was right. I know at least two people with...
Grow Into Your Best Self–Change Your Mindset Is your mindset holding you back? Is it keeping you locked into a certain view of yourself, your children, your partner, your life? Is it keeping you from who you want to be in the life you want to lead? Mindsets are simple beliefs that shape how we see ourselves...
Binge-watching TV helps some people beat the blues For all the warnings about extreme couch potato behavior, it also may be a way for some people who feel depressed or lonely to beat the blues.