Books

A 7-Step Guide for Rebooting Civilization After the Apocalypse

The world as we know it has ended. A particularly virulent strain of avian flu finally breached the species barrier and hopped successfully to human hosts. Or tensions between India and Pakistan reached the breaking point, culminating in the use of nuclear weapons. Or a rocky asteroid, only around a mile across, slammed into the Earth and fatally changed atmospheric conditions.

Now what?

As recently as the last century, people made the things they used every day. Yet in the span of just a couple generations, we have become a society of consumers rather than makers. Thanks to today’s modern conveniences, we have become disconnected from the basic skills and knowledge on which our lives and our world depend.

Here, then, are a few of the skills you’ll need to survive in the post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Survive the immediate aftermath

Aside from dodging raiding bandits, the single most important thing you can do to stay alive in a post-apocalyptic world without antibiotics is to stop yourself picking up infections in the first place. Ensure your drinking water is not contaminated — boil it if necessary, or even disinfect using diluted bleach scavenged from any abandoned household. Soap is enormously effective at protecting against gastrointestinal and respiratory infections, and can be made by treating animal fat or plant oil with quicklime (roasted chalk or limestone) and soda (see below).

Scavenge what you need

For a certain grace period you’ll be able to dine-out on the left-overs of our fallen civilization — stockpiles of canned food in the supermarkets — before you need to redevelop agriculture to stop yourself starving to death. You’ll need viable, preserved seeds, and the Global Seed Vault on the Norwegian island of Svalbard will be well-worth a post-apocalyptic recovery expedition. This is a doomsday-proof facility dug deep into the arctic permafrost and represents an ideal agricultural SAVE file.

Reconstruct the calendar

The bane of our working lives today, the calendar is in fact critical to reliable agriculture and survival as it allows you to track your passage through the cycle of the seasons and so predict the best time for planting and harvesting.

In the northern hemisphere, summer solstice is the day the sun rises from its northern most point on the horizon (which you can in turn determine with a magnetized needle) — this falls around 21st June and so you can use this observation to peg the rest of the calendar. As your agriculture becomes increasingly efficient it’ll demand a lower and lower fraction of your population, freeing people to specialize in other skills and for your society to grow in complexity and capability.

Restart a chemical industry

Advancing civilization is not just about ensuring food surplus or exploiting windmills or steam engines to ease human labor, but also about providing vital substances. One of the most crucial classes of chemicals throughout history has been alkalis like potash (potassium carbonate) and soda (sodium carbonate), as these are needed in making glass, paper and soap. Potash can be simply extracted from the ashes of a wood fire by soaking water through them. Discard the insoluble minerals that settle on the bottom, and then recover the dissolved potash by evaporating away the water. Soda is made in the same way, from burning seaweed.

Tree-powered cars

Once all the remaining gasoline and diesel is gone you’ll struggle to drill for your own oil: the easily-accessible reserves have already been pumped dry. But that doesn’t mean you’ll have to abandon automobiles and mechanization — astonishingly, the internal combustion engine can be run on flammable gases released by the thermal-breakdown of lumber. Wood gasifier cars were common during WWII, with a tall combustion chamber strapped on the back and a pipe delivering the flammable gases into the engine cylinders.

Reestablish contact with remote communities of other survivors

If there are no functioning radios left, you can create your own receiver with surprising simplicity from scavenged materials, as was demonstrated by POW ingenuity during WWII. The key component is the rectifier that strips the sound away from the carrier wave: the contact between a pencil and rusty razor blade functions for this. A crude transmitter can be built for Morse code broadcasts using a spark generator.

How to relearn all else

By far the most important thing to try and protect and preserve through the apocalypse is the technique you need to apply to relearn everything else for yourself, to rediscover how the world works and then exploit that knowledge for developing novel technology and improving your life. This tool is the scientific method. The core principle is that you can only reliably understand the world by observing it first-hand and by quizzing it with carefully constructed questions (“experiments”) to test which of your explanations works best.

Lewis Dartnell is a UK Space Agency research fellow at University of Leicester and author of The Knowledge: How to Rebuild the World from Scratch (The Penguin Press). Read more at the-knowledge.org.

Surveillance

The New Cop on the Beat May Be a Bot

Knightscope K5 promises enhanced policing capabilities, courts controversy

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Have we as a species learned nothing from Robocop?

A Silicon Valley company called Knightscope is currently testing a prototype robot designed to detect and monitor criminal activity, much the way a police officer or a security guard would.

The Knightscope K5 is a five-foot-tall autonomous robot (one presumes that its resemblance to a Dalek is merely coincidental) that roams around your neighborhood, observing and gathering data and trying to predict where and when criminal activity will occur.

It carries no weaponry, but it has a pretty complete sensor package that includes thermal imaging, license plate reading and facial recognition.

This takes public surveillance a step beyond stationary cameras, and the challenges to personal privacy are clear. The K5 could do a whole lot of good by deterring crime, especially in neighborhoods that lack the resources to field an adequate police presence.

But where do you draw the line?

Religion

A New Muslim Renaissance is Here

American Muslims are becoming thought, cultural leaders and reviving perspectives on religious inclusion

History is witness to a time past when the Islamic civilization produced globally unparallelled architecture, literature, science, philosophy, theological discourse, and cultural influences – influences so strong it made European nobles want to dress like Muslims. Critics of Islam and Muslims scoff at this romanticism, asserting that Muslims have not produced anything great since the Middle Ages and most likely will never again. The inherent bigotry and even fallacy of that argument aside, for those critics I have to say, look out, a new Muslim renaissance is upon us.

In the midst of growing anti-Muslim sentiment in the US since 9/11, or perhaps thanks to it, this generation of Muslims is abandoning the traditional professions expected from immigrant parents (doctors, engineers, business people) and entering fields we all once thought were closed to us. The last decade has seen a steady and sure emergence of American Muslims as artists, writers, performers, activists, media personalities and intellectuals (on a global scale Muslims rank as top intellectuals). Inside the DC beltway you see evidence of this shift as well. Young American Muslims are working in national security, public diplomacy, foreign policy, politics – we have our share of hacks and wonks now too.

In a climate where America still finds itself in an uncomfortable dance with Islam, the fact that Muslims themselves are becoming thought and culture leaders in America has tremendous prospects. Anti-shariah bills loom large across the country, violence against Muslims happens and is encouraged, the homeland security apparatus is still figuring out how to work with Muslims as partners and not suspects, and a large swath of the public cannot even stomach something as innocuous as Muslims being in a patriotic coca-cola ad. But instead of being cowed, young American Muslims have reacted by demanding to tell their own stories, become influencers, and claiming their rightful place in US institutions and discourse.

This dynamism hasn’t been limited to the intersection of American Muslims with the prevailing culture. In the past five years American Muslims are leading movements to revive or reform perspectives on religious inclusion, most notably the inclusion of women and LGBTQ Muslims in sacred spaces.

On the issue of women’s leadership, inclusion, and status in Islam, there is a clear call to revive the traditions of female scholarship, leadership, and open mosque spaces. It’s no small thing that the Grand Mufti of Egypt Shaykh Ali Gomaa has acknowledged the permissibility of women leading men in prayer in the Western context after the persistence of female North American Muslim activists and scholars on the issue. A movement to explore the spaces allotted women in American mosques has lead to a larger discussion on what it means to be “Unmosqued”, or be part of a generation that feels little relevance and connection to any place of worship. “Muslim feminism” is being taken seriously by Western Muslims as the antidote to patriarchal expressions of Islam. The long standing idea, from the colonial period onward, that mosques and religious leadership are male spaces is finding its match not in a global Muslim arena, but in a Western Muslim one.

Similar to other faith traditions in the US, Islamic orthodoxy and traditionalism is being challenged on the issue of LGBTQ inclusion. A progressive Muslim movement is forcing Muslim debate and discussion on the limits of tolerance and inclusion. While the prevailing rulings of the theological boundaries on homosexual lifestyles are unlikely to change anytime soon, Western Muslim institutions have been moved to adopt a position similar to Orthodox Jewish leaders. A public recognition by a major Muslim organization of universal human dignity, and the right not to be discriminated against based on sexual orientation, would be nearly impossible to find in Muslim majority countries today, and just as difficult to find in the US a decade ago.

Social challenges such as finding suitable marriage partners is pushing conversation on interfaith marriage, traditionally an option for Muslim men, but now seriously being discussed among American Muslim women. Not just discussed, but supported by some religious leadership.

An interesting trend on these issues is that American Muslims by and large seek religious validation for revisiting and reforming rulings. They even depend on traditional Islamic principles such as ijtihad to, some may say, do away with other traditional Islamic principles. As such, a modern Islamic orthodoxy with Western Muslim scholarship at the helm, grounded in faith but embracing pluralism and change, seems to be the balance most American Muslims are gravitating towards

It’s heady, scary, and exciting to watch the face and discourse of American Muslims change and expand before your eyes. The Islam I grew up with in America is not the Islam my children are experiencing. The possibilities for their lives are much more expansive than the possibilities for my life were. The largely comfortable integration and success of American Muslims that sets them apart from their counterparts in Europe also lends space for these possibilities. From tremendously increased participation in American civic and cultural life, to pressing internal demands on religious orthodoxy, another generation or two will see a vastly different American Islam that will likely have an impact on Muslims globally. From marginalized minority, American Muslims are poised to become mainstream leaders and influencers. And it’s no small irony that while historians bemoan conquest and Western colonialism as the death knell for Islam’s “Golden Age”, this new Muslim renaissance is growing out of the West itself.

Rabia Chaudry is an attorney and the founder and president of the Safe Nation Collaborative.

At GM, Safety Could Be Mary Barra’s Silver Bullet

General Motors CEO Mary Barra appears onstage during a launch event for new Chevrolet cars before the New York Auto Show in New York April 15, 2014.
General Motors CEO Mary Barra appears onstage during a launch event for new Chevrolet cars before the New York Auto Show in New York April 15, 2014. Carlo Allegri—Reuters

When Toyota suffered its humiliating and costly recall over faulty accelerator pedals in 2010, the Japanese auto giant was forced to look inward. Its vaunted manufacturing culture had become outwardly focused, bent on becoming the world’s largest automaker. It had stopped listening to its own people. Communication was flowing out from Toyota City and any information that might delay the production mission—reports from the field, say, about jammed accelerators—either didn’t make it back or lacked the amplification needed to be noticed.

So Toyota had to reinvent its safety culture around being a better listener, much the way GM is talking about doing this week. CEO Mary Barra announced the creation of a new Global Product Integrity organization that sits within its Global Product Development Team, a team she once headed. The idea is that safety rides along with other aspects of product development—power train performance, comfort, ride dynamics—as vehicle platforms are developed globally. “We will mirror this approach to focus on safety performance. Our goal is to ensure the highest levels of execution consistently across all our vehicles,” she said in the kickoff address to the New York Auto Show.

It’s not that safety isn’t a factor in car design because it obviously is: any car that any company creates has to meet global safety standards. But what Barra is suggesting is that, at GM, safety systems have been adapted to new cars in development as opposed to being integral to the design of new vehicles.

And in creating a “Speak Up for Safety “ program for all GM employees, Barra is expanding the responsibility for safety across the company. It’s not a department, it’s a mission. “We need to make sure we break down the organizational silos and work across,” she said in an employee town meeting recently. The program is formatted to recognize employees who contribute ideas, or those who raise questions about safety issues before they become bigger problems. Call it an internal whistleblower program. “We need to drive cultural change to make sure people are going to go that extra mile in this area,” she said.

Just the usual corporate blather? Her critics, including Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, aren’t buying the new act yet. Blumenthal said that if Barra is truly dedicated to safety she’d pull the recalled cars off the road until replacement ignition parts arrive at dealers. Barra has said she’d still let her own son drive one of the recalled Cobalts. “How can you let your own son behind the wheel of a car that the recall notice says is unsafe to drive,” he asked on Bloomberg television.

But even before the Cobalt crisis, Barra had begun to change GM’s corporate culture, particularly in the product development area. Her focus has been on a leaner, more responsive management organization.

And there’s a precedent for a culture of safety approach. In the 1980s, Paul O’Neill took over as CEO of aluminum maker Alcoa and announced that safety would become his top priority. In a metals industry that accepted injuries as a cost of doing business, the idea was greeted with more than a little skepticism. But focusing on safety forced the entire —including its unionized work force—to take greater responsibility for everything that it could control, from quality to accounting. Through safety, O’Neill made everyone take ownership Alcoa’s performance. Alcoa thrived with its safety focus and it probably saved lives in the process.

GM should do so as well.

psychology

Nine Hard-Won Lessons About Grief

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After journalist Jill Smolowe buried her husband, sister, mother and mother-in-law within the space of 17 months, she expected to fall apart. To her surprise — and relief — her grief bore no resemblance to the portrait of paralyzing despair depicted in American films, TV shows and memoirs. Here, she shares the coping strategies that helped her keep going:

1. Remain connected to your life. When a loved one passes away (or receives a dire diagnosis), your life undergoes a seismic shift. As your Old Normal totters, well-meaning friends and relatives reinforce your feeling of disconnect from your old life by assuming that the only topic you want to talk about is your worry and sorrow. Perhaps that’s true. But if you, as I did, find the concerned “How are you’s” more exhausting than comforting, direct the conversation toward more familiar terrain. “How do you read Putin’s moves in Ukraine?” “What is ‘conscious uncoupling,’ exactly?” Your heart may not be in it, but as the focus moves away from your distress, you may find your thoughts do, too. Even a few minutes respite can be replenishing.

2. Do not assume your sorrow will overwhelm you. Bereavement research of the last 20 years shows that a clear majority of mourners are quite resilient. They experience their grief as a constant oscillation between sadness and lighter moments. This helps them not only to endure their sadness, but also to experience pleasure even during the earliest days of loss. As for the five-stage cycle of grief so popular in our cultural script, it is a myth. Dismissed by bereavement researchers long ago, the cycle’s five stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) were based on Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s observations of the dying — not the people left behind.

3. Tune into what you actually feel and need. When I lost Joe, my beloved husband of 24 years, I assumed that collapse would follow. The way I envisioned it, one day soon I would get into bed, pull the sheet over my head and not get up. To my surprise — and relief — that day never arrived. Instead, I continued to function much as I normally do, albeit with emotions more intense than usual. Within two weeks of Joe’s death, it became clear to me that sitting home only added to the weight of his absence. So, I went back to work. I resumed walks with friends. I attended my daughter’s crew regattas. Though my sorrow accompanied me everywhere, the effort helped me to get out of my head and reconnect with the parts of my life that remained intact.

4. If you don’t want to, don’t. This piece of advice, offered by three widowed acquaintances on separate occasions, proved a keeper. Early on, I let it guide my responses to social invitations. I also let it inform my responses to inquiries, both sincere and casual, about how I was doing. If I didn’t feel like talking about my grief, I didn’t. As weeks, then months went by, I came to understand that, for me, grief was an intensely private experience. If I was going to cry (as I did daily for many months), I preferred to do it when I was alone. My feelings of loss were too personal and too impossible to explain. Talking about them did not help.

5. People are not mind readers; tell them what you need. Friends want to be supportive, but they will lean on their own (often untested) preconceptions about grief if you don’t speak up. For me, the commiserating hugs, worried looks and somber conversations got old, fast. I let friends know that what I needed most was for them to talk to me about their lives, their kids, their work. That response felt awkward, even ungracious, at times. But later several friends told me that by giving them clear guidance, I made it “easy” for them to help me. (Note to friends: helping a grieving person to focus on her strengths, rather than her sorrow, can be very therapeutic.)

6. For those who aim to lend support, watch for cues, listen carefully. Heartfelt though it may be, an offer of “If there is anything I can do …” is tantamount to offering nothing. (Trust me. A bereft person doesn’t want be saddled with the task of making you feel useful.) Instead, be attentive. If your concerned “Tell me how you are” meets with a brisk “Fine, how was your vacation?” that’s a signal to change the channel. If you notice a grieving neighbor’s trashcans are still curbside two days after the garbage pickup, ask if she wants them returned to her porch — or better yet, just do it. If your phone messages aren’t being returned, try email. Mourners appreciate your concern, but they may not be ready to deal with it on your schedule.

7. Express your love and appreciation. If there was any silver lining in Joe’s death, it was that we had time to prepare. While we didn’t anticipate that he would die, we knew from the day of his leukemia diagnosis that death was a possible outcome. Over the next two and half years, we constantly expressed not only our love, but also our appreciation for each other and for the life we’d built together. I’d always known that Joe loved me, but his acknowledgments of things I’d done for him and sacrifices I’d made on behalf of our marriage would later prove consoling. Those conversations also provided opportunity to address our unresolved issues. After Joe died, my grief was unencumbered by either unfinished business or regret that I’d left something important unsaid.

8. Gratitude is a potent antidote. As I worked on Joe’s eulogy, it occurred to me that too often such loving sentiments are reserved for memorial services. I wanted the people whose kindness had touched or steadied me during Joe’s long illness to know what I valued most about their support. Now. Before it was too late. So, I began writing thank-you letters that detailed what exactly it was about each person’s support that had lightened my load. Each time I unbottled my gratitude, it helped me to recognize the many reasons I had to go on without Joe.

9. Know your loved one’s final wishes. During a particularly gruesome hospitalization, Joe told me, “There are some things I want you to know, in case I die.” He specified the items he wanted me to save for our daughter, and told me to discard the rest. He told me he wanted to be cremated and wanted a memorial service. And he told me, “You should remarry.” Though numbing in the moment, his stated wishes proved a gift. Weeks later when he died and I was in the blur of new grief, I didn’t have to second-guess his burial preferences. His detachment about his possessions enabled me to sift and discard as I chose. And his generous statement about marriage enabled me to move on without guilt, knowing that he wanted me to build a new life.

Jill Smolowe is the author of the new memoir Four Funerals and a Wedding: Resilience in a Time of Grief.

Pregnancy

The Problem With America’s Twin Epidemic

Americans undergoing fertility treatments have gotten used to the prospect of the 'instant family'—but it may carry unnecessary risks.

Remember the days when getting pregnant with twins was a surprise? Now if you’re undergoing fertility treatment, you actually have to decide in advance whether you’re up for double trouble by authorizing how many embryos to have implanted in your uterus. But a new study commissioned by the March of Dimes urges doctors to reduce the health problems caused by multiple births by encouraging patients to get pregnant one embryo at a time.

You don’t have to get mowed down by a double-wide stroller on a city sidewalk to know we’re in the middle of a twin epidemic. Twins account for more than 20 to 30 percent of babies conceived via in-vitro fertilization (IVF), which reached an all-time high with more than 165,000 cycles performed in the U.S. in 2012, according to the latest statistics by the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology. National data show twin births nearly doubled over the last three decades to 1 in 30 babies born in the United States in 2009, from 1 in every 53 babies in 1980.

“In the old days of IVF, we had such low pregnancy rates that we had to transfer multiple embryos at a time just to have a good chance of creating a successful pregnancy,” explains Robert Anderson, MD, a fertility doctor from Newport Beach, California. Yet as fertility medicine improved over the past few decades, rates of multiples eventually spiked until the American Society for Reproductive Medicine tightened guidelines in 2012 about how many embryos could be transferred at a time to prevent another “Octomom,” whose doctor’s license was revoked after he implanted eight embryos into Nadya Suleman’s uterus. The current rule of thumb: one to two for women under 35 and three to five for women in their early 40s, depending on the quality of the embryos.

Yet doctors like Anderson are making the case that we should rethink the trend of buying our babies in bulk, since a singleton pregnancy is better for the health of the mother and baby. The latest numbers show that nearly 15 percent of women under 35 opted for a single embryo transfer in 2012, which is double the number from three years earlier. “Over the years, we grew to accept a certain percentage of twins, but it’s a big problem,” says Anderson. “They’re born three to four weeks premature on average, and there’s an increased risk of birth defects, not to mention the mother suffering from getting gestational diabetes or preeclampsia. A study last year found that medical costs associated with care for the mother during pregnancy and immediately after birth and for the infants up to one year cost on average about $105,000 for twins, compared to $21,000 for a single baby.

Despite the increasing acceptance of the technique known as elective single embryo transfer,the rates are still low compared to some European countries, where IVF is often covered by national health insurance and doctors prefer to implant just one embryo in the vast majority of cases. The concept has been a hard sell on American patients, since many can’t afford multiple IVF cycles and are thrilled at the idea of getting “two for the price of one.” Or they’re older patients who worry they’ll have a harder time getting pregnant the second time around a few years later. “When I talk to my patients about single embryo transfer, the vast majority of their eyes glaze over,” explains Fady Sharara, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist in Reston, Virginia. “They’ve already made up their minds. They say, ‘Doctor, I’d rather have twins, and then we’re done.’” This twin mindset has become so entrenched among patients that even in a recent study in which they were offered financial incentives to go for a singleton pregnancy, 40 percent still declined.

Yet the math of “more is more” is misleading, and proponents say success rates can be similar. Anderson’s team at the Southern California Institute for Reproductive Sciences published a study last fall in Fertility & Sterility showing that pregnancy rates involving single embryos that had been genetically tested were equivalent to those with a double transfer. Here’s how it works: Although a woman undergoing IVF might produce enough eggs to create a half-dozen embryos, only a certain percentage will be chromosomally normal and likely to lead to a pregnancy. So doctors boost a patient’s chances of success by transferring one of those good embryos, which has a pregnancy rate of up to nearly 60 percent. (National IVF pregnancy rates involving untested embryos, on the other hand, range from 47 percent in women under 35 and 20 percent for women in their early 40s.) She’ll freeze the extra embryos and come back for another pregnancy attempt later, if they first one fails or she wants another child. “You don’t have to have the whole family at the same time,” explains Sharara, pointing out that even though the first cycle might cost around $20,000, including genetic testing, subsequent transfers of frozen embryos will cost a couple thousand each.

Doctors claim they can boost success rates even more by tinkering with the timing of transfers. During conventional IVF, a woman undergoes weeks of hormone stimulation after which her eggs are retrieved, fertilized with sperm, grown into embryos and implanted into her uterus immediately afterwards. But if a woman chooses genetic testing, her embryos will be frozen while she waits for results, and Anderson says she has a better shot of pregnancy if the embryo is transferred during a later month when her reproductive system isn’t flooded with so many hormones.

Fertility medicine has come a long way from throwing a bunch of embryos into a womb and seeing what sticks. Still, the piecemeal approach may not be for everyone, especially older women who want a ready-made family as soon as possible. Also, the insurance companies who do cover IVF, may not cover genetic testing or embryo freezing, which can cost thousands extra. But the growing popularity of the singleton method is a good trend for patients who want more control in shaping the size of their families.

psychology

The Science Of ‘Happily Ever After’: 3 Things That Keep Love Alive

Ile Saint Louis, Paris, France
Ile Saint Louis, Paris, France Jorge Fajl—Getty Images/National Geographic RF

As Daniel Jones, author of Love Illuminated, explains: we spend youth asking “How do I find love?” and midlife asking “How do I get it back?”

Anyone in a relationship or who plans on being in one needs to know how to keep love alive over the long term.

But how do you learn the secret to this? Everyone is happy to explain “how they met” but few give the details on “how they stayed together.”

So let’s look at what science has to say.

“Happily Ever After” Ain’t Easy

Aside from being the epitome of lazy writing, “happily ever after” is not simple.

Ty Tashiro explains that couples in their first year of marriages score 86% for marriage satisfaction. By the seventh year, it’s under 50%.

The Science of Happily Ever After: What Really Matters in the Quest for Enduring Love

Yes, about 50% of couples get divorced. Another 10-15% separate but do not file paperwork. And 7 more percent are chronically unhappy.

So the real stat is two-thirds of marriages do not live “happily ever after.”

Via The Science of Happily Ever After: What Really Matters in the Quest for Enduring Love:

The divorce rate often reported by the media is 50 percent, which is based on Census Bureau data. However, census data does not capture the 10 to 15 percent of couples who permanently separate but do not file formal paperwork for a legal divorce. This means that a conservative estimate of the divorce and permanent separation rate is 60 percent. Add the additional 7 percent of chronically unhappy couples who do not divorce or permanently separate but are consistently unhappy in their marriage, and this means that two-thirds of all married couples do not live happily ever after.

Why is marriage so hard over the long term?

One of the main reasons is what science calls it “habituation.” Which is a fancy way of saying we get bored.

Early on, when a couple can finish each other’s sentences it’s romantic. But over time “predictable” is a huge negative.

Chris Rock gets the point across humorously in this video (NSFW):

Robert Greene, author of The Art of Seduction, explains that surprise is key to romantic feelings:

Seduction involves a degree of surprise, which is generally the first thing that disappears after you’ve been in a relationship, and why there’s no more seducing that goes on. Everything is familiar and you’re no longer surprised by the other person.

So is there any way to bring those tingles back?

Yes. Here’s how.

What You Can Learn From Arranged Marriages

“Arranged marriage! AGH! Weird!”

Hold on a sec. We can learn something here. What do researchers find when they compare at 50 arranged marriages and 50 “love” marriages?

Love marriages start out happier — but that declines quickly.

Arranged marriages start out less happy, but after 10 years, they’re happier than love marriages. And stay that way.

Via The Art of Choosing:

The couples who had married for love and been together less than a year averaged a score of 70 points out of a possible 91 on the love scale, but these numbers steadily fell over time. The love couples who had been married ten years or longer had an average score of only 40 points. In contrast, the couples in arranged marriages were less in love at the outset, averaging 58 points, but their feelings increased over time to an average score of 68 at the ten or more years mark.

What’s the secret behind the long term success of arranged marriages?

They have to work at it.

They don’t passively rely on “magic” and intense emotion. They have to spend a lot of time thinking about how to make it work.

Via Love Illuminated:

That process of discovery is ostensibly the fun of courtship, too, except that in arranged marriage the goal is to figure out how to be married, not whether to marry.

Research shows expecting a fairy tale relationship is a prescription for disappointment.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships:

Elements of fairy tales such as Cinderella were present in 78 percent of people’s beliefs about romantic love. Those people were more likely to have experienced disillusionment, devastation, and angst in their relationships than were those who gave less credence to fairy tales. – Lockhart 2000

Feeling like it’s all magic means it’s out of your control — and that without that initial magic, it’s hopeless.

The happiness of arranged marriages means a couple can make magic if they try.

So you need to actively keep the marriage happy. How do you do that?

Don’t Fix The Bad. Increase The Good.

Look at your spouse as something you purchased “as-is.” Research shows trying to change them doesn’t work:

…when participants (N = 160) focused their relationship improvement attempts on changing the partner, individuals reported more negative improvement strategies, lower improvement success, and, in turn, more negative relationship evaluations… results suggest that targeting the partner may do more harm than good despite that relationship evaluations pivot on whether the partner produces change.

John Gottman, researcher and author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, says 69% of a couple’s problems are perpetual.

These problems don’t go away yet many couples keep arguing about them year after year.

Via The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work:

Most marital arguments cannot be resolved. Couples spend year after year trying to change each other’s mind – but it can’t be done. This is because most of their disagreements are rooted in fundamental differences of lifestyle, personality, or values. By fighting over these differences, all they succeed in doing is wasting their time and harming their marriage.

So if you can’t change them and they won’t change you, how can you reduce the bad stuff?

You can’t. But you don’t need to.

The best relationships are more about increasing the good than reducing the bad.

Divorce may have less to do with an increase in conflict and more to do with a decrease in positive feelings.

Via Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being:

Shelly Gable, professor of psychology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, has demonstrated that how you celebrate is more predictive of strong relations than how you fight.

Okay, so you need to increase the good times. What’s the best way to do that?

(This part is exciting. I mean, literally.)

Forget Romance. Think Excitement.

Think a pleasant date night is all it takes to keep love alive?

Researchers did a 10 week study comparing couples that engaged in “pleasant” activities vs “exciting” activities. Pleasant lost.

Via For Better: How the Surprising Science of Happy Couples Can Help Your Marriage Succeed:

Those who had undertaken the “exciting” date nights showed a significantly greater increase in marital satisfaction than the “pleasant” date night group…

Why would doing anything exciting have such a big effect on a relationship?

Because we’re lousy about realizing where our feelings are coming from.

Excitement from any source will be associated with the person you’re with, even if they’re not the cause of it.

As happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky explains, excitement experienced mutually brings the tingles back.

Via The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn’t, What Shouldn’t Make You Happy, but Does:

…Whether the couples were only dating or long-married, the ones who did the shared novel activity were more likely than the ones who did the shared neutral activity to agree to statements like “I feel happy when I am doing something to make my partner happy” and “I feel ‘tingling’ and ‘an increased heartbeat’ when I think of my partner” after the activity than before.

So no boring, lame date nights. Go do something exciting. Go dancing together or anything else you can both participate in as a couple.

Sum Up

Keeping love alive can be tricky. You need to actively work at it and it’s more important to increase the good then to reduce the bad.

And the best way to do that is by increasing excitement.

So you’re hopping on roller coasters and going white water rafting — but what do you need to do when you’re there?

Pretend you’re on your first date.

Studies show pretending time with a romantic partner was a first date makes it more enjoyable for you and for your partner:

Across a series of studies, participants underestimated how good they would feel in situations that required them to put their best face forward… participants who were instructed to engage in self-presentation felt happier after interacting with their romantic partner than participants who were not given this instruction…

Why? On first dates we make an effort to impress. And we’re full of hope.

Love means being a little delusional (Some researchers even think love might qualify as a mental illness.)

Thinking your partner is better than they really are makes for longer, better relationships.

Via The Science of Love:

Sandra Murray and her colleagues have been studying romantic relationships now for several decades, and have found that idealising one’s partner is a sure recipe for marital success; moreover, the higher one’s ideals are and the more one idealises one’s partner, the more satisfied one is with the relationship – and the longer it is likely to last.

Letting yourself be a little crazy — crazy for your partner — pays off.

What’s Next?

Other posts you should read on improving marriage, love and romance:

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

psychology

Drive Carefully This Tax Day

Why memorizing a 7-digit number makes you more likely to eat poorly, and filing your taxes makes you more likely to crash your car.

Stress is not all bad. I often remind my PhD students that some degree of stress can be a useful motivator for increased performance and productivity. (Have to present your research project next month? Better get started!) The problem, of course, is that many of us live with too much stress, and it seems that every year we discover new levels of busy-ness, new ways of falling behind, and new heights of stress.

The biggest stressors in our lives — nearing deadlines, dysfunctional relationships, difficult coworkers — are relatively clear. And although we don’t always know exactly what to do about them, their existence and their impact on our well being is pretty straightforward. Less clear, however, is the profound effect of the smaller stressors — those tiny nagging annoyances that accumulate. To fully appreciate the effects of (seemingly) small stressors, consider this:

In a study published in 1999, researchers Baba Shiv and Alexander Fedorikhin asked one group of participants to remember a two-digit number (something like, say, 35) and another group of participants to remember a seven-digit number (say, 7581280). In order to get paid for the experiment, all of these participants would have to repeat the number to another experimenter who was waiting for them at the other end of a long corridor. And if they didn’t remember the number? No reward. The researchers wondered whether being under a low cognitive load (2 digits) vs. a high cognitive load (7 digits), would influence the participants’ ability to think and make good decisions.

With their respective numbers in mind, down the corridor they went. As the participants walked down the hall toward their destination, they unexpectedly passed a cart displaying pieces of rich, dark chocolate cake alongside bowls of colorful, healthy fruit. As participants walked by the cart, another experimenter stopped them in their tracks to offer them one of the two snacks.

What decisions did participants make, and did these decisions depend on whether they were under a low or high cognitive load? Was their choice of cake or fruit related to the number they had in their heads? The results showed that those under a high cognitive load condition (think about those of us with large to-do lists, or many things on our minds) chose the cake much more frequently than the participants in the low cognitive load condition. With their higher-level faculties preoccupied, the seven-digit group was less able to overturn their instinctive desires, and many more of them ended up succumbing to the instantly gratifying chocolate cake.

A second, more timely, example of the impact that seemingly small stressors have on our decisions, is based on an analysis carried out by Donald Redelmeier and Christopher Yarnell. Examining car accidents over a 30-year period, they found that on April 15th (which is Tax Day in the U.S.), Americans have about a 6% increase in fatal road crashes. This increase in fatalities puts tax days in the same risk category as Super Bowl Sunday, although presumably the effect is due to alcohol in one case and stress in the other (though from the data we can’t be certain).

Together, the controlled cognitive load experiment and the analysis of fatalities in car accidents suggests that our cognitive capacity is dangerously low, and that even relatively small external interventions can tax us — and they can tax us to a level that is hard to believe. The results also suggest that you should be extra careful driving this April 15th.

Beyond the questions of cake and driving on Tax Day, the applications of these findings to our daily life are important. If (seemingly) small stressors can derail our decisions to such a degree, what should we expect in a world where people keep 100 to-dos in one list, 50 in another, trying to juggle home and work responsibilities, while being surrounded by multiple electronic devises that alter us that all kinds of important things are happening (someone liked a picture we posted on Facebook!)?

Could it be that the same wonderful technological advances also tax our limited cognitive ability and attention? I suspect so. I suspect that many of us live a mindset that is equivalent to trying to remember a 27-digit number while driving on a day that is both Tax Day and Super Bowl Sunday.

What can we do about this? The answer is technologically complex but conceptually simple. The first step is to realize our limitations, and the second is to design tools for the Homer Simpson in each of us. We need devices, alerts, to-do lists and calendars that don’t tax our limited cognitive capacity, but free some of it instead. We need tools that decrease our stress, and we need tools that allow us to make better decisions. And until we get these, lets drive extra carefully this April 15th.

Dan Ariely is the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University and the author of Predictably Irrational and, most recently, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone — Especially Ourselves.

Religion

Overland Park Shooting: A Church Responds to Hate

Three Killed As Gunman Attacks Jewish Centers In Kansas
A police car is seen at the entrance of the Jewish Community Center after three were killed when a gunman opened fire on April 13, 2014 in Overland Park, Kans. Jamie Squire—Getty Images

Faith leaders respond to the shooting at a Jewish Community Center in Kansas City

St Thomas the Apostle lies within a mile of the sites where a shooter targeted Jewish communities yesterday, killing a man, a woman, and a teenaged boy from our neighborhood of Overland Park. Our members attend activities at the Jewish Community Center, and we have had members in residence at Village Shalom. Many of us know people who are affected, and some of us knew the victims and their families. For all its size and population, Overland Park is a small town; we know each other, and we care for one another.

As we heard the first terrible reports, we determined to hold a vigil – to offer a place to come together immediately as a community. Rabbi Jacques Cukiekorn of Temple Israel helped us plan, with hymns and prayers from Judaism and Christianity. We announced by local news that we would open our doors, and hundreds came: families and neighbors, and dozens of youth who had put on school shirts and theatre shirts in support of the young man who had been killed.

We offered prayers – not only for those who had been killed but that such broken places might be healed, and that we might have the courage to respond not by learning to hate, but by choosing to love more fiercely. We prayed that we might act to build a more just world.

But surely the most powerful moment came when a woman named Mindy Corporon explained who she was: the daughter of one man who’d been killed, and the mother of another – a teenage boy.

Mindy spoke to our assembled neighborhood, thanking everyone for coming. She explained the random events that caused her father to be the one taking her son to this audition, as the rest of the family juggled sports and other activities, finally summarizing it with profound words: “We were in life; we were having life. And I want you all to know that we’re going to have more life, and I want you all to have more life.” These were the words of a woman who had lost both father and son only hours before.

Our Christian community had entered Holy Week that morning, with a service of palms remembering that Jesus entered into Jerusalem. Later this week, we will hold services on Good Friday – a day that has been used in history for evil by other Christians, who encouraged it to be an occasion for violence against Jews. It is a sober reality that Christian churches have their place among those who have helped create the terrible lies that teach hate and violence.

Our parish and Temple Israel have worked against this idea of division, and worked to build on what unites us. When Temple Israel began, we offered them space at St Thomas for their Sabbath worship until they could build their own synagogue. Rabbi Jacques has taught classes about Judaism for our members, and co-led a trip to Israel with members of both communities. Two years ago, Temple Israel returned to hold their Passover Seder meal in our church as we held our Good Friday services – two traditions in friendship on a day that had formerly taught hate, celebrating our faiths in two rooms under a common roof. As our service ended, they welcomed a number of us to join them in their celebration. This is the strength that we leaned on together yesterday, as violence targeting Jewish centers killed Christians. And we will continue to build up that strength.

The Jewish Passover begins this week, and we will again open our space to our neighbors. The Christian Holy Week continues as well, and Good Friday will be a moment when we repent of our role in the sins of the world, and face the stark truth that when God offered a message of love, humanity offered violence for it.

But we will also remember in our celebration of Easter that when we offered violent death, God responded instead with love: raising Jesus from that death and showing that the message of God’s love was not destroyed by our violence, and neither was the commandment to love one another. We held vigil together, because love has not ended, even in the face of grief.

“We are still in life. We will have life, and we are going to have more life, and we want you all to have more life as well.”

The Reverend Gar Demo and the Reverend Benedict Varnum are Episcopal priests serving at St Thomas the Apostle in the Diocese of Kansas, and worked to organize a vigil service in response to the shootings in Overland Park on Sunday.

psychology

How to Flirt — Backed by Scientific Research

How To Flirt — Backed By Scientific Research
Jacquie Boyd—Getty Images/Ikon Images

Does Flirting Actually Work?

Very much so. In fact, research says it’s more effective than looking good.

Signaling availability and interest trumps attractiveness.

Via How to Make Someone Fall in Love With You in 90 Minutes or Less:

Dr. Monica Moore, a psychologist at Webster University in St. Louis, has conducted research on the flirting techniques used in singles bars, shopping malls, and places young people go to meet each other. She concluded that it’s not the most physically appealing people who get approached, but the ones who signal their availability and confidence through basic flirting techniques like eye contact and smiles. Just signaling your interest in someone gets you halfway there, whether you’re a man or a woman.

What Type of Flirting Works Best?

Two types of flirting are universal: smiling and eye contact are indicators pretty much everywhere and work for both sexes.

Via The Mating Game: A Primer on Love, Sex, and Marriage:

…the available evidence suggests that men and women around the world use many of the same nonverbal behaviors to communicate romantic interest… smiling and eye contact do appear to be universal methods used by men and women to convey romantic interest.

In fact, eye contact is not only a signal – it can actually make someone more attracted to you.

But what works better than anything else?

Touching.

And research has isolated which types of touching are regarded as “merely friendly”, in the zone of “plausible deniability”, or “going nuclear.”

  • Friendly: Shoulder push, shoulder tap, handshake.
  • Plausible Deniability: Touch around the shoulder or waist, touch on the forearm.
  • Nuclear: Face touch.

Via Close Relationships:

The behavior that participants rated as reflecting the most flirtation and the most romantic attraction was the soft face touch, followed by the touch around the shoulder or waist, and then the soft touch on the forearm. The least flirtatious and romantic touches were the shoulder push, shoulder tap, and handshake. Thus, touching that is gentle and informal, and that occurs face-to-face or involves “hugging” behavior, appears to convey the most relational intent.

Research has shown that even a light touch on the arm makes a man more successful in getting a girl’s number.

But don’t ignore context.

Behavior is perceived differently in different locations. The more formal the setting, the more obvious you need to be to get the signal across.

Via The Mating Game: A Primer on Love, Sex, and Marriage:

For each scenario, participants indicated whether they believed the stranger was flirting with them or not. The results revealed significantly higher percentages of “yes” (i.e., flirting) responses when the stranger was in the restaurant bar as opposed to the school hallway (61% vs. 49%), when the stranger made an effort to go out of his or her way as opposed to making inadvertent and non-effortful eye contact (68% vs. 41%), and when the stranger paid a compliment as opposed to asking for the time (83% vs 26%). Not surprisingly, given this pattern of results, the scenario that produced the highest percentage of “yes” responses (74%) was that involving a stranger who went out of his or her way to compliment the target while in the “flirt-friendly” setting of a restaurant bar.

And, ladies, after you’ve caught his attention with flirting, keep in mind that studies confirm that “playing hard to get” works.

(Here’s the trick to doing it the right way.)

What About For Men?

Touching is almost always acceptable for women, but can get men in hot water real fast. And hair flips and lip licking are pretty sex specific to women.

So, early on, how can a guy flirt without getting in trouble?

Research has shown that flirting which emphasizes physical attractiveness has little effect when males do it.

The flirting that is most effective for men involves displays of social dominance.

Via Close Relationships:

The results indicated that the men who successfully initiated romantic contact with women exhibited a greater number of particular kinds of nonverbal flirting behavior than men who did not establish romantic contact. Specifically, successful men directed more brief glances at their intended, engaged in a greater number of “space maximization” movements (positioning the body so that it takes up more space; e.g., extending one arm across an adjacent chair, stretching so that both arms extend straight up in the air), changed their location in the bar more frequently, and displayed greater amounts of non-reciprocated touching to surrounding men (e.g., playfully shoving, touching, or elbowing the ribs of other men). In discussing their findings, the researchers concluded that men who provide signals of their positive intentions (e.g., through glancing behaviors) and their status (e.g., through space maximization and non-reciprocated touch of male peers) receive preferential attention from women.

How do you know if it’s working? When you start talking to her, ask yourself: “Is she speaking smoothly and quickly?”

Because MIT research says that’s a very good sign.

Overall, ask yourself, “What would James Bond do?” And here’s a guide to what makes Bond so irresistible.

Why Aren’t They Getting My Signals!?!

Here’s something you probably don’t hear a lot: it’s most likely your fault.

Researchers have documented a bias where people think they’re being clear about their intentions but, in reality, nobody but them thinks they’re flirting.

Via The Mating Game: A Primer on Love, Sex, and Marriage:

A more recent series of investigations by Vorauer and her colleagues (Vorauer, Cameron, Holmes, & Pearce, 2003) demonstrated that the fear of being rejected by a potential partner can produce yet another pernicious attributional bias. The “signal amplification bias” occurs when people believe that their social overtures communicate more romantic interest to potential partners than is actually the case and thus fail to realize that they have not adequately conveyed their feelings of attraction.

You may need to amp it up, even if that makes you a bit uncomfortable.

Research shows that women are more successful in their flirting when they’re more direct.

What’s Next?

Here are research-based guides on related topics:

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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