Half of all unpaid bills on credit reports are medical bills, but the median amount is relatively small. Here's why it's a problem for so many consumers.
It’s lovely that the now-famous British couple who made the mistake of having their preemie baby born in the U.S. won’t have to pay their potential $200,000 in medical bills. That doesn’t help anyone else, however. America is teeming with unpaid medical bills. How do we know? The nation’s top consumer financial regulator just published a study showing that half of all unpaid bills that land on credit reports are medical bills, and a stunning one in seven Americans with a credit report have an unpaid medical bill as a blemish.
You don’t have to look far for stories of billing red tape or insurance confusion that causes lead life-threatening consequences. In fact, even while social media and European press rallied behind Lee Johnson and fiancée Katie Amos as they were stranded in the U.S. with their 11-weeks-premature baby, a grieving mother in Ireland warned that lack of health coverage in the U.S. killed her immigrant daughter, 31-year-old Katrina Hennigan. Katrina, who had lived in the U.S. since she was 11, was advised to see a cardiologist, but as a non-insured hospitality worker, she was unable to afford visits with a specialist. She was found dead in her Rhode Island apartment last month. Had Hennigan moved back to Ireland, as her mother had urged, her cardiology visit would have been free.
But stories of maddening red tape and confusion are even more common. In fact, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says that most unpaid medical bills are relatively small. The median amount is $200. And 15 million Americans with credit report blemishes have only unpaid medical bills on their reports. Those small bills can have major consequences, however. An unpaid bill of as little as $100 can lower a consumer’s strong credit score of 780 by as much as 100 points, according to the CFPB. Consumers should check their credit reports regularly to look for collection items or mistakes that could be dragging down their credit scores — they can do that for free once a year, and can get a free credit report summary every month on Credit.com.
Why do all these small bills with big consequences remain unpaid? One reason: Billing practices cause massive confusion. Patients frequently receive two, three or even four bills from different entities after a simple doctor’s visit.
Here’s an example provided by one reader:
“For one doctor’s visit I’d pay a copay, and then get billed separately by the doctor, the lab company, and the practice,” she wrote. “Often these bills came months after the original visit. And their accounting codes made it difficult to understand what was covered in each bill. Hospital visits were even worse. For a dislocated finger, I had separate bills from the hospital, the ER docs, the radiology team, the pharmacy, and the lab.”
The CFPB cited billing confusion as a major cause of unpaid medical debt in its report, blaming “indirect affiliation with the debt (that) introduces potential sources of error in collections reporting.”
And another reader put it more bluntly:
“I would love to know what percentage of those bills aren’t paid because the insurer and provider are fighting, with the insured member stuck in the middle. I know I have some of those, and it’s maddening,” he wrote.
Have you suffered a medical billing red tape nightmare? As part of our Debt Collection Files, we look at why bills slip through the cracks, and how even a small paperwork error can have major life consequences. Leave your comment below, on our Facebook page, or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More from Credit.com
- 10 Tips for Negotiating With Debt Collectors
- How to Get Your Free Annual Credit Reports
- The Medical Bill Nightmares
This article originally appeared on Credit.com.
A preschooler’s emotional world is reminiscent of 'Frozen' heroine Elsa’s internal struggle
Disney’s Frozen, which earned more than $1.2 billion at the box office, is not only the first “princess” movie to make the list of top 10 grossing animated films, but also the number-one animated film of all time. Its songs and characters are culturally ubiquitous.
Little girls have long been drawn to princesses. But what is it that makes Frozen so much more appealing than previous princess movies—and why does it enrapture young children in particular? As psychologists (who happen to be sisters just like the heroines in the film) and the mothers of princess-loving daughters, we decided to consider this question.
First, a preschooler’s emotional world is reminiscent of Frozen heroine Elsa’s internal struggle: Her emotions are strong, passionate — and seem uncontrollable. Preschoolers too, are driven by their impulses. When Elsa laments that she’s afraid that there’s “no escape from the storm inside of me,” it resonates with young children (and perhaps their patience-tested parents, as well).
Second, preschoolers’ imaginations can make the world a wondrous place filled with the possibility of excitement and adventure. Children respond to stories that employ magical realism, so Elsa—as a superhero with what one of our daughters (Maryam’s) and her friends call “ice powers” (the ability to create a whole castle of snow and ice using only her fingers)—has special appeal. Perhaps because they are so in awe of her magic and power, children are less likely to get caught up in Elsa’s experience of isolation and desperation when she is locked away in her room as a girl and hides herself in a remote castle as a woman.
But with the allure of magic and the sense that anything is possible comes a high potential for terror. Maryam’s daughter particularly liked that there isn’t a witch in Frozen. Though she adores other Disney princess movies, the witch-like characters (like Mother Gothel in Rapunzel) are all too real. The scary parts in Frozen are minimal and temporary, and the villain is an ordinary guy who sings a catchy love song.
Thirdly, Elsa has a genuine connection with her sister, Anna. Despite Elsa’s repeated rebuffs to Anna’s attempts to develop a friendship throughout most of the movie, their bond underscores dedication to family above all. Preschoolers are deeply entrenched in their families and tend to demonstrate a strong in-group attachment, meaning that they favor members within their social circle. Even when Frozen viewers are rooting for Anna to form a relationship with her love interest Kristoff, the love between the sisters is much more appealing. The heroines of Frozen are authentic and real, and no longer solely focused on finding a prince. They preach sisterly love and girl power.
Finally, the sing-along music seals the deal. Maryam’s 4-year-old daughter and her friends love to sing the anthem “Let it Go,” wagging their fingers at each other: “Be the good girl you always have to be!” They stomp in unison, pretending to be Elsa stomping on the ice to create her castle. Even Maryam’s 1-year-old son gets into the act, mimicking their behavior.
When asked what she thought the song was about, Maryam’s daughter smiled and put it succinctly: “It’s about Elsa being happy and free, and nobody bothering her.”
So there it is, the crux of the matter: a universally appealing desire to be happy and free.
Perhaps understanding the perspective of a preschooler can help us appreciate some of what draws us all to this movie: We all feel internal struggles with our impulses. None of us really wants a (too) scary villain. Most of us are pretty loyal to our families, despite their eccentricities and the emotional challenges that we face at times. And all of us want to be happy and free.
Maryam Kia-Keating, Ph.D. and Yalda T. Uhls, MBA, Ph.D. are sisters, psychologists, and, most importantly, moms. Maryam is an associate professor of clinical psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Yalda is a senior scientific researcher at the Children’s Digital Media Center@LA at UCLA and the Regional Director of the non-profit Common Sense Media. They wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.
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...and learn some persistence, darn it
New Year’s resolutions. We’ve all broken so many that they serve more as a punchline for jokes than a way to actually change.
But setting goals, and plugging away at them, is a crucial part of life. So we talked with Dr. Laura Markham, expert in child development and author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, for tips on how to start conversations with kids that will help them set and meet their goals.
For all kids, Markham says it’s important to make sure we’re helping them meet their goals—not ours. “Parents have goals for kids,” she says. But meeting a goal always takes effort, and “if you’re trying something hard, you need to have some motivation to overcome. And that can’t just be to please parents.”
Parents can help elementary age kids start to think about their goals by having low-key conversations, Markham says. “Ask questions like, ‘What do you like doing? What do you like about your life?’” And listen, Markham adds. Often, kids will spontaneously express interest in anything from a sport to an instrument to helping pick up trash at the park.
By the time kids reach middle school, most of them already know what it’s like to miss a goal, Markham says. And it bothers them at least as much as it bothers their parents. So instead of focusing on what’s gone wrong, parents can help kids focus on what’s right, with questions like, “What am I good at? What is good in my life?” A focus on the positive, Markham says, can actually set kids up for more success. “People shift into a positive frame of mind when they feel they’ve been successful,” she says. “It allows us to rise to the situation and fight.”
High school kids are in a position to get practical. For older kids working towards a goal, “it can be worth noticing what got in your way,” Markham says. But parents can help them to stay practical even as they face tough realities: “Instead of beating yourself up about it, get the support you need to do it.” And think small, Markham advises, by breaking big goals down into manageable pieces, with questions like, “What’s gotten in my way? What support do I need to move forward? What’s the next step I can take?”
But setting a goal is only half the battle. What can a parent do when kids get discouraged?
Markham says the research shows that perseverance in children doesn’t come from a “get tough” approach. It comes from empathy. Kids of all ages are less likely to give up when they feel that someone listens and understands their feelings.
So at every age, acknowledging all the feelings kids have as they try, fail, and succeed, is key. In fact, giving them room to talk about how they feel may be just as important than strategizing the next step.
“Your job as a parent is to empathize and hold the light so kids can see the way out of the box they’re in,” Markham says. “You can never see the whole road, but you can see the next step to take. And whether it’s learning to play the violin, or feeding the hungry, when you take one small step, then you’ll be in a new place.”
These steps will get your child’s finances off to a strong start in 2015.
It’s never too early to start teaching youngsters about personal finance. Here are three tips from financial planners to help your kids become more savvy about spending, saving, and understanding the value of a dollar.
1. Prepare to spend. Is a prom or class trip on the horizon? Have your kid take ownership of the budgeting process, says Marguerita Cheng, a financial adviser in Rockville, Md. Regularly depositing babysitting money or other earnings in the bank for a big-ticket purchase will help your child understand how much things cost and what it takes to reach savings targets.
2. Sock money away. Putting money in a Roth IRA lets your child take advantage of both tax-free investing and many years of compound returns. She can contribute some of her earnings (the theoretical limit in 2015 is 100% of earned income up to $5,500); meanwhile, you can encourage her by agreeing to match her contributions, says Cheng.
3. Give a little bit. Plant the seed for charitable giving by showing your kid the positive impact firsthand. “If children are being honest, they don’t want to share,” says Shannon Ryan, who blogs about kids and money at theheavypurse .com. Seeing animals at a humane shelter or volunteering with you at a soup kitchen can help change that mindset.
Be good to the people you care about
A couple weeks ago I turned 30. Leading up to my birthday I wrote a post on what I learned in my 20s.
But I did something else. I sent an email out to my subscribers (subscribe here) and asked readers age 37 and older what advice they would give their 30-year-old selves. The idea was that I would crowdsource the life experience from my older readership and create another article based on their collective wisdom.
The result was spectacular. I received over 600 responses, many of which were over a page in length. It took me a solid three days to read through them all and I was floored by the quality of insight people sent.
So first of all, a hearty thank you to all who contributed and helped create this article.
While going through the emails what surprised me the most was just how consistent some of the advice was. The same 5-6 pieces of advice came up over and over and over again in different forms across literally 100s of emails. It seems that there really are a few core pieces of advice that are particularly relevant to this decade of your life.
Below are 10 of the most common themes appearing throughout all of the 600 emails. The majority of the article is comprised of dozens of quotes taken from readers. Some are left anonymous. Others have their age listed.
1. START SAVING FOR RETIREMENT NOW, NOT LATER
“I spent my 20s recklessly, but your 30s should be when you make a big financial push. Retirement planning is not something to put off. Understanding boring things like insurance, 401ks & mortgages is important since its all on your shoulders now. Educate yourself.” (Kash, 41)
The most common piece of advice — so common that almost every single email said at least something about it — was to start getting your financial house in order and to start saving for retirement… today.
There were a few categories this advice fell into:
- Make it your top priority to pay down all of your debt as soon as possible.
- Keep an “emergency fund” — there were tons of horror stories about people getting financially ruined by health issues, lawsuits, divorces, bad business deals, etc.
- Stash away a portion of every paycheck, preferably into a 401k, an IRA or at the least, a savings account.
- Don’t spend frivolously. Don’t buy a home unless you can afford to get a good mortgage with good rates.
- Don’t invest in anything you don’t understand. Don’t trust stockbrokers.
One reader said, “If you are in debt more than 10% of your gross annual salary this is a huge red flag. Quit spending, pay off your debt and start saving.” Another wrote, “I would have saved more money in an emergency fund because unexpected expenses really killed my budget. I would have been more diligent about a retirement fund, because now mine looks pretty small.”
And then there were the readers who were just completely screwed by their inability to save in their 30s. One reader named Jodi wishes she had started saving 10% of every paycheck when she was 30. Her career took a turn for the worst and now she’s stuck at 57, still living paycheck to paycheck. Another woman, age 62, didn’t save because her husband out-earned her. They later got divorced and she soon ran into health problems, draining all of the money she received in the divorce settlement. She, too, now lives paycheck to paycheck, slowly waiting for the day social security kicks in. Another man related a story of having to be supported by his son because he didn’t save and unexpectedly lost his job in the 2008 crash.
The point was clear: save early and save as much as possible. One woman emailed me saying that she had worked low-wage jobs with two kids in her 30s and still managed to sock away some money in a retirement fund each year. Because she started early and invested wisely, she is now in her 50s and financially stable for the first time in her life. Her point: it’s always possible. You just have to do it.
2. START TAKING CARE OF YOUR HEALTH NOW, NOT LATER
“Your mind’s acceptance of age is 10 to 15 years behind your body’s aging. Your health will go faster than you think but it will be very hard to notice, not the least because you don’t want it to happen.” (Tom, 55)
We all know to take care of our health. We all know to eat better and sleep better and exercise more and blah, blah, blah. But just as with the retirement savings, the response from the older readers was loud and unanimous: get healthy and stay healthy now.
So many people said it that I’m not even going to bother quoting anybody else. Their points were pretty much all the same: the way you treat your body has a cumulative effect; it’s not that your body suddenly breaks down one year, it’s been breaking down all along without you noticing. This is the decade to slow down that breakage.
And this wasn’t just your typical motherly advice to eat your veggies. These were emails from cancer survivors, heart attack survivors, stroke survivors, people with diabetes and blood pressure problems, joint issues and chronic pain. They all said the same thing: “If I could go back, I would start eating better and exercising and I would not stop. I made excuses then. But I had no idea.”
3. DON’T SPEND TIME WITH PEOPLE WHO DON’T TREAT YOU WELL
“Learn how to say “no” to people, activities and obligations that don’t bring value to your life.” (Hayley, 37)
After calls to take care of your health and your finances, the most common piece of advice from people looking back at their 30-year-old selves was an interesting one: they would go back and enforce stronger boundaries in their lives and dedicate their time to better people. “Setting healthy boundaries is one of the most loving things you can do for yourself or another person.” (Kristen, 43)
What does that mean specifically?
“Don’t tolerate people who don’t treat you well. Period. Don’t tolerate them for financial reasons. Don’t tolerate them for emotional reasons. Don’t tolerate them for the children’s sake or for convenience sake.” (Jane, 52)
“Don’t settle for mediocre friends, jobs, love, relationships and life.” (Sean, 43)
“Stay away from miserable people… they will consume you, drain you.” (Gabriella, 43)
“Surround yourself and only date people that make you a better version of yourself, that bring out your best parts, love and accept you.” (Xochie)
People typically struggle with boundaries because they find it difficult to hurt someone else’s feelings, or they get caught up in the desire to change the other person or make them treat them the way they want to be treated. This never works. And in fact, it often makes it worse. As one reader wisely said, “Selfishness and self-interest are two different things. Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.”
When we’re in our 20s, the world is so open to opportunity and we’re so short on experience that we cling to the people we meet, even if they’ve done nothing to earn our clingage. But by our 30s we’ve learned that good relationships are hard to come by, that there’s no shortage of people to meet and friends to be made, and that there’s no reason to waste our time with people who don’t help us on our life’s path.
4. BE GOOD TO THE PEOPLE YOU CARE ABOUT
“Show up with and for your friends. You matter, and your presence matters.” (Jessica, 40)
Conversely, while enforcing stricter boundaries on who we let into our lives, many readers advised to make the time for those friends and family that we do decide to keep close.
“I think sometimes I may have taken some relationships for granted, and when that person is gone, they’re gone. Unfortunately, the older you get, well, things start to happen, and it will affect those closest to you.” (Ed, 45)
“Appreciate those close to you. You can get money back and jobs back, but you can never get time back.” (Anne, 41)
“Tragedy happens in everyone’s life, everyone’s circle of family and friends. Be the person that others can count on when it does. I think that between 30 and 40 is the decade when a lot of shit finally starts to happen that you might have thought never would happen to you or those you love. Parents die, spouses die, babies are still-born, friends get divorced, spouses cheat… the list goes on and on. Helping someone through these times by simply being there, listening and not judging is an honor and will deepen your relationships in ways you probably can’t yet imagine.” (Rebecca, 40)
5. YOU CAN’T HAVE EVERYTHING; FOCUS ON DOING A FEW THINGS REALLY WELL
“Everything in life is a trade-off. You give up one thing to get another and you can’t have it all. Accept that.” (Eldri, 60)
In our 20s we have a lot of dreams. We believe that we have all of the time in the world. I myself remember having illusions that my website would be my first career of many. Little did I know that it took the better part of a decade to even get competent at this. And now that I’m competent and have a major advantage and love what I do, why would I ever trade that in for another career?
“In a word: focus. You can simply get more done in life if you focus on one thing and do it really well. Focus more.” (Ericson, 49)
Another reader: “I would tell myself to focus on one or two goals/aspirations/dreams and really work towards them. Don’t get distracted.” And another: “You have to accept that you cannot do everything. It takes a lot of sacrifice to achieve anything special in life.”
A few readers noted that most people arbitrarily choose their careers in their late teens or early 20s, and as with many of our choices at those ages, they are often wrong choices. It takes years to figure out what we’re good at and what we enjoy doing. But it’s better to focus on our primary strengths and maximize them over the course of lifetime than to half-ass something else.
“I’d tell my 30 year old self to set aside what other people think and identify my natural strengths and what I’m passionate about, and then build a life around those.” (Sara, 58)
For some people, this will mean taking big risks, even in their 30s and beyond. It may mean ditching a career they spent a decade building and giving up money they worked hard for and became accustomed to. Which brings us to…
6. DON’T BE AFRAID OF TAKING RISKS, YOU CAN STILL CHANGE
“While by age 30 most feel they should have their career dialed in, it is never too late to reset. The individuals that I have seen with the biggest regrets during this decade are those that stay in something that they know is not right. It is such an easy decade to have the days turn to weeks to years, only to wake up at 40 with a mid-life crisis for not taking action on a problem they were aware of 10 years prior but failed to act.” (Richard, 41)
“Biggest regrets I have are almost exclusively things I did *not* do.” (Sam, 47)
Many readers commented on how society tells us that by 30 we should have things “figured out” — our career situation, our dating/marriage situation, our financial situation and so on. But this isn’t true. And, in fact, dozens and dozens of readers implored to not let these social expectations of “being an adult” deter you from taking some major risks and starting over. As someone on my Facebook page responded: “All adults are winging it.”
“I am about to turn 41 and would tell my 30 year old self that you do not have to conform your life to an ideal that you do not believe in. Live your life, don’t let it live you. Don’t be afraid of tearing it all down if you have to, you have the power to build it all back up again.” (Lisa, 41)
Multiple readers related making major career changes in their 30s and being better off for doing so. One left a lucrative job as a military engineer to become a teacher. Twenty years later, he called it one of the best decisions of his life. When I asked my mom this question, her answer was, “I wish I had been willing to think outside the box a bit more. Your dad and I kind of figured we had to do thing A, thing B, thing C, but looking back I realize we didn’t have to at all; we were very narrow in our thinking and our lifestyles and I kind of regret that.”
“Less fear. Less fear. Less fear. I am about to turn 50 next year, and I am just getting that lesson. Fear was such a detrimental driving force in my life at 30. It impacted my marriage, my career, my self-image in a fiercely negative manner. I was guilty of: Assuming conversations that others might be having about me. Thinking that I mightfail. Wondering what the outcome might be. If I could do it again, I would have risked more.” (Aida, 49)
7. YOU MUST CONTINUE TO GROW AND DEVELOP YOURSELF
“You have two assets that you can never get back once you’ve lost them: your body and your mind. Most people stop growing and working on themselves in their 20s. Most people in their 30s are too busy to worry about self-improvement. But if you’re one of the few who continues to educate themselves, evolve their thinking and take care of their mental and physical health, you will be light-years ahead of the pack by 40.” (Stan, 48)
It follows that if one can still change in their 30s — and should continue to change in their 30s — then one must continue to work to improve and grow. Many readers related the choice of going back to school and getting their degrees in their 30s as one of the most useful things they had ever done. Others talked of taking extra seminars and courses to get a leg up. Others started their first businesses or moved to new countries. Others checked themselves into therapy or began a meditation practice.
As Warren Buffett once said, the greatest investment a young person can make is in their own education, in their own mind. Because money comes and goes. Relationships come and go. But what you learn once stays with you forever.
“The number one goal should be to try to become a better person, partner, parent, friend, colleague etc. — in other words to grow as an individual.” (Aimilia, 39)
8. NOBODY (STILL) KNOWS WHAT THEY’RE DOING, GET USED TO IT
“Unless you are already dead — mentally, emotionally, and socially — you cannot anticipate your life 5 years into the future. It will not develop as you expect. So just stop it. Stop assuming you can plan far ahead, stop obsessing about what is happening right now because it will change anyway, and get over the control issue about your life’s direction. Fortunately, because this is true, you can take even more chances and not lose anything; you cannot lose what you never had. Besides, most feelings of loss are in your mind anyway – few matter in the long term.”(Thomas, 56)
In my article about what I learned in my 20s, one of my lessons was “Nobody Knows What They’re Doing,” and that this was good news. Well, according to the 40+ crowd, this continues to be true in one’s 30s and, well, forever it seems; and it continues to be good news forever as well.
“Most of what you think is important now will seem unimportant in 10 or 20 years and that’s OK. That’s called growth. Just try to remember to not take yourself so seriously all the time and be open to it.” (Simon, 57)
“Despite feeling somewhat invincible for the last decade, you really don’t know what’s going to happen and neither does anyone else, no matter how confidently they talk. While this is disturbing to those who cling to permanence or security, it’s truly liberating once you grasp the truth that things are always changing. To finish, there might be times that are really sad. Don’t dull the pain or avoid it. Sorrow is part of everyone’s lifetime and the consequence of an open and passionate heart. Honor that. Above all, be kind to yourself and others, it’s such a brilliant and beautiful ride and keeps on getting better.” (Prue, 38)
“I’m 44. I would remind my 30 year old self that at 40, my 30s would be equally filled with dumb stuff, different stuff, but still dumb stuff… So, 30 year old self, don’t go getting on your high horse. You STILL don’t know it all. And that’s a good thing.” (Shirley, 44)
9. INVEST IN YOUR FAMILY; IT’S WORTH IT
“Spend more time with your folks. It’s a different relationship when you’re an adult and it’s up to you how you redefine your interactions. They are always going to see you as their kid until the moment you can make them see you as your own man. Everyone gets old. Everyone dies. Take advantage of the time you have left to set things right and enjoy your family.” (Kash, 41)
I was overwhelmed with amount of responses about family and the power of those responses. Family is the big new relevant topic for this decade for me, because you get it on both ends. Your parents are old and you need to start considering how your relationship with them is going to function as a self-sufficient adult. And then you also need to contemplate creating a family of your own.
Pretty much everybody agreed to get over whatever problems you have with your parents and find a way to make it work with them. One reader wrote, “You’re too old to blame your parents for any of your own short-comings now. At 20 you could get away with it, you’d just left the house. At 30, you’re a grown-up. Seriously. Move on.”
But then there’s the question that plagues every single 30-year-old: to baby or not to baby?
“You don’t have the time. You don’t have the money. You need to perfect your career first. They’ll end your life as you know it. Oh shut up… Kids are great. They make you better in every way. They push you to your limits. They make you happy. You should not defer having kids. If you are 30, now is the time to get real about this. You will never regret it.” (Kevin, 38)
“It’s never the ‘right time’ for children because you have no idea what you’re getting into until you have one. If you have a good marriage and environment to raise them, err on having them earlier rather than later, you’ll get to enjoy more of them.” (Cindy, 45)
“All my preconceived notions about what a married life is like were wrong. Unless you’ve already been married, everyone’s are. Especially once you have kids. Try to stay open to the experience and fluid as a person; your marriage is worth it, and your happiness seems as much tied to your ability to change and adapt as anything else. I wasn’t planning on having kids. From a purely selfish perspective, this was the dumbest thing of all. Children are the most fulfilling, challenging, and exhausting endeavor anyone can ever undertake. Ever.” (Rich, 44)
The consensus about marriage seemed to be that it was worth it, assuming you had a healthy relationship with the right person. If not, you should run the other way (See #3).
But interestingly, I got a number of emails like the following:
“What I know now vs 10-13 years ago is simply this… bars, woman, beaches, drink after drink, clubs, bottle service, trips to different cities because I had no responsibility other than work, etc… I would trade every memory of that life for a good woman that was actually in love with me… and maybe a family. I would add, don’t forget to actually grow up and start a family and take on responsibilities other than success at work. I am still having a little bit of fun… but sometimes when I go out, I feel like the guy that kept coming back to high school after he graduated (think Matthew McConaughey’s character in Dazed and Confused). I see people in love and on dates everywhere. “Everyone” my age is in their first or second marriage by now! Being perpetually single sounds amazing to all of my married friends but it is not the way one should choose to live their life.” (Anonymous, 43)
“I would have told myself to stop constantly searching for the next best thing and I would have appreciated the relationships that I had with some of the good, genuine guys that truly cared for me. Now I’m always alone and it feels too late.” (Fara, 38)
On the flip side, there were a small handful of emails that took the other side of the coin:
“Don’t feel pressured to get married or have kids if you don’t want to. What makes one person happy doesn’t make everyone happy. I’ve chosen to stay single and childless and I still live a happy and fulfilled life. Do what feels right for you.” (Anonymous, 40)
Conclusion: It seems that while family is not absolutely necessary to have a happy and fulfilling life, the majority of people have found that family is always worth the investment, assuming the relationships are healthy and not toxic and/or abusive.
10. BE KIND TO YOURSELF, RESPECT YOURSELF
“Be a little selfish and do something for yourself every day, something different once a month and something spectacular every year.” (Nancy, 60)
This one was rarely the central focus of any email, but it was present in some capacity in almost all of them: treat yourself better. Almost everybody said this in one form or another. “There is no one who cares about or thinks about your life a fraction of what you do,” one reader began, and, “life is hard, so learn to love yourself now, it’s harder to learn later,” another reader finished.
Or as Renee, 40, succinctly put it: “Be kind to yourself.”
Many readers included the old cliche: “Don’t sweat the small stuff; and it’s almost all small stuff.” Eldri, 60, wisely said, “When confronted with a perceived problem, ask yourself, ‘Is this going to matter in five years, ten years?’ If not, dwell on it for a few minutes, then let it go.” It seems many readers have focused on the subtle life lesson of simply accepting life as is, warts and all.
Which brings me to the last quote from Martin, age 58:
“When I turned forty my father told me that I’d enjoy my forties because in your twenties you think you know what’s going on, in your thirties you realize you probably don’t, and in your forties you can relax and just accept things. I’m 58 and he was right.”
Thank you to everyone who contributed.
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How to talk to your kids without sounding preachy
The weeks after the holidays can feel like a big let down. After all the expectation—and stress—of the season, both parents and kids may feel a sense of disappointment after all the gifts are opened and the treats are eaten.
But is it possible to flip that script? Can parents encourage kids to stop thinking “what have we got to look forward to now?” and start concentrating on everything they’ve just enjoyed?
We talked with Christine Carter, director of the Greater Good Science Center Parenting Program at UCBerkeley, and author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents, to get her practical tips on unleashing the power of gratitude.
The list of the benefits of gratitude is so long “it’s almost ridiculous,” Carter says. “People who are consciously practicing gratitude sleep better, have more energy, and feel more connected to other people.” One study has even proven that kidney function improves when people practice gratitude. And the good news is that it’s contagious. “If I’m feeling strong positive emotion, and I’m sharing that with somebody,” Carter explains, “those emotions spread person to person” through the whole family.
So how can parents get the gratitude conversation started? These are her tips, for any age.
Elementary school kids may be too young to think in terms of classic gratitude, which requires remembering something from the past. But “they understand what a good thing is,” Carter says. “Don’t worry about the time frame. Just ask them to name three good things about their day.” And no matter how old or a young a child, don’t correct them when they express gratitude. “Let them be grateful for whatever they’re grateful for.”
Middle school kids have often learned to be grateful for material things, because they’ve been trained in the etiquette of writing thank you-notes. So it’s good for parents to model being grateful for intangibles, like health and family, or a beautiful day. And as kids mature, questions about what they’re grateful for become more complicated, Carter says. If a parent asks, “what are you grateful for?” a child may feel burdened by everything they owe their parents. So non-verbal expressions can be helpful at this age, Carter suggests, like art projects that focus on gratitude. And parents can also help kids to focus on what they’re grateful for beyond the family, by helping them express words of appreciation about other people around them, with questions like, “What do you enjoy about your friends? Or your teachers?”
High school students can begin to think of gratitude in a much larger context. And context, Carter says, is actually key to gratitude. Relative to many other cultures, many children in the U.S. “live in tremendous abundance,” she points out. And that creates what researchers call an abundance paradox. “We’re much more likely to feel disappointed or even resentful when we don’t get what we want,” Carter explains, “than grateful when we do.” How to cut this knot? Studies have shown that “gratitude only arises naturally without cultivation under conditions of scarcity,” Carter says. So high school kids who have been exposed to scarcity, by doing activities like serving at a homeless shelter, will far more grateful than those who don’t.
And it turns out, sad old truth that it may be, the best way for all of us to feel grateful may be to give, rather than to get.
New research shows that connecting on multiple platforms can lead to a happier parent-child relationship
Move over, landlines—it’s time to embrace more modern forms of communication. New research published in Emerging Adulthood suggests that reaching out to your children through multiple platforms can ultimately lead to a better relationship.
Jennifer Schon, a doctoral candidate in communication studies at the University of Kansas, had previously studied how communication technologies improved friendships, and took those findings to hypothesize that it might have the same effect on parents and their adult children. She surveyed 367 young adults between 18 and 29 years to find out which platforms they used to connect with their parents, how often their parents used that technology, and how satisfied they were in their relationships with mom or dad. Communication technologies ranged from landlines to emails to social networks like Facebook and Snapchat.
Adding just one additional mode of communication correlated to increased relationship quality and satisfaction, Schon found. Most reported using an average of three channels to communicate with parents—the most common being cell phone, text messaging, and email. Many parents also connected through landlines and social networking sites. For parents who already email, text, and call their children frequently, the occasional Facebook message might only serve to improve communication.
“A lot of parents might resist new technologies. They don’t see the point in them, or they seem like a lot of trouble,” Schon said in a statement. “But this study shows while it might take some work and learning, it would be worth it in the end if you are trying to have a good relationship with your adult child.”
3 main courses and 3 desserts for everyone's delight
If you really want to make an entrance during the holidays, something spectacular on a platter does the trick. Here are six deceptively doable dishes—three serves-a-crowd main courses, three grand-finale desserts—to delight everyone, including you.
Rosemary, Lemon, and Garlic Leg of Lamb
Stuff sliced garlic all over the lamb to add deep, fragrant flavor. Keep the garlic-infused lamb in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours before roasting for the tastiest results. Get the recipe.
Brown Sugar and Black Pepper Glazed Ham
Brush the ham with a mixture of mustard, brown sugar, salt, and pepper to create the sweet, golden glaze. Get the recipe.
Roasted Salmon With Creamy Horseradish
Serve the roast salmon with a spicy, creamy sauce made with crème fraîche, grated cucumber, and horseradish. Get the recipe.
Bûche de Noël
Traditionally served around Christmas, this French cake (whose name means “Yule log”) can be made up to 2 days in advance. Get the recipe.
Four-Layer White Cake
This beautiful, fluffy cake is topped off with a generous coating of shredded coconut. Get the recipe.
Instead of creating a complicated lattice crust, top the raspberry jam with rounds of dough for a more modern look. Get the recipe.
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Study says the difference in grades may be as much as 20%.
Fast food is cheap, filling and of course, fast. That makes it a lifesaver for some parents. But it’s also incredibly unhealthy and now a new nationwide study suggests that eating a lot of it might be linked to kids doing badly in school.
Researchers at the Ohio State University (OSU) and University of Texas, Austin, found that the more frequently children reported eating fast food in fifth grade, the lower their improvement in reading, math, and science test scores by eighth grade.
The difference between the test scores of kids who didn’t eat any fast food and those who reported eating a lot was significant: 20%.
“There’s a lot of evidence that fast-food consumption is linked to childhood obesity, but the problems don’t end there,” said Kelly Purtell, lead author of the study and assistant professor of human sciences at (OSU). “Relying too much on fast food could hurt how well children do in the classroom.”
While eating a lot of fast food is oftentimes a marker for poverty, and poorer students generally don’t do as well on standardized tests for a whole battery of reasons, these results held steady even after researchers took into account other factors, including how much the kids exercised, how much TV they watched, the other food they ate, their family’s socioeconomic status and the characteristics of their neighborhood and school.
“We went as far as we could to control for and take into account all the known factors that could be involved in how well children did on these tests,” Purtell said.
The results, which are published online in the journal Clinical Pediatrics, used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort, a nationally representative study of 11,740 students who started school in the 1998-1999 school year.
The kids were tested in reading/literacy, mathematics and science in fifth as well as eighth grades, and also filled out a food consumption survey in fifth grade. Slightly more than half the kids reported eating fast food between one and three times in the previous week. Almost a third had had no fast food that week, while a full 10% reported having it every single day and 10% four to six times a week.
“We’re not saying that parents should never feed their children fast food, but these results suggest fast-food consumption should be limited as much as possible,” said Purtell, who added that while her study cannot prove that fast-food consumption caused the lower academic growth, she and her fellow authors are confident fast food explains some of the difference in achievement gains between fifth and eighth grade.
Previous studies have shown that fast food is low in such nutrients as iron that aid in cognitive development, which may explain some of the gap in learning. Moreover, diets high in fat and sugar, both of which fast food tends to have in abundance, have been shown to have a bad effect on immediate memory and learning processes.