TIME advice

10 Life Lessons to Excel in Your 30s

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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.

Mark Manson is an author, blogger and entrepreneur. This post originally appeared on MarkManson.net.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Parenting

Tips for Every Age: How to Raise Grateful Kids

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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.

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TIME Family

Why You Should Friend Your Child on Facebook

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New research shows that connecting on multiple platforms can lead to a happier parent-child relationship

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

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.

(MORE: Why Do Children Lie, Cheat, and Steal?)

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.”

(MORE: Mother-Daughter Relationships)

 

TIME Family

6 Traditional Christmas Dinner Recipes

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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.

Raspberry Linzertorte
Instead of creating a complicated lattice crust, top the raspberry jam with rounds of dough for a more modern look. Get the recipe.

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com

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TIME Parenting

Kids Who Eat More Fast Food Get Worse Grades

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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.

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TIME Family

Just in Time for Your Family Gathering, the 4 Steps to a Good Apology

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Think about the their needs, and not yours

Apologies are on everyone’s mind these days, what with Amy Pascal and Scott Rudin at Sony groveling for sending racially-charged emails speculating on our President’s fave movies; Greenpeace International sniveling sorrowfully about defacing a sacred Peruvian site; and a Korean airline magnate begging forgiveness for his 40-year-old daughter’s flight-delaying macadamia-nut-based tantrum.

Thankfully, your own faux pas may never happen on quite so international a stage. But since it’s the holiday season—full of spiked-nog-infused lapses in judgment, gift-induced hurts, office party pitfalls, and inter-familial tensions—odds are good that you’ll have to apologize for something in the coming days. And as co-founder of SorryWatch, our nation’s premier web site for apology education, I’m here to tell you how to do it right.

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Name your sin

In an initial statement, reported by the New York Times, the airline exec’s daughter said, “I seek forgiveness from those who were hurt by what I did”—but didn’t actually name what she did. You have to tell the person you’ve wronged exactly what you’re sorry for to prove that you truly understand your offense.

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Fully acknowledge that you screwed up

Amy Pascal said her emails were “not an accurate reflection of who I am.” Um, nope. If you said it (or wrote it in an email), you have to own it. No weasel-y “I was kidding” or “this was so unlike me” or “I never meant for you to find out.” Offer no excuses; step up and own what you did.

Along the same lines, apologize for your actions, not how they “may have seemed” or “might have looked.”Greenpeace International expressed regret that “we came across as careless and crass.” No, they werecareless and crass.

Make it about them, not you

Apologize in the way you think the other person would most prefer, whether that’s in person, in a phone call, or in an email—even if it’s awkward or inconvenient for you. Think about their needs and desires, not yours.

HEALTH.COM 18 Habits of the Happiest Families

Make reparations however you can

Pay for dry cleaning if you drunkenly tossed red wine all over your host, send flowers to your mom for calling her a meddling helicopter parent, or make a donation to your colleague’s favorite charity if she overheard you gossiping about her. And spell out what steps you’ll take to make certain that whatever you did will never happen again.

One last thing: Don’t ask for forgiveness. That’s the other person’s holiday gift to give.

HEALTH.COM 10 Nervous Habits That Hurt Your Health

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TIME advice

5 Ways to Respond When Your Family Asks What You’re Doing with Your Life

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Turn that dreaded holiday tradition into an opportunity

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This article originally appeared on Live in the Grey.

So… what are you doing with your life?

This question, often asked around the holiday season by a family member with seemingly too much time on their hands, is known to send many a millennial reeling into a pit of despair. It feels like nothing you can say will satiate the underlying question you suspect is at the bottom of this ruthless confrontation—“What’s your plan for how to stop being a failure already?” It can put you on the defensive, to say the least.

Fret not, because this dreaded holiday tradition can actually be a good thing. Think of it as a vicious sucker punch that makes you realize you need to work on your reflexes and be prepared. (This might actually also be a lesson you learned from family during the holidays.) By demanding that you be able to articulate some sort of response, the “what are you doing with your life” conversation can push you to define what you want to yourself. So instead of approaching the conversation unarmed, take a moment to ask yourself what you want. And be prepared to share it with loved ones who genuinely want to be let in. That said, it’s still a tricky question to navigate so we came up with a few tips to help prepare you for battle. Now say it to yourself: you will make it through.

1. Share Your Immediate Goal Instead of Your Whole Life Plan

Instead of getting bogged down by the daunting idea of what you are going to do with the entire rest of your life, consider what your goals are for the next year, the next few months or even the next few weeks. Acceptable answers include: “I’m planning a few meetings with friends in the (____) industry to see if it could be a good fit,” or, “I’m taking an Coursera class on (____) to gain a new skillset and see if I enjoy the work,” or “I’m working on a side project to add to my portfolio while I save up money.” Be sure to preface this with something smart-sounding like “I don’t feel like it makes sense to plan ten steps ahead right now when life is changing so quickly, but I do know what I want to do right now.”

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2. Be Brtually Honest

Remember that if you don’t see or talk to your relatives very often, their questioning may be coming from a place of legitimate wonder, not just worry. It could be their way of showing that they care about what’s happening in your life. They will be most alarmed when you seem to have no goals or vision at all, so as uncomfortable as it may be, your best alternative is to let them in a little. If you’re at a difficult crossroads in your career path, don’t put all your efforts into sugar-coating it. Explain what’s really going on. Maybe you say something like, “I thought I wanted to dedicate myself to (___), but it struck me this year that it just won’t make me happy. So now I’m focusing on figuring out how I can pursue something more meaningful.” If you share your struggles with your family, not just your high points, you may be surprised by their support. They could even offer you an unexpected contact or useful advice. At the very least, by explaining what you’re looking for, they won’t keep bothering you with “opportunities” that don’t fall in line with your actual interests.

3. Go Vague: Share Your Values and Ultimate Goals in Life

As you have these conversations, one thing to keep in mind is not to let the smaller picture interfere with the bigger picture and let you lose sight of your values. You can make sure to avoid this is by answering family question with what you ultimately want out of life. Whether that’s becoming a recognized leader in your field, adding something new and unique to the world, or finding the stability to build a family, it will clarify what makes you happy in life and what doesn’t. Perhaps your relatives, as many of us often do, assumed you both prioritize the same things and were offering you the advice they would want. By clarifying where you’re coming from, you won’t be comparing apples to oranges in every conversation.

MORE Passion 101: How to Discover Your Calling in Life

4. Explain Your Career Goals and Choices in Terms They Understand

It’s a certifiable fact that career trajectories for younger generations just don’t look like what they did for our parents and grandparents. We tend to job hop, switch career trajectories and embrace jobs and industries that didn’t even exist a couple of decades ago. This can make our life choices all the more difficult to explain. One approach to remedying this distance is to compare your situation to something in your relatives’ wheelhouse. Do you manage social media for a brand? Instead say that like marketers and ad agencies, you represent the voice of a brand for customers.

Another approach is to explain what the purpose of your job (or dream job) is, while skipping the technical description. You want to work at a data analytics consulting firm? No no no, you want to help identify patterns for companies to give them an edge against competitors. To be clear, it can be a dangerous road to begin this conversation. You may end up explaining the internet for hours on end. Your best shot is to give the condensed explanation with as many people around as possible so you don’t have to repeat yourself.

5. WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, BE THANKFUL

You might try every trick in the book and still be faced with a puzzled look and disapproving nod. It won’t always be possible to get everyone on your page, but at the end of the day, you’re family. Use that! (And we mean that in the most loving way possible.) Try saying this: “I’m thankful that even though you may not understand where I am right now, you care enough to ask.” Depending on the feedback you’re getting, you can even add in a little, “and I know that you’re there for me no matter what.” Self-fulfilling prophecy!

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TIME Australia

Lost Family Survives on Rainwater for 11 Days in Australian Outback

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In this Dec 22, 2014 photo provided by Queensland Police, Steven Van Lonkhuyzen, left, with his sons Timothy, 5, second left, and Ethan, 7, third left, speaks to farmer Tom Wagner, center, and a park ranger in the remote Expedition National Park, northwest of Brisbane in Australia. APAP

They rationed what little food they had

An Australian father and his two young sons have been rescued after managing to survive for 11 days lost in the remote outback by rationing what food they had and collecting rainwater.

Steven Van Lonkhuyzen, 37, was on a camping trip with sons Ethan, 7, and Timothy, 5, in a national park in Queensland, Australia when their vehicle became stuck. With no cell reception or transportation, Lonkhuyzen rationed food packed for four days and set out plastic containers to collect rainwater, reports the Guardian.

“Steven told me they had some water with them in the car but that they were lucky there was lots of rain while they were stuck out there,” said Acting Superintendant Mick Biachi, who coordinated the police search.

A local rancher heard radio reports of the missing family and recalled having seen the vehicle days earlier. He jumped on a motorbike and drove to find them.

“It’s pretty indicative of the way country people pitch in and help each other,” Bianchi said.

The children were treated at a local hospital, but are expected to make a full recovery.

[The Guardian]

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

How to Not Lose it When People Are Driving You Insane

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Is your family already driving you insane? Read on

This holiday, make it a priority to not rip your hair out.

To help you survive the season, we asked psychologist Pauline Wallin, author of Taming Your Inner Brat, for some tips on how to avoid some of the most common pitfalls of the holidays. (But if Aunt Susie drinks too much egg nog, we can’t help you).

If your family is driving you crazy…
One of the best parts of the holidays can also be one of the worst parts of the holidays. Spending quality time with family doesn’t happen often for most of us, but with the expectations of the holidays and the increased amount of face time, it’s easy for someone to lose their lid. Here’s how to cool it.
For parents: You have guests coming, and the bums you call your children are doing a lousy job at cleaning. To avoid this stresser, lay out your expectations early. “When you feel like other people are driving you crazy, it’s often because they don’t have the same sense of urgency that you do,” says Wallin. Instead, tell your kids ahead of time that the house needs to be clean by 10 a.m., or that you are going to be stressed and would appreciate it if they stay out of your way. It’s an easy way to start out on the same page.
For kids and teens: If you really don’t want to go to Aunt Susie’s for dinner, get over it by finding a way to make it count. Think of it as a gift to your family to spend time with them without giving anyone ‘tude. If you’re really feeling irked, ask kindly for a little time alone. Go on a walk, read a book for an hour, or offer to get out of the house and grab groceries.

If someone spills something or you burn the roast…
Take a picture of it. Seriously, pull out that smart phone and snap a photo of the disaster. “If you’re going to laugh about it later, you might as well laugh about it now,” says Wallin. No dinner party is immune to a rip or spill or the tragic loss of the Christmas goose. Laugh it off, post it to Instagram, and move on.

If you’re stressed about the cost of all those presents…
Do you remember what you received for Christmas last year? Probably not. Wallin says one of the most common stressers she sees among patients around the holidays is financial stress. “But never once have I heard someone say, ‘I’ve never forgiven them for not getting me the new iPhone.'” We tend to put a lot of weight on the presents, but guests are more likely to remember the moments shared than what was in the stocking. So try not to stress about finding the perfect gift, and there’s zero shame in bargain hunting.

If your to-do list alone is freaking you out…
This year, instead of making a “To Do” list, make a “To Don’t” list. “Decide what you’re not going to do, and just let it go,” says Wallin. “It’s a tremendous sense of relief.” If you can’t figure out when you’re going to have time for caroling, just skip it. If you don’t have time (or don’t want to make time) for home-baked cookies, don’t both! You don’t have to do everything. If it’s more stress than it’s worth, it won’t be that fun.

If you’re not feeling any warm, fuzzy, holiday feelings…
Instead of scrambling to make everything perfect, carve out time to just sit and talk to friends and family. “We get so busy that we forget the holidays are about people,” says Wallin. Get everyone off the grid and ask for cell phones to be put away while you play a game or watch a movie. Even just taking 20 minutes to sit with a family member you don’t regularly see is a great way to remember to the real meaning of the season.

TIME Family

The Paternity Leave Stimulus

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Research says paid paternity leave can boost economies, empower women and make families happier

Rodrigo Neves wasn’t expecting a fight. After the city council of Niteroi, Brazil passed a new law earlier this month extending Brazil’s nationally mandated 5 days of paid paternity leave to 30 days paid leave for city employees who become fathers, Neves, the city’s mayor, vowed to overturn it. He didn’t expect to be bombarded by news outlets and a local campaign demanding that the law remain in place. The story even made it onto BBC.

“How do we deal with the shortage of teachers, street cleaners with an absence for that long?” Neves said. “I‘m the father of three children and I don’t think it’s necessary or essential to have 30 days of paternity leave.”

Currently, Brazil offers only five days paid paternity leave, compared to four months fully paid maternity leave (the United States, of course, offers none). And yet, many government officials at the local and federal level in Brazil (and in other countries) take Neves’ side: They believe allowing 30 days of paternity leave will disrupt worker productivity and the functioning of cities and countries. They’re wrong. In fact, the opposite is true.

Experiences from as far north as Sweden and as far east as Japan show that policies promoting fathers’ involvement at home is good for the economy, for gender equality, and for families. And it’s good for men, too. A litany of studies demonstrate the positive effects of active fatherhood on men’s own health and well-being, their relationships with their partners, and on the social, emotional, physical and cognitive development of their children. Research shows that when men are more involved in the early care of a child, they are more likely to remain connected to that child and to carry out a more equitable amount of the care work.

And that has big economic implications. If men share half the care work at home through the help of policies like extended, paid paternity leave, women’s participation in the paid labor force increases. Numerous studies have found the economic benefit of maternity leave; the evidence is also mounting about leave for fathers.

Consider this: the Organisation of Economic Coordination and Development reports that if women in the U.S. worked at the same rates men did, U.S. GDP could grow 9 percent; France’s by more than 11 percent; and Italy’s would see a 23 percent climb. On average, across OECD countries, if women’s participation in the workplace were to converge with men’s rates by 2030, we could see an overall increase of 12 percent in GDP. This data comes in addition to recent policy recommendations from the ILO, the IMF and the World Bank all pointing to paternity leave and men taking on an equitable share of the care work as being essential components in promoting women’s participation in the workplace – and in boosting the economy overall.

This would be especially welcome in Brazil, where, after a decade of meteoric economic progress, economic growth has now slowed with a mere 0.3 percent projected growth for 2014, the lowest in 5 years. Over the last two decades women’s labor market participation has increased to 60 percent in Brazil. Paternity leave could boost that even more.

Brazil’s fight for gender equality could also use a boost. Brazil fell nine country rankings since last year in the latest Global Gender Gap Index report, putting it behind Cuba and Mozambique. Not surprisingly, Iceland, Sweden and Norway–all of which offer paid paternity and maternity leave—rank first, third and fourth, respectively, in the report. They represent convincing examples that father-friendly policies contribute to women’s economic empowerment – and to a country’s economic stability and growth.

To be sure, creating these policies is only half the battle. The next question becomes: If we offer leave, will men take it? Studies find that many men, particularly those in the private sector, worry about their job stability if they take extended leave to care for a child. One key strategy to convince men to take leave is that it be paid and that at least part of it is non-transferable from the mother to the father. Another key lesson learned from places like Iceland, Sweden and Norway – countries that pioneered paid paternity leave more than 20 years ago– is that employers, particularly in the private sector, must encourage men to take leave and assure them that their career trajectories will not suffer if they do.

For example, Sweden’s famous “daddy leave” promotes parental involvement by compensating mothers and fathers at 90 percent of their wages while offering subsidies that ensure fathers take at least one month off (and making a portion of parental leave designated only for the father). Today, 9 out of 10 fathers in Sweden take paternity leave averaging more than 6 weeks. One result: a study in Sweden found that women’s income increases 7 percent for each month that her partner takes leave.

Beyond countries, corporations are also catching on. One Brazilian company is leading by example in extending paid paternity leave from the currently mandated 5 days to 30 days. Ernst and Young, which offers paid leave for mothers and limited paid leave for fathers, has found that such policies pay off in terms of worker satisfaction and retention, for both fathers and mothers.

Despite these bright spots, here’s our current reality: globally, the trend is that men work more paid hours when they have a child and women work less. Furthermore, after the birth of a first child women are more likely to return to the work force in a part-time position than men are. The result: men’s incomes increase, women’s remain lower and many women remain outside the formal labor market. The other result: we continue to see caregiving as women’s work, while men are seen, at best, as “helpers.”

Paid paternity leave breaks this destructive trend. It is key to shifting traditional gender expectations and achieving full equality for women. And it could also be key to shaking up stagnant economies.

Almost 1,000 people have signed a petition to tell Niteroi’s Mayor Neves to give fathers leave. Now it’s time for other politicians and policymakers, in Brazil and elsewhere, to listen to citizens and consider paid paternity leave. It’s not a question of whether it’s “necessary and essential,” to use the words of Neves. It’s simply a smart and just policy all around.

Gary Barker, Ph.D., is founder and International Director of Promundo, an international organization with offices in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Washington, DC, and Kigali, Rwanda, that works to engage men and boys in gender equality and ending violence against women. Mary Robbins is a Program Officer at Promundo, an NGO that works internationally to engage men and boys in promoting gender equality and end violence against women. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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