TIME mental health

When Popularity Backfires: Climbing the Social Ladder Can Lead to Bullying

Kids who gain the most status middle and high school are targets of a lesser-known pattern of aggression

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There are certain truths that we have come to accept about the social hierarchy in middle and high schools – the popular kids rule the halls, while the less conventional ones, who dress, think or act differently, are marginalized at the bottom. And indeed, studies have documented how most of the victims of bullying are those who occupy the lower rungs of the social ladder — in 2011, nearly 30% of students aged 12 years to 18 years reported being bullied, either in school or via the internet, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

But a new study suggests that social outcasts aren’t the only targets of bullying and aggression, and that increasing one’s social status can lead to being ostracized, teased, and threatened. “This second pattern of aggression is among kids who are relatively popular targeting their rivals, and this tends to escalate until they climb to the very top rung of the social ladder,” says Robert Faris, associate professor of sociology at the University of California Davis.

MORE: ‘Microaggression’ Is the New Racism on Campus

Faris was interested in understanding bullying at a deeper level, to identify “hotspots” of conflict and aggression in school-based hierarchies. He and his colleague Diane Felmlee, professor of sociology at Pennsylvania State University, investigated whether there were other reasons for students’ aggression toward one another, such as using it as a tool for social climbing.

Their results, published in American Sociological Review, suggest that kids get bullied not only when they don’t fit in, but also when they are simply trying to avoid being victims by moving up the social ladder. “As social status increases, the involvement in aggression–both as perpetrator and now as victims–also tends to go up until they get to the very top, when things start to reverse,” says Faris.

MORE: How Bullying’s Effects Reach Beyond Childhood

To detect this phenomenon, Faris and his co-author Diane Felmlee, professor of sociology at Pennsylvania State University, studied more than 4,200 students in eighth, ninth, and tenth grades during the 2004 to 2005 school year. In the fall, at the beginning of school year, they asked the students to record their five closest friendships. With that information, the researchers created a social map resembling a bird’s nest. Those with the shortest paths to the most students were given higher ranks on the social status scale. This exercise was repeated in the spring of the same academic year so Faris could compare changes in status against students’ reports of being victimized, which included verbal insults, physical aggression, being the target of damaging rumors, and continued and relentless harassment.

For both boys and girls who began the school year in the 50th percentile, for example, but moved to the 95th percentile, the chances that they were targeted for some type of aggression increased by 25% compared to those who remained in the 50th percentile.

The students also answered questions about their anxiety, depression, anger, attachment to the school, and how socially central they felt in the school network. Not only were the socially mobile and relatively more popular students victimized more than the socially stable teens, they were also more sensitive to the effects of bullying. They reported higher rates of anxiety, depression, and anger, and lower rates of feeling central to their social group. Faris suspects that may result from the fact that these students have invested more time and self-esteem in their social status, and feel they have more to lose if they are ostracized.

MORE: The Myths Of Bullying

Girls were disproportionately the target of this alternate type of bullying. The highest rates of such aggression occurred between girls, and boys were also more likely to target girls who were moving up socially than boys who were doing the same.

“One of the things we hope to call attention to is the group of people whom we don’t often think of as being bullied,” says Faris. While much of the aggression may not fit the classic definition of bullying, the verbal taunting and the ostracizing, both in the real world and online through social media, can have devastating consequences. And understanding that its victims may not always fit the commonly accepted criteria of outcasts who don’t fulfill social norms can lead to more effective ways of recognizing and even reducing bullying behavior – of all types – in schools.

TIME psychology

How to Raise Happy Kids: 10 Steps Backed by Science

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When you ask parents what they want for their kids, what’s usually the most common reply? They want their children to be happy.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

the well-being of children is more important to adults than just about anything else–health care, the well-being of seniors, the cost of living, terrorism, and the war in Iraq. More than two-thirds of adults say they are “extremely concerned” about the well-being of children, and this concern cuts across gender, income, ethnicity, age, and political affiliation.

Now there’s tons of info on raising smart kids and successful kids, but how do you raise happy kids?

Sometimes it’s hard to balance what’s best for children with what makes them happy — but the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Happier kids are more likely to turn into successful, accomplished adults.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

…happiness is a tremendous advantage in a world that emphasizes performance. On average, happy people are more successful than unhappy people at both work and love. They get better performance reviews, have more prestigious jobs, and earn higher salaries. They are more likely to get married, and once married, they are more satisfied with their marriage.

So looking at the science, what really works when it comes to raising happy kids?

Step 1: Get Happy Yourself

The first step to happier kids is, ironically, a little bit selfish.

How happy you are affects how happy and successful your kids are — dramatically.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

Extensive research has established a substantial link between mothers who feel depressed and “negative outcomes” in their children, such as acting out and other behavior problems. Parental depression actually seems to cause behavioral problems in kids; it also makes our parenting less effective.

And this is not merely due to genetics.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

…although the study did find that happy parents are statistically more likely to have happy children, it couldn’t find any genetic component.

So what’s the first step to being a happier you? Take some time each week to have fun with friends.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

Because laughter is contagious, hang out with friends or family members who are likely to be laughing themselves. Their laughter will get you laughing too, although it doesn’t even need to in order to lighten your mood. Neuroscientists believe that hearing another person laugh triggers mirror neurons in a region of the brain that makes listeners feel as though they are actually laughing themselves.

More scientific methods for increasing your happiness here.

Step 2: Teach Them To Build Relationships

Nobody denies learning about relationships is important — but how many parents actually spend the time to teach kids how to relate to others?

(Just saying “Hey, knock it off” when kids don’t get along really doesn’t go far in building essential people skills.)

It doesn’t take a lot. It can start with encouraging kids to perform small acts of kindness to build empathy.

This not only builds essential skills and makes your kids better people, research shows over the long haul it makes them happier.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

Multiple sclerosis (MS) patients who were trained to provide compassionate, unconditional positive regard for other MS sufferers through monthly fifteen-minute telephone calls “showed pronounced improvement in self-confidence, self-esteem, depression, and role functioning” over two years. These helpers were especially protected against depression and anxiety.

More on creating good relationships here.

Step 3: Expect Effort, Not Perfection

Note to perfectionist helicopter parents and Tiger Moms: cool it.

Relentlessly banging the achievement drum messes kids up.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

Parents who overemphasize achievement are more likely to have kids with high levels of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse compared to other kids.

The research is very consistent: Praise effort, not natural ability.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

The majority of the kids praised for their intelligence wanted the easier puzzle; they weren’t going to risk making a mistake and losing their status as “smart.” On the other hand, more than 90 percent of growth mind-set-encouraged kids chose a harder puzzle.

Why? Dweck explains: “When we praise children for the effort and hard work that leads to achievement, they want to keep engaging in that process. They are not diverted from the task of learning by a concern with how smart they might — or might not — look.”

More on praising correctly here.

Step 4: Teach Optimism

Want to avoid dealing with a surly teenager? Then teach those pre-teens to look on the bright side.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

Ten-year-olds who are taught how to think and interpret the world optimistically are half as prone to depression when they later go through puberty.

Author Christine Carter puts it simply: “Optimism is so closely related to happiness that the two can practically be equated.”

She compares optimists to pessimists and finds optimists:

  1. Are more successful at school, work and athletics
  2. Are healthier and live longer
  3. End up more satisfied with their marriages
  4. Are less likely to deal with depression and anxiety

More on how to encourage optimism here.

Step 5: Teach Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a skill, not an inborn trait.

Thinking kids will just “naturally” come to understand their own emotions (let alone those of others) doesn’t set them up for success.

A simple first step here is to “Empathize, Label and Validate” when they’re struggling with anger or frustration.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

Molly: “I am SO SO SO MAD AT YOU.”

Me: “You are mad at me, very mad at me. Tell me about that. Are you also feeling disappointed because I won’t let you have a playdate right now?”

Molly: “YES!! I want to have a playdate right NOW.”

Me: “You seem sad.” (Crawling into my lap, Molly whimpers a little and rests her head on my shoulder.)

Relate to the child, help them identify what they are feeling and let them know that those feelings are okay (even though bad behavior might not be).

More on active listening and labeling (and how hostage negotiators use this) here.

Step 6: Form Happiness Habits

We’re on step 6 and it might seem like this is already a lot to remember for you — let alone for a child. We can overcome that with good habits.

Thinking through these methods is taxing but acting habitually is easy, once habits have been established.

How do you help kids build lasting happiness habits? Carter explains a few powerful methods backed by research:

  1. Stimulus removal: Get distractions and temptations out of the way.
  2. Make It Public: Establish goals to increase social support — and social pressure.
  3. One Goal At A Time: Too many goals overwhelms willpower, especially for kids. Solidify one habit before adding another.
  4. Keep At It: Don’t expect perfection immediately. It takes time. There will be relapses. That’s normal. Keep reinforcing.

More on developing good habits here.

Step 7: Teach Self-Discipline

Self-discipline in kids is more predictive of future success than intelligence — or most anything else, for that matter.

Yes, it’s that famous marshmallow test all over again. Kids who better resisted temptation went on to much better lives years later and were happier.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

…preschoolers’ ability to delay gratification–to wait for that second marshmallow–predicts intelligence, school success, and social skills in adolescence. This is at least in part because self-discipline facilitates learning and information processing. In addition, self-disciplined kids cope better with frustration and stress and tend to have a greater sense of social responsibility. In other words, self-discipline leads not just to school success and sitting nicely at the dinner table but to greater happiness, more friends and increased community engagement.

What’s a good way to start teaching self-discipline? Help kids learn to distract themselves from temptation.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

One way to do it is to obscure the temptation–to physically cover up the tempting marshmallow. When a reward is covered up, 75 percent of kids in one study were able to wait a full fifteen minutes for the second marshmallow; none of the kids was able to wait this long when the reward was visible.

More on increasing self-discipline here.

Step 8: More Playtime

We read a lot about mindfulness and meditation these days — and both are quite powerful.

Getting kids to do them regularly however can be quite a challenge. What works almost as well?

More playtime.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

Most kids already practice mindfulness — fully enjoying the present moment — when they play. but kids today spend less time playing both indoors and out… All told, over the last two decades, children have lost eight hours per week of free, unstructured, and spontaneous play…

Playtime isn’t just goofing off. It’s essential to helping kids grow and learn.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

Researchers believe that this dramatic drop in unstructured playtime is in part responsible for slowing kids cognitive and emotional development… In addition to helping kids learn to self-regulate, child-led, unstructured play (with or without adults) promoted intellectual, physical, social, and emotional well-being. Unstructured play helps children learn how to work in groups, to share, negotiate, resolve conflicts, regulate their emotions and behavior, and speak up for themselves.

No strict instructions are necessary here: Budget more time for your kids to just get outside and simply play.

More on the power of playing (for kids and adults) here.

Step 9: Rig Their Environment For Happiness

We don’t like to admit it, but we’re all very much influenced by our environment – often more than we realize.

Your efforts will be constrained by time and effort, while context affects us (and children) constantly.

What’s a simple way to better control a child’s surroundings and let your deliberate happiness efforts have maximum effect?

Less TV.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

…research demonstrates a strong link between happiness and not watching television. Sociologists show that happier people tend to watch considerably less television than unhappy people. We don’t know whether TV makes people unhappy, or if already unhappy people watch more TV. But we do know that there are a lot of activities that will help our kids develop into happy, well-adjusted individuals. If our kids are watching TV, they aren’t doing those things that could be making them happier in the long run.

More non-television happiness activities are here.

Step 10: Eat Dinner Together

Sometimes all science does is validate those things our grandparents knew all along. Yes, family dinner matters.

This simple tradition helps mold better kids and makes them happier too.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

Studies show that kids who eat dinner with their families on a regular basis are more emotionally stable and less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. They got better grades. they have fewer depressive symptoms, particularly among adolescent girls. And they are less likely to become obese or have an eating disorder. Family dinners even trump reading to your kids in terms of preparing them for school. And these associations hold even after researchers control for family connectedness…

More on the power of family dinners here.

Sum Up

Here are the ten steps:

  1. Get Happy Yourself
  2. Teach Them To Build Relationships
  3. Expect Effort, Not Perfection
  4. Teach Optimism
  5. Teach Emotional Intelligence
  6. Form Happiness Habits
  7. Teach Self-Discipline
  8. More Playtime
  9. Rig Their Environment For Happiness
  10. Eat Dinner Together

We’re often more open to new methods when it comes to work and careers, but ignoring tips when it comes to family is a mistake.

The most important work you and I will ever do will be within the walls of our own homes.

- Harold B. Lee

I hope this post helps your family be happier.

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Related posts:

Good Parenting Skills: 7 Research-Backed Ways to Raise Kids Right

How To Have A Happy Family – 7 Tips Backed By Research

Parent myths: How much of what your parents told you was wrong?

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME psychology

Happy St. Patrick’s Day: The 4 Scientific Ways to Become Luckier

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It sounds crazy at first: How can you possibly become luckier?

But it turns out luck isn’t chance and magic. There’s a science behind it.

Richard Wiseman studied very lucky people to figure out what they had in common.

In his book, Luck Factor, he explains the four principles you can use to increase luck in your life.

1) Maximize Opportunities

It makes intuitive sense: if you lock yourself in your house, how many exciting, serendipitous things are going to happen to you? Not many.

Via Luck Factor:

Lucky people create, notice, and act upon the chance opportunities in their lives.

Certain personality types are luckier because they tend to create scenarios that maximize opportunities and thereby increase luck.

Who is more lucky?

  • People who are extroverted: More time with others, more interesting possibilities.
  • People who aren’t neurotic: Tense, anxious people are less likely to notice and take advantage of opportunities.
  • People who are open to new experiences: If you resist the new, you’re probably not going to have many interesting things happen.

Are you an introverted neurotic who only listens to oldies and watches reruns? That’s okay.

In the end, it’s your behavior that matters. By acting more extroverted, less neurotic and more open, you can increase luck.

If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always gotten.

2) Listen To Hunches

Lucky people act on their intuitions across many areas of their lives.

Via Luck Factor:

Lucky people make successful decisions by using their intuition and gut feelings… Almost 90 percent of lucky people said that they trusted their intuition when it came to personal relationships, and almost 80 percent said it played a vital role in their career choices… About 20 percent more lucky than unlucky people used their intuition when it came to making important financial decisions, and over 20 percent more used their intuition when thinking about their career choices.

Lucky people take more steps to boost their intuition as well.

They’re more likely to respond to problems by meditating, clearing their mind, coming back to the problem later or finding a quiet place to think about it.

Again, this isn’t something innate or unchangeable. Want to increase luck in your life? Go with your gut more often.

3) Expect Good Fortune

Plain and simple — it’s optimism.

You’re more likely to try new things, follow through on opportunities and have them succeed if you believe they’ll work out well.

Via Luck Factor:

On average, lucky people thought that there was about a 90 percent chance of having a great time on their next holiday, (and) an 84 percent chance of achieving at least one of their lifetime ambitions…

Lucky people have “grit.”

Via Luck Factor:

Lucky people attempt to achieve their goals, even if their chances of success seem slim, and persevere in the face of failure.

What do you need to do? Be optimistic. Persevere. Funny as it sounds, believe you’re lucky and you’re more likely to actually be lucky.

4) Turn Bad Luck Into Good

Lucky people aren’t always lucky — but they handle adversity differently than unlucky people.

Via Luck Factor:

  • Lucky people see the positive side of their bad luck.
  • Lucky people are convinced that any ill fortune in their lives will, in the long run, work out for the best.
  • Lucky people do not dwell on their ill fortune.
  • Lucky people take constructive steps to prevent more bad luck in the future.

How do you respond to disappointment?

Giving up, getting gloomy and locking yourself in the house won’t help the world offer you better opportunities.

Imitate lucky people when things don’t go your way.

These Principles Work

Not only did Wiseman find that lucky people had these qualities in common, he was able to make unlucky people more lucky by having them apply the ideas.

Via Luck Factor:

In total, 80 percent of people who attended Luck School said that their luck had increased. On average, these people estimated that their luck had increased by more than 40 percent.

Not only were they luckier, particpants also scored higher on life satisfaction after trying Wiseman’s principles.

So making yourself lucky can also make you happy. Now that’s good fortune.

And if you enjoyed this post, share it with friends. We could all use some good luck. :)

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Related posts:

What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

Here are the things that are proven to make you happier

How To Live A Happy Life: Louis CK Explains The Science

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME psychology

How To Be More Satisfied With Your Life – 5 Steps Proven By Research

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I’ve posted a lot about the research around how to be happier. But being satisfied with your life is something a little different.

Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, gave a TED talk where he explained the two pretty well:

Happiness is being happy in your life. We experience it immediately and in the moment.

Life satisfaction is being happy about your life. It is the happiness that exists when we talk about the past and the big picture.

There’s plenty of information about the former — but what about the latter?

What can we do to not just be happy in the moment, but to feel satisfied with our lives?

Here’s are five things research says can make a difference for you:

Friends

Having a lot of close friends boosts life satisfaction by nearly 20%.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life:

Having more close friendships was associated with a 19 percent greater life satisfaction and a 23 percent greater sense of optimism. – Richburg 1998

In fact, having a better social life can be worth as much as an additional $131,232 a year in terms of life satisfaction.

Like your neighbors? That’s a double digit boost in life satisfaction too.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life:

Positive feelings about neighbors have been found to be associated with a 16 percent greater life satisfaction and a 25 percent lower likelihood of experiencing feelings of loneliness. – Prezza et al. 2001

Why does religion — any religion — make people so much happier?

It’s the friends that a religious community provides. A group of ten supportive friends seems to be the magic number.

Via The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More:

After examining studies of more than three thousand adults, Chaeyoon Lin and Robert Putnam found that what religion you practice or however close you feel to God makes no difference in your overall life satisfaction. What matters is the number of friends you have in your religious community. Ten is the magic number; if you have that many, you’ll be happier. Religious people, in other words, are happier because they feel connected to a community of like-minded people.

But it’s not all about what you get from friends; giving is extraordinarily powerful too.

Are you mentoring a young person? It’s 4 times more predictive of happiness than your health or how much money you make.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life:

Age, income, and health are four times less likely to predict whether a person is happy than is whether the person feels he or she is having a positive effect on a younger person. – Azarow 2003

(More on how to make and keep friends here.)

Have A Life Story

Research shows that meaning in life comes from the stories we tell ourselves about our lives.

Ever tried writing that story down? People who do are more than 10% happier with their lives.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life:

People who wrote about the history of their lives were 11 percent more likely to feel happy with their lives and 17 percent more likely to feel optimistic about the future. – Yamada 2000

Knowing your family tree gets you a bump in satisfaction as well.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life:

People who were interested in their family and ethnic histories were 6 percent more likely to feel satisfied with their lives. – Mowrer and McCarver 2002

Children who know the stories of those who came before them have higher self-esteem and a sense of control over their lives.

Via The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More:

Marshall and Robyn asked those questions of four dozen families in the summer of 2001, and also taped several of their dinner table conversations. They then compared the children’s results to a battery of psychological tests and reached some overwhelming conclusions. The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem, and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.

(More on how to shape the story of your own life here.)

Have Goals

People with goals are nearly 20% more satisfied with their lives.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life:

People who could identify a goal they were pursuing were 19 percent more likely to feel satisfied with their lives and 26 percent more likely to feel positive about themselves. – Krueger 1998

Those who are passionate about something score higher across the board on positive psychological indicators.

Via Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined:

Elderly individuals who were harmoniously passionate scored higher on various indicators of psychological adjustment, such as life satisfaction, meaning in life, and vitality, while they reported lower levels of negative indicators of psychological adjustment such as anxiety and depression.

Goals doesn’t mean you need to win an Oscar or make a million dollars.

A consistent amount of minor success produces much more satisfaction than occasionally bagging an elephant.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

Life satisfaction is 22 percent more likely for those with a steady stream of minor accomplishments than those who express interest only in major accomplishments. – Orlick 1998

Not seeing the success you’d like? Don’t give up. Having grit was associated with more life satisfaction.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life:

The capacity to continue trying despite repeated setbacks was associated with a more optimistic outlook on life in 31 percent of people studied, and with greater life satisfaction in 42 percent of them. – Meulemann 2001

(More about setting goals the right way here.)

Money Isn’t The Answer

The more materialistic people are, the less satisfied they are with their lives.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life:

Among participants in one study, those whose values were the most materialistic rated their lives as the least satisfying. – Ryan and Dziurawiec 2001

Spending more money on gifts made holidays less enjoyable.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life:

Among parents studied, greater expenditures for family gifts actually reduced satisfaction with family holidays by 2 percent. – Kasser and Sheldon 2002

Having meaning in your life increases life satisfaction twice as much as wealth.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life:

Those with a modest income who felt there was meaning in their lives were twice as likely to experience life satisfaction as were those who were wealthier but who felt that their lives lacked a sense of meaning. – Debats 1999

(More on the things proven to increase happiness here.)

Keep Growing

No, I don’t mean eat more cookies.

Have you seen changes in what you believe over the past few months? That’s a good thing.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life:

People over forty who could identify at least one change in their viewpoints or behavior in recent months were 8 percent more likely to feel hopeful about the future and 5 percent more likely to say they were generally in a good mood. – Grossbaum and Bates 2002

Older people who continue to read and learn are much more satisfied with their lives.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life:

People over the age of fifty who said they continued to learn about topics that interested them were 18 percent more likely to feel satisfied with their lives and 43 percent more likely to feel vital. – Helterbran 1999

Keeping an open mind pays huge dividends as the years go by.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

Studies focusing on the ability of people to maintain happiness as they age reveal that an openness to change in both family life and work life is associated with a 23 percent greater likelihood of maintaining high levels of life satisfaction. – Crosnoe and Elder 2002

But don’t change everything — maintaining strong core values is important.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life:

A willingness to compromise on trivial matters was associated with 62 percent more positive social relations, but a willingness to compromise on matters of values and personal vision was associated with 34 percent less life satisfaction. – Bargdill 1998

(More on how to make sure you never stop growing and learning here.)

Sum Up

Keep in mind the 5 ways to increase life satisfaction:

  1. Friends
  2. Have Goals
  3. Have A Life Story
  4. Money Isn’t The Answer
  5. Keep Growing

I really think that fifth one is key. If you can’t learn, you can’t improve.

As the Stoic philosopher Seneca once said:

As long as you live, keep learning how to live.

Join 45K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

Here are the things proven to make you happier

What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

4 Lifehacks From Ancient Philosophers That Will Make You Happier

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME ADHD

Doctor: ADHD Does Not Exist

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Over the course of my career, I have found more than 20 conditions that can lead to symptoms of ADHD, each of which requires its own approach to treatment. Raising a generation of children — and now adults — who can't live without stimulants is no solution

This Wednesday, an article in the New York Times reported that from 2008 to 2012 the number of adults taking medications for ADHD increased by 53% and that among young American adults, it nearly doubled. While this is a staggering statistic and points to younger generations becoming frequently reliant on stimulants, frankly, I’m not too surprised. Over my 50-year career in behavioral neurology and treating patients with ADHD, it has been in the past decade that I have seen these diagnoses truly skyrocket. Every day my colleagues and I see more and more people coming in claiming they have trouble paying attention at school or work and diagnosing themselves with ADHD.

And why shouldn’t they?

If someone finds it difficult to pay attention or feels somewhat hyperactive, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder has those symptoms right there in its name. It’s an easy catchall phrase that saves time for doctors to boot. But can we really lump all these people together? What if there are other things causing people to feel distracted? I don’t deny that we, as a population, are more distracted today than we ever were before. And I don’t deny that some of these patients who are distracted and impulsive need help. What I do deny is the generally accepted definition of ADHD, which is long overdue for an update. In short, I’ve come to believe based on decades of treating patients that ADHD — as currently defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and as understood in the public imagination — does not exist.

Allow me to explain what I mean.

Ever since 1937, when Dr. Charles Bradley discovered that children who displayed symptoms of attention deficit and hyperactivity responded well to Benzedrine, a stimulant, we have been thinking about this “disorder” in almost the same way. Soon after Bradley’s discovery, the medical community began labeling children with these symptoms as having minimal brain dysfunction, or MBD, and treating them with the stimulants Ritalin and Cylert. In the intervening years, the DSM changed the label numerous times, from hyperkinetic reaction of childhood (it wasn’t until 1980 that the DSM-III introduced a classification for adults with the condition) to the current label, ADHD. But regardless of the label, we have been giving patients different variants of stimulant medication to cover up the symptoms. You’d think that after decades of advancements in neuroscience, we would shift our thinking.

Today, the fifth edition of the DSM only requires one to exhibit five of 18 possible symptoms to qualify for an ADHD diagnosis. If you haven’t seen the list, look it up. It will probably bother you. How many of us can claim that we have difficulty with organization or a tendency to lose things; that we are frequently forgetful or distracted or fail to pay close attention to details? Under these subjective criteria, the entire U.S. population could potentially qualify. We’ve all had these moments, and in moderate amounts they’re a normal part of the human condition.

However, there are some instances in which attention symptoms are severe enough that patients truly need help. Over the course of my career, I have found more than 20 conditions that can lead to symptoms of ADHD, each of which requires its own approach to treatment. Among these are sleep disorders, undiagnosed vision and hearing problems, substance abuse (marijuana and alcohol in particular), iron deficiency, allergies (especially airborne and gluten intolerance), bipolar and major depressive disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and even learning disabilities like dyslexia, to name a few. Anyone with these issues will fit the ADHD criteria outlined by the DSM, but stimulants are not the way to treat them.

What’s so bad about stimulants? you might wonder. They seem to help a lot of people, don’t they? The article in the Times mentions that the “drugs can temper hallmark symptoms like severe inattention and hyperactivity but also carry risks like sleep deprivation, appetite suppression and, more rarely, addiction and hallucinations.” But this is only part of the picture.

First, addiction to stimulant medication is not rare; it is common. The drugs’ addictive qualities are obvious. We only need to observe the many patients who are forced to periodically increase their dosage if they want to concentrate. This is because the body stops producing the appropriate levels of neurotransmitters that ADHD meds replace — a trademark of addictive substances. I worry that a generation of Americans won’t be able to concentrate without this medication; Big Pharma is understandably not as concerned.

Second, there are many side effects to ADHD medication that most people are not aware of: increased anxiety, irritable or depressed mood, severe weight loss due to appetite suppression, and even potential for suicide. But there are also consequences that are even less well known. For example, many patients on stimulants report having erectile dysfunction when they are on the medication.

Third, stimulants work for many people in the short term, but for those with an underlying condition causing them to feel distracted, the drugs serve as Band-Aids at best, masking and sometimes exacerbating the source of the problem.

In my view, there are two types of people who are diagnosed with ADHD: those who exhibit a normal level of distraction and impulsiveness, and those who have another condition or disorder that requires individual treatment.

For my patients who are in the first category, I recommend that they eat right, exercise more often, get eight hours of quality sleep a night, minimize caffeine intake in the afternoon, monitor their cell-phone use while they’re working and, most important, do something they’re passionate about. Like many children who act out because they are not challenged enough in the classroom, adults whose jobs or class work are not personally fulfilling or who don’t engage in a meaningful hobby will understandably become bored, depressed and distracted. In addition, today’s rising standards are pressuring children and adults to perform better and longer at school and at work. I too often see patients who hope to excel on four hours of sleep a night with help from stimulants, but this is a dangerous, unhealthy and unsustainable way of living over the long term.

For my second group of patients with severe attention issues, I require a full evaluation to find the source of the problem. Usually, once the original condition is found and treated, the ADHD symptoms go away.

It’s time to rethink our understanding of this condition, offer more thorough diagnostic work and help people get the right treatment for attention deficit and hyperactivity.

Dr. Richard Saul is a behavioral neurologist practicing in the Chicago area. His book, ADHD Does Not Exist, is published by HarperCollins.

TIME mental health

America’s Healthiest Brain States

The index measures mental health, social well-being, nutrition, and other factors

The latest ranking of states with the best brain health are released, and Maryland gets top bragging rights.

The 2014 America’s Brain Health Index ranks states on 21 measures, including mental health, social well-being, and nutrition. Maryland is Number One for high consumption of fish–which is linked to better brain health–and low rates of Alzheimer’s deaths, and smokers. The state does not, however, have high levels of religious and spiritual activities, which are factored into the rankings.

Here are the top 10 states for good brain health:

  1. Maryland
  2. Washington
  3. Colorado
  4. Connecticut
  5. Alaska
  6. District of Columbia
  7. Vermont
  8. New York
  9. New Hampshire
  10. Georgia

And here are the 10 worst:

  1. Mississippi
  2. Alabama
  3. North Dakota
  4. Louisiana
  5. Arkansas
  6. Iowa
  7. Indiana
  8. Oklahoma
  9. Tennessee
  10. Kentucky

Check out more data about each state here.

TIME mental health

A Different Ending to My ‘Adam Lanza’ Story

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Long wrote the op-ed "I am Adam Lanza’s mother" two days after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, to allow herself to get help for her son. Now that Peter Lanza, the father of the shooter, has spoken out, she says she's so glad she did

In November 2012, I happened to hear author Andrew Solomon on NPR, talking about Far from the Tree, his book on children who are different from their parents in profound and life-changing ways. “Must get this book now!” I texted to my fiancé, who sent me a nearly identical message.

We were both thinking about my son, whom I call Michael. In the later months of 2012, Michael’s behavior was increasingly erratic and violent. Because he was so disruptive, he was asked to leave a prestigious math and science academy and was transferred to a restrictive program for students with behavior problems. One morning, a simple request that he return overdue library books quickly escalated into my son making death threats against me. In December 2012, when Adam Lanza killed his mother, my then 13-year-old son was in an acute care psychiatric hospital. I was physically bruised from restraining him as he tried to run into traffic and emotionally exhausted as I realized I had few options to help my son. After more than eight years of searching for answers, we still didn’t know what was wrong with Michael.

As I read Peter Lanza’s honest and heartbreaking assessment of his lost son Adam, I was again struck by the similarities between the Lanzas’ painful story and my own. In the immediate aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, when I wrote the blog post that was republished as “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” most of us knew very little about Adam or Nancy. But I knew, because in many respects, I was living a parallel life.

I wrote the words, “I am Adam Lanza’s mother,” not to the world, but to myself. Before I could get help for my son, I had to admit how desperately I needed it. That first step—acknowledging to myself the gravity of my family’s situation, our tenuous and faltering grip on the external trappings of normalcy that I so desperately craved—is what ultimately allowed my son to get the help he needs.

More than a year later, Michael finally has a diagnosis, bipolar disorder, and he is finally on a medication that works. In the eight months since that diagnosis, Michael has not threatened himself or others; he will return to a mainstream school next fall. I wish that Adam Lanza could have followed my son’s path. The child Peter Lanza loved was bright, funny, a “normal weird kid.” What happened? Not even Peter Lanza knows.

Philosopher Claire Creffield, in analyzing the luck factor that separates an Adam Lanza from a similarly challenged child who does not commit mass murder, notes that “a host of chance events come together to make one imperfectly-parented child a killer and another imperfectly-parented child a well-adjusted adult.” Peter Lanza has come to the same conclusion: He told Andrew Solomon, “I want people to be afraid of the fact that this could happen to them.”

I want the same thing. While none of us are perfect parents, I personally do not blame either Peter or Nancy Lanza for what happened to their son. Both parents loved Adam. Neither parent imagined or wanted their child’s horrific end.

This is why what Peter Lanza did by sharing his story with Andrew Solomon is so important. Lanza’s story fills important gaps in our understanding of how a beloved child became a killer—and reminds us as a society that we have an obligation to help families and children before they find themselves on irreversible paths of violence. People have blamed Peter for being a distant father. I received the same type of criticism because I have raised my son for the past several years as a single mother. Yet I do not blame Michael’s father for his illness any more than I blame Peter Lanza for his son. Compassion, not judgment, is what we deserve.

In Lanza’s description of his son’s journey into isolation, I see too many similarities, not only to my own experiences, but to the experiences of millions of children and families. I am a mother, not a medical professional, and yet as I scroll down a list of symptoms that mirror my son’s, I can’t help but wonder why Adam Lanza was never diagnosed with a serious mental illness like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Still, I view my son’s very real mental illness as an explanation, but never as an excuse.

As we look at the changes we need to make in our mental healthcare delivery system, our goal should not be reactive—to prevent another Sandy Hook or Tucson or Aurora. Instead, our goal should be proactive—to provide early interventions, appropriate diagnoses, and medical treatment to children and families well before a crisis like Sandy Hook occurs. I am grateful to Peter Lanza for adding his important voice to the chorus of parents who are seeking solutions and change. Peter Lanza’s story is also a tragedy, a little boy lost, a society that turned away, at terrible cost.

Liza Long is a writer, educator, and mother of four children, one of whom has mental illness.

TIME health

Happy Daylight Saving: 6 Proven Steps To The Best Night’s Sleep You’ll Ever Have

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Your Worst Enemy Is Probably You

Stop cheating yourself. You can’t cut corners on sleep and not have it affect you:

…by the end of two weeks, the six-hour sleepers were as impaired as those who, in another Dinges study, had been sleep-deprived for 24 hours straight — the cognitive equivalent of being legally drunk.

Being tired actually makes it harder to be happy. “Sleeping on it” does improve decision making and can help you follow through on your goals.

Lack of sleep makes you more likely to get sick and more likely to behave unethically. There is such a thing as beauty sleep:

Our findings show that sleep deprived people appear less healthy, less attractive, and more tired compared with when they are well rested.

“Take an A student used to scoring in the top 10 percent of virtually anything she does. One study showed that if she gets just under seven hours of sleep on weekdays, and about 40 minutes more on weekends, she will begin to score in the bottom 9 percent of non-sleep-deprived individuals.”

Yes, some people don’t need much sleep but they’re exceedingly rare.

Out of 100 people who think they can go without much sleep, only five really can.

Know Thyself: Night Owls And Morning Larks

Morning types are more concrete, logical, introverted and self-controlled. Evening types are more creative, risk-taking, independent and impulsive.

Night owls are smarter. And male night owls do better with the ladies.

But morning people are more proactive and happier — and you mood in the morning affects your entire day.

Working outside your preferred time frame can reduce performance but night owls might be able to teach themselves to be early birds by creating rituals that make them excited to get out of bed.

What Makes For A Great Night’s Sleep?

Via Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep.

1) Exercise during the day promotes good sleep at night:

…those who exercised reported a better quality of sleep than those who remained sedentary.

2) Keep it cold:

One study by researchers in Lille, a city in northeastern France, found that subjects fell asleep faster and had a better overall quality of sleep following behaviors that cooled the body, such as taking a cold shower right before bed. The best predictor of quality sleep was maintaining a room temperature in a narrow band between 60 and 66 degrees Fahrenheit (or 16 to 19 degrees Celsius).

3) Avoid light before bed, and that includes TV’s and computers:

…bright lights— including the blue-and-white light that comes from a computer monitor or a television screen— can deceive the brain, which registers it as daylight. Lying in bed watching a movie on an iPad may be relaxing, but the constant bright light from the screen can make it more difficult for some people to fall asleep afterward.

4) Avoid coffee or alcohol at night:

It is obviously not a good idea to drink coffee in the evening if it keeps you up at night. Nor is drinking alcohol before bedtime a smart move. Alcohol may help speed the onset of sleep, but it begins to take its toll during the second half of the night. As the body breaks down the liquid, the alcohol in the bloodstream often leads to an increase in the number of times a person briefly wakes up.

Also:

5) Mattress quality doesn’t matter. The only factor that was relevant with regard to beds was when traveling, people sleep best on a mattress similar to the one they have at home.

6) Keeping a consistent sleep and wake schedule is more important than you think. Shifting Daylight Savings Time around lowers SAT scores. Jet lag can be devastating to performing at your best.

Trouble Sleeping?

A very common yet overlooked cause of insomnia is putting too much effort into trying to get to sleep.

And Ambien and other drugs are overrated for helping you get to sleep.

Do more aerobic exercise during the day instead. You don’t actually have to work out really hard, you just have to think you did.

Upside to insomnia? You’re more creative when you’re exhausted.

On the other hand, trying to stay awake? Coffee’s always good but don’t forget about gum.

Nightmares? Try video games. And if you see something scary, like a horror movie, discuss it afterwards. This can reduce the chance of nightmares.

Waking up in the middle of the night actually might not be such a bad thing — humans may naturally sleep in two phases.

Use Sleep to Improve Learning and Thinking

Sleep is vital for improving skills. Want to increase your learning ability? After you review something, take a nap.

By the same token, missing an hour of sleep can take points off your IQ.

Promise yourself a reward when you wake up and you might even be able to increase learning as you sleep.

By the same token, lack of sleep makes us more likely to waste time on the internet.

You may want to spend less time analyzing complex problems and just sleep on it.

If you can’t sleep, trust your gut when making decisions while exhausted.

Naps Are Like Having Super Powers

Use naps to increase alertness and performance on the job, enhance learning ability and purge negative emotions while enhancing positive ones.

Some research says the best naps are 10 minutes long.

How can you make your naps better?

  1. If you’re a morning person, the best time to nap is around 1 or 1:30PM. If you’re a night owl, nap later, around 2:30 or 3PM.
  2. The best naps are under 45 mins or 90-120 mins. Anything in between is likely to give you that groggy feeling.
  3. Naps don’t mean you’re lazy: A NASA study showed that in-flight naps improved subsequent performance by 34% and overall alertness by 54%.
  4. To make sure you’re productive after your nap drink a cup of coffee right before laying down. Caffeine takes about 20-30 minutes to kick in.
  5. No nap is too short: A 2008 study showed that even a nap of a few minutes provided benefits. Just anticipating a nap lowers blood pressure.

To learn the secrets of how astronauts sleep, go here.

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Related posts:

What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

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4 Things Astronauts Can Teach You About A Good Night’s Sleep

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME mental health

LSD Therapy Lowers Anxiety, Study Finds

People facing imminent death could benefit from the hallucinogenic

Scientists in Switzerland are testing the anxiety-lowering effects of LSD on people near death, and are reporting promising results.

A new study published in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease finds that people who are facing imminent death from cancer can experience positive changes in their anxiety levels from talking to a therapist while under the influence. LSD research has been banned in the U.S. since 1966.

The 12 participants–the majority of whom had terminal cancer–met with lead study author Dr. Peter Gasser for weekly therapy sessions for two months. Eight of the patients received full doses of LSD during their sessions, while the other four received a lesser dose. During their “trips,” which could last up to 10 hours, patients talked about their fears of dying and experienced distressing emotions.

A year after their sessions, researchers found that anxiety levels had improved by 20% on standard measures those for those who got a full dose, and that this lower anxiety level appeared to remain even after therapy. For the participants who took a lower dose of LSD, their anxiety worsened.

With only 12 people, the study is too small to make any significant conclusions. However, it’s part of a bigger movement among psychiatrists to use hallucinogens in therapy for disorders like PTSD and severe anxiety, The New York Times reports. Other researchers are also currently testing the effects of similar drugs on patients’ anxieties.

[The New York Times]

TIME mental health

More Bad News for Older Dads: Higher Risk of Kids With Mental Illness

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The effect of paternal age on autism, schizophrenia, and ADHD may be greater than previously thought

For so long, mothers – particularly older moms — bore the brunt of responsibility for genetic disorders in their children. And for good reason. Eggs are stockpiled from birth, not made anew with each monthly reproductive cycle, so eggs stored for decades until childbearing can develop genetic mutations. The older the mother, the greater the chance of abnormalities that can contribute to conditions such as Down syndrome, especially after age 35. Fathers, on the other hand, constantly make sperm, so their reproductive contribution was supposed to be fresher and free of accumulated DNA damage.

That may not actually be the case, however, according to the latest study in JAMA Psychiatry investigating how advanced paternal age can affect rates of mental illness and school performance in children. After a groundbreaking genetic analysis in 2012 highlighted the surprising number of spontaneous mutations that can occur in the sperm of older men, scientists have been delving into the relationship to better quantify and describe the risk. While some studies confirmed the connection, others failed to find a link.

MORE: Older Fathers Linked to Kids’ Autism and Schizophrenia Risk

In the latest research, Brian D’Onofrio, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University, and his colleagues attempted to address one of the biggest problems with studying the trend. Most of the previous investigations compared younger fathers and their children to different older fathers and their offspring. “That’s comparing apples and oranges,” says D’Onofrio. “We know young fathers and old fathers vary on many things.”

So his team turned to birth registry data from Sweden and compared children born to the same fathers, evaluating the siblings on various mental health and academic measures. The study included 2.6 million children born to 1.4 million fathers.

What they found surprised them – so much so that they spent about two months re-evaluating the data to make sure their numbers were correct. While the previous genetic study found that an older father’s DNA may account for about 15% of autism cases, D’Onofrio’s group found that the increased risk for children of fathers older than 45 years soared to 3.5 times compared to that of younger fathers. Children of older fathers also showed a 13 fold higher risk of developing attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a 25 times greater chance of getting bipolar disorder, and twice the risk of developing a psychosis. These kids also had doubled risk of having a substance abuse problem and a 60% higher likelihood of getting failing grades in school compared with those with younger fathers.

MORE: Too Old to Be a Dad?

“What this study suggests is that the specific effect of older paternal age may actually be worse than we originally thought,” says D’Onofrio.

The scientists controlled for some of the well-known factors that can account for poor grades and psychoses and mental illnesses, such as the child’s birth order, the mother’s age, the mother’s and father’s education level, their history of psychiatric problems, and their history of criminality. Even after adjusting for these possible effects, they still found a strong correlation between higher rates of mental illness among younger siblings compared with their older ones.

The 2012 genetic study pointed to a possible reason for the higher rates of mental illnesses – because genetic mutations tend to accumulate each time a cell divides, older men may build up more spontaneous, or de novo, changes each time the sperm’s DNA is copied. While a 25-year-old father may pass on an average of 25 mutations to his child, a 40-year-old dad may bequeath each offspring as many as 65; the researchers calculated that the de novo mutation rate doubled with every 16.5 years of the father’s age. In contrast, regardless of her age, a mother tends to pass on about 15 mutations via her eggs.

The findings still need to be repeated by other groups, but the large sample size and the careful way that the researchers designed the study – to analyze the same fathers over time – suggest that the association is significant and worth considering for those who put off having a family. “This study suggests that paternal age does need to be considered as one of many risk factors associated with children’s mental health,” says D’Onofrio.

MORE: Fewer Drugs Being Prescribed to Treat Mental Illness Among Kids

Whether it gains the same amount of weight that maternal age does in family planning decisions isn’t clear yet, but even if it is confirmed, he notes that the correlation doesn’t predict that every child born to an older father will develop a mental illness. Older parents also have protective factors against these disorders, including more maturity and financial and social stability, that can offset some of the effect.

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