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Best and Worst Life Experiences from Social Connections


By Rick Nauert PhD Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on August 30, 2010


New research finds that social events are the most meaningful times in an individual’s life. Although social connections bring us the most pleasure, they also deliver the most pain.


In the first study of its kind, researchers have found compelling evidence that our best and worst experiences in life are likely to involve not individual accomplishments, but interaction with other people and the fulfillment of an urge for social connection.


The findings, which run contrary to implications of previous research, are reported in “What Makes Us Feel the Best Also Makes Us Feel the Worst: The Emotional Impact of Independent and Interdependent Experiences.”


The study reports on research conducted at the University at Buffalo and will appear in the forthcoming print issue of Self and Identity.


Co-author Shira Gabriel, PhD, associate professor of psychology at UB, says, “Most of us spend much of our time and effort focused on individual achievements such as work, hobbies and schooling.


“However this research suggests that the events that end up being most important in our lives, the events that bring us the most happiness and also carry the potential for the most pain, are social events — moments of connecting to others and feeling their connections to us.”


Read in Full:  http://psychcentral.com/news/2010/08/30/best-and-worst-life-experiences-from-social-connections/17427.html


Why Does Having a Son Reduce the Likelihood of Divorce?


There’s very little that fathers (or mothers) can do for daughters

Coping with Divorce: Words Tell the Story


By Rick Nauert PhD Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on September 7, 2010


University of Arizona researchers say that people in the midst of divorce reveal how they are handling things – not so much by what they say but how they say it.


Apparently the truth is fairly easy to determine; even complete strangers were able to figure out how people were coping with their emotions using relatively small amounts of information.


The investigation elaborates on recent person-perception studies that examine interpersonal distress, in this case when a marriage ends.


“We wanted to know how much information people actually need in order to know how another person is coping,” said Ashley Mason, a UA doctoral student who conducted the research.


“There’s been a lot of person-perception research in terms of perceiving a stranger’s personality or intelligence. And data have shown that we really don’t need much.”


Read in Full:  http://psychcentral.com/news/2010/09/07/coping-with-divorce-words-tell-the-story/17774.html


Related Clinical Articles


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The Bipolar Relationship: How to Understand, Help, and Love Your Partner


By Jon P. Bloch, PHD, Bernard Golden, PHD and Nancy Rosenfeld

Reviewed by Gillian Fournier


The Bipolar Relationship: How to Understand, Help, and Love Your Partner by Jon P. Bloch, PHD, Bernard Golden, PHD and Nancy Rosenfeld is a very detailed and helpful book meant specifically for romantic partners of bipolar people. Though it contains a large amount of information that could be helpful to an actual bipolar person, the book focuses on the role that the partner plays in their partner’s mental health. It covers all aspects of daily life from basic definitions and types of the disorder to the effective management of a healthy sex life and overall adjustments that can make life easier for both parties.


The book begins by going over the most basic definition of the disorder. It discusses the symptoms of mania and depression, lists the types of the disorder in very simple words, and touches briefly on the current research. The first few chapters do not contain any groundbreaking revelations because they use that time to help the reader get their bearings on the subject.


Someone who knows a lot about the disorder may want to bypass pages 1-14 — this information could be found online or in any basic bipolar publication. After page 14 though, it goes into more depth about the behavioral signs of the disorder and becomes much more interesting.


One aspect I had not considered is the need to address how others perceive the bipolar partner. It makes a very strong case for listening to doctors, friends and even people who don’t have any clue that the person you are dating is bipolar. Sometimes when you are in a relationship with a bipolar person it can seem like you are the only person in the situation. This book urges you to realize that you most definitely are not.


The book also notes that bipolar is different for each person, but it does list commonalities to help the partner try to diagnose the issues and combat them. This section of the book is, in my opinion, the most interesting and helpful part. It talks about approaching bipolar anger in a calm and collected way (most people react in an equally angry fashion, causing more issues in the long run), trying out couples therapy and the options for medication. The book’s authors clearly are pro-medication, but to their credit they do mention the importance of therapy in conjunction with pharmaceutical treatment.


Read in Full:  http://psychcentral.com/lib/2010/the-bipolar-relationship-how-to-understand-help-and-love-your-partner/


How to Improve Mood, Raise Energy and Reduce Tension


What strategies do you use to make yourself feel better, increase your energy levels and reduce your tension? That’s the question Robert Thayer and colleagues at California State University were motivated by in looking for the strategies people use and find effective (Thayer, Newman & McClain, 1994). There’s no revelations in the results but the fact that the same three main strategies were useful in changing mood and reducing tension and raising energy speaks volumes:


  • *Exercise: rated as the most effective for changing a bad mood, also good for raising energy and reducing tension.
  • *Music: rated the second most successful way to change a bad mood, and raising energy and reducing tension. This may be a surprising finding for some people.
  • *Social interaction: good for changing a bad mood and reducing tension although not necessarily so good for raising energy.

Apart from these main categories that were good across the board, there were other strategies that worked in a more selective fashion:


  • *Pep talk: this was rated as most successful for energy enhancement – above both exercise and music.
  • *Distractions (like shopping, reading, chores and hobbies): seen as useful for changing a bad mood.

At the other end of the scale, the things people rated as relatively less successful were:


  • *TV: less effective for reducing tension
  • *Eating: also less effective for reducing tension.
  • *Coffee: not that good for raising energy, relative to the other categories.

Gender differences were also seen. Men are more likely to try and distract themselves or seek pleasure, while women are more likely to seek social support.


One surprising finding from this study is how successful music is in all three categories of mood regulation, energy raising and tension reduction. In fact I’ve written before about the seven ways music influences mood.


Read in Full:  http://www.spring.org.uk/2007/08/how-to-change-bad-mood-raise-energy-and.php


Wherever you go, go with all your heart. ~Confucius


How to Be Happy, Confucian Style


“The one who would be in constant happiness must frequently change.” –Confucius


In China two and half thousand years ago one man, Kong Qui, and his followers, synthesised the traditions of the Chinese people to create what they believed were the fundamental principles of humanity. Of course what Westerners now call Confucianism has changed over the years, just like the other major philosophies that have flourished in the East: Buddhism and Taoism. But to have survived this long, these systems of thought must have at their cores a useful set of principles that help people live the ‘good life’.


Following on from previous posts on philosophers Epicurus and Schopenhauer, as well as the modern obsession with self-help books, I look at what Ancient Chinese philosophies have to teach us about how to be happy.


In an article in the Journal of Happiness Studies, Zhang and Veenhoven (in press) compare the ancient Chinese versions of Taosim, Buddhism and Confucianism with the modern conditions of happiness. They use findings from the multitude of studies collected in the World Database of Happiness to reach the conclusion that, compared to ancient Buddhism and Taoism, it is Confucius’ philosophical teachings that are most likely to lead to a happy life.


So, here (briefly) is Confucius’ advice on how to live the good life, contrasted with some of the tenets of Taoism and Buddhism.


1. Invest in intimate ties


Confucianism’s view of life is built on the idea of ‘Jen’. This means a feeling of concern for the wellbeing of others. Those following Confucianism should bring Jen into both their social relations and, so far as they are able, into society itself.


Compared with the modern observed conditions of happiness this looks like good advice. Generally speaking marriage makes us happier, more friends make us happier and people are especially happy if they have someone to confide in. Classical Taoism goes along with this point but ancient Buddhism runs counter to the evidence, advising the avoidance of intimate ties.


2. Embrace society


Society is accepted within Confucianism and the philosophy encourages its followers to engage in it. Looking at the research, this is also good advice. People who are members of clubs, churches and other organisations are happier, people who have a job are happier, and so on. The evidence shows that this is also true at a societal level. Countries in which people have the densest networks of friends are also those in which people are the happiest.


In comparison, ancient Taoism says retreat to nature and Buddhism says withdraw completely from society – both these points of view are suspect if happiness is your goal.


3. Be successful


Confucianism recommends a devotion to your occupation. The wealth earned from working is also seen in a positive light within Confucianism. Generally speaking people with more money and higher status are happier (but bear in mind that more money doesn’t always equal more happiness). In contrast both ancient Taoism and Buddhism are sniffy about earnings.


4. Have fun


Confucius thought moderate amounts of fun were acceptable. This is backed up by modern research finding that people who engage in pleasurable activities are happier (I know, surprise surprise!). Follow-up studies show no long-term disadvantages to a bit of short-term fun. So there’s no point rejecting the possibility of happiness, as does ancient Chinese Buddhism, which warns that the pursuit of happiness will only end in disappointment.


5. Live healthily


Still in the land of the blindingly obvious – yes, people who are healthier are happier. Still, just because the advice is obvious doesn’t mean it’s any less relevant, or any more likely for people to actually act on! Despite this the self-evident nature of this advice, ancient Chinese Buddhism actually recommends physical privation. Again, we’ll stick with Confucius on this one.


6. Meet your obligations


One of the most important aspects of ancient Chinese Confucianism is a sense of duty and responsibility. There’s some sparse evidence from the individual level that this might lead to greater happiness. At a societal level, however, people who live in collectivist societies, like the Chinese, tend to be less happier than those who live in individualistic societies. This may be because collectivist societies stifle the individual’s search for self-actualisation.


7. School yourself


You’ve guessed it, the well-educated are also happier. On the other hand education mostly contributes to happiness by enabling you to get a better job, and lots of education doesn’t necessarily lead to more happiness. One thing is clear though, it is better to live in a more educated society, even if others are more educated than us.


Education is partly endorsed by Taoism, while classical Buddhism advises avoiding school completely. Again, Confucianism wins on this one.


Read in Full:  http://www.spring.org.uk/2008/01/how-to-be-happy-confucian-style.php





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