Tag Archives: Life and style

Money can’t buy happiness? That’s just wishful thinking

I know when I don’t have any I can be very stressed, but who would have thought it.
For me money only represents security.

For others I suppose its different. What I do find most unpleasant is the undue influence unelected people with money have over others. It’s all about the power?


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Money can’t buy happiness? That’s just wishful thinking” was written by Ruth Whippman, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 17th May 2016 18.04 UTC

Money can’t buy happiness: it’s a rarely questioned truism. It also tends to be most enthusiastically embraced by those who have never gone without it. “I’ve tried hard to care about money,” Chelsea Clinton once humble-bragged, “but I couldn’t.” No matter how attached we are to the idea that money can’t buy happiness, though, the research shows almost the complete opposite.

After community and social relationships, the association between income and wellbeing is one of the most robust in the happiness literature. And a new study demonstrates just how deep-seated that psychological link is, how intricately our financial circumstances weave their way into our psyches.

Money doesn’t just shield us from obvious daily stresses, this study tells us, but can actually buy us the most basic of our psychological needs – human connection. The higher our income, the less likely we are to experience loneliness.

This study builds on a wide body of research giving a similar message. Although money is clearly no guarantee of contentment, and there are anomalies in the data, as a general rule, the better off we are financially, the happier we are.

But yet we still restate our fridge-magnet mantra about the irrelevance of money to happiness over and over again, a cosy boast of our lack of materialism. And in recent years, with the advent of the highly influential “positive psychology” movement, this idea has been given a new academic respectability.

Positive psychology – the study of happiness and how to improve it – is an academic discipline less than 20 years old, and one of the fastest growing and most newly influential in the US. Positive psychology professors have been contracted to advise everyone from corporate America to the British government, and the field has spawned an entire industry of self-help books, coaching, courses and consultancy.

Right from the start, the basic philosophical underpinning of most of the positive psychology movement has been that our circumstances (including our financial circumstances) are of minimal consequence to our happiness. Instead, what really matters is our attitude. In this worldview, with the right techniques and enough emotional elbow-grease we can “positive think” our way out of almost any adversity.

Often using small or methodologically flawed studies as evidence, positive psychologists restate over and over the claim that money is of minimal importance to wellbeing. “Increases in wealth have negligible effects on personal happiness” writes Professor Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania in his seminal positive psychology book, Authentic Happiness.

Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert discussed a similar idea in his wildly popular TED talk, The Surprising Science of Happiness, now viewed over 12 million times. He quoted as evidence a methodological train-wreck of a study from the 1970s that suggested that a small group of lottery winners were no happier than a group of paraplegic accident victims. (Although Gilbert graciously later admitted that the study actually didn’t even really show that much.)

Positive psychology’s insistence that our circumstances matter little to our happiness, and relentless focus on individual effort has an ideological flavor – a kind of neoliberalism of the emotions. And perhaps this philosophical bent isn’t surprising, given the positive psychology’s history and its key financial backers.

A large part of positive psychology’s academic research has been bankrolled by an organization called the Templeton Foundation, a group that has provided millions of dollars in funding to most of the major positive psychology research centers in America. While the Foundation is ostensibly politically neutral, its founder and director until his death last year was Sir John Templeton Jr, a lavish rightwing political donor, who over his lifetime gave millions of dollars to the Republican party and various anti-government rightwing political causes.

From the start, the Templeton Foundation set the intellectual scope of positive psychology’s remit by overwhelmingly funding projects designed to demonstrate the importance of individual effort to happiness via optimism, gratitude exercises and the like, and all but ignoring the impact of social context.

The narrative of the irrelevance of money to happiness has, unsurprisingly been enthusiastically received by corporate America, some of the best customers of the positive psychology movement, who have eagerly replaced pay-rises with “workplace happiness training”, unionization with positive thinking.

But it’s a dangerous story. Money matters. And most of us have a lot less of it than we used to. For most workers, real income has barely shifted for decades, and more than a quarter of working Americans earn what are officially classified as “poverty-level wages”. Forty-six million people in the US live below the poverty line and even the middle class is in financial crisis. Nearly half of Americans would struggle to find 0 in an emergency. Money isn’t a fringe issue to our wellbeing. It’s at the very heart and soul of it.

And instead of being embarrassed to admit that, we should be shouting it from the rooftops, printing it on our fridge magnets and using it as a rallying cry for social action. Money makes us happy! Suggesting otherwise doesn’t make us spiritually enlightened or morally superior. It makes us clueless.

Ruth Whippman will be speaking at a Guardian Live/Somerset House event How to be Happy on 1 September.

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Tom and Barbara are my good life guide, not Cameron’s Marie Antoinette version

Another point of view 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Tom and Barbara are my good life guide, not Cameron’s Marie Antoinette version” was written by Damian Barr, for The Guardian on Friday 17th April 2015 17.02 UTC

You never forget your first egg. Ours was laid by Margo, named for Margo Leadbetter from The Good Life, because of her fancy fluffy feet and her long beak, which she tended to look down. It was all the more precious because she popped it out in bleakest midwinter when hens decide, quite rightly, that it’s too cold for all that. Sitting in a strawy manger, it seemed like a miracle – daintier than dino-sized shop offerings and very slightly pink. We couldn’t bring ourselves to crack it, never mind eat it, so we blew it out – and now it sits perfectly preserved on a tiny silk cushion in a glass box. Like Lenin, only lovely.

Over the five years she ruled regally over our urban flock in Brighton, Margot (now roosting in peace) laid countless dozens of eggs. It’s a city garden, so we only keep bantams. Right now we’ve got three fancy pekins: Blanche (The Golden Girls), Blithe (Spirit) and Dolly (Parton). They live in a hand-built wooden coop called Cluckingham Palace and often have porridge for breakfast.

In 2005, we were poultry pioneers and our constituency, Brighton Pavilion, was Labour. Our neighbours made jokes about Tom and Barbara Good wondering, a bit worriedly, if we were getting goats. We threatened them with a pig called Trotski. Back then there was no chicken aisle in the pet shop, because chickens weren’t petsand you had to buy specialist products on dodgy websites. Now there’s a flourishing mini-industry and you can flick through Your Chickens magazine. Thanks to newly invented chicken harnesses our streets will soon be full of hipsters taking their girls for a walk. Meantime, Brighton Pavilion has elected the UK’s only Green MP.

There are two other feather families on our road, and both have neon “Re-elect Caroline Lucas” posters in the window. Our girls often cluck over the wall to them. We’re considering playdates but worry about red mite – far harder to eradicate than head lice. We prize every egg, especially wonky offerings which look like an effort to squeeze out.In summer our egg tray overflows, and after boiling, scrambling and poaching we whisk mayonnaise and lemon curd. A nice Italian neighbour taught us zabalgione. And there is no smugger dinner party gift than a bowl of ultra-local beyond-organic bantam eggs complete with artful smears of crap and just the one feather.

It’s very tempting to think that this is the “good life” – mentioned more than a dozen times by David Cameron when he launched the Conservative manifesto this week. “We can be the country that not only lives within its means and pays its way, but that offers a good life to those who work hard and do the right thing,” he said, flanked by Samantha in a suitably nettle-green dress. He declined to say whether they were more Tom and Barbara than Jerry and Margo, but we know. We all know.

One of the inspirations for The Good Life was The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency by John Seymour. Published in 1976 when doubts about a world entirely dependent on fossil fuels coalesced around the oil crisis and the miners’ strike, it showed how to grow your own vegetables and make your own cheese. It sold more than a million copies in 20 languages. Now oil prices are plummeting along with inflation, and there are no miners.

We are cravenly local, seasonal and organic, and farmer’s markets are sexy. Michelle Obama has written a book about the White House vegetable patch.

This is all very lovely, and who doesn’t want to crystallise their own fennel pollen, but it fails to link personal responsibility and collective action. Sustainability has been commodified. The contemporary “good life” evoked by Cameron has more in common with Marie Antoinette’s Hameau de la Reine than Tom and Barbara’s muddy plot in Surbiton. While the Goods ploughed and dyed their way to self-sufficiency, the French queen dressed as a shepherdess milking perfumed cows into buckets made of Sèvres porcelain. I often think of her as I spend the morning digging up the choicest worms for my girls. Cameron is banking that we’ll all be so blissed out on our own fetishised good lives that we won’t consider voting for anyone who might be having a bad life.

Chickens, and my girls, certainly aren’t to blame. Proof that we can look beyond our own lives lies in HenPower, an amazing charity that helps set up coops in care homes – bringing joy, and eggs, to all. It turns flocks into communities.

Cameron’s good life is entirely privatised: look after your backyard; build our own bucolic dream; and don’t worry about what might be happening over the wall or over the road or over the border. Spoil your hens with organic treats and give them cutesy names, but don’t tell them how most chickens live (and die): in vast, filthy factories of death, unable to spread their wings, unnamed. Cameron confuses selfishness with self-sufficiency and hopes we will too. He shouldn’t count his chickens.

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Christianity, when properly understood, is a religion of losers

A thought for this Friday


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Christianity, when properly understood, is a religion of losers” was written by Giles Fraser, for The Guardian on Friday 3rd April 2015 11.00 UTC

When he was nothing but a suspended carcass, dripping with his own blood and other people’s spit, there were no worshippers around clapping their hands and singing their hymns. They were long gone. At the very end, ironically at the moment of greatest triumph, he had no followers left. That says something profoundly counterintuitive about what a successful church looks like. For if the core of the Christian message – death first, then resurrection – is so existentially full-on that nobody can possibly endure it, then a church that successfully proclaims that message is likely to be empty and not full. Which is also why, quite possibly, a successful priest ought to be hated rather than feted. For here, as elsewhere in the Christian story, success and failure are inverted. The first will be last and the last first. The rich are cast down and the poor are exulted. The true king is crowned with mockery and thorns not with gold and ermine.

Christianity, properly understood, is a religion of losers – the worst of playground insults. For not only do we not want to be a loser, we don’t want to associate with them either. We pointedly shun losers, as if some of their loser-ness might rub off on us. Or rather, more honestly, we shun them because others might recognise us as among their number. And because we secretly fear that this might actually be true, we shun them all the more viciously, thus to distance ourselves all the more emphatically. And so the cock crows three times.

But it is true. Deep failure, the failure of our lives, is something we occasionally contemplate in the middle of the night, in those moments of terrifying honesty before we get up and dress for success. Ecce homo, said Pilate. Behold, the man. This is humanity. And the facade of success we present to the world is commonly a desperate attempt to ward off this knowledge. At the beginning of Lent, Christians are reminded of this in the most emphatic of ways: know that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Those who used the period of Lent to give things up are invited to live life stripped bare, experiencing humanity in the raw, without the familiar props to our ego. This has nothing to do with the avoidance of chocolate and everything to do with facing the unvarnished truth about human failure. There is no way 100 top business leaders would endorse the cross. It is life without the advertising, without the accoutrements of success. It is life on a zero-hours contract, where at any moment we can be told we are not needed.

But here’s the thing. The Christian story, like the best sort of terrifying psychoanalysis, strips you down to nothing in order for you to face yourself anew. For it turns out that losers are not despised or rejected, not ultimately. In fact, losers can discover something about themselves that winners cannot ever appreciate – that they are loved and wanted simply because of who they are and not because of what they achieve. That despite it all, raw humanity is glorious and wonderful, entirely worthy of love. This is revealed precisely at the greatest point of dejection. The resurrection is not a conjuring trick with bones. It is a revelation that love is stronger than death, that human worth is not indexed to worldly success.

In a world where we semaphore our successes to each other at every possible opportunity, churches cannot be blamed for failing to live up to this austere and wonderful message. The worst of them judge their success in entirely worldly terms, by counting their followers. Their websites show images of happy, uncomplicated people doing good improving stuff in the big community. But if I am right about the meaning of Christ’s passion, then a church is at its best when it fails, when it gives up on all the ecclesiastical glitter, when the weeds start to break through the floor, and when it shows others that failure is absolutely nothing of the sort. This is the site of real triumph, the moment of success. Failure is redeemed. Hallelujah.

@giles_fraser

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Can you give a child too much praise?

Interesting. My father was fairly scathing of anything I attempted to do. Certainly  at no point can I recall him ever giving me any encouragement in anything: I do wonder if  thats the reason why I tend not to be ever satisfied with anything that I do. I tend to look for faults. A bit of a pat on the back occasionally might have helped.  


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Can you give a child too much praise?” was written by Tim Lott, for The Guardian on Friday 27th February 2015 13.30 UTC

My children are perfect. All four of them. Perfect and beautiful and clever. I bet yours are, too. Except, of course, they are not. In reality, my children and yours are likely to be reasonably average in terms of looks, behaviour, intelligence and charm. That’s why it is called average. Your belief in your child being special is more probably a biological imperative than an empirical fact.

A loved one, particularly a loved child, is edited as we observe them. Other people’s children are bratty; ours are spirited. Theirs are precocious; ours confident and self-assertive.

This is all natural and even touching when not taken too far. However, it is one thing feeding this propaganda to ourselves but feeding it to our children may be a little less desirable. We have the idea that – unlike my parents’ generation – we should build our children’s self-esteem as high as we can. Therefore, their random scribble is up there with Picasso, their C-minus is an unfortunate oversight on the part of the teacher, the fact that no one wants to be friends with them is because they are particularly clever or sensitive, the wart on their nose is a beauty spot.

Children see through this kind of thing very quickly and discount their parents’ compliments as a matter of course. As they grow up, they sense that the wider world judges them differently. This leads to a – hopefully gentle – cynicism about anything their parents tell them about their achievements. Perhaps that is OK – but I’m not sure it is good for them to have the currency of parental praise so devalued.

If parents were a little harsher sometimes, this could have two positive effects – first, when a compliment came, it would be more likely to be believed and, second, it would fit in rather more accurately with the picture of reality that the child is forming in their heads.

A lot of pressure is put on children who are told they are beautiful, special and perfect. Because then, where is there to go? Only downwards. They become hyperaware of their status in your eyes, and a danger must be that they fear failing you. To be overpraised by your parents is the counter side of being criticised all the time. Both can have negative consequences.

It is important to give your children the liberty to be flawed – to know that it’s OK to be imperfect, and that, in fact, we often love people for their flaws – perfect people (whom we can only imagine, as they do not exist) are easy to respect, but hard to love.

Now I am nearly 60, my main insight is that I am much less special than I once believed. This knowledge has actually been helpful in leading a more well-balanced life. I’d call it humility, if it weren’t very un-humble to attribute myself with the quality.

I certainly wouldn’t like to go back to attitudes that my parents, particularly my father, held, that to praise the child was to “spoil them” or make them bigheaded. However, the history of families is like the history of everything else – the story of overreactions. We praise our children to the skies, partly because we think it makes them feel good, but also because it makes us feel good. And perhaps it is more the latter than the former.

Having said all this, I am a terrible overpraiser, because I adore my children. I’m sure they have learned to take everything with a pinch of salt, but excessive love can be as big a burden as a shortage of it. My advice, at least to myself, is to ration not splurge. Then every compliment will count, rather than amounting to little more than a vaguely pleasing – but finally inauthentic – background Muzak, so persistent it isn’t even noticed.

@timlottwriter

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Where in the world are people most depressed?

In Battersea, well perhaps not 😉


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Where in the world are people most depressed?” was written by Mark Rice-Oxley, for theguardian.com on Friday 8th November 2013 15.56 UTC

For those who think of depression as a byproduct of the vapidity of western materialism, this latest study by researchers in Queensland might come as something of a shock. Depression simply isn’t that picky. And when it comes to depressive disorders, parts of north Africa and the Middle East suffer more than North America and western Europe.

According to the researchers, who gathered pre-existing data on clinical diagnoses up to 2010, Algeria, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan fared worse for the cumulative number of years their citizens lived with the disability of depression (YLD). (For the Middle East countries, bear in mind that this relates to data gathered before the Arab spring turned lives upside down).

Japan fared the best, along with Australia and New Zealand. The researchers caveated their work by acknowledging that data is patchy from some parts of the world. Intriguingly, the UK and US – countries in which reporting on mental illness and cultural reflections of depression are rapidly multiplying – appear to be far less badly afflicted than parts of Africa and eastern Europe.

The second interesting breakdown (no pun intended) of the data concerns age.

YLDs by age and sex for MDD and dysthymia in 1990 and 2010
YLDs by age and sex for major depressive disorder and dysthymia (milder depression) in 1990 and 2010. Click on the image for a full-size graphic Photograph: info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001547

The gender graph contains few surprises – women appear to suffer about twice as much as men, reflecting most major studies into the incidence of depression. But the age analysis shows the extent to which depression is becoming a young person’s affliction. People aged 20 to 24 suffer most, closely followed by the generation immediately senior to them. By the time you get to 50-year-olds, where existential questions might start to press, rates dwindle. Above 60, they ease off quite sharply. There may be comfort in growing old after all.

So is depression on the rise? Again, you would think so from the proliferation of reporting and analysis about the disease. The researchers say yes and no: depressive illness is the disease with the second heaviest burden on society, with around one in 20 people suffering. But if it is getting worse, they say, it may be down to demographics.

“Whilst burden increased by 37.5% between 1990 and 2010, this was due to population growth and ageing,” they say. “Contrary to recent literature on the topic, our findings suggest that the epidemiology of both major depressive disorder and dysthymia (milder depression) remained relatively stable over time.”

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