ALL GOOD QUESTIONS
with even better answers
S E R I O U S L Y
you better watch out
because what we
s e e
isn’t always really what is ever seen. . .
Who Cares - What Matters
ALL GOOD QUESTIONS
with even better answers
S E R I O U S L Y
you better watch out
because what we
s e e
isn’t always really what is ever seen. . .
Cecilia begins the article by admitting: “I don’t know his name, but his messy, shoulder-length hair hides a pair of hauntingly blue eyes. It’s a warm September day in New York, but he’s sitting under a mountain of ragged bits of clothing, towels and blankets. In one hand, he loosely holds a piece of string attached to the neck of a small, mangy-looking dog lying next to him. In the other hand, he clutches a nearly empty bottle of cheap vodka. His bright eyes briefly glance at me without recognition or focus. I don’t know what makes me pause.
My initial thought is to give him money, though I just avoided eye contact with the last 10 people, sputtering that I didn’t have any. And my mom’s words come to mind: “He’ll only spend it on drugs or alcohol.” So I turn to the closest Nathan’s stand and buy him a hot dog, chips and soda.
When I approach him, I feel awkward, my donation insignificant. As if I’m offering a glass of water to a man trapped in a burning building. Is he more of a ketchup or mustard guy? The absurd thought turns my face hot. What comfort will a nutritionally deficient meal with a side of dehydration be to a man who sleeps on cement and spends a life generally invisible to the world?
But when he sees my outstretched hands, he smiles, dropping the bottle and leash to accept the meal with shaky fingers. We don’t exchange any words, but his smile lingers with me.
Cecilia goes on to tell us that it’s only the sixth day of her month-long challenge to find the joy in making someone’s day every day, and up until now, she had felt like a failure. It wasn’t for lack of trying, but rather questioning whether seemingly small gestures were actually accomplishing my goal. Can we really find joy by giving to those around us? Can random acts of kindness actually increase and sustain happiness?
Related: How to Make Others Feel Significant
Turns out they can, but there are exceptions. To find lasting happiness through generosity requires a suppression of our ego, an analysis of our motives and a reflection on how these acts alter our perception of the world.
As children, our parents tell us to make up for misbehaving by doing something nice for someone. As adults, we help friends move into a new house; we bring hot meals to new mothers; we might even donate time or money to local charities a few times a year. After all, it’s naturally uncomfortable to see a friend (or stranger) suffering or in need. Call it karma or mojo, but these acts are generally reciprocated. We receive tax breaks, returned meals and favors, thank-you notes. Tit for tat.
But what about pure, altruistic generosity, without the expectation of receiving something in return? What about being a true Caring Catalyst just to be a mere Caring Catalyst? Some researchers argue this type of generosity doesn’t exist. But Cecilia set out to see whether she could learn to give without the promise of getting. She made lists of various kind acts and placed reminders on her bathroom mirror, her work computer, her car dashboard: Make someone’s day today!
Cecilia’s first act of kindness was buying coffee for the woman behind her in the drive-thru lane at Starbucks. In fact, her first few acts were buying something for someone—lunch for an old friend, a copy of her favorite book to a stranger—but they didn’t make her feel much of anything. The recipients were grateful, but she wondered if she was actually making their day, and was that really boosting her happiness?
At the end of each day, she reflected how being kind made her feel. She dug for tangible proof of her growth. Some days felt more significant: buying cough syrup for the two coughing boys in pajamas at the pharmacy, for example. Their father, who had dark circles under his eyes, rubbed the bridge of his nose as his credit card was declined a second time. She said couldn’t tell whether he was more embarrassed or grateful, but she’d like to think he slept a little easier that night, and left the pharmacy feeling pretty good.
Countless studies tout the physical, mental and social benefits of receiving generosity. But until the 1980s, the effects on the giver were relatively unknown. Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., a psychology professor at UC Riverside and a leading happiness researcher, conducted a study in 2004 to determine whether committing five random acts of kindness would increase positive emotions. The short-term study revealed promising results with heightened levels of positive emotions, particularly in the participants who carried out all five acts of kindness on the same day. Spreading the acts over a week, Lyubomirsky theorized, led to a repetitive and often unoriginal pattern that either didn’t change the level of positive emotions or, in some cases, even lowered it.
Admittedly, Cecilia said she experienced some form of generosity fatigue around the second week of her challenge. It’s easy to float through the day wrapped up in our own heads, focusing only on what directly impacts us. Consciously searching for new and different ways to improve someone else’s day was more difficult than than maybe any of us could possibly anticipate. We just don’t face that challenge often in society. But then when Cecilia admitted that when she did the nice deed, she nearly always felt a boost of happiness afterward. A 2009 study by social psychologist Jorge A. Barraza, Ph.D., and neuroscientist Paul J. Zak, Ph.D., attributes this to a release of oxytocin, the feel-good chemical in the brain.
According to the study, when people feel empathetic, they release 47 percent more oxytocin into their hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for emotion and memory. The participants felt the urge to act generously—particularly toward strangers. As Matthieu Ricard, Ph.D., a Buddhist monk and best-selling author, writes in Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill: “When we are happy, the feeling of self-importance is diminished and we are more open to others.” Studies show people who have experienced a positive event in the past hour are more likely to help strangers in need. This explains why we help people, even at a cost to ourselves.
In the late ’80s, the term “helper’s high” was used to describe the euphoria feeling associated with volunteering. Beyond happiness, generous people also experienced enhanced creativity, flexibility, resilience and being open to new information. They’re more collaborative at work; they’re able to solve complex problems more easily and they form solid, healthy relationships with others.
As Stephen G. Post, Ph.D., happiness researcher and founder of The Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, writes, “It may be people who live generous lives soon become aware that in the giving of self lies the unsought discovery of self as the old selfish pursuit of happiness is subjectively revealed as futile and short-sighted.” Generosity allows us to forget our own self-importance, even temporarily, and look outward to uplift those around us who, in turn, often uplift those around them.
Shawn Achor, a Harvard-trained researcher and The Happiness Guy at SUCCESS, calls this the ripple effect. Our behavior, he discovered, is literally contagious. “Our habits, attitudes and actions spread through a complicated web of connections to infect those around us,” he writes. That’s why we sync up with our best friends, often finishing each other’s sentences and reading each other’s thoughts. It’s also why one negative attitude can spread like a disease across an office and infect everyone’s mood.
So are happier people more generous, or does generosity make us happier? Rather than thinking of it as a cause-and-effect relationship, consider happiness and generosity as intertwining entities. “Generating and expressing kindness quickly dispels suffering and replaces it with lasting fulfillment,” writes Ricard, the Buddhist monk. “In turn the gradual actualization of genuine happiness allows kindness to develop as the natural reflection of inner joy.” Helping behavior increases positive emotions, which increases our sense of purpose, regulates stress, and improves short- and long-term health. All of that contributes to a heightened level of happiness, causing us to feel more generous, creating a circle of happiness and generosity.
Cecilia admitted she failed twice during her month-long challenge. What began as a positive and energizing morning was quickly derailed—a negative social media post, a complaining text, an overwhelmed co-worker. she would refocus her thoughts and tried to make this her kind act for the day. Maybe her questions are our golden questions: What if I can turn this person’s day around? What if I can help him see the positive side of his situation?
What happened? According to Paul Bloom, professor of psychology and cognitive science at Yale University and author of Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion, she had confused empathy with compassion, resulting in empathetic distress and burnout. Empathy requires feeling what others feel, “to experience, as much as you can, the terrible sorrow and pain,” whereas compassion involves concern and a desire to help without the need to mirror someone else’s anguish.
It turns out, you can be too nice. Psychologists Vicki Helgeson and Heidi Fritz created a questionnaire revealing that women are more likely to put others’ needs before their own, often resulting in asymmetrical relationships as well as an increased risk of depression and anxiety. When we experience empathetic burnout, we often shy away from generosity altogether. Feeling taken advantage of, we retreat inward.
Researchers have also theorized that every kind act is ultimately done to benefit ourselves in some way, even subconsciously. This concept, coined “universal egoism,” offers explanations that are easier to accept than true altruism: a desire to help others void of selfish motives. For example, there are multiple situations that can be initially perceived as true altruism but at its core, the kind act is governed by selfish motives. Ben Dean, Ph.D., psychologist and founder of MentorCoach in Maryland, offers three such examples:
The question remains: Is there a truly selfless act of kindness? And does it even matter where our motivations lie? The homeless man in New York still ate a hot meal, and the two little boys at the pharmacy didn’t stay up all night coughing. Isn’t that what matters?
We aren’t consistently generous for a multitude of reasons, but in the traditional corporate setting, the prevailing enemy of generosity is the fear of appearing naïve. (And the possibility of going broke.) After all, isn’t the nice guy the one who finishes last? So we become “Givers” as Adam Grant Ph.D., details in his best-seller Give and Take. In the modern workplace, we are no longer solely evaluated on our work performance, but rather on how we interact as a cohesive unit and how we contribute to the organization as a whole. In fact, Grant’s research reveals this new business landscape paves the way for Givers to succeed and Takers to be left behind. By helping others, we help ourselves.
The important thing to remember is that Givers—especially those predisposed to putting others’ needs before their own—need to know their boundaries. Grant says it begins with distinguishing generosity from its three other attributes: timidity, availability and empathy.
At the risk of sounding cliché, Cecilia admitted that her month of generosity did make her happier. Something about waking up and consciously planning to act selflessly lightened my step and made the morning drag easier to bear. Something about a stranger flashing a smile (albeit a confused one) as she handed them a dog-eared copy of her favorite memoir gave her an energy boost that a triple-shot latte never could.
For a precious hour or so every day, the fear, anxiety, stress and doubt of daily life didn’t plague her thoughts. She stated that she briefly forgot about herself, and it was intoxicating. Friends responded to her seemingly arbitrary good mood with confused laughs.When did being happy without reason become a cause for concern? she wondered. . . ?
Maybe, she thought, her heart was in the right place when she gave the blue-eyed man a hot meal. But maybe, she wondered, her ego was directing her actions that night in the pharmacy checkout lane. And maybe she avoided generosity toward her close friends and co-workers because it was more difficult. Buying coffee for a stranger is easy, detached and allows for a clean exit. Gently pushing a friend to divulge her source of anxiety after she says “I’m fine” is not. After all, altruism and honest self-reflection take time and practice.
Ultimately, thirty days of generosity didn’t make Cecilia a different person, but she did feel different. She didn’t actively look for ways to be generous, but noticed the opportunities anyway. Like the sticky note residue on her bathroom mirror, she could see gentle impressions of her growth where she least expect it: during rush hour, when she gave the benefit of the doubt to the woman cutting into her lane; after a long day of work, when she made time for the struggling friend who needed to talk; and, most important, in the moments when she forgot herself and realized the joy to be found in caring for the people around me.
SO. . .
What does this have to do with us?
N O T H I N G
u n l e s s
we make it
Go Ahead. . .
GIVE IT A GO
Blame it on the Season
. . .the One that’s Coming
and in essence, never ending
UNLESS YOU SAY SO
TAKE THE 30 DAY KINDNESS CHALLENGE
PROVE IT. . .
If our Lives are like Books
We no doubt have many
we would rip out
So others would never see them
and we just might be able to forget them
b u t
if we could just learn from our mistakes
(especially the ones we make repeatedly)
we just might find
that we have no regrets
MONUMENTAL MEMORIES. . .
The largest increases were among men—especially young men. The age-adjusted suicide rate rose by about 3% among males in 2021 and by 2% among females (although the increase among females was not statistically significant) compared to 2020. The greatest increase among males—8%—occurred among ages 15 to 24. In 2020, suicide was the third leading cause of death for people in that age group, and the second leading cause of death among people ages 10 to 14 and 25 to 34. Past research has found that the COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly difficult for young people, who have been found to be more likely than older adults to report symptoms of depression and anxiety during the crisis.
Suicide deaths in the U.S. decreased during the 1980s and 90s, but they have been generally increasing (except for slight declines during some years) for the last two decades. In 2021, just 1% fewer people died by suicide than in 2018, which is the year with the highest suicide rate since 1942.
THERE ARE NO WORDS. . .
and then. . .
All we do is use
w O r D s
THERE ARE NO WORDS. . .
not so much looking for definitions
as for real, living
M e A n I n G s
and dare we try
Wait. . What. . . ?
Did we just play
THE OPPOSITE GAME
(or have we never stopped)
WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY
is a really simple question
with a Ga-Zillion answers
but when you clear away the clutter
way before the dust even has a chance to settle
(as if you shamefully even needed one)
let us all know that it’s not
our medical advances
our scientific discoveries
that save us. . . .
so much as our
R E L A T I O N S H I P S
A WONDERFUL WORLD
isn’t the stuff that it holds
IT IS THE PEOPLE WHO INHABIT IT
Thirteen years ago, William MacAskill found himself standing in the aisle of a grocery store, agonizing over which breakfast cereal to buy. If he switched to a cheaper brand for a year, could he put aside enough money to save someone’s life? It wasn’t the first time he’d been gripped by this kind of angst. His life has often felt like a series of difficult choices: Should he donate even more money to charity? Should he quit academia and work in politics—even if he hated it—in the hopes of having a greater social impact? What if he moved to a different city—could he do more to help others elsewhere?
For anyone enjoying a comfortable life in a world of horrifying inequality, examining your choices closely might spark similar questions. For MacAskill, a 35-year-old Scottish philosopher who co-founded a movement dedicated to doing the most good possible, the stakes of even mundane decisions can feel especially high.
The greater good has been the focus of his work for more than a decade, since he helped start the effective altruism (EA) movement, Reswhich aims to use evidence and reason to find the best ways of helping others, and to put those findings into practice. EA holds that we should value all lives equally and act on that basis. It is the antithesis of the old do-gooder’s credo “Think global, act local.”
When Erin and I got married 36 years ago today, we knew that it might be a very long shot if we would ever be old enough to make 50 years, but we also talked about it not making a difference as long as we could make our days and years count more than counting the days and the years.
36 years ago we were not the people, the couple, we are now or maybe the ones we might become in the next 14 years, but we knew way ahead of the research and the evidence-based data that what we have more than makes our days so much more than any daze. . .
Hold back on the bickering. Couples who share sweet moments filled with humor and affection, and sync up biologically—two hearts beating as one—enjoy better health prospects and live longer than their more quarrelsome counterparts, suggests new UC Berkeley research.
The findings, recently published online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, are based on laboratory observations of 154 middle-aged and older married couples as each engaged in an intimate conversation about a conflict in their relationship.
“We focused on those fleeting moments when you light up together and experience sudden joy, closeness, and intimacy,” said study author Robert Levenson, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology.
“What we found is that having these brief shared moments, known as ‘positivity resonance,’ is a powerful predictor of how healthy we’re going to be in the future and how long we’ll live,” he added.
Positivity resonance occurs when two people momentarily experience a mutual biological and behavioral surge of warmth, humor, and affection and achieve a sense of oneness. Fear, anxiety, and self-doubt can block this sense of connectedness.
“Couples in the study varied greatly in these measures of positivity resonance, with some couples showing dozens of moments of emotional and physiological synchrony and others showing few or none,” Levenson said.
These micro-moments are a key ingredient in healthy, long-lasting relationships, according to study senior author Barbara Fredrickson, a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and leading scholar of the science of love.
Researchers in Levenson’s Berkeley Psychophysiology Laboratory worked with Fredrickson to test the effect of positivity resonance on long-term health and longevity. They used data from Levenson’s longitudinal study that tracked the marriages of a representative sample of middle-aged and older heterosexual couples in the San Francisco Bay Area from 1989 to 2009.
Every five years, the couples came to Levenson’s Berkeley laboratory to be observed as they discussed recent events in their relationships, as well as areas of enjoyment and disagreement. They also completed questionnaires about marital satisfaction, health problems, and other issues. Just over half of the study’s original spouses are now in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. Others have died.
For this latest study, researchers meticulously coded hundreds of videotaped conversations to track the extent to which the couples exhibited positivity resonance.
“We took a fine-grained, comprehensive approach to measuring positivity resonance in couples by capturing their shared positive emotions, mutual expressions of care, and biological synchrony,” said study lead author Jenna Wells, a UC Berkeley Ph.D. candidate in clinical science.
Two different statistical models were used to predict long-term health and longevity, one that included the full range of biological and behavioral measures of positivity resonance that couples showed, and another that analyzed only their positivity resonance behaviors.
Among other factors and influences, the study controlled for health-related behaviors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, exercise, and caffeine consumption.
First, trained behavioral coders objectively rated the couples’ 15-minute conflict conversations, identifying individual and shared positive and negative emotions based on what the spouses were saying and their facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language.
Next, they identified moments of positive synchrony between the spouses based on the couples’ own recollections of how they were feeling as they watched videotapes of their conversations.
To feel more connected, skip the small talk and ask these questions instead
The 15-minute video recordings were then analyzed for signs of nonverbal synchrony and unconscious “mirroring,” which are gestures that signal love, caring, and connectedness, such as smiles, head nods, and leaning forward.
The researchers also identified moments in which both partners’ heart rates simultaneously slowed down or sped up when they were expressing positive emotions.
For the second part of the study, they moved to a faster coding system to rate displays of synchrony vis-a-vis mutual warmth, concern, and affection in 30-second video segments. Both statistical models indicated that higher rates of positivity resonance predicted better future health outcomes and longer lives.
“Regardless of whether we used the full range of biological and behavioral measures of positivity resonance or the single holistic measure, we found that spouses in relationships that were high on positivity resonance had milder declines in their health over the next 13 years and were more likely to still be alive after 30 years,” Levenson said.
As for how couples can apply these findings to build relationships that are filled with positivity resonance, psychologist Art Aron’s 36 questions or Barbara Fredrickson’s Love 2.0 might be good places to start, Levenson said.
We know about how it takes a village to not just raise a child, but also to support and enrich each of us. We all have the capacity to be better Caring Catalysts and without a doubt, the world desperately needs that from each of us. There is no Caring Catalyst in me without Erin. She is not my better half. Erin is my 90% because everything I am and do, she makes better and more, an excellent motivation to be better. . .
I severely love how our Each makes our Other
Our Better makes up for any Worse
Our Richer banishes Poornessess
Our Sicknesses can’t compete with our well-beingnesses
because our love and cherishings
only has one goal:
To last one moment past a For Everness. . .
(or any calendar every created)
Lots of people don’t watch TV|
Lots of people do. . .
Lots of people don’t watch
THIS IS US
Lots of people DO. . .
Some 4.97 Million watched this past Tuesday night
THE NEXT TO THE LAST SHOW
that had lots of
m o m e n t s
as we watched the matriarch, Rebecca Pearson
literally actively die in front of us
and what lots of hospice folks
as a patient dies
and what they may be actually
as they slip from this world
to the Great Whatever
lies beyond a last breath here
and a first breath
T H E R E
Nearly twenty-eight years of being a hospice chaplain has put me beside a lot of death beds of where I have companioned the dying and their loved ones. I applaud the writers and the actors for pulling back the curtain and giving us a fairly realistic look at what THAT moment looks like. . .a moment each one or us will experience, without all of the lights, cameras, action settings but in a more real, intimate, personal way because all of the evidence-based data shares the irrefutable:
ONE OUT OF ONE OF US DIES
And here’s where This Is Us Season 6, Episode 17 from this past Tuesday picks up. After a long battle with Alzheimer’s, Rebecca (Mandy Moore) passed, and the way her family told her goodbye was beautiful. Viewers were taken inside Rebecca’s psyche (literally) as she approached death. For her, this manifested in the form of a moving train. Rebecca was young on the train, and the passengers were people in her life, past and present. Meanwhile, in real life, as Rebecca’s family said their final goodbyes, they appeared on the train. And the person leading her through this experience (a.k.a the conductor on the train) was William (Ron Cephas Jones).
At the end of the episode, after the family members have said their last words to Rebecca, she reaches the train’s caboose. “This is quite sad, isn’t it?” she asks William. “The end?”
To this, William gives a beautiful, stunning speech to Rebecca. These are the last words she hears before going into the caboose (before she passes away). Read them in full, below:
“The way I see it, if something makes you sad when it ends, it must have been pretty wonderful when it was happening. Truth be told, I always felt it a bit lazy to just think of the world as sad, because so much of it is. Because everything ends. Everything dies. But if you step back, if you step back and look at the whole picture, if you’re brave enough to allow yourself the gift of a really wide perspective, if you do that, you’ll see that the end is not sad, Rebecca. It’s just the start of the next incredibly beautiful thing.”
With this, Rebecca hugs William and goes into the caboose, where a bed is waiting for. She lies down, and next to her is Jack (Milo Ventimiglia), reuniting the couple after decades of separation.
William’s speech epitomizes that moment—and it epitomizes This Is Us in general. If the show has taught us anything, it’s that nothing is forever. Any sadness or loss we saw the Pearsons experience in the present was always followed by a flash-forward, where we saw them happy, thriving, and doing just fine. Each storyline has shown us that no chapter is forever—the good ones end, and so do the bad ones. Life keeps moving, and we move with it. It’s a comforting message for anyone experiencing a hard time. Chapters always, always come to a close. The great poet Robert Frost once said, “ALL I KNOW ABOUT LIFE CAN BE SUMMED UP IN THREE WORDS: IT GOES ON!
It’s something Chris Sullivan (Toby) told NBC Insider when talking about the legacy of This Is Us. “From the first episode, they show you tragedy and pain, but they also shoot you into the future and show you, ‘Oh, this family’s OK,'” he said. “We jump back and forth and see, ‘Oh my gosh, this father died in a fire.’ Then, we jump forward and see, ‘Oh, this family’s OK.’ Tragedy and joy are held in both hands…Everything cycles around.”
Yes, it does. The series finale of This Is Us airs Tuesday, May 24 at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.
Hey. . .it’s just TV, right. . .
YUP. Yeah, it is. . .until it isn’t
THIS IS US
ALL OF US
“If something makes you sad when it ends, it must have been pretty wonderful when it was happening”… and with that, one last car. The caboose.
This Is Us
(Now about THAT towel)
In our over-stressed world, many health care providers, social workers, and caregivers are suffering from slow yet painful burnout. Many of the rest of us, working long hours and raising families, seem to be approaching burnout, too. Sometimes we may feel that we’re too exhausted to keep giving to others, even though giving is a primary source of happiness in our lives.
So how can we keep giving without burning out? We’re told that self-care is the answer: Give yourself a treat; you deserve it. Take some time for yourself. Say no.
Indeed, a research review found that psychologists in training who practice more self-care report feeling less distressed and stressed and more satisfied with life. The question is: What does self-care look like, and how much of it do we need?
As it turns out, the trick is to be other-focused and kind, but to balance that with taking care of yourself as well. Here are some practices to help you do that.
One particularly potent form of self-care involves transforming our relationship with ourselves—in particular, practicing self-compassion.
Self-compassion is treating yourself as you would a friend—with kindness rather than self-judgment—especially at times when you fail. Self-compassion is remembering that we all make mistakes, instead of beating ourselves up. And it means being mindful of emotions and thoughts without getting overly immersed in them. Self-compassion doesn’t mean being indulgent or letting yourself off the hook, but it also doesn’t mean being overly self-critical and harsh.
Elaine Beaumont at the University of Salford has conducted numerous studies looking at the impact of self-compassion on burnout and compassion fatigue. In a study of 100 student midwives—who routinely see both the miracle of new life and the tragedies that can accompany childbirth—Beaumont and her team found that midwives who had higher levels of self-compassion also showed less burnout and compassion fatigue symptoms. The opposite was true of midwives who were highly self-critical. She repeated this study with different caretaker professions and found similar results in nurses and students training to be counselors and psychotherapists.
In addition to being protected against burnout, people who are more self-compassionate tend to report feeling less stress and negative emotions. They’re also more optimistic and feel more happiness and other positive emotions, among other benefits.
To practice self-compassion, try some of the exercises that pioneering self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff has studied and written about in her book on self-compassion, such as writing a Self-Compassionate Letter, taking a Self-Compassion Break, or asking yourself: How Would I Treat a Friend?
Caring for ourselves also means seeking social connections, who can provide practical and emotional support to us when we’re struggling. A study of nurses found that belonging to a more cohesive group at work helps prevent burnout and compassion fatigue, reducing the effects of stress and trauma.
This should come as no surprise: Social connection, from birth to old age, is one of our greatest human needs. Social connection leads to lower rates of anxiety and depression, strengthens our immune system, and can even lengthen our life.
Researchers agree that social connection has less to do with the number of friends you have than with how connected you feel on the inside, subjectively. In other words, you don’t have to be a social butterfly to reap the benefits; just aim to cultivate an internal sense of belonging with those around you.
How? The tricky part is that stress is linked to self-focus; our stressed minds turn towards me, myself, and I—making us even more miserable and disconnected from others. Meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, and walks in nature, as well as curbing caffeine, can all help us calm down and feel ready to reach out to others. A study we conducted at Stanford showed that loving-kindness meditation can be a quick way to nurture a sense of connection. Better yet, try meditating with a partner!
It might seem counterintuitive that empathy—which includes attending to others’ struggles—would help us with our own, particularly for caregivers. But research in social workers shows that having more empathy can also prevent burnout. Brain-imaging research by Tania Singer suggests that compassion training can actually make you better at coping with other people’s suffering—helping you help others without paying the cost yourself.
One potential explanation for this finding is that, by developing feelings like compassion and empathy, we are protected from feeling distressed or overwhelmed in the face of suffering. When you truly connect with another person who is suffering, you can actually feel empowered and energized because you are inspired to uplift that person.
We’ve all had the experience of having a friend ask for help during a time of emergency. In these moments, we are usually capable of so much more than we imagined—we seem to find hidden reserves of energy. Afterward, we end up feeling much better than we did before.
Again, loving-kindness meditation is one way to start to cultivate empathy. When you speak with someone who is suffering, practicing active listening can help you provide comfort and support to them without having to solve their problems.
If we can figure out how to continue giving to others without suffering from burnout, we can expect to reap many benefits.
For example, volunteering can have a positive impact on health, with benefits for obesity, blood glucose, blood pressure, and longevity. Older volunteers can derive a great feeling of purpose and self-esteem from volunteering; research shows that it makes them feel happier, more connected to others, and more confident of their self-worth. The benefits of volunteering for well-being seem to be universal, holding across cultures as well as generations.
If you are shy or introverted or even have social anxiety, giving to others can actually still increase your happiness. Although giving tends to feel better when we connect with beneficiaries, for the truly shy or those who don’t have time, even kind acts conducted over the computer can increase well-being.
Self-compassion, social connection, and empathy are powerful forms of self-care—but that doesn’t mean that traditional self-care activities have no place in our lives. Keeping your spirits up with exercise, sleeping in, and making room for fun activities like movies or shopping are important. These pleasures give us short bursts of happiness that can help fuel us and keep us playful in life. To complement these more physical pleasures, giving and connecting with others in positive ways will bring us long-lasting feelings of joy that come from a life of purpose and meaning. The balance between the two is a ripe recipe for a happy, long, and fulfilling life.
YOU ACTUALLY HAVE TO GO GET IT
(which is ultimate cure for BURN-OUT