A letter from Albert Einstein to his daughter, Lieserl, who donated 1,400 letters written by him to the Hebrew University, with orders not to publish them until 20 years after his death.This is one of them, to her.When I proposed the theory of relativity very few understood me. What I will reveal now to mankind will also collide with the misunderstanding and prejudice in the world.I ask you to guard the letters as long as necessary, decades, until society is advanced enough to accept what I will explain below.There is an extremely powerful force that, so far, science has not found a formal explanation to. It is a force that includes and governs all others, and is even behind any phenomenon operating in the universe, and has not yet been identified by us. This universal force is LOVE.When scientists looked for a unified theory of the universe they forgot the most powerful unseen force. Love is Light, that enlightens those who give and receive it. Love is gravity, because it makes some people feel attracted to others. Love is power, because it multiplies the best we have, and allows humanity not to be extinguished in their blind selfishness. Love unfolds and reveals. For love we live and die. Love is God and God is Love.This force explains everything and gives meaning to life. This is the variable that we have ignored for too long, maybe because we are afraid of love, because it is the only energy in the universe that man has not learned to drive at will.To give visibility to love, I made a simple substitution in my most famous equation. If instead of E = mc2, we accept that the energy to heal the world can be obtained through love, multiplied by the speed of light squared, we arrive at the conclusion that love is the most powerful force there is, because it has no limits.After the failure of humanity in the use and control of the other forces of the universe that have turned against us, it is urgent that we nourish ourselves with another kind of energyIf we want our species to survive, if we are to find meaning in life, if we want to save the world and every sentient being that inhabits it, love is the one and only answer.Perhaps we are not yet ready to make a bomb of love, a device powerful enough to entirely destroy the hate, selfishness and greed that devastate the planet.However, each individual carries within them a small but powerful generator of love, whose energy is waiting to be released.When we learn to give and receive this universal energy, dear Lieserl, we will have affirmed that love conquers all, is able to transcend everything and anything, because love is the quintessence of life.I deeply regret not having been able to express what is in my heart, which has quietly beaten for you all my life. Maybe it’s too late to apologize, but as time is relative, I need to tell you that I love you, and thanks to you I have reached the ultimate answer! “.Your father,Albert EinsteinHmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. . .
kind of makes you think
that everything’s not so relative. . .
IT IS MORE
. . .SO MUCH MORE
we can meet in the land of MUCH MORE
living as Caring Catalysts
who all understand and teach
Life is short, 🔴 ⚫ 🔴
and we have too little time
to gladden the hearts of those
who travel the journey with us.
So be swift to love,
and make haste to be kind.
🔴 Henri-Frédéric Amiel
Swiss Writer 1821-1881
LOOKING BACK TO SEE AHEAD
SOMETIMES THE BEST WAY TO LOOK AHEAD
IS SEEING BEHIND. . .
There’s a reason why the
REAR VIEW MIRROR
is smaller than the
WINDSHIELD. . .
it’s not so much understanding
t h a t
Don’t live your life in a
B O X
with a number in it
or worse. . .
A CALENDAR OF A DIFFERENT YEAR
. . .look back to see ahead
and keep your spark
oohing and aahing
a l l
A Year in Review
NEW YEAR’S DAY
isn’t always JANUARY 1. . .
this past year there were a lot of
NEW YEAR’S DAY
almost every day
as we dealt with the
COVID Pandemic. . .
How do you think we’ve done
. . .HOW HAVE YOU DONE
It seems that each grain of sand
through the Hour Glass
has answered THAT
Q U E S T I O N
there’s some evidence based data out
from this past year
and our roller coaster trip through it. . .
World Happiness Report Shows How We Weathered the Pandemic
Around the world, trust and generosity helped us cope with crisis.
KIRA M. NEWMAN a free lance reporter for Greater Good shares that throughout 2020, researchers called people across nearly 100 countries to ask how they were doing.
Results are being shared today in the 2021 World Happiness Report, which might seem like a misnomer given all the anxiety, grief, and general unhappiness that we experienced last year. But their survey told a surprising story, one of “almost astonishing resilience,” according to the report.
Yes, we experienced more sadness, worry, and stress in 2020 than in previous years. However, on average, there was no change in our positive feelings, or our satisfaction with life. While lockdowns, uncertainty, and loss hit our mental health hard last spring, there’s evidence to suggest that many people recovered over the course of the summer and fall.
The secret ingredient? Our trust in each other seems to have been crucial in weathering this crisis, both as individuals and as societies.
The World Happiness Report ranks the happiest countries based on a simple question: on a scale of 0-10, with the best possible life for you as 10 and the worst one as 0, where do you stand?
As in years past, the Scandinavian countries ranked as the happiest in the world, with Finland, Iceland, Denmark, and Switzerland at the top in 2020. As economist Baron Richard Layard of the London School of Economics explained in a Greater Good interview conducted in the wake of the 2018 World Happiness Report:
We should learn from the Scandinavian countries, which are uniformly happier than, for example, the U.K. or the United States. There are important lessons to be learned: You don’t have to turn your back on economics, but it’s not the be-all end-all. Human relationships are extremely important and need to be given a great deal of attention—we shouldn’t sacrifice them in the name of economic efficiency. Neither should we sacrifice human relationships at work, give up our work-life balance, or drive our children crazy at their high schools.
The researchers also ask participants about their experiences the day before, including positive emotions (whether they smiled, laughed, or felt enjoyment) and negative ones (whether they felt worried, sad, or angry). While positive emotions didn’t change in 2020 compared to previous years, more people felt worried (42%, up from 38%) and sad (26%, up from 23%).
When researchers drilled down to look at surveys conducted over the course of 2020, some hopeful patterns emerged.
Around the beginning of lockdowns, when many of the first studies were done, the shock to our mental health was clear. We felt anxious, depressed, traumatized, and lonely. But studies that followed people over the summer and into the fall began to look more positive.
One U.K. study identified several different trajectories that people followed. Nearly 23% had poor mental health in April and September, continuing to struggle as the pandemic dragged on. These were more likely to be young people, women over 65, and people who lost work during the year. Another 21% struggled in April but improved significantly by September. And over 40% of people were able to cope with the pandemic relatively well at both times.
Similarly, a study in the United States saw overall improvements in people’s anxiety, depression, and stress across the middle of 2020. After peaking near the beginning of April, mental health problems gradually lessened over time before stabilizing around July. Overall, the United States ranked 14th in happiness in the world, up from 18th in 2019, rating life overall as just over a 7 on a scale of 0-10.
Happiness is local
At an even more granular level, our emotions seem to shift day by day based on what’s happening in our local area.
For example, the report’s analysis of the social network Sina Weibo (similar to Twitter) found that on days with more new COVID-19 cases in China, Weibo users expressed lower happiness. This dip was less dramatic when stricter lockdown policies were in place, perhaps because people felt more protected or hopeful for the future. On days when more people recovered from COVID, users expressed more happiness online.
Researchers also used Google searches to investigate people’s moods in Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. On days with more new COVID cases in the country, people’s searches were more negative, touching on topics like apathy and fear. Again, stricter lockdown policies seemed to offset fears about rising case counts. And when more COVID patients recovered that day, people’s searches weren’t as frantic.
What makes us this resilient, even if it feels like we’re not?
Across the world, people tend to believe their lives are going better when they have money, health, and someone to count on, and when they’re generous to others. More satisfied people feel free to make life decisions and confident in public institutions. These factors still mattered in 2020, but the pandemic seemed to shift their importance slightly. While income became less important to happiness, for example, being generous became more important.
We need trust in a crisis
In fact, the authors write, one of the reasons why we showed so much resilience may have been the trust that many people have in their communities. To gauge that trust, researchers ask people around the world whether they believe their lost wallet would be returned by a neighbor, stranger, or police officer. Answering yes to that question seems to be vital to well-being—even more so than being employed or having high income.
This year, our sense of trust was deepened when we saw the young helping the old, people coming together online for support, and others creating care packages for health care workers. The authors write:
The pandemic has provided many chances to see the kindness of others. If seeing these kindnesses has been a pleasant surprise, then the resulting increase in perceived benevolence will help to offset the more widely recognized costs of uncertain income and employment, health risks, and disrupted social lives.
If this all sounds like too rosy a picture, it might be. Forced to conduct phone surveys, the World Happiness Report may not have reached the populations hit hardest by the pandemic—those in nursing homes and prisons; the homeless; the burned-out, working, homeschooling parents who have no time for a telephone call. And while we showed resilience as a globe, it was uneven. In many ways, the pandemic seems to have exacerbated existing inequalities in people’s health and well-being. And it’s not over yet.
Among its many disruptions to our lives, COVID has brought the topic of mental health to the fore. “Mental health has quickly risen high on policymakers’ and researchers’ agenda,” the report authors observe. Going forward, mental health will continue to be an important part of the conversations in our families, our communities, and our governments.
So what’s it all mean. . .
what’s our takeaway
in a year where everyday seemed like a
but without the confetti
. . .it often brought about
everything opposite of what we know and experience about
L I V I N G
Often can’t be measured
which may mean that the greatest
just might be the biggest
A I M I N G
WE ALL WANT IT. . .
A CRYSTAL BALL
that’ll not only predict the
F U T U R E
but INSURE IT
which brings us to a
which brings us to a
HOST OF GOALS. . .
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR 2021
and maybe more importantly:
HOW DO YOU AIM IN KEEPING THEM. . . ?
It reminds me of the classic story of a guy who bragged of all of the bullseyes he could guarantee any time, any place and when it came to
PUT UP/SHUT UP TIME
He would shoot his bow and arrow
F I R S T
and then draw a bullseye around his arrow
backing up his infamous guarantee
. . .uhhhhhhhhhhh
just not quite the way we
DRAW THEM UP. . .
So just what are your goals for 2021
and maybe more importantly:
HOW DO YOU AIM IN KEEPING THEM. . .
SO. . .How Do You Set Goals You’ll Actually Achieve
Getty ImagesBY AMANDA LOUDIN JANUARY 4, 2021 8:55 AM EST
Journalist, Amanda Loudin recently shared in TIME MAGAZINE that whether you want to run a marathon, eat more healthfully or just get off the couch a little more, “for the majority of people, setting a goal is one of the most useful behavior change mechanisms for enhancing performance,” says Frank Smoll, professor of psychology at the University of Washington. “It’s highly individual,” he says—there’s no one way to achieve a goal. But these goal-setting strategies will help you stay the course.
Pick a specific, realistic goal
People often start setting goals with a little too much gusto, trying to overhaul many aspects of their life at once. But that can quickly become overwhelming and backfire. “It’s better to have a systematic approach and identify the one or two that are the most important,” Smoll says.
Making your goal specific can help you follow through on it; research suggests that narrowly defining a goal helps you clarify the tasks necessary for reaching it. “You should define your goal discretely enough to measure and use it effectively,” Smoll says.
It should also be realistic, says Zander Fryer, founder of the coaching company High Impact Coaching. He’s a fan of the Goldilocks-sized goal. “If it’s too big, it will scare you off; too small, and it won’t motivate you,” he says. “Each individual must figure out the goal that gets them moving.” To stay accountable, give yourself a timeline that you can achieve, recommends Fryer. “That will motivate you to take action.”
Create a plan of attack
Whenever you set one goal, you should actually set two: a process goal and product goal, Smoll says. Aiming for a 4.0 grade-point average would be a product goal: the ultimate objective. A process goal would outline the steps it takes to get there. While the product goal gets all the attention, the process goal is equally vital.
Write down a plan for how you’ll go about achieving your end goal, identifying specific strategies. If a hockey player wants to get 5% faster, for instance, “a productive achievement strategy could include skating additional 10 sprints after practice each day,” Smoll says.
Jason Bahamundi, who has completed eight Ironman races and 30 ultramarathons, sets a process goal before every race. “I think a lot about the training, the timing and the cost of what I’m undertaking,” he says. “If I can think about the challenge and then work backwards, I’m successful.”
Be accountable to yourself and others
Setting the goal is the fun part. Sticking to it is tougher. “You will hit barriers and fears,” Fryer says, so accountability is important, especially at the beginning. “Having a mentor, a partner or social accountability will help when you reach a sticking point.”
Fryer recommends choosing someone who you don’t want to disappoint, paying for a mentor or accountability partner or finding someone with similar objectives through a professional or social media group. This person can help by defining clear expectations, focusing on performance and monitoring progress.
Honing your patience will be helpful as well. “Remind yourself that achieving a goal takes persistence, drive and resilience,” Fryer says. “Set your expectations that it will be harder and take longer than you expect.”
That means recognizing when you might need to stop and catch your breath. Bahamundi knows how to guard against mental fatigue by building breaks into his process, particularly when he’s preparing for long events. “I train hard for three weeks at a time and then take a full recovery week,” he says. Cycling through work and rest can help you avoid burnout in any endeavor, whether you’re aiming to lose weight, improve a relationship or launch a big career change.
Find joy in the process
Savoring how it feels to chase your goal is useful for maintaining motivation long term, says Brad Stulberg, a performance coach and co-founder of the Growth Equation. “Most people cycle through three stages: the grind of putting your head down and doing the work, anger and fear of failure, and enjoyment,” he says. But finding joy in showing up for the work is essential throughout the whole process and shouldn’t be left for the end. “Before you take on a goal, visualize the process and how it makes you feel,” Stulberg says. “If you become tight and constricted, it’s probably not the right goal or time. If you feel open and curious, that’s a good sign.”
The process won’t uplift you all the time, so it’s important to mark the little achievements en route to the big prize. “As you make progress along the way, celebrate each of the smaller steps,” says Smoll. “I like the saying ‘Yard by yard is hard, but inch by inch, it’s a cinch.’ Self validation is very motivating.”
When you do reach the finish line, you might just find that the process—not the product—was the real prize. “I know that every day I’m out there working is putting me in a better position to be successful on race day,” Bahamundi says. “The race is my celebratory lap for all the hard work I’ve put in.”
So just what are your goals for 2021
and maybe more importantly:
HOW DO YOU AIM IN KEEPING THEM. . . ?
By drawing Bullseyes all over the place
BEFORE TAKING AIM
AND SHOOTING YOUR ARROWS
BEFORE YOU DRAW
are you gonna scrap your
and go with the multiple
that always seem to be the most
(just not the popular choosing/doing/getting WHAT WE’VE AIMED FOR)
Playing out the hand we’re dealt while searching for the missing
PIECE OF OUR PUZZLE
is a Candle Snuffer
to any new 2021
we could venture. . .
B U T
How about this. . .
if you wanna set a goal
set a dream
that you can achieve
that will never FAIL
that you set 100%
and every day will set and achieve IT
S E T
I will be a better person today than I was yesterday with just one kind act!
Just one not 101 not 1001
Even if it’s the same one that you did yesterday
. . .Just one kind act
(a guaranteed Bullseye)
is just to be a better person
than I was yesterday. . .
And not only will that make for a better person
not only will that make for a better community
not only will that make a better world
it will make for a better
y o u
no fail. . .
Putting the NEW in new year
This video by J J Heller makes
It a fair question. . .
especially since 2021 is just barely
under a 100 hours old:
WHAT MAKES FOR A HAPPY NEW YEAR?
YOUR FILL IN THE ____________________WISH
W H A T ?
There’s a reason why the
is so very much bigger
than the rear view mirror;
G A W K
at what lies before you
with only a quick glance
at what’s already behind you
. . .good advice for a New Year;
better advice for what ails you
(and it cuts down tremendously on collisions)
So make sure when you look back
to see ahead
your eyes aren’t covered
and you don’t blink. . .
Do you want to know the secret for having a successfully awesome
2 0 2 1
. . .it’s no different than the success
of any other years:
DO MORE FOR OTHERS
THAN YOU DO FOR YOURSELF
. . .GUARANTEE:
Making others Happy
will bring you unspeakable joy
. . .It’s like taking someone out to dinner:
YOU GET FED, too
Hey, don’t take my words for it:
8 6 6 4
hours to prove it beginning
Put the NEW
in a New Year
(You are that Powerful)
LOOKING BACK (to see ahead)
WHAT A YEAR
is a huge understatement, huh. . . ?
B U T
this is THAT time
when we all look back
TO SEE AHEAD. . .
OR WAS IT. . . ?
Sometimes are most painful experiences
turn out to be our greatest lessons
L I K E :
The Top 10 Insights from the “Science of a Meaningful Life” in 2020 from The Greater Good Staff
Their team names the most provocative and influential findings published during this past year.
In 2020, the study of well-being took on new meaning. The COVID-19 pandemic created a mental health crisis that is affecting people in all corners of the globe. In the United States, Americans have faced intense political polarization and a reckoning around racial justice. Many of us are left wondering how we can move forward toward a better future.
As the year rolled on, some well-being researchers were quick to turn their lens on the pandemic itself, tracking how people were doing and testing ways to help us cope better. Others continued to study how we can connect, bridge our differences, and build more just communities.
This year’s top insights speak to the moment, from concrete tips about how to bond with a friend to broader truths about how societies respond to diversity over time. All of them point toward strengths and solutions amid isolation, illness, and conflict. The final insights were selected by experts on our staff, after soliciting nominations from our network of more than 300 researchers. We hope they remind you how we’re all connected—and perhaps bring you a little bit of hope.
Rich and varied experiences may be an overlooked key to a good life
When we strive for a good life, what are we actually seeking?
“Happiness” is the simple answer for many people. In general, we want to feel satisfied with life, and experience more pleasantness than unpleasantness. We also strive for meaning and purpose—the sense that we matter, belong, and are engaged in service to something beyond ourselves.
Until now, psychological science has been focused on these three dimensions of well-being, which are technically called “evaluative” (satisfaction with our lives), “hedonic” (positive and negative feelings), and “eudaimonic” (meaning in life).
Now, researchers led by the University of Virginia’s Shigehiro Oishi have proposed another dimension of well-being that has not been carefully studied yet: psychological richness.
Psychological richness involves having new, interesting experiences that promote curiosity or transform how you think. People with psychologically rich lives experience more intense emotions—positive and negative—and are more open to novelty and uncertainty. They might choose to live abroad, seek awe in nature, or explore complex intellectual problems. In contrast, the researchers suggest, happy or meaningful lives can be more routine, and possibly even boring.
In their paper, published in Affective Science, the researchers asked people from nine countries to journal freely about their ideal life. Then, the researchers asked them to analyze it: How happy, meaningful, or psychologically rich was it? The ideal life they envisioned tended to be very happy and meaningful, but also moderately eventful, interesting, and surprising—in other words, psychologically rich.
When people were forced to choose between the three types of ideal lives, most chose a happy or meaningful life—but 7-17% of people chose a psychologically rich life.
To get another window into people’s greatest aspirations for their life, the researchers surveyed people from the United States and Korea about their biggest regret. Here, 28% of Americans and 35% of Koreans said their lives would be psychologically richer (rather than happier or more meaningful) if they could undo this regret, suggesting that psychological richness is a dominant life goal for them.
These studies offer clues about a key value we hold that may not be captured by common conceptions of happiness or meaning—it has more to do with adventurous and thrilling experiences. “Taking the psychologically rich life seriously will deepen, broaden, and, yes, enrichen our understanding of well-being,” the researchers write.
If you want to connect with someone, call rather than text
As the pandemic isolates us from loved ones, many of us are trying to stay connected through texting, email, and social media, even taking the opportunity to reconnect with long-lost friends.
But if our goal is to feel closer to people and enjoy our conversations more, we’re best off picking up the phone, according to a new studypublished in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. There seems to be something special about hearing another’s voice that makes for more satisfying social interactions.
In the study, participants imagined having a conversation with a friend they hadn’t been in touch with for at least two years and made predictions about how it would feel to connect by phone versus email.
After being randomly assigned to connect with their old friend via phone or email, they reported back on the experience. Though most people thought talking by phone would be more uncomfortable, those who spoke on the phone were happier with the exchange, felt closer to the other person, and felt no more uncomfortable than those who’d emailed—even if they had preferred to email.
“We think it’s going to be awkward to talk to somebody, but that just turns out not to be the case,” says lead author Amit Kumar. “Instead . . . people form significantly stronger bonds when they’re talking on the phone than when communicating over email.”
The same result held true when the researchers had participants do a conversation exercise with strangers using either video chatting, audio-only chatting, or text-chatting. People who used media that included the voice had more satisfying exchanges and felt closer to their new acquaintance than the text-chatters.
Why? Likely it’s because our voices communicate a wide range of emotions, helping others to read us better and to feel like they really know us. Hearing someone’s voice enhances our empathy for them, too—in some cases, even more than video chatting.
So, while texting can be useful, it’s not the best way to get the most out of socializing. If we’re looking for greater happiness and connection, we should give someone a call.
Acting like an extravert can make you happier
Forty years of research has found that introverts tend to experience less frequent positive emotions than extraverts. Does that mean they’re doomed to be less happy than their bubbly, loquacious counterparts?
Not necessarily. In fact, a paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General suggests that anyone can experience some of the benefits of being an extravert. All you have to do is act like one.
Researchers Seth Margolis and Sonja Lyubomirsky asked 131 undergraduate students, mostly Asian and Latino, to spend one week behaving like an extravert and one week behaving like an introvert (or vice versa). Acting like an extravert meant being talkative, assertive, and spontaneous, while acting like an introvert meant being deliberate, quiet, and reserved.
Based on surveys the students completed every few days, they experienced more positive emotions and felt more connected to others, competent, autonomous, and in “flow” during the extravert week compared to the introvert week.
This was true of both introverts and extraverts alike (although in the one previous studywhere people acted extraverted for a week, introverts didn’t benefit as much). The relationship was even stronger for people who wanted to be more extraverted, and for Latino students—perhaps, the researchers speculate, because extraversion is valued more in their culture.
As an introvert, you might object to the implication that to be happier, you shouldn’t be yourself. But the researchers take a more flexible view of personality and behavior than that. Research suggests that our personality can change over time, and how introverted or extraverted we act can vary week to week. Although introverts usually don’t believeacting extraverted will make them happier, it usually does.
At the very least, it can be something to experiment with—the same way you might try gratitude journaling even though you aren’t naturally very grateful. You don’t have to be the life of the party or spend all your free time on Zoom; you just have to try expressing yourself and engaging more with others.
After all, many extraverted behaviors involve connection—and research suggests that relationships are one of the most fundamental keys to happiness.
Cooperating with each other may encourage kids to work harder
It’s a message many kids get from the time they’re young: If they want to succeed in life, they need to look out for themselves.
But in January, a study published in Psychological Science challenged that conventional wisdom, suggesting that kids are more likely to achieve a goal if they know that someone else is relying on them.
In the study, researchers had two five- or six-year-old children meet and do a shared task before separating them into different rooms. Then, before leaving the room, the researcher left a cookie in front of each child and told them they’d get two cookies if they could resist eating the first one. In some cases, the children were told that they andthe other child both needed to resist the cookie to get the bigger reward.
The researchers found that kids who were cooperating to earn the reward were able to resist longer than those who only had to think about themselves—even though counting on another child meant less chance for reward.
“In situations where individuals mutually rely on one another, they may be more willing to work harder in all kinds of social domains,” says Sebastian Grueneisen, a coauthor of the study.
Interestingly, the kids in this study came from two very distinct cultures—the Western democracy of Germany and a small farming community in Kenya—with different values around independence and interdependence. This suggests that cooperation may be universally motivating when it comes to delaying personal gratification.
Given that resisting temptation is a vital skill across so many situations in life—from persevering at school to avoiding addictions—these findings suggest we should encourage kids to work together cooperatively more, for the benefit of all.
For a more empathic world, we need to choose empathy
Most of us think about empathy as an automatic response, like a parachute that deploys when we see someone in distress. Or we think of it as a skill, something we can hone by practicing perspective taking or deep listening.
But a new study suggests a missing piece of the empathy puzzle: motivation. Even when we have the ability to feel others’ pain or understand their perspective, we’re more likely to exercise it when we have a strong desire to do so.
This finding is especially relevant today amid all the social and political divides in the U.S. In addition to teaching people skills to bridge differences, this research suggests we also need to boost their motivation to empathize in the first place—and it points to a few ways to do so.
Harvard University social psychologist Erika Weisz and her team instructed college freshmen to write letters to struggling high school students about how empathy was in the high-schoolers’ best interest—that it would help them connect with others, for instance. This activity was designed to boost the letter-writers’ own motivation to empathize, Weisz explains. “When we ask a participant to endorse a statement to another person, they tend to endorse those beliefs themselves.”
After they wrote the letters, the students seemed to get better at reading other people’s emotions. Up to two months later, they showed higher accuracy when asked to describe what people in a video were feeling, compared to a control group who wrote letters unrelated to empathy. Some also reported making more close friends at college, possibly due to their empathic savvy.
Along the same lines, a University of Toronto study this year reiterated the finding that our empathy depends on our motivation and explored other ways to boost our identification with people.
Results like these suggest that we can encourage empathy by focusing on the rewards it offers. “A lot of people think of empathy as a static trait,” Weisz says. “Targeting motivations imparts lasting changes.”
Witnessing gratitude and kindness helps bond people together
Gratitude is a premier emotion for bonding two people together. It creates a warm feeling of trust, encouraging more closeness and care.
But a study published this year in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that these effects extend beyond the people involved in an exchange of thanks—all the way to people who only observe expressions of gratitude.
In the study, Sara Algoe and her colleagues ran a series of experiments. Sometimes, participants saw written notes of thanks for a kindness done; other times, they watched a video of someone voicing how grateful they were for another person’s kindness and fine qualities.
In both cases, when people observed these expressions of gratitude, they were drawn to befriend the grateful person and the recipient of the gratitude, and they wanted to help them out, too. This suggests that gratitude can encourage ripple effects of positive social connection within communities.
“A whole group of people could be inspired to be kinder to one another,” says Algoe, “and through this interwoven kindness, the group itself could become a higher-functioning group.”
And witnessing kindness can have a similar effect, according to another study published this year in Psychological Bulletin.
In the study, Haesung Jung and her colleagues analyzed decades of experimental studies. The researchers found that being a bystander to kindness—whether we read about it or see it happen in front of us—makes us act kindly ourselves, even toward people not involved in the act of kindness.
“People resonate when they watch someone do something good,” says Jung. “The message that these prosocial behaviors are quite contagious is a really important message that people should know.”
Both studies suggest we should all try expressing more gratitude and being kinder to one another. Doing so has more far-reaching effects than we may have realized, helping to spread goodness and build greater social cohesion in our communities.
To get people to follow COVID guidelines, appeal to their care for others
The world is facing another surge in COVID-19 cases and related deaths. To effectively stop it requires more people to adhere to public health guidelines, including wearing masks and keeping physically distant—at least until a vaccine is widely available.
But how do we get people to comply with these measures? While it might seem that people would be most motivated to protect their own health, research suggests that isn’t necessarily the case. Instead, messages that appeal to our concern for others may be more effective.
In one study published this year, Harvard researcher Jillian Jordan and her colleagues compared how a large group of Americans responded to different public health announcements during the early months of the pandemic. She found that messages focusing on the need to protect others were more likely to inspire compliance with health measures than those focused on the need to protect oneself—a finding that resonates with prior studies.
“While people do care a great deal about themselves and are self-interested, people also care a lot about other people, and those social motivations are a big part of our behavior,” says Jordan.
Indeed, a study conducted in Sweden concluded that people who were more “prosocial” (kind and helpful, measured two years before the pandemic hit) were more likely than less prosocial people to follow distancing guidelines, stay home if sick, and buy face masks during early 2020.
Many other social factors drive us to follow health safety guidelines, too—including the compliance of those around you (social norms) and your social identity (especially your political identity—in the United States, at least). But our instinct for altruism is strong, if it’s tapped. That’s especially true when the outcome of our actions is uncertain but could hurt other people’s well-being.
That’s why many scientists are recommending that leaders always mention the importance of protecting others whenever they ask people to wear a mask, keep their distance from others, or take other precautions to prevent the spread of COVID. Doing so could encourage more people to take those steps—and help end the pandemic sooner for everyone.
We might care more about inequality if we question our underlying assumptions about poverty
Why in the world would anyone be for economic inequality, given how harmful it is to individuals and societies?
According to a new paper published this year in Nature Human Behavior, it comes down to “people’s judgments about why the poor are poor”—and the belief that inequality accurately reflects how hard individuals work.
First, Paul Piff and his colleagues surveyed people from 34 countries about whether they attributed poverty to unfairness in society (situational causes) or to laziness or lack of willpower (dispositional causes).
As the researchers expected, people who thought of the poor as lazy believed they deserved to be poor—and that the rich deserved to be rich, because they were so hard-working. According to another survey of Americans, the researchers found that situational and dispositional causes were not mutually exclusive in people’s minds. In other words, people could believe in both—and other research, cited in the paper, suggests that they’re often not even aware that they have these assumptions about poverty.
Next, the researchers conducted three experiments to see if they could stimulate people’s awareness about their own attributions and how that awareness could, in turn, affect their behavior. In the first experiment, they asked a geographically diverse group of about 1,000 American adults to simply write about people who are poor—or to write about why some people might not deserve to be poor. Primed to think about poverty and its causes, participants had the option to donate all, some, or none of their winnings in a raffle to a minimum-wage campaign.
Indeed, those who had been invited to think about the situational causes of poverty—such as racism, lack of education, or childhood trauma—were more likely to make the donation, and to express support for measures against inequality.
Taken together, the studies suggest that people can shift toward looking at poverty less as a failure of will and more as the result of social forces—but they need to be made aware of those forces through education and they need the opportunity to reflect on their own assumptions.
Social justice and individual happiness go hand in hand
This year, millions of people around the world took to the streets to protest the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black Americans. One of the most striking things about the protests was the diversity of who participated in them: They engaged people young and old, of all different races and ethnicities, in large cities and small towns. More people than ever seemed to feel that the movement was relevant to them, even if they themselves hadn’t been the victim of racial injustice.
A study published in early July, around the time that the protests were at their peak, suggests that they’re right, in ways that they may not have fully realized. For while it’s clear that a society should value social justice for its own sake, the study suggests that everyone benefits when societies are fairer. It turns out that countries with the highest levels of social justice have the happiest citizens, too.
In the study, published in the Journal of Community Psychology, researchers Salvatore Di Martino and Isaac Prilleltensky looked at social justice levels in 28 European countries. Indicators of social justice included equity around education and health care for ethnic minorities and the poor, non-discrimination policies, gender representation in government, and more.
The researchers then compared that data to how satisfied Europeans were with their lives, based on interviews with nearly 170,000 individuals. After ruling out other factors that might influence happiness—like age, gender, occupation, or a country’s gross national product—they found that living in a more socially just society was the second most important contributor to individual happiness. It only lagged in importance behind social capital—the strength of people’s relationships, trust in institutions, and civic engagement.
“Social relations are important for people’s happiness—one of the most important things,” says Di Martino. “But people should also realize that the conditions surrounding them—like living in a place that gives them opportunities or resources—are also very important.”
Building upon other research showing the importance of good governance and the role of social equity in personal happiness—even for the well off—this study bolsters the case that social equality matters to us all.
Living in diverse communities may reduce stereotypes—and improve well-being
More people around the world are living with more diversity than ever before, thanks to immigration and globalization. In a new paperpublished in June in PNAS, psychologists Xuechunzi Bai, Miguel R. Ramos, and Susan T. Fiske provide us with a hopeful message about the long-term prospects of diversity.
Their question: How does experiencing ethnic diversity change the stereotypes people hold? To find out, they ran a series of studies across over 12,000 people in 47 countries, including all 50 U.S. states. Across the board, they found that people in more homogeneous areas were much more likely to harbor stereotypes about people different from them, seeing them as less warm and competent. On the other hand, they write:
Countries and U.S. states with higher levels of ethnic diversity (e.g., South Africa and Hawaii, versus South Korea and Vermont), online individuals who perceive more ethnic diversity, and students who moved to more ethnically diverse colleges mentally represent ethnic groups as more similar to each other.
The paper highlights another bonus that comes with the decline in stereotypes: greater well-being. In the studies of Americans and students, they found that people in diverse communities both held fewer stereotypes and reported being more satisfied with their lives.
Why? That’s hard to say. There is some research that finds that diversity stresses us out if we don’t feel it’s a good thing. The researchers speculate that experiencing diversity also just broadens our horizons. A study from last year, for example, found that religious diversity provokes more conflict in the short run—but over time, people get used to the differences and learn to live with each other.
As ever, we need more research. But in the meantime, we can take hope from the implications of their result: “Individuals have in them the potential to embrace diversity—[which] should encourage societies to intervene against potential barriers to a peaceful coexistence.”
I Know. . .I KNOW
that’s a whole lot to take in
and try to digest
which is why looking back
TO SEE AHEAD
takes not so much special lenses
or even good vision
as a willingness
honestly at where you’ve been
to even begin to understand where you’re going. . .
THE TAKE AWAY:
IT IS ALL A JOURNEY
and looking back
to walk forward
are the only
S T E P S
(and the only ones most meaningful)