If You Want To Be Happy, Stop Comparing Yourself To Others


Aimee Groth| BUSINESS  INSIDER. Apr.  21, 2013

Credit:Jamie Vedres

Our culture has made it increasingly easy to compare ourselves to others,  through Facebook, Instagram,  and hundreds of other platforms.

But constant comparison only makes us feel like failures: No  matter what, there will always be someone who’s at least one step ahead us; and  the perfect job, spouse, salary, etc., will always remain elusive.

Elizabeth  Weil recently interviewed University of California psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky about this phenomenon  for The New  York Times. In her article, “Happiness  Inc.,” she writes that, “As  Dr. Lyubomirsky has found in her lab (and many of us find around the office or  at a bar), unhappy people compare a lot and  care about the results.”

In a study, “Hedonic  consequences of social comparison,” Lyubomirsky and her co-author Lee Ross  from Stanford  University looked at how happy and unhappy people respond differently to  feedback, both positive and negative, on a teaching exercise. Happy  participants’ self-confidence was enhanced by positive feedback, no matter if  they also learned that their peers got better results. On the other hand,  confidence levels for unhappy people soared when they received positive feedback  alone, but only increased minimally when they learned their peers did better.  Most surprisingly, they found that:

The overall pattern of  results that  emerged was striking in that unhappy participants  showed greater  increases in self-confidence after learning that they did poorly but their peer did even  worse than after learning that they did very well  but their peer did even better whereas  happy participants  showed smaller increases in self-confidence in the latter condition than in the former  condition.

Here’s  a chart showing the results of the experiment:

 

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Sonja  Lyubomirsky

 

While modest comparison to other people makes for healthy competition, those  who are consumed by peer comparison are simply choosing to live an unhappier  life.

There Is an Algorithm for Everything, Even Bras


 

By RANDALL STROSS.THE NEW YORK TIMES. February 23, 2013

THE two and a half miserable hours that Michelle Lam spent in a fitting room, trying on bras, one fine summer day in 2011 would turn out to be, in her words, a “life-changing experience.” After trying on 20 bras to find one that fit, and not particularly well at that, she left the store feeling naked and intruded upon.

A screen shot from True&Co’s bra-fitting quiz. A customer starts by entering the size and manufacturer of her current favorite bra. The company then uses an algorithm to try to find a better fit.

“It occurred to me in that fitting room, as I was waiting for that saleswoman to bring me bras: Wow, this is the worst shopping experience on earth,” she said. (My wife concurs.) From her frustration that day emerged an idea for a business called True&Co.

The history of e-commerce is marked by start-ups devising ways to sell products that were once thought of as unsuitable for sale online. Shoes were not supposed to be something customers would buy online, but then Zappos showed it could be done. The same thing was said about eyeglasses, until Warby Parker came along. But bras, which are among the most personal items someone can buy, represent the Everest of online retail challenges.

Ms. Lam’s company opened True&Co last year along with two co-founders, Dan Dolgin and Aarthi Ramamurthy. The company, based in San Francisco, is certainly not the first to sell lingerie online. Older sites include the Web arm of Victoria’s Secret and HerRoom.com, which was founded in 1998, near the dawn of the Age of E-Commerce.

Professional bra fitters have also moved online. Linda Becker, whose family owns two bra stores in New York, says she sells twice as many bras online today at LindaTheBraLady.com as she does in her stores. Some of her online customers have previously visited one of her shops and been fitted in person. But new customers take their own measurements and work with customer service representatives on the phone. She says only 10 percent of online orders are returned.

But some customers turn out to be extremely hard to fit and it’s hard to tell why, Ms. Becker says. “That kind of customer will be impossible to fit online because the problem is unseen. There’s no way of figuring it out over the phone.”

True&Co’s innovation is to put a batch of bras into customers’ hands so they can choose what fits best. New customers take a quiz — modeled on the ones in Cosmopolitan magazine that Ms. Lam fondly remembers filling out in high school — to collect the information needed to fit the bra properly. They are then invited to pick three bras in different styles.

True&Co uses an algorithm to pick two additional bras to send out, based on what can be discerned from the customer’s choices. So the customer ends up with five bras to try on at home, with no obligation to buy. Most of the company’s bras are priced from $45 to $62.

The 15-question quiz asks for the customer’s band and cup size and the manufacturer of her current “best fitting (and beloved) bra,” and works from there to determine how the fit of that favorite bra could be improved. Other quiz questions include: “Do your cups runneth over?” citing things like cleavage or underarms — or “No spills, all good.” The question “What is your shape?” is followed by these choices: Well-Rounded, Bottom Happy, Taking Sides and Bottom & Sides.

“We have an algorithm that defines 2,000 body types,” Ms. Lam said. True&Co does not make customized bras for each of those 2,000 body types, however, so much of the taxonomy’s precision is lost when it must be translated into the far fewer combinations of band and cup measurements used by bra makers.

True&Co has drawn the attention of some skeptics. Last month, a blogger at Open Source Fashion, Sindhya Valloppillil, dismissed the company’s bra-fitting algorithm as “ridiculous,” arguing that a bra must be “touched and tried on.” She mocked the credulity of True&Co’s venture capital investors in a post titled “V.C.’s Think My Boobs Need an Algorithm.”

True&Co actually makes no patently ridiculous claims about the algorithm, which involves matching a woman’s body type to a particular bra based partly on consistent variations among manufacturers for a given size and style. One manufacturer’s 32C may work better for breasts of a certain shape, for example, even if a woman is used to buying a 34B.

Customers buy an average of two bras from each batch of five. The company says women end up buying more of the bras chosen by the algorithm than the ones they select themselves.

But as with shoes and eyeglasses, so too with bras: it’s love at first touch and try, even in the digital age.

Happiness Inc.


 

By ELIZABETH WEIL.THE NEW YORK TIMES.Published: April 19, 2013

 

Andrew Rae

 

According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, you have a happiness set point. It’s partly encoded in your genes. If something good happens, your sense of happiness rises; if something bad happens, it falls.

But either way, before too long, your mood will creep back to its set point because of a really powerful and perverse phenomenon referred to in science as “hedonic adaptation.” You know, people get used to things.

With her 2007 book, “The How of Happiness,” and this year’s follow-up, “The Myths of Happiness,” Dr. Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, caused ripples in her field but also drew a wider audience, cementing her place in a long chain of happiness-industry stalwarts, from M. Scott Peck with “The Road Less Traveled” to Martin E. P. Seligman and “Learned Optimism” to Daniel Gilbert and his best-selling “Stumbling on Happiness.”

Dr. Lyubomirsky’s findings can be provocative and, at times, counterintuitive. Renters are happier than homeowners, she says. Interrupting positive experiences makes them more enjoyable. Acts of kindness make people feel happier, but not if you are compelled to perform the same act too frequently. (Bring your lover breakfast in bed one day, and it feels great. Bring it every day, and it feels like a chore.)

Dr. Lyubomirsky — 46, Russian and expecting to give birth to her fourth child this weekend — is an unlikely mood guru. “I really hate all the smiley faces and rainbows and kittens,” she said in her office. She doesn’t often count her blessings or write gratitude letters, both of which she thinks sound hokey even though her research suggests they make people happier.

For years, she even worried that the study of how to increase happiness would make her work sound too applied, too lightweight, too much like that of a life coach. For a decade, she focused instead on categorizing characteristics of happy and unhappy people with clinical, almost anthropological detachment. But friends, family members, students, reporters — everyone — kept asking: How does it work? How can you make yourself happier?

So Dr. Lyubomirsky finally turned her research toward those questions.

Now, according to Barbara Fredrickson, principal investigator of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab at the University of North Carolina, “Sonja is the queen of happiness.”

“She’s one of the few people that actually does research on happiness per se,” she said of Ms. Lyubomirsky’s ascent. “It’s a supply-and-demand issue.”

One day this winter, a young graduate student knocked on Dr. Lyubomirsky’s office door, seeking her opinion. The student was thinking of designing a study to see if expectant fathers were happier after their wives gave birth. Or maybe she should study what’s the most happiness-inducing way for a woman to tell her partner she’s pregnant? (Dr. Lyubomirsky, who is fairly practiced in this department, liked the second option.)

Later, another student fired up her laptop to discuss data that appeared off. “Look at this state of gratitude, that’s really weird,” Dr. Lyubomirsky said, puzzling over the graph. “What happened here? Was this March?” The school calendar influences student-research subjects: everybody is happier right after spring break.

Among the big dials people can tune to affect personal happiness is how much we compare ourselves to others. As Dr. Lyubomirsky has found in her lab (and many of us find around the office or at a bar), unhappy people compare a lot and care about the results. They tend to feel better when they get poor evaluations but learn others did worse than when they get excellent evaluations but learn others did better.

In one experiment, documented in “The Myths of Happiness,” Dr. Lyubomirsky asked two volunteers at a time to use hand puppets to teach a lesson about friendship to an imaginary audience of children. Afterward the puppeteers were evaluated against each other: you did great but your partner did better, or you did badly but your partner was even worse.

The volunteers who were happy before the puppeteering review cared a bit about hearing that they had performed worse than their colleagues but largely shrugged it off. The unhappy volunteers were devastated. Dr. Lyubomirsky writes: “It appears that unhappy individuals have bought into the sardonic maxim attributed to Gore Vidal: ‘For true happiness, it is not enough to be successful oneself. … One’s friends must fail.’ ” This, she says, is probably why a great number of people know the German word schadenfreude (describing happiness at another’s misfortune) and almost nobody knows the Yiddish shep naches (happiness at another’s success).

Late one afternoon at California-Riverside, Dr. Lyubomirsky grabbed her bag and walked at breakneck pace through the mystifying campus to a weekly meeting with her advisees. At a long table, she tended to her pregnancy blood-sugar needs by eating an individual-size chocolate cheesecake from Whole Foods while students recounted being cornered in front of their posters at a recent conference.

“Someone came up to me and said, ‘Oh, do you really do this for real?’ ” she recalled — meaning, write gratitude letters. “I said, ‘Um, no,’ and then he said, ‘Do other people who study this do them?’ ”

Dr. Lyubomirsky said: “Weird. Scientists should be unbiased. Just because I do a study on the effects of meditation doesn’t mean I should be meditating. I’m probably less biased if I don’t meditate.”

Science and happiness are not a perfect fit. The American philosopher William James is also considered the father of American psychology, and, as Dr. Lyubomirsky herself is well aware, once you leave philosophy aside, conclusions that psychological research lets us draw about how to be happy tend to sound a bit flat.

Dr. Lyubomirsky is a surprising apostle of mirth. Born in Moscow, she emigrated with her parents and brother to the United States at age 9 with the help of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. Settling in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., the Lyubomirsky elders didn’t adapt very quickly: both switched to jobs for which they were hugely overqualified. For years, Dr. Lyubomirsky’s mother cried every time she heard Tchaikovsky. Sonja taught herself English by watching “The Love Boat.” (She speaks without an accent.) Her brother, Ilya Lyubomirsky, an engineer, said she was “quiet and very studious as a young girl.” By high school, he said, she “blossomed socially” into “having a way with people.”

During her first semester at Harvard, she took a course from Brendan Maher, the psychology professor credited with changing psychology from a soft science based on descriptions to a hard one based on data, and decided she wanted to major in the field. After college, she moved west to study at Stanford, where her graduate school adviser, Lee Ross, took her for a walk in the school’s Rodin sculpture garden and suggested she study happiness.

“At the time,” Dr. Lyubomirsky recalled, “only one person was studying happiness: Ed Diener. Back then it was called ‘subjective well being’ and the topic was considered very fuzzy.”

To clear the haze, Dr. Lyubomirsky spent that decade trying to define what happy and unhappy people were like. According to her friend Andrew Ward, now in the psychology department at Swarthmore College, “the working assumption in those years was that happy people were rationalizing all the time.” So Dr. Lyubomirsky designed an experiment in which people ranked 10 desserts, knowing they’d get one. Each participant was then given his second or third choice and told to rank all 10 desserts again. Guess who rationalized the desserts they received? The unhappy people. As Dr. Ward remembered, “The happy people said, ‘Well, this dessert is good, and I’m sure the others are good, too!’ The unhappy people liked their desserts just fine but indicated they were extremely relieved not to have received the ‘awful’ nonchosen dessert. In other words, unhappy people derogated the dessert they did not receive, whereas happy people felt no need to do so. The implication is that unhappy people are doing more mental work.”

Dr. Lyubomirsky’s academic career took a strange turn in January 1999 when Mr. Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,” cherry-picked her and a dozen or so other psychology academics under 40 and invited them to Akumal, Mexico. There, Mr. Seligman, who part of the time wore a tie-dyed T-shirt with the word “YES” on the front, willed the field of positive psychology into being. On the beach near Tulum, the group members wrote a Positive Psychology manifesto. They defined the field as “the scientific study of optimal human functioning” and asserted “a new commitment on the part of research psychologists to focus attention upon the sources of psychological health, thereby going beyond prior emphases upon disease and disorder.” Under palm trees, they listened to talks — for instance, Laura King broke down the myth that “happy people are stupid.” One night they sang and recited poetry. Dr. Lyubomirsky performed Caliban’s monologue from “The Tempest.” Be not afeard.

These days, Dr. Lyubomirsky is not so thrilled with how the field of positive psychology has been pigeonholed. She doesn’t consider herself a positive psychologist. The term bothers her. She thinks the word “positive” is unnecessary, in the same way some are bothered by the word “gay” in gay marriage. The idea is it’s all marriage, right? “I’m really not interested in happy people,” she insisted. “I’m interested in how happiness changes over time and what strategies can increase happiness.”

At home, Ms. Lyubomirsky’s two older children — a daughter, 14, and a son, 11 — seem most consumed not with happiness but with annoyingness, ranking everybody in the family on that scale, including their 2-year-old sister. (Dr. Lyubomirsky came in first.) Three months ago the family moved out of its condominium into a spacious house. Dr. Lyubomirsky’s husband, Peter Del Greco, a lawyer who investigates securities fraud, wanted to buy a big high-definition TV. “I said to him, ‘You’re going to adapt to it.’ Of course, he still wanted it. And he adapted to it.”

Dr. Lyubomirsky doesn’t think that people will really learn not to adapt. “We’re so focused on the now,” she said. “The present is so compelling. It’s hard-wired.”

Since the move, she has decorated her new living room with Russian nesting dolls of Boris Yeltsin and Dennis Rodman. She has adapted to just about everything in the house except for the shower (it has six heads) and the ocean view. Yet she’s unconcerned. As she knows well, focusing too much on happiness, making it too much of a goal, tends to backfire. So she doesn’t dwell on it. “I remember when I was writing the chapter about relationships in ‘The Myths of Happiness,’ ” she said. “One day when I was driving home I finally thought: ‘Oh! I should do something nice for my husband this week.’ ”

Male CEOs With Deeper Voices Run Bigger Companies And Make More Money


Max Nisen| BUSINESS INSIDER.Apr. 19, 2013.
Barry White

Soul legend Barry White   Wikimedia  Commons

At least in an abstract  sense, many people associate a deep voice with authority, power, and  seriousness. Exactly the things one would expect or hope for in a CEO.

A new  study, “Voice Pitch Predicts Labor Market Success among Male Chief Executive  Officers” from William J. Mayew and Mohan Venkatachalam of Duke University, and  Christopher Parsons of UC San Diego, takes a look at the voice pitches of CEOs  of large public companies, and found this to be true.

A CEO’s voice that becomes lower by a 1%  decrease in the pitch correlates with $30 million more in assets for the  company they manage, and a $19,000 increase in their salary.

Those on the deepest  end of the voice scale run companies that have $440 million more in assets  and earn some $187,000 more. Deeper-voiced CEOs were also found to stay at their  jobs longer.

The average CEO in the study comes in at 125.5 Hz, which is about average for  an adult male. By way of comparison, James Earl Jones, famously the voice of  Darth Vader, has a voice pitched at around 85 Hz.

The effect is more pronounced when a CEO has more decision-making power or  discretion, and was separate from experience, education, and age.

It’s easy to be skeptical about the idea. But it turns out there’s a  fundamental biological advantage to having a deep voice. Women find deep-voiced  men more  attractive, they father more  children, and they’re viewed as more socially and physically dominant.

There’s not much you can do to change the natural pitch of your voice, but it  might be worth curbing a tendency to speak higher or faster when excited, and  try to speak slower and lower.

Sony Founder,Akio Morita’s Advice on success


 Joel Brown | Addicted2Success.com. April 12, 2013

akio morita Sony

Japanese businessman and co-founder of Sony “Akio Morita” was an innovator of high quality electronics, selling billions in revenue around the world. Akio Morita’s business strength was in his ability to understand both Western and Eastern cultures and combine the best of both worlds to globalize Sony as a household name.

In 1966, Morita wrote a book called Gakureki Muyō Ron, which meansNever Mind School Records“, where Akio stresses that school records are not important to success or one’s business skills.

So what skills are important for achieving success? Akio Morita shares his advice for breaking down barriers in the business world.

Akio Morita’s Success Advice

Why Akio Morita Believes Sony Succeeded:

Morita with sony Camera

1. “I established the rule that once we hire an employee, his schools records are a matter of the past, and are no longer used to evaluate his work or decide on his promotion.”

2. “My solution to the problem of unleashing creativity is always to set up a target.”

3. “I believe one of the reasons we went through such a remarkable growth period was that we had this atmosphere of free discussion. A company will get nowhere if all of the thinking is left to management.”

4. “I have always made it a point to know our employees, to visit every facility of our company, and to try to meet and know every single employee.”

5. “The company must not throw money away on huge bonuses for executives or other frivolities but must share its fate with the workers.”

Akio Morita’s Business Advice:

Akio Morita

1. “Advertising and promotion alone will not sustain a bad product or a product that is not right for the times.”

2. “From a management standpoint, it is very important to know how to unleash people’s inborn creativity. My concept is that anybody has creative ability, but very few people know how to use it.”

3. “I believe people work for satisfaction. I believe it is a big mistake to think that money is the only way to compensate a person for his work. People need money, but they also want to be happy in their work and proud of it.”

4. “There is no secret ingredient or hidden formula responsible for the success of the best Japanese companies.”

5. “There are three creativities: creativity in technology, in product planning, and in marketing. To have any one of these without the others is self defeating in business.”

On Being Humble:

If you go through life convinced that your way is always best, all the new ideas in the world will pass you by.

Thoughts On Innovation:

Carefully watch how people live, get an intuitive sense as to what they might want and then go with it. Don’t do market research. I knew we needed a weapon to break through to the U.S. market, and it had to be something different, something that nobody else was making.

Do’s & Don’ts:

Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. But make sure you don’t make the same mistake twice.

Thoughts On Success:

We all learn by imitating, as children, as students, as novices in the world of business. And then we grow up and learn to blend our innate abilities with the rules or principles we have learned.

Akio Morita’s Final Years

akio morita success

On November 25, 1994, Morita stepped down as Sony chairman after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage while playing tennis. He was succeeded by Norio Ohga, who had joined the company in the 1950s after sending Akio Morita a letter denouncing the poor quality of the company’s tape recorders. Instead of taking offense, Akio saw a talent in Norio and decided to hire him for his honesty and keen eye for improvement.

On October 3, 1999, Morita died of pneumonia at the age of 78.

Although Akio is no longer with us, his story and his knowledge of transforming the business world still lives on.

 

‘Don’t Think of Ugly People’: How Parenting Advice Has Changed


 

  Therese Oneill.THE ATLANTIC.Apr 19 2013

  The curious history told in 19th and early 20th century mothering advice books is a mix of unreasonable demands and unfounded claims. At the same time, though, one can see how it made sense.

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goddess of chocolate/Flickr

I recently visited my friend Julia, mostly to nuzzle the head of her newborn, Eloise. As Julia and I talked, I shifted Eloise to lie on my stomach, facing the    large television that dominates Julia’s living room.

Suddenly Julia’s relaxed body snapped alert. “Oh! No, turn her around. She’s not allowed to watch TV until she’s two.” She seemed prepared to jump    up and shield her daughter from the television. I turned Eloise’s warm little body around, kissing her cheek as I did it, “Uh-oh, Sweetie,” I told her.    “You have those kind of parents.”

What Eloise has, like most babies, are good parents. Good parents, especially first time parents, seek advice. Julia and her husband are following    the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation that screen time for babies is unhealthy. They have a fat stack of parenting guides sitting in their    daughter’s carefully assembled nursery, full of similar information that can help them care for a person who has very specific needs which she can’t    communicate.

“Turn it occasionally from side to side, feed it, change it, keep it warm, and let it alone.”

The market is pretty much choking on baby care books today. The a phenomenon seemed to launch in the 1950s with Dr. Benjamin Spock’s    Baby and Child Care. While his child-rearing advice reached the    largest audience in history, he was by no means the first to put rules for infant care in authoritative print. The business of instructing mothers on how to do their job    really bloomed in the 19th century.

If you’re a fan of peculiar history, you won’t do better than 19th and early 20th century mothering advice books. They are conglomerations of    pseudoscience, unreasonable demands, and authoritative statements without foundation.

At least they seem so now.

In 1878, in The Physical Life of Woman, Dr. George H Napheys cites a    published study by child care expert Dr. Henry Kennedy. The study presented evidence that, if you truly wanted your child to maintain health, the baby’s    sleeping position most always be with the head pointing due north. “There are known to be great electrical currents always coursing in one direction around    the globe. In the opinion of Dr. Kennedy there is no doubt that our nervous systems are in some mysterious way connected with this universal agent, as it    may be called, electricity.”

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Articles needed for baby’s feeding [The Mother and Her Child]

Well, you can’t prove they’re not, can you? And what would it hurt to play it safe, just in case?

“Pregnant mothers should avoid thinking of ugly people, or those marked by any deformity or disease; avoid injury, fright and disease of any kind.” This was written in the 1920s, in a book called    Searchlights on Health: The Science of Eugenics, by B. G. Jefferis and J.    L. Nichols. It’s interesting to note that a remarkable number of parenting manuals from the era used the word “eugenics.” This was before it had come to be    mean, “something Hitler was really into.” To them it had positive connotations, related to increasing the strength and qualities of the next generation,    and less to do with stamping out the impurities of mankind for the propagation of the Master Race.

These books were written well into the scientific age, by men who claimed to possess scientifically collected knowledge. It shows how deeply bewildered and    susceptible parents were as the world changed around them, and how tightly the old wives’ tales still gripped people’s minds. Who wanted to be the first to    contradict them at the peril of their child?

Still, that sort of counsel represents the more fringe advice of the era. There might have been almost as many people rolling their eyes at it then as now.    It was the advice they actually followed that is truly disturbing. So much so that you begin to wonder how anyone survived a 19th century    childhood without emerging as a hardened sociopath.

From the day of birth, schedules and strict discipline were of deep importance. This baby was to interfere as little as possible with your life. Affection was to be restricted, with care instructions more fitting a ficus than a child. From 1916’s    The Mother and her Child by Drs. Lena and William Sadler: “Handle    the baby as little as possible. Turn it occasionally from side to side, feed it, change it, keep it warm, and let it alone; crying is absolutely essential    to the development of good strong lungs. A baby should cry vigorously several times each day.”

As the child grew, regulated contact could be tolerated. “At the age of two weeks, the child may be systematically carried about in the arms 2 to 3 times a    day, as a means of furnishing additional change in position,” is the precise advice of Dr. JP Crozer Griffith in 1900.

Even bowel movements were regimented. “Children under one year of age should have two movements of the bowels in the twenty-four hours, and those from one    to three years at least one stool a day,” wrote Napheys. Should the baby not conform to these healthy perimeters, the same books prescribed any number of    enemas, draughts, and oils to make things more shipshape.

As for “crying it out,” the advice of the early manuals was unanimous. A spoiled baby will be miserable its entire life, prone to hysterics and weakness,    unable to cope with the life’s hard turns. And the first and worst way to spoil a baby is to hold it when it cries. Per the Sadlers:

We run into many snags when we undertake to discipline the nervous baby. The first is that it will sometimes cry so hard that it will get black in the    face and may even have a convulsion; occasionally a small blood vessel may be ruptured on some part of the body, usually the face. When you see the little    one approaching this point, turn it over and administer a sound spanking and it will instantly catch its breath.

There comes a time in every parent’s journey, when, after doing everything they can, they simply must close the door on a secured but screaming baby and    walk away. Few make a habit of it, and fewer still would see their newborn’s face turning black and convulsing with ruptured blood vessels as a “snag”    worthy of a spanking.

Dr. Rima Apple is a professor emerita of human ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the author of   Perfect motherhood: Science and childrearing in America            . When I talked to Dr. Apple about the bizarre parenting practices of the past, one of the first things she asked me to do was stop using the word    “stupid.”

eugenicbaby.jpgSearchlights on Health

Because those parents, and those experts, they weren’t stupid. Apple summed it up in a single sentence: “It made sense in their time.”

According to the CDC, in the year 1900, 10 to 30 percent of all American babies born    died before their first birthday. They died from things we don’t think about. They died because their drinking water was too close to their sewers. Because    the cow’s milk they drank was unpasteurized. They died of measles and whooping cough and all the diseases that now cause four minutes of hard crying in a    nurse’s office and a Batman Band-Aid, instead of death. That was the time these writers, and the mothers they wrote for, lived in.

They were frightened.

They didn’t know why their babies died, or screamed, or sickened; and they clung desperately to anyone who claimed to have the knowledge to prevent it.

“We’re not smarter now,” said Dr. Apple. “We simply have more information. More knowledge is only more detail, but it does not give us the complete    answer.”

“Why do you think mothers were told not to pick up their babies when they cried?” she asked me. As a mother myself, I have always been astounded by my    ability to stop another human’s suffering with only my arms, and could not fathom any mother feeling differently.

Yet my mind provided a wordless answer, a picture, almost immediately. A kitchen at the turn of the century, a heap of soiled clothes by a washboard, a    dead chicken waiting to be scalded and plucked, countless other children bringing their chaos and noise to their mother, a husband plowing far out in the    back forty and a grandmother who stayed back east.

Dr. Apple filled in the words. “If a mother had four kids to care for she couldn’t pick them up every half hour. So the baby must learn to take care of    itself. It was necessary for the time. They were taught not to be selfish.”

Necessity mixed with fear and little solid information to quell it. This all added up to parenting practices that would drop the jaws of modern devotees of    What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

openair.pngThe Health-Care of the Baby

The books themselves, childcare manuals that bloomed in the 19th century and never let up, came into play for two reasons, according to Dr. Apple. First,    the mid-1800s saw the rise of the male pediatrician and obstetrician. Never before in history had men of medicine taken an active interest in the care of    common children and women. To establish themselves and prove that they were better than the lowly midwife, they wrote books, emblazoned with the powerful    letters following their names. “MD, FRS, DCI.” The reader may have no idea what those letters actually meant, but they were nonetheless comforted that the    advice they were getting was expert.

The second reason was what Dr. Apple calls “mobility.” You no longer lived your whole life in the same town that your forefathers had founded and died in.    You moved for better work, you emigrated west; you set up homesteads in places where your nearest neighbor was 640 acres away. Your mother and aunties    weren’t around to advise you. At the same time, your family was smaller than it had ever been, meaning you were less likely to have seen others care for    babies.

Dr. Apple’s view that today we only have more details, not full answers, resonates. Parents are still all too aware of what they don’t know. Fear still    sells. The mortality rate of American babies today is infinitesimal compared to any other time in history. We no longer worry about diphtheria or a    mother’s argument with a neighbor poisoning her breast milk. So we find different things to worry about. Things that even the most exhaustively detailed    books of yesteryear would never even have considered.

Should drop-side cribs be banned? Which chemicals might be seeping into my child’s liver through the plastic in her sippy cup? What’s worse for baby:    formula feeding, or just directly feeding it lead paint chips?

Dr. Apple offers a calmer point of view. “I’m a historian, not a healthcare practitioner, but from my experience and readings, I would say that the basic    rule would be ‘everything in moderation.’ Anything done to excess can be potentially harmful; for example the difference between a daily multivitamin and a    mega-dose of vitamins.”

    There is one thing we tend to forget with our babies as we look down on them in their cribs, hoping the wispy rise and fall of their chests will continue    even after we look away, and genuinely afraid that it won’t. Babies want to live. They want to thrive. No matter what new wave in parenting washes    over them, they adapt. In 100 years historians may be disgusted by our use of diapers, and click their tongues over our ignorance of subatomic particles as    they relate to cognitive development. They will be around to judge our folly because they survived it, just as our grandparents survived the incomplete    information their parents had.

I left with Eloise snuggled onto her mother’s chest, sleeping in contentment. A safe child, whose parent’s love is delivered in the fashion becoming the    21st century. Though it might be more gentle and attentive, it is no less a love than has ever come before.

Newspapers, Delivered by DroneMegan Garber


 

Adam Alter.THE ATLANTIC.Mar 29 2013,

nature tree main.jpg

Brock Davis

The research behind an understanding that natural environments refocus our attention, lessening stress and hastening healing.

Paoli, Pennsylvania, is a small town with a local suburban hospital. Patients at Paoli Memorial recover in a row of rooms facing a small courtyard. In the early 1980s, a researcher visited the hospital and gathered information about patients who had undergone gallbladder surgery between 1972 and 1981. Gallbladder surgery is routine and generally uncomplicated, but most patients in the 1970s recovered for a week or two before they returned home. Some took longer to recover than others, and the researcher wondered whether subtle differences between the hospital rooms might explain this discrepancy. Some of the rooms on one side of the hospital faced onto a brick wall, whereas others slightly farther down the corridor faced onto a small stand of deciduous trees. Apart from their differing views, the rooms were identical.

People who are exposed to natural scenes aren’t just happier or more comfortable; the very building blocks of their physiological well-being also respond positively.

When the researcher looked at their recovery charts, he was struck by how much better the patients fared when their rooms looked out onto the trees rather than the brick wall. On average, those who faced the brick wall needed an extra day to recover before returning home. They were also far more depressed and experienced more pain. On average, their nurses recorded four negative notes per patient — comments like “needs much encouragement” and “upset and crying” — whereas those with a view of the trees warranted negative notes only once during their stay. Meanwhile, very few of the patients who looked out onto the trees required more than a single dose of strong painkillers during the middle part of their stay, whereas those facing the wall required two or even three doses. Apart from their view, the patients were very similar, and they had received identical treatment at the hospital. Each patient with a view of the trees was matched with a patient whose room looked out onto the brick wall, so that their age, gender, weight, status as smokers or nonsmokers, and attending doctors and nurses were controlled as tightly as possible. Since those factors were controlled, the only explanation was that patients who looked out at a stand of trees recovered more quickly because they were lucky enough to occupy rooms with a natural view.

These results are surprising because the effects are so large — much larger than the effects of many other targeted treatment interventions. By some measures, patients who gazed out at a natural scene were four times better off than those who faced a wall. Strong results usually inspire skepticism, but plenty of studies have shown similar effects. In one of those studies, two environmental psychologists approached 337 sets of parents who lived with their children in five rural communities in upstate New York. They scored the “naturalness” of each family’s home, awarding points for natural views, indoor plants, and grass-covered yards. Some of the children had experienced little stress growing up, rarely fighting or getting punished at school, but others were bullied and struggled to get along with their parents. When the researchers measured the happiness and well-being of the students in their study, they noticed that those who had experienced hardship were distressed and lacking in self-esteem — except when they lived in more natural environments. The presence of nature seemed to buffer them against the stresses that hampered other children who lived in predominantly man-made environments.

In an even more direct test, researchers asked a hundred sets of parents with children who suffered from attention deficit disorder how their children responded to different playtime activities. Children who have ADD are often restless and distracted. But the parents reported that green activities — like fishing and soccer — left their children in a far more relaxed, focused state. It wasn’t that the children who spent time outside were merely happier, more likely to interact with friends, or more active — in fact, those who sat indoors, in a room with natural views, were calmer than children who played outside in man-made environments that were devoid of grass and trees.

What is it that sets natural environments apart from others? Why shouldn’t a quiet streetscape have the same effect as a quiet natural landscape, for example? Architecture has its own beauty, and some people prefer urban environments to natural environments, so why does nature alone seem to have such powerful restorative effects? The answer is that natural environments have a unique constellation of features that sets them apart from man-made locations. Just before the dawn of the twentieth century, William James, one of the early giants of modern psychology, explained that human attention comes in two different forms. The first is directed attention, which enables us to focus on demanding tasks like driving and writing. Reading a book also requires directed attention, and you’ll notice that you start to zone out when you’re tired, or when you’ve been reading for hours at a time. The second form is involuntary attention, which comes easily and doesn’t require any mental effort at all. As James explained, “Strange things, moving things, wild animals, bright things, pretty things, words, blows, blood, etc., etc., etc.” all attract our attention involuntarily.

Forests, streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans demand very little from us.

Nature restores mental functioning in the same way that food and water restore bodies. The business of everyday life — dodging traffic, making decisions and judgment calls, interacting with strangers — is depleting, and what man-made environments take away from us, nature gives back. There’s something mystical and, you might say, unscientific about this claim, but its heart actually rests in what psychologists call attention restoration theory, or ART. According to ART, urban environments are draining because they force us to direct our attention to specific tasks (e.g., avoiding the onslaught of traffic) and grab our attention dynamically, compelling us to “look here!” before telling us to instead “look over there!” These demands are draining — and they’re also absent in natural environments. Forests, streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans demand very little from us, though they’re still engaging, ever changing, and attention-grabbing. The difference between natural and urban landscapes is how they command our attention. While man-made landscapes bombard us with stimulation, their natural counterparts give us the chance to think as much or as little as we’d like, and the opportunity to replenish exhausted mental resources.

Healers in Japan and Germany have long heralded the benefits of natural therapy, recognizing that humankind has spent 99.99 percent of its history living in natural environments. The Japanese version of natural therapy is shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, which requires that patients walk for extended periods through forested areas while inhaling woodsy scents that complement the sylvan atmosphere. German Kneipp therapy similarly requires that patients perform physical exercises in forest clearings. These alternative therapies aren’t just idle cultural quirks, and researchers have found that patients enjoy a wide range of benefits. Among others, compared with people who walked through urban areas, shinrin-yoku patients had lower blood pressure, lower pulse rates, and lower cortisol levels, a marker of reduced stress. People who are exposed to natural scenes aren’t just happier or more comfortable; the very building blocks of their physiological well-being also respond positively to natural therapy.

Natural environments promote calmness and well-being in part because they expose people to low levels of stress. These stressful experiences are tame in comparison with the trials and tribulations that most of us associate with stress — workplace drama, traffic jams, and wailing children on international plane trips. Humans thrive with some stimulation, but we’re incapable of coping with extreme stressors, which push us from the comfortable realm of eustress (good stress) to the danger zone of distress (bad stress).

 

Interesting locations, including busy natural environments, are so beneficial that physicians have begun to suggest that they might offer a cheap and effective way to lessen the effects of certain cancers. One team of researchers showed that women who were recently diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer were far more capable of completing challenging mental tasks when they immersed themselves in natural environments for two hours each week for approximately two months. The interventions began when the women were diagnosed, and continued beyond surgery into the recovery period. Like many distressed patients who begin to battle life-threatening illnesses, the women struggled to complete difficult mental tasks shortly after they were diagnosed. Those who spent time in natural environments improved progressively, regaining their capacity to devote attention to demanding mental puzzles. Meanwhile, the patients who were not exposed to the nature-based intervention tended to struggle with similar tasks throughout the test period.

Attention is obviously a long way from recovery, but patients with sharper minds often respond better to treatment, stick to their treatment regimens, and behave more proactively during recovery. Of course, nature is not a panacea, but it’s an inexpensive and effective tool for dampening the impact of illness, and dulling the intrusion of everyday stress.