Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mid Life Crisis: An Outdated Myth

Mid-life Crisis: An Outdated Myth?
by Clara Moskowitz

The stereotype that many middle-aged people get depressed and must perk up their lives with sports cars and affairs may be an outdated myth, scientists say. In fact, these days many people often feel more fulfilled in their middle and later years, data shows.
The term "mid-life crisis" was coined 40 years ago by psychologist Elliot Jacques, who reasoned that people's quality of life generally declines after age 35 (at the time, the average lifespan was about 70 years). Jacques suggested that some extreme reactions to looming mortality were to be expected at around this time of life.
But psychologist Carlo Strenger of Israel's Tel Aviv University says that's no longer true, and that studies show mid-life can be one of the happiest periods of people's lives.
"At this point we have surveys of around 1,500 [middle-aged] people," Strenger told LiveScience. "Most of them actually say that they are better off and happier and more balanced than they were when they were 20 years younger. It's quite surprising."
Though the research has so far been confined to Western cultures, Strenger thinks the same trends, as well as similar stereotypes, may apply to other cultures.Strenger says that common notions of what mid-life is supposed to be like are stuck in the past, when life-expectancy was lower, people's health, especially in later years, was much worse, and there was less emphasis on education and self-awareness. "People are so used to thinking of mid-life as basically a period of loss that it often does become a self-fulfilling prophecy," he said. 'But some people, you really see that they begin to blossom, they begin to be more fruitful. They do things on a larger scale." Nowadays, when people are in their 40s and 50s, they have matured, learned to take some of life's hiccups in stride, learned more about themselves and the world around them, and so are uniquely poised to take advantage of the next phase of their lives.
"When you are 50, statistically you have as many adult years ahead of you as you have behind you," Strenger said. "It really takes time to internalize what that really means. It would mean that this whole lifetime that you have behind you, you have ahead of you, and the question is what you want to do with it."
In fact, this may be the time for many people to finally tackle projects or dreams that they've been putting off. They might have a better chance of succeeding because their choices will be based on knowledge and experience, rather than youthful blind ambition.
"Give yourself the chance to truly reassess your choices and to see how you can now use your self-knowledge and live a much more meaningful life than you've lived before. Mid-life can be the moment where you can truly realize your dreams because you know yourself much better."

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Night Journey

I pause in the night
And listen to the sounds
That call me to take a journey.

The heartbeat that moves the earth
Is the same that fills my body
With the resonance of a deep drum,
Beating and beating.

My breathing takes on the rhythm
Of a song that moves me closer to my destination
Through time and space and yet to travel so far and not move
Defies my own beliefs and confirms them at the same time.

Like the child who plays in a world of make believe,
I venture into a place where I can create, destroy and change,
But above all observe.

It feels like spirits gently guide me
And I am given the opportunity to experience
Each breath like it was my first. Maybe on some level it is.

With my wife at my side I reach for her hand
In silence and I invite her to join me.
Immediately the mysterious becomes the obvious as we both sit
Underneath a darkened sky,

Basking underneath the stars.
I close my eyes and smile with contentment
Of this moment, this place, this life.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Researchers Identify Universal Emotions

Here's a piece of research that might leave you tickled: laughter is a universal language, according to new research. The study, conducted with people from Britain and Namibia, suggests that basic emotions such as amusement, anger, fear and sadness are shared by all humans.

Everybody shares the vast majority of their genetic makeup with each other, meaning that most of our physical characteristics are similar. We all share other attributes, too, such as having complex systems of communication to convey our thoughts, feelings and the intentions of those around us, and we are all able to express a wide range of emotions through language, sounds, facial expressions and posture. However, the way that we communicate is not always the same - for example, people from different cultures may not understand the same words and phrases or body language.

In an attempt to find out if certain emotions are universal, researchers led by Professor Sophie Scott from UCL (University College London) have studied whether the sounds associated with emotions such as happiness, anger, fear, sadness, disgust and surprise are shared amongst different cultures. The results of their study, funded by the Wellcome Trust, Economic and Social Research Council, University of London Central Research Fund and UCL, are published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They provide further evidence that such emotions form a set of basic, evolved functions that are shared by all humans.

Dr Disa Sauter, studied people from Britain and from the Himba, a group of over 20,000 people living in small settlements in northern Namibia as part of her PhD research at UCL. In the very remote settlements, where the data for the present study were collected, the individuals live completely traditional lives, with no electricity, running water, formal education, or any contact with people from other groups.

Participants in the study listened to a short story based around a particular emotion, for example, how a person is very sad because a relative of theirs had died recently. At the end of the story they heard two sounds - such as crying and of laughter - and were asked to identify which of the two sounds reflected the emotion being expressed in the story. The British group heard sounds from the Himba and vice versa.

"People from both groups seemed to find the basic emotions - anger, fear, disgust, amusement, sadness and surprise - the most easily recognizable," says Professor Scott, a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow. "This suggests that these emotions - and their vocalizations - are similar across all human cultures."

The findings support previous research which showed that facial expressions of these basic emotions are recognized across a wide range of cultures. Despite the considerable variation in human facial musculature, the facial muscles that are essential to produce the basic emotions are constant across individuals, suggesting that specific facial muscle structures have likely evolved to allow individuals to produce universally recognizable emotional expressions.

One positive sound was particularly well recognized by both groups of participants: laughter. Listeners from both cultures agreed that laughter signified amusement, exemplified as the feeling of being tickled.

"Tickling makes everyone laugh - and not just humans," says Dr Disa Sauter, who tested the Himba and English participants. "We see this happen in other primates such as chimpanzees, as well as other mammals. This suggests that laughter has deep evolutionary roots, possibly originating as part of playful communication between young infants and mothers.

"Our study supports the idea that laughter is universally associated with being tickled and reflects the feeling of enjoyment of physical play."

Previous studies have shown that smiling is universally recognized as a signal of happiness, raising the possibility that laughter is the auditory equivalent of smiles, both communicating a state of enjoyment. However, explains Professor Scott, it is possible that laughter and smiles are in fact quite different types of signals, with smiles functioning as a signal of generally positive social intent, whereas laughter may be a more specific emotional signal, originating in play.

Not all positive sounds were easily recognizable to both cultures, however. Some, such as the sound of pleasure or achievement appear not to be shared across cultures, but are instead specific to a particular group or region. The researchers believe this may be due to the function of positive emotions, which facilitate social cohesion between group members. Such bonding behaviour may be restricted to in-group members with whom social connections are built and maintained. However, it may not be desirable to share such signals with individuals who are not members of one's own cultural group.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Lessons from Geese

As each goose flaps its wings it creates uplift for the birds that follow. By flying in a V formation, the whole flock adds 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.
People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.

When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone. It quickly moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it.
If we have as much sense as a goose we stay in formation with those headed where we want to go. We are willing to accept their help and give our help to others.

When the lead goose tires, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies to the point position.
It pays to take turns doing the hard work tasks and sharing leadership. As with geese, people are interdependent on each other’s skills, capabilities and unique arrangements of gifts, talents or resources.

The geese flying in formation honk to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.
We need to make sure our honking is encouraging. In groups where there is encouragement (to stand by ones heart or core values and encourage the heart and core of others) is the quality of honking we seek.

When a goose gets sick, wounded or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again. Then they launch out with another formation or catch up with the flock.
If we have as much sense as geese, we will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Humor in the Mist of Crisis

For almost 27 years I worked as a therapist, working with children, families and couples. During this time I have heard many stories from people involving disappointment, pain, depression, anger, etc. but the universe has a sense of humor and often presented itself during my sessions with my clients. For example, one evening I was meeting with a family that was being torn apart by the 14 year old daughter’s behavior which consisted of stealing, some drug abuse, and failing school grades. The parents, especially the father wanted the daughter to be sent to a boarding school and the mother as well as the daughter expressed anger and defiance to the father. During the peak of this heated session, the power in the building went off and all the lights went black. The room we were in was small and had no window so both the parents and the daughter got up to trying to find the door when they all ended up bumping in to each other and eventually just hung on to each other, at that moment the lights came back on and this family had their arms around each other for a moment just stared at each other and then started laughing. I just remained seated and allowed them that moment. The energy in that room changed instantly and when the family sat back down the father spoke about his love and concern for his daughter and as he spoke the daughter reach her arm out to him and touch him as he spoke. If the lights had not gone out there would have been a very chance this young girl would have either be sent to a boarding school or worst, continued her defiant behaviors and continued to be self destructive. But thanks to a failed breaker circuit, a father and daughter found each other again in the darkness and I’m happy to say continued to have a healthy father daughter relationship there after.

Some of the most profound insights about ourselves and others comes from humor. It as if we allow those defenses such as anger, fear, disappointment, or envy is released by the power of laughter. I have seen so many changes in people who allowed themselves to see the humor in their lives. We take so many things seriously, we worry, become obsessed, even neurotic at times over things that usually could be resolved if we just take the time to stop, breath and think it through. We are emotional creatures trapped in our own constraints of anxiety and worry, yet we have the capacity to laugh and see humor in ourselves. Erica Long once said, "Humor is one of the most serious tools we have for dealing with impossible situations." Humor allows us to keep things in perspective. When we immerse ourselves in a crisis, we are unable to differentiate the feelings about the crisis from the internal feelings of personal identity.