Thursday
Jun132013

7 Ways Sharing Can Make You Happy

--by Jill SuttieOriginal Story, May 21, 2013 

Though it might seem that there’s not much in the way of silver linings in these dark economic times, there is at least one: as people learn to make do with less, they are discovering the many benefits of sharing. Car-sharing, babysitting cooperatives, and tool lending are just a few of the many creative ways people are eschewing ownership and learning to share the goods and services they need. But sharing can do more than just save you a buck. New psychological research suggests that sharing fosters trust and cooperation in the community and contributes to personal well-being. Here are some of the ways that sharing can boost your happiness levels and help your community thrive:

1. Sharing involves reciprocal giving, and the research is full of the benefits of giving, from greater physical health to personal happiness. A 2008 study by Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton and colleagues showed that giving a sum of money away to someone else lifted well-being more that spending it on oneself. In his book Why Good Things Happen to Good People, Stephen Post, a professor of preventative medicine at Stony Brook University, writes that giving to others has been shown to increase health benefits in people with chronic illness, including HIV and multiple sclerosis. And Sonja Lyubomirsky, a happiness researcher at the University of California, Riverside, argues that giving can become contagious, moving from the personal to one’s community. “Being kind and generous leads you to perceive others more positively and more charitably,” she writes in The How of Happiness, and this “fosters a heightened sense of interdependence and cooperation in your social community.”

The molecular structure of oxytocin.

2. Sharing can cause the release of oxytocin, a hormone that increases feelings of well-being.Paul Zak, founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University, studies the effects of oxytocin in social exchanges. His lab has found that when people share and experience gratitude, or any sense of connection, their brains will release the hormone oxytocin. Though more commonly associated with breast-feeding, oxytocin is also known to relieve stress, improve immune function, and foster trust in human interactions, all of which contribute to greater well-being and happiness. In laboratory studies, Zak has found that a dose of oxytocin will cause people to give more generously and to feel more empathic towards others they come across, with “symptoms” lasting up to two hours. And those people on an “oxytocin high” can potentially jumpstart a “virtuous circle, where one person’s generous behavior triggers another’s,” he says. Surprisingly, even when sharing involves an exchange of money or where communication takes place over the internet––a common situation with commercial sharing sites––oxytocin is still released. In one study, Zak found that 10 minutes of tweeting induced a spike in oxytocin and a reduction of stress hormones in his subject, a reaction similar to what one might experience during in-person communication. Many sharing sites, he argues, do double duty, connecting people on-line and then having them meet in person to exchange goods or services. “This suggests why sharing is so ‘sticky,’” says Zak. “It makes us feel good in two ways.”

Credit: Rishi Menon

3. Sharing builds trust, and trust is highly correlated with happiness. When people share personal possessions with a stranger, they are taking a chance on that person’s trustworthiness––hoping the person will pay on time, return items in good condition, etc. If expectations of both parties are met––which, fortunately, usually happens in share situations, according to Paul Zak––trust will naturally develop. This experience of trust leads to more personal happiness, according to John F. Helliwell, Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of British Columbia. Helliwell, who studies the social contexts of happiness, has found that “trustworthiness and trust…appear independently and robustly related to happiness and life satisfaction”, and as we experience trust in more domains in our lives, the happier we are. In fact, trust is so important for happiness that when researchers at the University of Cambridge looked at which countries in the European Union scored highest on measures of well-being, they found that it wasn’t the countries one might expect––the ones with great weather, beautiful beaches, or the best cuisine––but the countries where there are high levels of trust among the people. “Trust is a prerequisite for happiness,” writes Eric Weiner inThe Geography of Bliss. “Trust not only of your government, of institutions, but trust of your neighbors.”

 

the dance

Credit: Leanda Xavian

4. Sharing increases positive social interaction with others, which can prolong your life. Sharing can bring people together who in other circumstances might not meet. According to Paul Zak, humans have an innate need for social connection, and participating in sharing sites like SnapGoods or Groupon can help people broaden their base of friends and acquaintances. “Sharing helps us to reach out to others,” he says. “It’s an excuse to engage with someone whom you’re helping at the same time.” And research has shown that having positive social interactions is central to good mental and physical health. In a 2010 meta-analysis of previous research, Julianne Holt-Lunstad of Brigham Young University and colleagues found that having stronger social ties and less social isolation significantly prolonged one’s life. As researcher John Cacioppo writes in his book Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, “The more extensive the reciprocal altruism born of social connection….the greater the advance toward health, wealth, and happiness.”

 

5. Sharing invokes gratitude, and gratitude is highly correlated with happiness. Not only is giving beneficial, but when one feels grateful for the exchange––a natural consequence of receiving help in the form of sharing––this also increases personal happiness. Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough, co-directors of the Research Project on Gratitude and Thankfulness, found that teaching college students to “count their blessings” and cultivate gratitude helped them to exercise more, be more optimistic, and feel better about their lives overall. Barbara Fredrickson, one of the pioneer researchers on the roots of happiness, suggests that cultivating gratitude in every day life is one of the keys to increasing personal happiness. “When you express your gratitude in words or actions, you not only boost your own positivity but [other people’s] as well,” writes Fredrickson. “And in the process you reinforce their kindness and strengthen your bond to one another.”

 

6. Sharing can decrease the disparity between “the haves” and the “have nots,” which increases well-being. When resources are shared, more people can get access to the goods and servicesthey need without having to spend a lot of money, and that can reduce economic inequality. In a 2009 study of 71 countries by Economics Professor Friedel Bolle and colleagues, researchers found that the highest levels of happiness are found in countries where the gap between rich and poor is the smallest. In his book The Empathic Civilization, Jeremy Rifkin writes, “Living in a society where the essentials for a comfortable life are met but where the gap in wealth and income between people is relatively narrow is likely to produce the happiest citizens,” because a more even distribution of wealth leads to “a furthering of selfhood, greater connectivity, the extension of empathy and expansion of consciousness.” Though sharing would have to spread far and wide to seriously impact the inequality of wealth one finds in the USA, it certainly moves us in that direction.

Credit: Shira Golding

7. Sharing involves cooperation, and cooperation has been essential to human flourishing. The urge to cooperate goes way back in human evolution, according to primatologist Franz de Waal, author ofThe Age of Empathy. Early humans banded together for hunting, collecting food, caring for offspring, and warning off predators, which increased their chances of survival. Even Charles Darwin, often credited with promoting “a survival of the fittest” worldview, wrote extensively on the benefits of cooperation in the animal world. We humans care about the welfare of others almost from the day we are born. As Alison Gopnik of UC Berkeley writes in The Philosophical Baby, researchers have found that even children as young as 14 months old will try to lend a hand to an adult without being prompted if they perceive that the adult needs help. Sharing and cooperation are natural aspects of human behavior, and the more we engage in them, the more we are being congruent with our biological inheritance.

So, if you want to have better connections with others and contribute toward a better society, start sharing what you can with others. You might find yourself benefitting from a big dose of happiness in the process.

 

Related articles on Shareable:

Six ways to start sharing 

Top ten ways sharing can save you money 

Top 20 how to share posts 

 

 


This article was copied from Shareable -- an online magazine that tells the story of sharing that covers people, places, and projects bringing a shareable world to life. On their site, you can also read more articles by Jill Suttie.
Saturday
Feb162013

Journal with Compassion

By Rodger Sorrow CL Trainer

If we want to reap the benefits of Nonviolent Communication, it requires that we practice, practice, practice.  My three favorite strategies for practice or increasing fluency and building skills are empathy buddies, journaling and practice groups.  Journaling has the advantage of being the one that we can do almost anytime and anywhere by our self. 

Journaling is a way to practice and deepen our self-empathy.  We can slow the process down, notice our jackals and translate them to needs.  With practice we become quicker and the process easier to connect to our selves.  There are a variety of formats that work well and my preference is that jackals, observations, feelings, needs and requests are included. 

This is a list of possible topics or areas to explore with journaling.  Enjoy the practice.

1.   Gratitude; noticing anything that brings me joy

2.   Appreciation for myself

3.   Moments of stuckness

4.   Moments of withdrawal or shut down

5.   Moments of anger

6.   Moments of discomfort

7.   Moments of uncertainty

8.   Moments when my heart is shut down

9.   Moments when I’m not present

10. What’s wrong with me?  This would be judgments of self

11. What other people do that I hate.  These are my judgments of others.

12. Fears; What I’m afraid other people think about me.

13. With-holds; this is those things that I am afraid to express to others

14. Regrets, this a list of those things I’ve said or done and wish I hadn’t.

15. The Beauty and Living Energy of a Need

16. Celebrations

17. Resentment

18. Mourning – acknowledging needs not met

19. Conversations from the past with a parent or loved one that aren’t complete

20. A recent Conflict

21. The feelings and needs of someone I have been mad at

22. Appreciation and gratitude for someone I want more connection with

23. Learning; what insight I gained

Monday
Feb112013

This is Your Brain in Love: Scenes from the Stanford Love Competition

in LifeStanfordTechnology | February 16th, 2012 13 Comments

Can one person experience love more deeply than another? That’s whatThe Stanford Center for Cognitive and Neurobiological Imaging and filmmaker Brent Hoff set out to understand when they hosted the 1st Annual Love Competition. Seven contestants, ranging from 10 to 75 years of age, took part. And they each spent five minutes in an fMRI machine, thinking deeply about love and allowing the imaging technology to measure activity in their dopamine, serotonin and ocytocin/vasopressin pathways. If you think this sounds unromantic, you’ll want to reserve judgment. Though science may be the explicit focus here, the film has a touching human dimension to it.

The Love Competition was made as part of Wholphin, the short film quarterly published by McSweeney’s. You can subscribe to Wholphin to find more films.

Wednesday
Dec122012

Practical Neurobiology

Earlier this year I began studying Neurobiology and got completely fascinated and enthralled by the sheer magnitude of what our brains are capable of and how maleable they are. One day in late August I read 2 things which particularly impacted me: "each time we think a thought, we create a neural pathway" and "One reason we can change our brains simply by imagining is that, from a neuroscientific point of view, imagining an act and doing it are not as different as they sound"*.

I was stunned! At that time I was feeling particularly discouraged about my life and noticed how frequently I was thinking some version of the thought "I'm not OK"! Imagine the deep groove I was creating as, over and over, I thought the same thought!

An inspiration came to me: what if I used my imagination/visualizing abilities to change old, life alienated beliefs?

For several years now, I've had a morning visualization practice so I decided to add a new dimension to my daily routine. I began "seeing" limited beliefs, represented by the neural pathway, then sending light/love to it and noticng what happened to the pathway. Typically it begins to change and transform, sometimes I see my child self beginning in a constricted posture and then moving to a much more open and alive posture.  

This in itself is amazing to me, being able to "see" my neural pathways; what's even more amazing is that very soon, within a week or so, I began to notice I was responding differently to what previously would have stimulated anger or pain inside me. I was getting triggered less frequently with less intensity and much shorter "recovery" time.

As an example, I was in Best Buy, and had an experience that was so different from the past that I cried when I came out of the store! I had gone online to search for a recording device for an iphone (I wanted a better quality sound than with the built in mike). I found a product that plugged into the phone. When I got to Best Buy, I asked the salesman if they had this product, he responded that he'd never heard of such a thing!

In the past I would have immediately gone into jackal thinking "he thinks I don't know what I'm talking about, he thinks I'm stupid, he thinks he knows better than me" etc. This time I didn't go there! I told him that I'd found it on their website but that first I'd found it on Walmart's website and suggested we look. We found it and he was really appreciative about learning something new! I was blown away by how differently I responded and that I changed my behaviour without any conscious intent.  Ah, the sweet joy of unconscious competence!

If you'd like to learn more or make an apt for a session, please contact me at 805 687 6961, 403 926 0242 or  annewalton43@gmail.com

I look forward to connecting with you! Anne

*From Norman Doidge's "The Brain that Changes Itself"

Monday
Sep242012

Three Insights from the Cutting Edge of Compassion Research

Three Insights from the Cutting Edge of Compassion Research

By Emiliana R. Simon-Thomas | September 7, 2012 | 5 comments

A recent gathering of compassion researchers reveals new discoveries about how and why humans help each other.

Several weeks ago, a who’s who of thinkers and researchers convened at a conference in the mountain town of Telluride, Colorado, to explore the science of compassion. Their discussions revealed growing consensus that the biological, physical, and behavioral properties of compassion—the feeling we get when confronted with suffering, infused with the urge to help—have evolved to help us survive.

The conference—called The Science of Compassion: Origins, Measures and Interventions—encouraged rich cross-disciplinary collaboration and promised to accelerate the pace and progress of scientific inquiry into compassion. (The conference was organized by Stanford’sCenter for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education; the GGSC was a co-sponsor.) Here are three key insights I took away from the four days of discussion.

1. Compassion is push-pull

It turns out that feeling safe is a precondition to activating biological systems that promote compassion. In the face of another person’s suffering, the biological mechanisms that drive our nurturing and caregiving can only come online if our more habitual “self-preservation” and “vigilance-to-threat” systems (e.g. fear, distress, anxiety, hostility) are not monopolizing the spotlight.

In the other direction, having a genetic disposition and life history that’s led to a strong sense of social support, trust, and safety around people puts your “self-preservation” impulses at ease and opens the door for you to feel compassion.

How, then, can we relax vigilant, self-preservation systems so that our compassionate biology can more readily get into gear? University of Wisconsin researcher Helen Weng suggests the secret lies in the brain’s frontal lobes, which her studies show do a better job of calming alert signals from the amygdala (the brain’s almond shaped threat detector) when people complete a brief course in compassion.

This means that we can actually train our brains for compassion. When Charles Raison, another presenter, and his colleagues at Emory University also evaluated the effects of a compassion training course, they found lower stress hormones in the blood and saliva of people who spent the most time doing the compassion exercises.

But what’s in compassion training, one might ask? How does it boost the frontal lobes and attenuate stress hormones? Read on…

2. Compassion hinges upon mindfulness

The regular practice of mindfulness—moment to moment awareness of your body and mind—turns out to be a common theme across programs for training compassion, including those based at the University of Wisconsin, Emory University, CCARE, the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, a consortium of clinicians in the United Kingdom, and, of course, 2,000 years of Buddhist tradition.

The opposite of mindfulness is sometimes referred to as “mindwandering”—reflexively thinking about what has happened, might have happened, or could or should happen. This very common non-mindful habit has been shown by Harvard researchers Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert to decrease happiness. Judson Brewer, a psychiatrist at Yale University, has shown that mindwandering involves a predictable brain area (the posterior cingulate cortex), and that people can phase out activation in this brain area by practicing mindfulness.

Compassion, data suggest, comes more readily if people can be more openly aware of the present moment as it is occurring, particularly in the presence of other’s suffering, without reflexive thinking or judgment. (For more on the links between compassion and mindfulness, stay tuned for details about the GGSC’s conference on the relationship between the two, to be held in March of 2013.)

3. Brains like helping the group more than helping the self

Studies using optogenetics, a technique for making populations of living brain cells fire, and fMRI, which measures how much oxygen neurons are using, show that the brain’s pleasure systems also play an important role in compassion.

For example, extending compassion toward others biases the brain to glean more positive information from the world, something called the “carryover effect.” Compassionate action—such as giving some of one’s own earnings to charity—also activates pleasure circuits, which some people call “the warm glow.”

In the words of Dr. Jamil Zaki, a professor of psychology at Stanford, “humans are the champions of kindness.” But why? Zaki’s brain imaging data shows that being kind to others registers in the brain as more like eating chocolate than like fulfilling an obligation to do what’s right (e.g., eating brussel sprouts). Brains find it more valuable to do what’s in the interest of the group than to do what’s most profitable to the self.

 


In his keynote address, Richie Davidson, the director of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin, highlighted the legacy of philosophical thought—now corroborated by a growing body of research—suggesting that compassion is both fundamental and beneficial to human survival. Davidson advocated that academia—and all workplaces, for that matter—provide facilities and paid time for training compassion. When he shared a photo of the Tibetan-Buddhist-inspired onsite meditation facility at his center and discussed their “time off for retreat” policy, the crowd cheered enthusiastically.

While speakers like Davidson might have been academics, their insights can be applied to many domains of life—from marriages and neighborhoods to workplaces and schools—to spread compassion well beyond the mountains of Telluride.