12 Questions to Test Your Level of Self-Connection

We often try hard to stay connected to others (e.g., to friends and family). But how do we stay connected to ourselves? Self-connection is a new, important concept, one which I will discuss in the rest of this post. To do so, I describe a recent study by Klussman and colleagues on the development and validation of a new measure called the self-connection scale.

What is self-connection?

Self-connection has three components. These consist of self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-alignment.

  • Self-awareness: Awareness of one’s internal experiences, thoughts, emotions, sensations, preferences, values, intuitions, resources, goals, etc.
  • Self-acceptance: Full acknowledgment and acceptance, without judgment, of self-relevant characteristics and experiences. And seeing them as part of us and belonging to us.
  • Self-alignment: Using self-knowledge to behave in ways that authentically reflect oneself and fulfill one’s psychological needs (e.g., autonomy).

All three components are required for self-connection. For instance, awareness without acceptance may result in self-loathing and self-harm.

Before we continue, let me note that self-connection is different from similar concepts such as authenticity and mindfulness. Authenticity is only one element of it (i.e., self-alignment).

And mindfulness is closer in meaning to a combination of self-awareness and self-acceptance, but not self-alignment. Let us take a brief look at the research by Klussman and colleagues on the measurement of self-connection.

Investigating the validity and reliability of the self-connection scale

Study 1

Sample: 308 participants; 49 percent female; average age of 38 years old; 80 percent white; 45 percent with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Measures

  • Self-connection: A pool of 29 items
  • Authenticity: Authenticity Scale
  • Mindfulness: Cognitive and Affective Mindfulness Scale-Revised
  • Self-concept clarity: Self-Concept Clarity Scale
  • Flourishing: Flourishing Scale
  • Meaning: Presence of Meaning subscale of the Meaning in Life Questionnaire

Study 2

Sample: 164 participants; 39 percent female; average age of 36 years old; 77 percent white; 47 percent with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Measures

  • Self-connection: The Self-Connection Scale developed in the previous investigation
  • Life satisfaction: “In general, how satisfied are you with your life?”
  • Positive and negative affect: Positive and Negative Affect Schedule
  • Anxiety and depression: Patient Health Questionnaire for Depression and Anxiety (PHQ-4)
  • CDC health measures: CDC Healthy Days Questionnaire
  • Health behaviors: Preventive Health Behaviors Scale

Study 3

Sample: 992 participants; 56 percent female; average age of 34 years old; 72 percent white; 52 percent with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Measures

  • Anxiety and depression: PHQ-4
  • Eudaimonic well-being: Flourishing Scale and Presence of Meaning subscale of the Meaning in Life Questionnaire
  • Hedonic well-being: Positive and Negative Affect Schedule
  • Self-connection: The Self-Connection Scale
  • Self-acceptance: The self-acceptance subscale of Ryff’s Psychological Well-Being Scale
  • Self-compassion: The Self-Compassion Scale-Short Form

Results

The Self-Connection Scale demonstrated good reliability and validity. For instance, analysis of data showed it was related to similar constructs—authenticity, mindfulness, self-compassion, self-acceptance, self-concept clarity, hedonic and eudaimonic well-being—yet distinct from them.

In addition, the factor structure of the scale was confirmed.

Testing your self-connection

To determine your level of self-connection using the scale developed in the study, follow the instructions below.

Indicate your agreement with the items from the Self-Connection Scale—whether you strongly disagree (1), disagree (2), somewhat disagree (3), neither agree nor disagree (4), somewhat agree (5), agree (6), or strongly agree (7). The numbers in parentheses are the scores associated with each response. Note, Item 4 should be reverse-scored.

  1. I have a deep understanding of myself.
  2. It is easy for me to identify and understand how I am feeling in any given moment.
  3. I know myself well.
  4. I am often surprised by how little I understand myself.
  5. I try not to judge myself.
  6. When I find out things about myself that I don’t necessarily like, I try to accept those things.
  7. Even when I don’t like a feeling or belief that I have, I try to accept it as a part of myself.
  8. I can easily forgive myself for mistakes I have made.
  9. I find small ways to ensure that my life truly reflects the things that are important to me.
  10. I spend time making sure that I am acting in a way that is a reflection of my true self.
  11. I try to make sure that my actions are consistent with my values.
  12. I try to make sure that my relationships with other people reflect my values.

So, how did you do? Note: The first four scale items are related to self-awareness, the next four to self-acceptance, and the last four to self-alignment.

A high score suggests a high level of self-connection. A low score suggests you are either not self-aware, not accepting of yourself, or do not act in concert with your feelings, beliefs, values, goals, etc.

Needless to say, a high score is desirable. Indeed, research by the authors shows that self-connection is associated with a number of positive outcomes. These include positive emotions, life satisfaction, flourishing, clarity in life, and meaning in life.

People who are disconnected from themselves are more likely to experience negative emotions (e.g., sadness, anger, confusion, stress) and feel their life is unsatisfactory and has no purpose.

Takeaway

Many of us commit to staying in touch with friends and coworkers, current events, the newest trends, and the latest cutting-edge technology, but rarely commit to staying in touch with ourselves—our changing feelings, sensations, thoughts, inner resources, goals, etc.

If you belong to this group and are disconnected from yourself, there are ways to remedy the situation. Simply pause a few times during the day and check how self-connected you feel. Ask: In the last little while…

  • Have I been self-aware?
  • Have I been self-accepting?
  • Has my behavior reflected my true self?

Commit to getting to know yourself better and becoming your best friend. It may change your life.

By: Arash Emamzadeh

Arash Emamzadeh attended the University of British Columbia in Canada, where he studied genetics and psychology. He has also done graduate work in clinical psychology and neuropsychology in U.S.

Source: 12 Questions to Test Your Level of Self-Connection | Psychology Today

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Empathy Vs. Sympathy: How To Connect The Right Way

Providing comfort and building an emotional connection with someone who is struggling can be difficult. There are two main ways to approach a situation like this, either with sympathy or empathy.

Having sympathy for someone means you feel sorry for them and their predicament. On the other hand, empathy involves putting yourself in their shoes and understanding why they feel a certain way.

Though both approaches may be well-meaning, empathy is generally considered to be the better option when approaching someone who is going through a rough time.

What is empathy?

Empathy is the ability to acknowledge and share the feelings of another person about what they are going through.

“The goal of empathy is to not fix the problem, it is to let the person know they are not alone,” says Nicole Hollingshead, PhD, a psychologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

When comforting an individual, someone who is being empathetic may say the following:

  • “That must have been painful for you. I’m sorry you were put in that position.”
  • “It’s normal for you to feel that way, I know you’ve put in so much time and effort on this.”
  • “I get what you mean, it must be so frustrating to deal with that again.”

Empathy tends to be positively related to prosocial or altruistic behavior, which describes actions that are intended to benefit other people or society as a whole. A small 2019 study found that empathy predicts the willingness to make a charitable donation. A 2021 study also suggested that empathy is a vital motivator in helping other people.

What is sympathy?

Sympathy is the feeling of pity toward the misfortune of another person and treating their suffering as something to be solved.

A person who is being sympathetic might say the following to someone who is going through a rough time:

  • “I’m sorry to hear about what happened. You should just move on and find someone better.”
  • “Don’t worry, I’m sure things will work out eventually.”
  • “That’s really sad, but at least you still have another pet.”

Sympathetic statements can minimize a person’s feelings and may make them feel like they should hide their pain and suffering.

“Although a sympathetic phrase may be well-meaning, in trying to alleviate another person’s suffering, we are implicitly telling them to ‘hurry up’ with their pain or to ‘get over it,'” says Hollingshead.

Empathy vs. sympathy

When it comes to consoling someone who is in pain and trying to connect with them, empathy is a better approach than sympathy.

“Empathy is the ability to understand and to be able to share someone’s feelings, while sympathy is more so feeling sorry for a person’s misfortune,” says Latasha Perkins, MD, a family physician at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.

It’s important to understand the differences between empathy and sympathy, which include:

Sympathy

Empathy

Sympathy tries to alleviate suffering or grief by looking at the “silver lining” of situations, which may invalidate an individual’s feelings.

Empathy acknowledges the challenging situation without trying to fix the problem and validates the person’s feelings.

Having sympathy is feeling concerned for someone without taking the time to acknowledge their pain or struggle, which does not allow for an emotional connection, says Hollingshead.

Having empathy is more reflective, attempting to understand the experience, feelings, and perspective of another person to build a connection with them, says Hollingshead.

Sympathy is more of a pity-based response to the situation of another person.

Empathy involves emotional resonance with another person’s feelings and situation.

Several small studies that used non-self-report measures found that females are generally more empathetic than males. The study method is important because a 2022 study suggested that gender differences in self-reported empathic capacity may be influenced by traditional gender role expectations, with empathy being generally perceived as a feminine trait.

“It’s extremely important that we offer people the space and time to go through their process and to avoid projection by expressing how you’d handle it or how you think it should go,” says Perkins. “Show as much love and care as allowed. Offer space but be consistent with checking in.”

Insider’s takeaway

Although sympathy and empathy are related, they are two distinct approaches that convey different intentions.

Empathy forges a connection by understanding the emotions of another individual, while sympathy is more detached, zeroing in on the sorrow over their plight.

“The most important thing to remember when trying to approach someone going through a rough time is that everyone has their own process,” says Perkins. “Respect and honor that process.”

Carla M Delgado Icon

 

By:

Carla is a Filipino freelance health & culture journalist with bylines in Insider, Architectural Digest, Elemental, Observer, and Mental Floss. Outside of writing, she works for local theatre productions as a stage manager and assistant sound operator.

This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Sara Twogood, Obstetrician-Gynecologist & Flo Medical Expert.

Source: Empathy Vs. Sympathy: How to Connect the Right Way

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Feeling bad for someone is not the same as empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand the emotions of someone else without feeling the emotions. Sympathy is the physical display of empathy. You hug them, you try to put yourself in their shoes.
Psychopaths have empathy but they don’t have sympathy. Altruism is detached and emotionless, based on doing what is right. Which ones do you relate to? Does this video help clarify the difference between empathy, sympathy and altruism? Get our merch: ➳ “I Am My Own Super Hero” – https://goo.gl/TVnNd4 ➳ “I Will Get Through This” – https://goo.gl/xHzRAi ➳ “My Mind Is Powerful” – https://goo.gl/BVjjEY
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The Sweet Spot: Paul Bloom Explains Why a Good Life is Painful

Psychologist Paul Bloom on the importance of suffering, the shortcomings of hedonism, and why he would never plug into the Matrix. Can we live a good life without suffering?

Notice that I used the word “good” and not “happy.” It doesn’t make any sense to ask whether we can suffer and be happy at the same time, but can we live a full and meaningful life without certain kinds of suffering? That’s a much harder question.

I just watched an episode of The Twilight Zone that explores this in a way only that show could. It’s about a gangster who dies and wakes up in a place that has all the markings of heaven — or at least what a guy like that would imagine as heaven. He has all the sex and money and power he wants. He loves it at first. But then he grows bored and aimless and starts to hate it. So he asks his guide if he can go to hell instead, and that’s when he learns he’s already there.

A new book by the psychologist Paul Bloom, called The Sweet Spot, says this story captures the strangeness of human psychology about as well as anything can. It’s a deep dive into the relationship between suffering and meaning, and why living a purposeful life means caring about much more than happiness.

The book isn’t pro-suffering, and Bloom is very careful to distinguish “chosen” suffering from “unchosen” suffering, but it is an attempt to explain why we sometimes seek out hardship and struggle, and why the conventional image of humans as purely pleasure-seeking and pain-avoiding isn’t so much wrong as incomplete.

I reached out to Bloom for the latest episode of Vox Conversations. We talk about the role of suffering in human life, the shortcomings of hedonism, and why he would never plug into the Matrix.

Sean Illing

Hedonism seems like a pretty straightforward path to happiness. If you offered people a chance to not have to work or do anything for money again and told them that they could live in a big house on a great beach with a grand pool and just swim and sunbathe all day, I feel like a lot of people would say, “Hell, yes.”

So what’s wrong with that?

Paul Bloom

A hedonist, and I know a few of them, might say, “Well, maybe they’ll regret a little bit at a time, but if they’re having fun 95 percent of the time and there’s regret 5 percent of the time, they made the right life decision.” And there’s a big debate in psychology over what we should try to maximize. Hedonists say you should try to maximize your day-to-day moments of pleasure, while the rest of us say that you should try to maximize other things as well, including your satisfaction with your life.

So there are lots of ways to answer this question. But my favorite way to think about this, and I know you’re going to be familiar with this, is a famous thought experiment by the philosopher Robert Nozick, who imagines an experience machine, which now everyone knows as the Matrix. They plug you in, and you’re in paradise.

You have immediately lost your memory that you’re plugged in. So, you think you’re living your real life, but you are living a life of immense satisfaction, and challenge, and accomplishment, and carnal joy, and deep respect and everything; the best life possible.

But you’re on a table hooked up to some wires, and that’s you for the rest of your life. And then the question is, would you want to be strapped into the machine? And I’ve asked a lot of people this question in teaching moral psych courses and so on. Some people rank pleasure pretty highly and say, “Yeah, sure. Strap me in.” And certainly if I was in a prison or something, or had a sort of desperate situation, I’d much rather this life of pure pleasure than the life I’m living.

A lot of people say no, however, including Nozick, and me, and maybe you. Because I don’t just want to have experiences, I want to do things. Because I have people I love who I want to be with, and I want to take care of them, not just think I’m with them and take care of them. I’d be abandoning all sorts of friends and family. And yes, while I’m in the machine, I won’t know I’m abandoning them, but I’m abandoning them nonetheless, and that’s wrong. And so, all sorts of other non-hedonistic motivations lead me to say, “I’m going to take my real life.”

Sean Illing

Words like “happiness” and “satisfaction” and “pleasurable” get used interchangeably, but there are important differences here. How do you make these sorts of distinctions?

Paul Bloom

The vocabulary here is dreadful. People use the terms in different ways. And then they appear to be agreeing when they aren’t and disagreeing when they are. It causes a mess.

So, happiness as I see it has at least two meanings. One meaning is close to day-to-day pleasure. Experiments have been done: I give you an iPhone, it beeps at random times, whenever it beeps, you say how happy you are. And then we just take it, and we count it from one to 10, say, and we average it. And I say, “Your life, you’re at 7.8.”

But another sense of happiness is, I sit you down, I say, “Well, how good’s your life going? How happy are you? How’s it going for you?” Give you a scale from one to 10. Now, the numbers tend to correlate. So, maybe you say eight and a half, or seven, or something close, and they don’t tend to diverge that much, but they do diverge.

There are people who live lives of happiness where they’re really having a lot of fun, but they think they’re just living a crap life and they’re full of regret. And other people, and I met more of these, think they’re living a really terrific life.

Imagine somebody with a lot of kids, and a stressful job, and they’re doing a lot of community work, and they have complicated relationships, and they say, “I’m overwhelmed. I have headaches all the time. There’s so much strife, so much struggle. I’m worried about people. And so on.” I ask, “How’s your life?” They say, “My life is wonderful.”

And so the question is, what do you want to maximize? Call them two types of happiness, or call one of them pleasure and another one satisfaction. And I would claim that we want to maximize both. Give me the choice; nobody is indifferent to pleasure, and nobody should be, that seems like madness, but we also want to maximize satisfaction, and we take it as very important.

Sean Illing

Do you think most people are confused about what makes them happy?

Paul Bloom

As a psychologist, I feel I’m supposed to say yes because that’s one of the credos, people don’t know what makes them happy. Psychologists used to believe very strongly that money doesn’t make you happy. And then we would laugh at all the people who thought money makes you happy. And now it turns out that, maybe not surprisingly, money does make you happy.

The more money you make, the happier people are, and you give people money, they become happier. You take away their money, they become less happy because money buys things like food and security and safety and housing and travel and stuff like that.

I think to some extent people are mistaken, and I’ll give you the sort of classic examples, which is we tend to overstate the value of certain possessions. They do make us happy, but we quickly burn out. And we tend to underestimate experiences and relationships.

Sometimes I go to open houses and look at really cool houses, and sometimes I’m going to fantasize about living in one of those houses. And honestly, when my kids were pretty young, I would have a recurring fantasy of living in some sort of penthouse apartment in New York.

But the truth is that’s not the kind of thing that makes a person happy. They sit in this beautiful penthouse and then they want a friend to share it with, they want people to hang out with. I think the one thing people miss is, from both a happiness point of view and also a purpose, meaning, point of view, the power of the right social connections.

Sean Illing

The decision to have kids is such an interesting phenomenon. As you point out, having kids diminishes our day-to-day happiness, reduces marital satisfaction, and that stuff doesn’t really go away until the kids are out of the house. To just ask, “Why are we having kids?” seems dumb because the answer is obviously continuing the species. But on an individual psychological level, why do so many of us actively sign up for so much unhappiness?

Paul Bloom

Yeah, I think it’s a really good question. Having kids for me is kind of a case study through which to explore what people want. And I know a lot of people who don’t have kids and live rich and fulfilling lives. There’s no way this conversation ends with me saying it’s a no-brainer. Maybe some people’s lives would be a lot better if they didn’t.

But the thing about kids, the original studies showed that kids were just a killer, happiness-wise, a lot less pleasure for parents and for non-parents. As always with psychology, later studies find it’s more complicated.

It turns out that a lot of factors determine your happiness. Men tend to be happier being dads than women being moms. Older people tend to be happier than younger people. Single parents have it pretty rough. And there’s an enormous country difference.

All of the original data was done in the United States, and then there was a study that came out looking at 42 countries, and it turns out that the happiness hit for parents is worse in the US than in any other country, probably because of child care issues. But to some extent, your question still remains.

Nobody doubts it’s tough. From a strictly hedonic point of view, spending years with young children is not what you would choose. And yet we do choose it. And we don’t regret it, for the most part. And so the question is why, and I think the answer is that children are not predominantly a hedonic choice. They’re not a pleasure-increasing mechanism.

People choose to have children, and then love their children, and love what they’ve done. Maybe because it gave meaning and purpose to their life. Maybe because they love their children and once you love somebody, you honestly don’t wish that they didn’t exist. And it’s complicated.

There are studies which ask people, “How happy are you?” And parents versus non-parents, the data are all over the place, but sometimes non-parents give you higher scores. Then there are other studies where somebody asks how meaningful your life is, and then it goes the other way.

After my book came out, there was a very interesting article by Erin Westgate and Shigehiro Oishi, on psychological diversity and diverse experiences, where they argue that people want some degree of variety in their life experiences. And for me, having kids introduced me to a new emotion, introduced me to a new feeling, which is intense love of a sort that’s not romantic and not towards a friend.

The feeling of parental or paternal love for me was like seeing a whole different color, and a whole different set of feelings. And again, nothing is unmixed. I quote Zadie Smith, who just speaks wonderfully about the horribleness of having kids, and the horrible risk of having kids.

Sean Illing

Right, because you might lose them. And you just mentioned romantic love, but that seems to me a similar puzzle with a similar answer. The happiness arithmetic there doesn’t really add up either, since loving another person romantically requires total vulnerability and the absolute guarantee of loss and real pain, but we do it anyway because we can’t help it, but also because the peak is unintelligible without the valley. To experience that kind of joy is to risk that kind of suffering.

Paul Bloom

That’s right. And, Zadie Smith again, she quotes a condolence letter, which had the line, “it hurts as much as it’s worth.” And that’s the logic of it. The comedian Louis C.K. has a bit on this, where he talks about romance and falling in love and everything. And he points out that the very best case is that you’ll spend an enormous amount of time with each other, and one of you will die leaving the other one bereft. That’s the best case.


To hear the rest of the conversation, click here

Sean Illing

Sean Illing is the Interviews Writer for Vox and the host of the Vox Conversations podcast. Before publishing things on the Internet, he taught politics and philosophy at a university. Before that, he served in the United States Air Force.

Source: The Sweet Spot: Paul Bloom explains why a good life is painful – Vox

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Colour Psychology: How To Use Colour To Boost Your Mood

It’s easy to feel down when it’s dark and cold outside but there are lots of ways you can bring colour into your life. Here, an expert explains how to use colour psychology to help boost your mood.

Colours can also help us express and understand emotions, making them a powerful communication tool. This is a discovery people have made on TikTok recently. Creators have been taking to the platform to explain the meaning of each colour and how it can help them understand themselves and the people around them better, with the tag #colourpsychology reaching over 4 million views.

As we head into the autumn and winter months and the nights get darker, many people will find this negatively impacts their mood. But although the skies might not be blue, there are plenty of ways you can bring more colour into your life and use it to help improve your mindset.

In fact, you can even use colour as a self-help method. Karen Haller, a behavioural colour psychologist, has spent years researching this and has found an array of methods to help you do so. Although it’s not necessarily as simple as TikTok would have you think.

“Colour psychology is a study of how we can use colour to positively influence how we think, feel and behave,” Karen says. “It’s one of the most underestimated resources we have to change how we act.”

“When you decide whether or not you like a colour, that’s an emotional experience,” Karen says. “It makes you feel something, even if you’re not consciously aware of it.”

Building a personal relationship with colour psychology is an ongoing process but there are a few things you can do to start to use colour to positively influence your life, and maybe even help you deal with issues like self-doubt and social anxiety.

What is the meaning behind each colour?

Karen explains that each colour has a traditional psychological meaning. However this can vary depending on the shade of the colour, so it’s not necessarily important to learn them all. It can be useful to understand what the primary colours represent, though.

“Each colour has positive and adverse effects,” Karen says, explaining that both of these things need to be taken into account when you’re thinking about how to use these colours to your benefit.

Red

“Red is a very physical colour. Red physically stimulates us – it encourages motivation and energy,” Karen explains. “Because of this, however, red can also cause overwhelm, as it represents speed, and it can sometimes make you feel like you are moving too quickly.”

Yellow

“Yellow has a direct effect on the nervous system. Yellow is an optimistic colour that encourages positivity,” Karen says. “However, the adverse effects are that yellow can be quite irritating and anxiety-inducing.”

Blue

“Blue is the colour that aligns with the mind. Dark blue is mentally stimulating and it can help with focus; soft blue is a colour that allows your mind to dream,” Karen explains. “Often, blue can keep the mind overly-stimulated, which is something to look out for as an adverse effect.”

How to figure out which colours work for you

Although there are traditional meanings that can be assigned to each colour, as people do on TikTok, Karen explains that colours are actually very personal, and the colours that help you feel better will be different to the colours that help a friend or family member feel good.

Karen recommends going through your wardrobe and pulling out clothes in an array of colours and then holding each of them up to your face, in order to figure out what your relationship is with each colour. “Without any make-up on, stand in front of a mirror and hold the different colours up to your face,” Karen says. “Take note of what happens to your face – does it light up or does it create shadows?”

If you know one colour suits your complexion, you can use this to compare to the other colours. This method isn’t only about your appearance, however. Consider how your facial expressions and other reactions differ with each colour, as this will help you to understand how you connect with different colours.

How to establish an emotional connection with colour

You’re constantly coming into contact with different colours in your day-to-day life and it’s not possible to consciously understand your reaction to every single one of them. But in order to become more in touch with your relationship with colours, Karen recommends keeping a diary for a period of a week to take note of how you respond to any colours that stand out to you or that you have to make decisions about.

“Write down what you are wearing each day and how the colours in your outfit make you feel,” she explains. “You should also take note of other decisions about colour you make, like choosing a red glass instead of a yellow glass.”

You don’t have to acknowledge your decisions in this way for very long but by doing so for a short period of time, you’ll come to better understand your relationships with specific colours, which will help you make better colour decisions in the future.

How to incorporate colour psychology into your life moving forward

Once you have established your relationship with particular colours, you can start to incorporate them into your life more, whether that’s through decorating your home with them or buying clothes in that colour. You can then also follow the same process Karen explains above to figure out which colour combinations work for you.

“The most important thing is that you think consciously about the decisions you make about colour,” Karen says, adding that by making intentional decisions, you will become more conscious of which colours you like and dislike, which will help keep you in touch with your emotions.

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Source: Colour psychology: how to use colour to boost your mood

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Why Your Most Important Relationship Is With Your Inner Voice

As Ethan Kross, an American experimental psychologist and neuroscientist, will cheerfully testify, the person who doesn’t sometimes find themselves listening to an unhelpful voice in their head probably doesn’t exist. Ten years ago, Kross found himself sitting up late at night with a baseball bat in his hand, waiting for an imaginary assailant he was convinced was about to break into his house – a figure conjured by his frantic mind after he received a threatening letter from a stranger who’d seen him on TV.

Kross, whose area of research is the science of introspection, knew that he was overreacting; that he had fallen victim to what he calls “chatter”. But telling himself this did no good at all. At the peak of his anxiety, his negative thoughts running wildly on a loop, he found himself, somewhat comically, Googling “bodyguards for academics”.

Kross runs the wonderfully named Emotion and Self Control Lab at Michigan University, an institution he founded and where he has devoted the greater part of his career to studying the silent conversations people have with themselves: internal dialogues that powerfully influence how they live their lives. Why, he and his colleagues want to know, do some people benefit from turning inwards to understand their feelings, while others are apt to fall apart when they engage in precisely the same behaviour?

Are there right and wrong ways to communicate with yourself, and if so, are there techniques that might usefully be employed by those with inner voices that are just a little too loud? Down the years, Kross has found answers to some, if not all, of these questions, and now he has collected these findings in a new book – a manual he hopes will improve the lives of those who read it.

“We’re not going to rid the world of anxiety and depression,” he says, of Chatter: The Voice in Our Head and How to Harness It. “This is not a happy pill, and negative emotions are good in small doses. But it is possible to turn down the temperature a bit when it’s running too high, and doing this can help all of us manage our experiences more effectively.”

According to Kross, who talks to me on Zoom from his home in a snowy Ann Arbor, there now exists a robust body of research to show that when we experience distress – something MRI scans suggest has a physical component as well as an emotional one – engaging in introspection can do “significantly” more harm than good.

Our thoughts, he says, don’t save us from ourselves. Rather, they give rise to something insidious: the kind of negative cycles that turn the singular capacity of human beings for introspection into a curse rather than a blessing, with potentially grave consequences both for our mental and physical health (introspection of the wrong sort can even contribute to faster ageing).

Does this mean that it’s not, after all, good to talk? That those in therapy should immediately cancel their next appointment? Not exactly. “Avoiding our emotions across the board is not a good thing,” he says. “But let’s think about distance instead. Some people equate this word with avoidance and repression. But I think of it as the ability to step back and reflect, to widen the lens, to get some perspective. We’re not avoiding something by doing this, we’re just not getting overwhelmed.”

According to one study, we talk to ourselves at a rate equivalent to speaking 4,000 words per minute (by way of comparison, the American president’s State of the Union address, which usually runs to about 6,000 words, lasts more than an hour). No wonder, then, that listening to it can be exhausting, whether it takes the form of a rambling soliloquy, or a compulsive rehashing of events, a free-associative pinballing from one thought to another or a furious internal dialogue.

But if such noise can be paralysing, it can also be self-sabotaging. What we experience on the inside can blot out almost everything else if we let it. A study published in 2010, for instance, shows that inner experiences consistently dwarf outer ones – something that, as Kross notes, speaks to the fact that once a “ruminative” thought takes hold of us, it can ruin even the best party, the most longed-for new job.

Why do some people have a louder or more troubling inner voice than others? “That’s harder to answer,” he says. “There are so many ways it can be activated, some genetic, some environmental.” What is certain is that these experiences cannot be discounted: “The data is overwhelming when it comes to the connection between anxiety and physical health conditions.” Those who are able to quieten their inner voice are happier; their sense of relief can be palpable.

See also:

  1. What Is Your Inner Voice?
  2. What If You Don’t Hear Any Voice?
  3. Why Don’t We Listen to Our Inner Voice?
  4. How to Listen to Your Inner Voice
  5. Moving on with Your Inner Voice
  6. Final Thoughts
  7. More About Self-Understanding

What is interesting about the science involved in all this is how it both backs up, and goes against, intuition. Much of Kross’s book is devoted to what he calls the “toolbox” of techniques that can be used to dial down chatter, and while some of these seem to contradict all that we think and feel – “venting”, for instance, can do a person more harm than good, because talking about negative experiences with friends can often work as a repellent, pushing away those you need most – others confirm that when we act on certain instincts, we’re right to do so.

To take one example, if you are the kind of person who slips into the second or third person when you are in a flap (“Rachel, you should calm down; this is not the end of the world”), you really are doing yourself some good. What Kross calls “distanced self-talk” is, according to experiments he has run, one of the fastest and most straightforward ways of gaining emotional perspective: a “psychological hack” that is embedded in “the fabric of human language”.

Talking to yourself like this – as if you were another person altogether – isn’t only calming. Kross’s work shows that it can help you make a better impression, or improve your performance in, say, a job interview. It may also enable you to reframe what seems like an impossibility as a challenge, one to which, with your own encouragement, you may be able to rise.

Some of his other techniques are already well known: the power of touch (put your arms around someone); the power of nature (put your arms around a tree). Activities that induce “awe” – a walk in the mountains, say, or time spent in front of a magnificent work of art – are also useful, helping with that sense of perspective.

Writing a daily journal can prove efficacious for some (something that felt terrible one day physically becoming old news the next), while neat freaks like me will be thrilled to discover that what he calls “compensatory control” – the creation of exterior order, better known as tidying up – really does have an impact on interior order. Reorganise your sock drawer, and you may find that your voice quietens.

Research shows, too, that superstitions, rituals and lucky charms can be useful, though most of us will draw the line at, say, taking our milk teeth with us when we fly, as the model Heidi Klum is said to (she keeps hers in a tiny bag, which she clutches during turbulence). Placebos have been found to work on chatter, just as they do in the case of some physical illnesses.

In one study in which Kross was involved, a saline nasal spray acted as a kind of painkiller for the inner voice: data from brain scans showed that those who’d inhaled it, having believed they were inhaling a painkiller, displayed significantly less activity in their brain’s social-pain circuitry compared with those who knew they had inhaled only a saline solution.

No wonder, then, that Kross believes children should be taught the science behind all of these ideas, and in the US he has already begun working with teachers to make this happen: “We want to find out if knowing this stuff influences how they regulate themselves.” Does he make use of the toolbox? (Physician, heal thyself.) “We should probably ask my wife,” he laughs. “But yes, I do, absolutely. I’m human, too.” In particular, he is “very selective” when it comes to friends from whom he seeks “chatter support”.

Kross finished his book long before the outbreak of the pandemic, let alone the storming of the Capitol. But as he observes, it could hardly be published at a more opportune moment. “This is the perfect chatter episode for society: a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, political uncertainty, widespread groupthink.” His most cited paper to date looked at the harmful implications of social media, often “a giant megaphone” for the inner voice – Facebook expressly asks its users: “What’s on your mind?” – and an environment that he thinks we need to learn to navigate with more care.

As for the pandemic, though, he is less pessimistic than some about the effects it is likely to have long-term on mental health. “We are already seeing signs that depression and anxiety are spiking,” he says. “Everyday feelings of sadness are elevated for many, and then there are more full-blown episodes. But there is also a lot of resilience, and we often underestimate that. A lot of people are doing quite well. They’re managing this hardship in an adaptive way. I am an optimist. We will return, I think, to a nicer place, though how quickly that will happen, I only wish I could say.”

Which technique should the pandemic-anxious deploy? “Well, one that I personally rely on is temporal distancing,” he says. This requires a person to look ahead: to see themselves determinedly in the future. Studies show that if you ask those going through a difficult experience how they will feel about it in 10 years’ time, rather than tomorrow, their troubles immediately seem more temporary. Does this really help him? “Yes, it does. I ask myself how I am going to feel a year from now, when I’m back in the office, and I’m seeing my colleagues, and travelling again, and taking my kids to soccer – and it gives me hope.”

It is, as he says in his book, a form of time travel: a mental Tardis that, if only we can manage to board it, may make everything from a bereavement right down to a silly argument seem less brutal, just a little easier to bear.

By: Rachel Cooke

Source: Why Your Most Important Relationship Is With Your Inner Voice

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More Contents:

There’s a Dark Side to Meditation That No One Talks About

The Running Conversation in Your Head

People Who Hear Voices in Their Head Can Also Pick Up on Hidden Speech

The ‘Untranslatable’ Emotions You Never Knew You Had

Hallucinogen Therapy Is Coming

How you attach to people may explain a lot about your inner life

How can you conquer ordinary, everyday sadness? Think of it as a person

How anxiety scrambles your brain and makes it hard to learn

10 Strategies to Keep Moving Forward When Feeling Stuck

How to Build Self Discipline to Excel in Life

How to Build Self-Esteem: A Guide to Realize Your Hidden Power

How Self-Reflection Gives You a Happier and More Successful Life

How to Be More Self-Aware and Strive to Be a Better Person

How to Attain Self Realization (Step-By-Step Guide)

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