More ArticlesDevelopmental psychology

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

If you are a perfectionist you will live less, if you are optimistic you will live more


Life expectancy is determined by many factors. The fact that we live more or less for a long time depends not only on genetics, diet, the level of physical activity and the environmental factors to which we are exposed, but also on psychological factors. It is therefore not enough to cleanse the surrounding environment and adopt a healthy lifestyle, if we forget to do mental cleansing.

The trend towards perfectionism and neurosis present us a high bill

Some Canadian researchers at Trinity Western University wondered if some traits of personality could affect our life expectancy. To find it out, they recruited 450 elder adults and followed them for six and a half years.

At the initial stage of the study, these people did not suffer from serious illnesses. However, the risk of death was greater in some than in others. During personality tests, these psychologists discovered that people who had a tendency to perfectionism and who suffered from neuroses were more likely to die. On the contrary, the risk was much lower in people who had a more optimistic, outraged and responsible personality.

Perfectionism and neurosis have many points in common because they imply the tendency to obsessive persistence. In the case of perfectionism, obsession is due to the desire to achieve better results while in neurosis depends on concerns.

However, in both cases the inability to break away from work or stressful thoughts can cause changes even at the immunological level, as many studies have shown.

Optimism, extroversion, self-efficacy, and openness to new experiences are the key for living longer

A study at the prestigious Karolinska Institute confirmed the previous results. This time the researchers recruited a larger sample of 2,298 adults over the age of 60 without symptoms of any psychological or neurological disorder and followed them for over 11 years.

After this period they discovered that the most extroverted people had a mortality rate of 65% lower. Being open to new experiences also proved to be a positive factor that reduced the risk of dying by 26%.

But the most interesting thing was that the researchers looked at other factors beyond personality, such as the body mass index, the number of chronic illnesses the participants suffered, the level of physical activity and their lifestyle. So, they concluded that the initial state of health was a determining factor in only 5% of deaths.

In fact, another interesting study conducted at the University of Kentucky, where 180 nuns who were living in the same condition since they were 22 to 75 or 95 years old, concluded that personality traits such as optimism and some resources to face the life that we ​​all have, are more reliable to predict longevity than socio-economic and life conditions.

Resuming the study conducted by Swedish researchers, it was seen that extroverted people not only distinguished themselves for a high degree of optimism but also for enormous self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is our confidence in our capabilities, which we can organize and realize various actions that allow us to positively influence the environment and achieve the results we want.

This set of traits of personality, according to the researchers, is what drives people to develop healthy lifestyles and adopt more positive strategies for dealing with life that will eventually allow them to live longer.

Rizzuto, D. et. Al. (2017) Personality and Survival in Older Age: the Role of Lifestyle Behaviors and Health Status. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.
Fry, P. S. et. Al. (2009) Perfectionism and the Five-factor Personality Traits as Predictors of Mortality in Older Adults. J Health Psychol; 14(4):513-24.
Segerstrom, S.C. et. Al. (2003) Optimism effects on cellular immunity: testing the affective and persistence models. Personality and Individual Differences; 35(7): 1615–1624.
Danner, D. D. et. Al. (2001) Positive Emotions in Early Life and Longevity: Findings from the Nun Study. J Pers Soc Psychol; 80(5): 804-813.
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Monday, July 24, 2017

You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice

personal growth

Bob Marley said, "You never know how strong you are, until being strong is the only choice you have". And he was not wrong, because the truth is that we never know until where we can make it, and how much we can grow until we have the need to do it.

The adversities make you stronger

A study conducted by psychologists at the King College Hospital in London and the Royal Mardesen Hospital in Sutton analyzed how women with breast cancer responded to the disease. They have thus identified five different ways: combative spirit, fatalism, despair, anxious concern, and denial.

These psychologists have found that when the initial clinical conditions were similar, women who faced the disease with impotence, despair, and fatalism were worse off. Conversely, those with a combative spirit and a resilient attitude had a better prognosis.

They also found that who had suffered major traumas in the past and passed them was more inclined to resolve any problems that would arise in the future. This was not only because the suffering had made her stronger, but also because it had taught her to have confidence in her abilities, told her that she could move on.

In this regard, Ernest Hemingway said: "The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places". In front of adversity, we can collapse and complain about what happened or we can take advantage of the situation to get strengthened.

A recent study conducted by the universities of Buffalo and California confirms that what does not kill us makes us stronger. These psychologists analyzed as 2,398 people aged 18 to 101 faced with stressful situations and the traumatic events of their lives.

They discovered that those who had experienced negative events during life had better mental health and greater prosperity compared to people who had to deal with current problems but had no serious problems in the past.

People who had experienced severe adversity in the past showed less anguish, had no symptoms of post-traumatic stress, and showed greater satisfaction in life. They also managed better the problems of the present.

There is no doubt that adversity gives us good lifestyle lessons. On one hand, they allow us to test our resources and, on the other, give us confidence. When we have reached the bottom, the confidence we can go up again is essential to continue fighting.

The 40% law

The Navy Seal are famous for their extremely hard physical preparation, which often leads them to the limit of their strength. According to them, we can endure much more than we think and go beyond what we propose.

These soldiers argue that when our mind says "enough" we actually only reached the 40% of our capacity. Therefore, when we believe that we can no longer continue and are ready to throw the sponge, we still have a wide margin of opportunity: 60% more.

Of course, these figures are indicative, the most important thing is the message at the base: in certain situations, when we are going to abandon everything, what stops and demotivates us is not the lack of energy, but only a mental block.

The 40% law is a very useful tool when we are in difficult situations because it helps us overcome our limits and change our perspective, tells us that we can take a step further, and then another and another...

Newt Gingrich, an American politician, could not summarize it better: "Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of the hard work you already did".

Of course, this does not mean that we have to look for adversity or resist stoically against winds and tides, but when problems knock on our door, we must be ready to learn the lesson and above all know that we can rely on our strength.

Seery, M. D. et. Al. (2010) Whatever does not kill us: Cumulative lifetime adversity, vulnerability, and resilience. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology; 99(6): 1025-1041.
Taylor, S. E.; Lichtman, R. R. & Wood, J. V. (1984) Attributions, beliefs about control and adjustment to breast cancer. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology; 46: 489-502.
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Friday, July 21, 2017

5 tips of Positive Psychology that could ruin your life


Since the destructive "machine of happiness" is at work, some have forgotten that life is made of ups and downs, that we can’t always be happy and there are moments when we feel bad, very bad.

The misunderstanding and subsequent spreading of positive psychology is leaving behind dissatisfaction, frustration, blockages and, in general, a bitter taste in the mouth of all those who can’t always smile.

In fact, some of the self-help tips are not as positive as you think, especially if they are considered absolute truths. Some may also have a diametrically opposite effect and could ruin your life.

1. You can do whatever you want

There is a big difference between trying to give the best of us and thinking that we can do everything, or that everything depends on us. In fact, one of the most important sentences that psychology borrowed from the Greeks is "know yourself".

This means that we must know our strengths and virtues, but also our limitations and defects. When we set ambitious targets without knowing well ourselves, we run the risk of feeling useless and failed when we fail to achieve them, especially if we have a kind of mindset like everything or nothing and assume the experiences in terms of successes or defeats.

In addition, this idea can produce illusory thinking, which is not based on reality but on our expectations, which takes us away from the objectivity that is so necessary to make our projects turn into reality.

Therefore, a good advice would be: "Always wait for the best, prepare for the worst and accept what's coming". Remember that everyone is different and does not have to follow the same goals as others. Also, sometime the most important things are not the results, but what happens on the way, because the growth does not occur when you get to the top but while climbing.

2. Smile, always

It is true that pessimism can get you paralyzed and does not make you feel good, but all emotions have their reason for being and are not negative in themselves. For example, sadness tells you that you are wrong and you have to change something.

Even though in our society the "negative" emotions have been demonized to such an extent that we are trying to hide them and when they ask us how we are we always answer "well", even when it is not true, these states send signals. We can think of "negative" emotions as road signs indicating that we should not take that road or that we should drive cautiously, if there were not signals it would be more difficult to change direction and we should face worst problems.

Therefore, printing a smile on the face is not the solution, because trying to hide or deny the emotions will only make them become chronic. The psychologists at Michigan State University analyzed the impact of a false smile on our mood. They followed a group of drivers for two weeks and discovered that while they were pretending more smiles, the worse was their mood when back home, a mood signed by irritability, anger, and sadness.

You do not always have to smile, especially when you do not want to do it. You do not have to hide your real emotions when you feel bad because it will not solve the problem, on the contrary, it will add more pressure.

3. Think positive
It is true that positive thinking helps us in many circumstances, but it is not a magic formula that can be applied to everything and everyone. There is also toxic optimism. In fact, psychologists from the University of Waterloo and New Brunswick found that people with low self-esteem feel worse after repeating the positive phrases contained in many self-help books.

The researchers asked people with high and low self-esteem to repeat themselves positive words, so they evaluated how they felt. They thus flogged that people with low self-esteem felt worse.

The problem is that phrases like "I am a beloved one", "I will succeed" or "I fully accept what I am" in these cases have a contradictory or irrational character. In short, we are not able to fool our minds in such a childish way, the fact that you continually repeat something does not make it true, is needed a much deeper work. Also, this type of affirmation can make you feel like in a farce, and this will further damage the image you have of yourself.

4. Don’t give up, never

There is a time to persevere and another to leave. In fact, intelligence consists in knowing when it is time to persist and when to quit. There are situations where surrendering is the best solution for our emotional balance and is not synonymous with weakness.

Persevere, when a goal has lost its meaning or when conditions have changed drastically, it just means being stubborn. That way you're just going to dedicate to a project a precious energy that could be used in other things that would please you more.

Of course, this does not mean that we have to abandon immediately, but we must be mature enough to understand when we are insisting only for fear of failure or that others judge us weak or failed. The key is not giving up too soon or insisting for too long.

5. You must be happy

The ideal would be to be happy, when we are really happy we feel satisfied and serene. However, we can’t always be happy. In fact, the obsession for happiness could turn us unhappy. Several studies have shown that people who are mostly concerned about being happy are often more unhappy and depressed.

In a study of the University of Denver, the psychologists asked the participants how much they appreciate happiness and how important was to commit themselves to be happy. They found out that those who gave more emphasis on the need to be happy reported less than 50% of positive emotions, 35% less satisfaction in their lives, and 75% more depressive symptoms than those who had other priorities.

This does not mean that we should not try to be happy, but that we should not be obsessive because the pressure to be happy is counterproductive. Happiness lies in small things and is an incredibly easy state to be reached, is enough knowing how to flow with life and appreciate what we have.

Scott, B. A. & Barnes, C. M. (2011) A Multilevel Field Investigation of Emotional Labor, Affect, Work Withdrawal, and Gender. Academy of Management Journal; 54(1): 116-136.
Mauss, I. B. et. Al. (2011) Can seeking happiness make people unhappy? Paradoxical effects of valuing happiness. Emotion; 11(4): 807-815.
Wood, J.; Perunovic, W. & Lee, J. (2009) Positive Self-Statements: Power for Some, Peril for Others. Psychological Science; 20(7): 860-866.
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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

How wine labels "mislead you" to make you feel that taste is better


We believe that taste is something that we perceive objectively, but it’s not true. Numerous studies have shown that flavor perceptions is influenced by many factors, most of which escape our consciousness, the intensity of the light around us, the music and even the color of the dishes.

Now a new study conducted by the University of Adelaide, suggests that the language used on the label of a bottle of wine could be so important to appreciate it as the taste of the wine itself.

Taste is not only found in taste buds

The researchers recruited 126 people who regularly drank wine and presented them a selection of the three most popular white wines in Australia: Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.

At the first tasting session they were asked to evaluate the taste of the wines. A week later there was a second encounter, but in fact the participants returned to taste the same wines, before reading a very basic description and then a much more "elaborate and emotional" description. The trick lies in the fact that people were convinced to taste six different wines, while in reality were always the same three from the beginning.

For example, a basic Riesling description said "pale of yellow-green color", while a more complete description was "a refreshing taste of lemon and lime accompanied by delicate floral aromas of jasmine, from a family-run vineyard where wine is produced since 145 years". In addition, were included phrases such as "a respectful homage to our ancestors" and "produced with hand-picked fruits from our very high quality vineyards".

Surprisingly, the most elaborate descriptions of the wines, which included information on the history of the cellar and a positive feedback on the quality of the wine, made people prefer them to others. In fact, the participants were 30% more likely to buy the wines with the most elaborate descriptions.

The participants considered that the wine was better, more delicious and more expensive if the description included details about the history of the cellar and analyzed in detail the flavor. Conversely, when the same wines were presented without descriptions, they got worse reviews.

Undoubtedly, when choosing products we focus mostly on their presentation, description, and price, which end up affecting our perception of flavor. We have the idea that the most expensive products are always the best, so this belief acts as a sort of placebo effect that deceives the brain and makes us think that the flavor is better.

Danner, L. et. Al. (2017) “I like the sound of that!” Wine descriptions influence consumers' expectations, liking, emotions and willingness to pay for Australian white wines. Food Research International.
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Monday, July 17, 2017

10 typical behaviors of miserable people

personal growth

Paul Watzlawick, an Austrian-American psychologist, stated that humans have an innate talent for tragedy. This is demonstrated in one of his books, where he illustrates that turning life into a miserable experience for us and for those around us is a tough full time job.

The art of ruining life is at the reach of everyone

There is currently an imperative that can be encountered everywhere: enjoy. The anxiety to achieve happiness has reached unpredictable limits. But in spite of this, there are still people who do everything to be miserable and turn their life bitter. In fact, if we pay attention to them, we will notice that they devote a huge amount of energy to transform themselves into their own executioner.

Imagination is their most powerful tool to transform their life into an ordeal. However, we must pay attention to these behaviors because no one is free from falling into their networks or starting bittering his or her life without realizing it.

1. Having fear, of all possible and of the impossible

Fear is a normal feeling that has an adaptive role because it protects us from danger. However, when we raise the level of fear we stop living. Living in constant fear is not living, is dying slowly. Miserable people make sure everything becomes a threat, so they end up living in a smaller area of ​​comfort.

2. Getting bored, until sickness and beyond

If you want the time to run more slowly and that every day count, do something new every day. If you want the calendar pages to fly, let yourself be consumed by the routine. The best choice to make life miserable is to do the same things in the same way, follow the same routines year after year and close to everything that is new. These people have all the reasons to complain, but they do not realize that the wall around them has been built by them.

3. Deporting the "amazement" and "marveling" in the country of Neverland

There is nothing that makes us feel alive that the continue discovery. When we discover something new our brain is active and we are happy, satisfied and euphoric. Instead, miserable people surround themselves with an air of “spin doctors”: nothing astonishes them, and what amazes others is classified as plagiarizing something that already exists. Thus, in their lives everything becomes predictable, their existence is full of boredom because they have closed the doors to prevent something wonderful from happening, even if small.

4. Talking about stupid things, for the only "pleasure" to discuss

For miserable people, being right is more important than talking to find an agreement. It's a difficult issue to handle, especially in couple relationships, because these people are staring into details to ruin the day and, as a result, ruin it to the partner. The problem is that these people do not argue about important things or defend certain values, but they are taken from the euphoria, attack and it is impossible to keep a civil discussion with them.

5. Deleting the word "gratitude" from the vocabulary

These people have developed a very negative view of the world, so they find no reason to show gratitude. They are not able to find something positive in every situation, they do not realize all the good things they have because they focus only on failures, mistakes and weaknesses. They often think that only the "stupid" can feel gratitude and that the world is a valley of tears where nothing good happens.

6. Lamenting of everything and everyone

Since miserable people have no reason to feel happy or grateful, they usually complain about everything, they become chronic lamenters. Both conversation as their inner dialogue focuses only on the negative things that happen to them. They complain when it rains, but even when there is sun, when they have a job and when they lose it when it wins the right and when it wins the left ... In this way they lose many good opportunities because they only see the negative side of the situations.

7. The past determines the present, ad infinitum

What has happened in the past is still dragged into the present. These people manage to do the impossible to carry the burden of missed, wasted or ignored opportunities. They even remember the bad grades they received at school, even if they were 30 years old. They think that "bad memories are forever". However, if the past was better then they think they will never be happier and resign themselves to die a little each day.

8. Choosing the worst version of themselves

We all have certain personality features that do not make life easier for us. Some people tend to be anxious, others obsessive, paranoid or hypochondriac. This is what is known as "accentuated personalities". Most people try to offset these stretches and limit their effects by improving other positive features. Unhappy people, on the contrary, accentuate them. They do everything to be the worst version of themselves and let these features determine their existence. So they can take for granted that every day of their lives will be negative.

9. Deceiving the others as a paranoid "secret agent"

"No man is a complete island in himself," said Eduardo Galeano. We need the others, contacting with the others brings us many benefits, but only when we are able to maintain assertive interpersonal relationships. Miserable people make sure this does not happen. They continually deceive the intentions of the others, and if you give them a favor or a compliment, they immediately think that there is a second intention, that you want something or that it is a veiled form of humiliation. Miserable people always depend on what others don’t say, rather than on what they actually say. Obviously, they end up staying alone. So they have another reason to complain about how miserable their life is.

10. If everything goes wrong, the blame is of the others

To live unhappy, there is a way that never fails: blame the others. The problem is that assuming the responsibility means that we also have the ability to be happy and change. On the contrary, miserable people point always their finger against others. All their misfortunes are always the fault of others: parents who did not give them a proper education, a son born too soon, a despondent boss at work, a rude partner or a politician. Every scapegoat is good. But there is nothing better to be miserable than the free hatred.
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Friday, July 14, 2017

If you don’t help me take off, please, get out of the runaway

personal growth

Over the years, we meet many people. Some become a precious support, they support us in the most difficult moments and give us the strength to continue. Others inspire us or assume the role of guide and mentor.

But we also encounter many people who find a problem for each solution, they block and infect us with their pessimism, to make sure we can’t take off. These people exist, and even though we must learn to live with them, we must not let them intrude on our dreams and future projects.

The persons that hinder you: Their strategy is to sow the doubt

It can be a member of your family, a friend, a work colleague or even a neighbor with whom you meet in the elevator. At first these people seem very fond of you, but gradually you begin to realize that they have sharp opinions about the others and are very inflexible.

Then you find out that when talking to them about your project, they make everything to try to sow the doubt. It can be a casual phrase, an apparently innocent question, the tone of the voice stranger than usual or even a simple look of disbelief.

In some cases they can give you the classic disinterested advice of a “friend” with what they encourage you to abandon the project. The reasons may vary, but they are almost always too generic because don’t have a solid foundation: "I think it's not for you," "this idea did not have a future," or "you've already tried it without results".

People who are hindering you are experts in sowing doubts, whether in your capabilities or in the feasibility of your projects. And meanwhile they transmit you their negative and alarming vision of the world. If you do not identify them in time and learn to counteract their influence, you are at risk of abandoning your dreams without even trying.

All points of view are important

People who motivate and encourage us are important because they strengthen our self-esteem and trust. However, a dose of strategic negativity does not hurt, especially when it comes to very ambitious projects.

Therefore, even the role of people who are trying to show us all the disasters that may occur is important. The key is to take a psychological distance, listen to what they say without letting us be impregnated by their pessimism.

Remember that the key to balance in life is to be able to join the extremes. Many projects have failed due to excessive optimism or toxic optimism.

If you want to fly high and far, the desire and a positive attitude are not enough, you also need to build your "airplane" and consider possible storms. About this, people who hinder us are real specialists.

Everything has a limit

People who hinder us will not change their vision of the world. Everyone has his opinion and has the right to express it, even if it is wrong, even if it is not the most intelligent and discourages you. You can’t change this. But you can change the way you react to those opinions.

If it is someone close to you who feels the need to constantly express an opinion about your projects, it may be that he or she feels fear for you and doesn’t want you to take new risks because is only able to see the dangers that this involves.

In these cases, it is important that you learn how to distance yourself, for your psychological well-being.

Tell him or her that you've got his opinions and advices, but you're going to decide yourself. You can’t force him or her to lean on a project they don’t believe in or are frighten about, but they have no right to hinder your flight.

Ask him or her, kindly, to get off the runaway.
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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A video that shows how fast we let ourselves be conditioned by prejudices and false impressions


Too often we let ourselves be carried by the first impression, which is generally determined by social stereotypes and our prejudices. This is how misunderstandings arise and we can make the mistake of treating the others unfairly by letting us be carried by the image we have in our minds.

The first impression is a fairly inaccurate ancestral mechanism

We all judge quickly in our daily lives and let ourselves be conditioned by stereotypes. After a few seconds that we met someone, even without exchanging a word, we are working on a theory about who he or she is and how his or her personality is.

The first impression is a quick and unconscious attribution of traits of personality based on trivial details. This is not a bad thing because it is a basic mechanism that allows us to find the way out in confused situations and help us quickly judge whether a completely unknown person could be dangerous.

This is a basic signaling process that leads us to approach or move away from a stranger. The problem is that in order to judge we strongly rely on the experiences we have had with other people and on social stereotypes.

Therefore, although the first impression may give us some basic traits, it is important to understand that it is nothing more than a rather imprecise impression that in many cases can be false, as shown by this video.

The video, entitled "Craving," whose director is Andrew Cadelago, who works for the Pixar, faces us with our tendency to relate on stereotypes.

Three precious lessons for life

1. Take time to judge and be quick in correcting yourself. We can’t avoid the mechanism of the first impression and we can’t completely eliminate our prejudices, but that does not mean that we should let them determine our behavior and how we judge the others. So before judging a person, make sure your stereotypes that are talking. And if you make a mistake, admit it immediately. Recognizing your mistake will not make you look weaker, but smarter. Only those who think and reflect can change their ideas.

2. Do not let yourself be conditioned by social stereotypes. Remember that the society tends to promote the stereotypes that are convenient. Don’t be conditioned by these. Behind every stereotype there are people, and each one is unique and special. If you take the time to know them, you will probably be pleasantly surprised.

3. Do not point the straw in your neighbor's eye if you do not see the beam in yours.
It is easier to accuse the others than themselves. However, before judging, we must remember that we are not exactly perfect, but we surely have some shortcomings that could annoy others.
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Monday, July 10, 2017

Compassion: The best thing you can do for yourself is to help others get up

personal growth

For centuries, intelligence has been linked to logic. It was thought that being smart would ensure success in life. But in recent years, new types of intelligence have emerged, which are better predictors of success, satisfaction, and well-being than the mere intellectual quotient. Today we know that developing emotional intelligence is more important than having a high intellectual quotient.

There are different types of intelligence, but one of the most interesting is the most underrated, the compassionate intelligence. When we show compassion is produced a small miracle because we are not only helping the other, but also ourselves. So, nothing better than applying the phrase of the Dalai Lama: "If you want others to be happy, practice compassion, if you want to be happy practice compassion".

The difference between empathy and compassion

Empathy is the ability that allows us put ourselves in the place of the other and experience his feelings and emotional states. It is believed that our brain is wired specifically to empathize. Thanks to mirror neurons, we can experience firsthand what others feel, especially when it comes to people close to us.

However, compassion is a higher stage because it implies an informed level of compromise to alleviate the pain or suffering of others. In fact, although many people confuse it with pity, it really is a very complex ability that would be desirable to develop.

Compassion has three main components:

1. Emotional, is an emotion that occurs when we see someone suffering, which generates a strong reaction in the brain-related to wellness.

2. Cognitive, involves paying attention to the suffering of others, evaluating the intensity, and reflecting on our ability to intervene effectively.

3. Behavioral, involves a conscious commitment to do something to relieve the sufferings of that person.

The incredible benefits of compassion

Connecting significantly with others helps us have better mental and physical health and even allows us to recover faster from illnesses.

Apparently, the key lies in the fact that compassionate intelligence improves our psychological well-being simply because the act of giving is more pleasant than receiving.

A study conducted at the National Institutes of Health showed that the "centers of pleasure" in the brain; that is to say, the parts that are activated when we feel pleasure, respond to both when we receive money and when we donate it for charity.

In another experiment conducted at the University of British Columbia, participants received a sum of money. Half of them were instructed to spend the money for themselves, the other half was told to spend them for the others. In the end, those who spent money for the others reported being happier than those who spent the money for themselves.

Another reason why compassion is so beneficial is that it creates a positive state of well-being, a serene happiness that has enormous repercussions at physical level.

In fact, a study at the University of California revealed that cellular inflammation levels of compassionate people that were considered "very happy" were very low. Inflammation is a precursor of many diseases, including cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.

But the curious side of this study was that people who were considered "very happy" simply because they lived a "good life", which was related to hedonistic happiness, had higher inflammation levels.

This indicates that it is not only happiness, but what is known as eudaimony, a word derived from Greek and which is mistakenly translated as happiness, but in reality means the fullness of being. The researchers found that people with low levels of inflammation were those who could make sense of their life, where compassion played an important role.

Compassion can be learned

Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, decided to analyze the effects of compassion in the brain. After a journey to India where he practiced meditation, Davidson met the Dalai Lama, who proposed him to study kindness, tenderness, and compassion.

In one of his experiments, he instructed participants in what is known as compassionate meditation, an ancient Buddhist technique that aims to promote charitable attitudes toward people suffering. In meditation, participants visualized a moment when someone had suffered and then wanted to alleviate his or her suffering.

The participants practiced with different types of people, starting with a dear person, someone for whom they could easily feel compassion. So they followed with themselves and then with a stranger. Finally, they practiced compassion for someone with whom they had an active conflict, a "hard person," like a troublesome mate.

Another group of people was taught the technique of cognitive restructuring, according to which the participants had to learn to review their thoughts to be less negative.

The experiment lasted only two weeks, a relatively short time when it comes to changing feelings and appreciating changes in the brain.

Then Dadvidson tested the compassion of the participants asking them to participate in an altruistic game. The participants saw that one of the people in the game had given the victim only 1 dollar of the 10 that had. Then it was up to them to decide how much give of their own money.

People who had been trained in compassionate meditation were more inclined to share their money to help the victims, while those who used cognitive restructuring showed less compassion.

However, the most interesting detail was that cerebral changes were evaluated during the experiment. The images did not leave any doubt: those who practiced compassionate meditation showed an increase in the activity of the lower parietal cortex, a region involved in empathy and understanding of the others. There was also an increase in activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and in the nucleus accumbens, two areas of the brain involved in emotional regulation and positive emotions.

This means that compassion is a skill that can be developed.

An exercise to develop compassion

To develop compassion, we can begin by taking notice of what others have done for us, or that we ourselves have done for others. It is important to try to recreate the feelings and emotions we have experienced in both cases.

You can also practice this compassionate meditation exercise:

1. Focus on the present and become aware of your emotions, feelings, sensations and thoughts.

2. Think of someone you love and who is suffering. Think of the various manifestations of that suffering, regardless of whether you have observed them directly or not. Remember that suffering does not always manifest itself in the same way, and sometimes the person can try to hide it, as in the case of the smiling depression. So that active attention plays a very important role in the development of compassion.

3. Think of how you could help that person overcome his or her suffering. Desire it with all yourself. Your body is likely to react to this mental mobilization. Keep this thought for a moment and concentrate on your sensations.

4. Think of your suffering and move the desire to help and improve others to yourself. This step will help you self-compassion, so that you will develop a better relationship with yourself.

You can repeat this exercise first with a stranger and then with someone you do not like, in which case the exercise will be very liberating because it will also help you to get rid of hatred and rancor.

And always remember this phrase of the Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer: "Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, man will not himself find peace".

Davidson, R. et. Al. (2013) Compassion Training Alters Altruism and Neural Responses to Suffering. Psychological Science; 24(7): 1171–1180.
Fredrickson, B. L. et. Al. (2013) A functional genomic perspective on human well-being. PNAS; 110(33): 13684–13689.
Dunn, E. W.; Aknin, L. B. & Norton, M. I. (2008) Spending money on others promotes happiness. Science; 319(5870): 1687-1688.
Grafman, J. (2006) Human fronto-mesolimbic networks guide decisions about charitable donation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; 103: 15623–15628.
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