Internet: Good for Your Well-being?
Could it be that young’uns chuckling at Reddit posts and using Snapchat to send selfies have got something to teach older folks about hap- piness? Perhaps.
A recent study out of Israel looked at the impact of Internet use among different age groups and found—no surprise here— higher levels of satisfac- tion among the younger set. We’ve known for years about the digital divide: Worldwide, people over
60 participate least in the information society. But that’s not the whole story, the study’s authors con- clude: After controlling for socio-demographic variables, sociability, and health conditions, those in the older group who do use the Internet see an overall increase in life satisfaction.
Micro-RVing: The Next Small Thing
Meet Paul Elkins, an innovator who’s designed a cheap, prac- tical mini-camper for those who want to enjoy the outdoors without breaking the bank or hurting the environment. Elkins spent $150 to build a light, bicycle-pulled camper that affords some of the comforts of home, without much of the baggage. Who buys his blueprints? “Most of these people seem pro- gressive, compassionate, and mindful of their environmental footprint,” he says. “But some are just trying to get by.”
Changing Our Minds
How much can people change in six weeks? To investigate, researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara enlisted 15 college students in a mindfulness-based lifestyle improvement program. Each weekday, students convened for 150 minutes of exercise, 90 minutes of discussion on topics ranging from stress management to relation- ships, and an hour of formal meditation practice.
Compared to waitlisted students, participants showed substantial gains—not just in fitness, self-esteem, and mood, but also in working memory and brain function. Benefits persisted six weeks later.
Humans have higher limits than we assume for rapid change across vari- ous capacities at the same time, the researchers say. This small study focused on young adults; it would be interesting to see if the pro- gram would similarly benefit older adults in a larger study.
Minding the Kids
How can mindfulness in parents produce stronger psychosocial well- being in children? In one online survey of 615 parents with 3- to 17-year-old kids, a mindful disposition was associated with fewer “neg- ative” parenting practices like harsh discipline. This, in turn, correlated with fewer mood and behavioral problems in the children. Another mindful-parenting study linked a tendency to share in reciprocated posi- tive emotions with teens during stressful conflicts
to fewer substance abuse problems in the children.
Swearing and mindfulness—match made in heaven? F*ck That: An Honest Guide to Meditation is a recently published book that began as a joke between filmmaker Jason Headley and his wife. Spoofing syrupy language common in guided meditations, Headley first made a video garnering 8 million views, then an app, and now the book. It’s clear Headley struck a chord. As
one reviewer wrote, “I’ve failed at meditation my entire adult life. Part of it is my inability to get past the woo-woo language. This guy gets it.”
What a Fuzzy Rodent Can Teach Us About Empathy
Elephants, apes, wolves, and crows all exhibit soothing behaviors, such as grooming their stressed companions. But the recent discovery that prairie voles—adorable rodents, but not known for their intelligence—form lifelong partnerships, soothe their partners in times of duress, and seem to mourn each other, has researchers re-evaluating higher brain function as a factor in consolation behavior.
Researchers at Emory Univer- sity are homing in on oxytocin, the so-called love hormone activated during physical intimacy and mater- nal bonding, which is measurable
in prairie voles (but not in their close cousin, the couldn’t-care-less meadow vole). Of particular interest is oxytocin’s role in human social development, and how it might help us understand and treat psychiatric disorders, such as autism, where social bonding is disrupted.