How nurturing hope can keep you healthier and happier

Hope can erode when we perceive threats to our way of life, and these days, plenty are out there. As we age, we may struggle with a tragic loss or chronic disease. As we watch the news, we see our political system polarized, hopelessly locked in chaos. The coronavirus spreads wider daily; U.S. markets signaled a lack of hope with a Dow Jones free fall. Losing hope sometimes leads to suicide. When there is no hope - when people cannot picture a desired end to their struggles - they lose the motivation to endure. As professor emeritus at Virginia Commonwealth University, I've studied positive psychology, forgiveness, wellness and the science of hope for more than 40 years. My website offers free resources and tools to help its readers live a more hopeful life. What is hope? First, hope is not...

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SOTT FOCUS: MindMatters: Intentional Suffering: Paul and Gurdjieff on the True Meaning of Crucifixion

The most central image, metaphor and symbol in Christianity is the crucifixion of Jesus. The sign of the cross is ubiquitous in contemporary Western civilization, but what does it really symbolize? What meaning are we meant to derive from it, and how might it be understood and utilized in a way that is vivifying and spirit-strengthening? In this concluding examination of Timothy Ashworth's Paul's Necessary Sin - The Experience of Liberation, we examine the crucifixion in its relation to the death of sin, what Paul the Apostle found so compelling about it, and why he spent the rest of life trying to convey its significance to those he was in contact with. This week on MindMatters we discuss these allegorical themes which have had the lasting power to affect the lives of many - over many centuries. We will also...

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People prone to disengage from difficult tasks and goals may experience greater cognitive decline after retirement

Certain middle-aged and older adults, especially women who tend to disengage from difficult tasks and goals after they retire, may be at greater risk of cognitive decline as they age, according to research published by the American Psychological Association. "This study raises questions about how individual differences in motivation and gender may play a role in cognitive declines and points to the potential importance of continuing to engage in mentally stimulating activities in retirement," said lead author Jeremy Hamm, PhD, of North Dakota State University. "This may be a significant challenge for people who have a tendency to let go of goals when they encounter initial obstacles and setbacks." The study, published in the journal Psychology and Aging®, analyzed data from Midlife in the United States, a national longitudinal survey of 7,108 participants aimed at identifying the factors that influence...

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Clash of perspectives on panpsychism: What it does—and does not—explain about consciousness

In recent years the concept of panpsychism, "which entertains the possibility that all matter is imbued with consciousness," writes Annaka Harris, has been firing up cognitive scientists who plumb the nature of consciousness. Some entertain the possibility with enthusiasm and some entertain the possibility with the enthusiasm of an archer eyeing a choice target. Nautilus has sparked the debate with articles by leading thinkers about panpsychism, which continues this week with two new essays, by, respectively, Harris and science writer George Musser, and a rerun of our most popular essay on the subject, in support of panpsychism, by Norwegian philosopher Hedda Hassel Mørch. To amplify the clash, here are three more perspectives from Nautilus articles and interviews. AFFINITY WITH NATURE Philip Goff, author of Galileo's Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness, philosopher and consciousness researcher at Durham University,...

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Two revision strategies that can prepare you for an exam much better than restudying your notes

When studying for exams, it can be tempting to just re-read textbooks or attempt to memorise your notes. But psychologists know that there are actually much more effective ways of learning — they just require a bit of extra effort. A recent paper in Applied Cognitive Psychology has highlighted two of these superior strategies. The team finds that university students whose revision involves testing themselves or making up questions about course material perform better in a later exam than those who simply restudy their notes. Past research had already shown that generating questions or being tested during the learning process helps people retain information better than passively trying to absorb knowledge. These strategies are considered "desirable difficulties" that make the learning process harder or more effortful, but which are ultimately beneficial. But many previous studies only examined people's ability to...

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14th-century Italian advice on how to survive an epidemic

Giovanni Boccaccio's work taught citizens how to maintain mental wellbeing in times of epidemics and isolation. The spread of the Covid-19 virus has triggered an epidemic of advice. This advice is important, but it seems destined to make our lives more miserable and isolated. However, there is an unusual source of counsel which offers another way to deal with an epidemic. That source is the Decameron. The Italian Renaissance author Giovanni Boccaccio wrote the Decameron in the wake of the plague outbreak in Florence in 1348. The disease ravaged the city, reducing the population by around 60 per cent. Boccaccio described how Florentines "dropped dead in open streets, both by day and by night, whilst a great many others, though dying in their own houses, drew their neighbours' attention to the fact more by the smell of their rotting corpses"....

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SOTT FOCUS: MindMatters: ‘Adulthood of Spirit’ – How To Leave Behind Childish Things And Become Spiritually Mature

Today we discuss the key practices and processes by which individuals come to know themselves, others, and the divine, according to Timothy Ashworth's interpretation of the Apostle Paul's thought in his book Paul's Necessary Sin. Since 'The Fall', humanity has suffered from a 'darkening of the mind' or an identification with the things created - our own physical existence - and a blindness to higher realities. But this devolution, or 'sin', has a constructive component built in, when the knowledge of sin, as sin, becomes recognized and pointed out for what it is. When an individual sees this in oneself, he or she can then make the choice to think and act differently. The state of sin was necessary in order to gain knowledge about the nature of good and evil. Paul saw this potential transformation as a way for...

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FLASHBACK: Is self-control just empathy with your future self?

The same part of the brain that allows us to step into the shoes of others also helps us restrain ourselves. You've likely seen the video before: a stream of kids, confronted with a single, alluring marshmallow. If they can resist eating it for 15 minutes, they'll get two. Some do. Others cave almost immediately. This "Marshmallow Test," first conducted in the 1960s, perfectly illustrates the ongoing war between impulsivity and self-control. The kids have to tamp down their immediate desires and focus on long-term goals—an ability that correlates with their later health, wealth, and academic success, and that is supposedly controlled by the front part of the brain. But a new study by Alexander Soutschek at the University of Zurich suggests that self-control is also influenced by another brain region—and one that casts this ability in a different light....

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Most parents do not successfully transmit their political values to their children, study finds

Less than half of all people in the United States adopt their parents' political party affiliation, according to new research published in the British Journal of Political Science. The study also discovered some factors that appear to influence whether parents successfully transmit their partisan identities to their children. "Most parents want to raise their children with the 'right' values. What is right, of course, depends upon the parent but understanding what factors might aid or harm a parent's ability to successful transmit their values to their children is important to many, particularly in this era of hyper polarization," said study author Pete Hatemi, a distinguished professor at Penn State University. "Generally speaking, if there has been one constant in the study of political behavior it was the belief that political orientations are reliably transmitted from parents to children. The problem...

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