What Is Unrequited Love?

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There are times when we have strong romantic feelings toward someone, only to find out that they do not feel the same way about us. That is called unrequited love—love that is not returned or rewarded. It is a one-sided experience that can leave us feeling pain, grief, and shame.

You may think it would be easy to tell if love is unrequited but it isn’t always clear and can cause a lot of confusion and emotional turmoil. Learn what to look for and how to address the situation.

Signs to Look For

There are signs that can help you understand what is going on and if the love you are feeling for someone is being reciprocated. People describe feeling as if they are getting “mixed signals” from a love interest only to find that it is, in fact, unrequited love.

Initiating Contact

Are you the only person making effort to communicate? Are you the only one reaching out to check in with the other person to see how their day is going or find out what important things are happening in their life.

When you are the only one taking the time to reach out and connect with the other person, follow up with them about things, or inquire about their life, it can be a sign that this love is unrequited.

In healing dynamics, two partners who care about each other are motivated to connect with each other and share in the pattern of fluid, healthy communication. The exchange of energy between partners in a healthy relationship feels balanced, not leaving one person to bear the responsibility of reaching out to connect.

Physical Touch

Do you desire to touch the other person, to hold hands, to kiss or hug? Our longing for connection includes physical contact and when people are equally attracted, there is a reaching out by both parties to want to connect on a physical level.

If you find that you are always the one initiating any physical touch, or that when you attempt to physically connect you are met with resistance or the other person pulling away, it can signal that this is a one-sided longing.

Unrealistic Views

Many times, in situations of unrequited love, one person has the other on a pedestal. The love interest is perceived as near perfect and any imperfections are easily explained away. There are rarely healthy boundaries set in unrequited love.

When people build a healthy romantic bond, they can both still see one another’s faults, vulnerabilities, or imperfections. Healthy relationships allow for space for people to make mistakes and use those opportunities to help create closer bonds.

Each party can see and hear each other and their areas of vulnerability. In an unrequited love dynamic, only the emotionally invested person is able to see and hear the other party. There is not a mutual, healthy acknowledgment of each other in unrequited love.


Getting to know another person takes time. Over the course of time, partners in a healthy relationship go through experiences together, ask questions, and make an effort to understand and get to know each other. In an unrequited love dynamic, there is emotional investment on only one side.

You might find that you are always asking questions, initiating contact, and making efforts to invite the person into conversation or experiences. In turn, the other person may know nothing about you at all, never ask you questions, or seem to invite you into any meaningful conversation about you, such as your desires, interests, goals, or hobbies.

You may long for the other person to know you but the opportunities for sharing with them never seems to come.

How to Move Forward

There are many things we can do to successfully move forward after the heartbreak of unrequited love. It may feel impossible now, especially as you begin the healing process, but know that this takes time and healing can happen.

Although unrequited love can feel extremely painful, it can offer us an opportunity to grow in unexpected ways.

Through an experience like this, we can gain a better understanding of our needs, our patterns in a relationship, and how to become a healthy, positive partner in the future.

Allow Time to Grieve

Unrequited love usually results in deep heartbreak and feelings of rejection. When we are emotionally invested in someone and they don’t seem to feel the same way about us, we might question our worth or wonder if we will ever feel loved.

Taking time to grieve your loss is important. You are certainly not alone in your experience, as many people have been through situations in which their love for another person has not been reciprocated.

Challenge the thoughts that might creep in telling you that there is something wrong with you or that you are not enough. There are va ariety of reasons why love may not be reciprocated that have nothing to do with your worth or being “enough.”

Understand Patterns

This may be your first experience with unrequited love or you may find that this seems to be a pattern for you. Much of the way we view and experience adult relationships has to do with what we learned growing up, what we observed, and what we were taught about love and relationships.

Attachment style can influence how we develop and maintain adult romantic relationships. Attachment, as described by famed psychologist John Bowlby, is a deep and enduring emotional bond that connects people to each other. Primarily referenced within parent-child dynamics, more research is showing that attachment style has quite a bit to do with our adult romantic relationships as well.

Understanding your attachment style can allow you to gain insight into your own patterns of relationship, your needs and how to develop healthier connections.

By Jodi Clarke, MA, LPC/MHSP

Is Casual Dating Good For Relationships?

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Relationship scientists define casual dating as dating and sexual behavior outside of a long-term romantic relationship, and it is a common relationship among teenagers and young adults. In other words, casual dating is dating someone and possibly having sex with them when you are not engaged, married, or otherwise in a long-term commitment.

Casual dating is not the same as hooking up, even though they have many things in common. Casual dating implies a desire to maintain a relationship, even though it is deemed casual. Hooking up, on the other hand, does not necessarily demand an emotional commitment on any level.

Depending on your age and particular upbringing, you might consider casual dating a fun way to socialize, a stepping stone towards a more long-term relationship, or an immoral relationship because of its extramarital sex component (if sex is occurring). Many proponents of traditional marriage denounce casual dating as harmful and a precursor of divorce. Is it true that casual dating is harmful in the long term?

Casual Dating and Divorce

Relationship psychologists and sociologists have long believed that casual dating and cohabitation before marriage leads to higher divorce rates. However, the connection is difficult to establish on its own (there are lots of possible confounding factors), and there are many studies that show the opposite trend.

How you ask questions and to whom you ask questions about casual dating deeply influence the type of results you get on this topic. If you ask happy couples in both casual and married relationships, they will both show similar patterns in satisfaction and happiness. The same goes for unhappy couples. In other words, evidence that shows couples as less happy and more likely to divorce could be a result of the specific couple and not the relationship style. Casual dating may or may not lead to more divorce rates in the future, depending on the person you are dating and the likelihood of a long-term relationship. Scientists can’t quite agree.

Are Casual Relationships Less Satisfactory?

Another common effect attributed to casual dating is that these non-committed, casual relationships are less satisfying than more traditional, committed relationships.

On the side of sexual satisfaction, a study published in the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality found that although sexual satisfaction was higher for people in married, engaged, or exclusive relationships, there was still a positive link between casual dating and sexual satisfaction. Casual dating doesn’t lead to an unhappy sex life.

What about general satisfaction with the relationship as a whole? The picture gets a little more complicated here.

If you don’t expect a future with the person you are dating, your relationship satisfaction will be lower than that of cohabiting, engaged or married relationships.

If you do hope that your casual dating relationship will turn into something more long-term, then your satisfaction will be the same as that of cohabiting or married couples. It all depends on whether you feel the relationship is coming to an end or is in danger.

Overall, if your expectations and attitudes towards casual dating are positive, it’s likely that you’ll be happy with your relationship and your sex life.

Does Casual Dating Lead to Poor Mental Health?

Some people also believe that casual dating leads to negative psychological effects such as low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. Myths about the negative effects of casual dating and hooking up, especially for women, abound. What does the science say?

On the topic of hooking up, research over one year with undergraduate students in the United States showed that only when people hooked up for non-autonomous (“I didn’t choose this”) reasons had lower self-esteem, higher depression and anxiety, and more physical symptoms.

In other words, when a person hooked up because of peer pressure, or because they couldn’t consent (being under the influence of drugs or alcohol), it made them less happy.

However, the participants who hooked up because they wanted to (autonomous) were just as happy as the students who didn’t hook up at all.

Whether hooking up and casual dating hurt people mentally depends on their own personal desires and attitudes towards these relationship styles. If you think that hooking up and casual dating is wrong, engaging in these things will make you feel bad. If you think that they are fun ways to meet people and explore future relationships, you will feel happy. It all depends on your point of view.

Casual Dating in Relationship Progression

If you don’t think that casual dating is wrong or immoral, then you are likely to find this kind of relationship satisfying. More interestingly, researchers have begun considering casual dating as a step in a progressive relationship that eventually leads to long-term commitment or marriage.

In a world where traditional marriage is retreating, people use casual dating as a way to test sexual and relationship compatibility with partners.

In other words, casual dating tends to be an early step toward long-term partnerships. These relationships often begin with meeting or even hooking up. The two people may start going on dates, perhaps not exclusively at first. If there is compatibility, people then tend to become exclusive, move in together, and eventually marry and have children.

The difference between today’s casual dating and the dating styles of previous generations is that now, casual dating more openly involves extramarital sex. This may be why older, more conservative groups tend to denounce casual dating as undesirable. However, since non-marital, casual sex is widely accepted in modern societies, this attitude is less influential than it used to be.

Casual dating will hurt you only if you are doing it against your will, if you have no hope for a future with the person, or if you think it is immoral. If you enjoy the sense of freedom that comes with developing relationships with a potential partner and testing the waters before making a commitment, casual dating is one step towards finding a person to possibly form a long-term commitment with in the future.

By Anabelle Bernard Fournier

A Brighter Outlook Could Translate To A Longer Life

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Older women who look on the bright side of life were less likely to die in the next several years than their peers who weren’t as positive about the future.

The research, published Wednesday in the American Journal of Epidemiology, is the latest to find an association between a positive sense of well-being and better health, though it’s not yet clear whether one causes the other.

In this study, researchers used data from 70,021 women who were part of the long-running Nurses’ Health Study, looking at their level of optimism as assessed by a brief, validated questionnaire in 2004. For example, they were asked to what degree they agreed with the statement “In uncertain times, I usually expect the best.” Their average age was about 70 years old. Then the researchers tracked deaths among the women from 2006 to 2012. (That two-year lag was to avoid including women who were already seriously ill.)

They found that after controlling for factors including age, race, educational level and marital status, the women who were most optimistic were 29 percent less likely to die during the six-year study follow-up than the least optimistic. That reduced risk was seen in cancer (16 percent lower), heart disease (38 percent), stroke (39 percent), respiratory disease (37 percent) and infection (52 percent).

The researchers didn’t see a difference in their results when they controlled for depression. When the researchers ran additional analyses controlling for existing health conditions such as high cholesterol, diabetes and cancer, the risk of dying was 27 percent lower among the most optimistic women. When controlling for health behaviors like smoking and exercise: 14 percent lower. And when controlling for all those factors, the risk of dying was still 9 percent lower among the most optimistic women.

This study is significant because of its size, and because it digs into the effect of those potentially confounding variables, says Nancy Sin, a health psychologist at Penn State University who studies the psychosocial factors involved in heart health and aging and was not involved in the study. Other studies have also shown a relationship between optimism and physical health, particularly in cardiovascular health.

Optimism could conceivably lead to improved health outcomes through several mechanisms, says Eric Kim, an author of the study and research fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. First, people who are more optimistic also tend to have healthier behaviors when it comes to diet, exercise and tobacco use. But the study shows that the relationship persists even when those behaviors are controlled for, suggesting something else is also going on.

It’s also possible that more optimistic people cope better, says Kim. “When they face life challenges, they create contingency plans, plan for future challenges and accept what can’t be changed,” he says.

And finally, “optimism may directly impact biological function,” says Kim, possibly through better immune function or lower levels of inflammation.

There are some short-term studies suggesting that optimism can be taught. But it’s not yet clear whether there are easy techniques that can permanently change how hopeful someone is about the future. Nor is it known whether making someone more optimistic will also make them healthier. That would require a clinical trial.

Moreover, “not everyone wants to be optimistic,” says Kim. “We should be sensitive to people’s preferences.” In addition, it’s important to emphasize that optimism is only partly under our control. People have diseases for all sorts of reasons, many of which are not under their control no matter how optimistic they are, he says.

“It’s important not to place any blame on patients,” says Sin. She says it’s important to understand exactly what it is about optimistic people that is potentially relevant to health — for example, perhaps they have better social relationships and support.

Katherine Hobson is a freelance health and science writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Keeping Money Secrets: Financial Infidelity On The Rise

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When Ann and Ed Coambs met 15 years ago, she was impressed that he had his financial act together: He owned a house, had a job and managed his budget.

But years later, after they married, Ann learned something that shocked her: Ed had secretly taken out debt and hid it from her for over a year.

Ultimately, the truth came out: One night, after their three sons went to bed, Ed told her. Ann recalls the initial shock: “In a span of a couple minutes, you’re like, ‘What just got swept out from underneath me?’ ”

Then she got angry.

“Everything in me wanted to just yell and punch a pillow,” Ann says — especially when she considered how he’d advocated for openness and transparency during their whole marriage. She wondered, “What else don’t I know? What else is he hiding?”

“When that happened, the trust part was the hardest thing to get back,” she says.

Getting it back required couples counseling, apologies, transparency and time. Even in forgiveness, Ann admits she resented repaying his debts.

“I feel like, ‘You should bail yourself out for what you caused,’ ” she says.

Marital infidelity is well-known, but financial infidelity might actually be more common.

The few academic studies have estimated that as many as 41% of American adults admit to hiding accounts, debts or spending habits from their spouse or partner.

“It does seem that financial infidelity is on the rise,” says Ted Rossman, an industry analyst for That company’s recent survey found that millennials are nearly twice as likely to hide money or accounts from partners than other generations.

It’s easier to conceal, Rossman says, because of technology: “You can sign up for the account, you can get the statements, you can do your spending — all without anything showing up in the mail.”

Every couple might differ in how it defines financial infidelity. Typical cases often involve hiding compulsive shopping or gambling debts. In others, a spouse might siphon off cash from the family’s funds for a secret purpose. Either way, when the deception is exposed, it often evokes feelings of betrayal and loss of trust that can lead to the dissolution of the relationship.

“It’s hard to realize someone could be so fake to you, someone you thought you understood and could read,” says Megan McCoy, a professor at Kansas State University who specializes in financial therapy, a new field that combines financial advice with family counseling.

Money signifies safety in retirement or a child’s college education. “And that’s why money fights are nastier and last longer” and why financial deception cuts deep, McCoy says.

That is painfully familiar to Ed Coambs. He met Ann 15 years ago at a party he hosted when they were living at opposite ends of Houston. At 23, Ed already had his finances in order.

This impressed Ann, who was three years older and saddled with dental school debt. “I thought, ‘Gosh, I’ve hit the jackpot. This is amazing,’ ” she says.

Within two years, they married and settled in Charlotte, N.C. In the process, they navigated a few differences in how they wanted to manage their funds. Ed, for example, argued for joint accounts.

“I never had the idea that people would, in a marriage, keep their money in separate accounts or hidden from each other,” he says. His parents had joint accounts, and anything else seemed foreign.

Ann, meanwhile, says she felt skittish about that, in part because she’d watched her parents fight over money during their divorce. But the money discussions with her own husband weren’t acrimonious, she says.

“Eventually I got around to saying, ‘OK, let’s do this,’ ” Ann says. So all their accounts — including those for her dental practice — were all mutual and shared.

Ed stayed home with their young boys and helped her manage her business accounts while his wife supported them. Later, he returned to school to become a therapist, but his counseling practice was slow to take off.

“I had a period of struggle,” he admits. “It had to do with my own insecurities and what it meant for me to be a provider or not being a provider.” That’s when Ed borrowed several thousand dollars on his business credit card — the only account they didn’t share — without talking to his wife.

Ironically, the practice Ed was building was based on financial therapy — counseling for couples fighting about money. Meanwhile, over the following year, the debt grew to more than $20,000, but he didn’t tell his wife about it.

In many ways, Ed says, he fell into some of the typical patterns of financial infidelity. He says many people justify financial unfaithfulness because there’s a disparity in income or they feel deficient. He kept his secret under wraps, all the while hoping his business would grow and he could repay the credit card debt. Instead, the debt grew. Even to him, it made no sense. He feared how Ann — who referred to him as “Mr. Financially Responsible” — might react.

He says the strain of hiding isolated and depressed him.

“For the most part, people thought, ‘Well, Ed’s successful, he’s smart, he’s capable,’ ” he says. “Internally, nothing else felt further from the truth.”

It has been over 2 1/2 years since Ed came clean with Ann over his debt. He says he has learned to empathize with those, like himself, who break their own moral code — and with people like his wife, who work hard to forgive. The Coambs say they agreed to tell their story in the hopes it might help others in a similar position.

To those still hiding in the shadows, they say: Come forward — the sooner, the better.


How to Find Happiness

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Learn the Best Tips From Around the World

Are you on a quest to find happiness? While happiness might feel elusive or out of your reach at times, that doesn’t make it an impossible journey or goal to achieve. On the contrary, happiness could be waiting for you around the next corner if you just hang on.

Or, it might be even simpler than that. Happiness might have been with you all along—you just may not have taken the time to realize it was much less complicated than you once believed. You probably know it’s not about driving the newest car or having the latest gadget. But, what is it that really drives happiness? Let’s consider four studies from around the world to answer that question.

Always Be Improving

A 2007 study reporting on data from the British Household Panel Survey revealed an interesting set of findings about the roots of happiness.

What is it that makes us happy: getting what we want or having what we want? Paradoxically, it seems that it’s not the state of “being married” that makes us the happiest, but rather dynamic events such as “starting a new relationship.”

In the same way, “getting a new job” had a greater effect on happiness than employment status. “Becoming pregnant” had a greater effect on happiness than “being a parent.” Similarly, events such as “starting a new course,” “passing an exam,” or “buying a new house” were all also high on the happiness scale.

In contrast, events with a low relation to happiness included the end of a relationship, losing a job, and losing a parent. What does all this mean, and what is making people in Britain happy? Let’s take a moment to figure this out.

Positive dynamic events seem to be key rather than static situations. While this may all sound a little superficial, it makes sense to some degree if you consider happiness to be a “momentary” state.

What can we glean from this study? If you want to pursue happiness in your life or stay positive, realize that there is always the possibility that some happy event is waiting around the corner for you. And if you don’t feel like waiting—go out and make something happy happen. As the quote from Abraham Lincoln goes, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.”

Surround Yourself with Happy People

A 2008 study reported on data from the Framingham Heart Study conducted in Framingham, Massachusetts followed 4,739 people from 1983 to 2003 to answer one interesting question: does our happiness depend on the happiness levels of the people around us?

Startlingly, results of the study showed that to be precisely the case.

People who are surrounded by happy people are more likely to become happy in the future.

What’s more, the analysis revealed that this effect was the result of happiness spreading, not just an artifact of happy people tending to hang out with one another.

According to this study, if you have a friend who lives within a mile of you and that friend becomes happy, the odds of you also becoming happy increase by about 25 percent. The same was true for spouses (up to 16 percent improvement), siblings living within a mile (up to 28 percent), and next door neighbors (up to 70 percent). Interestingly, the happiness of coworkers was shown to have no effect on the happiness of those around them.

What does all this mean? Surround yourself with happy people as much as possible, because it’s very likely that their happiness will spread to you.

Recall Positive Memories

In an Australian study of over 300 young adults, it was shown that those who recalled memories about problem-solving (a time when you successfully managed a challenge) or about identity (something that shaped you to become the person you are today) showed decreased negative emotions and increased positive emotions, respectively.

These findings suggest that simply thinking back to a time in your life when you were overcoming a challenge or to a time when you went through a significant life experience that changed you for the better could be effective in boosting your mood, and therefore, your happiness.

Collective Goals or Self-Transcendence

A 2019 study out of South Korea using data from the Korean General Social Survey (KGSS) showed that respondents prioritizing spirituality were the most likely to be happy, followed by those who valued social relationships (friends, family, neighbors).

These findings suggest that the path to happiness in South Korea is not about all that glitters with gold—rather, going after goals related to collectivism or self-transcendence may be most important to boosting and preserving happiness.

It’s clear that what makes you happy may depend on where you live in the world (although these are limited studies that looked at different concepts). The British valued positive change, Americans grew happy when those around them were happy, Australians became happy when remembering positive memories, and South Koreans were happiest when engaged in collectivistic and spiritual pursuits.

The common thread, however, is that happiness is ever-changing and your happiness meter can always be boosted. If you truly want to pursue happiness, surround yourself with positivity and see beyond your present circumstances to the bigger picture, both in terms of people and your place in the greater universe.

By Arlin Cuncic

This Is Your Stressed-Out Brain On Scarcity

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Being poor is stressful. That’s no big surprise.

In a poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health, 1 in 3 people making less than $20,000 a year said they’d experienced “a great deal of stress” in the previous month. And of those very stressed-out people, 70 percent said that money problems were to blame.

Scientists have long recognized that poverty can aggravate health problems. Now they’re also beginning to understand that the stress of too little income actually changes the way people think.

Take Lauren Boria, a single mom from the Bronx in her early 30s. Boria’s an upbeat redhead supporting herself and her 4-year-old daughter, Fallon. They’re barely scraping by on the paychecks from Boria’s waitressing job. So Boria finds herself constantly doing a mental tally.

“I have, like, I think $320 in my checking account right now,” she says. “And I have a $300 check that I’m going to deposit. Then I have to write a $600 money order. So, what’s that leave me with? I think twenty bucks.”

Money seems to rule Boria’s brain. Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir says that’s normal for someone who’s not making ends meet. Shafir studies the brain on scarcity. He told me that it doesn’t matter what kind of scarcity you’re dealing with. When humans don’t have enough of something, that fact dominates our consciousness.

“When you’re very lonely, or when you’re hungry, or when you’re poor, a large portion of the day is spent entertaining thoughts related to the source of your scarcity. If you’re lonely, you spend a big part of the day worrying about how to make social connections, which is actually distracting you from other things.” And if you’re poor, you worry about money. Constantly.

Putting this constant mental attention on money can be a good thing — in part.

In making day-to-day financial decisions, Shafir says, “the poor are just better than the rich. They use their dollar better than the rich. They’re more efficient. They’re more effective. They pay greater attention. So when [Boria] pays attention to these issues, she can do extremely well.”

But the same attention that helps Boria survive day-to-day hurts her in the long run.

Shafir says that’s because constantly solving money problems takes up a huge amount of Boria’s cognitive capacity — a limited resource. “When so many moments of the day require your full attention, there’s very little of it left to worry about things that are not right in front of your eyes … and then you start doing things you wish you hadn’t done. You don’t quite remember to do things in time. You don’t anticipate things that are going to happen tomorrow.”

Shafir calls this problem bandwidth poverty. When you’re bandwidth poor, you’re thinking about how to pay for food and make rent today — and it’s almost impossible to think about the future.

Shafir says that the poor are often judged for being myopic — for not saving money for the future, or not making better decisions. But what looks like short-sightedness from the outside is actually bandwidth poverty, trapping people like Boria in the moment to such a degree that they literally can’t think about the future.

Boria struggles with bandwidth poverty in lots of small ways, every day. But there’s one big decision that haunts her: going on welfare after she lost her job about a year ago. Made in the throes of bandwidth poverty, she now calls that “the worst decision of her life.”

Once Boria enrolled, she started getting a check for $145 twice a month. But what she didn’t anticipate was that those checks would come with a whole new list of responsibilities.

The big requirement was that Boria had to show up for what’s called a work preparedness program, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for three months. “It’s like a job, but you get no money for it,” she told me. “You have to go there ready for an interview, every day.”

But Boria says there never were any actual job interviews. In fact, Dr. Shafir told me that programs like work preparedness are intentionally complicated and demanding, to make sure that only the most driven and needy people will jump through the hoops to keep their benefits. The idea behind that is that people who just want an easy check get weeded out.

The actual effect on people like Boria is what Shafir calls a “cognitive tax” — taxing their limited bandwidth, and adding even more stress.

“The minute they make you show up every day at the right hour, dressed well, with a form,” Shafir says, “[they’re] just imposing more cognitive tax on you and increasing the chance that you won’t succeed.”

The expense of commuting to the program, and the time it took up, eventually took its toll on Boria, and she dropped out. But her time on cash assistance left a big footprint in her life. Just a few months ago, she learned she’d been accused of concealing funds — a crime she could do jail time for. The charge is that Boria hadn’t reported some unemployment benefits she’d gotten while she was on cash assistance. The funds in question are a little over $1,000.

Thinking back on it now, Boria feels like if she’d just had the mental space and time to research all the options and what they’d lead to, she would never have signed up for welfare in the first place.

So what can the millions of people like Boria do to alleviate bandwidth poverty?

Shafir says that, for a start, policy-makers can ease the cognitive burden of people who are financially strapped by simplifying the complicated forms and extensive bureaucratic requirements that make it hard to access public assistance. This is the opposite of a “cognitive tax” — what Shafir calls a “cognitive gift.”

And Boria has gotten pretty good at giving herself cognitive gifts — a few moments of quiet out on the dock at her job, waitressing at a private yacht club in the Bronx, or a cheeseburger and a milkshake when she’s feeling extra stressed.

Dr. Shafir says these kinds of mental breaks are more important than they might seem. “When you’re struggling, poor … a lot of the day is not so much fun. And people fail to appreciate the fact that when I buy myself a big ice cream, or a small gift” — something he says many people criticize the poor for doing — “I’m giving myself a nice minute after a complicated week, which is a good thing to do.”

For Boria, the ultimate cognitive gift is a day away from appointments and obligations, playing at the beach with her daughter Fallon.

“Having children is the ultimate collection of wonderful, satisfying minutes and warmth and love in your life,” Shafir says. “So that can be an enormous boost. It doesn’t make her juggling easier. In fact there’s every reason to believe her juggling has gotten much more complicated. But it does give you some meaning, which is what we’re all here for, in some sense.”


Image by Josh Neufeld

Why it pays to cut yourself some slack

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If you don’t have enough of something – money, say, or time – fixating on it could make the problem worse.

When you next find yourself waiting in a horrendously long queue, you could kill time by contemplating this surprising finding from “queueing theory”, a sub-branch of mathematics which is exactly as it sounds. This particular example comes from the mathematician John Cook; I found it via Suppose there’s a bank with only one staff member on duty, spending 10 minutes with each customer. Customers join the queue randomly, on average once every 10.3 minutes. What’s the average wait time? If you let the situation run and run, eventually it’ll reach a “steady state” of five hours of waiting. Add one more staff member, and that falls to three minutes. To be fair, in the real world, no bank would be open long enough for things to reach that point. But the lesson is clear: having even a little slack in the system isn’t merely helpful. It makes all the difference in the world.

What goes for bank queues goes for human lives, too: having no slack, whether of time or money, is an even bigger drawback than you might have thought. In their book Scarcity, behavioural scientists Eldar Shafir and Sendhil Mullainathan show that “scarcity captures the mind”. When you don’t have enough of something, you fixate on it, so it occupies much more mental bandwidth. If you’re not sure you’ll have enough money to feed your family all this month, you have an obvious problem, but also a non-obvious one: the toll on your mental resources, research suggests, will undermine your ability to make wise spending decisions, damaging your chances of escaping your predicament.

Even if you’re not facing financial scarcity, you probably still experience an absence of slack in the form of time. And here the same applies: when you’re too busy, the mental experience of busyness impairs your ability to manage your time wisely, so you procrastinate more, or take on too many commitments, leaving you busier still. Even if you do decide to force some slack into your plans, you’ll discover the intractable law that “slack wants to be used”. Sure, I can resolve to leave work early on Friday to spend an hour strolling in the park – I’m lucky to have that option – but when it comes to Friday afternoon itself, any mildly urgent task will prove more powerful than my initial intention, and I’ll end up rooted to my desk.

One answer, as the creativity coach Jessica Abel explains, is to do all you can “to take moment-to-moment decision-making out of your hands”. If it’s up to you, at any given point in time, to decide to take a breather or cross off more tasks, you’ll usually choose the latter. But if you’ve made plans to meet someone, or arranged for your internet access to cut off, or designed a geeky schedule in felt tip and pinned it on your wall – if you’ve done anything, in other words, to surrender some control over your actions – you might not. The same goes for automatically having money deducted into a savings account before you can spend it, as opposed to relying on moment-to-moment frugality. These are the two eternal truths of slack: it really, really matters – but you can’t trust yourself to remember how much you need it.

By Oliver Burkeman

Does the Warm Glow of Giving Ever Get Old?

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New research suggests that spending money on ourselves gets old fast, but not spending money on others.

Imagine what it would be like to eat at your favorite restaurant every day. Going there would be exciting at first, but with time it would simply become part of your routine—and you might even get bored with it.

Past research has found that we adapt surprisingly quickly to the good things we get in life, a phenomenon psychologists call hedonic adaptation. Doing something for the first time is likely to make us happier than doing something for the fiftieth time; we get used to it and take it for granted.

But do we adapt in the same way to giving good things to others? Research suggests that people who spend money on someone else experience a larger boost in happiness than people who spend money on themselves, at least in the short term. A recent study in the journal Psychological Science set out to test how the benefits of giving and getting compare over time, as they become routine.

The researchers recruited 96 participants from a university community and gave them $25 to spend over the course of five days. Approximately half of the participants were asked to spend the money on themselves, while the other half were told to spend it on someone else. They were free to use the money on whatever they wanted, as long as they spent $5 each day in the exact same way. For example, some participants bought themselves a snack or drink, treated someone else to coffee, or donated to an online charity.

Each night, participants filled out surveys reporting on their general happiness and mood, as well as how happy they felt right after spending the money. The researchers found that people who spent the money on themselves declined in happiness over the five days of the study—suggesting that they may have initially experienced a happiness boost that diminished after the novelty of getting wore off. However, for people who spent the money on others, this decline didn’t happen; their happiness remained high throughout the study. These effects were even stronger for participants’ general feelings of happiness than for how they felt right after the experience.

In other words, it appeared that spending money on someone else—as opposed to spending it on oneself—had more lasting consequences for happiness. “Giving for giving’s sake may feel good for longer than does comparable getting, even when repeatedly helping in identical ways,” the study authors write. “Happiness from giving appears to sustain itself.”

In a second experiment, the researchers found similar results. Here, participants played multiple rounds of an online game that was set up for them to win; some participants were told that they would keep their winnings, while others were told that they could pick a charity for their winnings to go to. When participants won money for themselves, winning felt less enjoyable—they were less happy, elated, and joyful—as the game went on. However, for participants whose winnings went to charity, their enjoyment from repeatedly winning declined more slowly.

Why were giving and spending on others relatively resistant to hedonic adaptation? The authors suggest that there could be a good evolutionary reason why we’re motivated to give to others: our deeply rooted human need to belong and to be part of a social group. Repeatedly giving to others may be especially rewarding to us because maintaining our reputation as kind, helpful individuals is crucial to our survival and thriving. The authors explain that social reputations are built up slowly—and can be damaged quickly if one behaves in a selfish way.

This research suggests that giving to others doesn’t seem to get old in the same way that spending on ourselves does. In other words, while having dinner at your favorite restaurant every day might become mundane, there’s a way to make your happiness last longer: Treat a friend to a meal.


Cognitive Empathy vs. Emotional Empathy

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Learn why both are important for living well with others.

Remember the last time you were with a loved one who was feeling sad or hopeless? Maybe it was after a divorce, after they received a life-altering diagnosis, or after the loss of a close loved one. Their tears create a response with us. We feel moved to want to comfort them somehow. When you sat with them during these times, it was likely that you felt a bit sad.

We generally think of empathy as the capacity to place ourselves in another person’s shoes, trying to gain a better understanding of their experience. Did you know that researchers have identified a few different forms of empathy? Two primary forms of empathy that have been identified and researched are cognitive empathy and emotional empathy (also known as affective empathy).

Although they are quite different, both are equally important for helping us form and maintain connections with others.

Why Empathy Matters

Empathy helps connect people, moving them toward each other in a helping and/or healing capacity. As Stephen Covey (acclaimed author and leadership expert) stated, “When you show deep empathy toward others, their defense energy goes down and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.”

As we live our lives at work and at home, we are continually interacting and balancing relationship dynamics. When we lack empathy, we are unable to develop and nurture those interpersonal connections, leading to strained relationships, broken trust, loss of relationships, and isolation. It becomes more difficult to repair conflicts, work collaboratively, or solve problems when we don’t practice empathy.

Our society relies on empathy to facilitate connections and forward movement. When the empathy piece is missing, we become more disconnected and less effective in our productivity and innovation of new ideas.

Practicing empathy is important in a variety of relationship dynamics, such as those among:

Dating Relationships
Business partners
Community groups

Two different kinds of empathy (cognitive and emotional) reveal the ways we are able to relate to a friend or family member in crisis. There are distinct differences between the two types of empathy.

Cognitive Empathy
Taking another person’s perspective
Imagining what it’s like in another person’s shoes
Understanding someone’s feelings

Emotional Empathy
Sharing an emotional experience
Feeling distress in response to someone’s pain
Feeling a willingness to help someone

Cognitive Empathy

When we practice cognitive empathy, we are practicing taking the perspective of another person. In essence, we are imagining what it might be like to actually be this person in their situation. Cognitive empathy is also referred to as perspective-taking, which lends itself to the idea of putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes.

With cognitive empathy, we are trying to tap into the idea of placing ourselves in someone else’s situation and gaining a better understanding of his/her experience.

In moments when someone we care about is hurting, it can be easy for us to maintain a distance from it because we can see the big picture. For example, if a friend doesn’t get a job she interviewed for, you can most likely see her disappointment. However, you may also recognize that she is talented and will likely find a great job soon.

On the other hand, when we are practicing cognitive empathy, we can meet people where they are and understand why they would be feeling sad or disappointed after not getting the job. We practice imagining what it might be like to be them in that moment, looking at the situation or circumstance from their perspective.

Emotional Empathy

Imagine sitting close to a loved one, such as your child, sibling, or close friend as he begins to cry. What he is experiencing likely has an impact on us, doesn’t it? We might begin to feel sad as well. When we experience emotional empathy, we are moving from the cognitive perspective-taking into a shared emotional experience.

Social psychology researchers Hodges and Davis describe emotional empathy in three parts:

1. feeling the same emotion as the other person
2. feeling our own distress in response to their pain
3. feeling compassion toward the other person

They note that there is a positive correlation between emotional empathy and the willingness to help others. In other words, it is more likely that someone who finds it easy to practice emotional empathy will be moved to help that person in need as well.

It might be easy to see the benefit of emotional empathy in the overall health and enjoyment of our most important relationships.

Is Empathy Genetic?

Research has found that the ability to practice empathy is influenced by genetics. In fact, it is consistently shown that women are more likely to pick up on emotional cues and more accurately discern emotions than men.

In a research study conducted with the genetic testing and analysis company 23andMe, there was a specific genetic variant identified as related to our capacity to empathize, near the gene LRRN1 on chromosome 3, “which is a highly active part of the brain called the striatum.”

It is suggested that activity in this part of the brain is connected with our ability to feel empathy. Although there is more research to be done, these findings are helping scientists discover more about the connections between genetic influence on the development and ability to feel empathy.

Nature vs. Nurture

Even though genetics have been found to influence our capacity for feeling empathy, there is much to say about our social learning experiences as well. You may have already heard the phrase “nature vs. nurture.” This phrase references a long-standing debate among researchers, arguing what they believe to have a greater influence on our behaviors, traits, and conditions.

Some researchers suggest that genetics are the primary influence, while others believe that our environment and social interactions can help us develop things like empathy.

Social Learning

The social learning theory, developed by psychologist Albert Bandura, combines elements of cognitive learning theory and behavioral learning theory. It is suggested that people can increase their capacity for empathy through modeling and experiencing empathy from others.

When a child has not had anyone give their emotional experiences any attention, time, or value, it is understandable how the child might likely continue to experience the world and relationships without this important skill of knowing how to empathize with others. The child would have missed out on things like:

being able to observe someone practicing empathy to know what it looks like

the feeling of having someone empathize when they are in need

having someone teach them the value of emotions

learning how to build meaningful connections with people

Empathy helps to close an emotional gap between people, creating a connection and a shared experience. When we don’t know what a shared emotional experience feels like with someone, it can be difficult to know how to do that with others.

The inability to empathize can lead to trouble at work, in relationships, within families, and within society.


Too Much Empathy

As beneficial and valuable as the skill of empathy is, it is suggested that too much empathy can be detrimental to one’s emotional well-being, their health, and their relationships. Emotional empathy is a building block of connection between people. The shared emotional experience prompts us to move closer to someone, to comfort them, and to offer reassurance and help.

However, emotional empathy means that our bodies are responding to the emotions we are experiencing while in the presence of the other person and their emotional experience.

When there is a balanced practice of emotional empathy, we are able to allow space for sharing an emotional experience with another person while not letting our own emotional responses get in the way. When our vicarious emotional arousal becomes too great, it can get in the way of us being compassionate and empathizing.

Feeling emotionally dysregulated can become overwhelming to us and result in us feeling burnt out and, ultimately, leave us not wanting to practice empathy because it feels too painful to be with someone else in their pain.

Our ability to practice emotional empathy becomes a threat to our own well-being when it results in feelings of isolation, being misunderstood, and feeling inauthentic.

Not Enough Empathy

There are some people who are better with practicing cognitive empathy, yet who have a difficult time tapping into the emotional empathy, as these two types of empathy are working from completely different systems of processing. This is the difference between cognitive processing and perspective-taking compared to emotional processing.

When there is an imbalance of empathy—leaning too heavily on cognitive empathy and not enough on emotional empathy—our connections with people could feel strained. Although the person you are trying to help or comfort may sense that you have an understanding of her situation, which can certainly feel helpful, it may leave her with the impression that she is a bit misunderstood, unseen, or unheard.

The important part of having a shared emotional experience with that person in the moment is missing when there is too much cognitive empathy and not enough emotional empathy being practiced.

The following is a simple example of what this might look like:

Example 1: Cognitive Empathy

Loved One: My grandmother just died and we were really close. (Starts to cry.)

Person Using Cognitive Empathy: I’m sorry, I know you are sad. She is in a better place, though, don’t you think?

Example 2: Emotional Empathy

Loved One: My grandmother just died and we were really close. (Starts to cry.)

Person Using Emotional Empathy: I’m sorry to hear about your grandmother. I know you miss her so much. I’m here with you. (May become tearful or express sadness.)

Within this very simplistic illustration, we can get a sense of what it might feel like for the other person if we stopped with cognitive empathy and don’t bring in the emotional empathy piece to the interaction. The person receives the condolences for her grandmother passing away and knows you are trying to provide comfort; however, with example 1, there is no opportunity for the person to have a shared emotional experience with you.

The shared emotional experience can feel quite comforting and healing to someone in need.

The Challenge

Practicing both cognitive and emotional empathy is challenging. It is believed that both can be learned with intentional and consistent practice. The unique challenge with emotional empathy is that in practicing, we are likely going to have to be vulnerable and in touch with our own emotional responses.

The ability to regulate our own emotional distress will be key, but it is something that can be very difficult for people to do because of things such as:

how we were raised
how people treated us when we had emotional needs
what people around us taught us about emotion
messages we received about the value of emotions
fear of becoming overwhelmed
fear of getting stuck in emotions with another person

Finding Balance

Cognitive and emotional empathy are wonderful partners and can be a fantastic pair when practiced with balance. The ability to take someone’s perspective and understand what it might be like to be him or her (cognitive empathy), as well as the ability to meet someone where he or she is emotionally and have a shared emotional experience (emotional empathy), can be a game changer for most any relationship dynamic.

By Jodi Clarke, MA, LPC/MHSP, Medically reviewed by a board-certified physician

How Long Does It Take To Fall In Love?

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One of the age-old questions and not an easy one to answer.

Perhaps you are someone who falls head over heels in a matter of weeks, or maybe you’re more of a slow burner.

Everyone seems to fall in love, or at least think they have, at different rates and with different intensities.

How Old Are You?

Our age can affect how quickly we develop feelings with new partners.

This is due to a number of factors, including risk-aversion that develops later in life, as well as experience.

For example, younger adults or teenagers may feel as though they fall in love very quickly.

This is because the feelings are often very new and can be overwhelming to the point that they become very intense very quickly.

Younger people have not had the same exposure to heartbreak or relationship breakdowns in the same way that a middle-aged divorcee has, for instance. This plays a big role in the speed with which younger people fall in love, as they are essentially blind to the potential pain or risks that can come with it.

Those who are older may have been through several breakups, may have gotten a divorce, or may simply be more aware of the risks that come with relationships. As such, they tend to be more cautious when it comes to love.

To an extent, they may actively hold themselves back from feeling too much, meaning they fall in love more slowly. They slow the process down out of nervousness or as a self-protection strategy.

What’s Your Relationship History Like?

This goes hand-in-hand with age, of course, in that those with a longer dating history may be slightly more hesitant when it comes to throwing themselves into new relationships.

If we’ve been hurt in the past, it’s natural to hold back a bit and try to take things more steadily. People who are going into their first relationships often fall in love very quickly – especially if both partners are first-timers.

The feelings that arise feel so much more intense than they may for people who have already been in several serious relationships. The fewer partners we’ve had, the quicker we get attached to them, and the deeper that initial attachment tends to be.

Those who have had unfaithful partners may find it takes them longer to fall in love with future partners, however genuine their feelings may be. This need to protect ourselves from potential pain is part coping-mechanism and, in some ways, part evolutionary.

We learn to shelter ourselves from things that we think will cause us physical or emotional harm, which makes total sense. It’s important to remember that everyone is different, and that every relationship is therefore different, too.

Those who have been unfaithful may find themselves struggling to be open and loving, however much they want to be. The fear of hurting someone again or having it within them to cheat on someone that they care about can feel debilitating when it comes to new relationships.

Cheating is horrific, normally for both individuals in the relationship – the feelings of betrayal and shame can be awful for both people, and they tend to carry on into both people’s future relationships. But it’s not always as simple as saying that heartbreak leads to caution.

Some of us, when devastated by a break-up, crave those feelings of intimacy and love, almost to the extent that we fall in love incredibly quickly because we want it so much.

This makes sense, but it’s important to be self-aware and make sure your feelings are genuine before you get too stuck in to a new relationship. Make sure you really want to be with this person and not just any person who can fill a void!

Others have been so scarred by heartbreak that they are almost too scared to let their guards down, to trust someone, and to love again. This is understandable, but try not to close yourself off from feeling genuine emotion because you’re afraid it will hurt.

Remember that you made it through the last heartbreak and that you will make it through another one – should that ever happen, of course. The person you’re scared to let yourself love may actually be the one, so there’s no point worrying just yet!

People who have broken the hearts of others may be hesitant to throw themselves into another relationship and may hold back from using the ‘L’ word. If you know that you have ended a relationship and left someone totally broken-hearted, you might be slightly nervous about doing the same thing again.

You may have felt so in love with your ex at one point, and it scares you that you no longer feel that way. You may worry that if you fall in love with a new partner, there’s a risk that you’ll fall out of love with them, too, and leave them hurt and broken-hearted. This is always a risk, of course, you just have to decide if you think it is worth it.

What’s Your Personality And Mindset?

We’re all completely different people, which makes it impossible to put an exact timeframe on any behavior, especially one that involves such intense emotions as falling in love.

Some of us are pretty reckless in terms of personality – we tend to ‘wing it’ when it comes to travelling without plans (one-way plane tickets, anyone?) and can be relatively ‘scatty’ in our general life.

This often leads to us throwing ourselves into new relationships and falling in love very quickly. Those who have a more reserved personality type are, understandably… reserved when it comes to these kinds of feelings.

People who have had a tricky upbringing (through divorce or bullying, for example) tend to fall in love very quickly. We might feel slightly neglected which can lead us to seek out love and all its benefits – we want that emotional bond and crave intimacy and affection.

This is often due to feeling as though we missed out on these things when we were growing up. It can mean that our feelings of ‘love’ can be slightly misplaced as we look for that connection wherever it’s available.

This is something to be mindful of so that we don’t misdirect certain behaviors and feelings at people who may not actually be able to fulfil our needs as we need or want them to do. In terms of mindset, our general outlook on life will obviously affect every aspect of life – including love.

As you can probably guess, those with anxious personality types will take longer to fall in love, or at least realize that they’ve fallen in love (as these can be two very different things). Those who tend to worry or get nervous about a lot of things can find relationships very challenging.

Their natural tendency is to overthink things and worry about the consequences of their actions – and, when their actions involve another person who they care about, those worries can really intensify.

Love is often centered around trust (in a healthy relationship, at least!) which is something those with anxiety-ridden minds can really struggle with. As a result, the ‘worriers’ among us normally take longer to fall in love, but, when we do, we fall hard – if it’s worth all the overthinking, it’s got to be pretty special, after all.

On the other hand, those with a more positive, relaxed outlook can fall in love very quickly. That’s because they’re often programmed (or have programmed themselves to some extent) to see the best in everything.

Positive thinkers tend to fall in love quickly. They’re optimistic and their hope that things will go well ‘allows’ them to feel their emotions and trust the process.

Interestingly, outgoing individuals can go either way – some very confident people are so comfortable throwing themselves into new relationships that they let themselves feel things deeply and fall in love quickly. Other strong personality types are so used to being confident and happy with their own company, assurance, and self-love that they don’t crave romantic love in the way that other people do.

As such, they often adopt a ‘take it or leave it’ approach to relationships and love. It’s with these personality types that other factors, like age and relationship history make the difference.