A new study compares different responses to bullying—and finds that forgiveness may have to wait
Nearly one in four teenagers is bullied every year. The choice to forgive bullies—as teens or, later, as adults—is intensely personal, not one that any scientific study can answer.
A new study by researchers at Macquarie University in Australia provides one consideration (among many) to inform the decision. But the results are mixed: While forgiveness can help people feel better, the researchers conclude, it can also be a stressful process—one reason why choosing to forgive is so difficult.
They recruited 135 students who, in the past six months, had experienced bullying—meaning that they were repeatedly hurt by someone who had power over them, and they didn’t know how to escape the situation. Guided by an audiotape, they visualized a recent bullying incident in detail; then, they answered some survey questions about their thoughts and feelings.
Next, the participants were split into three groups. Another audiotape asked them to imagine one of three different outcomes of the bullying: forgiveness, avoidance, or revenge.
In the forgiveness group, participants imagined forgiving the bully and feeling empathy for him or her. The avoidance group visualized being in a happy place, far away from the bully; in effect, they distracted themselves with positive thoughts. In the revenge group, participants imagined taking whatever form of revenge they desired. As they did this, researchers measured electrical activity on their skin with electrodes. Then, all three groups answered the survey questions again.
The researchers were expecting forgiveness to be most beneficial across the board, but that wasn’t exactly the case.
In fact, forgiveness and avoidance seemed to show similar effects: In both groups, participants’ negative emotions decreased over the course of the experiment. Participants who practiced forgiveness or avoidance didn’t feel stronger after the experiment, but they did fare better than the revenge group—whose sense of empowerment, self-esteem, and belief in their ability to cope with the bullying all went down.
But imagining forgiveness proved to be the most stressful of the three outcomes, as measured by electrical activity on the participants’ skin. As they visualized forgiving the bully, the forgiveness group calmed down more slowly than either the avoidance group or the revenge group.
Past research has uncovered the long-term benefits of forgiveness, including better physical and mental health and more positive relationships. In the context of bullying, young adults who are more forgiving tend to engage in healthier coping strategies, exhibit less social anxiety, and experience less hurt when reflecting on the experience.
Yet this study sheds light on the short-term: What happens today, when we make the choice to forgive, to distract ourselves from our suffering, or to seek vengeance? What makes us feel better now?
Here, in contrast to previous research, forgiveness appeared to be stressful—leading the researchers to hypothesize that bullying is a special case. Forgiveness “is a process that involves directly facing the hurt within oneself,” they write, and bullying—with the persistent sense of powerlessness that comes with it—“may represent a unique category of harm.” Instead of soothing, then, forgiveness may initially create tension in the face of certain wrongdoings.
Ultimately, the researchers recommend a mixed strategy. Avoidance, while calming in the short-term, isn’t good for our psychological health in the long run. The best approach may be avoidance now and forgiveness later, keeping ourselves relaxed and secure until we feel strong enough to face the pain.
Global climate change, driven by human emissions of greenhouse gases, is already affecting the planet, with more heatwaves, droughts, wildfires and floods, and accelerating sea-level rise.
Devastating impacts on our environment, health, social justice, food production, coastal city infrastructure and economies cannot be avoided if we maintain a slow and steady transition to a zero-carbon society.
According to Stefan Rahmstorf, Head of Earth System Analysis at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, we need an emergency response.
A big part of this response needs to be transforming the energy sector, the principal contributor to global warming in Australia and many other developed countries.
Many groups have put forward ideas to transition the energy sector away from carbon. But what are the key ingredients?
Technology is the easy bit
At first glance the solution appears straightforward. Most of the technologies and skills we need – renewable energy, energy efficiency, a new transmission line, railways, cycleways, urban design – are commercially available and affordable. In theory these could be scaled up rapidly.
But in practice there are several big, non-technical barriers. These include politics dominated by vested interests, culture, and institutions (organizational structures, laws, and regulations).
Vested interests include the fossil fuel industry, electricity sector, aluminium smelting, concrete, steel and motor vehicles. Governments that receive taxation revenue and political donations from vested interests are reluctant to act effectively.
To overcome this barrier, we need strong and growing pressure from the climate action movement.
There are numerous examples of nonviolent social change movements the climate movement can learn from. Examples include the Indian freedom struggle led by Gandhi; the African-American civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr; the Philippine People Power Revolution; and the unsuccessful Burmese uprising of 1988-90.
Several authors, including Australian climate scientist Matthew England, point out that nations made rapid socio-economic changes during wartime and that such an approach could be relevant to rapid climate mitigation.
Learning from war
UNSW PhD candidate Laurence Delina has investigated the rapid, large, socio-economic changes made by several countries just before and during World War 2.He found that we can learn from wartime experience in changing the labor force and finance.
However, he also pointed out the limitations of the wartime metaphor for rapid climate mitigation:
Governments may need extraordinary emergency powers to implement rapid mitigation, but these are unlikely to be invoked unless there is support from a large majority of the electorate.While such support is almost guaranteed when a country is engaged in a defensive war, it seems unlikely for climate action in countries with powerful vested interests in greenhouse gas emissions.
Vested interests and genuinely concerned people will exert pressure on governments to direct their policies and resources predominantly towards adaptation measures such as sea walls, and dangerous quick fixes such as geoengineering. While adaptation must not be neglected, mitigation, especially by transforming the energy sector, should be primary.
Unfortunately it’s much easier to make war than to address the global climate crisis rapidly and effectively. Indeed many governments of “democratic” countries, including Australia, make war without parliamentary approval.
Follow the leaders
According to Climate Action Tracker, the 158 climate pledges submitted to the United Nations by December 8, 2015, would result in around 2.7℃ of warming in 2100 – and that’s provided that all governments meet their pledge. Nevertheless, inspiring case studies from individual countries, states and cities could lead the way to a better global outcome.
Iceland, with its huge hydroelectric and geothermal resources, already has 100% renewable electricity and 87% renewable heat.
Denmark, with no hydro, is on track to achieve its target of 100% renewable electricity and heat by 2035.
Germany, with modest hydro, is heading for at least 80% renewable electricity by 2050, but is behind with its renewable heat and transport programs.
It’s easier for small regions to reach 100% renewable electricity, provided that they trade electricity with their neighbors. The north German states of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Schleswig-Holstein are generating more than 100% net of their electricity from renewables.
The Australian Capital Territory is on track to achieve its 100% renewable electricity target by 2020. There are also many towns and cities on programs towards the 100% goal.
If the climate action movement can build its strength and influence, it may be possible for the state of Tasmania to achieve 100% renewable energy (electricity, heat and transport) and for South Australia to reach 100% renewable electricity, both within a decade.
But the eastern mainland states, which depend heavily on coal for electricity, will need to build new renewable energy manufacturing industries and to train a labour force that includes many more highly trained engineers, electricians, systems designers, IT specialists and plumbers, among others.
Changes will be needed to the National Electricity Market rules, or at least to rewrite the National Electricity Objective to highlight renewable energy, a slow task that must obtain the agreement of federal, state and territory governments.
Australia has the advantage of huge renewable energy resources, sufficient to create a substantial export industry, but the disadvantage of a declining manufacturing sector.
There are already substantial job opportunities in renewable energy, both globally and in Australia. These can be further expanded by manufacturing components of the technologies, especially those that are expensive to ship between continents, such as large wind turbine blades, bulk insulation and big mirrors.
Transport will take longer to transform than electricity generation and heat. Electric vehicle manufacturing is in the early stage of expansion and rail transport infrastructure cannot be built overnight, especially in car-dependent cities.
For air transport and long-distance road transport, the only short-term solution is biofuels, which have environmental and resource constraints.
How long would it take?
The timescale for the transition to 100% renewable energy – electricity, heat and transport – depends on each country or region and the commitment of its governments.
Scenario studies, while valuable for exploring technological strategies for change, are not predictions. Their results depend upon assumptions about the non-technical strategies that have been discussed. They cannot predict the timing of changes.
Governments need to agree on a strategy for transitioning that focuses not just on the energy sector, but includes industry, technology, labor, financial institutions, governance and the community.
Everyone should be included in developing this process, apart from dyed-in-the-wool vested interests. This process could draw upon the strengths of the former Ecologically Sustainable Development process while avoiding its shortcomings.
The task is by no means easy. What we need is a strategic plan and to implement it rapidly.
A Q&A with Kendall Bronk about instilling purpose in teens—and the emerging research showing why it’s so important
Many psychologists are worried that kids today are falling through the cracks at their schools. Unmotivated to learn or bored with their classes or both, many are simply going through the motions or dropping out of school altogether. Some suffer from debilitating depression and anxiety, or act out their frustrations in unhealthy ways—like using drugs and alcohol, or turning to criminal behavior.
But there may be a way to help address this problem: encouraging kids to search for a purpose in life. According to Kendall Bronk, a researcher at Claremont Graduate University who studies how purpose impacts wellbeing throughout the lifespan, young people are hungry for purpose—and without it, they tend to be uninterested in school and more prone to psychological issues down the road. Contrarily, those with purpose look forward to greater wellbeing.
Bronk defines purpose as having a goal in life that you care deeply about and that contributes to the world beyond yourself in some productive sense. In some cases, she has found that all it takes to get young people started down a path of purpose is to engage them in deep, probing conversations, which prompt them to reflect on their interests and values.
Jill Suttie, from Berkeley’s Greater Good spoke to Bronk recently about her work in this area and how it might apply to teens and other young people.
Jill Suttie: When are teens ready to pursue a purpose in their lives?
Kendall Bronk: When we think about adolescence, there seems to be a developmental progression around the growth of purpose. So, for middle schoolers, it’s not surprising that they are unlikely to have identified a purpose in life. More likely their search is going to happen down the road. During the adolescent high school years, maybe about one in five has found a purpose in life, meaning that they really do know where they’re headed and what they want to accomplish. By the time you get into the college years, it’s more like one in three, and even more are searching for a purpose.
JS: What does the research show about how the search for purpose or having a purpose in life connects to well-being or depression?
KB: Well, we did one study where we looked at the search for purpose and having identified a purpose in life and what that experience was like over different ages in the lifespan. What we found was people in high school, college, and midlife who’d identified a purpose in life—they felt they had a direction and they were working toward achieving it—their age didn’t matter; they reported having very high levels of wellbeing.
The search for purpose was a little more complicated. Among adolescents and emerging adults—meaning 18-25 year olds—we found that the search for purpose was associated with wellbeing; but by midlife, it no longer was.
If you think about it, this makes sense. We expect young people to be figuring out what they want to accomplish in life, so we give them space, time, and resources to consider the things that matter to them. But if they’re still working on that issue in midlife, that’s a problem.
Depressive young people tend to have low motivation and to feel hopeless. For people who are clinically depressed, everything is colored by negative feelings, and they often feel very stuck in the present. They can’t even focus on the future. And those are things that are at odds with finding a purpose in life. It can be more challenging to help these young people.
But fortunately, purpose is pretty malleable. It’s pretty easy to help young people think about purpose, and identify and even start working toward that purpose. Ideally you’d want to help young people think about purpose in life before they become depressed—you know, the best defense is a good offense. If that’s not possible, there are interventions that can help young people who are depressed to find a purpose in life, too.
JS: How do we know that having purpose is not just correlated with wellbeing rather than causing it?
KB: We’ve seen lots of studies over the last 15 years, since research on purpose really got underway. The biggest finding that has emerged is that purpose and depression are very inversely related, and purpose and wellbeing are very much positively correlated. Now that’s correlated and not causal; but there are all kinds of studies where researchers have induced a state of purposefulness, and that has changed people’s ratings of depression and wellbeing. So that’s moving in the direction of causality.
JS: Can you tell me what a study like that would look like? How do you instill a sense of purpose in a study?
KB: In these kinds of studies, they will often have young people read about an individual who’s lived an inspiring life of purpose or read inspiring quotes about purpose, and then ask them what this makes them think about or how this resonates with their own life. After an induction like that—when they’re encouraged to think about purpose or introduced to the idea of purpose—they will rate themselves as more purposeful and also rate their wellbeing as higher.
The problem with these studies is that the effect is temporary. If you can induce a sense of purpose that quickly, you can also lose it. So I don’t think that’s the answer—to quickly try to instill a sense of purpose and then leave.
JS: What are some longer-term ways of fostering purpose for an adolescent who doesn’t seem to be moving in that direction?
KB: This is exactly what we’re working on in our lab. We conducted a study where we were doing interviews with young people about their values and interests, and it seemed that just this 45-minute discussion was serving as an intervention, at least anecdotally. So we started surveying people before and after these interviews and we found that, yes, just having kids talk about the things that matter in their lives significantly increased their reporting of purpose.
It’s important that young people think about what they enjoy doing, what they really care about. Peter Benson called these “sparks,” and just about all young people can identify their sparks. The next thing you have to help them identify is what they value—what bothers or upsets them about the world today, what they really like, what they could see improving upon—and then bringing that together by asking them, “How can you use your personal skills or strengths for addressing these problems?”
You have to start small. If you, as a young person, really care about ending homelessness, that’s a big task. So what are the ways you can start using your special skills and talents to make a difference in this area?
Having young people focus on the things for which they’re grateful can also be a springboard for figuring out how they want to give back. As young people focus on their blessings, and maybe even reach out to the people who have taken an interest in them and helped them along the way, they tend to start thinking about ways in which they can give back and help others.
It’s important to share your own purpose in life, too. Moral exemplars are great, but sometimes you try to give them the story of Gandhi or Mother Teresa, and they just go “blech.” It’s totally overwhelming. But when you hear from a parent, a teacher, a mentor, a neighbor, or a friend, “Here is what gives my life purpose or meaning,” that can seem much more amenable, proximal, and doable.
At the same time, it’s not enough. You really have to listen to young people. One of the reasons these interviews were so good at getting them to start talking about purpose and meaning is that we didn’t just ask questions, we followed up with probes, giving them a chance to really talk and reflect. It’s surprisingly rare for young people to be asked what they think of these things, especially compared to how much time they spend thinking about proximal goals, like getting an A on their test tomorrow.
One last thing: connecting young people to opportunities to act on their personally meaningful goals is critical. Young people sometimes identify big lofty goals, and if you can help them think of ways they can immediately get involved, it’s really impactful. Even if it’s about as issue like homelessness that seems huge, you can tell them about an organization that does this or that and it will connect them to a community of like-minded people and mentors who can help them find additional ways to get involved in what they care about.
JS: Do you feel that there is an ideal age or phase of adolescence when it’s best to talk with kids about purpose?
KB: I think the ideal time to broach this topic is around transitions, especially the transition out of high school or college. This is when they are naturally thinking about these things. What am I going to do with my life?
I’ve been happily surprised when we do these interviews with young people. We hear the most amazing things from them, and often they will contact us afterwards and ask, “Can you send me the tape from that interview? I love the stuff I was talking about, and I realized that I hadn’t put it into words before.” Many young people are hungry for these conversations, because they’re searching. So having someone encourage and support that search feels good, feels right.
We want young people to start searching, but we need to be careful of closure. We don’t want them to decide too early what they want to accomplish without having considered other potential ideas. It’s not our goal to help someone to figure out their purpose in life by 11.
JS: To what degree do we really need research in this area? Wouldn’t we want to foster a sense of purpose in the lives of our teens without research telling us so?
KB: I’ve spoken with hundreds of high school principals, and every one of them says this is really important. Yet so many say they don’t have time to think about this in school. If the research says that knowing what you want to accomplish in life makes you more motivated in school and helps teachers be more effective in the classroom, then that can make a case for taking the time for it.
Yes, we don’t need research to know it’s good to have purpose. I think common sense can serve as a guide. But if we can come up with some really empirically-based strategies, that would help reach more young people—especially those who don’t have access to adults that are comfortable or able to have these conversations. Clearly it’s not happening today at the rate we’d like it to be.
JS: Do you ever worry that the research on purpose will lead people to discount systemic problems affecting kids, like poor schools or parenting, poverty or income inequality?
KB: There is so little attention paid to this, and most schools do absolutely nothing about purpose. So it’s hard to imagine the point at which schools are doing too much. But I do think it’s important to keep in mind that there’s no silver bullet in human development—we know this. It’s not like we’re going to find purpose and it’s all good. I suppose it’s possible that schools could move too much in this direction and we could lose sight of other important issues we need to focus on; but at this point, we are so far from that.
JS: Where do you see your own research going from here?
KB: When I give talks, I often get the question: What about the kids from economically depressed backgrounds?
If we think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, young people who don’t have a place to sleep and don’t know where their next meal is going to come from aren’t going to care about purpose. But, actually, I don’t think that’s true at all. We interviewed a group of young people in Colorado, many of whom had been homeless at some point in their lives, and we found really inspiring examples of purpose. In fact, I would even argue that sometimes hardship is associated with purpose, though obviously kids are not invulnerable to overwhelming challenges. But some level of challenge can help people start thinking about these things.
We need challenges to grow, and I think purpose is no exception. If young people had the support of an adult, they could use that challenge to help them to grow and think about purpose.
We’ll introduce you to the five most popular kinds of this ancient practice
We know Yoga has become one of the favorite physical activities in these modern times. While some approach Yoga as a means to stretch, relax, work out and chill out, others get the benefits it brings on working more deeply on one being, a path of transformation in terms of spiritual growth and development.
Although Yoga may be about 10,000 years old, according to some researchers, it hasn’t stopped drawing fans all over the world and a number of different varieties have emerged along its history. Read on to learn about the five most popular kinds of Yoga and find out which one suits you best!
Is one of the most practiced kinds of Yoga in the United States, according to LiveStrong.com. It emphasizes uniting the body, breath and mind into one entity. Hatha was originated in northern India more than 5,000 years ago, in a time where the Brahmas and mystic seers of civilization taught Yoga as an exercise for the mind, rather than the body.
Most Hatha sessions consist of warm up exercises, followed by Surya Namaskar or sun salutation, the 12 Asanas, Pranayama breathing and Savasana, a final position of relaxation that allows you to tune with your body and be aware of every internal sensation. Classes last about 90 minutes and can be practiced every day, with no age limitation.
A physical, mental and spiritual discipline that takes into account different postures, breathing exercises, mantras and meditation, aiming to balance energetic points in the body, known as chakras.
According to the Kundalini Research Institute, “The primary objective [of Kundalini] is to awaken the full potential of human awareness in each individual; that is, recognize our awareness, refine that awareness, and expand that awareness to our unlimited Self. Clear any inner duality, create the power to deeply listen, cultivate inner stillness, and prosper and deliver excellence in all that we do.”
Classes go about an hour and a half, start off with mantras followed by Asanas and Kriyas and they finish up with relaxing exercising and meditation. It helps the digestive and nervous system, heart-functioning and the body overall. There’s no limit on the frequency of the practices a week and it can be done by children and adults.
Popsugar.com reviews on Ashtanga Yoga: “If you’re a runner, cyclist, skier, rider, climber, swimmer, or have a Type A, high-energy, can’t-sit-still kind of personality, sign yourself up for Ashtanga yoga. This type of yoga is challenging, quick-paced, and just the thing to open your tight hamstrings, hips, and shoulders”.
Ashtanga yoga has been taught by the late Pattabhi Jois since 1948, and it involves a set sequence of poses that a practitioner follows in the exact same order every time. Most ashtanga yogis are practicing Primary Series, which follows this sequence: Five Sun Salutation As, Five Sun Salutation Bs, the Standing Sequence, the Primary Series (Seated Postures), and the Closing Sequence. The beauty of the repetition is that since each class is the same, you can visit any studio in the world, and you’ll be able to do the exact same class you do at home.
This practice blends the wisdom of Yoga, the dynamic power of acrobatics and the loving kindness of healing arts. On each class, students emerge from their own focus and share with the rest of participants. You can’t do Acroyoga alone. It is a practice that cultivates bonding and community.
Instructors may talk about “Kula” that is Sanscrit for “Familiy” or “Group”, while it might also be translated as “the community of the heart”. So we can say that the most striking difference between acroyoga and any other style of yoga is that most of the working class is done with other participants, in groups of two, three or more people.
5. Bikram Yoga
Bikramyogasetauket.com refers the origins of this practice that most of us directly associate with a room at 90 ͦ with a bunch of people pounding sweat over their mats: “Bikram yoga was founded by Bikram Choudhury, who was born in Calcutta in 1946 and started practicing yoga at four years old under Bishnu Ghosh. At 17, Choudhury suffered a knee injury that led European doctors to believe that he would never walk again. Six months later, yoga had healed his knee completely and he began to understand the importance of the 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises.
Once he developed his system, it was time to share it with the world. He founded Bikram’s Yoga College of India, and has subsequently changed the lives of millions of people who previously suffered from chronic pain, as well as a host of other maladies”.
Instructors recommend, as with most Yoga varieties, to make each posture only to the point where your body allows you to, and never force a particular asana.
Bikram Yoga sessions consist, in most Yoga centers, of 26 Asanas with two breathing exercises and there a myriad benefits from its constant practice. It goes from muscle strength and toning, revitalizing nerves, brains and tissues, relieving arthritis, rheumatism, and gout in the legs to balancing sugar levels, helping cure chronic sinusitis and tonsillitis, without mentioning the development of concentration, patience, self-esteem, support of peace of mind, inner balance and so much more!…
There are still left a whole lot of different Yoga varieties. You can choose from either one of these, explore what’s more out there or try them all.
According to a new study, positive daydreaming may lead to depression down the road
It is well-said that the secret to success is the power of positive thinking. In fact, there’s a famous book devoted to that idea called, appropriately, The Power of Positive Thinking, and there’s a similarly themed book called The Secret. But there’s another secret, according to new research: Fantasizing about a wonderful, happy future may actually make depression symptoms worse in the long run.
It’s not that positive thinking is entirely bad, psychologists Gabriele Oettingen, Doris Mayer, and Sam Portnow write in Psychological Science. Indeed, in the short run, there’s some evidence that daydreaming about good things can curtail symptoms of depression. At the same time, fantasies might actually set up for failure—you think about the good things, but don’t put in any effort to get them, then feel worse for not having achieved anything.
The question Oettingen, Mayer, and Portnow ask: Could dreams of a happy future actually leave you more depressed down the road?
In three experiments involving college students and schoolchildren, the researchers say the answer is largely yes. In the first study, 67 undergraduates took a survey to assess any symptoms of depression they might have before completing a series of 12 scenarios. In one scenario, the researchers had participants imagine they had asked their client for an extension on a business project. Then, the undergrads wrote down what they might do while waiting to hear the client’s response, and to rate how positive or negative their thoughts were. The students who took the survey filled out the scenarios in February and again in March.
As The Secret would have you believe, students who ended their scenarios on a more positive note presented fewer signs of depression, but only in February. A month later, exactly the opposite was true: The more they concocted positive endings to their scenarios, the more depressed they were in March, relative to how they felt in February.
That result held up in two additional studies, one involving fourth- and fifth-grade students over a period of seven months, and another with undergraduates who reported on how positive or negative their daily thoughts and mental images were. In both cases, happy thoughts eased depression in the moment, but worsened it in the long run.
The authors are careful to point out that their results do not imply that thinking happy thoughts actually causes depression—only that it seems to be correlated with depression down the road. But, taken together with other recent results, the findings suggest that thinking positive isn’t always a good idea.
“The modern era is marked by a push for ever-positive thinking, and the self-help market fueled by a reliance on such positive thinking is a $9.6 billion industry that continues to grow,” the researchers write. “Our findings raise questions of how costly this market may be for people’s long-term well-being and for society as a whole.”
This article originally appeared in Pacific Standard magazine, which tells stories across print and digital platforms about society’s biggest problems, both established and emerging, and the people attempting to solve them.