Thursday, December 31, 2020

How to use habit science to help you keep your New Year’s resolution

  More than 80% of people who make New Year’s resolutions have already given up on their goals by February.

  While there’s a lot of resolution advice on the internet, much of it fails to highlight the crux of behavioral change.

  To make individual decisions – whether it’s what to wear or which gift to buy for someone – you draw on brain systems involving executive control. You make the decision, add a shot of willpower and, voilà, it’s done.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Being basically honest

  After a workshop, a fellow came up to me and complained that I had made him feel uncomfortable. “I’m not perfect,” he said, “But I’m basically honest.” His implication was that it’s unfair to expect people to be honest all the time.

  His comment reminded me of a cartoon where one fellow confided to another, “I admire Webster’s honesty, but his insistence on being scrupulously honest is really annoying.”

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

A neuroscientist’s tips for a new year tuneup for your brain

  Unlike the effervescent bubbles that stream to the top of champagne flutes on New Year’s Eve, what I call brain bubbles are far from celebratory. These bubbles are metaphorical rather than physical, and they distort the stream of reality processed by our brains. Like a real estate bubble that reflects an inflated perception of home values, a brain bubble twists your perception of the world around you. And when either of these bubbles bursts, the results can be devastating.

Monday, December 28, 2020

How putting purpose into your New Year’s resolutions can bring meaning and results

  People worldwide make New Year’s resolutions every year in an attempt to improve their lives. Common resolutions are to exercise more, eat healthier, save money, lose weight, and reduce stress.

  Yet, 80% of people agree that most people won’t stick to their resolutions. This pessimism is somewhat justified. Only 4% of people report following through on all of the resolutions they personally set.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Confused about what to eat? Science can help

  Do you feel like nutritionists are always changing their minds? Do you want science-based information about diet but don’t know whom or what to believe?

  If you’re nodding in agreement, you’re not alone: More than 80% of Americans are befuddled.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Why your New Year’s resolution to go to the gym will fail

  Come January, 40% of Americans will make New Year's resolutions and nearly half of them will aim to lose weight or get in shape.

  But 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by February, and gyms will experience a decrease in traffic after the first and second months of the year as those who made New Year’s resolutions to get in shape lose steam.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Can your heart grow three sizes? A doctor reads ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’

  At the beginning of Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” the green, pot-bellied, feline-faced Grinch is a bitter, foul-tempered misanthrope whose heart is “two sizes too small.” In the middle of the story, he plots to steal all the Christmas gifts in Whoville and toss them from a cliff. At the end, having learned that stealing the presents does not destroy the Whos’ fellowship and joy, he begins to see the deeper meaning of the holiday. He has a change of heart, and when he returns their gifts, his heart grows three sizes.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Five ways Christmas affects your brain

  Christmas is a time of year like no other; gifts are exchanged, little-spoken-to relatives are contacted, and appetizing treats are consumed with great gusto. Christmas can be both a time of stress and a time of relaxation. But whether you love or hate Christmas, it’s pretty difficult to avoid – and so your brain may be altered by the experience one way or another. Here are some of the main facets of the Christmas experience and how they might affect your brain.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Foreign policy is Biden’s best bet for bipartisan action, experts say – but GOP is unlikely to join him on climate change

  Republicans and Democrats may have more common ground than it seems, a new survey finds.

  Our survey – conducted in August and September in partnership with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the University of Texas at Austin – asked more than 800 government officials, congressional staffers, researchers, journalists, and advocates to assess the likelihood of unified American efforts to address critical international challenges by 2022. They identified several foreign policy issues where building bipartisan policies was “more likely than not.”

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season was a record-breaker, and it’s raising more concerns about climate change

  It was clear before the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season started that it was going to be busy. Six months later, we’re looking back at a trail of broken records, and the storms may still not be over even though the season officially ended on Nov. 30.

  This season had the most named storms, with 30, taking the record from the calamitous 2005 season that brought Hurricane Katrina to New Orleans. It was only the second time the list of storm names was exhausted since naming began in the 1950s.

Monday, December 21, 2020

What winter solstice rituals tell us about indigenous people

  On the day of the winter solstice, many Native American communities hold religious ceremonies or community events.

  The winter solstice is the day of the year when the Northern Hemisphere has the fewest hours of sunlight and the Southern Hemisphere has the most. For indigenous peoples, it has been a time to honor their ancient sun deity. They passed their knowledge down to successive generations through complex stories and ritual practices.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

New electoral districts are coming – an old approach can show if they’re fair

  When the results of the 2020 U.S. Census are released, states will use the figures to draw new electoral district maps for the U.S. House of Representatives and for state legislatures. This process has been controversial since the very early days of the nation – and continues to be so today.

  Electoral district maps designate which people vote for which seat, based on where they live. Throughout history, these maps have often been drawn to give one party or another a political advantage, diluting the power of some people’s votes.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Your brain’s built-in biases insulate your beliefs from contradictory facts

  A rumor started circulating back in 2008 that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. At the time, I was serving as chair of the Hawaii Board of Health. The director and deputy director of health, both appointed by a Republican governor, inspected Obama’s birth certificate in the state records and certified that it was real.

  I would have thought that this evidence would settle the matter, but it didn’t. Many people thought the birth certificate was a fabricated document. Today, many people still believe that President Obama was not born in the U.S.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Masks and mandates: How individual rights and government regulation are both necessary for a free society

  I’ve been thinking a lot about the tension between demanding “individual rights” – in the sense of deciding whether or not to wear a mask – and calling for more action on the part of our government to protect us from the coronavirus pandemic.

  I’m a political theorist, which means I study how communities are organized, how power is exercised, and how people relate to one another in and between communities. I’ve realized – through talking to friends and thinking about the protests against COVID-19-related restrictions that have taken place around the country – that many people do not understand that individual rights and state power are not really opposites.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

During the holidays, giving gifts to the dead can help you cope with grief

  Every December, my family decorates two Christmas trees: one for our living room and one for the cemetery, where my sister is buried.

  She died when she was 15 years old. Twenty years later, we still buy a new ornament each year to place on her mini graveside Christmas tree.

  The ritual might seem a bit strange, but my family isn’t alone. If you drive past a cemetery during the holidays, you’ll likely see graves festooned with holiday decorations and seasonal trinkets.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Biden’s ambitious energy plan faces headwinds, but can move the U.S. forward

  President-elect Joe Biden calls climate change an existential threat to America’s environment, health, national security, and economy and has promised a clean energy revolution to counter it. Biden has pledged that on his first day in office, he will bring the U.S. back into the Paris Climate Agreement. He also is expected to restore numerous environmental protections that the Trump administration has weakened or revoked, and to cancel oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

  Beyond damage repair, Biden has big plans for American energy. In my view, not all of them are realistic. Yet their actual purpose may be as starting points for negotiation. Based on my experience analyzing the U.S. energy industry, I see three factors that will influence what his administration can achieve.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

How do you know when it’s time to break up? Here’s the research

  Christmas may be a time of giving, but it’s also a peak time for break-ups. Facing the prospect of spending yet another festive season with their romantic partner, many people start having doubts about their relationship in the run-up to Christmas. This is even the case for marriages, with formal divorce applications tending to peak in January.

  But knowing whether it is time to break up can be extremely difficult. Should you try harder to make the relationship work, or have you wasted too much energy on it already?

Monday, December 14, 2020

Laughing is good for your mind and your body – here’s what the research shows

  Amusement and pleasant surprises – and the laughter they can trigger – add texture to the fabric of daily life.

  Those giggles and guffaws can seem like just silly throwaways. But laughter, in response to funny events, actually takes a lot of work, because it activates many areas of the brain: areas that control motor, emotional, cognitive, and social processing.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

What psychiatrists have to say about holiday blues

  This time of the year brings a lot of changes to the usual day-to-day life of hundreds of millions of people: The weather is colder, trees are naked, snowy days become plentiful, and friendly critters are less visible around the neighborhood. Especially in the Western Hemisphere, this time of the year is also linked to a lot of joyous celebrations and traditions. Most children and many adults have been excited for this time of the year to come for months, and they love the aura of celebrations with their gatherings, gifts, cookies, emails, and cards.

  Alas, there are also millions who have to deal with darker emotions as the world literally darkens around them.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Eight foods to fight stress

  Under stress - whether it is work, study, or a relationship - dietary habits change substantially. Some people lose their hunger when under stress while others tend to overeat - most often fatty, sugary, and junk foods. Always blaming stress for making poor food choices is not the right approach. In fact, making the right food choices will help stabilize blood sugar levels and your emotional response. Good nutrition helps in balancing your stress hormones, relieving stress, and boosting your mood.

Friday, December 11, 2020

How to survive annoying relatives this holiday season

  Social allergies are a lot like seasonal allergies. They’re annoying, exhausting, and hard to avoid. They’re also especially common around the holidays. That’s because the holidays put you at a high risk of exposure. Swap the dander and ragweed for your not-so-favorite acquaintances and relatives, and there you have it — a full-blown case of social allergies.

  Maybe it’s the way your aunt constantly complains about frivolous things. Or perhaps it’s how your father-in-law smacks his lips and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand when he eats. Or could it be the way your cousin can’t have a conversation without droning on about himself?

Thursday, December 10, 2020

How Hanukkah came to America

  Hanukkah may be the best known Jewish holiday in the United States. But despite its popularity in the U.S., Hanukkah is ranked one of Judaism’s minor festivals, and nowhere else does it garner such attention. The holiday is mostly a domestic celebration, although special holiday prayers also expand synagogue worship.

  So how did Hanukkah attain its special place in America?

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Three reasons for information exhaustion – and what to do about it

  An endless flow of information is coming at us constantly: It might be an article a friend shared on Facebook with a sensational headline or wrong information about the spread of the coronavirus. It could even be a call from a relative wanting to talk about a political issue.

  All this information may leave many of us feeling as though we have no energy to engage.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

How to choose the right Christmas gift: tips from psychological research

  Christmas is a time of celebration, relaxation, and gift giving.

  But choosing gifts can also make it a time of stress and anxiety. The wrong gift can actually do more harm than good.

  Here is some advice, based on decades of research, on how to side-step such pitfalls.

  Why do we give gifts?

Monday, December 7, 2020

Feeling guilty about drinking? Well, ask the saints

  Each year the holidays bring with them an increase in both the consumption of alcohol and concern about drinking’s harmful effects.

  Alcohol abuse is no laughing matter, but is it sinful to drink and make merry, moderately and responsibly, during a holy season or at any other time?

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Single doesn’t mean being lonely or alone

  As the holidays transition to the New Year, singles may face questions from friends and family: “When are you getting serious about dating?

  In many families, seasonal festivities draw lines between who’s coupled and who’s not. Romantic partners are invited to holiday meals, included in family photographs, and seen as potential life mates – while "mere” friends are not. These practices draw a line between relationships seen as significant – and those that aren’t.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

10 ways to indulge and stay healthy this holiday season

  Before the holidays ruin your wellness plan and make you turn as green as the Grinch, try these 10 ways to help you stay on track and keep your festive spirit.

  Often we feel that if we can’t stick to our regular routine, then why bother? As researchers in nutrition and physical activity behaviors, we know that maintaining wellness over the holidays is easier than starting over again in the new year.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Thursday, December 3, 2020

It’s past time for Congress to extend financial relief as new COVID-19 cases spike

  As the country enters the winter with promising news of a COVID-19 vaccine on the horizon but cases spiking in the meantime, Congress must buy time for public health by passing financial support measures for households and businesses. A growing number of local and state officials—without the support of a national strategy—are taking action to reduce transmission by pausing indoor dining and other high-risk activities. Federal lawmakers must also prioritize financial supports for businesses, such as bars and restaurants, and households as part of their public health strategy in the lead-up to the distribution of a vaccine.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Decking the halls of history

  The idea of hanging up decorations in the middle of winter is older than Christmas itself. Decorations are mentioned in ancient descriptions of the Roman feast of Saturnalia, which is thought to have originated in the 5th century BC.

  Some 900 years later, a Christian bishop in Turkey wrote disapprovingly about members of his congregation who were drinking, feasting, dancing, and “crowning their doors” with decorations in a pagan fashion at this time of year.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

To save nature, we must protect 30 percent of U.S. ocean

  Long before she alerted the world to the danger of the pesticide DDT, marine biologist Rachel Carson wrote in her book, The Sea Around Us, “It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose, should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist; the threat is rather to life itself.” Today, in the face of a mass extinction of the plants, animals, and microorganisms that keep our air clean, our water pure, and our food supplies plentiful, her words ring even truer. The planet has lost 60 percent of its wildlife since 1970. Two-thirds of wetlands have disappeared, and nearly 33 percent of reef-forming corals and more than a third of marine mammals are threatened with extinction. Three-quarters of the planet’s lands and two-thirds of its ocean areas have been significantly altered by human activities. All this is happening while climate change is making the ocean hotter, more acidic, and less habitable for fish and wildlife.