Researchers and thinkers have often claimed that cultures can be divided between individualistic cultures and collectivistic cultures. The former prioritize individual satisfaction and achievement, while the latter prioritize the collective goals of the family, group and society.
American and Chinese cultures are often seen as falling on the opposite ends of this spectrum. U.S. has gunslingers and cowboys, individual class mobility, i.e. the American dream, and Thoreau, who sat by a pond alone for two years. The Chinese have Confucian values, filial piety, guanxi (“relationships/networks”), and Yue Fei, the folk hero who tattooed “Serve the Country with utmost Loyalty” on his back.
So how differently will individualistic cultures and collectivistic cultures answer the question: “What is happiness?”
Two psychologists, Luo Lu and Robin Gilmour, asked 142 Taiwanese students and 97 Caucasian American students this exact same thing.1 (Note the specific samples: The study didn’t include mainland Chinese or non-white Americans, so take the findings with a pinch of salt.)
Surprising (or not), in general, the themes that emerged out of the two groups were broadly similar. For example, in both groups, students described happiness as “mental states of satisfaction and contention,” as “positive feelings/emotions,” as “achievement,” as “freedom from ill-being,” and as “relating to people.”
However, there were several points of difference between the Chinese students and Caucasian American students. Here is the full list:
1) Chinese describe happiness as “Harmony,” Americans don’t.
While the Chinese students characterized happiness as a “harmonious homeostasis” (i.e., equilibrium or balance) within the self, as well as between the self and his environment; few American students referred to balance or harmony in their descriptions.
2) Americans focus externally, Chinese focus internally.
Caucasian American students gave individualistic descriptions of happiness focused on shaping the external world, such as self-autonomy, concrete achievement and positive self-evaluations.
On the other hand, the Chinese students listed communal definitions of happiness focused on shaping the self, such as self-cultivation, mind-work and positive evaluations of the self by others.
3) Americans describe happiness as the “ultimate value,” Chinese don’t.
One unique theme found in the Caucasian American students’ responses was happiness as the “ultimate value in life.” Such strong emphasis placed on happiness was not found amongst Chinese students, indicating that this may stem from an individualistic outlook, in contrast to a collectivistic outlook.
Other empirical work supports this, finding that Chinese students placed less emphasis on happiness, and worried less than American students about whether they were satisfied with life.
4) Chinese focus on intense emotions less than Americans.
As mentioned, researchers found broadly similar themes between Chinese and American students. Nonetheless, the details within these themes contained subtle differences. One important distinction is while both groups emphasized positive emotions, Chinese students focus on intense emotions much less than Caucasian American students.
5) Chinese and Americans perceive social relationships differently
Another subtle difference can be found in the groups’ perceptions of social relationships. Though both groups valued relationships, the Chinese students emphasized the merging of two selves to achieve interdependence, while the American students emphasized the negotiation of an accommodation between two people who remained independent.
6) Both believe happiness was up to yourself, but definitions of “autonomy” differ.
While both groups believed we have personal responsibility for our happiness, they had differing definitions of self-autonomy. For Americans, autonomy is ideally complete personal freedom to fulfill your potential and become your authentic self. For the Chinese, personal actions and choices must be governed by morality, and a meaningful life is a virtuous life. The Chinese students also believed that while a person should be autonomous, she must eventually accept what fate brings.
Introspection is out, and outrospection is in. Philosopher and author Roman Krznaric explains how we can help drive social change by stepping outside ourselves.
Roman Krznaric is an internationally renowned expert on empathy and author of Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution. He is a founding faculty member of The School of Life and founder of the world’s first digital Empathy Library.
Researchers from the University of British Columbia recently pooled data from more than 20 studies to understand how practicing mindfulness affects the brain. While the researchers found significant changes in eight brain regions, there are two regions that are of particular importance to you.
In these brain regions, the simple act of practicing mindfulness increased both brain activity and the density of brain tissue:
The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which is responsible for self-control. It enables you to resist distractions, to focus, and to avoid impulsivity in order to work efficiently and make great decisions. The ACC is also responsible for flexibility, and people who have problems in this brain area are known to stick to ineffective problem-solving strategies when they should be adjusting their approach.
The hippocampus, which, among other things, is responsible for resilience in the face of setbacks and challenges. The hippocampus is readily damaged by stress, making it a need area for most people. The hippocampus is red/orange in the image below.
Mindfulness is a simple, yet effective form of meditation that enables you to gain control of unruly thoughts and behaviors. People who practice mindfulness are more focused, even when they are not meditating. Mindfulness is an excellent technique to reduce stress because it allows you to stop feeling out of control, to stop jumping from one thought to the next, and to stop ruminating on negative thoughts. Overall, it’s a great way to make it through your busy day in a calm and productive manner.
Just as doing curls increases muscle density in your biceps, practicing mindfulness increases the density of brain matter where it counts. Mindfulness is perhaps the only technique that can change your brain in this way, which produces a ripple of other positive effects. Thankfully, you can reap the benefits of mindfulness in as little as a few minutes a day.
Gandhi was once with a group of followers who inquired about his schedule. He told them, “I need to set aside at least one hour each day to meditate.” They were vexed by this and told him, “There’s no way you have that much time!” He responded, “Well, if that’s the case, then I need to set aside two hours a day to meditate.”
Like Gandhi, you’ll soon find that mindfulness is one of very few things that are well worth your precious time, and the busier you are, the more important it is to have a clear mind if you want to be productive.
Mindfulness doesn’t have to take place in the mountains of Nepal or a weekend retreat under a vow of silence. The beauty of the technique is that it’s so simple you can do it anywhere and just about anytime.
Mindfulness is the simple act of focusing all of your attention on the present. This requires you to observe your thoughts and feelings objectively, without judgment, which helps you to awaken your experience and live in the moment. This way, life doesn’t pass you by.
I realize this might sound a bit abstract and complicated at first, but it isn’t. Here’s how you can do it, even with your busy schedule.
1. Focus on your breathing.Sit in a comfortable chair with your feet flat on the floor, and spend a few minutes doing nothing but breathing slowly in and out. Focus all your attention on your breath. Feel the air travel into your mouth, down your windpipe, and into your lungs. Then feel your body shift as it pushes the air out of your lungs. When thoughts surface that distract you from your breathing, don’t worry. Just let them pass, and shift your attention back to your breathing. After some practice, you should be able to spend a few to several minutes doing nothing but immersing yourself in the act of breathing, at the expense of all the other thoughts.
2. Go for a walk.You can also meditate just by going for a walk. All you need to do is focus on each step. Feel your legs move and your feet hit the ground. Focus solely on the act of walking and the sensations of your surroundings (the cool breeze, the hot sun, or the dog barking in the distance). When you feel other thoughts creeping into your mind, focus even harder on the sensation of walking. Focusing on something that’s second nature is refreshing because it alters your frame of mind as you turn off the never-ending stream of thoughts that normally dominate your attention. You can do the same thing when you brush your teeth, comb your hair, or eat a meal.
3. Feel your body.You don’t even need to stop doing what you’re doing to practice mindfulness. All you have to do is focus all of your attention on what you’re doing without thinking about why you’re doing it, what you should do next, or what you should be doing. Whether it’s the gentle stroke of your fingers on the keyboard or your posture in your chair, you can direct your attention from your thoughts to your bodily sensations at the spur of the moment.
4. Repeat one positive thing about yourself, over and over.One of the main goals of mindfulness is to stop the steam of thoughts that cycle through your mind over and over again each day. Funnily enough, a great way to do this is to choose a short, positive message about yourself and to repeat it over and over with each breath to keep your mind on track. A great phrase of choice is “I am capable.” The simplicity keeps you grounded in the exercise and keeps other thoughts from taking over. The right phrase also builds a little confidence, which never hurts.
5. Interrupt the stress cycle.Any moment when you feel stressed, overwhelmed, or stuck on something is the perfect moment to practice mindfulness. Just stop what you’re doing, let the thoughts go for a moment, and practice your favorite mindfulness technique (breathing, walking, or focusing on body sensations). Even a few minutes of this can make a huge difference in quieting your mind and reducing stress. You’ll be surprised how reasonable things look once you’ve taken a few moments to clear your head.
Nothing can improve your brain the way mindfulness meditation can. Give it a try, and you’ll be surprised where it takes you.
A team of scientists from Brazil and the United States discovered the reef in the muddy waters at the mouth of the Amazon, according to a report published on Friday.
The reef system spans 3,600-square miles along the ocean floor, stretching from French Guiana to Brazil’s Maranhao state along the edge of South America’s continental shelf.
The finding is surprising because large rivers normally create gaps in reef distribution due to unfavorable conditions such as salinity, pH and light penetration. However, this coral reef system seems to be healthy, according to the report.
The carbonate structure, which functions as a waterway passage for fish and other marine life, is home to a big colony of sponges and other creatures that thrive in low-light waters. The study recorded 73 reef fish species, many of them carnivorous.
An international team of scientists from the University of Georgia and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro was on an expedition when it made the discovery.
“Our expedition into the Brazil Exclusive Economic Zone was primarily focused on sampling the mouth of the Amazon,” Patricia Yager, an associate professor with the University of Georgia and principal investigator of the project, said in a statement.
However, Yager also wanted to explore the premise of a scientific article from the 1970s that mentioned a scientist capturing reef fish along the continental shelf, which suggested a coral reef may be somewhere in the area.
The search proved fruitful. “We brought up the most amazing and colorful animals I had ever seen on an expedition,” Yager said.
The paper details the reef and the variations in its fish, sponges and other marine life along the shelf due to the amount of light in the area and the plume’s movement. The southern part of the reef, which gets more light, has a wide spectrum of reef critters. Further north, as the light diminishes, the wildlife transitions to creatures like sponges.
Along with the discovery of the reef, researchers also found evidence suggesting this Amazonian jewel may already be threatened.
“From ocean acidification and ocean warming to plans for offshore oil exploration right on top of these new discoveries, the whole system is at risk from human impacts,” Yager said.
News of the extensive reef structure comes as various coral reef systems continue to suffer around the world because of warmer water temperatures and other factors.
A recent report from ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies showed that 90% of the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia is suffering from coral bleaching, which is caused by changes in ocean conditions such as temperature, light or nutrition.
This bleaching happens as algae and other organisms living on the structure leave, depriving the coral of its major food source and causing it to turn white.
Coral bleaching is considered “the most widespread and conspicuous impact of climate change,” according to the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
This article was written by Jareen Imam an originally published on CNN