We often assume that giving birth triggers immediate feelings of joy and unconditional love that last a lifetime. But after a long and painful delivery, not every parent feels immediately attracted to the wrinkled and crying newborn who desperately wants to get back into the womb. If this sounds shocking, it may be because a social stigma around “slow bonding” makes people reluctant to share such experiences.
While many parents really do experience the birth of their baby as a major and happy life event, some have an immediate reaction of wishing it had never have happened. And a large proportion of parents will fall somewhere in between, perhaps having simultaneous feelings of wonder and anxiety or even frustration. But what is normal and what constitutes a problem? And what can you do to increase your chances of successful bonding?
For many parents of young children, the highlight of their day is nap time – not for them, but for their little ones. Especially now, with most preschools closed, getting a child to nap is the golden ticket. Not only can it mean uninterrupted work or self-care time for parents, but their unrecognizable tyrants often wake as happy campers after a nap.
Researchers have validated this experience. One study presented 3-year-olds with an unsolvable puzzle, one with a missing piece, either after they napped or after they missed their nap. They found the nap-deprived children showed more negative emotions – sadness, worry and anger – when faced with the puzzle than rested children did.
As a cognitive neuroscientist, I study sleep. My research shows that naps help young children regulate their emotions and solidify memories that accumulate so quickly at this age.
Laypeople and many social scientists assume that superior reasoning abilities lead to greater well-being. However, previous research has been inconclusive. This may be because prior investigators used operationalizations of reasoning that favored analytic as opposed to wise thinking. We assessed wisdom in terms of the degree to which people use various pragmatic schemas to deal with social conflicts. With a random sample of Americans, we found that wise reasoning is associated with greater life satisfaction, less negative affect, better social relationships, less depressive rumination, more positive versus negative words used in speech, and greater longevity. The relationship between wise reasoning and well-being held even when controlling for socioeconomic factors, verbal abilities, and several personality traits. As in prior work, there was no association between intelligence and well-being. Further, wise reasoning mediated age-related differences in well-being, particularly among middle-aged and older adults. Implications for research on reasoning, well-being, and aging are discussed.
Cognitive abilities are important predictors of educational and occupational performance, socioeconomic attainment, health, and longevity. Declines in cognitive abilities are linked to impairments in older adults’ everyday functions, but people differ from one another in their rates of cognitive decline over the course of adulthood and old age. Hence, identifying factors that protect against compromised late-life cognition is of great societal interest. The number of years of formal education completed by individuals is positively correlated with their cognitive function throughout adulthood and predicts lower risk of dementia late in life. These observations have led to the propositions that prolonging education might (a) affect cognitive ability and (b) attenuate aging-associated declines in cognition. We evaluate these propositions by reviewing the literature on educational attainment and cognitive aging, including recent analyses of data harmonized across multiple longitudinal cohort studies and related meta-analyses. In line with the first proposition, the evidence indicates that educational attainment has positive effects on cognitive function. We also find evidence that cognitive abilities are associated with selection into longer durations of education and that there are common factors (e.g., parental socioeconomic resources) that affect both educational attainment and cognitive development. There is likely reciprocal interplay among these factors, and among cognitive abilities, during development. Education–cognitive ability associations are apparent across the entire adult life span and across the full range of education levels, including (to some degree) tertiary education. However, contrary to the second proposition, we find that associations between education and aging-associated cognitive declines are negligible and that a threshold model of dementia can account for the association between educational attainment and late-life dementia risk. We conclude that educational attainment exerts its influences on late-life cognitive function primarily by contributing to individual differences in cognitive skills that emerge in early adulthood but persist into older age. We also note that the widespread absence of educational influences on rates of cognitive decline puts constraints on theoretical notions of cognitive aging, such as the concepts of cognitive reserve and brain maintenance. Improving the conditions that shape development during the first decades of life carries great potential for improving cognitive ability in early adulthood and for reducing public-health burdens related to cognitive aging and dementia.
“The perilous time for the most highly gifted is not youth… The perilous season is middle age, when a false wisdom tempts them to doubt the divine origin of the dreams of their youth…”
“A self that goes on changing is a self that goes on living,” Virginia Woolf wrote in one of her characteristic asides of immense insight as she considered the dying art of letter writing. This may be the most elemental paradox of existence: We yearn for permanence and stability despite a universe of constant change as a way of hedging against the inescapable fact of our mortality, our own individual impermanence. And yet this faulty coping mechanism results not in immortality but in complacency, stagnation, a living death. Emerson captured this paradox with sundering precision as he weighed the key to personal growth: “People wish to be settled; only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them.”
“In much of your talking, thinking is half murdered. For thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words may indeed unfold its wings but cannot fly.”
Something strange and wondrous begins to happen when one spends stretches of time in solitude, in the company of trees, far from the bustle of the human world with its echo chamber of judgments and opinions — a kind of rerooting in one’s deepest self-knowledge, a relearning of how to simply be oneself, one’s most authentic self. Wendell Berry knew this when he observed that “true solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation” — the places where “one’s inner voices become audible.”
“In forty years of medical practice, I have found only two types of non-pharmaceutical ‘therapy’ to be vitally important for patients with chronic neurological diseases: music and gardens.”
“I work like a gardener,” the great painter Joan Miró wrote in his meditation on the proper pace for creative work. It is hardly a coincidence that Virginia Woolf had her electrifying epiphany about what it means to be an artist while walking amid the flower beds in the garden at St. Ives. Indeed, to garden — even merely to be in a garden — is nothing less than a triumph of resistance against the merciless race of modern life, so compulsively focused on productivity at the cost of creativity, of lucidity, of sanity; a reminder that we are creatures enmeshed with the great web of being, in which, as the great naturalist John Muir observed long ago, “when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe”; a return to what is noblest, which means most natural, in us. There is something deeply humanizing in listening to the rustle of a newly leaved tree, in watching a bumblebee romance a blossom, in kneeling onto the carpet of soil to make a hole for a sapling, gently moving a startled earthworm or two out of the way. Walt Whitman knew this when he weighed what makes life worth living as he convalesced from a paralytic stroke: “After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, love, and so on — have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear — what remains? Nature remains; to bring out from their torpid recesses, the affinities of a man or woman with the open air, the trees, fields, the changes of seasons — the sun by day and the stars of heaven by night.”
“Anyone who hasn’t been in the Chilean forest doesn’t know this planet. I have come out of that landscape, that mud, that silence, to roam, to go singing through the world.”
“Today, for some, a universe will vanish,” Jane Hirshfield writes in her stunning poem about the death of a tree a quarter millennium after William Blake observed in his most passionate letter that how we see a tree is how we see the world, and in the act of seeing we reveal what we are: “The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way,” he wrote. “As a man is, so he sees.”
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