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Read more about Raising an Optimistic Child

Raising an Optimistic Child: A Proven Plan for Depresion-Proofing Young Children--for Life
(McGraw-Hill, 2006) by Bob Murray and Alicia Fortinberry

Read more about Creating Optimism

Creating Optimism:
A Proven Seven-Step Program for Overcoming Depression

(McGraw-Hill, 2004) by Bob Murray and Alicia Fortinberry


Written and researched by Bob Murray, PhD

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When is A Church Not A Church?

July 30, 2001

A court case in Connecticut spotlights the meaning of a "house of worship." The town of New Milford went to court to prevent a man from holding prayer meetings in his own home on the grounds that the property wasn't zoned as a church.

Immediately the case became a constitutional issue, and it didn't take long for the plight of Robert and Mary Murphy to become a cause celebre in the conservative world. The American Center for Law and Justice, an international public interest law firm founded by evangelist Pat Robertson, took up the banner, filing a federal lawsuit on behalf of the couple to prevent the town from enforcing its dictate.

They also received backing from the American Libertarian Party. "No American town should be able to snob-zone God out of existence," said Steve Dasbach, the party's national director.

The town countered that the issue was parking -- each day that meetings were held at the house there were up to 30 cars parked in the small cul-de-sac and there were complaints from the neighbors.

The Murphys won.

It seems to me that both the town and the ACLJ are missing the point, and it is a serious one. It is a question of how we define 'neighborhood.' Most 'neighborhoods' in the US and other developed countries are little more than dormitories from which people go to work in the city. A functioning neighborhood, I believe, must be more than that. In order to achieve happiness, as many studies have pointed out, we must be able to live in association with people who share our beliefs or have common assumptions about how the world operates. It is from this that we get, to a large extent, our feeling of physical safety and in part, perhaps, our sense of purpose. A dormitory neighborhood does not fulfil this elementary human need, yet our laws often openly work to prevent local neighborhoods based on shared beliefs -- witness the outlawing of the words "walk to worship" in real estate ads in many US states on the grounds that the words are a code for "this is a Jewish community." As part of the Uplift Program we teach that this need for a more meaningful concept of community is one of the fundamental requirements for human happiness. The real problem in what the Murphy's were doing, I believe, is that the people who came to the prayer meetings had to use their cars to get there and the people in the immediate proximity were alienated. They would have done better to have started a co-housing project peopled by those who shared their beliefs. BM

in CBS Marketwatch

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If Richer Isn't Happier, What Is?

May 22, 2001

A recent New York Times piece by David Leonhardt set out to quantify happiness in economic terms. He begins with the statement that the pursuit of happiness, guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence, is largely left to the free market. Americans are typically responsible for their own emotional wellbeing, and, according to economic theory at least, there has never been much mystery about how to achieve it. Textbooks call this wellbeing "utility," and they say it rises alongside a person's wealth.

The trouble is that over the last decades the wealth of America has enormously increased. People can afford many more things than they could before -- second cars, transcontinental air tickets, shares in IBM -- but most surveys show that they are in fact less happy than they were.

Economics happiness researchers are now joining their psychologist and sociologist colleagues in asking what makes people happy, and a lot of interesting findings have come to light.

One of the field's most intriguing early conclusions holds that money does indeed make people happier but that it is less potent than imagined. When people inherit a large sum of money, for instance, they become more satisfied with their lives, according to recent research. But over the last 60 years, and particularly the last 30, a powerful set of social forces has outweighed the effect that rising incomes have had on people's well- being. People work more hours, lose their jobs more often and, most importantly, get married less and divorced more than they did in the past.

All that helps explain why the average American family could have received a 16 percent raise between 1970 and 1999, while the percentage of people who described themselves as "very happy" fell from 36 percent to 29 percent. "Money does buy happiness," says David G. Blanchflower, an economist at Dartmouth, "It just hasn't bought enough."

Along with Andrew J. Oswald, who teaches economics at the University of Warwick in England, Blanchflower has studied wellbeing in England and the United States. In England, married people are as a group happier than they were three decades ago. Unmarried people are, too. But because the ranks of the unmarried have grown and because unmarried people are not as satisfied as married people, overall happiness has still declined. Statisticians call this Simpson's paradox.

In a recent paper, Mr Blanchflower and Mr Oswald even put a crude cost on certain life conditions. A lasting marriage seems to be worth $100,000 a year, they said, because all else being equal, a married person is as happy as a divorced-and-not-remarried person who makes $100,000 more than the married person. Losing a job and remaining unemployed costs men $60,000 worth of happiness a year. And in what the authors described as yet more evidence of discrimination, being black costs $30,000 a year of happiness.

The research has also found that women remain happier than men today, but that the gap has narrowed, perhaps because women have entered the work force, which tends to offer a dysfunctional environment, in larger numbers. In fact, men are about as happy today as they were in the early 1970's; nearly all of the decline since then is among women.

In an article in this year's Annual Review of Psychology and reported on CBS Market Watch entitled "On Happiness and Human Potentials: A Review of Research on Hedonic and Eudaimonic wellbeing," Psychologists Richard Ryan and Tim Kasser report on what they call "the dark side of the American dream."

According to them, the pursuit of affluence has damaging psychological effects, including severe depression and anxiety. In a series of case studies dating to 1993, Ryan and Kasser examined the effects of pursuing money and material goods. The findings don't reflect well on alpha types looking to make it and spend it big. Obtaining wealth, as a goal, creates a lower sense of well being and self-esteem, they say. The symptoms aren't tied to how much or little money a person already has. Nor are they tied to what country a person lives in, or their age. Everyone who pursued affluence as a goal turned in a lower mental health score.

To be sure, affluence isn't destructive as an incidental benefit to the pursuit of other, more fulfilling and meaningful goals. It's the pursuit of such inner goals, or "intrinsic values," that make people experience a higher sense of vitality, fulfilment and self-actualization.

"We aren't saying that having money is wrong or being successful is wrong. We are just saying that those things won't make you happier when correlated with growth and intrinsic satisfaction," Ryan says. For example, most people think there is satisfaction in shopping. "But when people make purchases, there is actually an upswing in negative effect," he noted.

That's especially true among children and young adults who believe material possessions will breed acceptance. A study of 300 youngsters in Russia and the US found those who aspire to be rich watch more television and are more frequent users of drugs and alcohol.

The findings can be traced to early childhood development in certain young people. Ryan and Kasser found that children predisposed to the attainment of good, i.e socially acceptable, appearance, financial success and popularity usually had cold, unnurturing relationships with their mothers. "Children apparently focus on attaining security and a sense of worth through external resources" when parents are cold and controlling, they report.

Ryan said these children turn to extrinsic values to compensate for the lack of love and security that they experience in their relationships with their parents and loved ones. "If someone loves you for your car, they still don't love you, so you really can't win," Ryan said.

The solution isn't formulaic. "It's a sense of accomplishment," says Ryan.

How do you get that? By satisfying those intrinsic values that are deep within each one of us. How to satisfy a sense of love and belonging? How to satisfy a sense of competence and autonomy? "Usually it begins with mindfulness; how attuned are you to people and what's going on around you," says Ryan. Once that consciousness approaches, the path to fulfilment is an individual journey. That can take many routes. But as these researchers suggest, the road to riches isn't the one to take.

All of which shows the increasing need for the Uplift Program. The program really does show people how to increase their level of happiness. BM

on CBS Market Watch

Also reported in the New York Times

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Junk Food for Breakfast

May 22, 2001

According to a survey carried out by the Doctor-Patient Partnership (DPP), a quarter of all children do not eat a proper breakfast, but instead snacked on sweets and crisps on their way to school. What's more, 43% of the children surveyed wanted to change their weight and 75% had no idea of how to do so.

Studies suggest that the number of obese children has doubled in the past ten years, and that one in five children under four is overweight. Experts have warned that rising levels of obesity in youngsters will lead to increased rates of heart disease, diabetes and premature deaths in the future.

Plus ca change! I was involved in a similar study of Welsh children 25 years ago and the results we came up with were almost identical to those of the present study. BM

on BBC News

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TV Wrestling Leads to Violence

April 29, 2001

A study with far-reaching implications for parents, teachers, psychotherapists and film and TV producers has shown that watching TV wrestling leads to increased violence and aggression.

The study, which was presented to the American Academy of Pediatrics meeting in Baltimore recently, says the watching of wrestling by males is associated with a plethora of anti-social behaviour. The study was carried out by Wake Forest University (WFU) Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina. 2,228 high school students were questioned about their watching of televised wrestling.

Males who watched a lot (six times in two weeks) of TV wrestling were more likely to carry a gun, get involved in fights, chew tobacco, drink and drive, be heavy users of amphetamines and use vulgar language.

More surprising was the finding that females who watched wrestling were more likely to become violent than their male counterparts. As well as the bad behavior seen in the boys questioned, the high school girls questioned had initiated violence on dates as well as being a victim, and showed higher rates of gun carrying even in school, fighting, alcohol use at school, cannabis use, Ritalin use and riding with a drunk driver.

The report concludes that TV wrestling shows kids that it's OK to be violent.

My own observations tend to agree with the report. Studies of US Army trainees have shown that in order to kill at short range, a recruit must first be enured to killing through violent video games or by watching violent films or TV. However there is one caveat to this: it's a chicken and egg situation -- perhaps it's those who are more prone to violence who watch wrestling in the first place. BM

on BBC News

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Daycare Leads to Aggression

April 18, 2001

The more hours that children spend in daycare the more aggressive they become towards fellow pupils and teachers, according to a Federal study released April 17. The findings are the same no matter what kind of non-maternal care is provided, including in-home care by a nanny.

The study followed over a thousand children in 10 US cities. The average time per week in day care per child was 26 hours.

The study's author, psychologist Jay Belsky of London University, says that the problem behaviors increase with the number of hours in daycare, no matter how good or bad the quality of day care is.

Welfare reform has sent more and more mothers to work, so the problem will only get worse. At present in the US 65% of mothers and 96% of fathers work.

Belsky says that extending parental leave and encouraging more part-time work might help.

We have been saying for a long time that daycare is not the perfect answer for children. The real answer is to make the workplace more parent-friendly. Many enlightened firms are now making provision for young children to be given day care on the premises so that parents can take time during the day to be with their kids. This has to be the way to go. BM

This study was quoted in a wide range of newspapers

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What You Don't Eat May Kill You

March 9, 2001

According to researchers and physicians at the University of Michigan Health System, eating disorders are one of America's leading killers. Additionally the American Anorexia Bulimia Association estimates that five million American men and women suffer from the psychiatric illnesses anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorders,

"Eating disorders kill people," says David Rosen, MD, MPH, director of the Teenage & Young Adult Health program and clinical associate professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases at the U-M Health System. "I think that in the public's view of mental health conditions, many people think depression kills more people because they commit suicide, or that schizophrenia kills people because people who are psychotic sometimes do very dangerous things.

"The reality is that eating disorders kill more people than all of the other mental health conditions combined."

Contrary to what some may think, Rosen says eating disorders are much more common now than they have been in the past. "We're not sure exactly why that is, whether or not we're just finding them better or whether they actually are increasing in frequency over what they have been in the past," he explains. The two most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Anorexia nervosa is marked by the desire for thinness that leads to voluntary starvation -- sufferers tend to believe they are overweight even though they may be very thin. Anorexia nervosa tends to afflict younger women. "The books say 14 years old, but we're seeing them at ages 10, 11, 12, 13, and then we see anorexia again start showing up at around age 18," Rosen says.

Bulimia nervosa, sometimes called the binge/purge syndrome, is a disorder in which a person eats convulsively and then eliminates the food by self-induced vomiting, laxatives, fasting or excessive exercise. Bulimia nervosa tends to afflict older teenagers around the ages of 17 and 18, Rosen says.

Eating disorders frequently are co-morbid (ie co-exist) with depression according to our own research and frequently have the same childhood traumas as their root cause. BM

Reported in Uniscience

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Juries 'Deaf to Ear-witness Failings'

February 16, 2001

Isn't it annoying when people who you only know slightly expect you to recognize their voices on the telephone and begin speaking without saying who they are? Don't knock yourself for not being quick enough off the mark. Voice recognition is notoriously difficult.

To emphasise the point an interesting paper was presented recently to the American Association for the Advancement of Science by Professor Larry Solan, from the Brooklyn Law School, on the unreliability of 'ear-witness' accounts. Research has shown that we are very good at recognizing the voices of people we know very well and very bad when it comes to those we know only slightly. "The law assumes that once someone has heard a voice, they can recall that voice and report it accurately. Research has shown that that is not the case. Not only are we not good at identifying voices, but we think we're much better at it than we are," said Professor Solan. "So when we are on jury duty and we are listening to a trial and somebody says, 'Yes, the voice that I heard 11 months ago is the voice of the defendant', we will tend to overestimate the accuracy of that identification."

Professor Solan said the courts in the US had ignored the work of many linguists and psychologists. He said the system of "minimal familiarity" which meant juries were simply presented with evidence and asked to weigh its importance was flawed because the studies had shown that juries gave ear-witness accounts undue weight. "It's time the judicial system sat up and took notice and started listening to what the linguists and psychologists have found."

on BBC News

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Happiness Is...

February 20, 2001

Dramatic confirmation of many of the things that Fortinberry-Murray Practitioners have been saying all along was contained in research by a team of researchers led by psychologist Kennon Sheldon of the University of Missouri, Columbia.

They set out to discover the fundamentals of human happiness. They first combed through a dozen philosophies and psychological theories -- such as the "self-determination theory of motivation" and the "win friends and influence people" theory -- to come up with a list of 10 factors most often mentioned as bringing happiness. The researchers then surveyed 700 students at the University of Missouri and another 200 at Hanyang University in South Korea.

They discovered that the three things that are vital to human happiness are: connectedness to other people, self-esteem and a feeling of competence. The order of perceived importance differed between the US and the Korean respondents. Top of the list for the American students was a feeling of self-esteem whereas the Koreans listed connectedness to other people highest. Material prosperity, sex and other hedonistic drives came way down the list.

Interestingly enough these findings were reinforced in a commentary by Paul B Farrell in CBS's MarketWatch.com. He outlined recent studies of retirees by Dallas Salisbury, head of the Employee Benefit Research Institute, and Ralph Warner, author of "Get a Life, You Don't Need A Million To Retire Well," that show that money is not high on the list of things that make for a happy retirement.

Instead, Warner found "a direct connection between a mid-life obsession with work and savings, and an unhappy retirement." Warner also discovered that happy "seniors spent their middle years investing in themselves -- acquiring the skills, connections, and an outlook that made the free time of retirement a good time.Think about the kinds of work that you'd do for the sheer joy of it if money ceased to be your main motivator, and start planning now to make the transition to part-time work in that field. In short, the more interesting you find yourself, the more interesting you'll find retirement."

The one major element of happiness that these studies leave out is having a sense of purpose, a sense that what you are doing matters. This point is made in an article in the current edition of Psychology Today by Stephen Reiss, PhD, professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at Ohio State University, where he directs the university's Nisonger Center.

Whether you're a Korean student or an American retiree, its connections with others, self-esteem and a sense of purpose that make for a happy life. Not surprisingly these are at the heart of the Uplift Program.

PS. I would like to thank Professor Reiss for his encouraging and supportive words regarding the Uplift Program in a recent email to myself. BM

Paul Farrell's commentary on CBS MarketWatch.com

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Bottom Slapping Isn't Sexual Harassment High Court Says

January 26, 2001

ABC-TV's Good Morning America broke the news on Jan 25. In a ruling that has shocked feminists throughout the world an Italian high court has ruled that a man can slap a female co-worker's posterior providing he doesn't make a habit of it! Bottom slapping is not, in the high court's view an "act of libido."

We believe that this ties in nicely with a Rome University study reported in the Sydney Morning Herald recently that Italian men's libido is declining fast. The culprit, it seems, is the gym. The more men work out the less energy they have left for sex. Italian men, it would seem, are more interested in their own bodies than those of the opposite sex.

The best they can manage is a libido-less bottom slap! Casanova would be mortified!

ABC-TV's report

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Socializing keeps you young!

October 30, 2000

Researchers led by Professor Thomas Glass of Harvard have recently published the results of a 13 year study of elderly people. The results may surprise you: social activities such as playing games or shopping are better for you, in terms of your longevity, than physical exercise. Those who were least socially active were 34% more likely to die early (comparatively speaking, all the subjects were over 65 when the study began) than those most socially active.

Coming to the Uplift Program can save your life -- its official ! BM

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About the Author

Dr Bob Murray is a widely published psychologist and expert on emotional health and optimal relationships. Together with his wife and long-term collaborator Alicia Fortinberry, he is founder of the highly successful Uplift Program, and author of Raising an Optimistic Child (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and Creating Optimism (McGraw-Hill, 2004).

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