It may not be about selfish genes and economic man after all. According to primatology professor Frans de Waal, the success of Homo sapiens is due primarily to our capacity for empathy and our urge to understand and appreciate others.
Robin McKie interviewed him in The Observer about his book; “The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society“. De Waal says that, like most mammals but particularly primates, we possess an innate sensitivity to the emotional status of other members of our species. He believes that empathy developed with the evolution of the maternal instinct as mothers need to understand when their offspring are in danger.
That might also explain why women seem to be more empathetic than men and the hormone oxytocin, which increases bonding between people, may also be a key component. The ability to understand another’s emotions and share them – what he calls emotional contagion (and which may be due to possession of so-called mirror neurones) – is common in all higher mammals. (See “Emotional Intelligence and Empathy”).
He thinks this emotional perspective appears at the age of two and correlates to the development of self-awareness. The more self-aware the animal the more empathetic it appears to be.
And it is this ability to be empathetic that enables us to care for the sick and elderly and survive in overcrowded cities (compared for example to rats which in experiments on overcrowding attacked each other).
Robin McKie interviewed him in The Observer about his book; “The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society“.
Ever wondered how much empathy you have? Psychological tests developed by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, Sally Wheelwright, and their team at the University of Cambridge, England, can give you insight into the way your brain functions. Specifically, you can discover if you are more prone to empathize or systemize. Click empathy v systemising and instant feedback.
It’s not just women who are putting their health at risk (see “Stress can be a killer for women ..“).
Unfit men who work long hours are doubling their risk of dying from heart disease. And it doesn’t matter whether or not the work is physically demanding. Work itself increases your heart rate and blood pressure.
According to Denmark’s National Research Centre for the Working Environment if you work longer than 45 hours and don’t take exercise you run twice the risk of dying than fit men who also work long hours but exercise.
Their study, published in the journal Heart, looked at 5,000 men aged 40 to 59 and tracked their working hours and fitness levels over 30 years. One in five of the men worked longer than 45 hours a week and if they were unfit these were the ones who were at most risk. Even working between 40 and 45 hours increased the risk by almost 60% compared with men who worked less than 40 hours.
Physically fit men were least at risk no matter how many hours they worked – not just of dying from heart disease but from other causes as well. High levels of fitness counter the negative effects on the body and speed up recovery time allowing you to sleep better and leaving you less tired and irritable.
The Daily Mail reported that full-timer workers in the UK work 1.5 hours a week longer than the EU average of 39.9 hours. Of course our government opted out of the Working Time Directive despite earlier warnings of the ill effects of working over 50 hours (See “Taking work to extremes“).
Apparently only workers in Romania and Bulgaria work longer hours and the UK has one of the highest heart attack rates in the world – someone having a heart attack every two minutes.
via Mike the Psych’s Blog with permission
Despite the fuss about women only achieving parity with men in 50 years based on a survey from the Chartered Management Institute.
According to the survey women’s salaries increased by 2.8% last year compared to 2.3% for men. So it was claimed that if women’s pay continued to improve at that rate women would have parity with men by 2067 – almost 100 years after the Equal Pay Act.
The average salary for male managers was £41,337, about £10,000 more than women managers earned (but these surveys don’t seem to take into account the sectors where women work which may pay less than the sectors dominated by male managers).
This was also reflected at the bottom of the career hierarchy with junior male executives earning £22,253, just over £1,000 more than their female counterparts. There were bigger gaps in IT and pharmaceuticals at this level, over £3,500.
In the boardroom however it’s a different story. Female directors out-earn men with an average salary of £144,729 compared with £138, 765 for men.
Camilla Cavendish’s article in the Times (20 August 2010) is the most sensible I’ve read on this subject for ages. She rightly pointed out that women only earned less in broadly defined categories like “function head” and this could be because men are better qualified than women (as the female graduates have yet to work their way through the ranks) and more experienced (as experienced women have taken more time out).
But her main point is that it’s not about pay but about the hours.
She says women have made huge strides in terms of flexible working and work-life balance but aren’t necessarily prepared for “extreme working“. Extreme jobs are those where you are permanently plugged into your job; “10 hours a day at work, plus breakfast or dinners, plus being available to clients and bosses at weekends and holidays”. There is no switch off and these jobs are characterised by unpredictability.
Once confined to bankers, CEOs and politicians, these jobs are spreading across all sectors. She cites an American study from 2006 which found that 21% of high echelon workers had extreme jobs rising to 45% in multi-national companies. Half were clocking in over 70 hours a week, a quarter more than 80 hours, and 10% over 100 hours! And 4 out of 5 of these workers were men.
Working across time-zones means that there is always someone who needs you if you work in IT, HR, Law, or other advisory service. Having worked with virtual teams I know how disruptive video-conferencing across time zones can be to productive team working. And that’s before we mention smart phones and the internet.
Some people get a buzz from being “always on” and asking them to switch off their phones in meetings or seminars often produces a negative response. As we know from the recent BA dispute text messaging in the middle of negotiations is hardly showing respect to your colleagues across the table.
Cavendish also quotes a study from McKinsey from 1995 which demonstrated that once people worked over 65-70 hours a week there was a significant risk to health and marital status. Similarly research commissioned by the Department of Health showed that men working over 50 hours a week were at a greater risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).
That report was buried by the then government as another department was fighting the EU about the Working Time Directive arguing that the opt-out should be extended. But none of this is new. Industrial psychologists studied workers in munitions factories in WWI and found that working long hours led to more accidents and (sometimes fatal) mistakes.
And last year a survey by the Hidden Brain Drain found that nearly half of all extreme workers were too knackered to even speak to their wives or partners in the evenings. I was once asked to coach a Big 5 partner who wanted a career change because his wife was threatening to divorce him. He asked me to meet him at the airport as he was about to fly off again to Singapore. And although it is typically men who are working extreme hours I have also met female lawyers who work long hours – even pulling “all-nighters” to demonstrate to senior partners how committed they are.
So whilst some women do the time they are also more conscious of the impact on their personal lives, or lack of, whereas men seem more reliant on their job status to feel valued. For the majority of us long hours and stress eventually leads to ill-health as I have posted about previously: stress affecting senior women.
Looking through my library of books on personal and organisational development I came across my copy of The 4 agreements: Practical guide to Personal Freedom (Toltec wisdom), and remembered when I first read it 10 years ago.
I had completed my NLP training and was interested in shamanic belief systems including Hawaiian Huna (now being used to assist soldiers with PTSD as part of a UK version of the wounded warrior programme).
Then I came across this book and I was so impressed with it I wrote my first review, and the first review for the book, on Amazon; ” … my initial reading confirmed that here was a powerful tool for anyone wanting a framework for personal change. Even before I’d finished reading it I used the four agreements as a model to contract with a group of new headteachers on a personal development workshop. The model was really well received and provided a robust underpinning for everything we did so successfully that weekend.” 50 other reviewers have since added to this with over 80% giving it a 5 star rating.
In The Four Agreements shamanic teacher and healer Don Michael Ruiz exposes self-limiting beliefs and presents a simple, yet effective code of personal conduct learned from his Toltec ancestors. The four agreements are these:
- Be impeccable with your word – Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid speaking against yourself or gossiping about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
- Don’t take anything personally – Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be a victim.
- Don’t make assumptions – Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
- Always do your best – Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.
Although he is drawing on Toltec esoteric tradition his ideas are recognisable in modern therapy or coaching. He talks about domestication (=socialisation) and belief systems, about self-limiting beliefs and self-criticism (the inner judge), and about being a victim.
He likens the belief system, judge, and victim to having a parasite sucking away your energy. He also uses modern analogies. For example he likens gossip mongers to computer hackers who install a virus in your head which makes the gossip contagious.
And the role of the shamanic warrior – and this is true throughout the American continent from Canada to Argentina (and probably in parts of Asia too) – is to fight all this. The decision to adopt the 4 agreements is a declaration of war to regain your freedom from the parasite. To be free to be yourself and express yourself.
But breaking old agreements is like breaking from an addiction that we have been domesticated to accept, possibly since childhood, so it is hard work. You can start by first facing all your fears one by one. Secondly, by stopping feeding the parasite and fuelling the emotions that come from fear through gaining control of our emotions. (There is a story I remember about a native American shaman who was asked to help someone who said he had two dogs on his shoulders. One was telling him good things and the other one bad things. The shaman simply asked him which one he was feeding.)
To become a warrior you must have awareness and self-control: and you will recognise these skills as competencies in the emotional intelligence model. Yet the Toltecs pre-dated the Aztecs and were around at the time of the Norman conquest here in Britain. And there are earlier ideas too. Lao Tzu, the chinese contemporary of Confucius and who wrote the Tao said:
- Knowing others is intelligence
- Knowing yourself is true wisdom
- Mastering others is strength
- Mastering yourself is true power
It seems there are some universal truths about how humans can learn to be the best they can be which have been around for a very long time..
According to MIND, the mental health charity, half a million people are so stressed by their jobs that they believe it is making them ill and 5 million feel very or extremely stressed by their work. 2/3 of workers report feeling the “Sunday Blues” ie feeling anxious the day before they return to work.
MIND says both employers and employees should stop seeing mental health problems as a sign of weakness and that companies should promote a culture where problems can be discussed openly with supportive well-being policies.
An employee resource pack is available on the Time to Change website.
And you know things are getting bad when accountants are taking up therapy. Grant Thornton have rolled out a well-being programme based on cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT). First introduced on intervention courses it is reportedly now being used continuously to “proactively support partners’ health”. The course looks at psychological well-being, identifying and managing stress, fitness and nutrition, and provides 1:1 sessions.
If you can’t afford that kind of support do try de-stressing daily wherever you are.
See also earlier post on stress and women
The idea that it’s all down-hill from your mid-twenties is being re-appraised.
Short-term memory and reasoning may decline with old age but long-term memory, vocabulary, emotional intelligence and social skills, can all get better according to researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and reported in The Sunday Times; “Silver set rides wave of greater brain power” (27/6/2010).
Older people are more efficient at problem-solving than the young as they can draw on previous experience and older people also make more rational decisions. Researchers at the University of California studied people aged between 60 and 100 and found that they were less dependent on dopamine, the feel-good hormone sometimes associated with addictive behaviour, and therefore were less influenced by emotions or impulsivity.
This may explain why leaders and senior people in many professions and organisations are in their 50s and 60s. Two-thirds of FTSE 100 CEOs are aged over 50 and judges want to be able to work until they are 70.
A report from the Department of Work & Pensions: “Attitudes to Age in Britain 2004-2008” found that 48% of people found age discrimination a serious issue and more common, with 1 in 4 experiencing it, than any other form of discrimination. Stereotypically older people are seen as warmer and more moral but less competent whereas younger people are seen as exactly the opposite. The survey also showed that older people welcome flexibility and are keen to learn as well as to contribute their skills and experience. However they are less optimistic than younger people and more realistic.
The physical demands on older workers need to be considered as well as health issues like impaired vision, muscle strength, balance and flexibility, Research from America, where 25% of 65-74 year olds are still working, shows that employers want the brainpower, experience and knowledge of older workers but not the risk of injuries or sickness absence.
Workers need to exercise their mental and physical faculties to keep healthy and motivated. There is growing evidence that mental and physical exercise can boost brain power. Three 40 minute walks a week can improve memory and reasoning while mental stimulation can improve problem-solving and reaction times.
See also “Practice makes perfect, probably”
Updated 10 August 2010: The Ministry of Justice is proposing that people over the age of 70 should be allowed to sit on juries, although perhaps with an opt-out clause for those who didn’t feel up to it. Judges, who like magistrates and tribunal members have to retire at 70, have strongly opposed the idea.
Although it might save money, as most elderly jurors won’t need compensation for lost earnings, judges say older jurors could be more susceptible to illness and disability which could disrupt proceedings.
Couldn’t just be sour grapes could it?
Updated 13 October 2010: The Helsinki Times recently reported on a story in the Finnish financial newspaper Talous Sanomat which cast doubts on whether increased life expectancy automatically meant that people should work longer.
This debate has the Confederation of Finnish Industries arguing for a retirement age of 70 because of increasing life expectancy and the belief that people should work to that age. On the other hand the National Institute for Health and Welfare is urging caution because of the variations in health and the ability to work amongst older people.
Experts say only a small percentage of 70-year olds would be in good enough shape for paid employment as many 70-year olds suffer from memory lapses, muscle weakness, heart problems, and diabetes.
Despite what England fans might feel right now football competitions can make you happy. But only in the short-term – and only if you are the host country. And even that doesn’t make you as happy as a good marriage.
Married people are happier than single people (of course it could be that happy people get married more easily).
And the 30% improvement in happiness due to being married even counteracts all the negative affects of unemployment but don’t get divorced (the two worst life events are losing a spouse and unemployment).
There are some differences between the sexes and between age groups. For example women look less happy but angrier than they are, whereas men look less angry and happier than they are. Probably because we have cultural expectations that women should be happier than men and men angrier than women and we notice when people display behaviour counter to that norm.
Older people focus more on positive aspects of goods and services because they focus more on emotional goals than young adults.(See “What makes you Happy”). Optimism is associated with happiness, good physical and mental health and longevity. Conversely when we are stressed it lowers our immune system so we are more likely to become ill. Middle aged people who are happy have fewer physical symptoms of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Extraverts are happier than Introverts because they spend more time doing enjoyable things. But introverts who are asked to behave as extroverts can be even happier than real extroverts. And we are attracted to happy people because we think we will give good genes to our children.
Happiness IS NOT associated with: wealth (once basic needs are met), education, high IQ, youth (20-24 year olds are more depressed than 65-74 year olds) and watching TV more than 3 hours a day – especially watching soaps.
But it IS associated with: religion (although it may be the community rather than the belief), having lots of friends, and drinking in moderation (compared to teetotallers).
We are not evolved to be happy all the time otherwise we would have nothing to strive for. However 50% of happiness may be due to our genes compared to les than 10% due to our circumstances. We may have a set point or range of happiness to which we return after experiencing ups and downs. So like the football example, winning the lottery may not make us happy forever.
According to Martin Seligman – the inspiration for positive psychology – we can raise our happiness levels by enjoying life’s experiences more eg by savouring sensual experiences, by becoming more engaged with life and by finding ways of making our lives more meaningful.
Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of “The How of Happiness: a practical guide to getting the life you want“, suggests the following programme to raise your levels of happiness:
- Count your blessings – keep a gratitude journal each week of 3-5 things
- Practise being kind – both randomly and systematically
- Savour life’s joys
- Thank a mentor
- Learn to forgive
- Invest time and energy in friends and family – these are more important than work to your happiness.
- Take care of your body and health
- Develop strategies for coping with stress and hardship – having a strong belief system helps.
Updated 2 July 2010: Catherine Bennett in the weekend’s Observer (27 June 2010) took a rather cynical view in her piece; “Phew. At last we can ignore the gurus peddling happiness“. Clearly not impressed by the wave of optimism being generated at a time of world-wide problems and austerity at home. She refers to the Movement for Happiness and its founder Lord Layard who said; “… as our society has become richer, our happiness has not risen in step. Despite ever greater affluence, our lives are increasingly stressful. This paradox requires a radical rethink of our lifestyles and our goals”.
Conceding that the strategies proposed by happiness enthusiasts are neither complicated or expensive she also quotes the GREAT approach (advocated by the New Economics Foundation). GREAT stands for: Giving, Relating to others, Exercising the body, Attending to the world around, and Teaching yourself something fresh – but she wonders what good they are to people who have just lost their jobs or never had one.
Well I know that exercise is the best form of anti-depressant, relating to others might help develop networks and reduce self-obsessing, and keeping up-to-date and learning a new skill is a good way to get a new job. Maybe we should just ignore the journalists peddling negativity?