Feb 18 / Simcha

The New American Family Structure

NCH Statistics: 1970-2009 (Click image to view graph enlarged)

Adapted from For Women Under 30, Most Births Occur Outside Marriage by J. DeParle and S. Tavernise (New York Times, 2.17.2012)

“It used to be called illegitimacy. Now it is the new normal. After steadily rising for five decades, the share of children born to unmarried women has crossed a threshold: more than half of births to American women under 30 occur outside marriage.”

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Feb 14 / Simcha

More Anxious than our Forebears? (Daniel Smith)

Abridged from It’s Still the Age of Anxiety. Or Is It? (2.14.2012) by Daniel Smith.

Ours is an age in which an enormous and growing number of people suffer from anxiety. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders now affect 18 percent of the adult population of the United States, or about 40 million people. By comparison, mood disorders — depression and bipolar illness, primarily — affect 9.5 percent. That makes anxiety the most common psychiatric complaint by a wide margin, and one for which we are increasingly well-medicated. (The anti-anxiety drug alprazolam — better known by its brand name, Xanax — was the top psychiatric drug on the list, clocking in at 46.3 million prescriptions in 2010.)

Despite the fact that our anxiety is heavily diagnosed and medicated, we are no more anxious than our forebears.  We are simply more cognizant, as individuals and a culture, of the mind’s tendency to spin out of control.  Fourteenth-century Europe, for example, experienced experienced mass  convulsions and psychic torment as a result of the devastating famines, waves of pillaging mercenaries, peasant revolts, religious turmoil and a plague that wiped out as much as half the population in four years.

It’s hard to imagine that we have it even close to as bad as that. Yet there is clearly an aspect of anxiety that is new: self-awareness. While the inhabitants of earlier eras may have been wracked by nerves, none are as aware of, nor as fixated, on the condition as we are todayn. Indeed, none of our ancestors even considered anxiety a condition.

Anxiety did not emerge as a cohesive psychiatric concept until the early 20th century, when Freud highlighted it as “the nodal point at which the most various and important questions converge, a riddle whose solution would be bound to throw a flood of light upon our whole mental existence.”   The number of thinkers and artists who sought to solve this riddle increased thereafter exponentially. By 1977, the psychoanalyst Rollo May was noting an explosion in papers, books and studies on the subject. “Anxiety,” he wrote, “has certainly come out of the dimness of the professional office into the bright light of the marketplace.”

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Daniel Smith is the author of the forthcoming book Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety (Simon & Schuster, July 2012). His work has appeared in The Atlantic, Granta, n+1, New York, and The New York Times Magazine.

Jan 28 / Simcha

Nagging: Enemy of Love

Based on Elizabeth Bernstein’s Wall Street Journal article, Nagging: Meet the Marriage Killer

Once again – there is good and  bad news.  Starting with the latter….

Nagging — the interaction in which one person repeatedly makes a request, the other person repeatedly ignores it, and both become increasingly annoyed — is a toxic communication issue that is one of the leading causes for discord and divorce. We nag when we feel we can’t get what we want from our partner, and we keep on asking in the hopes it will happen.  A vicious cycle is set in place:  The irritated recipient of the nagging, feeling scolded like a little boy, withdraws in protest, inviting the nagger to nag some more.

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Jan 17 / Simcha

No Evolutionary Upside in Depression

In a recent Science Times article in the New York Times, Richard A. Friedman, professor of clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, explores a growing trend in academic circles to view depression as a “natural” condition that, like ordinary sadness, may provide evolutionary advantages. Separate studies by psychologists Paul W. Andrews (U. of Virginia) and Joseph P. Forgas (U. of New S. Wales) suggested that something about sadness might improve analytical reasoning and the capacity for critical, accurate detection of deceptive communication.

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Jan 07 / Simcha

The Joy of Quiet

Artwork: Vivienne Flesher, NYTimes, 1.1.12

The average American spends at least eight and a half hours a day in front of a screen of one sort or another. The average American teenager sends or receives 75 text messages a day.  Many of us are finding ourselves controlled by the many time-saving devices that have also considerably expanded our lives.

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Jan 01 / Simcha

Out the Door and Into 2012

From the New York Times Editorial, January 1, 2012

Perhaps you have a New Year’s Day of your own — a day when it suddenly feels as though you’ve truly left the old year behind. It may be the day you no longer have to think twice when putting the date on a check, if you still write checks, that is. Perhaps your new year started the moment the days began lengthening just before Christmas. Or perhaps you hold off for the vernal equinox (March 20 in 2012), when New Year used to be celebrated and when, in many places, you can feel the newness of the year about to burst out of the ground.

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Nov 29 / Simcha

Hope for Our Species

Harvard evolutionary psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker has always been deeply curious about how humans work. In a series of best-selling books, he has argued that our mental faculties — from emotions to decision-making to visual cognition — were forged by natural selection.

In his newest book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, Pinker investigates one of the most primal apects of life: Violence. He argues that violence has fallen drastically over thousands of years — whether one considers homicide rates, war casualties as a percentage of national populations, or other measures.

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