How to hack your brain into making better decisions.
Bill Sullivan Ph.D.
Not again! You ate too much pie. You bought yet another pair of shoes that you don’t need. You were rude to someone. You partied too hard.
The list of regrets goes on. We can recognize our bad habits, but we have great difficulty breaking them.
There is one simple thing you can do—a new habit you can develop—that has the potential to dissolve all of your bad habits. To learn how it works requires a better understanding of how the brain drives behavior.
The how and why of habit formation
New research has revealed numerous hidden forces that affect our behavior in surprising ways. These forces include biological and environmental factors that comingle to steer our actions on a subconscious level. In other words, many of the things we do, including the habits we’ve formed, are not the result of careful contemplation and deliberation on our part.
That may sound unsettling, but understanding the mechanisms underlying our behavior exposes potential ways to hack the brain into making more intelligent decisions. Otherwise, we fool ourselves into thinking we’re at the wheel when we’re actually just a backseat driver.
Our brain is a remarkable feat of evolutionary engineering, but it is not without its problems. Our thinking organ is an energy hog, consuming up to 20% of the body’s daily caloric intake—even while you are asleep! In an effort to conserve energy, the brain relies on mental shortcuts that psychologists call heuristics. The brain works hard to identify patterns, then makes assumptions based on those patterns.
These assumptions can influence our behavior in ways that are below our conscious radar. Since the brain invests a great effort in developing these algorithms, it is reluctant to spend additional energy re-evaluating its assumptions. This is why people are often stubborn, sometimes doubling down on erroneous beliefs even when presented with compelling evidence to the contrary.
The brain uses the patterns it has learned to run on automatic pilot whenever possible. This conserves the body’s resources, but it can result in the recurrence of bad habits. We do things without thinking. We form beliefs without evaluating evidence. We become biased and construct stereotypes. Bad habits and irrational decisions can stem from these automated heuristic pathways in the brain.
Breaking bad habits
To break the cycle, we must constantly remind ourselves to get out of the backseat and sit behind the wheel. We are often the victims of a lazy brain that is relying too heavily on mental shortcuts. The trick is to be mindful of our behaviors, no matter how trivial they may seem. Ask yourself questions like: Why do I want that cookie? Why do I want to say such a cruel thing? I am yawning, so why am I staying up to watch another episode? Why am I looking at my phone instead of enjoying my meal?
The strategy may seem obvious, but being mindful of our present actions is not as easy as it sounds for two related reasons: our brain is overusing mental shortcuts and diverting the energy to worry about what has yet to happen.
For your daily routine, the brain is operating largely on heuristics. This frees energy to allow the brain to do its favorite thing: imagining future scenarios. Research has shown that the wandering mind is the default setting for the brain, which clearly has survival advantages. The downside of this preoccupation is that we’re not very good at living in the here and now. We’re not very good at quelling our never-ending desires. We’re not very good at recognizing and appreciating what we already have.
You can nurture a new habit to live in the moment. Scrutinize your actions to reveal the choice before you. Contemplate every fork in the road. Engage your logic circuits instead of letting the mind act purely on subconscious assumptions. Here is a helpful approach that leverages the brain’s desire for success: Frame the decision you need to make as a test. Will you pass it? Or will you fail?
The brain hates failure and produces emotions like guilt and shame to encourage you not to fail again. By the same token, the brain rewards accomplishment. If you can be mindful of the here and now—how your behavior is affecting your body or the welfare of someone else—you will harness the power to override bad habits committed by a brain on autopilot. Push yourself to expend the energy required to challenge your brain’s automated decisions. If you experience difficulty, learn to recognize the cues that trigger the bad habit and rearrange your routine to avoid them.
It is important to let your mind wander and contemplate the future, but do so at a designated time of rest—not when your attention is required in the here and now. Good luck on your next test!
New Orleans Must Improve the Lives of ALL African Americans
By Jeff Thomas
Many people often say I’m too focused on race. But look around our city. Most of the big social problems are in the African American community. Murder. Car jackings. Poverty. Covid hospitalizations. Drug abuse. Unemployment. The list goes on and on and on. Fixing these problems in that part of the African American community that struggles makes the city great for EVERYBODY. So if you are black or white or Asian or Hispanic and doing pretty good want to live in a safer cleaner city, let’s fix the problems in the ailing parts of our city. Helping poor black people benefits everybody.
Good news is we can do it. And it is not that hard. New Orleans should be a sanctuary city for the poor and struggling African Americans. Every policy and regulation possible should support this notion. And given the egregiously regressive and burdensome past, city government should fast track all current, available solutions. Even a cursory glance at the plight of hard-working African Americans in the city provides ample evidence of the urgent need for change.
Our current paradigm has created and sustains the crime-plagued, underperforming city. Low-performing schools contribute to the highest dropout rates in the country. Gentrification and low-paying jobs force many into the rental market in our city. And people who own their homes are nearly 90% less likely to commit crimes compared to those who rent. Though the murder rate is once again the highest in the country per capita. African Americans in NOLA die at alarmingly high rates. Especially when it comes to young people. We must fix serious and deeply-entrenched problems here quickly. It can be done with surprising ease if a coordinated attempt is employed.
THE SANCTUARY CITY MODEL
Characteristics of the sanctuary should include
home ownership programs
good neighborhood schools,
and ample business opportunities with direct access to available financing.
Combined, these targets will dramatically reduce poverty and improve the quality of life for all our citizens. With access to good-paying jobs and pathways to home ownership, crime will drop precipitously. Working men, who earn living wages, will fatten city coffers via property and sales tax payments. Needing fewer police officers, more money could then be shifted into job training programs. These programs prepare young people to enter the workforce and become taxpayers.
SWB JOBS PROGRAM
The Sewerage and Water Board can be the greatest jobs program in city history. Billions of FEMA dollars are scheduled to be spent repairing crumbling infrastructure. The board must hire, train and demand excellence from its repair people. Our ability to pump water is our lifeline. We must invest in training our people to protect our property. The SWB is more important than the NOPD. SWB must pay enough to enable employees to purchase homes.
Eighty five percent of people who commit crimes do not own their homes. Neighborhoods where people own their homes are cleaner, safer. And they provide ancillary activities (kids sports programs, block parties, etc.) that promote healthier living. Living wages help people qualify for mortgages. City-sanctioned home ownership classes would motivate and inspire people to save for down payments and improve their credit scores. The soft second mortgage programs should also be expanded.
Working families need close and convenient good schools for their children. Our experiment with charter schools must shift to emphasize local school excellence. Good neighborhood schools reduce stress, increase participation and reduce dropout rates, which in turn strengthen families. Parent-school partnerships are easier when parents are able to access school personnel close to home. Friendly rivalries centered around athletic and academic achievement will transform educational achievement[ in The Bowl. Businesses could offer cash prizes to the students who perform best and the schools which achieve great successes.
Police Chief Shaun Ferguson rose through the ranks. And he is a man from our streets who now leads the men and women who patrol our streets. He says, “The community and police must form a partnership.” He is correct when he says the NOPD needs citizen support. Right now, our NOPD is dangerously understaffed. Shifting to 12 hour shifts increases presence on the streets. Good move Chief. Also moving more desk and clerical jobs from police to citizen staffing will enable more officers to get out. And top brass should patrol our neighborhoods. They are our best and brightest. They have the experience and authority to effectively decipher complex situations. Is a shouting match serious?
We know arresting and jailing people for minor crimes, even for short periods of time, has dramatic and real effects. And ironically results in yet more crime. Instead, community policing operates in an atmosphere of cooperation and respect. Too often, police have operated with rigidity and oppressiveness. That stifles the community support it needs, desires, and deserves.
For too long, New Orleans and other municipalities have focused on fines and fees to finance government. Police decide who gets pulled over and issued a ticket. Furthermore, rigid rules and immediate late fees from municipal utilities create undue stress in an already overburdened populace.
In the 21st century, our cities must uplift the lives of all the citizens who make these places home.
It happens everyday in America!
By Jeff Thomas
Black men kill each other at alarming rates all across America every day. Nearly every city’s daily news casts reports, “Today in our city three (or thirty depending on the size of your city) men were shot and killed in three (or thirty) separate shootings. Police have no suspects in any of the cases.” And immediately and innately you know that the people killed were black and the killers were black. This has been going on for the last 30-40 years and no end is in sight. New Orleans has one of the highest murder rates nationally. Why do black men kill each other?
First Let’s Dispel a
First thing you have to know is that 99.999% of black men do
not commit murder ever in their lives.
That is a fact! This is not a
black man issue. There is nothing
genetically or intrinsically wrong with black men. But the fact remains that
daily hundreds of black men across this country are murdered everyday by
another black man. Why does this happen
with this subset?
Common factors to Black
men murdering other black men
The first thing about murder is that people usually kill
people who are similar to them in many ways, particularly race. White men normally murder other white men and
black men normally murder other black men.
In the black community, these killings are normally city events. Rarely do you hear of a drive by in the country. Most of these daily killings occur on the city streets. People kill others who they interact with.
Young men engage in risky and violent behavior. Most of the men dying on our streets are
between the ages of 17-35.
But these are often cited, unsurprising factors. More salient is what goes into the psyche of a guy who can look into the eyes of another man and pull the trigger at close range or jab a knife with the intent to murder another man? What are the other factors that contribute to becoming a murderer? Why do Black men kill each other
The guy who ain’t never scared and always looking to
escalate a situation. Down for whatever. Nothing to live for and anticipating the day
he will either kill or be killed. This
mindset is cultivated in a limited option, few chances, success deprived
life. This guy has had a number of
arguments and fist fights throughout his life.
He hates authority and frequently feels angry or resentful towards
people. He often seeks to overcome a
feeling of powerlessness. This guy is a
walking heap of rage. He is always nothing
but a gun and an argument away from murder.
The Disrespected Man
A man who feels like everybody but him gets respect.
Unemployed or stuck in a low wage hard work job
where his contributions are unrecognized
Lives with his mother and has little control over
his home environment
Has a child but no custody and a bad relationship
with his baby mama
Been profiled and harassed by the police
Observes community members driving nice cars
Rejected for better jobs
Feels unable to change his life status and is
insignificant in the world
Seeks to overcome feelings of impotence
For this guy, respect is everything and options to express
anger or refutation are often limited. He
often seeks to overcome a feeling of impotence. If another who seems unworthy
of disseminating criticism or scorn or generally crosses the line of imagined
respect, then a high level of response will be meted out.
Little life happiness
Thrill seeker often brags and talks about his toughness and ‘hood status.
Wants to make a real name for himself
Will recklessly escalate a situation or
When challenged by a non-believing skeptic, this man often
acts in unnecessarily violent ways in unnecessarily violent situations. Often seeks to overcome a feeling of powerlessness.
Too often black men suffer an inferiority
vilifies and criminalizes black men on a daily basis.
American culture is based upon the notion that
black people and specifically black men are less intelligent, completely
unpredictable, beast like, lazy etc., etc.
Black men internalize this notion and are
conditioned to see little value when they look in the mirror.
Beset by internal angst and torment.
Unresolved pain combined with poverty,
ignorance, oppression, violent police, violent neighborhoods, etc.
symptoms of an inferiority complex include a high sensitivity to criticism, perceiving
others as a threat, jealousy, a lack of dreams.
The daily feeling of isolation, powerlessness and impotence is like being a prisoner of war. One reason black men grab their genitals is to stress their vitality. Men who have been literally stripped of the ability to display their manhood – great jobs, big houses, educational attainment and all the other accoutrements of modern society- are literally killing to express their power in life. Twisted but true.
by Mark Travers Ph.D.
Sometimes, we need to unlearn basic conditioning by splurging the right way.
Many of us are taught to avoid conversations around the topic of money. As such, we struggle to understand the relationship we have with it. We may ruminate on questions such as:
“If money can’t buy happiness, why do I only see myself being happier if I were richer?”
“My parents never let me spend money on them. How do I tell them that having certain amenities is not the same as being addicted to luxury?”
“Are materialism and happiness mutually exclusive?”
“Does splurging make me greedy and selfish?”
It’s good to reflect on these questions, as they tell a deeper story about how you view money and its role in your life. Below I will discuss three ways money can actually buy happiness, according to new research.
1. Spending money on your partner pays happiness dividends.
We often feel nudged to think of creative ways to show our commitment to our partner. This might mean making an unexpected thoughtful gesture, crafting a handmade gift, or thinking of new ways to spend quality time together.
While all of these methods are great, there’s nothing wrong with buying your partner something they want or could use. Or, even better, something they want but would never buy for themselves.
One recent study shows that partners who regularly spend money on each other are more satisfied in their relationships. Spending on your partner increases partner responsiveness, which contributes to the health of the relationship and to both members’ individual psychological health.
Moreover, buying something for your partner does not mean you didn’t devote time or effort into the gesture. Purchasing something nice takes effort, too — you might have had to save up money, plan around a sale, or make a reservation.
When it comes to investing in your relationship, both time and money make a difference.
2. Spending money on a furry friend can be delightful.
Yes, pets are huge responsibilities. Yes, they can make a mess. And yes, they sometimes leave bite marks on brand-new furniture. Yes, veterinary visits can be expensive. But pets are not (only) money pits. On the contrary, research shows that spending money on your pets — be it for training, toys, or accessories — can significantly increase your level of happiness.
There are other positives as well. Petting a dog can have stress-busting effects on your mind and body. Keeping your pet active forces you to stay active. Perhaps most importantly, pets also play an emotionally supportive role for you and your family.
People who own pets are known to be more sociable and tend to create vibrant communities with other pet owners, which can be a powerful antidote to loneliness and isolation. It was no surprise that when the pandemic hit and the world went into hibernation, pet adoption and sales reached record highs.
3. Spend your money on experiences, not things.
While spending on others is a great way to increase your happiness, spending on yourself is not a crime. In fact, buying new and interesting experiences for yourself is a great way to achieve long-lasting happiness that is not rooted in materialism.
Investing in experiences like a solo trip, a concert, or even a music lesson can add meaningful milestones to your life’s narrative. The value of experiences increases as the years go by and continue to enrich you in different ways — something new clothes or jewelry rarely achieve.
Not convinced? Think about your honeymoon, the time you took your child or younger sibling to an amusement park, or the time you went to a book reading by your favorite author. Would you trade those experiences for anything else in the world?
Money is no more than a token of value. You are allowed to use it when you want to tell someone that you value their love, their labor, and their presence — even if that person is you.
What can The Road to Damascus teach us about White Supremacy?
By Orissa Arend
White supremacy is a term that has come into the public discourse in the last few years. I first heard it decades ago at a People’s Institute Undoing Racism Workshop. Back then for me, a white person, it was a startling, new idea – revolutionary and challenging. But the intervening years have brought seminars, books on the subject, lists of its manifestations, and an emerging awareness of the attending powers and privileges.
In some circles, white people have discussed it ad nauseam in an effort to understand, to undo racism, and to assuage guilt. But being white, our attempts have been mostly in the head, the intellect, generally our processing mechanism of choice. We often don’t engage the heart or our body.
Kathy Randels’ new one-woman play, The Road to Damascus, is an antidote to that. At once intensely personal, and at the same time universal, Kathy embodies Little Red, Grandmother, the Wolf, the Horseman, Saul, and Paul, weaving in our insidious tendency toward white supremacy throughout. She moves fluidly among characters with poetry, song, narrative, and dance. She invites us into the integration she is seeking between her family’s Baptist preacher history and her work in drama with women in prison over the last 25 years.
The play was directed and co-created by Odile Del Giudice who uses her background as a professional performance artist to address ancestral and collective trauma. What is our true embodied nature, she prompts us to ask. How can our true nature integrate divergent perspectives on God, race, and structures of dominance? This is where my brain, with all its “white” conditioning, begins to fog over. So let me give you a few snippets from the play that perhaps will tempt you beyond the usual rational, linear ways of dealing with good and evil, prey and predator, racism and conversion.
Imagine a stage whose props consist mainly of books – which belonged to Kathy’s preacher father and preacher grandfather – and stones which can be used for protection, revenge, killing, games, or divination. Other props include an extraordinary wolf head and a dazzling red cape.
Little Red ventures into the woods as an innocent, bearing gifts and cookies. She is tricked by the wolf, to whom innocence is an aphrodisiac. She is also lured by Saul as the Horseman. Saul leaves Red’s “present” in shreds after an ecstatic encounter, and rides off.
But Little Red’s innocence morphs into complicity with predators as she plays “cops and robbers,” and “cowboys and Indians” with the wolf. He reminds her that those games have always been sick. She gets confused about the rules and who is good. Confusion is a common fall-back position when white people feel uncomfortable.
Later still in the play she wields the sacred, deadly stones of white supremacy which Saul, in his bureaucratic obsession and religious zealoutry, has orchestrated against the “darkskins.”
Grandmother, the wisdom figure, is based to some extent on Gloria Williams (aka Mama Glo) whose recent release from prison Kathy worked with many others to achieve. Mama Glo served 52 years. Little Red doesn’t realize until late in the play that Grandmother is a “darkskin”. Grandmother tells Red that after Damascus, Saul is dead. She assures Red that he has paid for his racism and his violence in the name of the Lord. Red is not satisfied with that. She wants Saul and the King, who has imprisoned Grandmother, killed. But Grandmother says no, that wouldn’t do any good. They would just find another. Besides, she is free, she claims, even if she dies in prison. If she were white, she ruefully explains, she would be sitting on a throne.
She understands that each of us has to tame the wolf inside of us, so he can protect us and keep us honest. We cannot kill the wolf. She brings hope for a new system. But she cautions that she can’t tell the white ones what to do.
They’ve got to figure that out for themselves.
Kathy is masterful at embodying all these characters and the archetypal, dream-like associations that they carry. The music, the stage set, and the costumes assist her brilliantly. But I would have to be way beyond my present capacity for understanding Bible stories, racial history, and church dogma to really “get” the complex web of images in this play. Maybe that’s the point: Maybe I’m not supposed to be able to figure it out. Enlightenment for Paul is preceded by blindness. The play challenges me to surrender my cognitive ways of knowing in order to really see.
Kathy would like to bring the play to white churches here and elsewhere throughout Louisiana, in an effort to encourage white Christians to look at the role we have allowed Christianity to play in the creation of our inequitable legal system. She wants to invite those same folks to work on ways to repair the damage to generations of families who have been harmed by that system. The play could be part of a discussion series. I feel sure that would move the needle for any aspiring anti-racist church. If your church is interested, you can contact Kathy Randels at firstname.lastname@example.org.
New Orleans is one of the most poor and obese cities in the country. And if health is wealth, then the city is sick. Maybe even ICU sick in some instances. If only we could create jobs in healthcare that focuses on improving the community’s health. And train and hire people from the community. Then we could kill two birds with one stone. Reduce poverty and simultaneously improve our health. The proposed New Orleans Biodistrict can do that and more. That’s the kind of creative thinking our city needs.
Crime leads the daily news cycle. We see senseless killing on our streets daily. The mayor’s long-term approach to invest in youth training has yielded mixed results. The short-term result is an increase in homicides. But as terrible as these heinous crimes are, they pale in comparison to the destruction and devastation from health-related deaths. We willingly invest in more police and police technology.
The “if it bleeds it leads” media obsession highlights the 300 tragic murders but completely ignores the thousands who needlessly die annually from poor health. Diabetes, heart ailments, and stroke kill more black men than all the shootings in all the metro parishes combined. People point to crime as a reason to recall the mayor. But we struggle to form and fund an innovative corridor that will not only improve health but also reduce crime.
The Biodistict New Orleans was created in 2005 by the state legislature. It is a business and health corridor from Carrollton Ave to Loyola and from Iberville to Earhart. It incorporates
New Orleans BioInnovation Center
Louisiana Cancer Research Center
LSU Medical School
Tulane Medical School
Delgado School of Nursing
New Orleans Working BioDistrict
Their vision is simple. It will make us healthier and safer. The district will make our city a better place to live. It promises not to gentrify the neighborhoods. People won’t be displaced. In fact their lives will be enhanced by the jobs and access to healthcare that our city sorely needs now. According to their literature the BioDistrict –
will position New Orleans as a global center of excellence in healthcare specialties (e.g. cancer, obesity, neurodegenerative diseases). It will be a hub for healthcare industry anchors, world class research, biotech startups, and small businesses. The job-creating potential of an innovation district guides the economic development strategy for the BioDistrict.
The BioDistrict seeks to create a model for equity and economic inclusion, including small business creation, local hiring, and workforce training to increase the wealth of residents in the region.
The BioDistrict will be a walkable, vibrant, mixed-use, mixed-income community. Residents, researchers, healthcare workers, entrepreneurs, and visitors will want to come here to live, work, innovate, and heal.
The biggest holdup had been an unclear vision and lack of oversight. The mayor, the governor, state representatives, economic agencies and university leaders appoint the board. But as they say, the devil is in the details. But issues still exist-
A well laid out true master plan must be presented to the public. Public input is crucial.
Including New Orleans East and The New Orleans East Hospital must be included.
Clear financial benefits to the city must be defined. This is TIF money.
City Council level flexibility to change the CEA is mandatory.
This is an agreement between the state and the city. Who controls the money? The citizens of New Orleans must have control.
If this is not possible, then the current CEA is not the correct agreement. The BioDistrict can transform our city. We have to do it right. It’s been 17 years in the making. Be intentional. Get it right.
We need new ideas and projects in order to grow the city. The BioDisrict will attract startup companies. Included in the new proposal is a startup incubator that helps local young business people become startups that will anchor the community. Imagine out people healthy. Imagine our people transformed.Then imagine out people enriched. That’s a New Orleans we can all love. New Orleans needs the BioDistrict. But it needs the BioDistrict properly configured.
Maybe the mayor should show them a little leg. Maybe give them a lil extra twist in her hips when she walks by. Yeah. They’d like that. Or on conservatively dressed days, maybe cuff her pants to expose a bit of ankle, revealing the smooth contours of bone. Whew. That’ll get a rise out of them, those creepy white men.
Mayor Cantrell has a creepy white man problem.
If I was a creepy white man, I wonder if I’d stalk the mayor, too. I mean, she does look mean in a pair of jeans. On the dance floor, she does sway something sassy. She definitely got that black as you-know-what-attitude. Who knows, maybe I’d join them, those fellow creepy white men, tongue wagging and dripping saliva, nose to the pavement like a bloodhound. Who got that scent?
How does one become a creepy white man? Have you ever wondered? Do you merely have to do something creepy, like sift through 630 hours of surveillance footage, all just to catch a glimpse of the mayor? Is there an entrance fee? Some type of initiation? A ball? Do you get a discount if you donate to the Metropolitan Crime Commission? Can I simply identify as one?
Should the mayor be flattered? In this land of the free, selfish, cut-throat, and brave, creepy white men reign supreme. They’re the powerful possessors of privilege. And just think, here she is, little ole LaToya, the apple of their affection, the dimple of their desire. An explanation is required.
Ever since the mayor began doing an incredibly incompetent job of running the city, creepy white men have come out of the closet and become — well…increasingly creepy. Things they put up with under previous administrations are absolutely intolerable under this one.
Like possessive husbands, they now need to know when she comes and goes. They need to know how she’s spending “their” money (what you doing with those Wisner funds and first class flights?). Lately, her staying downtown in a city owned apartment without paying rent has become the most pressing infatuation. Even though city law possibly says she doesn’t have to. Is she staying there alone? Maybe……
This has clearly sparked creepy white man arousal. They can’t take it – visions of her black ass getting away with imagined atrocities. It’s just too much. So what do they do? They follow her, snapping pictures with telescoping lenses. They monitor her mail. Then they monitor her maintenance requests. They even camp out waiting to catch a glimpse of her sunbathing on a balcony, annoyed because she put up the privacy screen.
Do Powerful White Men Lust After the Mayor
Remember when the mayor said she flies first class to protect her mental health and safety as a black woman? Initially, that sounded utterly ridiculous. But who knows? She is being stalked, photographed, surveilled. And her picture is blasted on the evening news like a mugshot. Who knows? Maybe she’s onto something.
Imagine what it is to be a creepy white man though. To get away with this, to live free with zero repercussions or judgment. It’s a facet of the American dream, one almost as old as white men lusting after black women.
There’s little doubt that there’s a huge wealth gap in the U.S. along racial lines. As noted by Bloomberg, Black Americans have, on average, one-sixth of the wealth held by their white counterparts. And the racial wealth gap is getting wider every year.
As noted by the Harvard Gazette, this disparity is the result of nearly 160 years of systematic racism in the wake of the end of the Civil War. After General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Special Field Order Number 15 gave freed slaves acreage of their own, there was a moment of hope that the newly-freed Black Americans would be given the resources to build wealth and achieve true equality — but after President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and the ascent of Andrew Johnson to the presidency, those efforts were reversed — and more than a century of Jim Crow laws and other racist policies essentially made it nearly impossible for most Black Americans to accumulate wealth.
Nearly impossible — but not totally impossible. A remarkable handful of brilliant Black Americans managed to become incredibly wealthy and successful despite these organized efforts to hold them down. Their stories are remarkable considering that Black Americans still face innumerable barriers to gaining wealth even in the modern day. (Of the 2,755 billionaires in the world as of 2022, only 15 are Black — and of the 724 billionaires in America, only nine are Black.) Here are America’s first Black millionaires.
As The Washington Post reports, America’s first Black millionaire was William Alexander Leidesdorff — a man Afro News notes is considered one of the founders of what would eventually be known as San Francisco. In 1845, President James Polk named him American Vice Consul to a Mexican outpost in California, making him the first Black American diplomat as well.
According to The Daily Beast, Leidesorff was mixed-race and claimed to have been born on St. Croix in the Danish West Indies — though there’s some speculation he might have been born in Hungary. Whatever the truth of his early life, Leidesdorff was incredibly successful. He worked in imports and made a tidy fortune, then moved to San Francisco and became one of its leading citizens, launching a general store, building ships, and running the city’s first hotel. When he died, the city flew its flags at half-mast. His estate was worth about $1.4 million at the time — or close to $60 million today.
One of the most remarkable aspects of Leidesdorff’s life is the fact that he lived openly as a biracial man in Antebellum America, which was not a time known for its racial tolerance. Legally, anyone with Black ethnicity in their background was considered Black, and as therefore subjected to racist policies and laws, even outside of the Southern states.
The New York Times reports that Mary Ellen Pleasant was born into slavery in 1814. In the 1820s, she moved to Nantucket, Massachusetts — and according to Investopedia, worked to assist the Underground Railroad, which helped those fleeing enslavement find their way to safe areas in the North of the country. She married a man named James Smith, and when he died, she inherited a small fortune.
In 1849, she moved to San Francisco, possibly due to the blowback she received for her work on the Underground Railroad. There she found work as a cook — and eavesdropped on her wealthy employers for investment tips. She soon became the richest woman in the city through a combination of smart loans and businesses, including a chain of boarding houses in a booming city. She was known as “Mammy Pleasant,” and designed and built a fine mansion in the city.
Despite the change of location and her growing fortune, Pleasant remained committed to the abolitionist cause, and secretly donated money — an incredible $30,000, nearly a million dollars in today’s money — to John Brown, whose raid on Harper’s Ferry was intended to spark an uprising and is a key moment in the lead-up to the American Civil War. When Brown was hanged, the authorities found a note in his pocket from Pleasant promising more money — but no one suspected she was the note’s author.
According to BlackPast, Robert Reed Church was born in 1839 to steamboat captain Charles B. Church, who was white, and a woman named Emmeline, who was enslaved by Charles. His father never legitimized Robert, but he trained him and hired him as a steward on his boat — the highest position a Black man could hold at the time.
Investopedia reports that Robert Church was forced to serve as a steward on board the steamboat Victona during the Civil War, but was emancipated after the war ended. He moved to Memphis, where he began to invest in real estate, quickly amassing a fortune and a business empire that included hotels and a bar, and co-founded the Solvent Savings Bank and Trust Company.
Church’s fortune rested on his personal resolve and bravery. During the 1866 race riots, Church was shot in his own bar and left for dead. Yet he refused to leave his adopted home. When Yellow Fever swept through the city, property values plummeted — and Church began buying land. By the time of his death, The Washington Post notes that Church was one of the largest landowners in all of Tennessee — possibly the largest. In 1879, Church was so rich that he led the charge in buying municipal bonds when the city of Memphis teetered on the edge of bankruptcy, helping to save the city, and in 1908 he personally paid the debts of the historic Beale Street Baptist Church to prevent its creditors from seizing the property.
According to Afro News, Hannah Elias was born in Philadelphia in 1865. Twenty years later, author Angus McLaren reports in his book “Sexual Blackmail,” she met the wealthy and highly respectable John R. Platt while working as a “courtesan” in San Francisco. Twelve years later, Platt met Elias again on the East Coast when she was working in a massage parlor — and the two began a relationship.
Platt helped Elias start a boardinghouse business in New York City, but the relationship soon soured, and Platt eventually accused Elias of extorting nearly $700,000 from him, threatening to reveal their sordid relationship to the world. Platt paid the blackmail for years, but in 1904 he’d finally had enough and had Elias charged. When the police arrived at her Central Park West home, she barricaded herself inside. Morbidly, her home then became a stop for early tour buses (pictured) for several days as she held the police at bay.
As noted by Investopedia, Platt’s lawsuit was eventually dismissed. Elias used the money she received from Platt and from her businesses to buy up real estate in Harlem, New York — quickly becoming one of the richest Black women in America at the time. The Atlanta Black Star reports her wealth at $1 million at its height. As noted by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Elias is credited with helping to establish Harlem as an iconic Black neighborhood in New York City. She vanished in 1915; although rumored to have traveled to Europe, no one knows her final fate.
As noted by Vox, Annie Turnbo-Malone is an often overlooked figure in Black American history, but her achievements as one of the first Black American millionaires deserve more attention.
According to authors Ayana Byrd and Lori Tharps in their book “Hair Story,” Turnbo-Malone was born in 1869 in Metropolis, Illinois, and was orphaned as a young child. Raised by her sister, Turnbo-Malone became interested in chemistry, specifically seeking solutions to the common hair problems Black women face, typically — even today — without much help from mainstream beauty companies. Self-taught in chemistry, she initially created a product called Wonderful Hair Grower and began going door to door in her hometown to sell it. It was an immediate success.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Turnbo-Malone later hit upon the idea of using lanolin ointment on damaged hair. She debuted her treatment at the 1904 World’s Fair, and by the end of World War I in 1918, she had a net worth of at least a million dollars, thanks to her Poro label of beauty products. The name “Poro” is a Mende (West African) word for “devotional society.” Turnbo-Malone soon had an international business that empowered other Black women, who could be trained to sell Poro products and even open their own hair salons under the Poro brand. The business was strong enough to withstand the Great Depression and was still going strong in the 1950s when Turnbo-Malone passed away.
Often (incorrectly) called the first Black American millionaire, Madam C.J. Walker was mentored by another Black millionaire — beauty products legend Annie Turnbo-Malone. Born Sarah Breedlove in 1867 to parents who had once been enslaved, Walker was the first person in her family to be born free. History reports that Walker became an orphan at the age of seven, was married at age 14 — and a widow at age 20.
She became interested in hair care after experiencing the trauma of hair loss. According to Vox, the treatments marketed to women suffering her condition were known to actually make things worse — something Walker learned from beauty legend Annie Turnbo-Malone when the two met in the early 1900s as Turnbo-Malone was getting her Poro beauty product empire off the ground. Walker followed Turnbo-Malone’s advice, and soon her hair was healthy and growing again — inspiring her to launch her own beauty and haircare business, modeled very closely on Poro.
As noted by authors Ayana Byrd and Lori Tharps in their book “Hair Story,” Walker introduced the “Walker System” for straightening hair, which became the foundation of the Black beautician industry. By the time of her early death in 1919, at just 51 years of age, she was not only incredibly wealthy, but she had also eclipsed her mentor in terms of fame and cultural impact.
O. W. Gurley
According to Forbes, Ottowa W. Gurley was born in 1868 in Arkansas, where he dreamed of a future far away from the Jim Crow laws of the South. In 1893, when Gurley was 25, that dream took him to the Cherokee Outlet Opening, a land run that gave away acres of land on a first-come, first-serve basis in Oklahoma. According to Inc., Gurley lived there until 1905, when the discovery of oil near Tulsa lured Gurley and his family there.
Investopedia reports that Gurley bought 40 acres of land and built a grocery store. Over the next decade and a half, Gurley was instrumental in developing the area into what would become the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa — which was also known as Black Wall Street, an incredible success story for Black Americans during a period of hateful racial oppression elsewhere in the country. The residents of Greenwood were prosperous and lived comfortably, seemingly in community with their white neighbors. Gurley thrived as well, and at its peak, his net worth was about $150,000 — about $5 million in today’s money.
As noted by History, Black Wall Street was destroyed on May 30, 1921, when a race riot of incredibly violent proportions broke out in Tulsa. Black families were murdered, buildings were burned, and within days the whole neighborhood had been wiped off the map. Gurley left Tulsa and moved to Los Angeles, where he died in apparent poverty 14 years later in 1935.
OZY reports James Forten was born in Philadelphia in 1766 as a free man. He was strongly affected by the rhetoric of the American Revolution; despite the racial oppression that existed at the time, Forten didn’t hesitate to enlist to fight against the British Empire. Having worked in a sail loft since the age of eight, it made sense that Forten served in the nascent American Navy.
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Forten was captured by the British while serving on board an American ship. The British captain had his own son on board, and paired Forten with him to act as a companion. When it came time for the ship to return to England, he offered to take Forten with him — but Forten would not betray his country, and refused the offer, winding up living on a prison ship for several months.
As reported by BlackPast, Forten was released in Philadelphia, where he resumed his job. After the war, Forten returned to sailmaking, and eventually took over the business from his employer. Forten grew incredibly wealthy — by 1832, his net worth was estimated at $100,000, which would be close to $3.5 million today. He remained both a patriot and an anti-slavery activist. When he passed away in 1842, his funeral was one of the largest ever seen in Philadelphia — and the crowd was decidedly multi-racial, as every aspect of society came out to pay their respects to a man who never betrayed his values.
According to author Loren Schweninger in the book “Black Property Owners in the South, 1790-1915,” John Stanly was born into slavery as the son of a merchant named John Wright Stanly and an Ebo woman born in Africa who had been transported to America by Wright. History Collection reports that Stanly was eventually enslaved by Alex and Lydia Carruthers, who allowed him to train as a barber. This, in turn, let Stanly earn enough money to purchase his freedom when he was 21 years old, and to purchase the freedom of his wife and two children a few years later.
Stanly’s business as a barber thrived, and he soon enslaved two Black men himself. He began purchasing property in North Carolina — and enslaving even more Black people. Despite knowing firsthand what it was like to be considered property, at the peak of his business empire, it’s estimated Stanly enslaved 163 people — according to Investopedia, Stanly was one of the richest men in his county at the time. At the same time, NCpedia notes that Stanly also helped many enslaved persons in North Carolina gain their emancipation, personally purchasing and freeing at least a dozen people.
In 1830, Stanly co-signed a loan for his half-brother, who promptly defaulted, forcing Stanly to mortgage all of his holdings — including those he held in bondage. By 1843, he’d sold off most of his property in order to pay his debts.
According to The Atlantic, when Jeremiah Hamilton died in 1875, he was the richest non-white man in America, with a net worth of about $2 million — more than $250 million in today’s money. Yet Hamilton is remembered as no one’s hero. In fact, BlackPast reports that Hamilton was known as “The Prince of Darkness.”
The first mention of Hamilton — which probably wasn’t his real name — comes when a counterfeiting scheme in Haiti fell apart, forcing Hamilton to flee to the United States. He became involved in Wall Street and padded his income by committing serious insurance fraud that involved buying ships, insuring them, and then purposefully sinking them in order to collect settlements. He lost his fortune at least once, but clawed his way back and eventually created what some believe was the prototypical hedge fund, pooling money from investors so he could borrow aggressively and dominate the market.
Hamilton was not well-liked, but in New York, respect for his financial acumen defied racism, and white New Yorkers happily sent him gifts and begged for his favor — in fact, Cornelius Vanderbilt (pictured), another man legendary for his ruthless approach to business, reportedly admitted that he respected Hamilton after the two tangled in court over control over a company.
Sarah Rector is one of the most unlikely millionaires, period, full stop. According to BlackPast, she was born in 1902 on Muscogee Creek land to a family that had been enslaved by the Creek Indians decades before. As reported by The Telegraph, an 1866 treaty granted all the former Creek slaves 160 acres of land, but by the time Rector’s family made their claim, there wasn’t much left, and according to The Washington Post, the land allotted specifically to Sarah was considered virtually worthless.
But the taxes had to be paid, so Sarah Rector’s father leased the land to the Devonian Oil Company — and in 1913, a miracle happened: The company struck oil on Sarah’s land. A lot of oil. In a matter of months, 10-year-old Sarah Rector was receiving roughly $300 a day from her oil lease — close to $9,000 today, or somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 million per year in today’s money.
The reaction of the white establishment was, of course, virulently racist. She was described as “an orphan, crude, Black and uneducated” in a local paper, and was often referred to using racial epithets. Rumors that Sarah was being mistreated by her federally-appointed guardian and her family began to circulate — but the truth was Sarah went to school and had control over her wealth. By the time she was 18, Sarah was officially a millionaire. She lived well until 1967, when she suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and passed away.
One of America’s first Black millionaires was also a driving force behind one of its most emotionally powerful holidays: Juneteenth, the day that celebrates the emancipation of slaves in the U.S. According to Forbes, a man named Charlie Brown was born into enslavement in Virginia and moved to Texas around 1865. It’s uncertain when Brown attained his freedom, but it’s known that he helped organize the first Juneteenth celebration in 1866.
As noted by the Houston Chronicle, despite his time in bondage and subsequent illiteracy, Brown was a shrewd businessman. Brown purchased land — including the plantation where he and his wife were once enslaved — and often saw opportunities no one else did. One of his first purchases was a plot of land no one saw much value in, but Brown cleared the land of trees and sold the lumber to a furniture company at a great profit. He quickly became one of the richest men in the country, dying a millionaire in 1920.
What makes Brown’s achievements more remarkable is the fact that Texas was not a friendly place for freedmen at that time. Very few emancipated Black people managed any sort of success, much less attaining incredible wealth, and Brown was himself kidnapped and beaten by members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) on several occasions. The fact that Brown died one of the first Black millionaires in the U.S. despite all that hatred and racial violence is incredible.
by Robert Weiss Ph.D., MSW
What are the keys to a great sex life?
When sex therapists and researchers discuss what makes for a truly great sex life, their lists are mainly composed of emotional or psychological factors, not physical ones. Communication is vital to a satisfying sex life, as are being intimate, vulnerable, and transparent with a partner; allowing oneself to be open to new experiences, and to fun; being in sync with each other, emotionally and sexually; and an ability to be in the moment and to be open to transcendent feelings
Do people enjoy sex less now than they used to?
Some researchers believe that the pace of contemporary life, as well as distractions like cellphones, are leading couples to derive less pleasure from their sexual encounters. Therapists suggest that individuals and couples spend more time becoming open and attuned to their bodies, and to their bodies’ signals of arousal and pleasure before, during, and after sex, to restore higher levels of satisfaction
Is foreplay equally important to women and to men?
Contrary to the stereotype that men are primarily interested in rushing into intercourse and climax, research shows that men desire an average of 18 minutes of foreplay, very close to the average of 19 minutes sought by women. Women, however, significantly underestimate how much foreplay their male partners wanted. Other research has found that longer foreplay leads to greater relationship satisfaction for men and women.
For women, kissing can be very important. Much more than men, women report finding it important to kiss a partner before sex, and they are more likely to report using kissing as a way to evaluate their interest in a new partner when considering having sex with them or not.
Are makeup and breakup sex really better?
They may be. The theory of arousal transfer suggests that powerful stimuli in one area can be transferred to another. Anger, for example, is an arousing emotion. In relationships, that high arousal state may be transferred to a high arousal state during makeup sex after a fight is resolved. Similarly, a couple breaking up may transfer the painful emotions of deciding to separate into intense sex as they say goodbye. Couples report intense lovemaking at these times, but there is a downside if, say, a couple rushes to makeup sex without truly resolving their conflict, or if a couple extends the life of a failing relationship because of great breakup sex.
Should couples schedule sex?
According to many sex therapists, they should. Different levels of sexual desire challenge many couples, but for others with high levels of desire for each other, the calendar becomes the enemy of satisfying sex because of conflicting work schedules, child care, or other commitments. Scheduling sex even days ahead of time can help a couple restore sexual goodwill, block out time for greater affectionate touch during sex, and, after the fact, elevated relationship satisfaction.
What is simmering?
For any couple, but especially one that has been experiencing challenges with sexual arousal, sex therapists recommend a practice known as simmering. It involves a couple scheduling sex and then taking moments throughout the course of the selected day fantasizing or daydreaming about sexual or erotic encounters to maintain a low “simmer” of arousal before going to bed together.
What is orgasm?
An orgasm, or climax, is the intense and usually pleasurable release of sexual tension after sexual arousal and stimulation. During orgasm, one’s heart rate and blood pressure rise, breathing becomes faster and heavier, and involuntary muscle contractions occur, not only in the genitals but often in the hips, chest, head, and limbs. In men, orgasm typically involves the ejaculation of semen, though not always. In some women, orgasm also leads to the release of ejaculate.
How often do people achieve orgasm?
Research suggests that only about one in four women regularly reach orgasm during vaginal sex, while more than three quarters of men do. For males and females alike, orgasm occurs faster and more reliably through masturbation. There are distinct health benefits in orgasm, including higher levels of oxytocin, which promotes bonding between partners, and increased blood flow to the brain.
For between 10 and 40 percent of women, reaching orgasm is difficult or rare. Causes include stress or anxiety, especially relationship anxiety; a lack of arousal or sexual stimulation or not enough time to reach orgasm during sex with a partner; poor body image; and pain during intercourse. PTSD, or reactions to certain medications, can also lead to struggles with orgasm. Many of these issues can be addressed in therapy that addresses emotional issues around sex, relationships, and self-esteem. Why might women not have orgasms?
What Happens After Sex
What is sexual afterglow?
Some researchers believe that the most important part of sex occurs after climax. The term sexual afterglow refers to the positive feelings that follow pleasurable sexual experiences, and some research suggests that it, and not the sex itself, determines how positively people feel about their sexual partners. Cuddling, kissing, and other expressions of intimacy after sex can increase afterglow, boost satisfaction, and extend the positive effects of sex on a relationship.
What do couples talk about after sex?
Research on “pillow talk” following sex has debunked the myth that men fall asleep first after sex: There’s no evidence of a gender difference. Also, women who reach orgasm during sex tend to talk more intimately after sex, revealing more about themselves. The release of the hormone oxytocin during sex, which promotes bonding, may foster this effect. Men with higher levels of testosterone after sex, however, appear to talk less, limiting bonding.
How long do partners feel good about each other following sex?
About 48 hours. Research on post-coital sexual and relationship satisfaction has found that partners experience elevated positive feelings about each other, and about their connection, for an average of two days following sex.
Is it more important for men or women to experience great sex?
Women. Research into relationship satisfaction finds that a woman’s sexual desire for her partner is more closely linked to relationship satisfaction than a man’s. Women’s levels of satisfaction with a relationship are also much more variable than men’s, which tend to remain at a consistent high level.
So now you know!
Hey, remember when Brett Favre sent that Jets sideline reporter a picture of his penis?* No? Ok.
Well remember when Brett Favre sent the Saints to the Super Bowl after throwing that horrible interception towards the end of the NFC Championship game? ** Yes? Cool.
Well the gun/dick slinger is back in the news again. Once known for playing fast and loose with the football, Favre is now doing the same with Mississippi’s welfare money.
Quick question: What do Brett Favre and people on welfare have in common? Quick answer: Nothing. Favre is world renown athlete who also happens to be a retired millionaire. Most welfare recipients are people just trying to make a living.***
Yet, the Mississippi Department of Human Services has decided that Favre is the person more in need. Actually, Human Services has determined that Favre needs run so deep that it directed $8 million his way to fulfill them.
Brett Favre is a Welfare Queen
While mere mortals on welfare depend on Human Services for basic stuff like – I don’t know – food, Favre faces a greater existential dilemma. Like whether Human Services can direct $5 million towards a new volleyball stadium for his alma mater and daughter. Or whether Human Services can direct $1 million his way for speeches he’ll never give. Or whether Human Services can direct $2 million to a pharmaceutical company he’s invested in.
John Davis, the then director of Human Services, was like, of course we can. And just to make sure that a prideful man like Brett Favre wasn’t ever put on the spot, it was agreed that this “aid” should be discreetly laundered through fees for those speeches he never gave. Favre even once asked, “if you were to pay me is there anyway the media can find out where it came from and how much?” The reply was, of course not. Now, John Davis and others are facing criminal charges.
Ever since the federal government, via TANF, started giving states block grants for welfare causes, some states have played fast and loose with what constitutes a welfare cause. Now, instead of distributing money directly to the people who need it, states can throw the money to some non-profit and claim its fighting welfare and poverty on a different front, like through a Brett Favre speech.****
Mississippi, because of Favre, has become the poster child for welfare fraud. But the case expands beyond him. It expands to the director’s nephews, in-laws, and other athletes. A state auditor has found almost $77 million in fraud over a 3-year span. Who knows what fraud is waiting to be unearthed nation-wide.
The pharmaceutical company Favre stole money for is into concussion research. That makes sense considering Favre once confessed to being knocked senseless at least 1,000 times in his career.
Speaking of concussions, that raises a question: does the sports media have one? Does it have some type of CTE post-Favre infatuation syndrome that has left it unable to do what the media normally does with stories like this, which is make a proper spectacle out of it. Right now, we know more about Tom Brady’s marriage than we know about Favre defrauding $8 million from needy families and the federal government.
Brett Favre is a Welfare Queen
Let’s be clear though: Brett Favre is a welfare queen. Instead of prancing through the grocery store in slippers and a robe dumping filet mignon in his basket, he’s assumed a more nefarious stereotype – the hypocritical white man in a business suit. He’s the republican talking about hard work and bootstraps. He’s the white man claiming black people on welfare are moochers bringing down the moral fabric of this country. But clearly, he’s not worried about boot straps or morality. He’s just worried about getting his. Well hopefully the next time he hears a ringing in his ears and sees lights flashing before his eyes, it’s coming not from a concussion but from a squad car pulling up to his door signifying he’s about to get just that.
*clear indication that he lacks good judgment and character (he was married at the time). **that horrible pass was also a clear indication that he lacks good judgment. I’d be surprised if any self respecting Minnesotan has ever spoken to him again.
****maybe his words are nutritious 🤷🏿♂️?
Betsy’s Pancake House Blames Crime for Business Drop
Betsy’s Pancake House has been serving breakfast and lunch in New Orleans for 35 years. But now Betsy’s pancake house business is suffering. And Betsy’s Pancake House blames crime in New Orleans. This is a real problem. If local businesses can’t attract customers because of crime, then New Orleans has a survivability problem. Small businesses create 2/3’s of new jobs nationally and nearly 90% of new jobs in New Orleans. If crime kills small businesses in New Orleans, then we can pack it up.
Betsy’s daughter, Mary Murdock, now runs the restaurant. She said customers “are afraid to come and park their cars because of the carjackings and the break-ins,” Murdock said. “It’s not only us, it’s any place in the city that you go to.” She also adds that hiring employees is difficult because of crime. “We cannot get employees because people are afraid to come to work. We open at 5:30 in the morning and our girls and our guys in the kitchen have to be here at 4:30, 5 o’clock in the morning.”
New Orleans has a major crime problem. And according to Betsy’s, crime is the reason for everything. You get the idea. If you let Betsy’s tell it, then their dry thin greasy bacon is because of crime. The sticky old, cracked tablecloths in Betsy’s – crime. The horrible smell just outside the door of the restaurant kitchen -crime. The dirty cups and bent old silverware – you guessed it crime in New Orleans. And let’s not forget that shiny clean new 24 hour Waffle House restaurant on the next corner. Its always crowded and has a smooth new parking lot. But the reason Betsy’s business is declining- that horrible crime in New Orleans.
The Betsy’s crime claim is a calamity. You can either be a part of the problem or a part of the solution. Betsy’s blaming their business failing on crime is as bad as their dry oatmeal. We need business leaders to offer good paying jobs with clean working conditions. Calling the grown women who work in their kitchen “girls” is emblematic. Respect your employees and pay them a good wage. Waffle House is less than 200 feet away and is fully staffed 24 hours a day. The brand new hospitals with thousands of employees is easy walking distance. Maybe market to those people?
There’s an old pancake joke that goes, “Did you hear what happened to the angry flapjack? It totally flipped.” Betsy’s flipped. Instead of looking in the mirror, they are blaming the community that could support them. And ironically they now beg for some community welfare. Their dog whistle for customers as they threaten to move to Metairie is as appalling as the dangerous, slippery and greasy sidewalk by their side entrance.
Yea crime is bad. But Betsy’s business is failing for about 20 other more significant reasons than crime. No, these aren’t the first people to mess up their inheritance. But them blaming crime is shameful. Listening to them whine flop around is like a short stack of pancakes without the syrup.
It really is that simple to make yourself a little happier.
by Alison DeNisco Rayome
Here’s a sad statistic: 45% of people say they haven’t felt true happiness for more than two years, according to a June Oracle report that surveyed more than 12,000 people. Perhaps worse, 25% say they don’t know, or have forgotten, what it means to feel truly happy.
While money can’t buy happiness (though it does help), spending just a few minutes of your day on one thing actually can make you happier right now, and into the future. And no, it doesn’t involve a meditation app or buying anything.
A common misconception about happiness is that it’s fixed and we can’t change it. In reality, at least part of it is within your control. Sure, your circumstances (your job and your material possessions) matter, but not as much as you may think. Several science-backed methods can help you boost your own feelings of contentment. (If you have clinical anxiety or depression, these aren’t a replacement for professional help, though research suggests they can be a beneficial supplement.)
Here’s one of the easiest ways to make yourself happier in just a few minutes a day.
Write down 3 things you’re grateful for
It’s that easy.
Writing down three good things that happened to you — and why those things happened — at the end of each day leads to long-term increases in happiness and decreases in depressive symptoms, according to a 2005 study from Martin Seligman, director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
The things you write down can be major, simple or somewhere in the middle — whether you got a job promotion or just saw a cute dog on your walk. You can write them on a piece of paper, in a note-taking app, in a journal or wherever you like.
Your list might look something like this: “Finished a project at work, because I worked hard on it. Had a nice conversation on the phone with a friend, because she called me. Went for a walk and saw some beautiful flowers, because it was a nice day.”
In the 2005 study, participants who were assigned to write down three good things and their causes each night started to see beneficial effects quickly. After one month, they reported feeling happier and less depressed than when they started, and they stayed that way through follow-ups at three months and six months, when the study concluded.
So take time to count those blessings, large and small. Science says it could have a real impact on your well-being.
by Dave Smallen Ph.D.
Studies show that responsiveness benefits relationships and personal well-being.
We experience responsiveness when we feel understood, validated, and cared for by others.
Perceiving people in our lives as responsive has been shown by numerous studies to benefit both relationships and personal well-being.
Unfortunately, it can be challenging to communicate understanding, validation, and care because we all perceive social interactions differently.
In the world of relationship science, a growing trove of studies shows how a specific kind of experience between two people is crucial for satisfying relationships and individual moments of human connection. Researchers refer to this experience asresponsiveness.
Consider the following scenario related to me by a recent study participant:
I have been struggling and have had many hard times emotionally due to my anxiety the last few weeks…The other night [my husband] called me on his way home from work and I just broke down in tears and explained how I needed him more than ever right now…He listened to everything I was saying. He validated my feelings and told me he understood. He made me feel like he got it. It brought me comfort just knowing he was hearing my feelings…
She describes a near textbook example of responsiveness. When you feel understood, validated, and cared for by another person–especially when you have disclosed something personal and emotional–psychologists would say you experienced this person as responsive.
Responsiveness Gets Results
Study after study shows that treating each other with responsiveness keeps our social lives healthy. Researchers have examined responsiveness between romantic partners, roommates, strangers, and parents and teens, among others, and find that experiencing understanding, validation, and care in most kinds of relationships has measurable benefits–for the relationship itself and the two individuals who make it up.
Responsiveness especially helps us to cultivate the closeness and trust of intimacy by responding with understanding, validation, and care when others open up and share vulnerable thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Responding to one another’s vulnerability responsively creates a shared culture between two people of emotional safety and openness. This is imperative to quality long-term relationships and personal mental health.
Even more striking, people who feel their romantic partners are highly responsive across the arc of a relationship even experience better long-term physical health. This is likely because a generally responsive partner helps us manage stress, whereas perceiving our partner as unresponsive keeps us stressed. Throughout a long relationship, chronic stress can take a toll on a person’s body–for example, a lack of responsiveness may be related to poorer sleep, which adds up night after night.
Let’s call it a layer of complexity instead: Despite our best intentions, it is not always easy or straightforward to be perceived as responsive when we try to show up for another person.
All communications between two people must cross multiple thresholds: In my attempt to be responsive to you, I first must mold my thoughts and feelings into verbal or physical expressions; then, you must hear, see, or feel those expressions, and finally, make your interpretation of the meaning of my expression. This happens quickly and often automatically, yet in each stage, some of my original intended meaning is likely to be lost or misconstrued.
So, it is not enough for me to genuinely understand you and care for you; I must successfully communicate that understanding and care so that you interpret me as responsive. Only then do you feel that subsequent openness, closeness, trust, and comfort. This is why studies generally focus on perceived responsiveness–measuring people’s subjective experience of how responsive others are.
How we perceive another person’s engagement with us depends on many things, such as our feelings in that moment or our hopes for the interaction. If we are experiencing a stretch of loneliness, we also are more likely to interpret people with skepticism as to the sincerity of their care, making it more challenging to take to heart their attempts at responsiveness.
Because each of us has a different personality and past, our individual preferences for what feels responsive will be different: Some people feel cared for when they get a big hug, others prefer care served up with a dose of humor, and some appreciate the time to verbally process. We also differ in how we tend to display care to others, so it may be easier or more challenging to be responsive depending on who we are with.
How to Communicate Responsiveness
We can do things to ensure better that our understanding, validation, and care get across to another person. For example, a recent set of studies explores what the researchers call high-quality listening, showing how listening well to others promotes perceived responsiveness.
High-quality listening first involves paying attention, which is key to understanding someone. Attentive listening also demonstrates validation–that you respect the thoughts and feelings someone is sharing (whether or not you can relate), especially when you show your attention by avoiding interruptions, directing eye contact and posture in their direction, and practicing what psychologists call back-channeling: nodding and “mhm-ing” to show you are still there with them.
The effort we take to understand each other also matters to high-quality listening. Seeing that another person is motivated to understand you shows that they value you. Asking non-judgmental, open-ended questions and gently asking people to elaborate to help you understand also shows you care about them feeling seen and heard.
Practice, Not Perfect
We should neither expect to give nor receive responsiveness perfectly. Even if two people have an easy time conveying mutual understanding, validation, and care, they will still miss the mark much of the time.
Human connection is an ever-evolving practice in each of our relationships, not a puzzle with a perfect solution. What matters is our honest attempts to show up for each other day after day, developing a unique and imperfect shared culture of care.