Tag Archives: scarcity

Getting rid of debt might not only make you happier — but also smarter

We all know just how much pressure and stress comes from having debts, but it might do much more than that. Now, a new study finds that getting rid of debt can not only reduce stress and anxiety but also improve impulse control and cognitive performance.

The study analyzed 200 low-income people in Singapore, who had their long-running mortgage debts unexpectedly paid off by a charity called ideas42. Participants were given tests to assess cognitive performance, as well as generalized anxiety disorder and their ability to make more beneficial financial decisions. The test returned some interesting results.

First of all, the proportion of participants showing generalized anxiety disorders went from 78% to 53% — an impressive but expected change. As expected, not having debts makes people far less anxious. In addition, the number of people who preferred instant gratification dropped from 44% to 33% — another symptom of being more relaxed, but also capable of making better long-term decisions. In other words, the participants’ impulse control has improved.

However, a more surprising find came on the cognitive function tests. Average error rates dropped from 17% to 4% after the debt was paid down — a substantial improvement.

The findings are extremely important because they suggest that people in poverty, even when equally capable as those of higher-income status, find it very hard to escape poverty.

‘Because debt impairs psychological functioning and decision-making, it would be extremely challenging for even the motivated and talented to escape poverty,’ says Dr. Ong Qiyan, from the National University of Singapore, who led the study.

This is consistent with previous research, which concluded that poverty creates a vicious cycle which is extremely difficult to escape. Essentially, people’s brains are overtaxed by having to deal with the numerous emergencies caused by scarcity. This affects people’s ability to make high-quality decisions and produces long-term mental fatigue.

Even when not necessarily in poverty, debt can cause significant long-term health issues, as well as impair people’s societal progress. This situation would be extremely familiar to America, where student debts amounted to a record-breaking $1.5 trillion, which creates a major source of stress for the country’s educated elite. In a survey last year, a third of all students said student debt is a major source of life stress.

All of this indicates that poverty is much harder than you’d think to put on paper. It’s not easy to quantify, and it’s definitely not easy to escape. Poverty is unforgiving, leaving no room for error or risk. For people living in poverty, being capable and competent is not always enough, the study suggests. The study concludes:

“Poverty is one of the world’s most complicated problems, and there are no easy answers or magic bullet solutions. Global economic trends, including the recent recession, and systemic forces such as racism and classism contribute to the current state of affairs.”

Piece of cake.

You can’t chase your happiness and have it too — you must let it come to you

Happiness — while it’s something we all want, new research shows that it shouldn’t be something we pursue.

Piece of cake.

For once, these lame-o feely-goody snaps actually have a point.
Image credits Antonio Quagliata.

The actual pursuit of happiness might be what’s keeping you from it, a new paper reports. People who make a conscious effort to attain happiness often feel like they don’t have enough free time during the day, which, paradoxically, ends up making them feel unhappy. The findings are based on four studies which probed into how the pursuit of happiness and the state of happiness influence people’s perception of time.

Time to be happy

Some of the participants in these studies were asked to list things that would make them happier; the others, to try and make themselves feel happy while watching a (rather dull) video about bridge-building. Later, all participants reported on how much free time they felt they had throughout the day.

The two were meant to illustrate the differences between thinking of happiness as something already achieved, or as a goal to be pursued. For example, the first group got to watch something they liked, not a boring old movie about bridges; they also got to look at a list of items showing them that they already have a lot to be happy about. Group two were told they have to work to feel happy, which naturally implies that they’re not right now.

The results were quite interesting. The team reports that an individual’s pursuit of happiness — which the team cheerily refers to as  “unattainable” — can influence their perceived time scarcity; in other words, those running towards happiness end up feeling like they’re only running out of time. This feeling was lessened, however, for participants who considered that they have achieved happiness to some degree.

“Time seems to vanish amid the pursuit of happiness, but only when seen as a goal requiring continued pursuit,” the researchers explain. “This finding adds depth to the growing body of work suggesting that the pursuit of happiness can ironically undermine well-being.”

They add that this suggests happiness can become a drain on our emotional state, but that it doesn’t have to. If you stop and appreciate the happiness you have achieved — and I think all of us find happiness, large or small, in something — you’ll use your time to appreciate it, rather than endlessly run towards new ‘sources’. The paper also underscores that people have different concepts about what happiness is, and that this will further influence how they perceive time scarcity.

Own less, appreciate more

The researchers also say there’s a more insidious aspect regarding this perceived time scarcity. The worse it gets, the more people start to move away from the things that actually give them happiness, and towards possessions that give the illusion of happiness — forming a vicious cycle.

“Because engaging in experiences and savoring the associated feelings requires more time compared with merely, for instance, buying material goods, feeling a lack of time also leads people to prefer material possessions rather than enjoying leisure experiences,” they explain.

Feeling pressed for time, they add, makes us less likely to help others or to volunteer — and it’s immaterial things like generosity, selflessness, experiences, or simply being part of a community, that make us sustainably happy.

“By encouraging people to worry less about pursuing happiness as a never-ending goal, successful interventions might just end up giving them more time and, in turn, more happiness.”

Still, while the results show that happiness is fleeting when pursued and that it dramatically alters our perception of time, the research doesn’t offer much in the way of why this happens. Considering that our perception of time availability is such a big factor in our day-to-day decisions and quality of life, the team thinks it essential for further research to uncover when, why, and how people budget their time in pursuit of happiness and other goals.

To me, it shows the importance of tempering the need for more, the drive to improve, our natural desire for higher status and a better life, with an appreciation of what we have achieved or have been given, of those we love, of the beauty in things as mundane as a wisp of wind. Happiness, then, won’t lie beyond the next hill — it will be right here with us, making the climb easier.

The paper “Vanishing time in the pursuit of happiness” has been published in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.

The price of oil without water

oasis desert

The environmental challenges we have to overcome (fast) cover virtually every field in human activity. Focuses such as finding green fuels, renewable and sustainable sources of energy and other related findings attract more people, more ideas, and visible steps are made towards the right direction. Probably the only concern is how fast and how effective these methods will prove to be. Hopefully, due to all the brilliant minds involved, the response will probably be positive(maybe I’m being to optimistic, but is there any other way to be??).Still, it concerns me to see how little attention is being paid to water. Maybe it’s not right to call it a water crisis, but the thing is water scarcity is showing up even in some unexpected place. Despite the fact that oil is the elixir behind industry, water is the elixir behind life; and life is behind industry, so a scarcity in water is without a doubt a bigger threat than oil. This leads to the simple yet pretty much ignored observation that if water runs out, oil will be pretty hard to drink.

What should worry pretty much everybody is the fact that water scarcity threatens farm productivity, limits growth, increases business expenses, and drains local treasuries. Also, why people ar

e>e ignoring the dangers of building cities and other related things in deserts is quite hard to understand, at least for me. It’s the desert, it was never meant to have cities; and we definitely can’t support them against the desert when our planet has so many things to be worried about.

“I truly believe we are moving into an era of water scarcity throughout the United States” said Peter Gleick, science adviser to Circle of Blue and president of the Pacific Institute, a think tank specializing in water issues based in Oakland, California. “That by itself is going to force us to adopt more efficient management techniques.”