Saturday, 15 December 2012

Oh it's a hot water bottle cover and other tell-tale signs of failed gifts.

Yes, Christmas has been sprung on us again this year (how did that happen?) and the potential for danger once again is huge. 
And I don't mean danger from fizzling fairy lights that the cat peed on, or from undercooked turkey or oversozzled relatives. 
No, I mean the danger of the disastrous gift. 

A large proportion of presents, probably at least a third, are destined to bring out the liar in us all. The biggest lie spoken over the festive period being, "It's just what I always wanted."
My previous research has found a number of facts about failed festive gifts, i.e.:

  • 89% of women will pretend to like a gift they hate, 79% of men will.
  • Half of all people get at least one present they dislike.
  • Half will lie to a loved one about a gift, pretending to like it.
  • 1 in 4 people say giving a gift makes them feel anxious.
  • 1 in 5 people say receiving a gift makes them feel anxious.
  • Men find the whole gift giving and getting thing maore anxiety inducing than women.
But of course we're all very good at hiding our true feelings about those bungled pressies aren't we? Not so. My research also showed that our true feelings leak out in our non-verbal behaviour, even when we're professing to love something. Notably:
  • We make eye contact with the giver if we like the gift. If we don't like it we avoid eye contact.
  • We produce a fake smile using only the mouth (not the eye) muscles when pretending to like a gift.
  • We display a gift we like and show it off to others, but are more likely to rewrap or cover a disliked gift.
It's also been found that when we don't like a gift (and therefore don't know what to say about it) we're likely to simply announce what the gift is. 
As in, "Oh, it's a HOT-WATER BOTTLE COVER." 
Said aloud, with rising intonation, it's a sure give away you're really thinking "What the hell...."

So how can we avoid making the recipients of our offerings squirm on Christmas Day? 
A number of ‘rules’ about gift exchange emerged from my research. They are
  • ·      Appropriateness
A gift that’s right will be of an appropriate value and level of intimacy. It shouldn’t violate relationship boundaries by being too intimate or too extravagant for the current status of the relationship.
  • ·      Empathy
A positive gift will be imbued with shared meaning, show understanding of need and signal a connection in the relationship. Failed gifts are often empty of meaning and/or show lack of understanding.
  • ·      Effort
A successful gift will have required the giver to put in some effort into choosing the desired object. Gifts low on substance and sentiment send out the wrong message.

I hope all your gifts are well-received this Christmas and that all that come your way are just what you always wanted. If they're not, well, you could always open them in the dark in silence then no-one will ever know....

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Do you suffer from hedonic adaptation?

How many of the following statements would you agree with?
  • Most marriages start with a burst of joy that slowly fizzles out
    • The thrill of winning the lottery would wear off after a while
    • A larger salary wouldn’t make me much happier
    • Losing weight would only make life better temporarily
    • I have many possessions that I once thought were beautiful but don’t now
    • Most people stop noticing their partner’s good looks
    • I could achieve my dreams and still find I’m dissatisfied
    • There’s nothing as exciting as a new relationship
    If you answered Yes to more than two or three of these you may suffer from hedonic adaptation. 
    But, to be honest, most of us do.  
    Hedonic adaptation is simply when happiness wears off (cue Texas singing The thrill has gone). The way the excitement of that top job, windfall or new car fades with time. 
    Even winning the lottery produces only short-term ecstasy, for lottery winners are no happier 18 months after their win than non-winners. And I suspect there are many readers of this blog who have stuff in their wardrobes that they once thought was to-die-for that they now wouldn’t be seen dead in.

    Hedonic adaptation explains the tide of over-consumption that modern society is caught up in. If we didn’t ‘go off’ things, if last year’s handbag or winter coat thrilled us as much today as when we bought it, we wouldn’t be drooling over this year’s model. The exhilaration of acquisition gives buyers such a buzz that, like shopping junkies, they seek it out again and again. 
    How did I ever love this lot?
    We all know we should be content with less. We know that twenty pairs of shoes is more than enough for any bipedal creature. But the pull of the mall does, as I said in an earlier blog, threaten to make shopping zombies of us all.

    How can we stop this adaptation and prolong the pleasure of our purchases, or our priveleges? What can the field of fashion psychology tell us? Research about to be published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin points to two key ways. Appreciation and variety. In their hedonic adaptation prevention model the authors say:
    Appreciation: Stop and appreciate every day what you have and you might be able to eek more excitement from it.
    Variety: Use it in different ways, to create more varied experiences, and the bliss could persist.

    Why? Because the brain habituates over time that we get bored with things*. The brain loves novelty and surprises, which is why the mantra I swear by, Do Something Differentis once again of huge relevance here.

    How? Here are my tips for preventing hedonic adaption and keeping the thrill alive:
    • Move stuff around so you continue to notice it.
    • Re-position your art or objects of desire in the home every so often so they have new impact.
    • Store winter clothes away in summer, and vice versa, and experience the newness of them when you get them out again months later.
    • Ditto with young kids’ toys. Divide them into four storage containers. Let them play with one set at a time while the others are hidden. Rotate on a weekly or monthly basis.
    •  Better still, stop buying toys and use a toy library or swap with friends. Babies habituate very quickly to stuff and love more novelty than even the most indulgent parent can afford.
    • Keep an appreciation or gratitude journal. This trick, from positive psychology, keeps reminding you of the good stuff in your life. It's shown to boost happiness as well as curbing the urge to go and buy more stuff.
    • Get excitement from experiences rather than from purchases. The effects are known to last longer and be more fulfilling. Very relevant at Christmas.
    • Use your old stuff in new ways, learn how to restyle your old clothes or swap with friends.
    • Rent, rather than buy, an outfit for a special occasion.
    • Do something different as often as possible in your life.  You’ll come to see that it’s all about what you do, not what you have.

    ·      * From the paper by Sheldon et al, University of Missouri:
    "By definition, adaptation occurs only in response to constant or repeated stimuli, not to dynamically varying ones. Thoughts and behaviors that are varied and unexpected or surprising appear to be innately stimulating and rewarding. Stated differently, after an individual completely understands and expects the experiences that a change produces, the experiences will no longer have the same emotional impact and he or she will drift back towards his or her initial wellbeing. Maintaining the variability and surprises inherent in the experiences and in the emotions forestalls this process… One applied implication of this view is that many people cope with their HA to their prior purchases and acquisitions by overconsuming and overspending. However, if they can continue to derive pleasure from what they already have, in part from varied experiences of those possessions, then they can resist increasing aspirations for even more."

    The Challenge of Staying Happier:
    Testing the Hedonic Adaptation Prevention (HAP) Model
    Kennon M. Sheldon, University of Missouri & Sonja Lyubomirsky, University of California, Riverside
    in press, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin

    Sunday, 23 September 2012

    A bit of me-time: it's priceless...

    So I asked ten (busy, high achieving, child-encumbered) friends recently, what would make your life easier? I thought their answers might be money-related but all of them said ‘More TIME!’. And this became the theme of a talk I gave for Palmolive Naturals recently, to promote their range of shower milks. 
    Many women are so busy putting everyone else’s needs first, they are desperately short of me-time.
    A recent survey found that
    women have on average less than
    an hour a day to themselves.

    The ability of women to care for others is part of innate female nature. Isn’t part of becoming a mother learning that there are others we would always willingly put before ourselves?

    At the risk of some outrageous gender stereotyping I’d say we – as women - are hardwired to nurture and care about others. God in her infinite wisdom decided it would be the female of almost every species that would carry and nurture the young. And she even bestowed a special hormone – oxytocin, upon female humans to help us to do this.

    On top of this biological imperative to put the needs of others before our own, we also socialize little girls from very young to please others, to make sure everyone else is OK and to even subjugate our own needs to the needs of others.
    Where does this leave us when it comes to me-time?
    Do we know how to put ourselves first, or even deep down believe we have the right to?

    Women who work who mother, who care for others, who are walways there for ehri friends in times of need - they’re all experts at taking their responsibilities seriously, at juggling everyone’s needs. And me-time is something that gets squeezed in between a whole host of other demands – or squeezed out by them as the case may be.

    A recent survey by Mumsnet found that women typically get less than one hour of me time each day….One mum said:
    As a stay at home mummy with 4 children (youngest 3 months, eldest 7 years), this house really is a full time job! If I am not looking after the children, then there's the house to look after...
    I hardly get any time to myself - 'free' time is used to get jobs done!! And i'm hardly in bed before 11pm. I cannot wee on my own, cannot shower without someone joining me, finish a cup of tea before it going cold (or mostly, it doesn't even make it out the kettle!) Oh, and I only use my laptop when I'm breastfeeding!!

    This woman said she can’t even shower without someone joining her and yet taking a bath or shower must be one of the few occasions when we should be able to relax and indulge in some me-time ….

    But how many of us really take advantage of that time?
    Let’s do a quick survey of our own:
                          Own up now, do you ever:
    ·       Let someone else come into the bathroom when you’re bathing, or leave the door ajar so you’re ‘on call’?
    ·       Take your phone or laptop into the bathroom with you?
    ·       Clean the bath or shower when you’re in it?

    I must confess I have been guilty of all of these…. and when I asked women attending my recent talks these questions there was a reluctant but significant show of hands.

    So much for me-time. It’s hardly relaxing if we’re slathering ourselves with Ultra Moisturisation Olive Shower Milk and at the same time thinking, Blimey that grouting could do with a good scrub. 

    A bath: the perfect stress buster.
    You see it’s not enough to have beautiful body pampering products if our mind isn’t receptive to them. Mind, body and soul are inextricably linked and we have to fuse them together to really de-stress.

    So in my talk I proposed a positive psychology experiment for women to try when bathing.

    It’s based on classical conditioning, a technique discovered by Pavlov who you’ve probably heard of.  He experimented on dogs, and you’re probably wondering what this has got to do with your beauty regime but bear with me here…..

    Pavlov fed his dogs at a regular time every day.
    Just before he gave them their food he rang a bell.
    He soon noticed that even without producing the food, if he rang the bell the dogs would salivate.
    The dogs responded physically to the sound of the bell.

    Pavlov used a sound in his conditioning experiment, but any of the senses can be used to condition peopleSmells are particularly evocative.

    So here’s a technique for positive meditation while you’re bathing. When you have your morning shower or bath do this:

    First of all:
    Banish everyone from the bathroom, leave your phone and the CIF outside the bathroom. If necessary lock the children in a cupboard or hang a do not disturb sign on the bathroom door.

    1.    Rub your favourite shower milk onto your hands and breathe in the fragrance.
    2.     Keep rubbing and breathing slowly as you start to bring to mind three good things in your life.
    These can be big or small things, perhaps the feeling of sitting in the sun in your favourite garden chair, the sound of your daughter giggling or your loved one’s smile.
    3.     Tip more shower millk onto your sponge or hand, and move in slow circular movements all over your body.
    This is the point where you’re experiencing the softness and the fragrance but you’ve got to quiet your busy mind so that it doesn’t sabotage the experience….. so
    4.     As you circle keep your mind focused on your three good things. Don’t let any other negative thoughts intrude, if they do return to your positive thought.
    5.     Keep this up for ten minutes. Before long you’ll feel a positive glow, as you smooth the lather all over your body nourishing your skin and your mind.

    The mind and body work together, so focusing on positive thoughts while you bathe or shower will make sure you get the most relaxing experience possible.
    If you practice this regularly you’ll find that just flipping the lid off your shower milk will trigger those positive thoughts and that state of relaxation.
    If you feel stressed during the day take a couple of minutes to wash your hands and breathe in the fragrance. Because you’ve used that technique of associating that smell with positive thoughts it should immediately trigger a state of relaxation. You’ll have conditioned your brain to associate these pleasant feelings with the gorgeous smell and silky feel of the Palmolive naturals.
    Make this part of your me time every day.
    You’ll find your mind will be just as responsive as one of Pavlov’s dogs, although hopefully with a bit less dribbling.

    Monday, 3 September 2012

    Are your savings gathering more dust than interest?

    Funny things, human beings. And never funnier (I mean in the strange sense, not ha ha) than in our dealings with money. If you doubt that, then test which side of your brain is managing your money

    We search for the cheapest jar of coffee in the supermarket, tutting at the 30p price difference per jar, then hand over £2.45 for a single cup in Starbucks.
    We leave our savings to fester away gathering more dust than interest, while at the same time carrying credit card debt.

    Do you know what you;re saving for?
    This very specific pot is by terramundi
    Behavioural economists call this illogical behaviour mental accounting – or treating money differently depending on its source or label, something I've discussed in earlier blogs about using the left brain a bit more. 
    An example is our attitude to money we’ve saved and money that’s dropped into our laps (I know, but bear with me on this one)... 
    Would you blow your savings on a big birthday party extravaganza? Probably not, unless that was what you’d be saving for. It would seem too… reckless? Irresponsible? 
    But what if you got an unexpected tax rebate and had a big birthday coming up? Woohoo, champagne cocktails all round!

    I got to thinking about all this while working on a campaign for first direct, the online bank, to do with offset mortgages
    Apparently nearly all mortgages in Australia are offset. They originated there and it's what most people go for.
    Yet a mere 6% of UK mortgages are offset mortgages. This is probably because this concept feels a bit alien to us. After all, when mental accounting, we Brits have kept our borrowing and our savings very separate. It doesn’t even occur to us that we could use one to offset the other. Mentally they are two disconnected amounts of money.
    Of course another reason we shun offset mortgages is because we don’t even know what they are.  
    Offset mortgages simply allow any savings or current account balances to be offset against the mortgage, with interest only being payable on the difference between the two.
    o   e.g. if a borrower has a £100,000 mortgage and £10,000 in savings, they will only pay interest on the difference (i.e. 90,000).

    Dead easy really. You use your savings to work for you, but still hang on to them. 
    This makes real logical sense for anyone who has both savings and a mortgage, and now more than ever before. Savings interest rates are so abysmally low at the moment, the loss of interest on them would be more than outweighed by the reduction in mortgage interest.

    For more info check out the first direct website