A Quick Hit for Depression | Psychology Today


As the incidence of depression has soared, the therapeutic arsenal against it has remained remarkably unchanged. Prozac and related SSRIs have been around for 30 years; less popular tricyclics and MAOIs have been on active duty for half a century.

For the one in nine Americans reportedly taking an antidepressant, most meds can take up to six weeks to have an effect, and they often make people feel worse—even suicidal—before they feel better. Side effects such as weight gain and loss of libido can render the drugs intolerable in the long term. Most troubling, at least 30 percent of people don’t respond to them at all.

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Into this landscape has emerged ketamine, a human and veterinary anesthetic perhaps best known as the party drug “Special K.” Given intravenously in low and relatively safe doses, it acts within hours to lift mood and, most notably, quell thoughts of suicide. Though the effects of a single infusion are short-lived (typically under a week), the drug upends the conventional understanding of depression—such as where and how it originates in the brain.

It is also confounding conventional practice. An optimal dosing schedule has not been established, nor are long-term effects well studied—nor the potential for abuse. Though it isn’t FDA-approved for depression, it is already available for other uses, fueling the proliferation of unregulated, independent treatment clinics where depressed patients pop in for a 40-minute infusion—often without a prescription—pay $500, and emerge in a brighter mood.

Patients and practitioners have long been eager for a new way forward. But experts worry that delivery is getting too far ahead of the data.


Ketamine was first approved for human use as an anesthetic in 1970 and quickly drafted into the Vietnam War as a fast-acting agent for operating on battlefield wounds. While it doesn’t depress respiratory or circulatory function as other anesthetics do, it can induce hallucinations and raise blood pressure. It’s an emergency room staple worldwide but used primarily for those who have respiratory problems or low blood pressure or for children needing quick sedation.

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But ketamine leads a double life. It’s a cheap and addictive club drug that brings on euphoria, heightened sensory perception, and dissociation, the feeling of disconnection from one’s body and the surrounding world. Fatal overdose is rare, but tolerance builds quickly—and consumption of ever-higher doses begets memory loss and bladder damage.

In the brain, ketamine binds to NMDA-receptors, blocking their reuptake of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate. “It seems to cause a rapid increase in glutamate,” says Michael Grunebaum, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University. The glutamate burst activates another set of glutamate receptors (AMPA), which are thought to strengthen synapses in the limbic system and frontal cortex—areas involved in motivation, memory, and mood and which, in depressed people, are underactive.

From Serotonin to Glutamate

In 2000, when depression research was dominated by the serotonin-deficit hypothesis, a team at Yale decided to explore whether glutamate played any role in the disorder. They gave seven subjects subanesthetic doses of intravenous ketamine. Within just a few hours, “the patients started telling us they were better,” recalls psychiatrist Dennis Charney, now dean of New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “We weren’t expecting that—and nobody believed it. For years, no one even attempted to replicate it.”

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In 2006, Charney, then at the National Institutes of Health, repeated the study with 17 subjects who had already tried an average of six antidepressants without success. Within a day, 70 percent reported full remission of symptoms—for up to a week.

This time, the field took notice. In hundreds of studies since, 60 to 70 percent of depressed patients have shown a significant improvement in mood after a single dose of ketamine, administered either intravenously or intranasally. The effects last from three to seven days.

Many of the studies use the same amount of ketamine—0.5mg/kg of body weight, infused over 40 minutes—and most stop after just one dose. Charney was among the first to test multiple doses; by administering the drug six times over 12 days, he stretched its effects to an average of 18 days after the final dose. Along with dissociation, which can be unpleasant for some, nausea and a slight increase in blood pressure are the primary side effects. They are mostly well tolerated, researchers report.

“The evidence at this point is pretty strong that ketamine has a rapid effect at reducing depression,” says Columbia’s Grunebaum. While it may be most promising for the many patients who fail to respond to standard antidepressants, its relatively short-lived effect makes it problematic for an illness that can fail to remit.

The greatest value of ketamine may lie in its rapid reduction of suicidality. In a 2017 study, Grunebaum and co-authors found that within 24 hours of a single intravenous infusion, suicidal ideation dropped by more than half in 44 of 80 patients with clinically notable suicidal thinking. No other known drug reduces suicidal thoughts so quickly, he observes. In fact, other antidepressants bear warnings that they may amplify suicidal thoughts—a rare, paradoxical response believed to stem from agitation, a side effect.

Is It the Ketamine?

While researchers don’t yet know why ketamine works so quickly or reduces suicidal thoughts, they also puzzle over a more basic question—why any effects persist, since the drug is out of the system in a few hours. “There are many theories,” Charney says; all involve glutamate setting in motion certain brain processes. “The most exciting thing about ketamine is that it opens up another mechanism in depression,” says Grunebaum. With or without ketamine, he notes, studying glutamate pathways “could help us develop new antidepressants—maybe without the side effects.”

It may be that ketamine itself isn’t the major actor. In 2016, NIH researchers led by Carlos Zarate Jr., an early collaborator with Charney, discovered that a byproduct of ketamine metabolism—not ketamine itself—appeared to cause its antidepressant effects. The metabolite, hydroxynorketamine, doesn’t block NMDA receptors, as ketamine does, but it does activate the brain’s AMPA receptors. When tested on mice, hydroxynorketamine yielded the same antidepressant effects as ketamine—with none of the side effects.

“It was believed that you couldn’t separate the side effects from the positive effects of the drug,” says neurobiologist Todd Gould of the University of Maryland, who worked on the study. Although researchers disagree about whether hydroxynorketamine is truly responsible for ketamine’s outcomes, Gould and his colleagues are working on a version for human use; safety trials are expected to begin in 2019.

Walk In, Perk Up

Others aren’t waiting for the results of studies. Over the past few years, at least 85 ketamine infusion clinics have sprung up across the U.S. Typically run by psychiatrists or anesthesiologists—although they are being pitched to any enterprising medical professional as a steady income stream—they are legal but controversial.

Such “off label” use is rarely covered by insurance; patients pay out of pocket. Despite the expense, demand is high, says Bret Frey, an ER physician who runs Sierra Ketamine Clinics in Reno, Nevada. In the year since Sierra opened, the clinic has delivered nearly 700 infusions, he reports. No prescription is required. “We encourage patients to involve their primary care physician or psychiatrist whenever possible, but it’s not mandatory,” says Frey. On-site staff “do a thorough evaluation and consultation prior to the first infusion.”

Sierra prescribes a regimen of two infusions weekly for two weeks, followed by periodic booster shots. Other clinics offer up to 10 infusions plus boosters—regimens longer than any research supports. Frey claims that the response rate at his clinic is more than 70 percent, as measured by the Quick Inventory of Depression Symptomatology scale. “The more treatments you’ve tried and failed, the more likely you are to respond to ketamine,” he says, based on anecdotal observation.

Concern over the explosion of ketamine clinics is such that in 2017, the American Psychiatric Association released a consensus statement urging caution. The organization recommended that both patients and providers consider “the scarcity” of long-term data on large numbers of patients as “major drawbacks” before any ketamine regimen is started.

The longest formal study—on a ketamine derivative, not ketamine itself—administered the drug twice weekly by nasal spray to 705 depressed patients for a year. Although no new safety issues emerged, “safety has obviously got to be one of our primary concerns,” says Husseini Manji, head of neuroscience research at Janssen Pharmaceuticals, who conducted the study. Frey says no patient has ever been admitted to the ER during treatment at Sierra. “When penicillin was developed, do you think there was a whole lot of research on it?” he asks. “No. But it started being used right away, and it saved millions of lives.”

The APA statement also recommends that, given the abuse potential, patients never be prescribed ketamine to take at home. But Frey’s clinic—as well as others—sends some patients home with ketamine lozenges to continue therapy on their own.

Ketamine with a Twist

Since ketamine has long been a generic drug, giving pharmaceutical firms little incentive to invest in research on it, FDA approval for depression is not on the horizon. But labs are chasing patentable derivatives, and some depression-specific analogs are moving toward FDA approval.

One such agent, esketamine, is delivered by nasal spray. More potent than ketamine, it can be taken at lower doses. Studies show it has side effects and a safety profile similar to those of its mother molecule, says Manji, whose company is developing it. The results of Phase 3 trials—the final round of research before application for approval—were submitted to the FDA earlier this year.

“It’s out of our hands now,” Manji says. If all goes according to plan, it may soon be in yours.


The Relationship Between ADHD and Sleep | Psychology Today

Source: Deposit Photos

I’ve been interested for a long time in the relationship between ADHD and sleep, and particularly in the risk of misdiagnosis of ADHD for what may be sleep problems. In both adults and children with ADHD, sleep problems are common—often significantly more common than in the general population. What’s more, the symptoms of sleeplessness and the symptoms of ADHD, including difficulty with focus, mood swings, and hyperactivity, are often very similar—so similar that it can be difficult to distinguish between the two.

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Sleep deprivation and ADHD have long been recognized as having a relationship. But they also have tended to be viewed as separate conditions. A new theory suggests that separation may not be entirely accurate, and that sleep problems and ADHD may be even more closely connected than we thought.

At a conference in Paris last fall, an international group of scientists proposed a theory linking the symptoms of ADHD to disruptions in normal circadian rhythmfunction—disruptions that also can bring about chronic problems with sleep.

The scientists were careful to make clear: They’re not attributing all ADHD symptoms to circadian rhythm dysfunction. But they do say that there is significant evidence of a very close association between ADHD and sleeplessness, and suggest that disruptions to normal circadian rhythms may be one important, underlying factor that contributes to both conditions.

How scientists are tying ADHD to circadian rhythms

Scientists developed their theory after closely examining the body of research that explores sleep and ADHD—research that shows approximately 75 percent of adults and children with ADHD have problems sleeping. But it’s more than the prevalence of sleep problems in people with ADHD that suggests a strong link. They point to other connections between sleeplessness and ADHD symptoms that suggest an underlying role for circadian rhythm disruption, including:

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Delays in timing of the body’s release of the “sleep hormone” melatonin. Melatonin levels rise and fall according to circadian rhythms, and delays to the nightly increase in melatonin can lead to problems falling and staying asleep. People with ADHD experience delays in the release of their nighttime melatonin, one important sign of a circadian rhythm that’s out of sync.

The very high prevalence of sleep disorders in adults and children with ADHD. (We’ll look at these more closely in a moment.)

The tendency among adults and children with ADHD to be more alert during evening hours. Because of melatonin release and other circadian-driven changes, we’re biologically wired to be less alert at night. Alertness and hyperactivity at night are common symptoms of ADHD, and also suggest an underlying issue with circadian rhythms.

What is ADHD?

Let’s take a quick step back and look briefly at the basics of ADHD. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a condition that affects brain activity, leading to behavioral symptoms including:

  • Inattentiveness
  • Hyperactivity
  • Mood swings
  • Impulsiveness

The symptoms associated with ADHD often become noticeable around the time a child starts school. In an estimated 50-65 percent of cases, childhood ADHD continues into adulthood. Boys are approximately three times as likely as girls to be diagnosed with ADHD. The symptoms of ADHD can differ among genders, with girls less likely to exhibit hyperactivity and aggression, and more likely to exhibit some of the less overtly disruptive symptoms, including inattention. Some scientists think this may explain, at least in part, why boys are diagnosed more frequently than girls.

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How common is ADHD? Estimates vary, but studies indicate ADHD affects approximately five to seven percent of children, and more than three percent of adults. Diagnosis of ADHD in children and adults has been on the rise for several years. Diagnosis of ADHD in adults can be complicated, in part because of the presence of other conditions with similar symptoms, including substance abusedepression, and anxiety. Diagnosis of ADHD in children can also be complex, because of the presence of other conditions, including problems with hearing or eyesight, the presence of learning disabilities or differences, anxiety, depression, or changes in a child’s family life or routine.

Because the symptoms of sleep deprivation and sleep disorders are often very difficult to distinguish from ADHD symptoms, both adults and children may be at risk for misdiagnosis of ADHD for what is fundamentally a sleep issue.

Common sleep problems and disorders linked to ADHD

The children and adults with ADHD who I treat come to me with a range of sleep problems. And the scientific evidence strongly indicates that sleep problems, including symptoms of insomnia, are significantly more common in adults and children with ADHD than in the general population. Often, adults and children with ADHD have:

  • Trouble falling and staying asleep
  • Experiencing unrefreshing, restless sleep
  • Trouble relaxing at bedtime—this one is especially true for kids, but happens to adults, too
  • Nightmares
  • Insufficient sleep, and chronic sleep debt

There are also several sleep disorders that occur more frequently in people with ADHD, including:

RLS: Restless Leg Syndrome

As many as 44 percent of people with ADHD also suffer from RLS, a sleep disorder and neurological disorder that is characterized by uncomfortable sensations in the legs, most often at night and when sedentary. Among the general population, estimates suggest roughly seven to 10 percent of people have RLS. This number gets larger as we get older. RLS can be highly disruptive to sleep, interfering with your ability to fall asleep and stay sleep—and leading to difficulty with daily functioning.

PLMS: Periodic Limb Movements in Sleep

People with PLMS experience twitching movements to the legs, feet, and sometimes arms during sleep itself. Research shows that as many as 26 percent of children with ADHD have PLMS, compared to 1.2 percent of children in the general population. And in children, the symptoms of PLMS are very similar to the symptoms of ADHD, including hyperactivity, inattentiveness and restlessness, mood swings, and difficulty with academic performance. (Many people with RLS also have PLMS, but PLMS often exists independently of RLS.)

OSA and other forms of sleep-disordered breathing

Sleep-disordered breathing refers to a spectrum of conditions, including snoring, where normal breathing is compromised during sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea is one of the most serious forms of sleep-disordered breathing. The symptoms of snoring and particularly of OSA can be very similar to the symptoms of ADHD: distractedness and difficulty focusing, emotional reactivity and moodiness, hyperactivity, impulsivity, restlessness, and daytime tiredness.

Research has found half of children with ADHD show symptoms of sleep disordered breathing, compared to 22 percent of children without ADHD. Research also indicates that 20-30 percent of people with ADHD also have obstructive sleep apnea.

OSA is closely linked to obesity—being overweight or obese increases the risk for sleep apnea, as well as snoring. Many people aren’t aware that there’s also a link between obesity and ADHD.

What you can do to improve sleep and circadian rhythms

We’ve got a lot still to learn about the underlying factors that lead to ADHD—and whether circadian rhythm disruptions are a cause of ADHD symptoms, as well as sleeplessness. What’s clear is that sleep is more difficult for people with ADHD, and sleeping poorly makes ADHD symptoms worse. The fundamental sleep hygiene strategies that are important to all of us are even more important for children and adults with ADHD.

They include:

Keeping sleep-wake routines consistent.

Circadian rhythms, and sleep patterns, can be reinforced by consistency—or undermined by irregularity. For both children and adults with ADHD, regular bed and wake times can help strengthen sleep and the underlying circadian rhythms that support sleep.

Extend the Power Down Hour before bed.

Bedtime resistance is often a big problem in children with ADHD. In addition to keeping consistent bedtimes, children with ADHD can benefit from a longer, quieter, darker wind-down period before bedtime arrives.

Shut down the screens, dim the lights, and engage in quiet activities like reading.

This goes for adults, too! Adults with ADHD are often night owls who have trouble settling down for bed. Keep the lights low, stay away from your smartphone for at least an hour before bedtime, and try mind-body relaxation techniques like meditation or gentle yoga to help you unwind.

Get plenty of daytime exercise.

Plenty of physical activity can help reduce restlessness and hyperactivity, and other behavioral symptoms associated with ADHD, as well as enhance and protect brain function. And exercise gives a terrific boost to sleep. Regular physical activity can help both children and adults with ADHD. Just make sure nobody is doing any vigorous exercise within four hours of bedtime—unless you’re among the small percentage of people who relax after exercise. Just remember, most of us become more alert and energized.

Avoid stimulants.

For adults, avoiding caffeine after the morning, as well as steering clear of stimulants like nicotine and alcohol, can help avoid excessive alertness in the evenings, as well as the restlessness and anxiety associated with ADHD. Children with ADHD can benefit from avoiding sugar and caffeine, which might exacerbate both behavior symptoms of ADHD and sleep problems.

Use light therapy.

Research shows that in adults, morning light therapy improves symptoms of ADHD and shifts sleep toward an earlier circadian timing. Light therapy is used to treat circadian rhythm sleep disorders. Bright light exposure early in the day can help “reset” the body’s circadian clock. It’s important to undertake light therapy in consultation with a sleep specialist or physician, to ensure that you consume light at the right times and for the right durations. On your own, go ahead and get plenty of morning sunlight—it’s the best light therapy around.

Diet and supplement strategies for ADHD and sleep

Always consult your doctor before you begin taking a supplement or make any changes to your existing medication and supplement routine, or to your child’s. This is not medical advice, but it is information you can use as a conversation-starter with your physician, or your child’s pediatrician, at your next appointment.

Given the similarities of their symptoms—and what increasingly looks like a potentially shared underlying mechanism—it’s not surprising that many of the diet and supplements doctors recommend for ADHD also benefit sleep.

Omega 3 fatty acids Remember the omega 3s we looked at recently? These polyunsaturated fatty acids may not only be beneficial for sleep in adults and children, they may also help to reduce the symptoms of ADHD, including:

  • Inattention
  • Impulsiveness
  • Restlessness
  • Aggression
  • Difficulty completing tasks
  • Trouble with cooperation
  • Reduced academic performance

Omega 3s have been shown to boost sleep quality, make falling asleep easier, and increase melatonin. In one study, children who received supplemental omega 3s slept an average of an additional hour a night, and woke up much less frequently throughout the night.

Omega 3s play an important role in cognitive development, cognitive function and performance, and cognitive protection, from infancy to old age. Unfortunately, the typical Western diet is low in omega 3 fatty acids. Good dietary sources of omega 3s include many types of fish, grass-fed meat and animal products, walnuts and flaxseeds.

Magnesium The essential mineral magnesium has broad benefits and protections for the brain and body, including for mood, behavior, and sleep. Healthy levels of magnesium also promote relaxation, in part because of magnesium’s ability to increase levels of the calming neurotransmitter GABA. Maintaining magnesium levels also can have a stabilizing effect on mood.

Low magnesium in children has been linked to several of the hallmark symptoms of ADHD, including impulsive behavior, hyperactivity, and inattention. Studies have found as many as 95 percent of children with ADHD may be deficient in magnesium. A recent, small study found supplemental magnesium improved cognitive function in the children with ADHD who were magnesium deficient. Other research has suggested supplemental magnesium may improve behavioral symptoms in children with ADHD.

Magnesium-rich foods include dairy products, dark leafy green vegetables, beans, and whole grains.


Did you know iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide? As anyone whose experienced anemia can attest, iron deficiency saps your energy, leaves you feeling tired, sluggish, and fuzzyheaded during the day, and can make it harder to sleep well at night.

There is evidence that lack of iron may be linked to ADHD in children. An essential mineral, iron is important to cognitive, emotional, and behavioral development and functioning. Research indicates iron deficiency may increase the risk for ADHD, as well as mood disorders and autism spectrum disorder, ASD. Iron deficiency—which causes anemia—also can interfere with sound, restful sleep and cause unhealthful changes to sleep cycles, in adults and children.

Good dietary sources of iron include fish, especially shellfish; poultry and red meat; vegetables including broccoli and spinach; beans; and tofu

Valerian root

As an herbal supplement, valerian is well known and well studied for its benefits to sleep. Valerian has relaxing, sedating effects, and increases levels of the calming neurotransmitter GABA, which promotes relaxation and sleep. A 2014 study found a combination of valerian and lemon balm significantly reduced hyperactivity and restlessness, and improved focus and sleep in children. (The children in this study exhibited signs of hyperactivity and trouble with concentration, but did not meet a diagnostic criteria for ADHD.)

Vitamin D

There’s evidence that low levels of Vitamin D are more common in children with ADHD than in the general population. Vitamin D is critical for sleep, as well as for mental and physical health. In recent years, scientists have increasingly focused on the importance of Vitamin D to brain development, brain function, and brain protections. A lack of Vitamin D has been associated with mood disorders, including depression, as well as with autism spectrum disorder, ASD.

Unfortunately, Vitamin D deficiencies are common, with an estimated 50 percent or more of adults and children in the U.S. lacking sufficient amounts. Sunshine is your best source of Vitamin D. Exposure to the sun on your skin triggers the body’s Vitamin D synthesis. Dietary sources include fatty fish, including salmon, tuna, and sardines; eggs; dairy products; and Vitamin D-fortified juices and cereals.


Melatonin is considered a powerful antioxidant, important to brain function and protection against neurological dysfunction. It’s also been found to reduce cognitive impairment that’s associated with sleep deprivation. Research has found melatonin can improve sleep in children with ADHD. But remember, melatonin is a hormone, and not something we like to use, especially in young girls. Cherries are a prime source of dietary melatonin. A recent study found that both melatonin and serotonin levels improved significantly among tart cherry juice drinkers. Other good dietary sources of melatonin include foods rich in tryptophan (including poultry, other meat, fish, spinach, and soybeans, among many others) and several foods found in the Mediterranean diet (including tomatoes, bell peppers, and walnuts).

We don’t yet know exactly how ADHD and disrupted sleep are related, and what role circadian rhythm disruptions may play in connecting the two. But the overlap between the two conditions is striking. As scientists continue to investigate this complex relationship, we may come to view ADHD and sleeplessness not as two separate conditions, but as two different expressions of a single, underlying problem.

When Relationships Don’t Work | Psychology Today

Source: Photographee eu/Shutterstock

There are numerous people for whom being in a relationship just doesn’t work. They have gone to therapy, changed partners, read books, and attended workshops in Bali — yet they cannot maintain a long-term relationship. And that’s OK — not everyone is destined to become part of a couple.

The problem is that the continuous breakups of the serial monogamist hurt more and more each time, until finally you are either too afraid to try again or too annoyed to bother. If you’ve been down this road for a couple of decades now, you may want to rethink your lifestyle choices. Do you really want to be in a long-term relationship, and are you willing to make the compromises that may be necessary to be in one?

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I want to be married, to be husband to a wife. That is the kind of relationship I want, but not everyone does. Relationships can take many different forms, and when what you want doesn’t mesh with what the other person wants, the relationship hits a roadblock, and you take different off-ramps. This may be the best choice at the time, but not in the long term if you want to get out of the serial monogamy loop. So let’s take a deeper look at what’s really going on here.

If you’ve been trying — and failing — at having a long-term relationship, you need to ask yourself, “Am I picking the wrong people, or am I just not cut out to be in a partnership?” A partnership is exactly what a relationship needs to be if it’s going to work. And sometimes even the best of partnerships need to be restructured every now and then.

For example, when those big choices in life come, and you each want something different, you have to think beyond the immediate circumstances. If one of you gets a great job offer in another state, and the other is deeply rooted in your current community, that is an issue which needs to be discussed calmly, and even in a therapeutic setting with a third party if possible.

This is where a mediator can be very helpful. An objective human can hear what each of you is feeling and feed it back to you in a way that will help you make sense of your feelings about the situation. But that’s only if you want to save the relationship; many people do not want to put in the work.

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I have had too many people tell me that they don’t really want to be alone, but they can’t trust at the relationship level again. They have been burned too many times, and most of us can at least understand that “once bitten, twice shy” attitude. When relationship after relationship fails — and you are out of high school — then maybe that kind of relationship is just not meant for you.

For some people, it’s like having a car that’s a lemon. You know it’s going to break again, so why not just dump it? And so you do. And at the start of the ending, it probably feels fine, even empowering, making you think it was the right thing to do. But feelings aren’t facts, and if you start to look for another relationship within six months (even casually online), then you have lied to yourself about what you really want, and you are enslaving yourself to search for a holy grail of your own design. You’re never going to find a partner that way.

If you are not a relationship person, then see it, own it, and build a life that works for you — not an isolated one, but a way of living that gives you enough companionship and support to get yourself through this crazy world. For some, this is really the best way to live, and there is not one thing wrong with it.

6 Ways to Discover and Choose Your Core Values

Knowing your values can guide your actions and give you inner peace.

Posted Nov 04, 2018

“What Should I Do?” Everyday Values Dilemmas

You’ve planned to have dinner with your friend on Friday night. On Friday morning, the guy you’ve been crushing on asks you out for the evening. Do you say yes and break the date with your friend?

You just got a raise. Should you bank it for retirement or make your life more comfortable now?

You wanted to get a head start on an important report for work later this evening. But your child has had a tough day and could benefit from your attention. Should you prioritize work or family?

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Life presents an endless series of decisions, large and small, that require you to make difficult choices. While many factors are involved, the critical factor in deciding may be your core values. These values tell you what kind of person you are, or want to be, and provide guidelines, or even imperatives, for your actions.

But how do you know what your core values are? This blog will reveal six ways to discover and choose your core values.

Values: A Definition

First, what is a “value” anyway?

Values “are the principles that give our lives meaning and allow us to persevere through adversity,” according to psychologist Barb Markway and Celia Ampel in The Self-Confidence Workbook. I love both parts of this definition—that values stand for our most meaningful ideals and also that they inspire us to keep going when the going gets tough.

You’ve probably learned many of your values from your parents, your teachers, your religious leaders, and the society around you. You’ve also probably rebelled against some of those values at times or changed your mind as you’ve learned more about yourself and your world. But it can be helpful to decide—or re-decide—the top 6-8 values that mean the most to you right now and to have a shorthand label for those principles. That’s where the information below comes in.

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Choosing Core Values

If you are not sure about your own core values, or if you would like to clarify which of your values are top priority now, here are six options.

1. Choose your top 6-8 values from a wide-ranging list of values.

To do this, you need a good list.

Dr. Russ Harris, author of The Confidence Gap and other books, has generously provided such a list and other free resources at his website here (You’ll need to scroll down a little bit to see the list.) Or you could use a similar list on p. 28 in The Confidence Workbook. Or just use the mini-list that follows, making good use of the “Other” option at the end of the list:

Financial Security; Compassion; Health/Fitness; Nature; Accomplishment;Creativity; Dependability; Loyalty; Beauty; Bravery; Gratitude; Love; Connection/Relationships; Learning; Leadership; Survival; Self-Preservation; Security; Adventure; Family; Work; Success; Calm; Freedom; Other___; Other ___.

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Now use one of these lists to select your top 6-8 values. Yes, you can change your mind. In fact, it’s natural to modify some of the values on this list as you face new and challenging situations. However, other values represent enduring ideals that you would only change under duress.

I did this activity recently using the Harris list, despite thinking beforehand that I already knew my values pretty well. It turned out to be enormously useful to put specific labels on my vague ideas of my core values. Among other things, I learned I put a high value on many of the “C” values, such as “compassion,” “creativity,” and “connection.” Sometimes when I make a choice, I now say to myself, “Hmm. You decided to write a new blog instead of going out for coffee. That was ‘creativity’ winning out over ‘connection.’”

Note that sometimes your choice is not between “right” and “wrong” but between two cherished values, as in my situation above.

2. Think of three to six people you most admire or love. Consider why they are so important to you.

Values can be personified in people that you love and admire. You can use this simple two-step process to uncover the values that you associate with your significant others and role models:

Step 1: Identify and write down six people who are important role models or valued connections for you. Step 2: Think of the values they embody. For example, your list might include: “my grandfather for his acceptance and love,” “my wife for her honesty,” “my colleague for his listening skills,” and “my friend for his loyalty,” to name a few.

Dr. Steven Hayes, the founder of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, suggests that you uncover your values by naming your heroes. For example, why do you admire, say, Martin Luther King, Jr.? Is it because he fought for social justice? Is it his commitment to non-violence? His kindness to others? Identifying the specific values embodied by your heroes can inspire you to adopt those values for yourself.

3. See a career counselor.

Your values are a major determinant of career choice, work decisions, and career transitions. For example, you may value “financial security,” “helping,” or “being my own boss (autonomy).” Each of those values might lead you down a different career path. That’s why career counselors have a large toolbox of strategies and inventories (self-report tests with no right answers), including values inventories, to help match their clients to a compatible career area.

4. Use an online values inventory.

You can find various values inventories online. One free online values inventory is located here (https://www.lifevaluesinventory.org/). The authors, R. Kelly Grace and Duane Brown, are experts in wellness and career development. Although I’ve never worked with this particular inventory before, I agree with the authors’ idea that clarifying your values can “serve as a blueprint for effective decision-makingand optimal functioning.” (The inventory looks so intriguing that I intend to take it myself—it’s actually on my list.) By the way, if you are concerned about confidentiality (and I hope you are), the website states that the information you supply will be used for ongoing research, but your name will not be linked to your data.

5. Observe yourself and learn.

As you live your life, be mindful of the choices you make. For several days, consciously put a label on the values behind your key decisions at work and at home. Pay particular attention to whether the values you chose above are reflected in your daily life. If not, what values are you expressing or living by as you go through your day? Are there patterns? What can you learn about what you want, what you are willing to give up, and what is non-negotiable in your life? If you experience a lot of dissatisfaction with your choices, you may not be living up to your values or you may need to re-evaluate what is most important to you.

6. Focus on the bitter and the sweet in your life.

Dr. Hayes suggests that you learn about your values by thinking back to both the sweetest and most painful moments of your life. These moments could direct you to what you care about most. For instance, what were the peak experiences that might reveal key values? If you won an award for teaching, consider that “leadership” or “motivating others” might be significant values. What were the most painful experiences? If you know the pain of being excluded by others, you might realize that “compassion” is one of your primary values.

Difficult Choices and Difficult People

As mentioned above, there are times when two cherished values will be in conflict. Knowing why you are choosing Value 1 instead of Value 2 in that instance can be helpful in resolving any inner conflict you may feel. And certain values may rise to the top in particular situations. For example, during an emergency, “survival” may become the value that guides your actions. Values will also shift over time as you fulfill your various goals—for example, once you achieve a comfortable degree of “financial security,” that value may recede into the background and other values may take its place.

Sometimes you’ll have to defend against difficult people—such as psychopaths, extreme narcissists, and master manipulators—who seem to be guided by negative values. With such people, it can be a challenge to stick to the positive values highlighted in this blog. Then there are the people who pay lip service to “core values” and “family values,” but whose choices betray their words as just empty rhetoric.

Observing yourself and being honest about what you see might keep the phrase “core values” from becoming a cliché. You can’t be perfect and you’ll often need to compromise, but you can aim for the integrity that a values-driven life can provide. As Dr. Harris sums it up in The Confidence Gap: “True success is living by your values.”

Know Your Values, Know Yourself

“Values” is one of 6 key elements to knowing who you are, as I explain in this blog. The others are: interests, temperament, biorhythms, life goals, and strengths. But of all these, knowing your values is the royal road to self-knowledge because values choices both reveal and build character as you act on them. Your values are even more important than your goals, as Dr. Harris points out, because you might not reach your goals, but you can almost always choose to live by your values.

A Preview of Coming Attractions

This blog has focused chiefly on identifying your values so that you can make better life decisions. But there’s much, much more. Although hard to believe, knowing your core values can help you reduce stress, communicate with more compassion, increase your self-confidence, and power up your willpower. The next blog will reveal the research behind those benefits and how you can utilize it for yourself.

Meanwhile, experiment with living the “values-driven life.” Does living by your values increase your sense of satisfaction with yourself and your life?

© Meg Selig, 2018. All rights reserved. For permissions, click here.


Harris, R. (2011) The Confidence Gap. Trumpeter Books: Boulder, CO, p. 146.

Markway, B. & Ampel, C. (2018) The Self-Confidence Workbook. Althea Press: Emeryville, CA, p. 28.

Selig, M. “Know Yourself: 6 Specific Ways to Know Who You Are,” psychologytoday,

Hayes, S. C. “10 Signs You Know What Matters,” Psychology Today, Sept/Oct 2018, p. 53 ff.

Psychology Today · by Meg Selig is the author of Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit
Change Success.

How Worry Makes Its Way In Psychology

A negative pattern of worry can be established in childhood.

Posted Nov 06, 2018

Father talking and spending time with his teenage son
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I believe a negative pattern of worry is established in childhood, based upon life circumstances, experiences, and perceptions. I further believe this pattern of worry can be exacerbated by physical realities and predispositions. In order to find a way out, you need to be able to backtrack along your way in, to where worry started in the first place. When you find your entry point, you’re that much closer to rediscovering the world outside of worry.

A place of worry can come from a lack of security. Your feelings of security are formed in childhood. When you’re a child, you learn to feel secure in your surroundings, your family, yourself, and your abilities. This sense of security provides a stable, strong foundation on which to venture forth into life. When this doesn’t happen, you develop a foundation of insecurity, which substitutes a rickety, weakened foundation, ill-suited for adulthood and its challenges, risks, and dilemmas.

A child with a sense of security looks out across the gulf to adulthood and sees a broadly supported expanse with plenty of room to move and solid railings. There’s no need to focus on the abyss below because there is no fear of falling. Instead, the child has a wide-open view of the wonders that await. A child with a sense of insecurity looks out across the gulf to adulthood and sees a gap-filled, narrow track hemmed in on all sides by frayed, untrustworthy ropes. Forget looking up and out; there’s an absolute need to focus on the abyss below because each fearful step forward contains the potential for falling. What starts out in childhood translates into adulthood.

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There are a variety of situations and conditions that can lead to this kind of insecurity growing up. Here are some to consider:

Death of a parent. When a parent dies, that shield is ripped from the child. Even within a family with a surviving parent or other supportive adults, children experience psychological shock when a parent dies.

Abandonment or rejection by a parent. When a parent discards a child through abandonment, a child assumes all is not right with him or her. When a parent intentionally chooses to reject a child, a child learns they aren’t good enough.

Overwhelmingly, divorce not only sunders the relationship of the spouses but also rips apart the world of the children.

Frequent moves. Often, parents view a move as a positive change, due to a new house or new job. Children, however, have different priorities, and the one thing they cherish, such as a friend, teacher, a school, or an activity, can be sacrificed in a decision to relocate.

Imagine what it would be like to go to school every day, apprehensive that you won’t be able to meet expectations.

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Difficulties in school. Children often worry about their work in school, but they also worry about social interactions. A child who is bullied, unsuccessful, or simply unnoticed learns to distrust what could happen tomorrow.

Family alcoholism or drug abuse. When alcohol or drug abuse is present in the home, it becomes a home of calm and crisis. There are lulls between violent storms, whose appearance is not so much a matter of if, but when.

Emotional abuse. If a child is told over and over they are not good enough, they’ll believe it and be fearful of venturing out much as an adult.

Physical abuse, including sexual abuse. The devastation of physical and sexual abuse is so vast that it permeates all aspects of a child’s life. This includes the concept of secrecy and holding on to the family truths in secret.

Perfectionism in the family. This is one of the most pervasive ways a child is taught to worry. No one can be perfect all the time, so every task, every expectation has a built-in guarantee of failure.

A fearful or insecure parent or significant adult. Some parents communicate hostility and negativity that damage the self-esteem of their children. Other parents can be more passively damaging through a pattern of constant doubt, fear, worry, and anxiety.

Is it any wonder, if you grew up with one of these, that you would be a little more suspicious about life? Is it any wonder you might have developed a survival strategy of worry? Consistent worry can become a pattern that eats away at the foundation of life.

Why Do I Feel Empty and Numb? | Psychology Today

“I am emotionally intense, but mostly I feel nothing, empty, detached from reality and those around me…”

Though it sounds paradoxical at first, many emotionally intense and sensitive people struggle with “emotional numbness,” a kind of internal deadness or emptiness that permeates their whole being and strips them of the joy and fullness that life has to offer.

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At first glance, it seems counterintuitive that emotional numbness could exist at the same time with emotional intensity, but an understanding of how the human mind works sheds light on the connection.

Emotional numbness finds its origin in a part of our personal histories that is too painful to reach. It is in our human nature to defend against pain. Once we have experienced a physically or emotionally painful situation, such as being betrayed or intruded, we will bring all our attention to defend against it happening again. In the face of physical, emotional or relational traumatic experiences, human beings have three responses: fight, flight, or freeze. If disconnecting with others to avoid getting hurt is “fleeing,” then numbing out our emotions altogether is “freezing.” When faced with extreme situations such as rejection, abandonment, or shame, our body and psyche to go into a “numbing mode” as part of that freezing response. In fact, dissociation is our “organismic default”: It comes from our animal instincts to us to survive the most unimaginably difficult circumstances. When things overwhelm us, disconnecting might be the only way that we can preserve our sanity or save our life.

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However, this protective reflex sometimes remains for much longer after the actual danger has passed. Emotional numbing tends not to be a conscious choice; you may not even be aware of the pattern building until after it becomes your “normal” way of functioning. Initially, emotional disconnection offers a sense of pseudo-equanimity, a steady state pleasantness, which also allows you to put up a socially acceptable persona. You may feel that you can function normally—get up in the morning, get dressed, go to work.But eventually, it becomes deadening. This protective shield can seem useful at first: you will feel that the pain has gone away and that you can “get on with life,” perhaps even with confidence. Although the pattern started off as a way of protecting you from others, it can eventually morph into you hiding from yourself or denying your needs altogether.

Emotional numbness, or detachment, is experienced differently by different people: you may feel a lingering sense of boredom and emptiness, that you are not able to show or feel any emotions. You may lose the ability to respond to events with the usual joy or sadness, or you struggle to connect with others in a deep and meaningful way. In psychology, the term “affect phobia” is used to describe the tendency for some people to avoid feelings that they believe are intolerable. As a result, they become emotionally detached and experiences life in a “dissociated,” or “depersonalised” way. The way your shield works can be likened to what psychologist Jeffrey Young calls the “detached protector mode.” Signs and symptoms of the mode include “depersonalization, emptiness, boredom, substance abuse, bingeing, self-mutilation, psychosomatic complaints, “blankness,” [or adopting] a cynical, aloof or pessimistic stance to avoid investing in people or activities.’’

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The Pain and Danger of Freezing Up

Though it may seem like a decent solution for emotional survivals, detaching from pain carries many downsides. For one, suppressed emotions tend to accumulate in your system, leaving you a calm façade that conceals the real psychic wounds: anger, both expressed and repressed; longing for what might have been; distress over past betrayal; or the grief over relationships that ended too soon. With so much hidden within, you may feel particularly sensitive and irritable. It may take only minor events to reach your “boiling point,” where you may be caught off-guard by emotional outbursts that seem to have come out of nowhere.

If you are cut off from the entirety of your being, you may do certain things that are not congruent with your true will. For instance, if your basic needs for comfort and safety are not met, you may resort to self-soothing by over-eating, over-spending, or engaging in other impulsive behaviors.

Source: unsplash

When we turn away from feeling bad emotions, we also put aside our ability to attach to the joy of all of which life has to offer. You may become an observer of life, watching it go by without being “in” it. Some people may even experience memory loss, as they do not remember much of their life—even looking at old pictures of themselves can seem surreal. Life’s pain may seem dampened, but you will not feel the full extent of the positive emotions, too—love, joy, and friendship. Although things may seem fine on the outside, you may feel overcome by a wave of sadness or loneliness. Any reminder of life’s finiteness can bring on painful existential and guilt. This is because even part of you insists on freezing up, there is something deep down in you that cannot help but remind you that you are missing out on life.

Deep down, you know that the strategy of locking your heart away is no longer working and that to choose to live this life fully is to allow your heart to melt, blossom, and ache at the same time. Inside of you is a wildly spontaneous, innocent and playful child. Deep down, you long to engage in life fully, to feel completely safe in the presence of others, and to love without holding back, as that is the call from your nature.

Through the construction of emotional skills and resilience, you can begin to feel safe enough to dip your feet into the deep waters of feeling. We can start with small strategies, such as learning to label emotions and self-regulate. Once you begin to develop a degree of emotional capacity, the “thawing” process will naturally follow. At that point, you will have re-opened the door to experience life’s joy, abundance, and aliveness—things that a hidden part of you has long been yearning for.

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Reflective Exercise: Working with Your Shield

1. Relinquishing blame and shame

The first step to working with your emotional numbness is to relinquish any shame or self-criticism attached to it. On top of the pain of feeling empty, you may have accumulated layers of relational shame and conflicts associated with it. For instance, your intimate partner may have accused you of being cold, defensive or distanced when they had needed affection from you. However, it is important to remember that your numbness grew out of a place of pain and tenderness and was nothing but a desperate attempt to survive. Shaming or punishing yourself for becoming numb in the first place will only reinforce the defensive pattern.

2. Acknowledging the sadness

Once you have parked away your harsh internal critic, you are ready to approach your numbness from a place of compassion. This is important because when you first acknowledge the extent to which your numbness has held you back from joy, you will hit a wave sadness. This is the grief over the fact that you have been out of touch with yourself and your true nature all these times. Instead of bypassing your sadness, set an intention to move closer to it, feel into it, so it can be digested, rather than suppressed.

3. Examining the shield

Now, you are ready to look carefully at your numbness. Use your imagination, and reflect on the following questions:

  • If your emotional numbness is a wall, or a shield, how thick is it?
  • What kind of materials would it be made of? Metal, wood, or plastic? How dense or heavy is it?
  • When you touch into your wall/ shield, does it feel warm, or cold?
  • Does it change according to your life circumstances or energy level, or does it remain stuck and static?
  • If your wall/ shield has a voice, what is it saying?

4. Thanking and transforming the numbness

Keep approaching your shield, until you reach the tender wounds that lie beneath it. Breath gently and thoroughly through this process. Only then, you may wish to say:”Thank you for protecting me all these years. I would not have survived without you. However, I am stronger now, and I no longer need you.”

Our goal here is not to get rid of the shield but to befriend it and get to know it, so it no longer runs the show. We do not expect things to change overnight, and you may have to repeat the process of approaching it and inquiring it again and again.

The next time you find yourself using the shield to defend against emotions that arise, or when you feel numb where you wish to feel alive and present, you will be more aware, and your numbness is no longer an unconscious, destructive force. Your emotional shield aims to protect, and you may choose to use it, or not. But the power remains in you.



Young, J.E., Klosko, J.S. and Weishaar, M.E., 2003. Schema therapy: A practitioner’s guide. Guilford Press.

Sex on the Brain: Frequent Sex Might Have Cognitive Benefits | Psychology Today

Source: VK Studio/Shutterstock

Frequent sex might enhance our performance on certain cognitive tasks. A growing body of research on both humans and animals published in the last decade points to this conclusion, including a new study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. Here’s a look at the accumulated evidence and what it suggests about how sex might benefit the brain.

First, a 2010 study published in the journal PLoS ONE discovered a link between sexual activity and neuron growth in male rats. Specifically, rats that were permitted to have sex daily over a two-week period demonstrated more neuron growth than rats that were only allowed to have sex once during the same amount of time.

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Building on this, a 2013 study published in the journal Hippocampus — which also focused on male rats — found that daily sexual activity was not only associated with the generation of more new neurons, but also with enhanced cognitive function.

Research on humans has yielded similar findings. A 2016 study published in Age and Aging looked at how the sexual practices of nearly 7,000 adults aged 50-89 related to their performance on a number sequencing task (which measured executive functions, such as problem-solving) and a word recall task (which measured memory ability). It turned out that both men and women who had engaged in any kind of sex over the past year had higher scores on the word recall test. Furthermore, for men only, being sexually active was linked to better performance on the number sequencing task.

Likewise, a 2017 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior examined how sexual activity was linked to performance on a common memory task in a sample of 78 heterosexual women aged 18-29. Specifically, scientists looked at whether their frequency of sexual intercourse was associated with memory while controlling for several other factors, such as grade point average, menstrual cycle phase, oral contraceptive use, and relationship length. The results revealed that women who engaged in more frequent sexual intercourse had better recall of abstract words on the test.

Last but not least, a new study out this year (also in the Archives of Sexual Behavior) that involved approximately 6,000 adults age 50 and over explored how sexual frequency was associated with performance on two episodic memory tasks administered two years apart. Participants who had sex more often had better performance on the memory test. It’s worth noting that more emotional closeness during sex was linked to better memory performance, too. However, it’s important to point out that memory performance declined for everyone over the course of the study and being sexually active did not prevent this decline. What this means is that while sex is linked to a higher baseline for memory performance, it doesn’t necessarily prevent cognitive decline in older age: We’ll all experience it at some point, whether we’re sexually active or not.

As always, more research is necessary, especially research that can help to establish cause-and-effect in humans and that explores what actually happens in the brain in response to frequent sex. That said, the overall pattern of findings to date is consistent with the idea that sex may very well be beneficial for our brains and our cognitive performance.


Leuner, B., Glasper, E. R., & Gould, E. (2010). Sexual experience promotes adult neurogenesis in the hippocampus despite an initial elevation in stress hormones. PLoS One, 5(7), e11597.

Glasper, E. R., & Gould, E. (2013). Sexual experience restores age‐related decline in adult neurogenesis and hippocampal function. Hippocampus, 23(4), 303-312.

Wright, H., & Jenks, R. A. (2016). Sex on the brain! Associations between sexual activity and cognitive function in older age. Age and Aging, 45(2), 313-317.

Maunder, L., Schoemaker, D., & Pruessner, J. C. (2017). Frequency of Penile–Vaginal Intercourse is Associated with Verbal Recognition Performance in Adult Women. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46(2), 441-453.

Allen, M. S. (2018). Sexual Activity and Cognitive Decline in Older Adults. Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Why Social Media Makes Us Angrier—and More Extreme | Psychology Today

Recent news offer a variety of topics to be angry about. Here’s one: “After a nearly two-week hiatus, the Lexington, Virginia, restaurant known for turning away White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders reopened its doors Thursday night.” Chances are, you have used social media to inform your opinion on that topic. And as it turns out, whether you side with Ms. Sanders or the Red Hen, that same social media likely radicalized your opinion, fueling your anger.

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For radicalization researchers, social media offer an interesting observational study. Research on face-to-face groups discovered that discussion among like-minded people radicalizes their average opinion. A group that starts out slightly pro-life ends up more pro-life; a group that starts out anti-guns ends up more so.

Two forces radicalize opinions in group discussion. One is informational: people learn new arguments to support the opinions they already hold. The second radicalizing force in group discussion is social: people admire and want to emulate those expressing the most extreme opinions.

Social media discussions carry both informational and social aspects of group polarization. In news-related Twitter threads, tweets that offer new arguments supporting a particular attitude (useful facts, catchy metaphors, moraljudgments) get more “likes” and retweets. Twitter users learn relevant arguments to reinforce their own opinions. Users with more radical opinions get larger followings, precisely because their tweets use expletives and polarizing rhetoric. More radical individuals have more social influence.

Social media are more radicalizing than face-to-face groups because they are larger collectives (more sources of information), and because in these large collectives there is more likelihood of encountering radical individuals. There’s a third reason social media groups are more radicalizing. In a face-to face group, dissenters can be ignored or expelled—but only with some unpleasantness. On a social media platform, selection has no downside; just press the mute button or the block button.

Some cases of social media radicalization have already come to light. The Arab Spring, the Ukrainian Revolution of 2014, and the Armenian revolution of 2018 evolved on social media, where opinions radicalized first, and then action was planned and coordinated. ISIS’ use of social media to recruit fighters, wives, and supporters around the globe resulted in thousands of Western youths travelling to Syria and Iraq. Russia used Facebook and Twitter to try to twist the U.S. electorate with radicalizing posts. Perhaps the most amazing example is the INCEL (involuntarily celibate) movement, which unites losers living in their parents’ basements, and upgrades their personal grievances of sexual failure to the level of a political movement worthy of NYT editorials.

More people every day rely on social media for their news, entertainment and social interactions. What we need is independent research to investigate their potential political effects. Like a Trojan horse, we let these vehicles into our daily lives. Let’s not close our collective eyes to the danger that they can carry.


McCauley & Moskalenko (2016) Friction: How conflict radicalizes them and us. Oxford University Press

Brown (1986) Social Psychology (2nd Ed). Free Press.

Are You Fun? | Psychology Today

Source: Syda Productions/Shutterstock

I hate to break the news to you, but life is short. And as you get older, the years do seem to go by more quickly.

Given this fact of life, there really is not a lot of time to be hanging out with people who are just no fun!

While nearly everyone would likely agree with this sentiment, from a behavioral scientific perspective, you just have to ask: What exactly does it mean to be “fun” or “no fun”!?

The “Fun” Personality and the Big Five Traits

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Personality psychologists, such as Nettle and Clegg (2008), often frame the essence of our personality structure as mapping onto five superordinate traits — the Big Five personality trait dimensions. Decades of quantitative research on human personality functioning has, in fact, shown that pretty much all personality-related attributes map onto one of the Big Five personality trait dimensions, which are as follows:

  • The tendency to be outgoing and high in social energy (versus introversion)
  • The tendency to be anxious and to experience various negative emotional states (versus emotional stability)
  • Open-mindedness — The tendency to be open to new ideas and new ways of thinking (versus closed-mindedness)
  • The tendency to be diligent, meticulous, and organized (versus having a disorganized nature)
  • Agreeableness — The tendency to be friendly and supportive of others in one’s world (versus disagreeableness)

Importantly, each of these dimensions is exactly that: a dimension with people scoring anywhere on a continuum, with most scores near the mean (average) on each dimension.

Given how ubiquitous the Big Five personality traits are in characterizing human dispositions, perhaps it would be helpful to think of the idea of having a “fun” versus “no fun” personality in terms of the Big Five trait dimensions.

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To help guide this process, consider the work by Nettle and Clegg (2008) that documented which end of each of these trait dimensions is considered relatively attractive in romantic partners. While this idea is not exactly the same as “fun,” it might be a useful starting point to think about this basic idea.

Nettle and Clegg’s (2008) analysis, which summarizes much past research on the topic of how personality traits play out in the domain of mating, essentially suggests that the following ends of each of these trait dimensions are relatively attractive:

  • Extraverted people are, all things considered, more attractive than introverted people.
  • Emotionally stable people are, all things considered, more attractive than neurotic others.
  • Open-minded people are, all things considered, more attractive than those who are closed-minded.
  • Conscientious others are, all things considered, more attractive than those who are generally disorganized.
  • Agreeable others are, all things considered, more attractive than the disagreeable among us.

So perhaps someone who is outgoing, emotionally stable, conscientious, open-minded, and agreeable would be described as fun.

Perhaps. However, the characteristics of an ideal mate are not always fully consistent with what we might think of when we conjure up a fun person. You might want something a little different in a platonic friend from what you would want in a mate. We can all think of plenty of disagreeable people, for instance, who are hilarious. Or you might have that highly neurotic friend who just cracks you up all the time (Think: George Costanza). On the flip side, we can probably think of someone who is extremely conscientious who, well, is just a total snooze-fest!

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When it comes to how the Big Five relates to whether someone is “fun,” then, it may be the case that “fun-ness” extends beyond these five basic trait dimensions.

Source: RyanMcGuire / Pixabay

Have a Sense of Humor!

Over the past few years, research on understanding personality from an evolutionary perspective has demonstrated that the Big Five, in fact, are not all there is to it. Work on the topic of humor and creative abilities, for instance, has shown that these attributes are not fully predicted by the Big Five traits, yet they are importantly related to various outcomes in social relationships (see Kaufman et al., 2008).

When it comes to a sense of humor, we tend to like people in our worlds who are strong in terms of both humor production and humor reception. In other words, we like people who are good at both making jokes and getting jokes. Let’s face it: Someone who doesn’t get the joke is just no fun!


Creativity, which is related to a sense of humor as well as to general intelligence(see Geher & Miller, 2008), is similar. We are deeply entertained by highly creative people, including high-caliber musicians, artists, comedians, actors, dancers, storytellers, architects, and so forth. Creative people have been found to be high in emotional intelligence, which is a key factor in social relationships (see Geher, Betancourt, & Jewell, 2017). In short, highly creative people are fun, and we like them!

Source: LaBruixa / Pixabay

Basic Attributes of the Fun Personality

Based on the reasoning here, it seems that there are several key ingredients to having a fun personality — as follows:

  • Extraversion — Because extraverts are exciting and are easy to talk to
  • Open-mindedness  Because open-minded people are up for all kinds of things
  • Humor Production  Because someone who can make you laugh is worth having around
  • Humor Reception  Because we like it when someone gets the joke
  • Creativity — Because the highly creative among us keep us entertained

Bottom Line

Life is too short to surround yourself with boring people! Nearly by definition, we like others who are fun. They make us laugh. They make us smile. And they keep us entertained for all kinds of reasons. Interested in living a richer life? Stuck in a rut? Find some creative, outgoing, funny people, and have some fun!

Facebook image: Syda Productions/Shutterstock


Geher, G., Betancourt, K., & Jewell, O. (2017). The link between emotional intelligence and creativity. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality.

Geher, G., & Miller, G. F. (Eds., 2008). Mating Intelligence: Sex, Relationships, and the Mind’s Reproductive System. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Kaufman, S.B., Kozbelt, A., Bromley, M.L., & Miller, G.F. (2008). The role of creativity and humor in human mate selection. In G. Geher & G. Miller (Eds.), Mating intelligence: Sex, relationships, and the mind’s reproductive system. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Nettle, D. & Clegg, H. (2008). Personality, mating strategies and mating intelligence. In G. Geher & G. F. Miller (Eds.), Mating intelligence: Sex, relationships, and the mind’s reproductive system (pp. 121-135). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.