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A New Year’s resolution to make a difference: Help others.
Charity and volunteering not only benefit the recipient but help you become happier and healthier in the new year.
- Most New Year's resolutions are self-directed and enjoy a failure rate of about 80 percent.
- Research has shown that selfless giving can enhance happiness, improve your health, and even extend your life.
- Resolving to help others can help you keep your resolution this year.
Every New Year's Eve, we determine to make the next year better than the last. We promise ourselves that we'll eat healthier, get more exercise, save more money, and make more friends. Yet we neglect those New Year's resolutions by February, only to dust them off on December 31.
Trace those New Year's resolutions through the years, and you'll notice an unequivocal pattern. Of the 9 most common New Year's resolutions, every one is inwardly directed. They are self-made agreements to revamp our health, our body images, and our (often entirely self-perceived) inadequacies. While there's nothing wrong with self-improvement—it's a laudable goal and necessary for personal growth—it seems our resolutions are missing a vital component.
Time to change strategies. If we truly want to make next year better than the last, maybe our New Year's resolution shouldn't be to focus on ourselves but to enhance the lives of others. In fact, research suggests that helping others doesn't just benefit the recipient. It pays dividends to your health, happiness, and well-being too.
The science of selflessness
Monks in Laos receive their rice donations from a devout group of women.
There have been many studies on the effects of altruism on temperament, and they trend in a uniform direction. Giving to others makes us happier.
To pick one example, a study published in Nature Communications asked participants either to spend money on others or on themselves over four weeks. The group that spent money on others reported a greater sense of happiness than the control group, and they made more generous decisions in an independent decision-making task.
"Although it is difficult to compare results due to the differing study designs, this result is in line with that of a previous experimental study, namely, that participants reported being happier after behaving generously independent of the degree of generous behavior displayed," the researchers write. They also point out that the increase in happiness was independent of the amount donated, which was also in line with the previous study.
Other studies have proposed that regular almsgiving reduces depression, enhances emotional regulation, and helps us navigate stressful situations. One such study found that peer supporters of patients with multiple sclerosis showed "pronounced improvement on confidence, self-awareness, self-esteem, depression and role functioning."
And generosity doesn't just improve our mental state; studies have shown it can boost our physical well-being, too.
A study published in Pain Management Nursing asked patients with chronic pain to become peer volunteers. The participants reported ameliorated pain and depression for several months after training, with the researchers noting the themes of "making a connection" and "a sense of purpose" emerging time and again in the questionnaires.
Other studies have reported reduced risks of hypertension and improved health in teens. A study published in the APA journal Health Psychology even suggests that selfless volunteering can lengthen your life.
"This could mean that people who volunteer with other people as their main motivation may be buffered from potential stressors associated with volunteering, such as time constraints and lack of pay," Sara Konrath, the study's lead author and a social psychologist at the U-M Institute for Social Research, said in a release.
Yes, despite a litany of altruistic advantages, it seems only those motivated by selflessness reap the potential rewards. The Health Psychology study found that people who volunteered out of a sense of duty and compassion lived longer, on average. Those who volunteered for self-oriented reasons did not.
"We've known for a long time that volunteering can have benefits not just to the people receiving help but also to those who give their time and energy," Konrath said. "Of course, it's reasonable for volunteers to expect some benefits for themselves. But it's ironic that the potential health benefits of volunteering are significantly reduced if self-benefit becomes a person's main motive."
An altruistic high
Let's not overstep and imagine goodwill to be some earthly elixir. Despite these lucrative results, researchers can't state with certainty that altruism is directly responsible for these bonuses in happiness, reduced stress, and blood pressure.
Study participants who donate their time and money may be more likely to pursue other life-affirming habits. It could be that altruism is the natural outgrowth of a mindset that also leads people to eat healthily, exercise regularly, and spend time with family and loved ones.
Additionally, many of these studies rely on self-reported surveys to gauge happiness and pain tolerances. Altruism may have a placebo effect that makes people feel better, especially when directly asked to rate or recount their good deeds.
With that said, there is evidence to suggest the altruist's high stems from a physiological response to one's generosity.
For example, a research team led by neuroscientist Jorge Moll at the National Institutes of Health found that the brain's mesolimbic system activates when individuals donate money. Also known as the "reward pathway," the mesolimbic system reinforces favorable behaviors through the release of feel-good hormones such as oxytocin—in the case of this study, donating was linked to social bonding.
"And given the potential benefits to individual health and happiness, this inner feeling of goodness associated with charitable giving may well originate from a conscious or unconscious awareness of its rewarding consequences," writes Sander van der Linden, a social psychologist at the University of Cambridge.
Philanthropy may be linked to the "resilience factor," too. This idea posits that people with more resilience are better equipped to handle life's hardships, stressors, and unexpected losses. Thanks to an abundant supply of those feel-good hormones, philanthropists find such events less devastating and more manageable. In helping others, they have also demonstrated their capability to manifest positive change, empowering them to tackle such problems in our own lives.
"Endless research dollars have been spent attempting to unlock its mysteries in hopes of allowing more of us to sail and fewer of us to get stuck in the muck. It's still not clear what combination of genetics, upbringing, and circumstances makes one person more resilient than the next. But most experts agree that feeling powerless doesn't help—and that feeling competent and in control does," journalist Meredith Maran writes.
Resolving to succeed this new year
Then President Barak Obama volunteers to distribute Thanksgiving dinners at the Martha's Table food pantry in Washington D.C.
A year of altruism provides an admirable and valuable New Year's resolution, but it faces the same challenges any aspiration does. How do we prevent this resolution from becoming another lost cause?
Start by reframing how your mind tackles the resolution problem. First, resolve to make helping others your goal for the year. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, New Year's resolvers reported higher success rates than non-resolvers at modifying a life problem.
Rather than a vague commitment to "be more charitable," choose a specific goal that you can articulate in a clear, declarative sentence. Something like, "I will volunteer to teach an SAT prep class this school year" or "I will donate 10 percent of my annual income to the Malaria Consortium program."
Make sure your goals are SMART—that is, specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-defined. And remember to kill your inner perfectionist. You may miss a volunteer opportunity because of a rough month. An unforeseen bill may curb what you can donate. That's okay.
When looking to this resolution, philanthropy adviser Jenny Santi has some advice for making charity a part of your life. Writing for Time, she recommends:
- Find your passion. You won't be equally passionate about all causes and world problems. Find the inequities that most concern you and put your focus there.
- Give your time. Sanit argues that the gift of time can incredibly valuable to the receiver. If you can't give financially, that doesn't mean you are giving less.
- Give to organizations with transparent aims and results. A common worry is that non-profits and charities spend more funding top-heavy operations than on their cause. But a little research can illuminate which organizations produce the most benefit per dollar spent. Non-profits such as GiveWell can help with this endeavor.
- Find ways to integrate your interests and skills. It will help you keep your passion at the forefront of the effort and can benefit you professionally.
- Be proactive, not reactive. Seek out opportunities. Don't wait for them to come to you and certainly don't let a guilt-trip be the impetus to give. Remember that motivation matters.
Aristotle once said that the essence of life is to serve others and do good. Making that essence the focus of your New Year's resolution seems like a good place to start any year.
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Scientists are using bioelectronic medicine to treat inflammatory diseases, an approach that capitalizes on the ancient "hardwiring" of the nervous system.
- Bioelectronic medicine is an emerging field that focuses on manipulating the nervous system to treat diseases.
- Clinical studies show that using electronic devices to stimulate the vagus nerve is effective at treating inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
- Although it's not yet approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, vagus nerve stimulation may also prove effective at treating other diseases like cancer, diabetes and depression.
The nervous system’s ancient reflexes<p>You accidentally place your hand on a hot stove. Almost instantaneously, your hand withdraws.</p><p>What triggered your hand to move? The answer is <em>not</em> that you consciously decided the stove was hot and you should move your hand. Rather, it was a reflex: Skin receptors on your hand sent nerve impulses to the spinal cord, which ultimately sent back motor neurons that caused your hand to move away. This all occurred before your "conscious brain" realized what happened.</p><p>Similarly, the nervous system has reflexes that protect individual cells in the body.</p><p>"The nervous system evolved because we need to respond to stimuli in the environment," said Dr. Tracey. "Neural signals don't come from the brain down first. Instead, when something happens in the environment, our peripheral nervous system senses it and sends a signal to the central nervous system, which comprises the brain and spinal cord. And then the nervous system responds to correct the problem."</p><p>So, what if scientists could "hack" into the nervous system, manipulating the electrical activity in the nervous system to control molecular processes and produce desirable outcomes? That's the chief goal of bioelectronic medicine.</p><p>"There are billions of neurons in the body that interact with almost every cell in the body, and at each of those nerve endings, molecular signals control molecular mechanisms that can be defined and mapped, and potentially put under control," Dr. Tracey said in a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJH9KsMKi5M" target="_blank">TED Talk</a>.</p><p>"Many of these mechanisms are also involved in important diseases, like cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, hypertension and shock. It's very plausible that finding neural signals to control those mechanisms will hold promises for devices replacing some of today's medication for those diseases."</p><p>How can scientists hack the nervous system? For years, researchers in the field of bioelectronic medicine have zeroed in on the longest cranial nerve in the body: the vagus nerve.</p>
The vagus nerve<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTYyOTM5OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NTIwNzk0NX0.UCy-3UNpomb3DQZMhyOw_SQG4ThwACXW_rMnc9mLAe8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=700" id="09add" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f38dbfbbfe470ad85a3b023dd5083557" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
Electrical signals, seen here in a synapse, travel along the vagus nerve to trigger an inflammatory response.
Credit: Adobe Stock via solvod<p>The vagus nerve ("vagus" meaning "wandering" in Latin) comprises two nerve branches that stretch from the brainstem down to the chest and abdomen, where nerve fibers connect to organs. Electrical signals constantly travel up and down the vagus nerve, facilitating communication between the brain and other parts of the body.</p><p>One aspect of this back-and-forth communication is inflammation. When the immune system detects injury or attack, it automatically triggers an inflammatory response, which helps heal injuries and fend off invaders. But when not deployed properly, inflammation can become excessive, exacerbating the original problem and potentially contributing to diseases.</p><p>In 2002, Dr. Tracey and his colleagues discovered that the nervous system plays a key role in monitoring and modifying inflammation. This occurs through a process called the <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nature01321" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">inflammatory reflex</a>. In simple terms, it works like this: When the nervous system detects inflammatory stimuli, it reflexively (and subconsciously) deploys electrical signals through the vagus nerve that trigger anti-inflammatory molecular processes.</p><p>In rodent experiments, Dr. Tracey and his colleagues observed that electrical signals traveling through the vagus nerve control TNF, a protein that, in excess, causes inflammation. These electrical signals travel through the vagus nerve to the spleen. There, electrical signals are converted to chemical signals, triggering a molecular process that ultimately makes TNF, which exacerbates conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.</p><p>The incredible chain reaction of the inflammatory reflex was observed by Dr. Tracey and his colleagues in greater detail through rodent experiments. When inflammatory stimuli are detected, the nervous system sends electrical signals that travel through the vagus nerve to the spleen. There, the electrical signals are converted to chemical signals, which trigger the spleen to create a white blood cell called a T cell, which then creates a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. The acetylcholine interacts with macrophages, which are a specific type of white blood cell that creates TNF, a protein that, in excess, causes inflammation. At that point, the acetylcholine triggers the macrophages to stop overproducing TNF – or inflammation.</p><p>Experiments showed that when a specific part of the body is inflamed, specific fibers within the vagus nerve start firing. Dr. Tracey and his colleagues were able to map these relationships. More importantly, they were able to stimulate specific parts of the vagus nerve to "shut off" inflammation.</p><p>What's more, clinical trials show that vagus nerve stimulation not only "shuts off" inflammation, but also triggers the production of cells that promote healing.</p><p>"In animal experiments, we understand how this works," Dr. Tracey said. "And now we have clinical trials showing that the human response is what's predicted by the lab experiments. Many scientific thresholds have been crossed in the clinic and the lab. We're literally at the point of regulatory steps and stages, and then marketing and distribution before this idea takes off."<br></p>
The future of bioelectronic medicine<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTYxMDYxMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjQwOTExNH0.uBY1TnEs_kv9Dal7zmA_i9L7T0wnIuf9gGtdRXcNNxo/img.jpg?width=980" id="8b5b2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c005e615e5f23c2817483862354d2cc4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="2000" data-height="1125" />
Vagus nerve stimulation can already treat Crohn's disease and other inflammatory diseases. In the future, it may also be used to treat cancer, diabetes, and depression.
Credit: Adobe Stock via Maridav<p>Vagus nerve stimulation is currently awaiting approval by the US Food and Drug Administration, but so far, it's proven safe and effective in clinical trials on humans. Dr. Tracey said vagus nerve stimulation could become a common treatment for a wide range of diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, hypertension, shock, depression and diabetes.</p><p>"To the extent that inflammation is the problem in the disease, then stopping inflammation or suppressing the inflammation with vagus nerve stimulation or bioelectronic approaches will be beneficial and therapeutic," he said.</p><p>Receiving vagus nerve stimulation would require having an electronic device, about the size of lima bean, surgically implanted in your neck during a 30-minute procedure. A couple of weeks later, you'd visit, say, your rheumatologist, who would activate the device and determine the right dosage. The stimulation would take a few minutes each day, and it'd likely be unnoticeable.</p><p>But the most revolutionary aspect of bioelectronic medicine, according to Dr. Tracey, is that approaches like vagus nerve stimulation wouldn't come with harmful and potentially deadly side effects, as many pharmaceutical drugs currently do.</p><p>"A device on a nerve is not going to have systemic side effects on the body like taking a steroid does," Dr. Tracey said. "It's a powerful concept that, frankly, scientists are quite accepting of—it's actually quite amazing. But the idea of adopting this into practice is going to take another 10 or 20 years, because it's hard for physicians, who've spent their lives writing prescriptions for pills or injections, that a computer chip can replace the drug."</p><p>But patients could also play a role in advancing bioelectronic medicine.</p><p>"There's a huge demand in this patient cohort for something better than they're taking now," Dr. Tracey said. "Patients don't want to take a drug with a black-box warning, costs $100,000 a year and works half the time."</p><p>Michael Dowling, president and CEO of Northwell Health, elaborated:</p><p>"Why would patients pursue a drug regimen when they could opt for a few electronic pulses? Is it possible that treatments like this, pulses through electronic devices, could replace some drugs in the coming years as preferred treatments? Tracey believes it is, and that is perhaps why the pharmaceutical industry closely follows his work."</p><p>Over the long term, bioelectronic approaches are unlikely to completely replace pharmaceutical drugs, but they could replace many, or at least be used as supplemental treatments.</p><p>Dr. Tracey is optimistic about the future of the field.</p><p>"It's going to spawn a huge new industry that will rival the pharmaceutical industry in the next 50 years," he said. "This is no longer just a startup industry. [...] It's going to be very interesting to see the explosive growth that's going to occur."</p>
Japan looks to replace China as the primary source of critical metals
- Enough rare earth minerals have been found off Japan to last centuries
- Rare earths are important materials for green technology, as well as medicine and manufacturing
- Where would we be without all of our rare-earth magnets?
What are the rare earth elements?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA2MTM0Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzODExMjMyMn0.owchAgxSBwji5IofgwKtueKSbHNyjPfT7hTJrHpTi98/img.jpg?width=980" id="fd315" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d8ed70e3d0b67b9cbe78414ffd02c43e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
(julie deshaies/Shutterstock)<p>The rare earth metals can be mostly found in the second row from the bottom in the Table of Elements. According to the <a href="http://www.rareearthtechalliance.com/What-are-Rare-Earths" target="_blank"><u>Rare Earth Technology Alliance</u></a>, due to the "unique magnetic, luminescent, and electrochemical properties, these elements help make many technologies perform with reduced weight, reduced emissions, and energy consumption; or give them greater efficiency, performance, miniaturization, speed, durability, and thermal stability."</p><p>In order of atomic number, the rare earths are:</p> <ul> <li>Scandium or Sc (21) — This is used in TVs and energy-saving lamps.</li> <li>Yttrium or Y (39) — Yttrium is important in the medical world, used in cancer drugs, rheumatoid arthritis medications, and surgical supplies. It's also used in superconductors and lasers.</li> <li>Lanthanum or La (57) — Lanthanum finds use in camera/telescope lenses, special optical glasses, and infrared absorbing glass.</li> <li>Cerium or Ce (58) — Cerium is found in catalytic converters, and is used for precision glass-polishing. It's also found in alloys, magnets, electrodes, and carbon-arc lighting. </li> <li>Praseodymium or Pr (59) — This is used in magnets and high-strength metals.</li> <li>Neodymium or Nd (60) — Many of the magnets around you have neodymium in them: speakers and headphones, microphones, computer storage, and magnets in your car. It's also found in high-powered industrial and military lasers. The mineral is especially important for green tech. Each <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mining-toyota/as-hybrid-cars-gobble-rare-metals-shortage-looms-idUSTRE57U02B20090831" target="_blank"><u>Prius</u></a> motor, for example, requires 2.2 lbs of neodymium, and its battery another 22-33 lbs. <a href="https://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2011/5036/sir2011-5036.pdf" target="_blank"><u>Wind turbine batteries</u></a> require 450 lbs of neodymium per watt. </li> <li>Promethium or Pm (61) — This is used in pacemakers, watches, and research.</li> <li>Samarium or Sm (62) — This mineral is used in magnets in addition to intravenous cancer radiation treatments and nuclear reactor control rods.</li> <li>Europium or Eu (63) — Europium is used in color displays and compact fluorescent light bulbs.</li> <li>Gadolinium or Gd (64) — It's important for nuclear reactor shielding, cancer radiation treatments, as well as x-ray and bone-density diagnostic equipment.</li> <li>Terbium or Tb (65) — Terbium has similar uses to Europium, though it's also soft and thus possesses unique shaping capabilities .</li> <li>Dysprosium or Dy (66) — This is added to other rare-earth magnets to help them work at high temperatures. It's used for computer storage, in nuclear reactors, and in energy-efficient vehicles.</li> <li>Holmium or Ho (67) — Holmium is used in nuclear control rods, microwaves, and magnetic flux concentrators.</li> <li>Erbium or Er (68) — This is used in fiber-optic communication networks and lasers.</li> <li>Thulium or Tm (69) — Thulium is another laser rare earth.</li> <li>Ytterbium or Yb (70) — This mineral is used in cancer treatments, in stainless steel, and in seismic detection devices.</li> <li>Lutetium or Lu (71) — Lutetium can target certain cancers, and is used in petroleum refining and positron emission tomography.</li></ul>
Where Japan found is rare earths<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA2MTM0OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTA0NzUxNn0.N3t_iKf6lnnoJ6yVUtl8-wNZICEG2ZxyPzm9ZdE99ks/img.jpg?width=980" id="021b7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d9dd843fde547a0b69f8798aca18a706" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Minimatori Torishima Island
(Chief Master Sergeant Don Sutherland, U.S. Air Force)<p>Japan located the rare earths about 1,850 kilometers off the shore of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minami-Tori-shima" target="_blank"><u>Minamitori Island</u></a>. Engineers located the minerals in 10-meter-deep cores taken from sea floor sediment. Mapping the cores revealed and area of approximately 2,500 square kilometers containing rare earths.</p><p>Japan's engineers estimate there's 16 million tons of rare earths down there. That's <a href="https://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/historical-statistics/ds140-raree.xlsx" target="_blank"><u>five times</u></a> the amount of the rare earth elements ever mined since 1900. According to <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com.au/rare-earth-minerals-found-in-japan-2018-4?r=US&IR=T" target="_blank"><u>Business Insider</u></a>, there's "enough yttrium to meet the global demand for 780 years, dysprosium for 730 years, europium for 620 years, and terbium for 420 years."</p><p>The bad news, of course, is that Japan has to figure out how to extract the minerals from 6-12 feet under the seabed four miles beneath the ocean surface — that's the <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-23948-5" target="_blank"><u>next step</u></a> for the country's engineers. The good news is that the location sits squarely within Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone, so their rights to the lucrative discovery will be undisputed.</p>
A physicist creates an AI algorithm that predicts natural events and may prove the simulation hypothesis.
- Princeton physicist Hong Qin creates an AI algorithm that can predict planetary orbits.
- The scientist partially based his work on the hypothesis which believes reality is a simulation.
- The algorithm is being adapted to predict behavior of plasma and can be used on other natural phenomena.
Physicist Hong Qin with images of planetary orbits and computer code.
Credit: Elle Starkman
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