On the Use of Profanity: A Mom’s Perspective

Us mothers (who tend to curse a lot) are plagued with the muddle of swearing. Constantly asking ourselves the same questions over and over again. Is swearing harmful? Should children be allowed to swear? Is my swearing getting worse?

This morning I dropped my cup of coffee on the kitchen floor. I guess my motor skills are not that impressive at 7.00 am. And so I did the inevitable. I said “shit” in front of my three year old daughter. She immediately laughed and retaliated with a “shit” back. “Well now I’m in trouble”- I thought. But what are the implications of this fuck up? Two options came to mind. The first option would be correcting her every time she says it, No Cali, it’s not “shit” it’s “chips”. The second option would be to not do anything, it’s too late now anyway. Well, I decided to go with my first option, correct her like there’s no tomorrow. The correcting thing does work. I mean she is aware that she shouldn’t say that word because it is very ugly. So now if I hear her say it, she’ll laugh and look very naughty, knowing she shouldn’t be doing it.

This got me thinking. Is swearing really that problematic or harmful? Researchers have been very shy about studying swearing. Courts of justice usually presume harm from speech in cases involving discrimination or sexual harassment. The original justification of our use of use of expletives was predicted on an unfounded assumption that speech can deprave or corrupt children, but I can’t seem to find any social-science data (if there is any) demonstrating that a word in and of itself causes harm. A more important issue is the manner in which harm has been defined- harm is most commonly shaped in terms of standards and sensibilities like religion or sexual practices. Seldom are there attempts to quantify harm in terms of objectively measurable symptoms (think of sleeping disorders or anxiety). I am sure that psychological scientists could make a systematic effort to establish behavioral outcomes of swearing.

Basically, swearing can occur with any emotion and yield positive or negative outcomes. Jay & Janschewitz’s work (2008) suggests that most uses of swear words are not problematic. They recorded over 10,000 episodes of public swearing by children and adults, and claimed they rarely witnessed any irregularities or negative consequences. They never saw public swearing lead to physical violence. See most public uses of taboo words are not in anger, they are innocuous and sometimes even produce positive consequences (e.g it can evoke humor). Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any descriptive data on swearing in private settings, so more work needs to be done in that area.

Thus, instead of thinking of swearing as uniformly harmful or morally wrong, more meaningful information can be gathered by asking what communication goals swearing achieves. See swear words can achieve a number of outcomes, as when used positively for joking or storytelling, stress management, fitting in with the crowd, or in the worst case scenario as a substitute for physical aggression. A recent study Stephens et al. (2009) show that swearing is associated with enhanced pain tolerance. This finding suggests swearing has a cathartic effect, which many of us may have personally experienced in frustration or in response to pain. Despite this empirical evidence, the positive consequences of swearing are commonly disregarded in the media.

And yet my main question prevails: Is it bad for children to hear or say swear words?

I think the harm question for adult swearing applies to issues such as verbal abuse, sexual harassment, and discrimination. But when children enter the picture, insulting language becomes a problem for parents and a basis for censorship in media and educational settings. Considering the omnipresence of this problem, I find it quite interesting that psychology textbooks do not address the emergence of this behavior in the context of development or language learning. At least in none of the textbooks that I have at home.

Us parents often wonder if this behavior is normal and how we should respond to it. Jay & Janschewitz’s data (2008) showed that swearing emerges by age two and becomes adult-like by ages 11 and 12. We have to yet determine what children know about the meanings of the words they use.

No one knows exactly how children learn swear words, although this is an inevitable part of language learning, and it begins early in life. Whether or not children (and adults) swear, we know that they do acquire a contextually-bound swearing protocol- the “who, what, where and when” of swearing. This so-called etiquette determines the thin red line between amusing and insulting and needs to be examined further.

Considering that the consequences of children’s exposure to swear words are frequently cited as the basis for censorship, psychological scientists should make an effort to describe the normal course of development of a child’s swearing glossary and etiquette. I can’t help but wonder…Is it important to attempt to censor children from language they already know? But more importantly, I can’t help but wonder whether swearing has become more frequent in recent years?

This is a common question, apparently, and it’s a tough one to answer I reckon, because I couldn’t seem to find a reliable baseline frequency data prior to 1970 for comparison purposes. One thing is definitely true. We are exposed to more forms of swearing since the inception of satellite radio, cable t.v, and of course, the internet. But, that does not necessarily mean the average person is swearing more frequently.

Jay & Janschewitz (2008) indicate that the most frequently recorded taboo words have remained fairly stable over the past 30 years. The common Anglo-Saxon words we say are hundreds of years old, and most of the historically unpleasant sexual references are still at the top of the offensiveness list; they haven’t been toppled by modern slang.

Therefore, the data examined in the study did not lead to any worrying conclusions that our culture is getting “worse” when it comes to swearing. When this question arises, we also frequently fail to acknowledge the impact of recent laws that penalize offensive language, such as sexual harassment and discrimination laws, to name a couple.

Our society has reached a point where cursing is so common that euphemisms actually have a greater impact. A term applicable to Oedipus, for example, is used, as often as not, affectionately (guessed it?), while the mild “jackass” is always an insult.

This trend seems to have been reinforced by the moderation of legal and self-censorship. Because basically, context matters. There is something absurd in the dialogue of 1950s movies when some enraged character can think of no harsher word than “damn”. Flash forward to the dialogue of Scarface in 1983 and you’ll see that it is fully appropriate to the characters and circumstances. Only if Elsa from Frozen is given the same vocabulary as The Dude in The Big Lebowski will I object to the premise that context matters- and then only on artistic grounds.

To conclude, it is important to note that when it comes to swearing context matters. The same swear word can be used as an insult, an exclamation of surprise, or as an expression of pleasure in the pangs of passion. As a sociologist who has read a lot on many aspects of communication, I was surprised to find that there was little research on the subject, and said to myself, “Well, shit! Another missed research opportunity”.

At the end of the day, swear words lack subtlety and they crowd out a richer glossary full with nuanced meanings. My only real opinion is that too much reliance on swear words encourages simplistic thought. Instead of focusing on what we say in front of our kids let’s focus on making them self-aware. Teach them about self-awareness and you’ll have children that pick up easier on social and cultural cues thereby understanding when it is and it is not appropriate to exhibit certain behaviors, including swearing.

My next article will delve into the importance of self-awareness in children. So stick around.. Till soon!


Jay, T.B. (2009). The utility and ubiquity of taboo words. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 4, 153–161.

Jay, T.B., & Janschewitz, K. (2008). The pragmatics of swearing. Journal of Politeness Research: Language, Behavior, Culture, 4, 267-288.

Picture courtesy of linkbeef.com

On Millennials and Leadership: A New Mindset

The first Millennial college graduates entered the workforce in the summer of 2004. They will continue to do, in large number, until around 2022.

We have been dubbed the “Greatest Generation”, armed with the tools and inclination to drive toward a better future in a world facing economic, geopolitical, and environmental crises.

Other people have dubbed us as the “Generation Whine”, because we have been so over-indulged and protected that we are incapable of handling even the most mundane task without someone holding our hand. And yet, I still wonder whether we are really very different from other generations, or if the generational gap and all the media hype it has generated have simply created a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In this article I will explore the ways in which college-educated members of the Millennial generation approach the world of work, especially in the context of their particular relationships with technology and institutions. Moreover I will look at how competency-based talent-management can help create an organizational culture that appeals to young job seekers and employees.

Millennials are a mix of typically youthful and unique generational traits. They tend to be more risk-tolerant and less safety-conscious. They’re also less likely to have family obligations, which means they prioritize upward mobility over job security. We are also known for being generally more idealistic than pragmatic, so we tend to gravitate towards companies with clear values and a purpose we can relate to.

The data regarding the Millennial generation and their values and beliefs is abundant.  For the past ten years hundreds of surveys have been conducted that have detailed the attitudes, aspirations, as well as the societal and organizational impressions of thousands of young people. Depending on the definition and operationalisation of the questions asked in these surveys, the data can go both ways. It can either support the theory that Millennials are fundamentally unique compared to other generations, or, alternately, it can also support the view that our perspectives fall nicely along a continuum, meaning the data potentially shows the similarities to our generational predecessors.

Recent data has shown that, despite conventional wisdom of Millennials, we do not appear to be any more altruistic, family-oriented, or motivated to succeed than those who have preceded us, nor are we any less concerned with making money.

However, our relationship with technology has changed the way we know the world. For this reason, managing, directing, and motivating Millennials is not only a challenge, but an opportunity and a learnable skill.

Two icons of the millennial lifestyle, cell phones and online social networks, also grew up alongside our generation. The world’s first commercial cellular phone, weighing almost a whole kilo, was introduced when members of the high school class of 2000 were celebrating their first birthdays: The iPhone emerged as they celebrated their 25th birthday. MySpacewas developed in 2003 and Facebook, created by then-Harvard student and millennial Mark Zuckerberg and originally designed for only his Ivy League peers, was launched in 2004, as the first Millennial class prepared to graduate from college.

Since these technologies are homegrown to us Millennials, we are often referred to as “digital natives”, while our parents’ generation lived at least part of their lives prior to the development of the Internet and its marginal devices, making them the “digital immigrants”. It is therefore interesting to examine what value this native familiarity might add to companies as they hire Millennials. Don Tapscott, author of Grown up Digital, has interviewed thousands of members of what he dubs as the “Net Generation” and believes that digital immersion has, quite literally, caused this age group to be wired differently. In addition, UCLA neuroscientist Gary Small has mapped actual changes in neural circuitry that develop with the acquisition and repetition of technological skills. In plain English, Small’s research shows a significant difference in brain functions among generations, a difference he defines as the “brain gap”. Let me illustrate this definition with an example. Digital natives are more effective in some arenas, like multitasking, responding to visual stimulation, and filtering information, but less adapt in terms of face-to-face interaction and deciphering non-verbal cues (Tapscott, 2009). Even though these pathways can be developed later in life, and there are clearly many awesome avid developers and users of the latest technologies in every generation, a marked neurological difference does exist between embracing it and embodying it. What I mean is, a brain that developed prior to the emergence of word processing, email, the web, or social networks must adapt to new technologies in order to use them effectively. On the other hand, Millennials who have been hard wired by technology and for whom it is integral to their academic, social, and personal lives, don’t think about adaptation at all; technology for us is a sixth sense.

So based on our experiences, us Millennials have every reason to assume that all necessary information can be gathered with the touch of a button on a 24/7/365 basis. If we are asked to investigate a topic, we turn to Google (Wikipedia is the weapon of choice for others). If we need raw market data, we are able to instantly access extended social networks and obtain immediate feedback. Most Millennials believe that virtually every scholarly or academic article ever written will be available to the instantly and without cost, we we certainly have little tolerance for claims of ownership or demands for rent.

There seems to be two viewpoints on this particular generational competency, which in turn present an interesting dilemma. On the one hand, Millennials seem to be blissfully unaware that most online sources rarely adhere to any standards of accuracy and validity. When a quick answer is readily available, most Millennials lack the motivation to seek a more nuanced one, and by failing to diligently follow a path of inquiry, they miss out on potential perspectives that would enable them to evaluate the analysis of others.

While it is true that, in most classrooms,  Millennials are taught to understand the difference between reliable, verifiable data and editorialized content, daily search-and-retrieve behaviors may be too ingrained to overcome.

On the other hand, us Millennials have developed unique abilities as fluent visual thinkers who are extraordinarily gifted at scanning and multi-tasking.

These two viewpoints about general competencies present a somewhat interesting dilemma. Our fast-paced business arena often requires immediacy, including the ability to efficiently retrieve and communicate concise, simplified information. Yet, the complexity of organizations and the environments in which they operate simply demands a more careful, informed framework for analysis and understanding. It seems like we are more focused on finding work that continually offers new challenges compared to young people in previous generations. Instead of a fancy title, prestige, and perks, Millennials want to do work that is meaningful- something that’s bigger than them.

And while we take our work and our careers very seriously, we are not willing to sacrifice quality of life for job success. We tend to seek a work-life balance that enables us to commit fully to meaningful work.

Competencies for Millennial Success

So how can organizations continue to not only attract but also retain this restless, ambitious new workforce? A competency-based approach to talent management can do wonders to help facilitate a shift towards a more Millennial-friendly culture. In the next section I briefly mention the important of three competencies: core competencies, job-specific competencies, and leadership competencies.

  1. Core Competencies:

One of the key Millennial attributes, highlighted in Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2015 report was the need to be part of something bigger than themselves. In a world where more than half of the workforce is inspired by a sense of a deeper mission, core competencies can be extremely transformative. Core qualities define the key values and strengths shared by the entire organization, and they become part of every employee’s job profile. Moreover, by showing how a particular job, at every level, helps make the organization great, core competencies help Millennials feel connected to the bigger picture.

2. Job-specific competencies

These competencies definitely have a role to play in engaging and retaining. Everything from skills, knowledge, abilities, to motivations, traits and behaviors required for specific jobs within the organization. A global PwC study concluded that career progression was a top priority among Millennials- ahead of compensation and any other consideration.

In practice, competency-based career development programs enable organizations to align job competencies with targeted learning opportunities, which in turn, enable Millennials to identify areas for improvement. Furthermore, competency-driven career development defines the competencies and proficiency levels for every job in the organization, identifying the training path required to achieve different competency levels. It is an approach that provides Millennials the tools they need to visualize their career options, making career progression a more transparent, accessible, and self-directed process.

Keep in mind that Millennials are picky in terms of learning resources. A way to further align career development with Millennial needs, is to make sure these learning resources reflect their technological preferences. It is widely known that Millennials prefer tech-driven aids over traditional, face-to-face learning. An example would be the self-paced e-learning, which offers flexible, unstructured engagements that enables Millennials to fit learning into their busy schedules.

3. Leadership competencies

Millennials have a different way of looking at leadership. Traditional markers of effective leadership include personal dynamism and powerful networks. According to a survey conducted by PwC, “visible” “well-networked”, and “technically skilled” leaders score low among Millennials. In contrast, qualities such as being “inspirational”, “personable”, and “visionary” were at the top of the list. It is therefore no wonder: Millennials tend to value the team over the individual and focus primarily on validation, recognition and support. The ideal type is thus a leader capable of bringing the organization together inject a sense of purpose, and acknowledging group efforts is the perfect fit for our value-driven and recognition-seeking generation. In this way, Millennials are most likely to gravitate towards leaders that are focused on people and purpose rather than profit maximization alone.

It is a done deal. Our workforce is changing, and the way we define leadership needs to change with it. Workplaces are filling up with high-potential, high-expectation Millennials who in turn bring an array of energy, enthusiasm, and ideas. However, without the right leadership to nurture and retain them, they won’t stay long.

On Why Millennial Moms Rock!

It is safe to say that millennials are often characterized as individuals who would rather stare at the screen of their smartphone than the person sitting across from them at the dinner table.

The term “millennial” is used to talk about the people born between 1980 and 2000s. Not only have we taken over the workforce, surpassing Generation Xers for the first time. According to an analysis of new US Census Bureau data, we are now also taking over as parents. The estimate is that roughly one in five moms is a millennial mom, and we now account for almost 90 percent of the 1.5 million new mothers within last year.

But fear not. All is not lost for future generations. In fact, most millennial moms claim they don’t want to raise their children the same way they were brought up. I too, second this motion. We feel like we want to be more involved than the baby boomers were, for whom  “parenting” wasn’t even a verb yet. However, we still want to hover a little less that those helicopter moms of Gen X (remember those days?).

Just like I believe in a sundry portfolio of social media accounts, I also try to employ aspects of many different child-raising philosophies (positive psychology, mindfulness, etc). We seemed to have found a good balance between the baby-wearing, organic-puree-making moms on the one hand, and free-range parents who don’t believe in boundaries on the other.

And that’s not even all. Millennial moms are becoming more well-known in the landscape of modern parenting, and definitely more powerful as well, since companies around the globe have already begun to market directly to them.

This is why I’d thought it would be nice to share some intriguing facts about the rise of the millennial mom. Especially dedicated to those parents in their late 20s and early 30s. You rock!

Fact nº1: We are seriously smart

More millennials have a university degree than any other generation of young adults, according to a study carried out last. All in all, good news, considering that women have pretty much outpaced men in earning bachelor’s degrees, it’s a given that today’s mommies are well-educated.

Fact nº2: We have been shaped by technology

Our generation as a whole has been defined by the fact that it came of age with the Internet (maybe not since we were babies, but definitely during our high school years). So it shouldn’t come as a shock that millennial moms are highly connected. Let me give you some figures published in a recent report. We use an average of 3.4 different accounts- namely Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, these are followed by LinkedIn and YouTube- and we spend an average of 17 hours a week with those networks. That would be four more hours each week than the average mom.

Fact nº3: We have followers  (Legit followers!!)

Yes you read that right. Many actually complain that millennials love to hear themselves speak, but for the most part, we actually have something meaningful to say. Roughly 90 percent of us share information about things we’ve bought and services we’ve used. Everything ranging from grocery store brands to health insurance plans and financial investments. And we don’t only have followers, we also have listeners. It’s a fact, us millennial mommies are quite popular, we are voicing our opinion and people are listening. That’s a lot of influence, don’t ya think?

Fact nº4: We don’t want to “be mom” all the time

“Me time” is quite the hot commodity for our generation of moms. In fact, 20 percent of millennial moms say they’d pay 15o euros a month to have someone help manage their busy lives and tackle the to-do list items that they’d rather not do. Not that this is my style of dealing with things, but I love it that many of us millennials are not afraid to say “I just want to be alone” without feeling guilty. It’s a great step forward. Call us entitled narcissists. We don’t care! 🙂

Fact nº5: We are surprisingly traditional

One could assume this new group of moms would be all about “wanting it and having it all” when it comes to that intangible work-life balance, and would have an equal share of responsibilities with their partners. However, millennial parents maintain a surprisingly traditional division of labor. There could be many reasons as to why this is. Perhaps following a wave of career-minded women who quit high-powered jobs to return to domestic life or simply because it’s still too difficult for women to return to work following a pregnancy. It remains a fact of life that this group of moms spends half as much time in paid work but twice what fathers do on childcare and household maintenance. However, a recent study by Young Invincibles showed that the inequity is shrinking compared to previous generations.

Fact nº6: We have it harder than our mom

Even though we belong to the most educated generation in history, our earning power has be rather stifled. This is mainly due to …bad timing. Many millennials entered the job market just as the economy plunged. For those working moms who started their careers during the recession, they earn up to nice percent less per year than those who didn’t. According to a recent report by Goldman Sachs, this inevitably means we have to do more with less time in our hands.

Fact nº7: We do things differently than our moms

So because we are always short on time, we’ve pretty much adopted different etiquette guidelines than those used in generations past. A recent BabyCenter study notes this group of women are twice as likely to communicate with their own parents via text and also twice as likely to send birthday party invitations online. However, they are 21 percent less likely to send a handwritten thank-you note in the postal mail. (I know I wouldn’t) 😉

Fact nº8: We find creative ways to captivate

Although millennial moms might have grown up entitled (yes that includes me), they prefer to engage with their communities in interesting ways, whether blogging about the highs and lows of being a millennial mom (ehuuum) or posting family-friendly recipes on popular cooking sites (guilty), or even opening an online shop to sell skin products, or even custom-made products. In fact, one in five moms, according to the same BabyCenter survey mentioned earlier, have started a blog with substantial followers, and more than half reported plans to start their own business. If that’s not progress I don’t know what is.

And there you have it. Eight different reasons why millennials are taking over the world. And it doesn’t stop here.

Let’s continue to share our wisdom, let’s continue to voice our thoughts. Because we are awesome…

On New Year’s Momsolutions

The year is almost over and it occurred to me that it is time to start thinking about my resolutions for the coming year. The “this year is going to be different” sentence will simply not cut it. I almost decided to skip this tradition altogether. This year is the perfect opportunity to make some “new” New Year’s resolutions. The general paradigm is that instead of making your life busier (than it already is) or pressuring yourself to be the perfect wife and mother (more pressure? Really?!), we should try to change our thinking patterns and simplify our lives with some easy resolutions for the coming year.

I opted for a top 5, which I’ll gladly share with you…

  1. I will create an easy daily routine that fits my lifestyle

Even though you’ve pulled it off till now you can always simplify life more. Even though you manage to get you children fed, dressed and ready for the day without necessarily having a routine, you may find the morning chaos leaves you quite unraveled and exhausted. Getting yourself and your kid(s) into an easy daily routine will not only simplify your life, but it will reduce stress, cut down arguments and more importantly it will leave you feeling better about yourself.

Let me set the stage for you with an easy example. Morning: make your bed, wipe down the bathroom (yes, I tend to do this after I’m done showering). Think about what you want to make for dinner and write it down. You can also take something out of the freezer in case it needs time to defrost. Evening: Get everyone’s clothes, shoes, etc. ready for the next day. Prepare lunches (yes! yours too!) Give the kid(s) a bath, brush teeth, and put them to bed, and make sure the kitchen is clean before bed time. Structure helps. A lot.

2. Get fit and healthy the easy way

If going to the gym is not your thing, don’t worry (it’s not mine either). Of course we would love to have more time to go to the gym or getting in a great workout at home. Well, if you want to do it differently this year let me give you an important piece of advice; start doing mini-workouts. Try to fit a mini-workout or two as often as you can. Some ideas include dancing with your kids (it’s a lot of fun, believe me), or a long walk after dinner. You could also do some mini strength training exercises with hand weights or using your own bod for resistance. Any kind of exercise helps you stay healthy, even if it’s only 15 minutes. You don’t have to make exercise a chore as such. The point is to fit some type of exercise into your daily routine and most importantly, keep it simple!

3. I will make better decisions with my money

One of the more typical resolutions: get out of debt. We are all working towards this goal. However, keep in mind that getting out of debt is a big goal and it isn’t something you can necessarily do quickly. You didn’t get into debt overnight so getting out of it may take a bit longer than you expected. This coming year, though, you can make some changes that will prevent you from diving deeper and at the same time help you start preparing for a better life in the future. This means that instead of focusing on getting out of debt the focal point should be not creating more debt.

4. I will stop over-scheduling

It happens to the best of us. Over-scheduling is often an epidemic among us super moms. In the midst of taking your kids to soccer or gymnastics, go to the parent-teacher meetings, or in my case dance classes, while juggling all the responsibilities that you have at your job, we tend to over-schedule. This is enough to piss you off and make you cranky. This is mainly because at the end of the day, you feel like nothing was accomplished. You didn’t have time to sit down all day, yet you got nothing done around the house, dinner was served out of a paper bag, and you barely had time to give your kid(s) some attention. Take this coming year to commit to spending more time with your family and say no to over-scheduling.

5. I will give myself more credit because I am an awesome mom

Let us not forget the most important resolution of all. We are our worst enemy. We are very critical of ourselves. We want to do everything, we have to have 4 hands instead of two. If it were possible we would even clone ourselves. It is time to start giving ourselves some slack. We are doing a great job! Our kids are doing great and are happy! Focus on finding what makes you happy (I mean besides the happiness of your kids of course). Finding happiness also includes you believing in yourself. Just remember this: you are doing great!


Happy 2016!
























On Being (Un)Happy and the Meaning of Life

What is happiness? How do you define it? Generally, happiness is defined as subjective prosperity. Happiness can be narrowly or widely focused. A person may experience happiness by finding their lost phone, or because the war is over, or simply happy to have a good life. Researchers have conceptualised and measured happiness in at least two different ways. One is affect balance, indicating having more pleasant than unpleasant emotional states, which is essentially a blend of how one feels at certain moments. The other, life satisfaction, refers to an integrative evaluative assessment of life as whole (Baumeister et al. 2013)

Now let’s talk about the semantics of meaning, because meaning can be a purely symbolic or a linguistic reality. We could therefore argue that the question of life’s meaning thus applies symbolic ideas to an organic reality. Meaningfulness becomes both a perceptive and an emotional assessment of whether one’s life has purpose and value. What I mean is that people may feel that life is meaningful if they find it steadily rewarding in some way, even if they cannot explain why.

According to Baumeister et al. (2013), the simpler form of happiness is rooted in nature. Us living creatures have biological needs, which mainly consist of things we must obtain from our environment in order to survive and reproduce. These basic motivations require us to pursue and enjoy these needs, resulting in satisfaction and thus positive feelings. However, negative feelings can arise when those needs are hindered. This will affect the balance depending to some degree on whether basic needs are being satisfied or not. We must keep in mind that us human beings are animals, therefore our happiness will largely depend on whether we are getting what we want and need.

So if happiness is natural, meaningfulness may then depend on culture. All known cultures use language to communicate. This enables them to use meanings and communicate them. Evaluating the meaningfulness of one’s life consequently uses culturally transmitted symbols (i.e. language) to appraise one’s life in terms of purpose, values, and other meanings that are primarily learned from culture. It’s safe to say that the meaning of life is more linked to one’s cultural identity than is happiness.

Meaningful thought allows people to think about past, present, and future. Therefore meaning can integrate events across time. One of the components of meaningfulness is purpose. Purpose implies that present events extract meaning from future ones. Thus a meaningful but not happy life could potentially mean working toward a future goal in a way that the future outcome is highly desirable, even though the present activities may be unpleasant (e.g., oppressed political activist).

We human beings are constantly evaluating happiness, Often, happiness in the form of life satisfaction may integrate the past into the present to some extent. Yet we constantly evaluate the past from the point of view of the present. We can probably argue at this point that many people would not report high life satisfaction based on the fact that they had a really good past, but are currently unhappy.

Baumeister (1991) noted that life is in constant change but yet always aiming at security. One could argue that meaning is a significant tool for inflicting safety on the inconstancy of life. Let’s take marriage as an example, the feelings and behaviours that two partners have toward each other will most likely very from day to day, but culturally endorsed meanings like marriage define the relationship as something constant and stable. Situations like these will unquestionably play a significant role when it comes to the meaningfulness of life.

Seeing that happiness is about having one’s needs satisfied, interpersonal relationships that benefit the self should improve happiness. Meaningfulness, on the other hand, may derive from making positive contributions to other people.

MacGregor & Little (1998) found that among humans, goal satisfaction generally brings positive feelings, and happiness has been linked to how successful people are at their different undertakings.

Among the variables used to measure happiness in their study, Baumeister et al. (2013) examined whether one’s needs were being satisfied by asking people if they considered their lives to be easy or difficult. Their results showed that finding one’s life to be relatively easy was associated with more happiness. In contrast, finding life difficult was associated with lower happiness. Surprisingly enough (or not), neither variable correlated significantly with meaning. Furthermore, considering life a struggle was negatively correlated with happiness but it did border on a significant positive relationship with meaningfulness. This, of course, goes hand in hand with what I talked about earlier, some people live highly meaningful but not exactly pleasant lives.

Then we have good health, a very basic and fairly universal desire. The variable of good health scored high and was thus a positive contributor to happiness, but it was not relevant to meaningfulness. In every day jargon this means that healthy and sick people can have equally meaningful lives, but the healthy people are happier than sick ones.

The results of the study also showed that the more often people felt good, the happier they were. The more often they felt bad the unhappier they were (2013: 7). These findings support the theory I talked about earlier about affect balance: Feeling good rather than bad was a consistent factor in predicting overall happiness.

One of the central hypotheses of the study was that happiness is about the present, but meaning is more about linking events across time, thereby integrating past, present and future. The more time people reported having devoted to thinking about the past and future, the more meaningful their lives were- and the less happy (2013: 8). The researchers asserted that, whereas meaning is found in connecting past and future, happiness may be mainly found in the present.

Another important hypothesis was to uncover the “parenthood paradox”., which is that most people want to be happy and want to become parents, but those goals are in conflict insofar as becoming a parent often reduces happiness (Twenge, Campbell, & Foster: 2003). Especially because parenthood requires devoting oneself to caring for the children (and thus downplaying oneself). The findings showed that for non-parents, taking care of children had no correlation to either happiness or meaningfulness, but for parents, the more time they spent taking care of children, the more meaningful their lives were. These findings go as far as to suggest that people will pursue meaningfulness even at the expense of happiness.

The study’s findings provided a statistical sketch of a life that is highly meaningful but relatively low on happiness, and vice versa. This helped to illuminate some key differences between happiness and meaningfulness. People who sacrifice their happiness in order to partake constructively in society may potentially make sizeable contributions. The findings portray the unhappy but meaningful life as a series of difficult projects. People who lead such lives spend much time thinking about past and future. They mostly do a lot of thinking, they imagine future events, and they reflect on past endeavours and challenges. High meaningfulness despite low happiness was associated with being a giver rather than a taker ( Baumeister et al. 2013: 15). These people were likely to say that taking care of children reflected them, as did buying gifts for others.

From the findings one can also depict the highly happy but relatively meaningless life. People with such lives seem quite carefree, lacking in worries and anxieties. On a personal level, they are the takers, and they give little thought to past and future. One could argue that these patterns suggest that happiness without meaning characterises a relatively shallow, or even self-absorbed life. Things generally go well, needs and desires are easily satisfied and difficult confrontations are usually avoided.

With the growing interest in positive psychology, it would be interesting to see more focus on understanding meaningfulness, especially what differentiates it from happiness. Clearly happiness is not all that people seek, and indeed one can assert that the meaningful but unhappy life is in some ways more admirable than the happy but meaningless one.

So there you have it. The notion that happiness is natural but meaning is cultural. The essence of happiness is still found in having needs and wants satisfied. On the one hand, the happy person arguably resembles an animal but with more complexity. On the other hand, meaningfulness is directly related with human activities, such as expressing oneself and letting the past and future play a central role in one’s present activities. It is, therefore, not the quest for happiness that makes us human, but the quest for meaning.

Food for thought.


Baumeister, R.F. (1991). Meanings of life. New York: Guilford Press.

MacGregor, I., & Little, B.R. (1998). Personal projects, happiness, and meaning: On doing well and being yourself. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 494-512.

Twenge, J.M., Campbell, W.K., & Foster, C.A. (2003). Parenthood and marital satisfaction: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 65, 574-583.

Picture courtesy of Disjointed Thinking.

The Appeal of Life Coaching

Life coaching became my hobby about a year ago. I was avid for information. I was going through a very difficult time in my life and I thought learning about life coaching would help me get back on track.

Many people ask themselves; what is life coaching? Is it another name for therapy? Do you talk to a psychologist or psychiatrist?

Let me set the stage here…

A life coach’s primary focus is identifying what you wish to achieve in the present and (near)future. My responsibility as a coach is to help people identify manageable goals and establish tasks you can undertake to achieve these goals. Us coaches love to use a combination of enquiry, diagrams and exercises, to recognise potential problem areas and figure out ways to overcome them.

Some people find the visual and active elements of the coaching process very constructive.

If you are a highly motivated individual and the problems you face are practical, business or career related, then coaching can be very beneficial.

Unfortunately, coaching can be limited in its ability to help you intercept more deep rooted problems. Coaching training does not cover the impact of our past history and for that reason, some coaches try to encourage clients past a problem by using active strategies, which are not always effective, may I add.

You’re probably wondering, why is not effective? Coaching mostly becomes inefficacious when the individual does not fully understand the value of a problematic habit. Instead, you tend to keep on doing things in a certain way, even if you don’t want to.

Where coaching comes to naught, counselling and psychotherapy can go that extra mile in order to help you understand, and get through the more stubborn, ingrained problems.

The three stepping stones in my life coaching process:

In a nutshell…

  1. Clarify your goals:

This is phase one. Through a range of questions and exercises I help you identify and clarify your proposed goals. These can be anything, ranging from building confidence, to creating your own business, changing careers, improving a relationship, etc.

2. Take a step forward:

In the second coaching phase I help you break down your goals into easy achievable steps. We will work together in setting tasks and exercises that will enable you to complete the necessary steps to reach your goals. I particularly like this coaching phase because it helps you establish a track record of success to stand on as you make progress.

3. Overcome blocks to progress

That feeling of being stuck and unable to overcome is all too familiar. The inability to overcome blocks to progress is the reason why people seek out a life coach. Here are some tips to lasting success:

  • For starters, know how to recognise your blocks. This means you’ll have to dig in and understand their root causes. As a coach I will teach you effective strategies to either remove them altogether or prevent them from getting in the way of what lies ahead. Coaches usually use a number of questions and techniques that can help identify blocks and adopt different strategies for dealing with them. Do keep in mind that coaches are generally not trained to help you fully understand and address the unshakable causes of problematic blocks. This could potentially mean that some issues can return in the future and you might feel powerless to deal with them successfully.

I want to help you become more successful in your life. I want to guide people to live their lives with more passion and less fear and anxiety.

So stay tuned for more articles on life coaching and leave your comments below…

A Race Against the Clock

Poor time management can be considered a weakness. You will hear it often enough during performance and appraisal interviews. Only it is not limited to work. It begins to take over other aspects of your life.

Here are a few tips that have really helped me:

  • We often complain about not having enough time. Rather than focusing on the little time we have, let’s try to thin about what you DO have time for. It does require a mind switch. Not complaining sounds easier said than done.
  • If you feel like you are procrastinating and this is making you feel rather frustrated and annoyed, simply ask yourself what the reason is for your procrastination. Are you scared of the task ahead? Is it maybe too difficult, too easy, or plain boring? Is it because you are tired? It amazes me how much energy and time we waste when putting things off.
  • Do a time review for one week and look at exactly where your time is going each day of the week both at the workplace and at home. Also investigate how you use your time on the weekends.
  • Ask yourself the following question: What constitutes time well spent to me? Write a list of 5 things. Review your list. How often have you done these things in a) the past month? b) the past year?
  • What do you think drains your time and energy the most? After this mental inventory has taken place try to set limits to the things that drain your time and energy. In that way, with the time you do have left, you will get more done in a more focused, efficient way.

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to take lengthy breaks away from work at the weekend, in the evening and on holiday in order to help you stay productive in the long term.

Last tip:

We regularly underestimate how long something will take us. Start timing yourself doing tasks that you think could potentially take less time to achieve.

Since we will soon be approaching the end of the year it is a good opportunity to point out that the end or the start of a new year is always a good time to look back at how you’ve spent your time in the past year. Looking at this should help you reflect on how you would like to spend your time the coming year. What changes will you make?


Image: http://www.iefimerida.gr/sites/default/files/imagecache/node_image660/time_travel.jpg