A marriage annulment is a legal ruling that deems a marriage null and void — as if it never happened in the first place. Annulments effectively erase the marriage.

There are two main ways to formally end a marriage: annulment and divorce. An annulment declares that a marriage was never valid, while a divorce legally concludes a valid marriage. A divorce is more common and easier to attain. Annulment requires specific circumstances and evidence.

Most people are fairly familiar with divorce, personally or observationally, so this blog focuses on annulment, both civil and religious.

“The Civil Wedding” (1887)
Albrecht Samuel Anker

Civil Annulment

Because an annulled marriage was never considered legally valid, any prenuptial agreements are also invalid. Plus, neither partner has a right to the other’s personal property or finances the way they would in the case of a divorce.

Getting the courts to grant an annulment can be difficult. At least one party must believe the marriage shouldn’t have happened, and they have to provide grounds to a judge in order to have it annulled. To qualify for an annulment of marriage, you must meet certain circumstances. The following situations typically qualify:

  • False pretenses: One or both parties were tricked into getting married.
  • Mental incompetence: One or both parties weren’t legally able to make the decision to get married because of a mental disability or being under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.
  • Underage marriage: One or both parties were under the legal age of consent (typically 18) at the time of the marriage.
  • Concealment: One or both parties failed to disclose important details about themselves and their lives prior to the marriage, like having a child, criminal conviction, or serious illness.
  • Failure to consummate the marriage: One or both parties are unable to be physically intimate in the marriage.
  • Concealed Infertility: One spouse might be physically incapable of having children, and that spouse might have lied about it to the other spouse. This would involve both fraud and lack of consummation.
  • Consanguinity: Incest is defined as a relationship between two blood relatives who would be banned from legal marriage in their state. This typically means more closely related than first cousins.
  • Bigamy happens when one person is already married at the time of marrying someone else.
  • Underage without parental consent: Lack of consent can happen when one spouse is too young to consent on his or her own behalf, and the other spouse did not get proper consent from the parents of the underage spouse.
  • Unsound mind: You may be able to show unsound mind if you or your spouse was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of your marriage. If you were prevented by intoxication or by a mental disorder from understanding what you were doing, you may be able to get an annulment.
  • Finally, a marriage can be annulled if one spouse threatened, blackmailed, or coerced the other spouse into marriage.

In an annulment where there are children, it’s as if the parents were never married. That means both parents can individually seek custody or work out an agreement for shared custody, much like they would if the child had been born to unmarried parents in the first place.

“Le Jugement de Salomon” (1649)
Nicolas Poussin

States’ Rights

Just as the requirements for marriage and divorce vary by state, so do some aspects of annulment. Someone interested in an annulment—whether for personal, family, or literary reasons—should investigate requirements of the relevant state.

Sometimes there are time limits on filing for an annulment. According to the Nathan Law Offices, in general, you have four years from the date of the marriage to file for an annulment. However, there are exceptions depending on the reason for the annulment.

And the time limit varies by state. For example, in Michigan, Virginia, and Ohio—and many others—the marriage may be annulled if a case is brought to court within two years of the marriage date.

However, there is no time frame to get an annulment in New York City. You can ask the Court for an annulment whether you have been married for 2 years or for 25 years as long as some of the grounds for annulment are met. Ditto Georgia, and several other states.

In Oklahoma a marriage that takes place before the expiration of six months from the date either spouse was divorced is a voidable marriage. In order to annul such a remarriage, an annulment action must be brought within the six-month period.

In North Carolina, the marriage can be annulled if it was performed under the representation that one of the parties was pregnant, but the couple separates within 45 days of their marriage and no child is born within the 10 months following the separation. Many states allow annulment on a much greater number of fraud-related grounds, but in North Carolina this is the only fraudulent ground available for an annulment.

“The Marriage Settlement” (1745)
William Hogarth


This is a totally separate action. People who don’t qualify for a civil annulment may still be able to obtain a religious annulment, but this will have no effect on legal responsibilities as spouses. This process is not a part of the court system but, rather, a part of the church or institution to which the person(s) belong. However, it serves a similar purpose in that a religious annulment of a marriage typically decrees that the marriage was invalid from the beginning.

Pope Francis I

In religious annulment, the Church recognizes that a valid marriage never existed under the laws of the Church. Although some other religious institutions provide annulments, the Catholic Church is by far the most commonly used. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll stick with Catholic annulments here.

In 2015, Pope Francis issued a motu proprio, which is essentially an amendment to existing Catholic canon. These two documents, the Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus and Mitis et Misericors Iesus (one for the Western Catholic Church and one for the Eastern Catholic Church), make the process of obtaining an annulment more efficient.

Without an annulment, a Catholic cannot remarry, even if they divorce. A divorced Catholic who remarries without obtaining an annulment cannot receive any other sacraments.

The short of it is that to obtain a Church annulment, the person seeking the annulment must satisfy the Church that one or more of the requirements for a valid marriage was missing or abridged. The long of it is—well—long. (These are quoted directly from the Vatican library of canon law online.)

  • Insufficient use of reason (Canon 1095, 10): You or your spouse did not know what was happening during the marriage ceremony because of insanity, mental illness, or a lack of consciousness.
  • Grave lack of discretionary judgment concerning essential matrimonial rights and duties (Canon 1095, 20): You or your spouse was affected by some serious circumstances or factors that made you unable to judge or evaluate either the decision to marry or the ability to create a true marital relationship.
  • Psychic-natured incapacity to assume marital obligations (Canon 1095, 30): You or your spouse, at the time of consent, was unable to fulfill the obligations of marriage because of a serious psychological disorder or other condition.
  • Ignorance about the nature of marriage (Canon 1096, sec. 1): You or your spouse did not know that marriage is a permanent relationship between a man and a woman ordered toward the procreation of offspring by means of some sexual cooperation.
  • Error of person (Canon 1097, sec. 1): You or your spouse intended to marry a specific individual who was not the individual with whom marriage was celebrated. (For example, mail order brides; otherwise, this rarely occurs in the United States.)
  • Error about a quality of a person (Canon 1097, sec. 2): You or your spouse intended to marry someone who either possessed or did not possess a certain quality, e.g., social status, marital status, education, religious conviction, freedom from disease, or arrest record. That quality must have been directly and principally intended.
  • Fraud (Canon 1098): You or your spouse was intentionally deceived about the presence or absence of a quality in the other. The reason for this deception was to obtain consent to marriage.
  • Total willful exclusion of marriage (Canon 1101, sec. 2): You or your spouse did not intend to contract marriage as the law of the Catholic Church understands marriage. Rather, the ceremony was observed solely as a means of obtaining something other than marriage itself, e.g., to obtain legal status in the country or to legitimize a child.
  • Willful exclusion of children (Canon 1101, sec. 2): You or your spouse married intending, either explicitly or implicitly, to deny the other’s right to sexual acts open to procreation.
  • Willful exclusion of marital fidelity (Canon 1101, 12): You or your spouse married intending, either explicitly or implicitly, not to remain faithful.
  • Willful exclusion of marital permanence (Canon 1101, sec. 2): You or your spouse married intending, either explicitly or implicitly, not to create a permanent relationship, retaining an option to divorce.
  • Future condition (Canon 1102, sec. 2): You or your spouse attached a future condition to your decision to marry, e.g., you will complete your education, your income will be at a certain level, you will remain in this area.
  • Past condition (Canon 1102, sec. 2): You or your spouse attached a past condition so your decision to marry and that condition did not exist; e.g., I will marry you provided that you have never been married before, I will marry you provided that you have graduated from college.
  • Present condition (Canon 1102, sec. 2): You or your spouse attached a present condition to your decision to marry and that condition did not exist, e.g., I will marry you provided you don’t have any debt.
  • Force (Canon 1103): You or your spouse married because of an external physical or moral force that you could not resist.
  • Fear (1103): You or your spouse chose to marry because of fear that was grave and inescapable and was caused by an outside source.
  • Error regarding marital unity that determined the will (1099): You or your spouse married believing that marriage was not necessarily an exclusive relationship.
  • Error regarding marital indissolubility that determined the will (Canon 1099): You or your spouse married believing that civil law had the power to dissolve marriage and that remarriage was acceptable after civil divorce.
  • Error regarding marital sacramental dignity that determined the will (Canon 1099): You and your spouse married believing that marriage is not a religious or sacred relationship but merely a civil contract or arrangement.
  • Lack of new consent during convalidation (Canons 1157,1160): After your civil marriage, you and your spouse participated in a Catholic ceremony and you or your spouse believed that (1) you were already married, (2) the Catholic ceremony was merely a blessing, and (3) the consent given during. the Catholic ceremony had no real effect.
One of the most famous “annullers” of all time—King Henry the VIII—created a new religion so he’d be allowed to marry all of these women.


Unless otherwise specified, there is no limit on the passage of time between marriage and annulment.

Glynn (Scotty) Wolfe, an American Baptist minister is known for having the largest number of monogamous marriages. He married 31 different times. One marriage was annulled.

A Catholic couple who obtain a divorce can subsequently apply for an annulment when one or both parties want to be members of the church in good standing and/or be remarried in the church.

If one member of a couple applies for an annulment, the other member has the option of agreeing, disagreeing, or (in the case of a couple previously divorced) simply not responding.

If each spouse/former spouse completes the fact-finding forms (done independently), their answers are compared and discrepancies resolved. This process can go on for months!

“Mariage de Louis de France, Duc de Bourgogne et de Marie-Adélaïde de Savoie” (1715)
Antoine Dieu

Bottom Line: Civil and religious annulments are two distinctly different actions and one cannot replace the other. Be clear about your rights and responsibilities, which vary by state in Civil annulments.


Virtually everyone has experienced the frustration and/or embarrassment of forgetting. And as people age, forgetting becomes more frequent, at which point the brain adds anxiety or fear to the mix. But is forgetting always a bad thing?

Necessary Forgetting

On the contrary, research indicates that forgetting might be necessary to our mental functioning.

According to Dr. Scott A. Small, professor of psychiatry and neurology at Columbia University, a “constellation of findings” indicates that sifting and discarding the vast amount of information the brain collects is a necessary function. It may even be as essential for survival as the gathering of useful knowledge. And some researchers (including Small) are exploring ways that not being able to forget might provide insights into dealing with psychological conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We were all taught forever, everyone, that forgetting is a passive breakdown of the memory mechanisms. The fundamental insight—the eureka, I think, of the new science of forgetting—is that our neurons are endowed with a completely separate set of mechanisms … that are dedicated to active forgetting.”

Dr. Scott A. Small
Director of Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Columbia University
Author of Forgetting: The Benefits of Not Remembering

Oliver Hardt, an assistant professor of psychology at McGill University says forgetting is “one of the most fundamental aspects of a memory system. Without forgetting, nothing would work.” You may notice that your hairdresser/barber is wearing a green plaid shirt, but remembering that long term would just (in my words!) junk up your brain.

Neuroscientists have discovered that it is actually a positive thing that we cannot remember every detail of every day. Dr. Andre Fenton, a neuroscientist at New York University, claims that would be potentially very distracting. For example, experiencing intruding memories could make it very difficult to focus during cognitive tasks like doing homework or deciding what to eat for dinner.

Beneficial Forgetting

As Ingrid Wickelgren wrote in Forgetting is Key to a Healthy Mind, being able to forget has ripple effects on personality. If you cannot shake negative memories, for example, you might fall easily into a bad mood. Although the inability to forget does not cause depression, research shows that depressed patients have difficulty putting aside dark thoughts. In other words, being able to forget negative, stressful, or traumatic events and information might be beneficial to our mental health.

More generally, according to the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry, “The ability to forget helps us prioritize, think better, make decisions, and be more creative. Normal forgetting, in balance with memory, gives us the mental flexibility to grasp abstract concepts from a morass of stored information, allowing us to see the forest through the trees.”

And this isn’t just a Columbia opinion!

Oliver Hardt is among the many scientists who suspect that this culling of nonessential memory is one of the key purposes of sleep. A good night’s sleep quite literally produces a clearer mind.

Why Do We Forget?

Poppies for Remembrance or Forgetting (depending on the source)

New research by Blake Richards and Paul Frankland indicates that being forgetful doesn’t mean you’re losing your marbles. In fact, it could mean that you are exceptionally intelligent. People with excellent long-term memories often forget details once they are no longer needed. On the other hand, people whose brains are not cluttered by memories of minutiae may be better at intelligent decision-making.

Both memory and forgetting are based on brain physiology/chemistry. The synaptic connection point between neurons is what makes a memory. For transient short-term memories, that change is temporary. The more a person revisits and repeats a memory, however, the stronger and more enduring that change becomes.

That may be good or bad!

Emotional memories are often difficult to forget because of the involvement of an area of the brain that plays an important role in controlling behaviors that are important to your survival, including feelings of fear. People with post-traumatic stress disorders may have an overgrowth of synaptic connections in the amygdala (the part of the brain that stores fear memories).

Dr. Sheena Josselyn, a senior scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children, and a professor of psychology and physiology at the University of Toronto, researches precisely how humans learn and remember. The purpose of memory, she says, “is not to allow us to sit back and say, ‘Oh, do you remember that time?’ It really is to help us make decisions.”

How to Forget?

Choosing to forget something might take more mental effort than trying to remember it, researchers at The University of Texas at Austin discovered. But given the results summarized above, it’s probably worth the effort. Unfortunately, the more emotionally charged a memory is, the more difficult it will be to forget.

Researchers are working to develop treatments to help patients deliberately forget targeted memories. Patients can use these “active forgetting” techniques, such as identifying and removing memory cues or consciously interrupting and shutting down memory recall, to weaken the hold of traumatic memories. However, like most medical treatment, this should be done under the supervision of a licensed professional.

According to Small, one of the best ways to help your brain forget things you’d like to forget is to stay social and engage with life. He theorizes that this might be one of the reasons why the Coronavirus pandemic has been so damaging to the world’s mental health. Quarantined and isolated people stayed indoors and brooded on painful memories rather interacting socially. As restrictions lift, try going out among people to make yourself forget!

Bottom Line: A consensus seems to be emerging that forgetting is both inevitable and valuable.


Not the air you breathe, not the water you drink, not asbestos in your house or lead based paint. I’m talking about toxic people in your life! As part of Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s talk a bit about how to recognize the toxic people in your life and what to do about them.

Toxic People

A toxic person is anyone whose behavior adds negativity and upset to your life. Lillian Glass first used the term in her 1995 book Toxic People: 10 Ways of Dealing With People Who Make You Miserable.

I’m not the first to recognize the threat toxic people pose to one’s well-being. Clinical psychologists and other counselors frequently see people struggling with toxic people in their lives. And there are a ton of self-help books out there.

In 2018 Oxford Dictionaries named “toxic” as its Word of the Year, citing a 45% increase in look-ups of the word and an expansion in the scope of its application.

Toxic people are more common than you may think.

Researchers suggest that toxic people represent possibly 5-10% of the population and maybe cause 95% of the damage to humans. Toxic friendships are all too common: 84% of women and 75% of men report having a toxic friend at some point.

A 2015 study suggests that, though men and women may display toxic personality traits differently, toxic personality shows up equally across the entire population.

Identifying Toxic People

Your own gut reaction to toxic people will likely warn you to limit interactions with them. From WebMD, here are some warning signs that you’re dealing with a toxic person:

  • You feel like you’re being manipulated into something you don’t want to do.
  • You’re constantly confused by the person’s behavior.
  • You feel like you deserve an apology that never comes.
  • You always have to defend yourself to this person.
  • You never feel fully comfortable around them.
  • You continually feel bad about yourself in their presence.
  • You consistently dread spending time in this person’s company.

Just like there are signs you’re around a toxic person because of how the person makes you feel, there are signs you might see in toxic people themselves that highlight their toxicity.

The most common signs include:

  • Toxic people are often controlling, wanting his/her way in matters large and small. They often say, “You should….”
  • They are unwilling to compromise, even on seemingly minor issues.
  • Toxic people are typically highly critical.
  • Their mood toward you seems to run hot and cold, i.e., they are inconsistent.
  • Their “wounded ego” constantly needs bolstering.
  • Toxic people are often narcissistic, focusing mostly on themselves.
  • They tend to exaggerate.
  • They are preoccupied with projecting an idealized image, whether that’s of a perfect family, a benevolent philanthropist, or simple physical attractiveness.
  • They have a negative attitude about other people and about life in general.
  • They often abuse alcohol or other substances.
  • They don’t respect the boundaries of others, sometimes physically, more often psychologically; i.e., making plans on others’ behalf, not keeping secrets, bringing up hurtful topics.
  • They expect others to “know” or guess what they need without actually asking for it (and then take offense when those needs are not met).
  • They’ll use non-toxic words but in a toxic tone of voice.
  • They will never admit to their own wrong-doing.
  • Through all their stories, they are always the victim.
  • They’re judgmental and not afraid to share.

So How Do These People Get into Your Life?

  • Friend by History:
    • This is a person whom you have known forever.
      • Maybe you went to elementary school together, or you were neighbors growing up.
    • Now you feel guilty ending the relationship.
  • Friend by Proximity:
    • This is a person who comes as a package with someone else in your life.
      • Maybe it’s your partner’s best friend, or your friend’s brother who always tags along, or your best friend’s childhood friend.
    • You feel guilty because you don’t want to put “your” person in an awkward situation.
  • Friend by Context:
    • This is a person who you see all the time in a specific area of your life
      • Someone you work with everyday, maybe someone on your flag football team or someone who lives across the hall, perhaps someone in your bridge group.
    • You feel guilty brushing them off because you see them all the dang time.

How Toxic People Negatively Impact You?

The negative effect toxic people can have on those around them goes both deep and far. And it’s not just personal: a toxic employee or manager can negatively impact their entire business.

  • As Babita Spinelli, L.P., J.D. explains, toxic people will find ways to blame you for everything, control you, suffocate you, and invalidate you, which can lead you to abandon yourself.
  • When a toxic person has a hold on you, you’ll find yourself accommodating them, making poor choices, and getting caught in drama. This all leads to an overall diminishing of self-esteem and self-worth, and even anxiety and depression, says Spinelli.
  • A more insidious effect of toxic people is that they’re energy vampires, meaning they seem to drain the very life out of people around them just with their presence. “They cause you a lot of distress that you may even justify because you can’t understand why it’s affecting you so badly,” Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy notes, adding that toxic people will often make you question your reality.
  • Children with toxic parents can develop a variety of mental traumas as they grow up, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, hypochondria, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorders.
  • Children surrounded by toxic adults may grow up to be toxic adults themselves.
  • Teachers with toxic personalities can harm students’ academic performance, interest in school, and self-esteem.
  • Toxic employees can cost a company revenue and hurt an organization’s reputation both with customers and within an industry.
  • Toxic bosses decrease employee productivity, increase employee absenteeism and turnover, and have an overall negative impact on the entire organization where they work.

Are You a Toxic Person?

Could you be a toxic person? Take this quick test from Truity:

It is simply a fact that I am smarter than the average person.


People who want to get close to me need to understand that I have strong emotions and that I must be true to myself.


Most people spend too much time and energy trying to achieve goals that don’t really matter.


Everyone lies—I’m just better at it than most.


The best way to avoid being disappointed is to expect the worst.


I often have to push people to do things in a way that meets my high standards.


I do not like to be treated like one of the crowd.


If any of this sounds like you, don’t despair! Most people do not have a permanent, entrenched personality disorder; they may be simply going through particularly toxic phases. The first step to fixing a problem is generally admitting that the problem exists. Deliberate efforts on your part to shift your perspective and your responses to those around you can help you break toxic patterns of behavior.

As Hannah Baer writes, “Research demonstrates that believing others have fixed traits which don’t change (including, say, “toxic” personality pathology) yields defensiveness, failure to listen, and failure to set boundaries (because what good can it do if they can’t change?).”

On the other hand, you might recognize someone you know in this quiz. Many times, people who are toxic are dealing with their own stresses and traumas. To do this, they act in ways that don’t present them in the best light and usually upset others along the way. Or maybe it’s just the alcohol! But you are not the therapist for such family members, friends, coworkers, neighbors… Attend to your own well-being first.

How to Deal with Toxic People

Paracelsus, a 16th century Swiss physician and philosopher, famously said, “Dosis sola facit venenum (Only the dose makes the poison).” Though his claim that poisons can cause harm only if ingested in a high enough concentration may not be entirely true for toxic chemicals, it is a good guiding principle when dealing with toxic people.

There is a chance that the person is not genuinely toxic and is just reacting to particularly high levels of stress in their own life. In this case, you might be able to bring their toxic behavior to light, leading them to change on their own.

  • Confront the person about the toxic behavior. This is best done in a calm, non-argumentative way. For example, “When you do/say X, I feel Y.”
  • In the case of someone you’ve known for a while, ask yourself if their behavior has always been problematic or if it has become more toxic over time. If the person has become more toxic, you may be able to have a discussion about what has changed, when it changed, and whether it might change back.
  • Discuss the negative behavior you’ve noticed, including specifics.
  • Often, a person displays toxic behavior in response to power imbalances in a relationship, such as a work supervisor or a parent. In such cases, addressing the unequal power in the relationship might remove the trigger for toxic behavior.

If you realize that you are unlikely to cause a genuinely toxic person to change their personality in any fundamental way, your best option may be to minimize your “dose” of exposure.

  • Set and enforce clear boundaries.
  • Spend as little time as possible with the person.
  • Change the subject when they bring up problematic conversation topics.
  • Limit conversation to relevant topics. For example, only talk to a toxic coworker about work-related topics. With a problematic bridge partner, only discuss future bridge games or strategies.
  • Leave yourself options for escaping bad encounters if necessary.
  • If your boundaries aren’t respected, follow through with concrete actions, including breaking off contact.

It may be best to break off all contact with a toxic person, preserving your own sanity and peace of mind.

  • Stop all meet-ups, phone calls, messages, social media connections, etc.
  • Avoid reminiscing about the “good times” or reliving painful memories.
  • Don’t give in to the urge to look them up online or ask mutual acquaintances about them.
  • Focus on personal healing and self-care.
  • Maintain healthy and supportive relationships with others.

Bottom Line: Purge your life of toxic people. You know who they are!


That pretty much sums up an optimist’s way of life. More formally, an optimist tends to be hopeful and confident about the future or the success of something. But is optimism truly a good thing? Or is it just for suckers?

Optimist optimism
“Optimist: Someone who figures that taking a step backward after taking a step forward is not a disaster, it’s a cha-cha.”
~ Robert Brault

I recently blogged about pessimism, and found that, indeed, entrepreneurial pessimists earn lots more money than optimistic ones. Pessimists tend to avoid risks, and in finances, that’s a good thing. Why? Because being overly optimistic can blind you to the costs and consequences of a situation. You can overestimate the benefits, and underestimate the costs. And you can make poor decisions because you fail to make an accurate assessment of the number and magnitude of the risks.

But Overall?

fortune cookie optimism

It turns out that optimism is a good thing. An optimistic attitude helps us be happier, more successful, and healthier. Optimism can protect against depression — even for people who are at risk for it. An optimistic outlook makes people more resistant to stress.

Research tells us that people who are optimistic are more committed to their goals, are more successful in achieving their goals, are more satisfied with their lives, and have better mental and physical health when compared to more pessimistic people. Optimistic people live longer.

The Bethany School in the UK published detailing The Benefits of Optimism:

1. Optimists feel healthier.

  • A 2013 study of 150,000 people in 142 countries found that optimists feel healthier overall. The research shows that, if people think the world is inherently good and things will generally turn out well, they will rate their personal sense of well-being higher.

2. Optimists are healthier.

  • Not only do optimists feel healthier, a study by the Harvard School of Public Heath shows that optimists really are healthier. They have fewer heart problems, better cholesterol readings, and (as another study found) lower levels of triglycerides in the blood.

“Lifestyle factors, such as regular exercise and healthy eating, accounted for less than a quarter of the optimism-lifespan association in the study, indicating that other factors may be at play.”
The Harvard Gazette

3. Optimists live longer.

Dalai Lama
“Choose to be optimistic; it feels better.”
~The 14th Dalai Lama
  • Those feelings of well-being and improved health outcomes carry over into longevity. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found that optimists tend to live, on average, 11% to 15% longer than cynics. People who expect to live longer wind up actually living longer!

4. Optimists are better at fighting illness.

  • Suzanne Segerstrom and Sandra Sephton demonstrated that students who received positive news were better able to fight off infection than students who were given negative news. Optimism may not miraculously cure cancer, but research shows that optimists are generally better at shrugging off illness and then recovering if they do get sick.

5. Optimists experience less stress.

  • Optimists tend not to bother too much about minor mishaps and — when they do — they don’t bother as much as pessimists. Researchers at Concordia University in Quebec found that people with optimistic outlooks produce less of the stress hormone cortisol when they are in stressful situations. In addition to regulating stress better than pessimists, optimists don’t subconsciously perceive as many situations to be stressful and worthy of releasing cortisol.

6. Optimists form better relationships.

  • Sanjay Srivastava at the University of Oregon found that optimists tend to have happier and longer intimate relationships. In a 2006 study, researchers found that optimists report receiving more support, encountering fewer incidences of conflict, and resolving conflict more quickly than pessimists. Even relationships between an optimist and a pessimist were happier and lasted longer than those between two pessimists.

7. Optimists enjoy working more.

8. Optimists get more job offers and promotions.

  • Optimists also have an better experience when they look for jobs. Research from Duke University shows that optimistic MBA graduates found jobs more quickly and with less effort than their pessimistic peers. Employees who expect good things to happen also earn higher starting salaries and receive more frequent promotions.

9. Optimists adapt better.

  • During times of change, optimists are better able to adapt to new circumstances. Incoming students at the Queensland University of Technology participated in a study showing that more optimistic students reported lower levels of stress, depression, and anxiety while transitioning from high school to university life. A study of students at three universities in Ghana found that participants who more successfully overcame obstacles also reported higher levels of optimism, among other factors. Another study in Ghana reported that optimistic students in an MBA course better adapted to changes later in their careers and displayed stronger leadership skills.

10. Optimists make better athletes.

  • The University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center ran an experiment on college-level varsity swim teams, adding several seconds when they told swimmers how well they had performed in timed trials. In subsequent swims, optimistic athletes responded to the negative feedback by performing even faster; pessimistic athletes swam more slowly than they had initially. In another study, collegiate soccer and basketball players who had an optimistic outlook performed significantly better even when losing than their more pessimistic teammates. Athletes of any age who display optimistic personality traits tend to be better at planning effective exercise strategies and experience lower rates of athletic burnout.

Surprise Benefits of Optimism

Happiness is a sign of high intelligence, research finds. People who are more satisfied with their life and their job score higher on tests of general mental ability.

Colin Powell
“To think in terms of either pessimism or optimism oversimplifies the truth. The problem is to see reality as it is.”
Thich Nhat Ha

And then there is attractiveness: research indicates that most people find optimists more socially attractive. However, people who were themselves optimists liked the other optimist even more. On the other hand, people who were pessimists were not quite as keen on the optimist, but still preferred them to the pessimist.

Optimism, as opposed to blind positivity, equips us to face our problems, recognizing the dangers and difficulties, which makes us much more likely to avoid them, and achieve a positive outcome.

So how do you spot an optimist? Jason Wachob, CEO of MindBodyGreen, and David Mezzapelle, author of Contagious Optimism, identify seven traits optimists share:

  • They Express Gratitude.
  • They Donate Their Time And Energy.
  • They’re Interested In Others.
  • They Surround Themselves With Upbeat People.
  • They Don’t Listen To Naysayers.
  • They Forgive Others.
  • They Smile.

“To be strong so that nothing can disturb your peace of mind, to be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own, to be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.”
The Optimist Creed
~Jake Fratangelo

Optimists are bred, not born. Although optimism almost always starts early, it is cultivated from childhood— usually the result of having positive relationships with optimistic parents. But, as in Pretty is as pretty does, you can cultivate your own optimism by adopting the habits listed above.

“Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.”
~Colin Powell

You might also join an Optimist Club. Founded in 1919, Optimist International connects 80,000 members across 20 countries in local Optimist Clubs. Their mission statement: “By providing hope and positive vision, Optimists bring out the best in youth, our communities and ourselves.”

Antonyms for optimistic include dejected, depressed, doubtful, gloomy, hopeless, pessimistic, and sorrowful—and who wants that?

Bottom Line: Curb your financial risk taking but choose optimism!


A pessimist tends to see the worst aspect of things, to believe that the worst will happen, often accompanied by a lack of hope or confidence in the future. Sometimes I think watching the news is enough to make anyone pessimistic—and the more we watch, the more hopeless everything seems!

But then, again, everyone is different.

A pessimist knows this to be true in their soul.

What’s So Bad About Pessimism? Let Us Count the Ways!

One article at BetterHelp discusses five ways pessimism can harm you—and here they are.

  • A Pessimistic Attitude Can Hurt Relationships. Pessimists often have a hard time trusting other people. They assume the worst in others, sometimes making unfair accusations. They usually expect a relationship to fail, so planning a future together seems pointless.
  • Pessimism Can Hurt Physical Health. The mind/body connection is well established in science. In the case of pessimists, their behaviors often don’t support good health. “For example, studies have found that pessimistic people are less likely to diet, exercise, or see a doctor when they need. They are also more likely to smoke.”
  • A Pessimistic Mentality Can Hurt Your Career. Pessimistic people are more likely to give up when they encounter a difficult situation at work, are less likely to learn valuable lessons from their mistakes at work, and are more likely to create unwanted workforce drama.
  • Pessimism Affects Self-Esteem And Confidence. It seems to me that the connection here is obvious and needs no elaboration.
  • Pessimism Is Harmful To Mental Health. Although, technically, it isn’t a mental health disorder, pessimistic thoughts can closely mimic symptoms of some disorders. Pessimistic thoughts and emotions—such as anxiety, worry, anger, rage, or depression—cause the pessimist to suffer.

A study published in 2020 found that people who are strongly pessimistic about the future are at greater risk of dying earlier than those who are not pessimists, on average two years earlier—but contrary to previous studies, being an optimist didn’t extend life expectancy.

Another study found that the most pessimistic people are 21.8 percent less happy than realists.

Symptoms of a Pessimist

Although not a mental illness, pessimism (having a generally negative view of life and the world around them) is a personality trait—that is, it endures. The following list of ways to determine whether you are a pessimist comes from VeryWellMind. Clearly, you can also use these “symptoms” to identify pessimists around you.

  • You feel surprised when things actually work out.
  • You don’t go after what you want because you think you will probably fail.
  • You tend to focus on what can go wrong in a situation.
  • You think that the risks almost always outweigh the benefits.
  • You experience imposter syndrome and undervalue your abilities.
  • You tend to concentrate on your flaws or weaknesses rather than your strengths.
  • You often feel annoyed by people who have an optimistic demeanor.
  • You often engage in negative self-talk.
  • You assume that all good things will eventually come to an end.
  • You find it easier to live with the status quo than change things for the better.

And bad news for smart people: intelligent people tend to be more aware of situational complexities and so are more likely to worry and/or be pessimistic. As philosopher Antonio Gramsci said, “I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.”

On the Other Hand: The Up Side of Pessimism

The pessimistic realization that not everything is moving in the right direction helps one rationalize the personal shortcomings we all have. Realizing that things outside one’s control could be the cause of problems is a comforting feeling, so people are attracted to it.

A true pessimist is never without a full hazmat suit.

Pessimists are often better prepared for tough times and may avoid risks that more optimistic thinkers might take.

Research has shown that pessimists tend to foresee obstacles more readily because they expect things to go wrong, meaning that they are more likely to plan for difficulties.

Pessimism can actually be a positive thing when it helps identify — or even anticipate — problems at work.

Also, being pessimistic can be helpful in that one won’t feel shocked when challenges arise; rather, they will be expected and can be prepared for.

A pessimist is a good choice for a leader when making financial forecasts in a challenging season. Any leader who has led through tough times will tell you the first step to stop the bleeding is by taking a worst-case scenario approach to budgeting.

One sort-of-related study found that while most successful entrepreneurs will call themselves optimists, optimistic entrepreneurs earn 30% less than pessimistic ones on average.

Defensive pessimism is considered a coping technique used by individuals who set low expectations for situations regardless of prior success. These negative expectations are used to alleviate anxiety about situations by motivating them to plan ways to avoid the chances of poor outcomes. Essentially, defensive pessimists expect and plan for the worst case scenario as a means to avoid it. And it works.

Advantages of Defensive Pessimism

  • Increased levels of self-esteem
  • More satisfaction
  • Better academic performance
  • More support
  • Better progress towards their goals

Optimism is considered by many to be the opposite of pessimism. And although there are some benefits to pessimism, I don’t recommend it as a life choice.

  • Optimists experience less distress than pessimists when dealing with difficulties in their lives.
  • Optimists suffer much less anxiety and depression.
  • Optimists adapt better to negative events (including coronary artery bypass surgery, breast cancer, abortion, bone marrow transplantation and AIDS).

(Watch this space for an upcoming blog on optimism!)

Bottom Line: Be aware of pessimistic tendencies and assess their helpfulness in a given situation.


Pretty much everyone talks. And pretty much everyone writes, whether it’s a novel, a report, or an email. Probably you have realized that one of the limitations of spellcheck is that it doesn’t notice missed words or stray extraneous words. Perhaps more problematic is that it doesn’t do away with word confusions.

Although you might get by with some of these in conversation, even verbally, a speaker misusing these words is like fingernails on a chalkboard! And word confusion calls into question the speaker/writer’s intelligence, education, and/or attention.

For each of the following word pairs, read the following sentences using each word correctly.

Spoken and Written Word Confusion

They may behave similarly, but they’re actually quite different on the inside!
  • Farther/Further (“farther” has “far” in it and only refers to distances)
    • Don’t go any farther—there’s a cliff ahead!
    • We’ll discuss this further at next month’s meeting.
  • Who/Whom (remember the M—if you can substitute “him” or “them” for the word in question, use “whom”)
    • Who is coming to the party tonight?
    • You gave the award to whom?
  • Anxious/Eager (anxious is akin to nervous, much less pleasant than eager)
    • I’m anxious about catching a cold before the concert.
    • My dog eagerly awaits breakfast every morning.
  • Between/Among (between distinguishes separate items; among refers to elements within a group)
    • The difference between an amateur and a professional musician might make your ears bleed.
    • The disease spread among the flowers and wiped out all the roses.
  • Bemuse/Amuse (to “bemuse” is to bewilder; to “amuse” is to entertain)
    • The conflicting signs completely bemused the lost tourist.
    • She can amuse herself for hours with a few crayons.
  • Sit/Set (to “sit” is an action of one’s body; to “set” is to act on an object)
    • The dog sits for treats.
    • I set the candle in the candle holder when I set the table for dinner.
  • Can/May (even the Oxford English Dictionary has admitted that, in informal settings, “can” is acceptable when asking permission, but technically/ formally “can” is a matter of ability while “may” is matter of permission)
    • The parrot can imitate the dog barking.
    • You may keep any fossils you may find in the sand.
  • Accept/Except (“except” has an X for all the things it excludes)
    • My landlord accepts pumpkin pie in lieu of rent every fall.
    • He liked everything about the shirt except the size, shape, cut, color, style, fabric, and price.
  • Affect/Effect (“affect” is a verb; “effect” is a noun)
    • The arrow affected the aardvark.
    • The effect was extraordinary.
  • Adverse/Averse (“adverse” is a modifier meaning negative, while “averse” is a feeling)
    • The medication had adverse side effects.
    • I’m not averse to a little risk with my pizza.
  • Elicit/Illicit (“elicit” is a verb; “illicit” is an adjective)
    • The professor tried to elicit some kind of response from the class.
    • The student’s illicit behavior resulted in his expulsion.
  • Advice/Advise (“advice” is a noun; “advise” is a verb)
    • My advice to you is to start drinking heavily. ~Animal House
    • I’ve advised my client not to answer that question, Your Honor.
  • Eminent/Imminent (“imminent” is very similar to “immediate”)
    • The eminent researcher commands respect in her field.
    • I’m afraid your demise is imminent.
  • Fewer/Less (“fewer” is a number; “less” is an amount)
    • My mother made fewer deviled eggs for last month’s potluck.
    • My father made less potato salad for this month’s potluck.
  • If/Whether (use “whether” when showing that two alternatives are possible)
    • If you leave the door open, the dog might run out.
    • Let me know whether or not you’re going to come next week.
  • Imply/Infer (Sherlock Holmes infers information from what clients imply)
    • My dog yawned, implying that she was tired.
    • I inferred that it was time for everyone to go to bed.
  • Nauseous/Nauseated (something “nauseous” causes a feeling of nausea)
    • I was so nauseous that no one would sit near me on the bus.
    • I felt nauseated after drinking a gallon of water in one sitting.
  • Morale/Moral (“morale” is a way of expressing enthusiasm, and it has an e)
    • Reducing working hours instantly raised staff morale.
    • The doctor recommended a treatment in keeping with her moral code.
  • Precede/Proceed (pre means before; pro means forward)
    • A loud rumbling noise preceded the earthquake.
    • Everyone, please proceed to the designated earthquake safety zones.
  • That/Which (if you can change the meaning of the sentence by removing the words that follow, use “that”)
    • Dogs that learn how to dance are always fun at parties.
    • Boxes of books, which can be very heavy, are not fun when moving house.

Triple Word Confusion

A triple threat!
  • Apt/Liable/Likely
    • “Apt” suggests that the subject has a natural tendency to the outcome
      • The cookies are apt to run out before the party even starts.
    • “Liable” has a negative connotation for the subject
      • He’s liable to fail the class if he shows up drunk for the final exam.
    • “Likely” is more neutral
      • They’re likely to be early for the appointment.
  • Lie/Lay/Lie
    • In the present tense, “lay” requires an object and “lie” does not
      • I lay the book on the table as I take off my shoes.
      • I lie on the sofa when I have a headache.
    • In the past tense, “lie” becomes “lay”
      • Last week, I had a headache, so I lay on the sofa all afternoon.
    • To tell an untruth is also to lie.
      • Father, I cannot tell a lie; I chopped down the cherry tree. ~George Washington (apocryphally)
  • Raise/Rear/Rise (determine what is being moved and who is doing the moving)
    • Use “rise” when the subject is lifting itself
      • My dog rises early every morning and loudly demands breakfast.
    • Use “raise” when one thing lifts another
      • If we all work together, we can raise this barn before the rain comes.
    • Use “rear” to mean caring for children
      • Often royal nannies rear the noble princes and princesses, rather than their parents.

Written Word Confusion

They might look similar, but they behave very differently!
Don’t mix them up!
  • Mantel/Mantle (“mantel” can only refer to the structure above a fireplace)
    • My grandmother has pictures of all her grand-dogs displayed on her mantel.
    • The storm last night left the lawn covered in a mantle of fresh snow.
  • Stationary/Stationery (“stationary” has an a because it is an adjective)
    • I ride my stationary bike every day, but I never seem to get anywhere.
    • The boss just ordered new stationery with the company logo on the letterhead.
  • Complement/Compliment (“complement” a thing to make it complete)
    • My doctor suggested I take a multivitamin to complement my prescriptions.
    • The teacher complimented the student on her lovely handwriting.
  • Principal/Principle (a principal is either an adjective or a pal)
    • Principal Trunchbull was the principal bully at Matilda’s school.
    • My dog has no principles; she’ll do anything for a treat.

Try your hand at creating the sentences. Check your sentences against a dictionary. Learn the differences. Even one misuse from this list is likely to elicit eye-rolls from at least some (more knowledgeable) people.

There are plenty of resources online to help you figure out which word you should be using in a given situation. One of my favorites in Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips. The Merriam Webster Dictionary and Cambridge Dictionary also have helpful guides to avoiding word confusion.

If you have pet peeves about word confusions, let me know!

Bottom line: Make sure you’re saying what you mean!


Besides the actual labor and costs involved, “taking care of” the out-of-doors can be harmful to the environment. Creating the beautiful, healthy gardens we love can have less than ideal side effects on the planet and on our own bodies.

Take Care of the Environment

Many tasks that were formerly done by hand, now performed with the help of machinery or strong chemicals, can cause long-term damage even as they make life easier in the short run.

Noise Pollution

Gas-powered lawn mowers range from 82 to 90 decibels. Weed whackers make 96 decibels of noise. Hedge trimmers can blast away at 103 decibels. Gas-powered leaf blowers make 80 to 92 decibels of racket.

Proper ear protection is nearly as important for safe operation as being able to reach the pedals

Here’s one specific example. More than 11 million gas powered leaf blowers (GLB) operate in the US. Most are powered by inefficient 2-stroke engines. According to a study by Erica Walker and Jamie L. Banks, noise from this equipment was found to exceed WHO outdoor daytime standards (55 dB) up to 800 feet away from the source. The ability of this sound to travel over long distances (because of strong low frequency components) suggests that GLB sound has wide ranging impact on surrounding communities. The noise is intolerable to some and many communities have enacted ordinances restricting their use.

Ear protectors can help save your hearing, but also consider your neighbors!

Better alternative: A lawn mower that mulches leaves and clippings, thus using a natural fertilizer to enrich the soil

Air Pollution

Small-motor, gasoline-powered equipment is a significant contributor to climate change. According to the EPA, off-road gasoline-powered equipment, such as lawn mowers and leaf blowers, emit approximately 242 million tons of pollutants annually, just as much as cars and homes.

Chemical fertilizers also create substantial amounts of air pollution. Only about half of the ammonia used to make nitrogen fertilizer contributes to crop growth, while the remaining ammonia is returned to the atmosphere as nitrogen gas, causing an increase in greenhouse gas and the eutrophication of rivers.

Better alternative: Electric or hand powered tools are quieter and create much less air pollution

Soil and Water Pollution

Fertilizers contain high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, which can lead to oxygen depletion, overgrowth of vegetation, and fish kills.

Excess nutrients can cause harmful algal blooms in freshwater systems, which not only disrupt wildlife but can also produce toxins harmful to humans.

Fertilizers can also leach through soil into groundwater, which is very harmful to the surrounding ponds, streams, rivers, and oceans.

Better alternative: Compost kitchen scraps and yard waste to fertilize plants naturally.

Pesticides and Herbicides

Is it best to live and let live?

Chemical herbicides and pesticides can contaminate soil, water, turf, and other vegetation. In addition to killing the targeted insects or weeds, they can be toxic to a host of other organisms including pets, birds, fish, beneficial insects, and non-target plants.

Better alternative: Pulling unwanted plants, creating physical barriers with mulch, or using less harmful alternatives such as vinegar or soap

Ecosystem Disruptors

Sometimes non-native or non-adaptive species in the garden can wreak havoc on the local ecosystem.

I recently wrote about invasive species that started out as garden ornaments, including kudzu and Japanese honeysuckle. Different growth patterns and the lack of local predators allow these plants to grow out of control in their new environments, often displacing native species.

Lush green lawns actually create what scientists call “ecological deserts.” Grass monocultures wear out soil nutrients quickly and provide nothing for local insects and other wildlife to eat. The lack of flowering plants contributes further to declining pollinator populations. Grass lawns also require more water than any other type of ground cover, a growing concern in many drought-prone regions.

Better alternative: Try local plant varieties that are already adapted to regional conditions or replacing grass with “pollinator lawns

Take Care of Your Physical Well-Being

Gardening requires physical exertion, including lots of bending, stooping, digging and carrying. The repeated gardening actions put strain on your back and joints like your knees. If you already have problems with pain or limited mobility, taking care of your garden can worsen those symptoms. Distribute the work rather than having marathon days or weekends. Also, some equipment can be helpful, such as stand-up weeders and kneeling benches.

Gardening can also seriously injure your skin. Fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides can cause skin irritation and even chemical burns. Without proper sun protection, gardeners run the risk of sunburns and sun stroke. Exposure to irritants in plants like rue, celery, geraniums, and daffodils can result in reactions ranging from rashes to serious illness.

Participating in lawn mower racing also greatly increases the dangers of injury from crashes or flips. Better wear a helmet!

BOTTOM LINE: Choose your tools and products carefully and use sparingly. Despite the negative impact gardening can have on the environment, with a little thought, and perhaps a little behavior change, gardening can truly benefit the earth.


Didn’t know that artichokes are members of the daisy family? Lots of people don’t. There are many surprises in this enormous plant family. It boasts 1,911 genera and over 32,913 species! But even so, so what?

Well, it’s National Garden Month, and it turns out that the daisy family—a.k.a., the Asteraceae family and the Sunflower family—has gardeners covered for both food and beauty.

Daisy chain

Note: The lists that follow are illustrative, not exhaustive!

Delicious Daisies

Have you had your daisy today? Dandelion greens? Probably not. Perfectly edible, they were introduced into the New World by European immigrants in the 1700s as a food source.

Artichokes are surprisingly pretty in the garden

Today, not so much. But what about the following?

  • Lettuce (various varieties, cultivated for the last 5,000 years)
  • Endive
  • Chicory
  • Artichokes
  • Jerusalem artichoke (a.k.a. sunchoke, sunroot, earth apple)
  • Sunflowers
  • Safflower
  • Tarragon
  • Salsify
  • Stevia
  • Camomile
  • Sage
  • Absinthium

Medicinal Daisies

Chamomile being harvested for tea

People use daisies to make all sort of medicines: antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, diuretic, wound healing, and more. According to the World Health Organization, over 80% of the world’s population depend on traditional and folk medicine. Agata Rolnik and Beata Olas have written a fascinating study of the many ways plants in the daisy family can protect human health. Some daisies frequently used for health purposes include the following:

  • Wormwood
  • Camomile
  • Dandelion
  • Yarrow
  • Tansy
  • Milk thistle
  • Echinacea

Beautiful Daisies


Though plants in the daisy family are often also edible or medicinal, many people know them primarily for their beauty, for example daisies, dahlias, and coreopsis. But also including:

  • Gerbera daisies
  • Shasta daisy
  • Asters
  • Calendula
  • Zinnia
  • Chrysanthemum (also has insecticidal properties)
  • Marigold (a.k.a. German stinkblumen)
  • Carnation
  • Coreopsis
  • Brown/black eyed daisies

Commercially Important Daisies

French Marigold
French Marigold

A wide array of plants in the daisy family are grown for commercial use. They’re everywhere, including food crops, cooking oils, sweetening agents, coffee substitutes, and herbal teas, as well as all the members of the asteraceae family that florists rely on. One that surprised me is the French marigold, used in commercial poultry feed and produces oils used in colas and the cigarette industry.

  • Common marigolds – insect repellent
  • Chrysanthemum – produces insecticides
  • Guayule – hypoallergenic latex

Daisies for Beekeepers

Red Sunflower
Daisy Family
Red Sunflower

Colorful, fragrant daisies attract all manner o pollinators, particularly bees. Beekeepers often plant members of the asteraceae family to keep their bees happy.

  • Sunflowers
  • Knapweed
  • Some species of goldenrod (for an especially high protein pollen)

Daisy Black Sheep


Not every variety of the daisy family finds a warm welcome, for various reasons.

  • Dandelions, as a robust weed and cause of contact dermatitis
  • Ragweed causes so-called hay fever
  • Ox-eye daisy, causes both contact and inhalant allergy
  • Any-pollen heavy plant can aggravate rhinitis for allergy sufferers


Mutant Daisies
Some daisies are just weird.

Daisies are old: they were first described in 1740. But the oldest known fossils are pollen grains dated to c. 76-66 million years ago. The family is huge: 1911 genera and at least 32,913 named species. It is arguably the largest plant family, possibly rivaled by orchids. Both families are too big to count. They’re everywhere, on every continent except Antarctica. I’ve focused on flowers and herbs, but it also includes shrubs, vines, and trees.

Bottom line: Whatever the garden needs, consider the Daisy family!


April is National Garden Month, packed with garden tours and garden shows, and it’s almost all about flowers. But 35% of U.S. households grow vegetables, fruits and, “other food”—whatever other might mean. I was pleased to find these great garden statistics at Ruby Home and Cooped Up Life. (Please note: garden plants can be poison!)

Who Gardens?

  • Gardening by Gender:
    • Male 52.5%
    • Female 47.5%
  • Gardening by Age: More than half of all gardeners are under forty-five.
    • Ages 29-34 (millennials) – 29%
    • Ages 35-44 – 35%
    • Other – 36%
  • Gardening by Marital Status: Married people are by far more likely to garden.
    • Married – 71.6%
    • Single – 11.6%
    • Widowed – 6.8%
    • Divorced – 5.6%
    • Other – 4.5%
  • Gardening by Income: The 2021 national median annual income was $79.9K, but here’s the breakdown among gardeners.
    • $100K and higher – 34.1%
    • $75-$99K – 20.5%
    • $50-$74K – 2.6%
    • $25-$49K – 17.1%
    • $25K and lower – 5.8%
    • (And I don’t know why the total is less than 100%!)
  • Gardening by Education Level:
    • I was surprised that 79% of people who garden attended college or are college graduates.
Balcony Garden
  • Gardening by Dwelling:
    • 91% of people who garden live in a single-family dwelling and garden in their backyards
    • 2 million (5%) – grow food at neighbors, family or friends
    • Some homeowners as well as apartment dwellers—1 million (3%) – grow food in a community garden, aka urban farms.

Only 1% grow food at other (unknown) locations. That 1% is still significant. Condominium or apartment owners and renters often grow herbs indoors, on window sills or with the help of grow lights. Plants grown in containers or hanging pots on patio or balcony, and rooftop gardening are becoming more popular options.

Terraced Roof Garden, Fukuoka, Japan

Why Garden?

Overall, 55% of U.S. households (71.5 million households) garden. Of those who garden, 55% garden primarily to create a beautiful space, and 43% garden primarily to grow food.

Growing Activity Percent of Gardeners
Flowers 72.90%
Vegetables 51.40%
House plants 47.00%
Shrubs 43.70%
Ornamental/perennials 38.20%
Fruit trees 18.80%

Clearly, gardeners often garden in more than one way! But growing food (fruits, vegetables, berries, and others) has been the fastest-growing gardening category in the past five years.

According to the National Gardening Association, 35% of U.S. households, or 42 million households total, grew vegetables, fruits, and other foods in 2021, an increase of 6 million from five years prior. Having 1 in every 3 American households growing food is a massive 200% increase since 2008. Most of the growth came from millennials and families with children.

The average U.S. garden is 600 sq.ft. but the median garden is 96 square feet (12 feet X 8 feet). In other words, 50% of the U.S. gardens are 96 square feet or smaller.

Garden Size Hours/WeekPeople Fed/Year
100-199 sq.ft.0.5-1 hr1 person
200-399 sq.ft.1-2 hrs1-4 people
400-799 sq.ft.3-5 hrs2-6 people
800-1499 sq.ft.4-6 hrs4-8 people
1,500-2,000 sq.ft.6-8 hrs6-10 people

Community Gardens

Kaylin Mrbral grows produce with StreetScapes, an organization in South Africa that creates urban gardens as a method of creating work for those living on the streets, providing food for people facing food insecurity, and beautifying the urban landscape.

Humans have worked together as communities to grow food since our very early ancestors first started experimenting with agriculture. People in small groups grazed animals or raised food plants on communally-held land. Even when humans began to divide up land and consider property to be a privately-held commodity, groups of people still worked together to perform tasks that were very labor intensive or time-sensitive, such as harvesting crops.

Community Garden in South Beach, Miami

In the US, community gardens started to regain popularity in the 18th century. Moravians created a community garden for Bethabara, Winston-Salem, in North Carolina to encourage families to come together and grow their crops on shared land. Since 2012, the number of community gardens has increased 44%. Today there are 29,000 community gardens in the 100 largest U.S. cities.

Community gardens play an important role in addressing food insecurity and food deserts in urban areas. According to the USDA, approximately 13.5 million people in the US live in an area with little to no access to grocery story or supermarket; some researchers put the estimate as high as 19 million. In such areas, community gardens provide residents with critical access to fresh produce as well as simply having more food in general.

School Garden

Community gardens in schools or on school grounds provide even more benefits. In addition to improving students’ diets and the quality of school lunches, these gardens provide students with hands-on lessons about biology, plant life cycles, nutrition, and patience. Children who garden regularly come into contact with beneficial soil microbes that improve their immune systems. They also practice self-regulation, experimental mindsets, empathy, and observational skills. When students grow food in a school garden, research suggests that the entire neighborhood benefits from cross-generational learning, community involvement, and better health.

Why Grow Food?

Because the average garden produces $600 worth of food, and the average return on investment is enormous: it was 757% in 2021. Even a small food garden of 100-200 sq.ft. can feed one person year-round.

Within the food category, growing vegetables was the most popular trend. And what are the most popular vegetable to grower?

Vegetables by Percentage of Gardens
  • Tomatoes 86%
  • Cucumbers 47%
  • Sweet peppers 46%
  • Beans 39%
  • Carrots 34%
  • Summer squash 32%
  • Onions 32%
  • Hot peppers 31%
  • Lettuce 28%
  • Peas 24%

Food gardening is pretty evenly distributed across regions of the U.S. This somewhat even distribution per region demonstrates people’s willingness to garden no matter where they are – in Florida, where the growing season is year-round, or New York, where gardening is limited to just five months a year due to the weather conditions.

  • South 29%
  • Midwest 26%
  • West 23%
  • Northeast 22%
Sustainable Gardening Instruction at the University of Hawaii

Other Benefits of Gardening

But what if you don’t need to garden to put food on the table?

Of the entire U.S. population who grow vegetables, 25% do so because it tastes better, and they prefer their products to be as fresh as possible. A lot of produce has a higher nutrituonal content when eaten shortly after being harvested than when it sits in transit and on store shelves for days or weeks before being eaten.

And if you are fine with supermarket taste and freshness? Do it for your health and well-being! As an exercise, gardening is comparable to biking, walking, or jogging. Gardening activities, such as pulling weeds, strengthen cardiovascular health and increase muscle tone and dexterity.

Additionally, multiple scientific studies linked gardening to emotional well-being and an increased sense of accomplishment and happiness. Here are some of the key findings from research studies by UNC Health and Princeton University:

  • Gardening fosters self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment.
  • Gardening relieves stress, anxiety, and depression.
  • Gardening increases the level of vitamin D, vital for the normal functioning of the immune system.
  • Gardening increases the level of serotonin, a brain chemical responsible for the feeling of happiness.
During WWII, many Americans grew food in Victory Gardens as part of the war effort.

Gardens of any sort are good for the environment! Plants act as highly effective air cleaners, absorbing carbon dioxide, plus many air pollutants, while releasing clean oxygen and fragrance. Also, a dense cover of plants and mulch holds soil in place, reducing erosion and keeping sediment out of streams, storm drains, and roads. Gardens create an ecosystem for birds and insects. Increasingly, gardeners choose plants and locations with an eye to incorporating native species, attracting pollinators, or reducing watering cost.

Bottom line: Gardening is good for what ails you—and if nothing is ailing you, it’s good for you anyway!

Claude Monet in the garden at Giverny, an inspiration for many of his paintings.


Overall, husbands in heterosexual marriages tend to be older, taller, better educated, and financially better off than their wives. This is the mating gradient: in mate selection, women marry up and men marry down. This pattern is socially and culturally approved to such an extent that often this configuration is perceived as what mates “should” be.

Anti-suffragist political cartoons often played on this perception by depicting caricatures of female voters who were physically larger and more prosperous than their husbands.

What Women (and Men) Want

Sometimes it helps to lower expectations

Traditionally, members of couples are similar in age, race, class, appearance, and education. But within that common background, men tend to marry women slightly below themselves, per the marriage gradient discussed above. To determine the extent to which students were comfortable with unequal relationships, and with traditional and untraditional inequalities, 277 predominantly white, middle and upper middle class students (140 male, 137 female), between the ages of 18-23, completed an attitude questionnaire. Two hypothetical situations were presented, one in which the “spouse” was older, taller, more intelligent and richer, and a second scenario in which the “spouse” was younger, shorter, less intelligent, etc. Students rated their degree of comfort with each hypothetical spouse on a Likert-type scale and then explained their ratings. An analysis of the results showed that students were most comfortable with the traditional inequalities of the mating gradient. College men wanted women who were shorter and better looking than themselves; however, they also wanted similarity in earnings, intelligence, age, and education. Women wanted spouses who earned more, were older, better educated, and taller. (V. P. Makosky and B. K. Sholley, 1983)

When I conducted that research forty years ago, I thought that the mating gradient would be less powerful than it had been in the 1950s—but it wasn’t. And as best I can determine, it’s alive and well today.

Some maintain that the mating gradient is derived from biology: men are attracted to women who can bear their children, and women are attracted to men who can provide for them and their children.

Historically, the husband’s status determined the family’s status. And family wealth often passed to male heirs. Primogeniture laws in England required that noble titles (and sometimes estates) could only pass to male heirs, a state of affairs that caused great consternation for the Bennet sisters in Pride and Prejudice.

The growing popularity of online dating has reflected the continuation of these trends. Researchers have demonstrated that, although everyone (53% of US respondents and 44% of British respondents) seems to lie on the their dating profiles, men and women lie about different things. Women often list their age as younger, often going so far as to post heavily manipulated photos or photos of themselves when they were younger. Men are more likely to present themselves as taller, better educated, and wealthier than reality. Everyone lies about their weight or level of physical fitness.

Effects on Women

So, it may seem that women gain greater benefits from marriage than men do. But do they really?

An article in a 1938 issue of Parade offered women tips for convincing a man to propose marriage, mostly centered around being meek and mysterious.

This prescribed pattern for husbands and wives carries profound implications at a societal level. For example, higher status females have difficultly finding males of even higher status and lower status males have difficulty finding females of even lower status, as deemed suitable by the mating gradient. Times are changing, but it is still the case that the “best” women at the top of the gradient are likely to produce fewer children.

The actor Leonardo DiCaprio is notorious (and widely mocked) for dating women increasingly younger than himself. Perhaps the availability index no longer applies to multi-millionaire movie stars.
(image by Sarah Lerner)

Although changes in fertility and in mortality are contributing factors, the ubiquitous norm that husbands should be older than their wives is paramount. This mating gradient is the most significant determinant of the competition for mates as it is experienced by older unmarried women compared with older unmarried men. Some app creators have capitalized on this state by marketing online dating apps specifically tailored to older people.

Jean E. Veevers created “availability indices” to estimate the number of unmarried persons of the opposite sex potentially available for every 100 unmarried persons. For men, availability indices are low in the 20s, and they increase with advancing age to about one-to-one in their 50s. For women, access to potential grooms is highest in the 20s and decreases with advancing age until, in their 50s, there are only 50 potential grooms per 100 unmarried women. (The “Real” Marriage Squeeze: Mate Selection, Mortality, and the Mating Gradient, Jean E. Veevers, University of Victoria.)

Effects on Society

Where does ketchup fall on the mating gradient?

Consider the implications for women’s mental health of always being the lesser partner. Who makes decisions for the family? Whose job/work/profession takes precedence? Who has the power? At least historically, some states had laws concerning the right of domicile, such that if a wife refused to relocate with her husband, he could divorce her on grounds of desertion.

Consider the implications for men. How can a man respect his wife? Can he trust her to problem solve? To handle finances, car repair, etc., as he ages? What happens to that dynamic in the face of developing illness or disability?

Women have a significantly higher frequency of depression and anxiety in adulthood, while men have a higher prevalence of substance use disorders and antisocial behaviors. In my opinion, the roles that accompany the mating gradient contribute to these mental heath issues.

Women are more likely to internalize emotions, which typically results in withdrawal, loneliness, and depression. Men are more likely to externalize emotions, leading to aggressive, impulsive, coercive, and non-compliant behavior.

Gender inequality has a significant impact on mental health for men and women. Women and persons of marginalized genders exhibit higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Bottom Line: In my opinion, each partner should be “superior” on some but not all of the mating gradient factors.