I think the best of people, always—until proven wrong. Maybe that’s why I believe that virtually all rudeness is unintended. If I’m right, why do so many people, so often, behave rudely?

Rudeness can take many forms. It is generally defined as a display of disrespect, a breaking of social norms or expectations, a breach of etiquette, or ignoring “accepted” behavior. It can also mean someone behaving inconsiderately or aggressively.

People are not always aware of how their words or actions are perceived by others, and they may not intend to be rude.


As with any other behavior, there are two dimensions to rudeness: intentional or unintentional, acts of omission and commission. In this blog, I’m dealing with unintentional acts of commission or omission.

By that I mean unintentional rudeness caused by something you did and rudeness resulting from something you failed to do. Either way, you didn’t mean to offend anyone, but offend them you did. It’s the perception of the other person that determines whether a statement or action is rude.


People like to feel that they matter. When they tell a story, or have a conversation, they like to feel that you care about it, and you’re interested in it. Most offense comes when you don’t show interest in their lives, or don’t show interest in what they’re saying.

Some conversation partners make it abundantly clear when they’re not interested.
  • Interrupting in the middle of their stories
  • Showing visible signs of boredom or distraction
  • Abruptly changing the subject
  • Finishing someone else’s story when talking to a third person
  • Making a joke or interjecting your own comments
  • Finishing someone else’s sentences
  • Otherwise drawing attention to yourself and away from the speaker
  • Walking away while the other person is still talking
  • Scanning the room when you are supposed to be listening
  • Checking your cell phone or smart watch (no matter how surreptitious you think you’re being)
  • Actually taking a call when you are supposed to be playing bridge, participating in a book discussion, or whatever

Then there are occasions when you are rude by inattention, like getting into a checkout line without noticing that someone else was in line a step or two back.

Rudeness may be the lesser offense in some situations.

Perhaps you’ve taken a seat where someone else was sitting when that person intended to resume the seat.

Consider a time when you had a cold, allergies, or similar symptoms. You coughed, sneezed, etc. You may have wanted to be friendly by shaking hands when leaving, but offering a germy hand is actually rude.

Avoid Being Rude by Commission

Many people behave these ways. To avoid being seen as rude, at least act like you care. Listen to people. Let them speak. Act like you care about what they’re saying. Give them positive feedback, like a smile, or nodding your head. This may seem fake, but it is social intelligence, which separates popular people from unpopular people. Popular people often understand how to make other people feel good, and most of all, they care enough to do it


Just because you didn’t intend to cause a car accident doesn’t mean you won’t be hit.

Your cell phone rings at an inappropriate time—e.g., during a play, concert, lecture, because you failed to turn it off. You didn’t intend to be disruptive, but unintentional rudeness is still rudeness. And, unfortunately, it is very easy to commit.

Not responding promptly to an e-mail, text, or voice message. This kind of passivity is rude! (Note: promptness is a social construct and can vary widely. See below.)

Not responding/acknowledging what you consider a distant event but others see otherwise. For example, not sending a card (or check) when your sister’s stepdaughter’s stepson graduates from high school.

Not sending holiday greetings.

Not welcoming/admiring someone’s pet or plant, art or outfit, or the arrival of his/her twelfth great-grandchild.

Avoid Being Rude by Omission

It helps to signal that you’re actively listening: make eye contact, ignore distractions, maintain alert posture, keep ears up, wag tail…

The secret to not being rude by omission again lies in making other people feel like they matter. This can often be as simple as paying attention to what others see as important. If a friend mentions their pet lizard frequently, constantly sends photos of their garden, or voices worries about an upcoming medical appointment, they probably see those things as fairly significant. Acknowledging or asking about something subjectively important goes a long way toward establishing yourself as a polite person.

If someone sends you holiday greetings, send a message in response. If someone has done you a favor, thank them. Keep in mind that, if someone has to remind you about a message they sent or question they asked, perhaps they’re sending you a gentle message that they’d prefer more prompt responses from you.


Invading personal space may not be a choice.

Many things beyond our control can cause us to be rude unintentionally.

  • Mental health issues, such as anxiety
  • Substance use/abuse
  • Low self-esteem or insecurity
  • Lack of social skills
  • Being distracted because of:
    • Stress
    • Pressure
    • Frustration
    • Any source of unhappiness
  • Physical limitations such as low-vision or deafness
  • Not considering or understanding the impact of one’s words or behavior, including tone of voice, facial expression, and other such paraverbal “language.”


It may be perfectly fine to smoke somewhere else.

There can be cultural differences to consider as well. For example, in Japan, something as seemingly innocent as laughing with your mouth open is a no-no. In many areas of the Middle East, showing someone the soles of your feet is an insult. So, it’s important to be aware of these possibilities, especially if you are in a culturally diverse situation or setting.

And then there are sub-cultural differences. For example, among ladies of a certain age and upbringing, not sending hand-written thank-you notes is rude. But among teens or college students, a text saying “Thanks a bunch” is likely considered acceptable and sufficient.

Other behaviors particularly prone to sub-cultural differences or expectations include:

Sometimes, rudeness is just a matter of translation.
  • Arriving late, and how late
  • Cursing
  • Slurping food
  • Wearing clothes that are inappropriate or offensive
  • Taking a call
  • Expressing religious or political opinions
  • Talking about finances
  • Interrupting
  • Directly criticizing someone else’s appearance
  • Finishing or not finishing food on your plate
  • Accepting or not accepting displays of hospitality
  • Talking about health/illness
  • Smoking
  • Talking about people who aren’t present

The best way to avoid being unintentionally rude is observing the current situation and picking up on social cues.


When trying to decrease rudeness around you, start by being a good role model. Don’t ignore it, because it won’t go away. Deal directly (but privately) with the culprit, perhaps by asking what the person intended; then follow-up with “When you xxx, it makes others feel yyy.”

When in doubt, it’s always best to hire a sky-writer.

Whether to apologize after realizing you’ve been rude is a personal decision. Depending on the seriousness of the offense, the relationship,

  • You can try moving on, ignoring the offense but making efforts not to repeat it.
  • You may need to acknowledge the offense with a simple, “Sorry; I’ll try to do better in the future.”
  • For a more serious offense, you may need to offer a written mea culpa, with or without a peace token.

However, if you’re dealing with petty people, people who take offense just for the sake of being offended, don’t reward that behavior!


Stop hanging out with bad influences.

If you frequently feel you’ve been rude—or people have told you you are—and it is truly unintentional, consider whether there is a pattern to your rudeness.

  • Does it typically happen around particular people or family members?
  • Are particular topics the trigger?
  • Is it job related?
  • Have you had enough sleep?
  • Are you rude when you already feel angry or hungry or irritable?

Finding patterns may help you find a root cause and deal with it.

In addition, my advice would be to be present. Pay attention to people and what they are saying. Look for social or situational cues. Avoid simultaneously trying to solve some other problem on your mind.

Finally, assume other peoples’ rudeness is unintentional and don’t take offense if you can manage that.


Just because it’s funny doesn’t mean it’s not also rude.

This isn’t something I’ve taken up here. But in my opinion, those behaviors might better go by a different name. “Rudeness” can be a way to display power within a family, social or work setting. Or it could be an attempt to get your own way on something. Or maybe you could be trying simply to provoke a reaction.

This is closely related to bullying.

Then there is “mean” behavior which aims to hurt or deprecate someone.

Alternatively, being deliberately offensive can be a way of discouraging future interactions.

Bottom Line: Rudeness is everywhere. In my opinion, it’s usually unintentional. My rule of thumb: If small children do not die, it isn’t really important. Chill.


The United States—indeed, the world—is rife with conflict, aggression, and violence. Never has it been so important to be able to de-escalate tense situations. Everyone can, and should learn de-escalation skills.

What is it? According to the Department of Homeland Security, it’s the use of communication or other techniques during an encounter to stabilize, slow, or reduce the intensity of a potentially violent situation without using physical force, or with a reduction in force.

Medical De-Escalation

The Texas Medical Liability Trust suggests several steps appropriate for medical settings, but they seem to me to apply more generally. For examples and possible responses, see their website.

  1. Move to a private area (if safe to do so).
  2. Be empathetic and non-judgmental.
  3. Respect personal space.
  4. Keep your tone and body language neutral.
  5. Avoid over-reacting.
  6. Focus on the thoughts behind the feelings.
  7. Ignore challenging questions.
  8. Set boundaries.
  9. Choose boundaries wisely.
  10. Allow silence.
  11. Allow time for decisions.

Using Words and Body Language

The US Department of Homeland Security offers these concrete suggestions:

Verbal De-Escalation

Tone + Volume + Rate of speech + Inflection of voice = Verbal De-Escalation
Tone: Speak calmly to demonstrate empathy.
Volume: Monitor your volume and avoid raising your voice.
Rate of Speech: Slower can be more soothing.
Inflection: Be aware of emphasizing words or syllables as that can negatively affect the situation.

Instead Of… Say…
“Calm down.”“I can see that you are upset…”
“I can’t help you.”“I want to help, what can I do?”
“I know how you feel.”“I understand that you feel…”
“Come with me.”“May I speak with you?”

Non-Verbal De-Escalation

Verbal cues to de-escalate a situation mean nothing if they’re accompanied by aggressive body language. The DHS recommends using these body language cues to de-escalate a situation.

Instead Of…Try…
Standing rigidly directly in front of the personKeeping a relaxed and alert stance off to the side of the person
Pointing your fingerKeeping your hands down, open, and visible at all times
Excessive gesturing or pacingUsing slow, deliberate movements
Faking a smileMaintaining a neutral and attentive facial expression

De-Escalation Abroad

I mentioned that situations calling for de-escalation are worldwide. The following appears on the website of the New South Wales Department of Health in Australia:

When there are signs of anger or verbal aggression it is important to remember that

  • You need to stay calm.
  • Anger may be a sign that the person is in distress, experiencing fear or frustrated.
  • It is not possible to reason or problem solve with someone who is enraged.
  • Effective communication skills are the key to settling, resolving and de-escalating a situation.

A good way to remember this is to “LOWLINE.” Use the strategies below to de-escalate a situation:

  • Listen to what the issue is and the person’s concerns.
  • Offer reflective comments to show that you have heard what their concerns are.
  • Wait until the person has released their frustration and explained how they are feeling.
  • Look and maintain appropriate eye contact to connect with the person.
  • Incline your head slightly, to show you are listening and give you a non-threatening posture.
  • Nod to confirm that you are listening and have understood.
  • Express empathy to show you have understood.

It is not your job to stop the person being angry, but these steps may help to make the person feel calmer. It is only then that you can look at how to deal with the situation and their concerns.

Law Enforcement

Some of the most widely publicized situations when de-escalation is (or should be) used involve law-enforcement.

High-profile, deadly confrontations between law enforcement officers and civilians generate widespread public concern. Public officials and policy makers from across the political spectrum have embraced de-escalation training as the key to safer interactions between police and the public.

According to Dr. Robin Engel, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Cincinnati, “De-escalation training teaches officers to think about use of force in different ways. Instead of, ‘Can I use force?,’ the question becomes, ‘Should I use force?’”

Also, according to Engel, “We’re pushing this out into lots of places, and there’s a growing body of evidence that de-escalation training, if done properly, can make a police officer’s job safer.”

All of the above imply professional situations—police or corrections officers with civilians or prisoners, mental health workers with patients, etc. But consider family situations or disagreements, meeting with work colleagues, or issues with neighbors. The possibilities are endless.

Bottom Line: De-escalation techniques should be learned as a life skill. They are likely to be your best bet for keeping a bad situation from getting worse.


Today? Yesterday? Every day? Tax Day? If any of the pet peeves that follow tick you off, you’re not alone!

Table Manners

Some people’s table manners can be more easily excused than others
  • Open mouthed chewers
  • Slurping
  • Loud chewers
  • Slathering food with salt/ hot sauce/ketchup before even tasting it
  • Cracking gum
  • People talking with a full mouth
  • Chewing gum/cracking
  • Spitting
  • Talking about what you are eating
  • Demanding everyone wait and take 500 Instagram photos before eating

Phone Etiquette

Interrupting training with the shogun to answer your phone
  • Taking phone calls in public
  • Being on their phone too much
  • Facetiming without headphones
  • Staring at their phone rather than watching where they walk
  • Texting during a meal
  • Ending a call without saying good-bye
  • Ignoring an in-person companion in favor of a phone screen
  • Using speech-to-text in public
  • Constantly filming in public rather than engaging

All Around the House

Leaving overflowing ashtrays on every table and counter
  • Leaving the toilet seat up
  • Singing (badly) in the shower
  • Leaving empty containers in the fridge
  • Not replacing the toilet paper
  • Leaving lights or ceiling fans on
  • Being loud when someone in the house is trying to sleep
  • Leaving dirty dishes on counters or in sinks next to the dishwasher
  • Wearing shoes in the house
  • Leaving cupboard doors and drawers half open
  • Not closing bottles or other containers completely
  • Opening a new container before the old one is empty
  • Using things without permission, e.g. clothes, accessories, car
  • Not putting things away (clothes, sandwich-fixings, etc.)
  • Failing to throw away empty containers
  • Playing music or watching TV with the volume turned way up

Speaking Politely

Shouting everything they say through a megaphone
  • Interrupting
  • Finishing another’s sentences
  • Talking over one’s conversation partner
  • Talking too loudly
  • Turning the topic of every conversation back to oneself
  • Talking during a movie
  • Gratuitous swearing
  • Stopping the conversation to correct someone’s grammar
  • Talking to someone who is trying to read
  • Using LOL or OMG during a face-to-face conversation
  • Constantly talking about a particular obsession (health/diet/exes/etc.)
  • Saying “like” instead of “said” (I’m like, “Duh!”)
  • Treating every conversation like a monologue or performance

Any Time, Any Place

Walking three-abreast and blocking the entire sidewalk
  • Being habitually late
  • Self-entitled people
  • Attempting to control everyone and everything
  • The silent treatment
  • Encroaching on others’ space, particularly in crowded areas
  • Clicking a pen
  • Repetitive tapping
  • Cracking knuckles
  • Nose-picking
  • Mean-spirited gossip
  • Knee bouncing
  • Cutting in line
  • Littering
  • Unsolicited advice/recommendations
  • Constant throat clearing/coughing/sniffing
  • Passing gas or belching
  • Clipping nails in public

Does it Have to Take All Kinds?

People who leave their shopping carts in the middle of the parking lot
  • Particular family member(s)
  • Particular friend/acquaintance/neighbor
  • Surly servers/salespeople/cashiers
  • Dog owners who don’t train or pick up after their pet
  • People who cut in line
  • Grumpy people venting their bad mood on servers/salespeople/cashiers
  • Bad drivers
  • One uppers
  • Know-it-alls
  • Strangers (or friends) encroaching on your personal space
  • People who randomly command you to smile
  • Strangers calling you Honey or Sweetie
  • Standing up the minute a plane gets to the gate

Common Pet Peeves

A survey of 544 people conducted by Survey Monkey listed these top fifteen pet peeves at home and at work.

Bedmates who hog the entire bed and all the blankets despite being tiny and having their own fur coat
  • Leaving common spaces messy (63%)
  • Colleagues complain about their work and/or specific colleagues (53%)
  • Manager doesn’t give you credit when it’s deserved (50%)
  • Neglecting to take out the trash (45%)
  • Bedmate takes too much of the blanket (39%)
  • Colleagues show up late to meetings (33%)
  • Colleagues fail to recognize your contributions (31%)
  • Talking loudly over the phone (30%)
  • When a bedmate moves around too much (29%)
  • Taking food without asking for permission (24%)
  • Cooking something that smells unpleasant (22%)
  • Bedmate wakes you up early in the morning (22%)
  • Bedmate is on their phone or computer late at night (22%)
  • Playing music loudly (22%)
  • Occupying the kitchen for a long period of time (20%)

The results indicate that younger people (18-29) and older people (45-60) differ in their peevishness. Which group is more often peeved varied depending on the item.

More Specific Pet Peeves

A similar survey reported on PromoInfoTools found a lot of overlap with Survey Monkey, though some seem to be distinctive. (I’ve shortened or edited some of the answers for the sake of brevity.)

Drivers who don’t use their turn signal
  • Crunching! Especially on the phone.
  • People tailgating
  • People being hypocrites
  • When people don’t believe what I’m saying is true
  • People not showing up on time for appointments
  • People using items and then not putting them back where they found them
  • Being late for anything
  • When people do not take responsibility for their actions
  • When people take what is said at face value and jump to conclusions and judgements without doing their own research for the truth
  • People not putting their shopping cart back
  • Feeling unappreciated
  • Correcting or “cleaning up after” someone else’s mistake(s) or sloppy work
  • When someone interrupts me when I’m talking to interject what they want to share
  • When my time is wasted. Take my money, or my material items, but not my time.
  • People who categorize people by income, position held, school jocks and nerds, etc. We are all human and deserve to be treated as such, not by our categories.
Garbage not emptied when full in kitchen or bathroom(s)
  • Inconsiderate people
  • Roadside trash and the people who throw it out their windows
  • Wasting water
  • When people don’t make eye contact or acknowledge you when your paths cross
  • Being lied to and the person thinking they are getting one up on me
  • Lack of customer service
  • Being told someone will call back but they never do
  • Lack of communication
  • People hitting “reply all” on an e-mail when it should be directed to a specific person
  • Traffic
  • When the waiter interrupts my conversation to ask if I want more water
  • People who don’t get to work on time. It’s disrespectful to your coworkers!
  • People who can’t “stay in their lane” – Do your job, I’ll do mine
  • Lack of basic manners! Using please and thank you is all I ask
  • Toilet seat and/or cover left up when not in use
  • Discrimination of all types, racial trauma, micro-aggressions, bigotry. Internalized and systemic racism affect us all.
  • Robocalls!

More Specific Pet Peeves

More people are interested in pet peeves than I ever imagined! If you are interested in a particular category of pet peeves, there’s probably a survey for that. For example…

Forbes: Survey: The Biggest Pet Peeves Of American Dog Owners

Zety: List of 28 Common Office Pet Peeves

Cmmonline: Survey Reveals Americans’ Restroom Pet Peeves

Bottom Line: Pet peeves are everywhere! It’s important to note: something that’s a minor annoyance—or not at all annoying—for one person is especially irritating for another. Ask yourself if your pet peeves are worth the emotional toll they take. If so, find out how to deal with them. That advice is also available online!


I suppose there might be people out there who can file their annual tax returns stress-free. Congratulations! For the rest of us, condolences!

Money and Stress

In 1943, the US government enlisted the help of Donald Duck to educate Americans about how to pay their income tax and why it was important to the war effort.

“Money is a major source of stress on people, and what tax season does is shine a great big spotlight on the issue,” Michael McKee, a Cleveland Clinic psychologist and president of the U.S. branch of the International Stress Management Association, told WebMD. “Money takes center stage at tax time, even if you might have been able to push it to the wings the rest of the year.”

A 2004 survey sponsored by the American Psychological Association found that nearly three-quarters of Americans cited money as a significant source of stress. Money is also consistently among the top causes of marital contention, says Olivia Mellan, a psychotherapist and financial self-help author based in Washington, D.C.

Heightened Tax Stress

And nothing focuses us on money like tax time. Anyone can face the stress of having money due and too little money on hand. For those who itemize, there are additional sources of stress:

eFiling comes with the risk of computer glitches or internet lag affecting your tax returns.
  • The frustration of the forms’ language
  • Finding time to do the work
  • Filing for an extension
  • Missing documents
    • (This is a biggie. It could be anything, but it’s often receipts. I won’t go into the time my husband inadvertently threw away all of our 1099s.)

Then there are miscellaneous stresses:

  • You finally wedged a CPA appointment into a jammed schedule only to discover that said CPA has moved, you can’t find the office, miss the appointment, etc.
  • Your CPA retired last summer
  • A bigger accounting firm absorbed your old one and now communications are via a headquarters in South Carolina (or wherever)

Sources of Financial Stress

But virtually every item on the topic index is rife with sources of stress. These may or may not be directly related to the taxes due, but dealing with them at tax time could well trigger strong emotions. Here is a select list:

Tax season causes everyone financial stress. These stacks are just some of the $110,000,000 worth of stamps the IRS used to send out tax forms in 1914.
  • Alimony paid or received (or not)
    • …and associated hostility
  • Business use of home
    • …and the strain it puts on family
  • Casualty or theft loss
    • …and the aftermath of being a victim of crime
  • Child and dependent care expenses
    • …meeting them, but also finding such services in the first place, and possibly the precariousness of arrangements
  • Contributions
    • …a willing tithe to church, or possibly being pressured to support your alma mater
  • Education expenses
    • …and doubts about whether the degree is worth it
  • Foreign assets, expenses, taxes, and income
    • …and what to do about off-shore accounts and tax shelters, should you be one of those people
  • Gambling winnings (or losses)
    • …and whether to join Gamblers Anonymous
  • Gifts
    • …to whom and what and whether they were freely given
  • Medical and dental expenses
    • …and the trauma of diagnosis, surgery, recovery (or not)
This income is from an Etsy shop, right? Nothing nefarious to report here!
  • Miscellaneous income and adjustments
    • (They really expect people to report illegal income??)
  • Mortgage or education loan interest paid
    • …and the continuing burden from years ago
  • Moving expenses
    • …and whether the move was up or down, willing or forced
  • Sale of home, stock, or other capital assets
    • …and why the sale? Was the market down at the time or up?
  • Unemployment compensation
    • …and whether it was enough, whether it ended too soon, whether filing for it was humiliating
  • Sale of home, stock, or other capital assets
    • …and why the sale? Was the market down at the time or up?
  • Unemployment compensation
    • …and whether it was enough, whether it ended too soon, whether filing for it was humiliating
Whether taxes are justified …and if you ought to throw tea in the harbor to protest.

If you are filing a joint return, remember (and remind your spouse if necessary) not to displace anger/frustration rooted in the process.

Other Sources of Tax Stress

The Darius Vase depicts, among other scenes, the Royal Treasurer receiving taxes from conquered nations of the Persian Empire, circa 340 BCE.

Then, too, sometimes there are ongoing issues about money. For example, if one partner is a spender while the other partner is a saver and a worrier. This can result is resentment at tax time, when a couple may examine how their habits are affecting their lives and marriage.

“Of course, we all bring our individual emotional baggage to tax preparation. Fear of the government also emerges at tax time. Some clients of financial counselor Karen McCall are so afraid of the IRS that they won’t take even the most innocuous deduction. “They’re paralyzed because the IRS is an authority figure, and if they have unresolved issues around authority figures in their lives, that can cause a lot of fear.”

Sometimes, that fear of filing taxes stems from is understandable. As Michael McKee says, people who have been through audits can suffer from post traumatic stress syndrome during tax season for years afterward.

Avoiding Tax Stress

You may not be able to avoid all stress at tax time, but consider ways to lessen it. Mellan and McCall offered these tips in a WebMD article on coping with tax stress.

Little known fact: if you set all your money and assets on fire, you won’t have to declare them as assets to the IRS!
  • To avoid last-minute stress, file early and break up the job into little pieces, Mellan suggests. Do your taxes while listening to music or whatever else makes you feel relaxed.
  • For filers with math anxiety, Mellan recommends hiring a preparer or investing in tax software. Tax software typically collects information through an “interview” and the computer does all the calculations.
  • Fractious couples should strategize on ways to avoid chronic money fights, Mellan says. For example, try communicating financial information through notes or other modes that won’t carry an accusatory tone.
  • McCall suggests channeling tax-time stress into a resolution to track your finances more carefully. Better money management is the best way to avoid unpleasant surprises each year, she says.
  • Finally, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you can turn to your buddies at the IRS. Options include filing an extension or setting up an installment plan for tax payment. For more details, visit the IRS website at
This would all be so much easier if the IRS explained taxes like they would to a preschooler.

Bottom Line: Tax time is stress time. You’ll just have to deal, starting with recognizing the danger zones and ameliorating as best you can.


According to Harvard University School of Public Health, 33% of adults in the U.S. are overweight and 36% are ob⁶ese. Although percentages vary, several sources claim two thirds of American adults are overweight or obese.

With these numbers, one might expect a certain amount of heft to be perceived as acceptable, perhaps even desirable. But not so. Instead, in the United States, labels like fupa, lard, chunker, fatso, and jelly belly are slapped on. And how is this for humor? A collective noun for a group of overweight/obese people: A blubber of fat lads.

Even people who are trying to be polite or helpful say things that sting:

“But you have such great hair!”
  • It’s easy to lose weight …
  • You have such a pretty face
  • You’d be so pretty if you lost weight …
  • I don’t see you as fat …
  • You look great! …
  • I’m so fat (when the speaker isn’t) …
  • It’s not like you’re obese …
  • That (food) looks healthy …
  • I’ve always wanted a bum like yours! …

Where Did the Body Mass Index Come From?

Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet, the man responsible for the obesity epidemic (in a way).

Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet, a Belgian mathemetician, developed Quetelet’s Index (later called the Body Mass Index or BMI) in the 1842 as a method of determining the average measurements of French and Scottish men. Quetelet prized homogeneity and thought that the ideal person should be as close to the center of the statistical bell curve as possible. At the time of its creation, Quetelet was very clear that “Quetelet’s Index” was useful solely as a means of predicting the average body size of a population, not to measure or predict anything for an individual, including health.

In 1867, Mutual Life Insurance of New York started using an adaptation of Quetelet’s BMI tables to determine how much to charge policy holders. Within a few years, every insurance company in the market was using different BMI tables with wildly varying numbers to define “healthy” weights, which they then used to set prices for clients.

Even when Ancel Keyes adapted Quetelet’s original findings as a way for doctors to use during medical consultations, he admitted that the BMI was only accurate as measure of obesity about half the time. He also included data only from men, almost entirely white men from relatively wealthy countries.

These early limitations of the BMI calculator continue to cause serious challenges for those trying to use it as a diagnostic tool. Women’s bodies store fat differently than men’s bodies. The cut-offs for defining someone as overweight or obese vary widely among ethnic groups. Scientists created the BMI for children by simply extending downward the existing trend lines for small adults, which makes the data for children particularly unreliable. Older adults have different metabolic needs and may benefit from having a higher BMI altogether.

In 1995, the World Health Organization change the definitions of overweight and obese according to BMI. The American National Insitute of Health (NIH) adopted those standards in 1998; overnight, millions of people became overweight or obese without gaining a pound. This marked the start of the “obesity epidemic” and the “war on obesity” (which has not really had any effect on actual health.)

Obesity Today

“It’s not fat. It’s floof!”

Today, the NIH classifies about 1 in 11 adults (9.2%) as having severe obesity.

As a rule of thumb, you are likely morbidly obese if you are more than 100 lbs. over your ideal body weight or have a BMI of over 40.

Women had a higher prevalence of severe obesity (11.5%) than men (6.9%). The prevalence was highest among adults aged 40–59 (11.5%), followed by adults aged 20–39 (9.1%), and adults aged 60 and over (5.8%).

Other obesity data reflect much of the data on other health issues.

Recent national data show that 54.8 percent of Black women and 50.6 percent of Hispanic women are obese compared to 38.0 percent of White women. Rates of obesity are also higher for Hispanic men, in the South and Midwest, in nonmetropolitan counties, and tend to increase with age. However, as discussed above, inherent problems in calculating BMI may misrepresent actual health of people in these populations.

Who Is Fat? Who Is Obese?

Kimberly Truesdale and June Stevens found that perception of one’s own weight may be skewed. Surprisingly, to me, only 22.2% of obese women and 6.7% of obese men correctly classified themselves as obese.

How can this be? Fat people have all kinds of euphemisms for fat. (Curvy, plump, voluptuous, plus-size, zaftig, heavyset, Rubenesque, queen-size, large, thick, plush, stout, hefty, buxom, portly, ample-bodied, curvaceous, puffy, fluffy, etc.)

In the Media

As I reported in an earlier blog (September, 2020) Greenberg et al. reported on their findings of television actors’ BMI after analyzing 5 episodes of the top 10 prime time shows.

“The ears add ten pounds.”
  • In comparing television actors’ BMI to that of the American public, they found that only 25 percent of men on television were overweight or obese, compared to almost 60 percent of American men.
  • Almost 90 percent of women on TV were at or below normal weight, compared to less than 50 percent of American women.

Popular television shows that include people who are obese portray them as comedic, lonely, or freaks.  Rarely if ever are they romantic leads, successful lawyers or doctors, or action stars.

In addition, shows like The Biggest Loser promote the perception that obesity is caused by individual failure rather than a mixture of individual, environmental, and genetic sources.

Weight and Mental Health

“Do these feathers make my bum look big?”

Defensive self-labeling aside, the results of fat shaming are apparent in many correlates of mental health. Societal stigmas and biases mean that carrying extra weight is hard on one’s mental health.

Late-onset or chronic overweight/obesity predicted low general, social, and academic/school-related self-esteem.

Socially competent people using better strategies for solving interpersonal problems are more readily accepted by peers and valued by adults. Obese individuals, especially teenagers, have deficits in several social skills, which lead to damage to relationships, lower self-esteem and devaluation by social agents.

Children with lower social skills are also at a greater risk of becoming overweight or obese.

Many individuals who are obese also struggle with issues related to their mood, self-esteem, quality of life, and body image. This emotional distress likely plays a role in treatment seeking but also can impact successful treatment.

Weight Stigma

“Anti-fat bias kind of turns up the volume on existing systems of oppression,” says Aubrey Gordon, author of You Just Need to Lose Weight” and 19 Other Myths About Fat People.

“Hibernating isn’t easy!”

Obesity is associated with a higher risk of having certain mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and eating disorders. Often, this relationship is due to the effects of weight discrimination.

People with a weight problem are more likely to feel alone and describe themselves as lonely. They may feel they might not ever meet the ‘right person’, feel uncomfortable with intimacy, feel they are being judged for their weight, and just want to hide sometimes.

Obesity contributes to negative mental health and poor psychological well-being. Society also highly stigmatizes obesity, which negatively affects social and relational health, as well as inhibiting communication about the topic.

Medical professionals are often guilty of fat-shaming. Patients seeking treatment for problems that have nothing to do with size are instead lectured about why they need to lose weight. As Aubrey Gordon says, “It is one of the great fears of my life, that I will die of a totally treatable or preventable thing because my doctor can’t conceive of me having any other health problem than just being a fat person. That is a fear that follows me every time I go into a doctor’s office.”

“Just getting ready for winter.”

The vast majority of people who are overweight or obese according to BMI also have some form of eating disorder, according to Dr. Erin Harrop at Denver University. However, because these patients don’t fit the common perception of looking dangerously thin, the medical establishment classifies thesm as having “atypical anorexia.” This distinction makes it much more difficult to receive an accurate diagnosis. Not only are doctors more reluctant to treat overweight patients with disordered eating, insurance companies are reluctant to cover those treatments.

The social and emotional effects of obesity include discrimination, lower wages, lower quality of life and a likely susceptibility to depression.

To be clear, the mental health issues that are correlated with being overweight or obese are caused by our fat-shaming culture. In societies where people value weight, these stigmas are not prevalent.

Does Personality Cause Obesity?

Who are these overweight and obese people?

In analyses of separate personality traits, openness and conscientiousness were significantly associated with obesity in men, and only agreeableness was associated with obesity in women.

“It’s just feathers. I’m cold!”

Introverts are more likely to be at a healthy weight. They have lower rates of obesity. In one study of nearly 2,000 people over a span of 50 years, extroverts were heavier than introverts, with more body fat, larger waists, and bigger hips.

The BIH has found positive associations between obesity and the personality traits neuroticism (OR: 1.02) and extraversion (OR: 1.01), and negative associations between obesity and openness to experience (OR: 0.97) and agreeableness (OR: 0.98). (Recall, a positive association means as one goes up, so does the other; a negative association means as one goes up, the other goes down.)

“It’s water weight!”

Although there is no single personality type characteristic of the morbidly obese, they differ from the general population as their self-esteem and impulse control is lower. They have passive dependent and passive aggressive personality traits, as well as a trend for somatization and problem denial.

Over-eating may be the result of self-sabotage. A person gets into a cycle of low self-worth and shame, using food to soothe. Obesity can also be seen as a way of showing the world ‘I am worth nothing, stay away, because I am bad.’

Researchers have found four characteristics that typify the ”overweight personality.” You may have low self-esteem, poor self-control (or even eat compulsively), experience mood swings, or be prone to depression and anxiety.

Physical Causes of Obesity

Genes contribute to the causes of obesity in many ways, by affecting appetite, satiety (the sense of fullness), metabolism, food cravings, body-fat distribution, and the tendency to use eating as a way to cope with stress. Some researchers believe they may have identified “missing” genes that potentially contribute to obesity.

It’s important to remember that obesity is a disease, and we shouldn’t blame individuals for it because the causes are not always something they can control. In other words, it’s not your fault if you are obese.

Obese and Healthy

Obesity is definitely a physical health hazard, but poor health is not necessarily inevitable. In a database at McGill University, about 15% or slightly over half a million people were categorized as being obese and metabolically healthy.

If a person is 300 pounds and does not have any other diseases or health complications, then that person is considered healthy. However, the chances of staying healthy with 300 pounds weight are low. Around 99% of individuals weighing this much suffer from several other health complications.

“There is a lot of data that says that fat people generally and fat women in particular postpone care because they know that they are going to be overtly, directly judged by their health care providers and they know that they will get substandard care because of that judgement.”

Aubrey Gordon

Essentially, people with obesity can still be healthy. However, what a McGill University study, and prior research, shows is that obesity even on its own carries a certain cardiovascular risk even in metabolically healthy individuals.

Some People Do Manage to Lose Weight

The annual probability of achieving normal body weight was 1 in 210 for men and 1 in 124 for women with simple obesity. The probability declined with increasing BMI category. In patients with morbid obesity, the annual probability of achieving normal weight was 1 in 1290 for men and 1 in 677 for women.

Good news! Children who successfully reduced weight may have equal levels of self-esteem or even better social self-esteem than those being always underweight/normal weight.

The disease of obesity, no matter what it means for your physical body, is not your whole self or your whole life. Obesity does not define you as a person.

Bottom Line: For many people, too much weight is a fact of life. Be aware of the possible (probable) effects of fat shaming on your mental wellbeing!

The Upside of Procrastination

Procrastination has been my long-term companion, and I’ve got to tell you, it isn’t all bad.  We procrastinate when we voluntarily put off an unpleasant task, often against one’s better judgment.

I have an attack of seasonal procrastination annually, at the end of the year. I have hundreds of carved wood Santas all over the public areas of the house, from Thanksgiving through Christmas. Crating them up again is definitely unpleasant. Procrastination allows me to enjoy my favorites longer!

I never want to see them packed away for another year!

We typically see procrastination as a bad thing. Research indicates that procrastination generally leads to lower-quality work performance reduced feelings of well-being. As a group, students who procrastinate get lower grades. Procrastinators put off a lot of unpleasant tasks, for example, getting medical treatments and diagnostic tests.

Why We Procrastinate

So why do it? (Or why not do it?)

Here are 5 reason for procrastination, according to Psychology Today.

  1. Absence of structure
  2. Unpleasant, boring tasks
  3. Timing: when present activities are rewarding and longer-term outcomes are in the future
  4. Lack of confidence about one’s ability to do the task
  5. Anxiety: postponing getting started because of fear of failure

My personal favorite isn’t on this list: the ego-defensive function of feeling better about oneself.  This related to #5 above. Whatever the outcome, the procrastinator can always say to him/her self, “Not bad for the amount of time I spent on it. Of course, I could do better.”

There is also, as in the case of crating away my Santas after Christmas, not wanting to do a task because we don’t really want it to be done. Packing away holiday decorations means holiday celebrations are well and truly over for the year.

Can Procrastination Be Good?

The universe (or society or fate or something) often rewards exceptionally bright, capable people for procrastination.  Examples include cooks who create fantastic meals from whatever is in the fridge when they’ve forgotten to shop for groceries. Teachers who get good reviews when they lecture spontaneously. Students who get A’s without studying. (I know a young man who defended himself against a plagiarism charge in university by procrastinating. He called on classmates, who testified that they’d seen him frantically typing the assignment in the computer lab an hour before it was due.)

  • It grants you the space to take inventory of your life. Procrastination can give us opportunities to be curious and learn, says life and business coach Lindsey Eynon.
  • It makes you work more efficiently.
  • It gives you a chance to take a break.
  • Procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas, to think in nonlinear ways, and to make unexpected leaps.

According to Stephanie Vozza, we tend to give procrastination a bad rap. She listed 6 reasons why procrastination can lead to greater success and happiness.

Procrastination gives you a chance to train your muscles to lift super heavy weights!
  1. Structured procrastinators get more done. While putting off one thing, they do something else.
  2. Procrastinators make better decisions. I’m doubtful about this one, but if while delaying making a decision a person is gathering relevant information, it could be.
  3. Procrastination leads to creativity. When a task seems too hard to do, you might invent a better way.
  4. Unnecessary tasks disappear when you procrastinate.
  5. Procrastination leads to better apologies.
  6. Procrastination reveals what you find important.

As David d’Equainville wrote in his Manifesto for a Day Put Off, it “is urgent to procrastinate against all the trends breathing down our neck. Procrastination is an art that brings doubt and skepticism to unquestioned standards of efficiency.” He has declared March 26 to be International Procrastination Day, a day to rebel against the constant rushing and panic of modern life.

To Procrastinate or To Act?

When considering any deadline, ask yourself, “Whose deadline is this? Where did it come from? What will happen if it isn’t met?” Especially if the answer to the first question is, “self-imposed,” weigh the answer to the last question!

My ultimate criterion for getting something done on schedule—or at all—is this: If small children will not die, it probably isn’t that important. This attitude relieves a lot of stress, anxiety, and self-blame.

Procrastination is certainly not a new phenomenon. This British cartoon from 1789 shows a man bludgeoning Father Time to death with procrastination.

Here are several quotes from Larry Kim, which he originally published on

  • Procrastination breeds efficiency.
    • If you’re the type of person who works more efficiently and can be more productive while under the pressure of the ticking clock, work with it. You’ll still get your work in on time and will be happier than if you’d spent the week mulling over how weak you are.
  • Putting tasks off reduces unnecessary efforts.
    • Putting tasks off until closer to the deadline might just cut out some unnecessary efforts when these things change.
  • You can be open to more enjoyable things.
    • If procrastinating means you get to enjoy something today and can still complete whatever is required of you before it has to be done — even if it’s just hours or minutes before — you’ve still accomplished what you set out to do. And you’ve had fun in the meantime.
  • Procrastination can reduce anxiety. 
    • We often put off things we really, really don’t want to do — things that make us uncomfortable, or anxious, or even afraid. If you can take the time to mentally prepare yourself and tackle it when you’re ready, you can reduce your overall anxiety about the task.
Frank Partnoy wrote a whole book about the upside of procrastination!
  • Time can bring greater ideas or other improvements.
    • University of San Diego professor Frank Partnoy wrote extensively about the benefits of having time to assess issues in his book, Wait. Procrastinating gives your ideas time to percolate; it allows you to sit down and tackle the task after your subconscious has chewed it over. The result just might be a better outcome.
  • It makes you a rebel… sort of.
  • Finally accomplishing the task gives an adrenaline rush. 
    • Whoo-wee! And you’re done, doesn’t that feel great? If you’re hooked on the rush you feel when you’ve finally hammered something out at the very last minute, don’t rob yourself of that pleasure.

I believe that people always choose their perceived best option, even if that choice doesn’t seem rational to an outside observer. By weighing perceived costs and benefits of procrastination in various situations, under various circumstances, people can procrastinate rationally!

BOTTOM LINE: Although there’s sometimes a down side to procrastination, embrace the up—side!


Hemp paper used to wrap gifts two thousand years ago

People of many cultures give more gifts at this time of year than any other. And sometimes, they wrap those gifts! More often than not, actually. Even if you give someone a car (!) you’ll probably go all-out and put a big red bow on top.

People have been wrapping gifts for thousands of years. In China, people used hemp and bamboo paper to wrap gifts as early as the Song Dynasty, in the 2nd century BCE.

But gift wrapping is like housework: different folks have different priorities. And also like housework, it’s better to have done than to be doing!

The Perfectionist

Lots of people (you know who you are) want every gift to be perfectly wrapped—beautiful, inviting, mouth-watering, even. This involves brand new paper, tissue, and ribbons. The pattern of the paper is perfectly aligned. The seams are folded over and creased so that the tape holding them together is invisible. Ribbons are required, wrapped at least once around the package, topped with a splendid bow, often handmade. And they must coordinate the name tags with the paper!

There are many online sources to tell/show you how to do this. Depending on the materials used, this can also be economical and/or environmentally friendly.

The Time-Saver

By contrast, the time-saver buys decorative boxes, tapes the lid on, and adds a name tag—maybe a stick-on bow. For added time-saving, they might even buy gift boxes with a bow already attached!

A close second for fast wrapping is the decorative gift bag: just open and fill. It’s second because the “wrapper” must add tissue paper to obscure the contents until time to open. (Some people skip the tissue and just rely on the bag to keep the surprise. In such cases, gift bags might be the fastest wrapping option!) Tying the handles together is optional, but you might as well, assuming you need to affix a name tag.

Gift bags have the advantage of accommodating oddly-shaped presents, and sometimes combining things in one bag can cut out the need to wrap multiple small items.

Sending gifts can be the biggest time-saver of all: order the gift and have it sent directly to the recipient. Sometimes gift wrapping is available. But the efficiency expert doesn’t really care about that.

Sometimes the time saver might just as well be labeled “easy does it.” A variation on this is gift cards. They need only an envelope, sometimes an address and a stamp. And they cut hours off shopping time.

The Penny-Saver

The penny-wise wrapper saves boxes, bags, bows, ribbons, etc., from one year to the next. Wrapping paper can be trimmed of tape and rough edges and go on indefinitely, wrapping ever-smaller packages. Another money-saving habit is to cut a piece of the wrapping paper to make the name-tag. The frugal wrapper uses as little tape as possible, both to save tape and to mess-up less of the surfaces. (See below for “free” wrapping paper ideas.)

And for a most unusual option: use the paper towel or toilet paper rolls for any gift they can accommodate, fold in the ends, and decorate with markers or stickers. Amazingly, you can use decorative cookie tins to gift more than cookies (or sewing supplies)!

The Eco-Wrapper

The environmentally aware gift-wrapper uses several of the practices mentioned above. Reusing wrapping materials keeps them out of landfills. Shipping gifts directly from the manufacturer saves one whole layer of wrapping materials. And all materials must be recyclable: no glitter or metallic paper, Styrofoam peanuts, plastic ribbons or bows. Alternative materials are also desirable. These include but are not limited to

  • Baskets
  • Fabric (scarf, handkerchief, napkins, kitchen towels, etc.)
  • Old maps or posters
  • Foreign newspapers
  • Comics
  • Catalogues or magazines
  • Sheet music
  • Brown paper grocery bags or lunch bags
  • Re-used boxes from other purchases

These environmentally aware people use minimal packaging altogether, so gift-card envelopes are perfect containers.

Devious Wrappers

For some people, watching the recipient open the gift is a key part of the enjoyment. For others, watching a recipient struggle to open a deviously wrapped gift is even better! These people deliberately wrap gifts to obscure the contents.

  • Covering a box in multiple layers of tape
  • A small box inside a bigger box inside a bigger box inside a bigger box, and so on
  • Including riddles or clues about the gift’s contents on the tag
  • Secreting gifts around the room and instead giving the recipient clues to find them
  • Encasing the gift inside concrete or a welded-shut steel box
  • Using cardboard or wrapping paper to obscure the shape of the gift or make it look like another gift

Alternatives to Wrapped Gifts

Rather than gifts or general gift cards, some people elect to give an “experience” perhaps shared with the giver

  • Tickets to sporting events: baseball, football, basketball, soccer, golf, etc.
  • Ski passes or lift tickets
  • Movie tickets
  • Trips to rock climbing gyms
  • Indoor sky-diving tickets
  • Lottery tickets
  • Passes to a theme park

Some gifts of this type are more than “one off” experiences

  • Museum, zoo, or botanical garden membership
  • Magazine subscription
  • Gym or sports club membership
  • Meal delivery services
  • Season tickets to anything from an amusement park to the theater

When lack of money might otherwise hinder a gift-giver, they may turn to other methods of showing love and appreciation. The giver can even “wrap” these gifts in nice cards or writing them on fancy paper.

  • Providing free child or pet care
  • Gifts of food, whether making future meals or covering a casserole in foil and putting a bow on top
  • Offers to help with housework, transportation, yard chores, cooking, etc.
  • Skilled labor from gifters with particular skills, such as a manicure, massage, tax prep, music lessons, personal training, or anything else the giver can do well
  • A puppy!
    • (Disclaimer: Though adopting a pet can be a great experience, experts recommend everyone in the family choose the pet together. Please do not put an animal in a gift-wrapped box.)

Bottom Line: Beauty, economy, speed, environmental awareness, or deviousness—you don’t have to choose just one!


Have you ever stopped to consider the difference between creativity and imagination? Clearly, the two are linked, but how do they affect each other?

The authors at the Discover Building Sets blog explain the relationship between imagination and creativity this way: “Creativity is commonly referred to as the ability to create something real using imagination. Whereas imagination is the capability to create in one’s own mind what does not exist. The imagination come first and is necessary for creativity but not the other way around.

Oxford Languages defines imagination as the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses. And creativity is the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.

“Life in the Minds of Children”

Highly Creative People

The obvious question is, who’s the most creative of them all?

Determining the most creative person ever is highly subjective but there have been lots of people who have made groundbreaking contributions in various fields, demonstrating exceptional creativity. Quoting Kriti Roy (writing at Quora), some people often mentioned for their creativity include:

  • Leonardo da Vinci: Leonardo da Vinci is renowned for his extraordinary artistic skills, scientific explorations, and inventive mind. His diverse talents and imaginative thinking exemplify creativity across multiple disciplines.
  • Pablo Picasso: Picasso’s innovative and influential approach to art, particularly through his development of Cubism, challenged traditional artistic conventions and expanded the boundaries of visual expression.
  • Marie Curie: Marie Curie’s pioneering work in radioactivity and her groundbreaking discoveries in physics and chemistry demonstrate her innovative and creative approach to scientific research.
  • Albert Einstein: Einstein’s revolutionary theories in physics, including the theory of relativity, transformed our understanding of the universe. His ability to think beyond conventional boundaries and imagine new possibilities exemplifies creative thinking.
  • William Shakespeare: Shakespeare’s literary works, such as his plays and sonnets, showcase his exceptional storytelling abilities, linguistic creativity, and profound insights into human nature.

These are just a few examples, and there are many other individuals throughout history who have made significant creative contributions in their respective fields.

It’s important to note that creativity can manifest in various domains, including arts, sciences, literature, philosophy, and more. Each person’s creativity is unique and shaped by their context, cultural influences, and personal experiences. Defining the “most creative” person ultimately depends on individual perspectives and the specific criteria used to evaluate creativity.

Traits of Creative People

Here are twelve traits that creative people possess and use in their daily lives, as discussed at

  • Curious
  • Playful
  • Open-minded
  • Flexible
  • Sensitive
  • Independent
  • Risk-taking
  • Intuitive
  • Thorough
  • Ambitious
  • Objective
  • Energetic

Creative Personality Traits often appear in apparently opposite personality types.

  • Introverts and Extroverts
  • Intuitive and Observant Personalities
  • Feeling and Thinking Personalities
  • Prospecting and Judging Personalities
  • Assertive and Turbulent Personalities

In short, by my reading, any personality type can be creative, though not always by the same means.

“Creative people like to daydream and imagine the possibilities and wonders of the world. They can immerse themselves in imagination and fantasy, yet remain grounded enough to turn their daydreams into reality. They are often described as dreamers, but that doesn’t mean that they live with their heads in the clouds.”

Kendra Cherry, MSEd, from Very Well Mind

Downside to Imagination

Although imagination is necessary for creativity, not all imagining is productive. An individual with an overactive imagination is one whose tendency to focus on their fantasies is so frequent and central to their waking hours, as to distract them from actually working toward achieving their own goals, or developing real-life, fulfilling relationships.

There is a strong overlap between imagined and hallucinatory phenomena in the sense that both are internal representations of external things that are not present at the time.

Some people actually develop fantasy-prone personalities. Cases of FPP have a harder time distinguishing between external reality and their own, internal fantasies. They have also been found to be more easily hypnotized than the general population.

The ability to imagine—and then dwell on—things that are not actually happening can contribute to mental health problems such as anxiety and delusions.

But imagination can also play a powerful role in healing. Guided imagery can be used to help with pain, sleep, nausea, anxiety, anger and fatigue.

Bottom Line: As far as I can determine, there is no downside to creativity, whereas imagination is a two-
edged sword.


“Contact comfort” refers to the physical and emotional comfort a person receives from physical contact with another. And it isn’t just for infants!

Pretty much everyone knows about the need for contact comfort in infancy; whether the infant receives it or not has life-long consequences. Why?

Early Contact Comfort Research

Harry Harlow

Contact comfort
Harlow monkey experiment
Baby monkey snuggling a soft mannequin in Harry Harlow’s research

Psychologists believe that contact comfort forms the foundation for attachments. As far back as the 1950s, Harry Harlow’s studies demonstrated the importance of physical comfort. In his lab, young monkeys preferred snuggling with a soft, cloth-covered mannequin over a wire mannequin. Even when the wire mannequin provided food, the baby monkeys chose to cuddle with the mannequin that provided contact comfort.

Similarly, human babies need to feel safe and comforted. From this secure base, they develop the confidence interact with and explore their worlds.

John Bowlby

According to John Bowlby, who saw first-hand the effects of World War II on civilian populations, children need two things to develop a healthy attachment:

  • The caregiver must be responsive to the child’s physical, social, and emotional needs
  • The caregiver and child must engage in mutually enjoyable interactions

As Bowlby observed, even infants try to prevent separation from their parents. When such separation is imminent, babies cry, refuse a stranger’s comfort, and wait for the parent to return.

Erik Erikson

Eric Erikson, a contemporary of Harlow and Bowlby, theorized that human psychosocial development occurs in eight stages. Erikson was in agreement on the importance of a secure base, arguing that the most important goal of infancy was the development of a basic sense of trust in one’s caregivers. Infants are dependent and must rely on others to meet their basic physical needs as well as their needs for stimulation and comfort. A caregiver who consistently meets these needs instills a sense of trust in the world is a trustworthy place.

In 1982, Erikson concluded that a lack of this basic trust could contaminate all aspects of a person’s life and deprive the person of love and fellowship. For example, a premature infant who has to spend their first weeks in an incubator might not develop a strong bond with parents. A child born unwanted or with physical problems that make them less desirable to a parent is more likely to develop a mistrust of the world. Under these circumstances, the parent isn’t likely to provide what the child needs to develop trust. Not being able to trust others, even family and close friends, has profound effects in teens and adults.

Children who have not had ample physical and emotional attention are likely to develop emotional, social, and behavioral problems when they are older.

Lack of Contact Comfort

The human brain changes extensively during infancy. Children from deprived surroundings such as orphanages, show vastly different hormone levels than parent-raised children even beyond the baby years.

Human babies can actually die from lack of touch.

In the nineteenth century, most infants in orphanages and institutions in the United States died of marasmus (“wasting away”). In the 1930s, doctors called a child’s physical decline when separated from caregivers anaclitic depression or hospitalism. A survey of institutions in 1915 reported that the majority of children under age two who had died exhibited “failure to thrive” symptoms. The lack of touch and affection drastically decreased their ability to grow, maintain a healthy weight, and develop.

James Prescott (1971) found that deprivation of touch and movement contributed to later emotional problems. In cultures in which people were very physically affectionate towards infants, levels of adult aggression were relatively low. On the other hand, in cultures that did not encourage as much physical touch, level of adult aggression were higher.

Everyone Benefits!

Mental Benefits

Skin to skin contact benefits both the child and the parent. It reduces parental stress and depression.

According to an article at, the benefits of contact comfort for adults are numerous. It can help to reduce stress and anxiety, regulate emotions, and increase the production of feel-good hormones. It can also help strengthen relationships and build trust between people. As mentioned earlier, infants who don’t have a foundation for trust have a much tougher time trusting as adults.

For those with mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, physical contact can be an invaluable source of comfort and security, safety and connection. Research has shown that the physical touch of another person can help reduce feelings of fear, anger, and sadness.

When people are mourning a death or other loss, a typical response is to hug the person, or at least touch the person’s arm, hold hands, or offer a pat on the back.

In stressful situations (like a court or doctor’s office), you are likely to see people holding hands or leaning on the shoulder of a loved one while waiting. In times of heightened stress or fear, people unconsciously reach for comfort from those around them. Children who usually consider themselves too old for cuddles will climb on a parent’s lap. Siblings who otherwise don’t get along might hug or simply lean together. Even complete strangers often feel compelled to seek or offer a pat on the shoulder or hand on the back, as the situation dictates.

Physical Benefits

In addition, contact comfort can help speed up the healing process for physical wounds. For example, patients who are touched on the shoulder by nurses and other medical personnel heal faster. Other studies have shown that physical touch can help reduce pain and inflammation. This is because the body releases oxytocin and endorphins, which can help reduce stress and promote relaxation.

Touching can help strengthen relationships and build trust between people. Studies have shown that physical touch increase feelings of closeness and connection, and levels of trust and understanding.

As with infants, when adults are physically touched by another person, it can help us feel safe and connected. This can be especially helpful for those struggling with insecurity or feeling disconnected from their partner.

Give Yourself More Contact Comfort

If you’d like to incorporate contact comfort into your daily life, here are a few tips from “Contact Comfort: How Touch Can Help Us Feel Connected

  • Make sure to give and receive physical affection regularly. This can be as simple as a hug or holding hands.
  • Take time to be intentional about physical contact with those you love. Make sure to focus on the connection and the feeling of being held or touched.
  • Try to be mindful of the effect that physical touch can have. Pay attention to how it makes you feel and how it can help create a deeper connection with those around you.
  • Make sure to establish boundaries around physical contact. Respect the wishes of those you touch and be aware of their comfort level.

Under a huge range of circumstances—you can imagine what those might be—an adult’s needs for physical closeness and touch just aren’t satisfied. Those people might decide to find a professional cuddler (or cuddlist). You can hire a professional cuddle-buddy for $60-$100 per hour for non-sexual hugs and cuddles. Both people remain fully clothed. The permissible touching is clearly delineated—much like when getting a massage in the U.S.

Bottom Line: Non-violent physical touch is comforting, and beneficial in many ways. Contact comfort is a good thing!


Surveys and studies in developed countries around the world have investigated the relationship between age and happiness. Psychologists measure happiness by looking at “emotional well-being”—i.e., when a person consistently reports more positive than negative feelings. They have discovered that, by this measure, seniors are happier than their juniors, as a Scientific American study explains.

Better With Age

Plenty of recent research agrees. For example, the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry published a study in 2016, in which researchers analyzed data collected from a random sample of 1,546 people from ages 21 to 99 in San Diego.

Older people were physically more disabled and had more cognitive impairment than younger ones—the natural deterioration of aging—but in mental health, the advantage flipped. People in their 20s and 30s reported having the highest levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. They also report the lowest levels of happiness, satisfaction and wellbeing.

Older people, surprisingly, were the happiest, as Mandy Oaklander writes in Time.

The U Shape of Happiness

Yew-Kwang Ng, an economist at Monash University in Australia, compared research from the past twenty years in his 2021 paper “Age and Happiness.” He found that overall happiness throughout life tends to follow a U shape. Younger children are generally fairly happy; the beginning of adolescence coincides with a decline in “subjective well-being.” Yew-Kwang Ng theorizes that this may result from changes in sleep patterns adolescents experience.

Many factors impact the timing and shape of this U-shaped happiness curve: gender; health; lifestyle; income; national per-capita income; the overall happiness of the country; formative events in early life; and early self-esteem. Still, studies in multiple countries and internationally agree that most people start to experience a decline in overall happiness in their late teen years or early twenties. A Chinese study found that the lowest point for most people occurs around age 34.

After a period of low happiness in middle age (roughly ages 40 to 65), the majority of people begin to feel an uptick in overall happiness later in life. Over time, this upward trend plateaus again, and reported happiness levels don’t reach the same heights as those from earlier ages. An Australian study found that many people experience another decline in happiness in the last years of their lives.

The following chart illustrates this relationship, starting during teen years.

Happiness and Age, World 2012
Happiness and Age from the Brookings Institute

Maximizing Happy Aging

Margie Zable Fisher wrote a great overview for Fortune Magazine – The 3 Habits That Can Help Boost Your Happiness As You Age. She included the work of several acknowledged experts, including Laura Carstensen, Katharine Esty, and Robert Waldinger.

Elders’ happiness has to do with what Laura Carstensen, professor of psychology and director of the Stanford Center on Longevity calls emotional wisdom.

“As we age, our time horizons grow shorter and our goals change. When we recognize that we don’t have all the time in the world, we see our priorities most clearly. We take less notice of trivial matters. We savor life. We’re more appreciative, more open to reconciliation. We invest in more emotionally important parts of life, and life gets better, so we’re happier day-to-day.”

TED Talk: Older People Are Happier

Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives. Those ties protect people from life’s discontents and help to delay mental and physical decline. Research at Harvard suggests these ties are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes. That finding proved true across the board among both Harvard men and the inner-city participants.

I’ve taken these recommendations from the Fortune article cited above.

1. Maintain Friendships

Consider spending more or all your time with people who make you feel good. Try to maintain friendships with people in a range of ages, some older, some younger, some the same age. Esty suggests that we all need three different types of friends to really thrive:

  • Neighbors and others who provide practical help when we need it, such as running errands or watching pets.
  • Confidants with whom we can have open, honest communication about feelings or inner conflicts. We shouldn’t have to hide major parts of ourselves from good friends.
  • Friends who are fun to be with and with whom we can do fun activities.

2. Ask for Help

Although help is often easier to give than to receive, “The best relationships are two-way—where we give and receive help,” says Waldinger.

For midlifers thinking about retirement, “… many people aren’t certain what they want to do with their lives after retirement. They need to have a sense of purpose,” Esty says. “It works well to form a small group of friends who meet on a regular basis to discuss the issues in their lives and talk about their dreams for the future.”

3. Take on Responsibility

Many people consider shedding personal responsibilities and work duties to be one of the perks of growing older. However, this gift may come with unexpected pitfalls.

As Esty explains, a study of elderly residents in a nursing home showed that “more choices, more decision-making possibilities, and more responsibility raise the level of happiness in older people.” The key, she says, is to take on only responsibilities that you enjoy and to say no to other requests.

It may help to take on responsibilities related to an activity you enjoy. You might join a book club and offer to host meetings. If you enjoy a sport, consider becoming involved in a local league or even coaching a youth team.

And one more happy note: Although studies find that satisfaction with life and positive emotions decline with mobility problems and the deaths of spouses and other loved ones, research by Anthony Bardo of the University of Kentucky and Scott Lynch of Duke University shows that the cognitive impairment that can accompany aging does not preclude happiness and a high quality of life.

Note: age and happiness are correlated; however, getting older doesn’t cause happiness. We can all name several causes of (un)happiness, everything from not having enough money to an unsatisfying marriage/partnership. But all that is beyond the scope of this blog.

Bottom Line: Nobody will be happy all of the time, but we can expect to be more happy than not with age, especially if we lay a good foundation.