In my experience, and considering the usual newspaper articles about ‘benefit cheats’ and ‘scroungers’, most people think that the UK benefit system is pretty lax and a lot of people are exploiting it in some way. This post presents a starkly different reality, and shocking statistics even for those accustomed to hearing about how painful experiences of the benefit system can be for disabled people.
When was the last time you said “well, that’s men for you!” or “oh, you know, women!!!”? Or something like “well, it’s a girl/guy thing…” I’m guessing probably not that long ago. Me too! It’s actually really difficult to avoid, even if you want to. Why? Well, it’s great for bonding with fellow men or women. It’s also an easy way to explain a difference between you and your partner without getting personal (“oh, you know, it’s a guy thing I think.”). It’s also habit, and often used humorously (“honestly, men and their toys!” etc.). Common gender assumptions include: men are stronger than women; women are more empathetic than men; men are better at maths and women are more interested in relationships than casual sex. Now, I’m not saying that none of these hold some truth, even a great deal of truth in the first case. But what I’ve been wondering more and more in recent years is:
Are gender assumptions serving us well?
I think my trigger for considering this was a guy I dated who constantly challenged any gender assumptions I made: both literally in conversation and simply by being who he was. Gradually, I began to realise how unhelpful some of my gender assumptions had been. The main negatives are:
Harm to the men and women who don’t fit the assumption
This is a major one I think. It’s hard to find a gender assumption that will be true in 100% of cases (I challenge you! Comment below if you think you have one!). And for those who don’t fit the assumption, it can be tough: for the women who are great at IT but have to battle to be taken seriously, for the men with lower sex drives than their wives, for the women with no urge to have kids and for the men who love knitting. Being seen as the odd-one-out can be crushing, leaving people feeling ashamed of who they are and unable to talk freely with others about how they truly feel for fear of seeming abnormal. This has been discussed in a sexual context in the guest post on libido, where the common (but wrong) assumption remains that men are all highly sexualised and certainly more so than their girlfriends or wives . A similarly crushing (and very common) assumption is that women all get broody and men generally don’t.
And, as the current climate also demonstrates, life is particularly tough for women trying to prove themselves in male-dominated fields such as science, the film industry, politics and business leadership. At every step they come up against assumptions that they are less worthy than men to be there and thus have to fight twice as hard. And yet there is no evidence that these particular women are not every bit as good as the men they are competing with (and trying to be paid as much as) – indeed, they may even be better.
Even if you believe that more men than women are better at maths, for example, that doesn’t mean that the female accountant doing your tax return is any less skilled than her male colleagues. And even if you believe that more women than men are interested in having children, that doesn’t mean that the woman you’re dating is necessarily going to be keen on the idea (nearly all of my boyfriends have assumed this and not thought to ask!). So, just how are those assumptions serving us when we can never know which men and women will actually fit with the assumption?
I guess at times gender assumptions can be helpful though. They might help English teachers pick a range of books that are likely to interest pupils of both genders more equally than if they’d given the matter no thought, for example. But for most of us, in everyday life, I don’t see that they’re very useful.
Disagree? Comment below!
Every time we make a comment in the form of a gender assumption, we contribute to its continuation. If you’re a man and you hear all the time that men enjoy porn, you’re likely to watch it and think you should enjoy it. If you’re a woman and you hear all the time that women are bad at parking, you may put down your errors to your gender instead of the potentially real cause of inexperience, lack of confidence or a stressful day. You may just let your husband park for you, whereas were the situation reversed, you can bet your bottom dollar your husband would be practising parking until he had it mastered! (Note to self: practice parallel parking!).
Self-confidence plays a large part in mastering most skills, and studies show that girls who were given (false) information about girls being less good at maths than boys actually performed less well in a maths test than the girls who hadn’t been shown that information! 
Pressure to conform stifles individuality and limits options
What most people want in life is to be accepted for who they truly are. What if we welcomed into our world, without even raising our eyebrows, the deeply empathetic men, the highly ambitious women, the men who love to sew, the women who love to code, the broody men, the sex-mad women, the boys who dress as princesses, the girls who love to play-fight, the men who aren’t strong, the women who are, the female welders, the male secretaries, the women with an interest in war memorabilia and the men who love romcoms… Just imagine how liberating life would be for all these people (and I guarantee they are out there!) if they didn’t have to worry about being judged or laughed at but instead if people just saw them and thought “well, everyone is different”. Because that, after all, is one undeniable fact.
Without these assumptions, none of us would risk feeling like a cliché or a failed “gender rebel” either. It would be fine, as a woman, indeed a liberated, 21st-century woman, to be a stay-at-home mum, spending your free time making scented candles and having nights in with friends watching Dirty Dancing and drinking Prosecco, if you so wished.
Lately I’ve been trying to say what I like and don’t like, what I’m good at and not good at and what I want and don’t want from life, and not throw myself in with the vast group that is “women”. I’ve seen this trend growing in some of the podcasts I listen to as well, such as the Guilty Feminist podcast. To be honest, it feels much more truthful. Time and experience have revealed to me that women don’t all like the same books, films, clothes, partners and sexual practices. They aren’t all good at reading people or subtlety or being caring. They don’t all want children or rich husbands or non-stressful jobs. And men are equally diverse, even if they don’t necessarily reveal it to their male acquaintances. They don’t all like porn, action movies, fancy cars, no-fuss clothing and technology. They aren’t all good at parking, fixing things or being direct. And they don’t all want big houses, beautiful wives, lots of sex and a fridge full of beer (really!).
And if you go through life basing your decisions on these assumptions, you may well end up with pretty unhappy partners/children/employees/friends. Maybe now is the time to let go of our assumptions and just let people be who they are!
And you know what, we could all have more fun too. I’d like to know more about cars and football. Maybe if I did, I’d have new passions! Men also often tend to rule out a whole range of books and films that they might actually love. You could be missing out on discovering your ideal job because it’s not one you would feel respected, as a man/woman, doing. Why are we limiting ourselves in these ways?
I’m really happy that I grew up in a household where it was ok to like toy cars as well as dolls, to play at being a firefighter as well as a mum and to choose to study whatever I wanted. I’ve felt gloriously free to bend gender norms by playing rugby and darts, wearing men’s clothes and aftershave (occasionally) and owning a toolbox, which I use from time to time (thanks mum!). I want everyone to feel this liberated!
I still don’t quite feel free of gender expectations when it comes to sex and relationships, and talking about them with other people, but I’m getting there. And I’m still catching myself bolstering gender assumptions I don’t even believe in for the sake of group bonding, not disagreeing with someone or making things seem less personal but my challenge for 2018 is to do this much less. Anyone care to join me?
Share your thoughts below!
 e.g. see http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/sex-confessions-women-want-sex-more-than-men_n_3203879
See also Related Links
The Guilty Feminist Podcast: Assumptions https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThjQ-sG3dlE
This post is a kind of short follow-on from my first post on the law of attraction, which examines what it is and whether or not it is plausible. You can find that post here. This post addresses the argument that goes along the lines of “well, even if it’s not that scientifically plausible, isn’t it a good thing to believe in?”
Apparently “Creative visualization is a cornerstone of using the Law of Attraction” . Psychologists seem to vary on whether visualisation boards are a good thing or not . They are commonly suggested by self-help books and even at school or college courses though the Law of Attraction site goes further by suggesting spending 10-15 minutes on this every day. While it can be a good thing to visualise where you want to get to, most psychologists seem to suggest that you do need to then plan concrete steps to get you to your goal such as enrolling on courses, joining a dating site, money management etc. .
Affirmations: not always a good thing
Affirmations (another major part of the Law of attraction) can also be a double-edged sword, as research has shown that uttering affirmations that we don’t truly believe can actually reduce our self-esteem . As an aside, I will add that personally I’m a fan of affirmations but it does make sense to stick to things that either are true or that we can easily believe are true.
Being in full control of life: a good thing?
The Law of attraction suggests that “your entire future is yours to create”  . Well, how lovely. But being told life is entirely in our control can be crushing if things go wrong and we feel that it is all our fault; and even minor failings to achieve our ‘dream life’ are likely to weigh on us if we feel everything is in our control, as Alain de Botton points out here .
And how realistic is it that everything is in our control? What about earthquakes and wars, trains going off the rails and terrorist attacks?
The law of attraction tells us “Be happy, for the universe is always on our side!” Maintaining law of attraction beliefs in the face of rape, loss of your home etc. is going to require quite some mental gymnastics. And is it going to encourage us to speak up in the face of injustice or to try to reduce famine, war and abuse? Probably not, if we think that these things are happening “for a reason” or because of people thinking negatively.
“Treat The Universe Like Your Personal Supermarket”
This is one of the principles stated on the law of attraction website. Hmm. Even if it were plausible that a somewhat demented Santa figure is in charge of granting our wishes if we order them correctly, how beneficial is such a belief? Isn’t it rather self-centred? And why hasn’t anyone wished for world peace? Numerous psychologists and philosophers have pointed out that actually we are often at our happiest when serving others and when we lose the heavy sense of our personal weighty existence, be it when ‘in flow’ during a hobby, immersed in a vast landscape, star-gazing or volunteering and immersed in helping others .
What do you think? Comment below.
 e.g. Oettingen and Mayer; J Pers & Soc Psych, 2002. and https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-science-success/201107/how-positive-thinking-and-vision-boards-set-you-fail
 http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/science-of-happiness/getting-in-the-flow/; http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/science-of-happiness/caring/; http://www.bbc.co.uk/earth/story/20160420-how-nature-is-good-for-our-health-and-happiness; http://dilja.co.uk/the-benefits-of-feeling-small/ http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/science-of-happiness/strengths-and-virtues
For me, whenever I consider any religion, two big questions arise: 1. Is it plausible? and 2. Is it helpful? I think the law of attraction is a new religion that is steadily growing, largely unnoticed, and it’s about time we all had a good look at it. This post will cover ‘Is it plausible?’ and in a future post I will look at the second question.
What is the law of attraction?
The basic principle of the law of attraction is that you tell ‘the universe’ what you want in a specific way, and it will be delivered to you. In their words:
‘Visualize your message as a letter with ‘The Universe‘ printed on its envelope as an address… If you were waiting for new shoes, perhaps you would make space in your shoe rack. Likewise, make space in your life for the order that you have placed with the universe….Speak, walk, talk and breathe as if your reality has already changed for the better, and your original message will be delivered.’ 
It falls in a category involving a host of other beliefs such as belief in chakras and ‘energy therapies’.
A new religion
The United Kingdom has, of late, very much become the land of atheists or, at least, those who identify as having no religion (48.5% in 2014, outnumbering the 43.8% who define themselves as Christian). And yet I have become increasingly aware of a new religion, one that many might not call a religion but which I suggest should be seen as one: the law of attraction. It requires faith and something similar to prayer. It offers to its followers rich rewards. And it has a community of followers with their own online and real-life groups where they meet up and talk about using the principles of this ‘law’ in their lives (at the time of writing, on Meetup alone, law of attraction groups have over 1 million members!).
‘The Secret’ by Rhonda Byrne is a book on the Law of attraction that is, according to the book’s website, a worldwide best seller available in 50 languages with over 20 million copies in print. 
Its followers may well disagree with me and say ‘a religion? Oh no, it’s just another law of the universe like gravity’. But this is not very different to how followers of other religions will also tell you that God is real, a fact. The only difference is that churches don’t necessarily try to convince you God is real by reference to quantum physics (though a few probably do).
I had a message once from someone renting out rooms who thought I might like to live there. Based on me having said meditation is one of my interests, this home-owner told me that he and other persons in the house were law of attraction believers and another person there was a ‘heretic’. A jokey remark, of course, but, I think, hinting at a deeper, and more disturbing, reality.
While most religious people nowadays are aware that others may not believe in God and are usually quite discreet about their beliefs, the same can’t always be said about law of attraction followers. Those who believe that the law of attraction is a real phenomenon can say things such as “I know a great person who can really help with blocked energies”. They don’t realise that the existence of personal energies has not been proven or they assume that for some reason you will share their beliefs (e.g. because you both like meditation). I am constantly coming across law of attraction believers, and it’s time to speak out.
The essence of the law of attraction is as follows: ‘Whether we are doing it knowingly or unknowingly, every second of our existence, we are acting as human magnets sending out our thoughts and emotions and attracting back more of what we have put out.’  ‘When we fill ourselves with negative energies and emotions such as fear, anger, sadness or general pessimism, our frequency is lowered and the universe can only expand on this, promoting greater negativity in our lives.’
As with all religions, no hint of doubt in the phrasing there. But is this real science?
I have been unable to find any genuine, qualified scientist supporting the proposition that we send out different vibrations according to how we feel. And, even were that the case, it would need to be proven that such vibrations attract things to us such as new jobs, new partners, money, illness, etc.
Some refer to experiments on water: however, these are by no means accepted by the scientific community, may not have followed scientific methods, and the ‘scientist’ who carried them out is not well qualified or widely respected . It is also unclear how these ‘experiments’ (where people acted in various ways towards water: really!) could prove the idea that we can send out ‘positive vibrations’ to bring us what we want.
While most of us rely on Google as our main signpost to sources of knowledge, this is not necessarily wise. The top links resulting from a Google search are, presumably, usually companies who have hired a search engine optimisation firm to get them there. Life coaches and energy medicine practitioners need you to find them in a Google search and, as a result, if you search for ‘human energies’ or such, you will find material from those who rely on such pseudoscience to make money.
Really the only major balance to all of them is https://sciencebasedmedicine.org, which clearly states ‘Scientists can detect and measure minute energies down to the subatomic level, but they have never detected a “human energy field.”’  This website contains articles written by qualified scientists who expose the pseudoscience so commonly used by practitioners of ‘energy medicine’ such as reiki. While believers of the law of attraction may not also believe in ‘energy medicine’ and vice versa, there is often an overlap and ultimately both rely on similar claims (e.g. that energy can be purposely sent out from our body to do things like order us new shoes or heal someone’s bad back).
Writers at the New York Times, Psychology Today and some other sources have also refuted the law of attraction .
But what about anecdotes where it has ‘worked’?
The law of attraction and the philosophy around it share some similarities with common sense psychology, and so may sometimes appear to work. Psychological studies have long acknowledged the ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ whereby, for example, someone who is always told they are bad at maths may indeed do badly in maths exams due to their poor self-confidence . Likewise those with good self-confidence will probably achieve most in life due to their willingness to try new things and their belief that their endeavours are worthwhile and will pay off. There is nothing radical about this. Believing goals are attainable is crucial to keep us motivated and determined, and believers of the law of attraction are likely to have such a belief.
Elements of the law of attraction are backed up by fact or simply obvious, such as this statement taken from thelawofattraction.com home page:
‘A key part of the Law of Attraction is understanding that where you place your focus can have an intense impact on what happens to you. If you spend your days wallowing in regrets about the past or fears of the future, you’ll likely see more negativity appearing, but if you look for the silver lining in every experience then you’ll soon start to see positivity surrounding you every day.’
People who want to see positive change in their lives don’t need to consult the law of attraction website, books or groups. There are plenty of other sources that can help people and which don’t rely on fake science. Not only that, but there are sources of help that have been tested by eminent psychologists (such as Martin Seligman, Rick Hanson and others), unlike the law of attraction. The law of attraction can actually lead people to worse mental health, as will be discussed in my next post.
As for ‘energy medicine’, it can work by causing relaxation and stress relief and due to the placebo effect. So, yes, it may help but it may also cost people a lot of money and cause them to fail to pursue more useful (and more scientific) remedies.
Left unchallenged, these beliefs will spread. After centuries of truth-seeking and moving away from believing the earth is flat and lightning is God’s wrath, we are at risk of slipping back into superstition and investing great time and money in such beliefs. Google isn’t helping. The internet is awash with support for this theory and proper analysis is hard to find. The same is true for energy medicine. Next time you meet someone who assumes you are a believer, please show you aren’t. Please share this post, or one in the related links below, and help us keep on the path of truth and wisdom.
This is not another of those articles urging you to take up a ‘digital detox’. But nor is it a biased post with a commercial ulterior motive. These are my reflections on the social media age that we woke up to one morning. At least, that’s how it seems to me. I’m old enough to remember the pre-digital era, but only just. Like most of us, I slipped into using Facebook without a second thought. It went from a niche network of university friends to an online network with an astounding 1.94 billion active monthly users, according to Statista . Rarely has anything so suddenly infiltrated so many parts of our lives, with Facebook messaging often replacing email or text, with photos often being shared in the network, political viewpoints announced to the world, objects bought and sold, jobs advertised, groups formed… the list goes on. But how many of us have really stopped to think about how we use it and how well it serves us? It took me a while to do so, but I’m mighty glad I did. Here are some of the things I thought about social media use (especially Facebook, but also other network.
Something that often comes up when you talk to people about Facebook is the green-eyed-monster that rises up in us as we scroll down the news feed. Instagram feeds can provoke similar issues. For many, the feed is composed of people showing what a great time they’re having, and, in many cases, how many friends they supposedly have (in the form of likes). No matter how much we tell ourselves we know it’s just a facade and that the number of likes is pretty meaningless, do we believe it? According to new research by disability charity Scope, 62% of Facebook and Twitter users felt their own achievements were inadequate when compared to the posts of others, and 60% said that the sites had made them jealous of other users . The test, I think, is to observe how you feel as you scroll down. Do you feel happy for the people there? Bored? Envious? Competitive? Depressed? Then let your feelings dictate what you do next, be it continuing as you are, limiting how long you spend on Facebook, stopping viewing the news feed or leaving Facebook altogether. For me, this reflection led me to stop viewing the news feed and I chose a photography page I like to be listed first so that generally when I log in I see its latest post. I find that now I more often message friends directly to see what they’re doing, which leads me on to the next point…
Another issue I’ve heard discussed is the unsatisfying nature of relationships that don’t exist beyond Facebook. Much as it’s nice when someone likes something you post, it’s not a conversation. I do sometimes wonder if actual one-to-one communication has diminished because people spend idle moments scrolling through the news feed rather than sending a text or giving someone a call. Ever since I stopped using the news feed, I’ve definitely been interacting more with people one-to-one, which I find so much more satisfying.
Of course, it is possible to get into discussions on Facebook, but it’s not something I see a lot of. WordPress is much better for in-depth discussion I find, while Twitter is rather worse, due to the character limits.
That said, apparently finding out you’ve received a ‘like’ literally gives you a mini high , so on one level it is quite satisfying.
Good for groups
In my experience, Facebook is quite good for groups. It’s easy to set one up and people don’t need to log in twice. It’s easy to share photos and videos and comment on them. Facebook groups are the reason I’m still using the network. Of course, face-to-face groups are great too, probably more so, but Facebook groups have the upper hand when it comes to convenience and reaching people from all over the world. Again, it’s no doubt well worth checking in with how you actually feel when you use online groups; if you’re just getting into arguments or using it as a distraction, it might be time to leave.
Facebook: the graveyard of friendships, if you don’t have regular ‘clear outs’
A friend once described Facebook in this way as we chatted about its negative side. It struck a chord right away. I’ve never found the time or the heart to do a ‘friend cull’ and about 80% of my Facebook ‘friends’ are people I knew long ago. Needless to say, the Facebook algorithms love to let me know that some person I once vaguely knew is happily married, or has had a baby. Facebook also likes to remind me of people I was once friends with via it’s ‘what you were doing x years ago’ feature.
Facebook can be great when you are at school or university with a big network of real-life connections, and you’re meeting new people all the time, but when it begins to look and feel like a dismal graveyard it’s time to either do that cull (hopefully if there’s been no contact for several years no-one will take offence), stop looking at the news feed or leave.
If you keep your network fairly small, maybe the news feed items will provide a genuine encouragement to stay in touch with more distant friends rather than simply informing you about people you’ve ceased to care about.
Political tools, but use with care
I have mixed feelings about politics and social media. Certainly we now have the opportunity to find likeminded people from all over the world and co-ordinate political action. But we also have the opportunity to rant and say the first thing that comes into our head. To anonymously intimidate and threaten. To be highly reactive, not reflective. And to sound off in an (often rather depressing/angry) echo chamber of people who share our views, or bombard those who will simply ‘mute’ us as soon as they see a view they don’t agree with. I’d much rather read a considered blog post, or listen to a vlog, and get into a discussion around that. And I think face-to-face discussion with people we know is probably more likely to impact on their views than a ranty post.
As for getting informed about politics and news on social media, it’s certainly more fun than newspapers but of course there is the risk of fake news when there’s no-one vetting the accuracy of the posts. Social media is also a convenient soapbox for populist characters to make all sorts of claims (you know who I mean, I’m sure…).
Social media use can make us too focused on ourselves and on selfish goals
On the whole, people are happier when they see the bigger picture in life. The more I focus on MY popularity, my likes, my photos and so on, the more self-absorbed I am. We all know someone who is constantly uploading pictures of themselves, and this intense focus on appearance can’t be good for us. Not everyone is comfortable with the idea of having a ‘brand’ either. I want my friends to be my friends on good and bad days, through boredom and adventure, regardless of my popularity or attractiveness. For me, that means having real-world friends and not investing too much time in the airbrushed version of myself that social media so strongly encourages.
I’m also not really a fan of the fact that Facebook posts are so often about marriage and kids. I’m not sure if it’s their algorithms doing this or purely what gets the most likes, but, while I have nothing against marriage or starting a family, I’d rather see posts about people making the world a better place more generally. And I’d rather see creativity than the consumerism encouraged by checking in and constantly posting about restaurants etc.
I even read that the more photogenic dogs are the most popular ones to be taken from dog rescue centres. No doubt some people even get a pet purely to get more likes – pretty silly.
Thinking about these aspects has reinforced my decision to avoid the news feed, which is even easier if you have the messenger app so don’t need to log into Facebook to see your messages. I only post about myself from time to time and always try to remind myself that I’m not on a quest for likes. Another thing that’s interesting to do is to ask yourself why you are thinking of posting something, and if it’s a very shallow reason, decide not to do it.
Facebook is good for appreciation, but is it creating an environment of forced positivity?
The comments that tend to get most likes are positive ones, and I’d certainly agree that it’s wise to appreciate the good things in our lives. However, I do wonder if the fact that most comments are of the ‘I’m so happy’ type might be making it more difficult for people to talk about their struggles. Prior to the introduction of the sad face, angry face and amazed face, negative posts usually received little reaction, and maybe the introduction of those other options came too late to change the fact that most posts are of the gloating kind. In my experience, it’s only worth airing your troubles on Facebook within the context of a support group.
A few other thoughts:
– encouragement of procrastination
– distraction from work/family/relationship/social life/crossing the street safely!
– there are a lot of bots and prostitutes on some networks
– Twitter is extremely commercial: it can be hard to use it for social ends when so many users have commercial aims
– social networks are great for sharing information, and indeed I use them to share bits of ‘unconventional wisdom’ and these posts
– easy to connect with people around the world
– sometimes an enjoyable distraction during a tea break etc.
What are your thoughts? How do you use social media? Would you like to change how you use it? Share your thoughts below.
Related links: (some of many!)
We are obsessed with romantic relationships
As a society, we seem to be obsessed with romance. The majority of songs seem to be about romantic relationships or sex. A whole genre of books, Chick Lit, is devoted to romance, and romance often features as a life-enhancing situation in many other novels. And then there’s the Romcoms. Dating sites abound. And if all that weren’t enough, there’s that much-dreaded day for many singletons: Valentine’s day. No friends’ day, at least not here in the UK.
Where’s the celebration of friendship?
Where are all the homages to friendship? There’s a saying that lovers come and go, while friends remain, but there’s really little celebration of friendship in popular media. Everyone knows that friends are the ones you go when you have a broken heart; no matter how sure you are that your relationship will last forever, 42% of marriages end in divorce . Who will be there for you then? Unless you’ve made the effort to nourish friendships even while juggling work and family responsibilities, the answer could be that no-one will. Even for those fortunate couples whose relationship remains strong, one day one of them will die and the other will be in certain need of supportive friends. I remember being very struck by that common regret of the dying (observed by a palliative nurse): I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends .
The best friendships are not based on selfishness
And I don’t think we should just stay in touch with our friends for selfish reasons alone. Friendship should be about a mutual bond and the willingness to go out of our way to support the other person when they need it. I worry that we are coming to view friendship in quite a selfish light; many popular internet memes encourage us to ditch our ‘negative friends’. And yet, approximately one in four of us will experience a mental health problem at some point in our lives . Are we expected to be constantly positive, encouraging and in agreement with our friends? Surely the occasional argument, or grumpy mood, or patch of depression is natural and part of being a good friend is to be able to resolve conflicts, not over-react to less-than-perfect behaviour and to support our friend through a difficult time. (That said, it’s another matter if your friend is routinely putting you down or acting aggressively etc. I would not suggest anyone risk their own mental or physical health for the sake of a friendship.)
Loneliness is rife
I often come across people online who have no friends, and indeed felt like I had none at various points in my life. Some might say that these are difficult or selfish people, but I think that’s unlikely. Many are people who come across great online. Many attribute the ‘disappearance’ of their friends to a decline in health, which they assume made their friends feel uncomfortable or view them as too inconvenient. Others have moved away from their university friends and are finding it impossible to make friends in their new town, and yet others attribute their lack of friends to a disability or depression. The emergence of friend-making sites such as Girlfriend Social and Together Friends is a response to the large numbers of people struggling to make new friends.
Perhaps we should not be so quick to write off old friends
I admit I now regret writing off a couple of former friendships. I’m quite slow to do… I generally cherish every friendship and don’t turn anyone away. But after two of my best friends said hurtful things, I considered our friendships over, and wonder now if I was a little hasty to do so. I’m sure I’ve also been a bit neglectful of some friendships during very busy patches of my life. I’ve also been on the receiving end of friendship neglect, and I find it very sad that people I’d gone out of my way to support in difficult times don’t value our friendship enough to maintain contact.
Friendship is a great gift, and need not be a burden
I have always thought that the gift of friendship is an easy one to bestow. A kind word and a bit of genuine listening costs nothing and need to take up much time. Grabbing lunch with someone, or dropping someone a text or email is not a momentous task, but can do a great deal to relieve someone of loneliness, provide sympathy or advice, and make them feel cared for. I think often it’s a matter of finding what works for both people, be it periodic phone calls, Whatsapp messages, Facebook etc. Even parents busy with young children can find a way to check in with old friends from time to time. When you look out for people in this way, not only do you store up people who will support you when you need it, you also help reduce mental health problems and even suicide.
I think parents should also not assume that friends will want to see them without their kids or partners. Often friends will accept that it’s not easy for them to continue as they did before marriage and parenthood, and will be ready to accept – or even appreciate – different types of get-togethers.
And how about some more books, music and films celebrating great friendships? Heroic, impressive, beautiful friendships. I don’t know about you, but I’m quite bored of it all being about romance.
What do you think? Is friendship undervalued? What have your experiences of friendship been? How do you stay in touch with friends? Comment below!
This is something that’s really been on my mind lately. Having many choices is very much a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s good to have options, but, on the other hand, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and over-stretched, never feeling like you have enough time for anything. I think some people are more prone to this than others.
It is often assumed that a benefit of the free market is having lots of choice. I’m sure it’s better than having no choice, but at times I do wish there was a bit less choice. I’ve often spent hours trying to find the best price or the best product, and it was tedious and exhausting. I felt, somehow, obliged to do it. If you enjoy shopping around, or, alternatively, don’t feel obliged to do it, I envy you!
A writer in the Economist seems to agree with me, saying “The explosion of available goods has only made time feel more crunched”. 
A gender thing?
Women seem to be more prone to this than men, as we find ourselves traipsing round all the shops to be sure we’re getting the absolute best deal on something, whereas men seem to find it a lot easier to just buy the first suitable item. I remember a journalist once saying the same difference applies to holiday booking. Of course, browsing and getting the best deal can be really enjoyable, if you like that kind of thing… But, if you don’t, how do you drop the habit?
Never enough time, and FOMO
And it’s not just shopping that can be plagued by choice overload. Our leisure time can often feel fraught as we struggle to juggle invites, events we want to attend, chores that need doing and hobbies we’re struggling to keep up with, not to mention exercise and spending time with friends and family. When did having lots of wonderful options turn into feeling like we never have enough time and always feeling like we’re missing out?
The vast, messy, ever-present internet
Obviously, the internet has a lot to do with choice overload. It offers almost infinite resources including blogs, vlogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and news websites. I was wondering the other day whether teenagers are allowed to have their phones at school lunchtimes. Our hour-long lunchtimes seemed to last forever and were usually very boring; I feel like I could’ve had a better time online. Most often though, I reminisce about an era when people didn’t check their phones during our lunch date, an era when I seemed to spend a great deal of time enjoying the outdoors… It comes as no surprise that 60% (or more) of British 16−24-year-olds visit a social media site several times a day.  Ultimately, I think the internet is a good thing, but how can someone who used to read magazines from cover to cover get the most out of a great resource without feeling overwhelmed?
Netflix and such
The same issue can arise with things like Netflix: in the olden days, we had a choice of 4 channels and recording something to watch later was a bit of a pain. You went to a shop to hire videos. Now, we are faced with a huge choice of material, on demand. But we simply don’t have time to watch it all so, how to choose?
The pain of prioritising
The obvious answer to the ‘too much choice’ problem is clear: prioritise. For years I somehow didn’t realise this was necessary, accepting invites in a first-come-first-served manner, planning my life with a scattergun approach, lacking any ‘white space’ to reflect on life or make decisions. At one point, I actually had to pencil in my diary a slot to make a decision on some big issue, because otherwise the time didn’t arise! Looking back on that time, I’m so glad that my life is now so much more spacious.
Prioritising has a big place in my life now: in my work and professional development, in my personal admin time and in my leisure time. I’m the kind of person who finds many things interesting, so prioritising is, frankly, often quite painful, especially when it means saying ‘no’ to something. Ultimately though, time is finite and I don’t want to be one of those people who is completely over-stretched, never really listening to anyone or having time to reflect on their relationships and lifestyle. So, I’ve chosen my key hobbies (three of them), I’ve narrowed down my areas of work, and I prioritise friends based on how much they seem to care about our friendship.
Other strategies to manage choice overload and overwhelm
I’m thinking aloud here. Feel free to help me in the comments section below! This is very much a work in progress for me.
- Think about how you fill your time. Rank the activities, from ‘favourite’ to ‘not that keen on’. Can you cut anything out? I realised I don’t really enjoy eating out: now I only do it for special occasions like birthdays or when a friend suggests it. Can you increase your favourite things? Maybe you just need to suggest them more, and people will be as keen as you are.
- Narrow down the apps and social media. Do you really need to be on them all? Decide which ones are of most benefit to you and your network, and bin off the rest.
One study shows that young adults use their smartphones roughly twice as much as they estimate that they do (an average of five hours a day).  Photo by Daria Nepriakhina (Unsplash)
- See the bigger picture: It’s not all about you. When you prioritise, factor in the feelings of relevant people. And give yourself enough time to help a stranger on your way somewhere, or do something for a friend at the weekend. Life isn’t a hedonistic pleasure spree, even if advertisers want us to think it is.
- Narrow down your hobbies to the two or three most important ones. Combine them with socialising if appropriate e.g. in art clubs, book groups, dance groups, Meetups etc.
- Learn mindfulness and slow down. Give up the frantic pace and really get the most out of what you’re doing right now.
- Accept that life is full of obstacles and other people’s inefficiencies. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do, so take a deep breath and let go. Don’t resent the ‘wasted time’ − it would only make you angry.
- At the risk of losing email subscribers to this blog, I’m still going to say it: subscribe to only a select few things.
- Set limits: decide in advance how long you’ll spend looking for the best deals (or whatever it is you’re doing), or limit yourself to looking only at a certain number of websites, for example.
- Whatever you do, don’t get emails and Facebook notifications popping up on your laptop or phone screen!
- In your free time, try thinking ‘what do I actually feel like doing now?’ Learn to go with your instincts instead of following a habit to go on Netflix, Facebook or whatever. Maybe you’ll actually feel more like going for a walk, painting, calling a friend, baking a cake…. Don’t know about you, but too much time online makes me feel bug-eyed, zoned out and drained.
- Keep some white space in your diary.
- Look for recommendations g. try the Good Garage guide if you need to choose a local garage and consider subscribing to Which?
Share your ideas and reflections below!
https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/105969207/posts/274 When choices become clutter
 2014/15 Department for Culture, Media and Sport https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/476095/Taking_Part_201415_Focus_on_Free_time_activities.pdf