Friday, April 29, 2016
Greed is good: Gordon Gekko played by Michael Douglas in 'Wall Street', was eventually jailed for illicit trading, despite having his own plane, money to burn and notoriety.
How happy are you? If the answer is, "Well, who is?", you're not alone. Last month, the World Happiness Index of 2016 ranked Irish people just 23rd in the world out of 158 countries, despite our relative affluence.
A recurring theme in studies of happiness is that prosperity and success does not translate into happiness. In fact one recent UK study found that affluent London boroughs such as Camden and Islington reported the lowest levels of life satisfaction in the country.
But why is it that despite prosperity and individual success, so many people report low contentment? A new book suggests that, in fact, these qualities are closely linked.
Raj Raghunathan is a happiness researcher and professor of marketing at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business, where he has taught more than 100,000 students a course called 'What are the determinants of a fulfilling and happy life?'. In the past five years, he has given 1,500 successful students - those with superior IQs, greater drive, high critical thinking ability and a better work ethic - a "mental chatter exercise" in which they kept a diary of their thoughts for two weeks.
The students expected 60-75pc of their thoughts to be positive, but most - up to 70pc - were negative.
"Their negative mental chatter fell into three main categories: feeling inferior, lack of love and connectivity with others, and lack of control over themselves and other people," says Prof Raghunathan.
In his new book, the researcher reveals the traits of successful people that can get in the way of happiness and explains what to do instead.
Need for control
It's a familiar scenario we see in ourselves or other successful people: the need to control other people and situations - and it's worse if you're a "maximiser", someone with the irrepressible urge to make things better.
This leads to unhappiness in two ways. First, trying to control someone's behaviour leads to "psychological reactance", when people do the opposite (you attempt to control your spouse's diet and he/she responds with pizza binges to spite you).
Second, it leads to "power stress", where you get angry and frustrated when others fail to behave in the way you want. Plus, our decision-making suffers because we drive away those who disagree with us and surround ourselves only with those who don't mind being controlled - "yes" people.
What to do instead: Build your internal control muscle. Countless studies have found that being in control of ourselves rather than others - internal control - leads to increased levels of happiness. Developing internal control is like building a muscle - the more you exercise it, the more it grows and strengthens. Starting small is best. Practise maintaining internal control when tiny things disappoint you, such as rain on your holiday or your child bawling their head off in public.
Try labelling your emotions without trying to control the situation or person, and then move on. For example, "I'm feeling frustrated because I'm stuck in traffic, but that's okay because I can't control that."
Desire for superiority
Studies have found that people who are higher in status are more physically and emotionally healthy. But striving too hard for superiority can make us unhappy. First, it can lead to mimicking the competition, which minimises our authenticity. Your neighbour runs 100m in 20 seconds, so you focus on running it in 12 to beat him.
But you're much better off having an internal yardstick for comparison, or you will be tempted into moving away from your own strengths to do what he does.
Superiority is also hard to measure - how do you know you're the best drummer or teacher out there? - so we use "extrinsic markers", such as fame or wealth, to measure our status. That makes us materialistic - and numerous studies have found that as materialism goes up, contentment goes down.
What to do instead: Practise extrinsic gratitude. Gratitude lists are all the rage because they have been proven to work. But rather than emphasise how well you have done and what a great job you did, practise being grateful for all the small things and people that came together to bring you a favourable outcome. That kind of extrinsic gratitude connects you to people, while striving for superiority can isolate you (especially if you're always going on about your achievements).
Try self-compassion, too. This is being pioneered by Dr Kristin Neff at the University of Austin, Texas. She says that when you experience a failure or let-down, treat yourself like you would a good friend. You can even write that "friend" an email or letter explaining why they needn't feel ashamed or disappointed for whatever mistake they made.
It's touchy-feely, but has been shown to work.
Wanting to be loved
Those in intimate, long-term relationships with a significant other fare well in the happiness stakes, and love and connection have been shown in studies to be a critical human need. But for many people who strive for success before happiness, a healthy need for connection can become neediness.
In studies, high levels of neediness correlate to unhappiness, anxiety and depression, and can make us overly concerned with what others think. This can manifest as a hunger for fame or accolades and become a self-fulfilling prophecy by turning people off being around you and triggering loneliness, which leads to more neediness.
What to do instead: Check your ECR rating. This stands for Experiences in Close Relationships (find out where you are on the scale at happysmarts.com/e/alpha/survery2.php) and relates to the attachment style you developed growing up. It can help you understand whether you tend toward neediness or a healthy need for connection.
Be an "otherish" giver. While the successful and miserable tend to show desperation and neediness for love, the happy and successful tend to focus on the need to love and give.
Research by business psychologist Adam Grant, author of Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, suggests that giving more - materially and emotionally - can make us happier.
But he distinguishes between selfless givers who give so indiscriminately that they burn out, and otherish givers who are more likely to be successful because they take care of themselves as well (and don't want or expect returns).
WILL IT MAKE ME HAPPY?
Yes. Warwick University research has identified a U-shaped curve in happiness levels over a person's lifetime, starting out high in their 20s, then hitting a low at around 46 before rising again in later decades. An ONS survey this year found those aged 45-59 reported the lowest life satisfaction, while happiness peaked between 65 and 79.
Up to a point. Research presented to the American Psychological Association in 2014 found that emotional well-being increased with income, but only up to pounds 45,000, when most people's basic needs were met.
Yes. "We get satisfaction from developing mastery over something if it corresponds with our talents and abilities, and helps us experience the phenomenon of flow - when time stands still because you're enjoying something so much," says Prof Raghunathan.
Research by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky found that career goals rather than money correlated with work happiness.
Yes. A Harvard Medical School study tracking 268 men from 1938 to the early 2000s found that the strength of their social relationships determined the happiest 10pc.
Depends. Research by Cambridge University found that those who spent their money in keeping with their personalitie were happier. So when introverts spent at bookstores for example, and extroverts at bars, both groups were happier.
Thursday, April 28, 2016
Having a large social circle can be “better than morphine”, new research suggests.
People with large groups of friends have a higher pain tolerance, according to researchers from Oxford University.
Experts looked into endorphins – the body’s natural pain killers.
Endorphins are natural pain killers for us
The chemical is a “potent analgesic, indeed more so than the pain-relieving opiate drug morphine,” the authors write in the journal Scientific Reports.
Katerina Johnson, a doctoral student in the University’s Department of Experimental Psychology, said: “Endorphins are part of our pain and pleasure circuitry – they’re our body’s natural painkillers and also give us feelings of pleasure.
“Previous studies have suggested that endorphins promote social bonding in both humans and other animals. One theory, known as ‘the brain opioid theory of social attachment’, is that social interactions trigger positive emotions when endorphin binds to opioid receptors in the brain. This gives us that feel-good factor that we get from seeing our friends.”
The researchers looked at 101 adults aged between 18 and 34 who were questioned on a number of aspects of their lives and also received a non-invasive, physical pain test.
This involved the participants squatting against a wall with knees at a 90 degree angle with a straight back for as long as possible.
And they found that people with larger social networks have a higher pain tolerance.
Katerina added: “These results are also interesting because recent research suggests that the endorphin system may be disrupted in psychological disorders such as depression. This may be part of the reason why depressed people often suffer from a lack of pleasure and become socially withdrawn.”
The team also found that fitter people and those who reported high stress levels were likely to have smaller social networks.
She added: “It may simply be a question of time – individuals that spend more time exercising have less time to see their friends. However, there may be a more interesting explanation – since both physical and social activities promote endorphin release, perhaps some people use exercise as an alternative means to get their ‘endorphin rush’ rather than socialising.
“The finding relating to stress may indicate that larger social networks help people to manage stress better, or it may be that stress or its causes mean people have less time for social activity, shrinking their network.”
Caranua: An open letter to survivors of Ireland’s notorious Industrial prisons
For those who feel they have been abused by Caranua or knows of someone who has, in any way, and supported with whatever proof they can offer, please contact Hanora Brennan by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hanora, along with me, was also an inmate of Irelands Industrial system. We are both now in the process of taking statements in written and video form from survivors with the intent of bringing Caranua, and more importantly, Mary Higgins, to task because of their increasingly hostile and abusive stance towards survivors. Also, it is the core issue of survivors needs not being met for no two cases are alike.
The transparency and honesty of Caranua itself and their wages and expenses that they have deemed sufficient for themselves to survive is the main reason of where we are today, and where we are headed, as the real survivors are victims yet again.
You will have someone not only to listen to your concerns, but who will act on them as well with your help. Caranua and Mary Higgins have a case to answer.
Alan Shatter, Sergeant Maurice McCabe, and former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan
On Monday, the O’Higgins report was delivered to the Department of Justice. The report is from the commission of investigation into malpractice in the gardaí, as a result of allegations from Sergeant Maurice McCabe.
On the same day, the Garda Authority and the commissioner met in public for the first time, with the former questioning the latter about operation of the force.
There is a symmetry about these two events. The authority was set up in the wake of the fall-out from McCabe’s claims. When he first made his allegations, he had felt the reaction was one of indifference from both the top brass in the force and the political system. After Martin Callinan resigned as garda commissioner, it was felt it was time to bring in an authority as a buffer between policing and politics.
The Garda Authority was to herald a bright new era of openness and transparency. And the force was to be led by a new commissioner, the first woman to occupy that role, Nóirín O’Sullivan.
On Monday, the authority put Ms O’Sullivan and her senior officers under the microscope. Sort of.
A range of areas were examined, including surveys of public attitudes to the force, closure of rural stations, communications, anti-social behaviour and road safety. There was also some encouraging statistics in combatting gangland crime, which has been to the fore in the media in recent months.
But it was the bread and butter issues that formed the substance of the meeting. Typical of the fare was the closure of rural stations. This policy has been controversial in some quarters, but a case can certainly be made that the country no longer requires a network designed for the days of the horse and cart.
“Our focus is on engaging with communities as opposed to bricks and mortar,” Ms O’Sullivan told the authority. “The investment in the fleet has ensured there is adequate transport to reach out to communities.”
On the face of it, this makes perfect sense. The real problem is many rural communities still feel unsafe because there is a lack of visible presence, on either motorised or foot patrol.
It would have been interesting to find out the specifics of how patrols have been increased in the various areas where stations have closed. Anecdotally, there is precious little in some of the more far-flung outposts.
In all likelihood, other districts have seen an increase in patrols, but we didn’t find out because nobody asked. Details such as these are not hard to come by and would certainly fulfil the function of boosting confidence in operations if made public in a forum such as Monday’s meeting. That is, of course, if there has been a real “reaching out” exercise to replace the vacated bricks and mortar.
Road safety is another area that affects most all citizens. Recent report about staffing in the traffic bureau was touched on. In response, Ms O’Sullivan gave no specifics as to whether numbers would be beefed up.
What did emerge is that there have been more detections for drink driving in the first quarter this year — 1,833 — than for the corresponding period last year, when the figure was 1,765.
How come there was more drink driving detected with less staff and fewer checkpoints? The question was never asked.
None of which is to say that the gardaí are not doing a good job, it’s just that we still don’t really know. Maybe the authority is just getting going. Time will tell.
The O’Higgins report is largely about the past. The main body of the report examines a dozen instances of garda investigation which McCabe had complained were not done properly. To a large extent, retired High Court judge Kevin O’Higgins found that the public were poorly served by the investigations.
The most serious of these concerned Jerry McGrath, a violent offender who was released on bail on a charge of false imprisonment of a child, while he was already on bail for a serious assault of a woman in Cavan a few months previously. Ten days after his second successful bail application, McGrath murdered Sylvia Roche Kelly in December 2007.
Could that or the other cases where poor and shoddy police work ill-served the public be repeated in this bright, new shining era?
What we do know from the O’Higgins report is that openness and transparency were slow coming to the inquiry. The report ruled that the discovery of documents by the force to the inquiry was “unhelpful and frustrating”. That is not from the bad old past, but from just a few months ago, well into the new era. What it demonstrates is that while there was some great soundbites about openness and transparency at the authority meeting in public, the same fidelity to laudable ideals was obviously not evident behind the closed doors of a commission of investigation.
The other issue that arises from O’Higgins is whether the malpractice examined was exception or rule. Was it just a coincidence that, in the Bailieborough district of Co Cavan, there was an officer who was willing to stick his head above the parapet? Could it be that in all other districts everything is largely hunky-dory?
While there was some terrific management speak at the Garda Authority meeting, it is the quality of district officers that still largely determines how the force operates in particular districts.
There are plenty of good senior cops who ensure that the best practice ensues.
But the notion that there has been a transformation within the force, ensuring that the old, often bad way of doing things is now past, hardly stands up to scrutiny.
There are a raft of external factors — most prominently the recent recession — which have put serious pressure on a force to do more with less resources and attempt to maintain morale at the same time. But it remains to be seen whether any real cultural changes have been effected to ensure that we don’t have more O’Higgins reports into the future.
A little done, a lot more to do.
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Ireland an expensive, educated and fertile EU state, CSO finds
Report on country’s progress notes young population, low divorce rate and high debt
Prices in Ireland were 22.3 per cent above the European Union average in 2014, making the State the fourth most expensive place to live in the bloc, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) has said.
Prices in the Republic were 22.3 per cent above the European average in 2014, making the state the joint third most expensive place to live in the EU, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) has said.
Only Denmark and Sweden were more expensive than the Republic and Finland in 2014, which were tied in third, according to the Measuring Ireland’s Progress 2014 report.
However, the CSO noted the finding is an improvement on 2008 when price levels in the Republic were 30 per cent above the average and the second highest in the EU.
The report measures progress using indicators to provide an overall view of society, the economy, the environment, education and health.
It found almost half the population (49.8 per cent) was at risk of poverty in 2013 before pensions and social transfers were taken into account – the second highest in the EU – although the figure drops to 14.1 per cent with transfers included. Some 8 per cent of the population were in consistent poverty in 2014.
On crime, the number of reported sexual offences rose by 40 per cent between 2009 and 2014. There were decreases in dangerous or negligent acts (offences mainly concerned with drink driving) which were down by 53 per cent while public order and similar offences decreased by 43 per cent.
On jobs, the employment rate in 2014 was the eighth lowest in the EU and the unemployment rate was the eighth highest. The employment rate dropped sharply from 69.1 per cent in 2007 to 58.8 per cent in 2012 before rising to 63.1 per cent in 2015.
The number of men at work fell from 77.7 per cent in 2006 to 62.4 per cent in 2012 but has increased since then to 68.7 per cent in 2015. Women at work dropped from 60.6 per cent in 2007 to 55.2 per cent in 2012 before increasing to 57.6 per cent in 2015.
In terms of the gender pay gap, female employees were paid 14.4 per cent an hour less than male employees in 2012. This gave the Republic the eleventh lowest gender pay gap in the EU, when the average was 16.6 per cent.
The number of dwelling units built increased sharply to peak at almost 90,000 in 2006 before collapsing over the next seven years to stand at 8,300 in 2013. There was a small rise to just over 11,000 dwellings built in 2014, below the level in 1970.
The average value of a housing loan rose from €200,000 in 2005 to €270,200 in 2008 before dropping by a third to €180,500 in 2014.
The Republic has the second highest fertility rate in the EU, at 1.96 per woman, and just over a third of all Irish births are outside marriage, below the EU average of 40 per cent.
In terms of the age of the population, the Republic had the highest proportion of young people in the EU and the second lowest proportion of old people, while the overall population is increasing at the third highest rate in the EU.
Current public expenditure on health care as a proportion of Gross National Income increased strongly over the period 2004-2009, from 6.6 per cent to 9.7 per cent, before decreasing over the following four years to stand at 8.5 per cent in 2013.
An average of €2,538 per person was spent on current public expenditure on health care in 2004. This expenditure increased steadily to €2,993 per person in 2010. By 2013, however, current public expenditure on health care per person decreased to €2,848.
On education, nearly half the population aged 25-34 had completed third level, which was the fourth highest rate across the EU. The early school leavers rate was lower than the EU average in 2014, at 6.9 per cent of the population aged 18-24.
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
About 400 years ago, a throng of dusty workmen laid down their shovels and huddled around an ancient painted wall—a fresco, technically—unearthed in a tunnel near Italy’s Bay of Naples. The men were at work on a massive construction project, burrowing through a hill to build a canal for a local armament factory and mill. No one expected to find fine art. But as the workmen dug deeper into the hill, they encountered wonder upon wonder—house walls painted blood red and sunflower yellow, fragments of carved inscriptions, pieces of Roman statues.
The architect supervising the project took little interest in the curious finds. But in the decades that followed, scholars deduced—correctly—that the costly canal had cut through a part of Pompeii, a Roman seaside town last glimpsed on a black day in August, 79 CE, when nearby Mount Vesuvius shook off centuries of sleep, hurling molten rock and other volcanic debris across the countryside. The scholars’ deduction launched an age of exploration. Art collectors, engineers, and eventually archaeologists combed the 80-kilometer-long bay and the neighboring island of Capri, uncovering the ruins of ancient seaside resorts and more than 130 waterfront villas belonging to Rome’s upper crust. The Bay of Naples, it transpired, was the Malibu of the ancient world.
Wealthy Romans, says classical archaeologist Elaine Gazda of the University of Michigan, were likely the first in history to snap up waterfront properties and build spectacular, sumptuous summer homes overlooking the sea. The coastal real estate boom that followed was unprecedented in antiquity. “We don’t really have ruins resembling these in the Hellenistic world,” says Gazda, who has studied villas along the Bay of Naples. “It’s a completely new phenomenon.”
But what exactly spurred this building boom? Why did Rome’s high society suddenly flock to the Bay of Naples and to many other coasts in the Roman Empire? The answer turns out to be far less obvious than one may think. The serene beauty of a waterfront view, the healthy sea air, the simple pleasure of boating during the hottest months of the year—these were all powerful draws. But new archaeological research suggests that many villa owners saw an economic opportunity, too, wringing profit from these coastal estates.
In Pompeii and other seaside resorts on the Bay of Naples, Ancient Rome’s upper crust vied to build luxury villas replete with costly frescoes, such as those that adorn the walls of Villa of the Mysteries. Photo by Macduff Everton/Corbis
The great villas weren’t simply pleasure palaces, after all; studies suggest that many of the properties housed thriving fish farms that catered to the almost feverish passion among wealthy Romans for the freshest seafood possible. As Seneca, an adviser to the emperor Nero, once put it, “A surmullet, even if it is perfectly fresh, is little esteemed until it is allowed to die before the eyes of your guest.” And the desire to capitalize on this hunger for freshness eventually pitted the very rich against the working poor, sparking one of the world’s earliest-known battles for the coastline.
Tucked away today in a quiet bedroom community outside Naples, the Roman ruins at Oplontis offer little hint to passing cars of an illustrious past. Half hidden behind a graffiti-inscribed barrier along Via Sepolcri, exposed walls are covered by a patchwork of tile and metal roofs, giving Oplontis the cheerless look of a construction site abandoned long ago. Only an official-looking metal gate and a small corner sign reveal the presence of one of Italy’s archaeological treasures.
Nearly 2,000 years ago, Villa A at Oplontis, also known as Villa Poppaea, was one of the most lavish waterfront houses on the Bay of Naples. Perched dramatically on a cliff west of Pompeii, the villa was larger than Donald Trump’s palatial 3,600-square-meter country home in New York State, Seven Springs. And even in its crumbling decline, Villa A retains a note of grandeur. Decades of digging have revealed more than 90 rooms or discrete spaces, as well as costly frescoes, a 60-meter swimming pool, a heated bath chamber, extensive gardens, and large slave quarters. One of its most impressive rooms, a spacious banqueting hall, looked out on a courtyard with a panoramic view of the Bay of Naples—a careful piece of design. Wealthy Romans, says archaeologist William Bowden of the University of Nottingham in England, were fond of hosting dinner parties and a spectacular waterfront view would have been “highly desirable” for entertaining people.
This map shows Roman settlements in the context of the modern coastline and the city of Naples. Illustration by Mark Garrison
Ancient texts suggest that one of the first prominent Romans to occupy a villa along the bay was Scipio Africanus the Elder, a celebrated general who retired to his coastal estate in 184 BCE. And as the Roman navy proceeded to dispatch the pirates plaguing Italy’s coasts, and as wealth piled up in Rome after its conquests in the East, high society began investing in waterfront homes. By the first century CE, for example, Julius Caesar’s father-in-law seems to have spent his summers in a massive waterfront home at Herculaneum, while a grandson of the emperor Augustus appears to have holidayed in a clifftop villa in Surrentum. And some archaeological evidence suggests that one of Nero’s wives owned Villa A for a time.
Roman society frowned, however, on those who frittered away their days in idle luxury. Wealth had to be justified, just as it does now. “Today, people would sneer at the wealth of the Kardashians,” says Bowden, “They would [do that] because it’s not been earned in the proper way.” The same, he adds, was true in the Roman world. Multimillionaires couldn’t just laze around their summer homes and expect others to take them seriously. They had to stay busy on their estates, growing and harvesting something. “Large-scale production is part of the language of status, and having an active involvement in agriculture justifies the luxury of your home,” he says.
For decades, archaeologists regarded once grand seaside estates such as Villa A as pleasure palaces. New finds suggest that many wealthy Romans were aquaculturists who competed with local fishers for prime spots along the coast. Photo by Bildagentur-online/Sunny Celeste/Alamy Stock Photo
Some estate owners along the coast won the respect of their neighbors by the tried and true Mediterranean ways of planting olive groves to make oil and vineyards to produce wine. But the ocean itself presented a new possibility: aquaculture. The ancient Greeks and Mesopotamians had already devised methods for raising freshwater fish. But many of Rome’s wealthy patricians took a deep breath, and invested in something far more experimental: intensive marine fish farming along the shoreline.
More than a decade ago, as a graduate student at Columbia University in New York City, archaeologist and ancient historian Annalisa Marzano began looking at the economic enterprises that once flourished on the old Roman estates on Italy’s coast. Marzano had grown up in the small seaside village of Positano, an hour and a half drive south of Naples, and she was fascinated by archaeological reports of artificial fishponds known as piscinae on the shores below many Roman villas.
From the published drawings of these ponds and remaining ruins, Marzano could see that owners had spared little expense. Skilled workers had cut the piscinae out of rock shelves and used underwater concrete technology to form large basins. Masons then divided them with walls into separate enclosures suitable for keeping fish of different species and sizes, and equipped these tanks with openings, pipes, and channels. Often the enclosures formed pleasing geometric patterns in the water and were situated below villa terraces. From there, guests lolling about on banqueting couches could admire the flash and gleam of fish below.
In Roman times, says Marzano, the writer Marcus Terentius Varro dismissed these facilities as costly follies. The ponds “appeal to the eye more than the purse,” Varro wrote, “and exhaust the pouch of the owner, rather than fill it.” But Marzano, who now teaches at the University of Reading in England, suspected that there was more to the ponds than Varro let on. Many piscinae covered an area equivalent to about three or four tennis courts—too large, it seemed, to be eye candy or to simply produce food for the owner’s table. And a few of the ponds, she says, were “really impressive.” The largest—at the villa of Torre Astura, northwest of Naples—extended over an area of about 15,000 square meters, roughly the size of two World Cup soccer fields. To assess how well these ponds would have worked, Marzano teamed up with Giulio Brizzi, an Italian marine biologist who designs modern aquaculture operations.
Brizzi says that villa owners had to keep water in the enclosures well-oxygenated and free from toxic levels of ammonia, a gas excreted by fish, in order to keep the stock alive. The Romans had little knowledge of gases, but they were keen observers of the natural world and adept hydraulic engineers, as their aqueduct systems attest. To maintain the health of their fish, villa owners harnessed the ocean’s tides and employed a network of channels to manage water flow. High tides, for example, carried fresh seawater into the enclosures, diluting ammonia levels and boosting the amounts of oxygen. In addition, fresh water from nearby streams, rivers, or cisterns flowed through channels and pipes into the ponds, adding to the level of dissolved oxygen. The ponds weren’t particularly high tech, but “the Romans exploited to the maximum a rather simple system,” says Brizzi.
Rome’s upper crust was particularly fond of dining on species such as sea bass, gilthead sea bream, and surmullet—fish that inhabited estuaries, where fresh water from a river or stream flows into the sea. Local fishers likely knew where to catch these fish, and villa owners seem to have capitalized on this knowledge to help stock their operations. When water from the tanks flowed out to sea, the estuary-like discharge attracted both juvenile and adult fish into the ponds, where they could be easily captured. “So the Romans observed the natural habitat, and started to apply that [knowledge],” Marzano says.
By estimating the oxygen level and temperature in a pond, the two researchers calculated that an average-sized piscina could have sustainably produced as much as five tonnes of fish—nearly twice as much seafood as a wealthy family could consume, even if they threw a dinner party every night of the year and served only their own artisanal seafood to guests. At the far end of the scale, the immense fishpond at Torre Astura was capable of producing as much as 60 tonnes of fish sustainably—operations suitable for commerce, Marzano says. And many others agree. “Some of these fish production facilities are far too big than simply for private use,” Bowden says.
A painted peacock struts across the wall of a banqueting hall at Villa A. Photo by Mimmo Jodice/Corbis
The most likely markets for the surplus fish were in Roman cities, where affluent consumers were willing to shell out handsomely for large fish. The Roman poet Martial, for example, recounted how a single 1.8-kilogram surmullet sold for 1,200 Roman sesterces, the price of a human slave. And this sale wasn’t exceptional. In the first century CE, the emperor Tiberius was so incensed by the high cost of certain seafood that he considered regulating the prices commanded by fishmongers.
But delivering fresh fish to an urban market many kilometers away wouldn’t have been easy in an age before refrigeration. Dead fish go off quickly. Some Roman shipowners, however, seem to have devised a solution. In 1999, a team of nautical archaeologists excavated a Roman vessel that sank off Italy’s Adriatic coast some 1,900 years ago. Among the debris, the archaeologists found hundreds of storage jars packed with processed fish, as well as a strange but tantalizing object: a 1.3-meter-long lead pipe that penetrated the ship’s hull. After more than a decade of research, the team concluded that the ancient ship had a pumping system to help oxygenate an on-board fish tank—a technology described in some Roman texts.
Marzano admits that the evidence for live fish transport is still controversial, but she thinks the idea makes sense. Many of the villas, she says, had private docks that the owners could have used to load farmed fish onto ships. “And if we think of the Tiber River as being the main transportation route into Rome, then it’s possible these ships carried high-quality fish to market there,” Marzano says.
But while some Roman villa owners likely profited from aquaculture, not everyone rejoiced at the sight of fish farms springing up along the coastline. Local fishers regarded Italy’s estuaries as prime fishing grounds, and as villas and fish farms increasingly clustered around river mouths—where fresh water was readily available—clashes followed. In the second century CE, for example, fishers from two towns on Italy’s west coast appealed directly to the emperor Antoninus Pius for help. Villa owners were preventing them from casting their nets in front of the big summer homes. And this, they claimed, infringed upon their basic right to access the ocean.
Antoninus Pius seemed sympathetic, ruling that the fishers could fish where they chose in the ocean. According to Roman law, as one later scholar explained, “the sea is common to all and the shore too, just like the air. …” But the emperor added one curious caveat to his decision: he instructed the fishermen to stay away from the buildings and structures belonging to the villa owners.
This caveat has long puzzled experts in Roman law. Many scholars, says Marzano, think it was likely intended to protect the privacy and pristine waterfront views of patrician property owners. But Marzano’s research provides another explanation. She thinks the fishers were setting their nets along the seaward walls of the owners’ piscinae, intercepting wild fish that the wealthy were trying to lure into their aquaculture ponds.
The fishers, of course, were merely trying to make a living, while the villa owners wanted to entice wild fish into their ponds in order to stock them. Both were trying to control a common resource—the coastline—and clashing in a distinctly modern way. One need only think, for example, of the battles waged in California between privacy-loving owners of waterfront properties and the surfers who demand access to the foreshore in order to catch the best waves.
Centuries of patient archaeological sleuthing along the Bay of Naples, from the discovery of Pompeii’s buried houses to the detailed studies on the production of villa fishponds, has cast a new light on the Roman world, a world of privilege and pleasure, a world of summer homes and seaside resorts, a world of large commercial enterprise and small business, and a world that looked to the sea for profit. It is a world that is eerily familiar today, as citizens and corporations compete for ownership of the coastline, a narrow strip of land holding some of the world’s most valuable real estate.
Our urge to control the ocean’s edge has a very ancient pedigree. Our challenge now—as then—is to make room there for all.
When we’re having a rough day, many of us tend to treat ourselves to some form of retail therapy, a favorite dessert or going out with friends in hopes of feeling better.
But a new study published in the journal Emotion last week suggests that treating ourselves is no more likely to boost our mood than doing nothing.
Rather, the research found that giving to others or practicing acts of kindness can improve our mood and overall well-being, Dr. Katherine Nelson, assistant professor of psychology at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, and lead author of the study, told The Huffington Post on Saturday.
“I was not surprised that prosocial behavior led people to feel greater positive emotions, and in turn, greater flourishing,” Nelson said about the study.
“One thing that I found very interesting, however, was that when we direct these actions towards ourselves, we see no improvement in positive or negative emotions, nor do we see improvement in psychological flourishing,” she added. “I think this is important because people are often encouraged to ‘treat themselves’ as a way to feel good, yet our findings suggest that the best way to feel happy is to treat someone else instead.”
The study involved 473 volunteers who were separated into four groups. Each group had to complete different tasks over a six-week period.
One group was asked to complete acts of kindness to improve the world, such as picking up litter. The second group performed acts of kindness for other people, such as buying a friend a cup of coffee or helping a family member cook dinner.
The third group was instructed to perform acts of kindness for themselves, such as exercising more or taking a day off from work. Finally, the fourth group was the control group that did nothing out of their ordinary activities.
Before and after the six weeks, all participants filled out a questionnaire to assess their psychological, emotional, and social well-being. They also self-reported their positive and negative emotions weekly throughout the study.
I think this is important because people are often encouraged to ‘treat themselves’ as a way to feel good, yet our findings suggest that the best way to feel happy is to treat someone else instead.
Psychologist Dr. Katherine Nelson
The researchers found that participants who performed acts of kindness, whether those acts were for the world or specific people, were more likely to report feeling happy or experience an improvement in mood than those who did the self-focused and neutral behaviour.
In fact, those assigned to engage in self-focused behavior did not report any improved well-being or positive emotions, according to the study.
“Doing things for others offers people opportunities to feel greater positive emotions, such as joy, contentment and love,” Nelson said. “People could feel greater positive emotions, and in turn psychological health, because by being kind to others, they are nurturing social relationships, or they could feel greater pride in themselves for doing a good deed.”
Previous studies have shown that acts of kindness may not only boost your mental health, but also your physical well-being. For instance, separate research suggests that being altruistic can lower your blood pressure and reduce stress.
Dr. Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, who was not involved in the new study, told The Huffington Post that performing acts of kindness can activate the release of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter, in the brain — and it can lead to us feeling like we’re serving something larger than the self.
“This is a really important study,” said Keltner, author of the forthcoming book The Power Of Paradox: How We Gain And Lose influence, “for it adds to the mounting evidence showing that focusing on enhancing others’ welfare boosts our own well-being, countering a widespread myth that the path to the good life is to look after number one, the self.”
By Jacqueline Howard