Where’s the Line Between Normal and Abnormal?

Perhaps you read the trending news of the man with the world’s longest fingernails who recently cut them off after sixty-six years. Yes, that’s right. Shridhar Chillal, 82, let his nails grow for more than six decades. Apparently, at age 14 he accidentally broke his teacher’s nail, and was scolded for it. The teacher said that Mr. Chillal would never understand the importance of breaking his teacher’s nail because Mr. Chillal had never committed to anything. He took this as a challenge to himself and let his nails grow six ½ feet long. They are now on display in the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museum in New York City. Mr. Chillal is described as making an “unusual choice” but it didn’t stop him from leading a “normal” life. He married, had two children and worked professionally as a photographer. Now that his fingernails have been clipped, he is left with a permanent disability. He cannot open his left hand from a closed position or flex his fingers.

Mr. Chillal is also listed in the Guiness Book of World Records. Once the application is approved, his feat will be immortalized in the book. I had to ask why on earth would anyone want to do that? What does this get him? There is no financial gain and it is dubious that this feat will garner respectful fame.

Ian Robertson, professor of psychology in Dublin, states that the thing that motivates a person to win a race or an athletic performance is a mix of motivations. He cites the “three needs” theory which breaks down motivation in needs for achievement, power, and belonging. If you can’t achieve in more conventional means, a bizarre feat will do. That feat will be officially recognized as something that is measurable, superlative, breakable, and interesting. It is a human desire to stand out of the crowd. We want to be unique and to be a winner.

Having the longest fingernails will enliven any conversation. But is it normal behavior? It is difficult to determine where normal behavior leaves off and abnormal behavior begins. However, four “D”s can help conceptualize abnormality.

Deviance identifies the degree of deviation from the norm. A behavior is abnormal if it occurs infrequently among the members of a society or culture.

Dysfunction identifies that which is significant enough to interfere with the individual’s life in some major way such as in a person’s occupational and social life. It is an inability to perform daily functioning or everyday activities.

Distress is identified as the extent to which the behavior distresses the individual, not the observer. A person can experience a great deal of dysfunction and very little distress or vice versa. Distress may appear as anxiety, insomnia, various pains and aches or emotional upset.

Danger consists of danger to self and/or danger to others.

Some researchers add a fifth D, Duration. Chronic, problematic behaviors that are of longer duration are more typical of abnormality.

Mr. Chillal’s long fingernails fits several criteria of abnormality. It is safe to say that a refusal to trim one’s nails deviates greatly from the norm. His nails created dysfunction in that he needed assistance to perform daily tasks such as dressing himself, as seen in videos of him. It is unknown if he was distressed by his nails, but it likely caused stress or embarrassment to his family who had to care for him. The length of his nails presented a danger to himself in that he knowingly and willfully caused himself a permanent disability. Sixty-six years is the duration of his adult life. He deprived himself of freedom of movement until the age of 82.

Do you have behaviors or habits that are abnormal? Use the four D’s to check yourself.

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Are You in Death Denial?

End of life planning can seem morose, depressing and maybe scary. This is why only 42 percent of US adults have a will or trust. Only one in three people have advanced life directives. Many Americans avoid setting up a will because they don’t want to think about their death and because of procrastination. They may subconsciously think “I’m going to live forever.” Everyone wants to believe they will live into their 80s, 90s or longer. Average life expectancy has climbed steadily but it is not endless. Longevity seems to have topped out around 120 years. Jeanne Calment of France died in 1997 at age 122. But it is certain that we will all die.

Considering the fact that everyone dies serves as a reality check and a challenge. Contemplating the end of life can make the time we’re here longer, healthier, and happier. Life will end, yet many of us avoid thinking of it, put off end-of-life planning, and are at a loss of words at a funeral. There are benefits of pondering our mortality. It may cause an improved diet, attention to exercise, and more time with people we love. It may cause us to examine our values and ensure that we are living in accord with those values. Talking about death helps us prepare emotionally or financially for the future.

Have you heard of the “death positivity movement”? Caitlin Doughty first used the term death positivity and a movement was formed. The following is a list of what the movement sees as important:

  1. By hiding death and dying behind closed doors we do more harm than good to our society. They aim to open up discussions of grief and death and believe that discussing the end of life can improve our choices and our mental health.
  2. The culture of silence around death should be broken through discussion, gatherings, art, innovation, and scholarship.
  3. Talking about and engaging with death is not morbid, but displays a natural curiosity about the human condition.
  4. The dead body is not dangerous, and everyone should be empowered (should they wish to be) to be involved in care for their own dead.
  5. The laws that govern death, dying and end-of-life care should ensure that a person’s wishes are honored, regardless of sexual, gender, racial or religious identity.
  6. Death should be handled in a way that does not do great harm to the environment.
  7. Our family and friends should know our end-of-life wishes, and that we should have the necessary paperwork to back-up those wishes.
  8. Open, honest advocacy around death can make a difference, and can change culture.

Participants of this movement create actual “death café” events in which people meet specifically for these purposes. At a Death Café people drink tea, eat cake and discuss death. To date they’ve held 6605 Death Cafes in 56 countries. By talking about grief, others can feel a sense of togetherness and support. It is not just talking about a loss, but also about death, dying, corpses, and funerals. They want to eliminate the silence around death-related topics, decrease anxiety surrounding death, and encourage more diversity in end of life care options available to the public. These never involve agendas, advertising or set conclusions. For more information, see deathcafe.com.

In 2011, artist Candy Chang painted the side of an abandoned house in New Orleans with chalkboard paint and stenciled it with the statement “Before I die I want to _________.” Within 24 hours, people had filled the wall with their wishes. Since then, more than 3,000 “Before I Die” walls have been created in more than 70 countries.

It doesn’t have to be morose, depressing or scary. Death acceptance can serve as a reminder to get busy living. “I’m not anticipating dying tomorrow or in the near future, but I do consider what will be important to me at the end of my life,” says Kortes-Miller. “Then I ask, ‘Why is it not important today?’”

So, I challenge you to finish the sentence: “Before I die ___________” and get to it.

When Is Grief Counseling Warranted?

As a psychotherapist, I am sometimes called upon to help someone who is grieving. They may feel overwhelmed with intense emotions that cause them to function poorly. Sometimes their friends recommend they seek grief counseling. Their friends might be concerned about depression, social withdrawal and uncontrollable crying that have gone on too long.

While a student, I was taught not to pathologize a normal grief process. I was also taught that there is not a correct way to grieve. The person who talks openly about their sadness is not more or less healthy than the person who keeps their sadness to themselves. The expression of grief is as much a learned and cultural behavior as it is personal.

There is an assumption that the person who grieves well is facing the loss head on. They are able to talk about the loss, have gained insight into its meaning, and have a sense of resolution. J.William Worden, psychologist, established four tasks of grieving: to accept the reality of the loss, to experience the pain of grief, to adjust to the environment in which the deceased is missing, and to withdraw emotional energy and reinvest it in another relationship. Most people who experience a loss are resilient.

Although psychotherapy (talk therapy) is commonly recommended for grief, not everyone needs to seek counseling or grief groups to find relief. Counseling is not necessarily the right way, or the only way. There are many healthy ways to cope with grief. When a person feels stuck, overwhelmed, or confused they may benefit from journaling or reading. Reading other people’s experiences helps to normalize grief, put it into perspective, and create a sense of universality. Artistic expression such as drawing or painting offers another means of showing how you feel, or the importance of the person you lost. Connecting with your faith, gratitude journaling, volunteering, and advocacy related to your loved one’s death may help.

So when is grief counseling warranted? Grief symptoms are elevated when people lose their loved ones under particularly violent or horrific circumstances. Even then, Bessel Van der Kolk, psychiatrist, believes that one crucial stage in bereavement is to allow the body to calm down. Probing questions to people who have freshly experienced a traumatic loss induces physical stress, which interferes with the natural grieving process. Encouraging people to discuss their pain over and over following a traumatic event can be counterproductive. Let the bereaved person choose if and when they might want counseling. Additionally, George Bonanno, psychologist, says counseling is most helpful for people who had psychological troubles before the loss, and which were exacerbated by their grief. Only about 10 percent of bereaved people have severe grief symptoms of prolonged, dramatic, high-level depression which persists for several years. This figure is higher for people whose loss is extreme or violent. Complicated bereavement might exist for people who had a troubled relationship with the departed before they died.

No amount of counseling will end grief. It is a universal human experience. However, if you need help, your goal is to shore up your psychological resources, whether it is through self-help or counseling.

Are You a Home Body or a Traveler?

I was asked to provide transportation between Galena and Rockford, IL yesterday for a couple of young men. I had the pleasure of meeting a 15-year-old who was going back to the Chicago area after visiting family friends. We talked about our travels. For a fifteen-year-old, he has traveled quite a bit including Hawaii and Honduras. He was to leave today for Montreal and intends to study in Berlin for a short time during his high school years. He would’ve preferred to study in Spain to improve his Spanish language skills.

The other young man is a 17-year-old Rotary foreign exchange student from Slovakia who has been here for almost a year. He just spent two weeks with other foreign exchange students on the US east coast. He described his trips to Philadelphia, New Jersey, Boston, and Washington, D.C. as the best two weeks of his life.

This reminded me of a wonderful opportunity I had when in my early thirties. I volunteered to provide evaluations of American Airlines flights from booking to departing. I was expected to fly in the US twelve times within six months. I became accustomed to traveling to cities alone and learned to prefer it. If I had limited time to enjoy a new place, I didn’t want to be slowed by having to accommodate to another’s habits (sleeping late) or preferences (I want to see this, not that). At the conclusion of the six months I was given a free flight to use as I chose. I was surprised that this experience broadened my world view in dramatic ways. I gained an experience of the variety, depth and breadth of the United States and Hawaii. In short, I loved it and did it again for an additional six months.

Why do some people travel and others are home bodies? People who enjoy trying new things and engaging in new experiences are high in Openness to Experience. Others who choose to remain in familiar environments are low in Openness to Experience. One study found that students who chose to study abroad were generally higher in Extroversion, Conscientiousness (a need to follow rules and to complete tasks) and Openness to Experience than students that did not travel.

Motivation for travel is complex and reflex factors such as age, gender, emotions and experience. Older people tend to be less adventurous in their choices, preferring to use modes and visit destinations that are familiar. Perceptions of danger and safety strongly affect the destinations we choose.

What are the benefits of travel? When we are away from our problems, we’re more likely to see new ways of dealing with problems at home. Geographic distance leads to more creative and expansive problem solving. Our thinking gets more expansive and we are less tied to assumptions. We develop new skills from navigating our way in an unfamiliar setting. We become accustomed to doing new and unfamiliar things.

Travel affects our brains and personality. A 2013 study of Chinese travelers found that people who traveled regularly saw a long-term impact in terms of sense of direction in life and well-being. Another study of under-grads who had studied abroad for months found that they often experienced significant personality shifts, making them more open to new things and to fulfill tasks.

Extended foreign travel takes people outside of their comfort zone. Travelers have to adapt to new people and different cultures. Mahatma Gandhi called travel “the language of peace.” Extensive immersion in a culture over a significant period may increase compassion and tolerance, expanding a “boundary of empathy.”

Where is your next trip?

Suicides Are Increasing

Unfortunately, death by suicide is making headlines this week. Celebrities, Kate Spade, fashion designer, and Anthony Bourdain, CNN host and chef, were both found dead. It was reported that Kate Spade suffered from manic-depression and was upset regarding a pending divorce. Anthony Bourdain had been open about his drug addiction and depression.

Suicides are increasing according to the CDC. Since 1999, suicide rates in the US have risen nearly 30%. In 2016 there were more than twice as many suicides than homicides. Both Spade and Bourdain were known to have mental health disorders, but not everyone who kills themselves has had a mental illness. As these two successful persons have demonstrated, it can happen to anyone, no matter how comfortable their life. Mental illness and suicide do not discriminate.

How can you help? Sometimes, in spite of your best intentions, you can’t always help. However, you should make an effort to be aware. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention provides a list of warning signs.
1. Pay attention to how they speak. Someone who is contemplating suicide might express a desire to kill themselves. Or, they have no reason to live, experience unbearable pain and feel trapped. They may say they feel they are a burden to others.
2.What is their behavior? They may sleep too little or too much, withdraw from activities and isolate from friends and family. They may increase their use of alcohol or drugs, act recklessly or be more aggressive. They may look for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online for materials or means. They may give away prized possessions, visit or contact people to say goodbye.
3. What is their mood? They may have depression, anxiety, rage, loss of interest, irritability, or feel humiliation.

A friend of mine said “We should brush away the stigma of mental illness. We should check on each other. We should be kind.” A wise quote I saw is “Many people are hanging by the thinnest of threads. If you treat them well, without knowing, you may very well be that thread.” (Author unknown).

If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK(8255). It is a 24-hour, toll-free, confidential suicide prevention hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Your call is routed to the nearest crisis center in the national network of more than 150 crisis centers.

That Which We Resist, Persists

I had the privilege of hearing Elizabeth Smart as the keynote speaker at the Riverview Center fund-raising event last week. Riverview Center provides help to victims of sexual and domestic violence. Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her bedroom at the age of 14 in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2002. She was kidnaped at knife point and held by a couple for nine months. She was tied up, raped daily and threatened with death if she didn’t comply.

In recounting her story, she spoke of feeling that she was damaged and no longer of value. She initially chose not to speak about her trauma. She could have retained this view of herself as forever flawed. However, her father became an advocate for victims and encouraged her to join him. It was there that she learned the power of sharing her story. As she listened to other victim’s share their experience, she realized that although the details were different, they all shared a similar pain. This helped her heal. As she opened up, she found her voice and became a victim advocate. She has been instrumental in passing legislation, received numerous awards, and founded a task force to educate children about violent and sexual crime.

Carl Jung contended that “what you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.” Today this viewpoint is generally abbreviated to “What you resist persists.” Many trauma victims have never spoken their story out loud. To recall the event is to relive it and to re-live the horror. It is an understandable choice to keep it private but it comes at a cost. Your negative beliefs are frozen in time. You likely have out-of-date thoughts and feelings about yourself, which are usually exaggerated and negatively distorted. When these thoughts are shared, they become malleable rather than fixed. A supportive person or group can help you feel less lonely, isolated or judged. You may gain a sense of empowerment. You may learn new coping skills to reduce depression, distress and anxiety. You may get practical advice or information about treatment options. You may learn to love yourself and trust others again.

I agree with Ms. Smart who said that pain is pain. Whether you suffered kidnaping and rape by a stranger, or sexual abuse from a family member, or some other offense, they are all painful events. Even Ms. Smart minimized her suffering by hearing of others who had, by her judgment, more severe forms of abuse. She felt the strength to survive because she knew her family loved her, would welcome her return, and would keep her safe. She has sympathy for victims of abuse by a family member and the resultant shattered trust. However, there is no need to judge whether your situation is better or worse than another’s. It is painful to you.

Issues that have not been emotionally resolved don’t just disappear. They may lie dormant for a while, but they may show up as low self-esteem, ill health or impaired relationships. Ms. Smart was helped by sharing her story and by becoming an advocate for all child victims. She turned an unforgivable horror into prevention and support for others.

If you have an unspeakable source of emotional pain, I encourage you to tell your story to a trusted person. Find someone who is kind, compassionate or wise to talk to. You might feel a new sense of lightness.

 

Failure to Launch Syndrome

Have you heard about the case in New York of a 30-year-old son who won’t leave home? His parents are suing him to vacate the premises. They say he does not pay rent or help with chores. They gave him five eviction notices and offered $1,100 to get started elsewhere. And yet, he refuses to leave. The local court informed the parents that because Michael is family, they would need a Supreme Court justice to officially evict him. Michel called his parents’ lawsuit retaliatory and has asked the court to toss out the request.

Although this seems ridiculous, I’ve seen other cases in which a court refused to make someone homeless. The consequence of imposed homelessness is to burden social services. A judge might prefer the family remain responsible for their own relations.

Americans value independence. We expect to raise our children to fly the nest. Other cultures prefer to live in family units as long as possible. People live longer with strong family support and have higher levels of satisfaction. But the assumption here is that the children add value rather than become a burden.

Imagine you have an adult child living at home who doesn’t work, won’t respect house rules, or clean up after themselves, refuse to do chores and is rude toward you. Some parents have adult children at home who are abusing them verbally, financially, or even physically. There are laws against this behavior. And yet you provide food, a bed, and perhaps let them drive your car. You are angry and resentful toward them, then blame yourself wondering if you are responsible for this.

The economy, high unemployment rates, and a tough job market are reasons an adult child might need a helping hand. Many of the academic degrees that they were encouraged to pursue are not the types of degrees that are needed. These are outside factors that play a role here. But the length of time that an adult child needs help determines whether they have a bigger problem. A brief stint at home can be normal, but a longer dependent with no signs of progress is problematic.

Failure to Launch Syndrome is not a medical condition and is not an official diagnosis, but it is a phrase that describes a young person who is having a difficult time maturing and transitioning into the next stage of development; adulthood. It is a strategy of avoidance. Common signs of FTL syndrome are:

  • Low tolerance for distress
  • Low levels of motivation
  • Low levels of persistence
  • Failure to take responsibility when appropriate
  • Low work ethic
  • Narcissism
  • High expectations of others without reciprocating
  • Lack of vision for the future or long-term goals
  • Lack of skills needed for adulthood

If they are not at work or school, guess what they are doing with their time? Two common variables of FTL are excessive gaming and marijuana use. These are both a form of escapism and distraction. Look for signs of psychological problems that may inhibit their development. This might include anxiety, depression, procrastination, substance abuse.

I was surprised to learn that there are numerous residential treatment programs designed specifically for Failure to Launch. These programs offer intense treatment outside the home when a young adult has had these symptoms over a long period of time. They offer psychological assistance, education, and coaching.

If you are a young adult who is socially, physically, financially or psychologically stranded in life, there is help for you. If you are a parent, there is help to maintain a warm and satisfying relationship with your child while they launch. Call a counselor to get started.

Do You Cringe When You See a Photo of Yourself?

If you cringe at your own photos, you’re not alone. I have an immediate physical reaction of repulsion when looking at myself. I recently had professional videos created of myself for advertising purposes. It took me two weeks to even glance at the videos, then I couldn’t sit through the entire presentation. What’s going on here?

Some people have body dysmorphic disorder. It is an obsession with a part of your appearance that you think is flawed. People with this disorder can dislike any part of their body and will distort the importance of that flaw. The most common features people obsess about include face (nose, complexion, wrinkles, acne and other blemishes), hair (appearance, thinning and baldness), skin, breast size, muscle size, and genitalia. The flaw is more in their mind than in their body. While others may not notice it, the person with body dysmorphic disorder will obsess over it to the point of severe emotional pain and interference in their lives. Imagine how painful photos are for these people.

There are numerous other reasons that people may dislike their own photos. It could be the photographer’s fault in that the angle or lighting is bad, or you are caught with an unflattering facial expression. However, it can also be explained by the mirror. What we see in the mirror is different from what the photo captures. Most faces are asymmetrical and what we see in the mirror is reversed in a photo. We know that something is off. It doesn’t quite look like us. Robert Zajonc, psychologist, says that people react more favorably to things they see more often. Since we see ourselves most frequently in the mirror, this is our preferred self image. When we see a photo, we see an alien version of ourselves.

Cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort we experience when we hold contradictory beliefs or ideas. For example, I know that I am in my 60’s but internally I feel like I’m in my 40’s. Photos are a harsh reality check that my body has aged. “I look like that?” We consciously or unconsciously hide what we don’t want to see. For example, we may not look in a full length mirror if we are uncomfortable with our bodies. And we certainly won’t look at our bodies in a full length mirror while naked!

Photos are still and don’t capture personality. When we speak to a person, our focus is on the eyes and mouth, not their moles, wrinkles or freckles. But we’re much more likely to see these aspects in a photo. The good news is that you probably look much better in real life when you are your normal animated self.

Are You Deceiving Yourself?

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was recently accused of physical violence and sexual abuse by four women. He will step down from his job but denies the charges on the grounds that everything he did to these women was consensual. He said “While these allegations are unrelated to my professional conduct or the operations of the office, they will effectively prevent me from leading the office’s work at this critical time.” With this statement he is drawing a line of separation between his public life and private life. In spite of what other’s perceive as abusive behavior he believes himself to be a champion of women.

It is not an unusual human trait to consider ourselves good when we are not. Self-deception is a process of denying or rationalizing away the relevance or importance of opposing evidence and logical argument. One theory is that humans are susceptible to self-deception because we have emotional attachments to beliefs, which in some cases may be irrational.

Schneiderman would like to believe that what happens privately has no bearing on his professional life. Except that he was an advocate of the #Me Too movement and women’s rights. He was involved in a civil rights lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein. He praised the “women and men who spoke up about the sexual harassment they had endured at the hands of powerful men.” And he wrote many laws, including one for making life-threatening strangulation a grave crime for domestic violence perpetrators.

The allegations come from four women that he was in romantic relationships with. They all accuse Schneiderman of nonconsenual physical violence. It is alleged that he repeatedly hit, often after drinking, frequently in bed and without consent. It is also alleged that he abused alcohol and sedatives. Two of them sought medical attention after having been slapped hard across the ear and face, and choked. He threatened to kill them if they broke up with him. You cannot be a public champion of women when you are hitting them and choking them in bed privately unless you have deceived yourself into believing your behavior is normal and healthy.

Schneiderman’s self-deception is rooted in rationalization. He told one woman “A lot of women like it. They don’t always think they like it, but then they do, and they ask for more.” One of the accusers, Tanya Selvaratnam, disagrees. “It wasn’t consensual. This wasn’t sexual playacting. This was abusive, demeaning, threatening behavior.” Schneiderman refused to be influenced by the women’s tears, pleas and protests. He maintained his perception that they enjoyed it. He preferred to believe they wanted it, rather than believe that he was a perpetrator of lethal domestic violence.

Vecina, Chacon and Perez-Viejo conducted a study called “Moral Absolutism, Self-Deception, and Moral Self-Concept in Men Who Commit Intimate Partner Violence.” In it, they found that perpetrators of domestic violence are uninhibited by concerns over the moral consequences of their actions. They consider their own point of view as more correct and are more affected by self-deception than others. They feel they are moral enough and they strongly deceive themselves.

In Schneiderman’s case, it is no surprise that he blurs the line between his public and private life. He truly perceives himself to be a good and moral person in spite of the evidence. If this is a human trait, we could all benefit from shining a light on our own self-deception. Ask for feedback from others. In what ways are you deceiving yourself?

Who’s More Generous, the Haves or the Have Nots?

I attended a Rotary Auction last week which raised money for scholarships and support to the ARC; Galena Arts and Recreation Center. It was a great success.

I have never seen so much generosity as after relocating to Jo Daviess County, Illinois. I’m a city girl from Chicago and was unaccustomed to such displays of generosity within a community. For example, I received a call from a local pastor and parishioner who asked how they could be of service to our clinic’s substance abuse population. They donated more than $9,000 for Narcan kits to keep them alive in the case of an opioid overdose. As another example, our county public transit system agreed to help our clients access treatment by crossing county lines which is something they had not done before. And a third example, when someone in this town suffers an injury and are uninsured, or under-insured and lacks financial resources, someone from the community organizes a fund-raiser to help cover medical costs and living expenses. It’s really quite moving and makes me proud to live here.

So it made me wonder, who’s more generous, the haves or the have nots?

In 2010, 40 billionaires announced that they’ll give at least half of their fortunes to charity. It collectively totaled $125 billion. That will make a huge difference to people in need. The rest of us non-billionaires can’t compete with that kind of money, but it turns out that we are more generous. Poor people are actually more charitable than the rich. Lower income Americans give proportionally more of their incomes to charity than do upper-income Americans.

The main variable that explains the differential pattern of giving and helping between the upper and lower class is compassion. Compassionate feelings among the lower class is seen to provoke higher levels of altruism and generosity toward others. Perhaps people in the middle and lower class spectrum have experienced hardship and are quick to help. People who have not suffered hardship may be less compassionate.

It’s not that the rich are selfish or focused on their own advancement. Members of each group will identify with other members of the group to which they belong. The rich will find it easier to give to the cultural institutions they frequent such as their preferred hospital or university. The poor will give to the people and activities they rub elbows with. For either income group, someone who has been affected by cancer will be more likely to give to cancer research.

An interesting twist is that a new study that shows that higher-income people are less generous only when they live in a place that has high levels of inequality between rich and poor. When the gap between rich and poor is low, the rich might actually be more generous. Robb Willer of Stanford University theorized that feelings of entitlement might help high-income people justify their extreme good fortune to themselves – and may, in turn, reduce their generosity because people who believe they are more important than others also believe that resources rightfully belong to them. High inequality might lead higher-income people to worry more about losing their elevated status, and therefore hoard their money.

When it comes to giving to charity, women are more generous, especially when it comes to decisions about volunteer time and smaller financial donations. Large financial donations are often made jointly with men.

Generational differences affect the type of giving. Millennials are giving to educational and art/culture causes at higher rates.

For those without the financial means to give, volunteering can be a great way to be generous without writing a check. This may be true of retirees who might be on a fixed income but have free time and valuable skills to share.

So, are you feeling generous? There is plenty of need out there.