Last week, DZ posted from Oliver Burkeman’s excellent article on time management and the law of unread emails. I just finished up his 2012 book, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, and, boy, good points of connection abound. Trying to get to the bottom of why we have such difficulty doing what we are told to do, or, rather, not doing what we are told not to do, Burkeman uses a study conducted by Daniel Wegner at Harvard’s ‘Mental Control Laboratory.’
When you try not to think of a white bear, you may experience some success in forcing alternative thoughts into your mind. At the same time, though, a metacognitive monitoring process will crank into action, to scan your mind for evidence of whether you are succeeding or failing at the task. And this is where things get perilous, because if you try too hard – or, Wegner’s studies suggest, if you are tired, stressed, depressed, attempting to multi-task, or otherwise suffering from ‘mental load’ – metacognition will frequently go wrong. The monitoring process will start to occupy more than its fair share of limelight on the cognitive stage. It will jump to the forefront of consciousness – and suddenly, all you will be able to think about is white bears, and how badly you’re doing at not thinking about them.
Could it be that … our efforts to feel positive seem so frequently to bring about the opposite result? … When experimental subjects are told of an unhappy event, but then instructed to try not to feel sad about it, they end up feeling worse than people who are informed of the event, but given no instructions about how to feel. In another study, when patients who were suffering from panic disorders listened to relaxation tapes, their hearts beat faster than patients who listened to audiobooks with no explicitly ‘relaxing’ content. Bereaved people who make the most effort to avoid feeling grief, research suggests, take the longest to recover from their loss. Our efforts at mental suppression fail in the sexual arena, too: people instructed not to think about sex exhibit greater arousal, as measured by the electrical conductivity of their skin, than those instructed to suppress such thoughts.
He concludes this chapter, entitled “On Trying Too Hard to be Happy,” with the metaphor of a Chinese finger trap. In the case of striving for our own happiness, he writes, “‘doing the presumably sensible thing is counterproductive.’ Following the negative path to happiness is about doing the other thing – the presumably illogical thing – instead.” In other words, try to climb out of that ditch and before long human nature kicks in, handing down a shovel.
At the end of August, I shared a quote from sociologist Zygmunt Bauman in which he described social media networks and various communities in our day as reflections of the individual. That is, we contemporary Americans tend to seek out communities and people that help express our inner selves more visibly to the wider world. Like my new iPhone 7, J.Crew shirt, and selvedge denim jeans reveal something about their owner, so in much the same way are my networks and circle of friends an extension of my inner ego. And if Bauman is correct in that observation, then might it be that God is…
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Children’s book author Adam Gidwitz rang in the most wonderful time of the year (October, what else?) with an article in The New Yorker about the world-renowned series, Goosebumps. Marveling at the franchise’s unparalleled success, Gidwitz posed an unexpectedly contentious question: Should good children’s books teach a lesson?
The conundrum of the “good” children’s book is best embodied by the apparently immortal—or maybe just undead—series “Goosebumps,” by R. L. Stine. “Goosebumps” is a series of horror novellas, the kid’s-lit equivalent of B-horror movies. It’s also one of the most successful franchises in the business, selling over three hundred and fifty million copies…
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“Here I stand…not at a crossroads—no, but at a multitude of roads, and therefore it is all the harder to choose the right one.”
—Kierkegaard, in a letter to P.W. Lund, 1835
When I first read the above line by Christianity’s favorite philosopher, I thought, well, of course he faced a deluge of indecision in his white-haired smoky-armchaired nineteenth-century affluence—tea or coffee today? Hegel or Kant? Reading or writing? But I found it more endearing when I realized that he was writing as a twenty-two-year-old and that I’d had the same exchange of words with a dear friend the day before. Oh, Søren, the…
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The question of what causes anxiety is one to which we’ve given an embarrassing amount of attention, especially within the context of Christianity. The Onion was good to remind us that “Anxiety [Isn’t] Resolved By Thinking About It Really Hard”, but the relationship between religion and anxiety is a fascinating and potent one; i.e., the decline of religion and rise of anxiety may not be completely independent phenomena… but by “decline of religion” we don’t just mean secularization, but also certain shifts within religion itself. As a Church called to look for the plank in our own eyes, I think our complicity in the rise of anxiety is as…
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From a talk he gave on love this summer, Alain de Botton here gives us permission to view our significant others as the small children they actually are. Relying on a searingly low anthropology, de Botton argues that pessimism is, in fact, the key to a successful relationship. He says, “Pessimism is often seen as the enemy of good things, and indeed it is in many ventures. But when you embark on the journey of love, pessimism, in fact, is the most generous and kindly emotion you can direct towards yourself and your partner.” One of the ways we do this, he figures, is to disentangle one another from the “adult” expectations we have for one another. (The entire 20 minute talk, below, is well worth the listen. This comes in the last couple minutes.)
The first thing we need to understand is: let’s stop treating our partners as if they were adults and let’s start treating them like small children. The reason this is so important is when a small child has done something wrong—let’s imagine you have a small child, you cook them dinner, they’re two years old, three years old, you have broccoli and some schnitzel and you put a plate down in front of them and they just swipe it off and go, “Ech!” and start screaming. Now, what do you do as a modern parent? You don’t hit them. You don’t go, “I’m so offended, I’ve had a hard day at work, and now this—you’re persecuting me!” You don’t say that. Instead, you go, “Maybe my poor child’s got a sore tooth, or maybe he’s a bit jealous of his sister being born, maybe that’s kind of weighing on him, maybe he’s a bit tired, that’s why he’s behaving like this.” In other words, we’re incredibly generous with our system of interpretation. We don’t do this with adults because we think, This person’s an adult. And, most adults look like adults, unfortunately. It would be so much more useful if we looked like children.
The thing about breaking something—like a broken arm—is that everyone can see it. “Oh, you’ve got a broken arm! I’m so sorry, let me open the door for you.” If you’ve got a broken bit of your soul, a broken bit of your psyche, everyone thinks your normal. But you want to say, “No, no, I’ve got this thing, it’s broken even though it doesn’t look broken.” We don’t look like children—but we are inside. And we’re so aware of how patronizing it is to be treated as if you are younger than you are, but we forget how generous, how kind, how truly loving it is to treat someone as if they are younger than they are. Because this is what it means to truly love someone: to be generous in one’s interpretation of another person.
As the Mental Health Issue is coming together, it is becoming quite apparent that one of our chief navigators in the strange land of the human mind will be the one and only Walker Percy. This passage comes from his wildly original and heartwarming novel, The Second Coming. It is a portion of a letter written by the novel’s leading man, Will Barrett, a successful and well-respected retiree who has recently taken a fall into the “mentally unstable” category…by the grace of God. For Percy, his salvation can come only by way of the absurd–by truly examining the absurd existence he finds himself inhabiting. You will notice here that…
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Will McDavid wrote the definitive summary, critical review and reflection on last Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones, “The Door.” If you haven’t read it go directly there now. Do not pass go. Do not collect 200 hundred dollars. The short reflection that follows on the revelation of Hodor’s raison d’ etre is indebted to and dependent on Will’s insights. He did most of the heavy lifting already.
In his Poetics Aristotle observes that we will forgive a good story told badly, but never a bad story wrapped up in even the best of prose. For Aristotle plot is everything. The story…
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The text is from a leading Presidential candidate, but it applies to two of them — two persons who are ideologically apart but have one main thing in common.
That main thing is: They are exposing the Cook’d Book of life, which is designed — “Signed, Sealed and Delivered” (S. Wonder) — to sign, seal and deliver YOU over to utter captivity and soullessness.
The New Testament is not a world-affirming document. On the contrary, it pits the human being against the world. Or rather, it posits the world as being against us. Our task, an impossible one without Help — “Help!” – The Beatles, 1965 — is to dodge the world. Kerouac wrote that we are born into this world in order to be saved from it.
The Cook’d Book of the world is not only true of political parties. It is true of institutions generally, job environments generally, schools and universities generally (which is why youth is eternally looking for the ‘Mr. Chips’-type altruist — one in a million), you name it.
I’m glad that Bernie and the other one are cutting to the nerve. Je repete: this is not about ideology, it’s about control. And this world’s control is not — I repeat, not — designed to enable and deliver. It is designed to suppress and captivate. LUV U!
Welcome to the first installment of Act Three of author Ted Scofield’s series on everybody else’s biggest problem but your own. If you missed one or more of the previous installments, the entire series can be found here.
In Act One of this series we discovered that as a society we cannot agree on a collectively applicable definition of greed. In Act Two we examined a half dozen answers to the question Why. Starting today we’ll take a deeper dive into the philosophy and theology of greed, with a look at how America’s long-celebrated individualism has evolved.
In his 2005 book Greed, Dr. Julian Edney…
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Towards the end of his first missive to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul offers a mini tour-de-force in defense of the veracity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. For Paul this conviction is central not just to the future hope of the people of God but also to orient the pilgrim life of the faithful in this present broken age. “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” ( 1 Cor. 15:56-57). Then the argument concludes with something that,…
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