Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Joys of life

One of the sanest, surest, and most generous joys of life comes from being happy over the good fortune of others. – Archibald Rutledge

Finding our Preferred Facts

Most of us have ways of making other people confirm our favored conclusions without ever engaging them in conversation. Consider this: To be a great driver, lover, or chef, we don’t need to be able to parallel park while blindfolded, make ten thousand maidens swoon with a single pucker, or create a pâte feuilletée so intoxicating that the entire population of France instantly abandons its national cuisine and swears allegiance to our kitchen. Rather, we simply need to park, kiss, and bake better than most other folks do. How do we know how well most other folks do? Why, we look around, of course—but in order to make sure than we see what we want to see, we look around selectively.

For example, volunteers in one study took a test that ostensibly measured their social sensitivity and were then told that they had flubbed the majority of the questions. When these volunteers were then given an opportunity to look over the test results of other people who had performed better or worse than they had, they ignored the test of the people who had done better and instead spent their time looking over the tests of the people who had done worse.

The bottom line is this: The brain and the eye may have a contractual relationship in which the brain has agreed to believe what the eye sees, but in return the eye has agreed to look for what the brain wants.

Daniel Gilbert
Stumbling on Happiness

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Power of Touch

A study of NBA players who found the best teams touch each a lot--while the losing teams touched each other very little. Tesearchers at the University of California at Berkeley looked at what happened between teammates during the 2009 season and found the most touch-prone were the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, two of the league’s top teams at the time. The mediocre Sacramento Kings and Charlotte Bobcats were at the bottom of touch list. The same held true for individual players. The study took into account the possibility of teams high-fiving just because they were winning and adjusted accordingly. Even when the high expectations surrounding the more talented teams were taken into account, the correlation persisted.

A warm touch reduces stress by releasing hormones that promote a sensation of trust. This can free up the part of the brain that regulates emotion to engage in problem solving.

The investigators also tested couples, finding with more touching came greater satisfaction in the relationship. Previous research has suggested students receiving a teacher's supportive touch on the arm or back or arm were much more likely to volunteer in class and a sympathetic touch from a doctor gives patients feeling that a visit lasted twice as long as it actually did.

Stephen Goforth

Monday, July 21, 2014


One good husband is worth two good wives; for the scarcer things are, the more they're valued. - Ben Franklin.

My Life with One Arm

Two months to the day after my accident, I went to see a therapist for the first time in my life. I didn’t know where to begin. We discussed loss and resilience and the will to live and adapt. But when I started talking about the outpouring of love and support that I had received since my accident, I began weeping uncontrollably. I realized that for the first time in my life, I was truly letting love into my heart. Losing an arm has connected me to others in a way I have never felt. Yes, I have suffered a tremendous loss, but in a way, I feel as if I have gained much more.

Miles O’Brian
Writing in New York Magazine

Friday, July 18, 2014

Easy deceit

Nothing is easier than self-deceit. For what each man wishes, that he also believes to be true. – Demosthenes

Spreading Blame

Researchers at UCLA say blame is contagious. Even when we just observe a public display of blame we are more likely to do the same. Volunteers were asked to read about California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger blaming others for a problem while a different group read how the governor accepted personal responsibility for the crisis. Both groups then wrote about a failure in their own lives. Those who saw blame modeled for them were almost a third more likely to join the blame game and put the fault for their failure on someone else. However, the number of blamers dropped when volunteers first wrote down their core values.

The researchers theorized that a reminder of how to make wise choices made it less likely individuals feel the need to defend themselves by blaming others and more willing to take responsibility. A USC professor conducted similar experiences and came to the conclusion that publicly blaming others dramatically increases the likelihood that the practice will become viral.

When leaders, parents or even friends make a practice of blaming others for their failures, they are encouraging people in their circle of influence to do the same. People become less willing to take risks, they become less innovative and less creative and less likely to learn from their mistakes. Blame creates a culture of fear.

Stephen Goforth

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Risk Management

When we say that someone has fallen on bad luck, we relieve that person of any responsibility for what has happened. When we say that someone has had good luck, we deny that person credit for the effort that might have led to the happy outcome. But how sure can we be? Was it fate or choice that decided the outcome?

Until we can distinguish between an event that is truly random and an event that is the result of cause and effect, we will never know whether what we see is what we’ll get, nor how we got what we got.

When we take a risk, we are betting on an outcome that will result from a decision we have made, though we do not know for certain what the outcome will be. The essence of risk management lies in maximizing the areas where we have some control over the outcome while minimizing the areas where we have absolutely no control over the outcome and the linkage between effect and cause is hidden from us.

Peter Bernstein
Against the Gods

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Feeling Inferior

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
Eleanor Roosevelt

Meet the Box People

You probably know someone who is one of the "box people." Whenever they meet someone new, the box people try to identifying which box you belong inside: "What do you do?" is the first step to determining your box label. Once they know your "box" (which could be based on class, politics, religious affiliation, etc) then they can related to you in the way they've learned to treat everyone with that label.

If it turns out you are living outside the set of predetermined boxes, then you are going against the fundamental box people belief that everyone lives inside one of the boxes. Or everyone should live life in a box with a label. If you don't, your very existence is a challenge to the comfort level of "box people." This is when their actions will demand that you "Get yourself inside a box! I don't approve of your non-box-affiliated lifestyle."

Do you know that feeling? Of being treated as a prepackaged echo of a personality rather than a unique person?

Stephen Goforth

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Our Brian Tricks Us

The futures we imagine contain some details that our brains invented and lack some details that our brains ignored. The problem is that our brains fill in and leave out. God help us if they didn’t.

No, the problem is that they do this so well that we aren’t aware it is happening. As such, we tend to accept the brain’s products uncritically and expect the future to unfold with the details—and with only the details—that the brain has imagined. One of imagination’s shortcomings, then, is that it takes liberties without telling us it has done so.

Daniel Gilbert
Stumbling on Happiness

Monday, July 14, 2014

Own your suffering

Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering. - Carl Jung

Tough and Tender

In many parts of American society it is considered inappropriate for men to express any emotion save one--anger. When a man learns to express other feelings and not be so concerned whether as to whether others think he is strong or “manly” he takes a major step forward.

Sure, there’s a time and place to "come on strong and take no prisoners." But it's a denial of your humanity to oversimplify, hiding behind a narrow definition of manhood. Men must be both tough and tender. Maturity comes when when we understand which one is appropriate at what time.

Stephen Goforth

Friday, July 11, 2014

Moving forward

Never confuse motion with action. - Ernest Hemingway

So much Straw

It is said that on 6 December 1273, while he was celebrating mass, a great change came over Thomas Aquinas. At the age of 49, his Summa Theologica ("Summary of Theology" – nearly 1300 pages) unfinished, he stopped writing. To his faithful secretary and companion Reginald of Pipersno, he said, ‘Reginald, I can do no more; such things have been revealed to me that all that I have written seems to me as so much straw. Now, I await the end of my life of my works.’ Aquinas died three months later.

All our talk about God is halting, partial, hopelessly inadequate. This does not mean we should not hold firm beliefs about God or do the best job we can as philosophers and theologians. It simply means that no matter how much skill or effort we bring to the job, God always remains in part a mystery. The gap between God and our ideas about God was, we believe, salvifically narrowed by God’s revelatory initiative, but not closed.

Like Aquinas, all Christians can see that human talk about God ultimately comes to an end. It’s best efforts are like straw.

Stephen T. Davis
Logic and the Nature of God