Politeness, a social virtue worth preserving

Monday, 18 August, 2014

It’s possible to be too polite sometimes, but I think a little more is better than not enough:

People silently struggle from all kinds of terrible things. They suffer from depression, ambition, substance abuse, and pretension. They suffer from family tragedy, Ivy-League educations, and self-loathing. They suffer from failing marriages, physical pain, and publishing. The good thing about politeness is that you can treat these people exactly the same. And then wait to see what happens. You don’t have to have an opinion. You don’t need to make a judgment. I know that doesn’t sound like liberation, because we live and work in an opinion-based economy. But it is. Not having an opinion means not having an obligation. And not being obligated is one of the sweetest of life’s riches.

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Being depressed… how does it actually feel though?

Wednesday, 23 July, 2014

A number of London based depression patients discuss their day to day experiences of the disorder… it’s one thing to understand the symptoms of depression, but another to know how it must actually feel.

Depression for me is not liking yourself, having no confidence in yourself, seeking reassurance, hanging onto anything that you can, pretty much anything emotionally, get your hands on. Lacking courage.

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Sleep paralysis as a portal to out-of-body travel? Not sure of that…

Monday, 7 July, 2014

I’m not sure I’d regard the sleep paralysis experience as being a “portal to out-of-body travel and lucid dreams”, unless that’s how you see the sensation of having what feels like an elephant sitting on while you lie, unable to move a muscle, in what seems like a wind tunnel, a dark wind tunnel at that.

The experience can be terrifying. Trapped in your paralysed body, you might sense the presence of a malevolent intruder in the room or a pressure on your chest, squeezing the breath out of your lungs. Hallucinations can jangle the senses: there are ominous voices, supernatural entities, strange lights. You feel as if you are being touched or dragged, bed covers seem to be snatched from you, and you are helpless to grab them back.

Then again, what is actually happening quickly becomes apparent, so as disconcerting as a sleep paralysis episode is, the knowledge that it will be relatively short lived is reassuring. So why not view it as positively as possible…

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It’s the simple things that give life its meaning

Tuesday, 27 May, 2014

If you haven’t yet read Derek Sivers’ outstanding The Meaning of Life article, go and do so now.

Then as a companion piece of sorts, read Morgan Housel’s 9 Simple Statements That Will Make You Think Differently About the World. First up, forget about relying on “common sense” as way of solving, or preventing problems, it’s actually worse than useless.

Common sense often seems right because we can’t imagine thinking about a problem differently, and the reason we can’t think about it differently is because we’re emotional and closed-minded. It’s one of the most dangerous ways of thinking.

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Awkward silences, bad for you, for me, and everyone in earshot

Thursday, 22 May, 2014

It takes just four seconds for a silent pause in a conversation to become awkward. This lumbering however is not only difficult for those directly involved, but for anyone else close by who happens to be witnessing the spectacle, or lack thereof.

A Dutch study showed that after people watched a conversation that included an uncomfortably long silence, they were more likely to feel “distressed, afraid, hurt and rejected”.

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Keeping the love alive, no date nights required

Wednesday, 14 May, 2014

You want a love to last forever, one that will never fade away? There’s a couple of things you can do. One is to enter into an arranged marriage. Seemingly they make for successful partnerships. Another option is to simply, though not all that simply, strive to keep the love that is, alive.

The good news is “date nights” are not required. Thankfully. Keeping things exciting, in whatever way, is though.

Why would doing anything exciting have such a big effect on a relationship? Because we’re lousy about realizing where our feelings are coming from. Excitement from any source will be associated with the person you’re with, even if they’re not the cause of it.

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Dividing the apartment’s rent when bedrooms are of unequal size

Tuesday, 6 May, 2014

Riddle me this. You and two friends have leased a three bedroom apartment, and because these rooms are of different sizes, are looking for a way to fairly and accurately divide the rent each housemate will pay, based on the size of their bedroom.

How to solve this simple problem then? Simple triangle mathematics will suffice. Simple, sort of, triangle mathematics, that is:

Building on the work of two other mathematicians, Forest Simmons and Michael Starbird, Dr. Su realized that the small, fully labeled triangle could represent the rooms and prices in a hypothetical apartment. Based on people’s decisions to label the triangles at each interior corner, an algorithm could be used to follow a winding path through an infinite field of simplexes – triangles extended into any number of dimensions – starting from the largest and traveling into its interior in search of a point on the inside where everybody would choose a different room.

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Maybe we’d hate our jobs less if we had more time off from them

Thursday, 1 May, 2014

A lot of us are not happy with the work we do. Up to fifty percent say some studies.

According to a recent Gallup survey of 5.4 million working Americans, 52% say they are not engaged in their work. They limp to work, toiling without passion. That’s half the workforce! Another 18% describe themselves as “actively disengaged” – disgruntled and spreading bitterness among co-workers. With the exception of recession periods, the majority of employees start each new year vowing to look for a new job.

Having encountered a few in my time, I’d say it’s the so-called “actively disengaged” who present the biggest threat to a harmonious, reasonably happy, workplace. But what to do? Tom Gardner and Morgan Housel, co-writing for The Motley Fool, make a number of striking suggestions:

  • Implement what is effectively restriction free annual and sick leave
  • Make offices more people friendly. Cubicles are anything but people friendly
  • Allow people to devise, or craft, their own job descriptions

Point one, regarding leave entitlements is by far the most provocative, but I can see where Gardner and Housel are coming from. I think few employees, in their right mind, would abuse such a system, and being bold perhaps, think that few would not take too much more time off than is currently allotted them.

Whatever, I would be curious to see such a regime in place.

(Thanks Christine)

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Is misery easier to learn about than happiness?

Thursday, 3 April, 2014

Happiness can be quite difficult to quantify, apparently. Might that be because one minute it’s there, the next it has gone?

Unhappiness, or misery, is another matter. It’s far easier to get a grasp on however. Perhaps then we could better understand human nature generally were more time devoted to studying our heavier moods, rather than our lighter emotions?

Misery, by contrast, is a marvellously rich source of data. Unhappy families are, as Tolstoy pointed out, much more varied than happy ones. And if happiness is elusive and subjective, there are plenty of objective sources of unhappiness: hunger, illness, the premature death of loved ones, family breakdown and so on. We can measure the ways these things change over time and compare that data to subjective emotional evidence. A whole new research programme suggests itself.

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When I’m 93, what will it be like?

Thursday, 27 February, 2014

Roger Angell, US author, and contributor to The New Yorker, writes about the day to day experiences of being ninety-three… that’s an impressive age:

I’ve endured a few knocks but missed worse. I know how lucky I am, and secretly tap wood, greet the day, and grab a sneaky pleasure from my survival at long odds. The pains and insults are bearable. My conversation may be full of holes and pauses, but I’ve learned to dispatch a private Apache scout ahead into the next sentence, the one coming up, to see if there are any vacant names or verbs in the landscape up there. If he sends back a warning, I’ll pause meaningfully, duh, until something else comes to mind.

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