Archive for the 'psychology' Category

Things I read today (happiness and the people we spend time with)

Monday, September 20th, 2010

This year the keynote speaker at the American Psychological Association convention was Dr. Dan Gilbert of Harvard. His book Stumbling on Happiness is an international bestseller and his talk was about affective forecasting: Do we know what will make us happy?

He pointed out that we are hardwired from birth to be happy when we get salt, fat, sweet things and sex. Beyond that our culture provides us cues about what will make us happy…

It is the goodness of social relationships that truly makes us happy. Good relationships are the foundations for almost every measure of well being. Our immune system, our incidental sense of peace and joy, and our optimism for the future is better when we feel good about our daily social relationships. The better we feel in the social network of others in our life, the happier we are. With poor or nonexistent relationships we cannot flourish…

Choosing who we talk to, spend time with and respond to — and who we don’t — is the stuff of what Moreno called sociometry. He found that people who were able to choose their compatriots did better and survived longer.

Choosing who we want to be with, and talk to, and spend time with sounds like a no-brainer. But the truth is most people simply don’t do it. We feel obligations and play politics, and in doing so lessen the time we spend with people who make us happy…

Some people make us feel good when we are around them. I encourage you to foster, nourish and cultivate these relationships. Spend more time with those who make you feel good, and less with those who don’t. If you are responsible for assigning people, and it is possible to let them choose who to be with or where to go, do it.

So: Can other people make us happy? Yes, they can. But only if they are the right ones.
Proof Positive: Can Other People Make Us Happy? By Daniel Tomasulo

I read this after spending a lovely few days with Coralie and know for sure that this is true.

Sunday afternoon melancholy

Sunday, December 14th, 2008

The feeling of Sunday is the same everywhere, heavy, melancholy, standing still. Like when they say, “As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.
– Jean Rhys

humor, decency and democracy (rick-rolling)

Sunday, December 14th, 2008

A reader writes:

There is something both utterly stupid and yet very comforting about rick-rolling. As long as people will choose to be this dumb, irrational, and do it with such gusto, there’s hope for humanity. We will never totally bow to totalitarian impulses as long as people continue to want to do such useless but uncontrollable things. […]

I recall Orwell’s remark that England would never become a fascist state because the English would instinctively respond to the sight of goose-stepping … by giggling. I think the relationship between humor and decency – and democracy – is under-rated.
-Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Dish

Reading the detectives (The Black Tower – PD James)

Sunday, September 7th, 2008

I recently re-read P.D. James’ The Black Tower and remembered again how much I like her work. Her stories are literature not the lurid voyeurism sometimes found in mystery novels. She has said: “The classical detective story is rather like the modern morality play… The classical detective story affirms our belief that we live in a rational and generally benevolent universe.” I think this is part of the great appeal of this genre (any airport book shop will show the popularity of the type).

Her work is emotionally cool, a bit distant, intelligent but never clinical; she is careful and respectful of the characters she creates. James doesn’t write mystery thrillers as much as mystery contemplatives. I like the complexity of the emotions of her characters and especially the introverted, perceptive and emotionally distant Inspector Adam Dalgliesh. Dalgliesh is intelligent, sensitive, cultured and if not exactly snobbish, rather easily repulsed – not by violence or gore but by ugliness (of buildings, clothing, sounds, or sometimes, emotion). His saving grace, what makes him fascinating and an identifiable protagonist, is the window we get behind his forbidding and distant exterior to his thoughts and the almost obsessive cataloguing of his ideas, associations and feelings. He is also, almost certainly, a depressive. He is perceptive enough to recognize his own rather cold detachment from most situations and people. He is well aware of his own short-comings and he is morally and mentally strong enough not to excuse them in himself but rather holds himself to a greater internal standard than he expects from the outer world.

In the very beginning of the book, after an illness which the doctors had mis-diagnosed as fatal, Dalgliesh thought:

…It was embarrassing now to recall with what little regret he had let slip his pleasures and preoccupations, the imminence of loss revealing them for what they were, at best only a solace, at worst a trivial squandering of time and energy. Now he had to lay hold of them again and believe that they were important, at least to himself. He doubted whether he would ever again believe them important to other people.

On his way to visit an old family friend he stops and is taken by surprising joy:

Before he turned again the to the car his eye was caught by a small clump of unknown flowers. The pale pinkish white heads rose from a mossy pad on top of the wall and trembled delicately in the light breeze. Dalgliesh walked over and stood stock still, regarding in silence their unpretentious beauty. He smelt for the first time the clean half-illusory salt tang of the sea. The air moved warm and gentle against his skin. He was suddenly suffused with happiness and, as always in these rare transitory moments, intrigued by the pure physical nature of his joy. It moved along his veins, a gentle effervescence. Even to analyse its nature was to lose hold of it. But he recognized it for what it was, the first clear intimation since his illness that life could be good.

Just a few lines later, after having been confronted with a rather ill-designed building and pausing to decide which direction to take, he has a kind of bleak foreboding. I think in some ways this functions both as a plot foreshadowing and, in Dalgliesh’s inevitable swing back from simple joy to a kind of despair, a deeper exploration of his sensitivity and psychology.

He had briefly turned off his car engine while deciding what next to do and for the first time, he heard the sea, that gentle continuous rhythmic grunt which is one of the most nostalgic and evocative of sounds. There was still no sign that his approach was observed; the headland was silent, birdless. He sensed something strange and almost sinister in its emptiness and loneliness which even the mellow afternoon light could not dispel.

Visited 21 countries (9.33%)

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008
Visited countries: 21 (9.33%)

Visited countries: 21 (9.33%)

I added Czech Republic to the list of countries I visited. That was last Summer. Updating the map of visited countries is a pretext really, as I meant to blog about travels, after chatting with an old friend of mine.

He realized he didn’t know me as well as he thought when I told him I wasn’t actually seeking to travel. I consider myself extremely fortunate that my work took me to many incredible places. And I’m very grateful to the friends and lovers who engineered my personal travels.

I like to be somewhere else. It is all that is around travelling that is stressful. Getting used to the idea of it first, which takes some time. It is like a quiet struggle between the curious me and the stay-at-home me. This struggle may last until the very last moment. The curious me knows it is going to be wonderful and how this should be a motivation. The other me knows it will be tiring, expensive. The other me knows the amount of work that will await upon returning.

Then there is packing. An additional burden that would not happen if I were to stay home. I pack lightly, quickly and most of the time efficiently. I have learnt that after years of travelling for W3C. Of course, unpacking is equally burdensome. It means laundry.

Also, there is the stress of the journey, be that flying or driving or else (we took a ferry recently for our holiday in Corsica and Sardinia). Flying is the worst. Not that I’m afraid to be on a plane. It’s rather that I hate airport so-called security. What a gigantic waste of time and what a monumental buffoonery. I am exaggerating for emphasis.

At least, none of my anxiety was ever turned towards dreading any danger, or fearing I wouldn’t like the place. I have enjoyed all of my travels so far.

So at last, there is being somewhere else. Enjoying different settings, foods, climate, a different culture, sometimes a different language. Taking photos. Thinking how incredibly lucky I am to be there. Enjoying the compagny. Taking a break from the everyday life. Feeling how tangibly time passes faster.

hello kitty stress test

Saturday, July 26th, 2008

My results for the Hello Kitty stress test:

I better enjoy the green and the wood.


Wednesday, July 9th, 2008


Today in one of the pyschology feeds in my rssreader I read an interesting take on technology and connection — something much closer to my own experience, rather than the “technology is isolating!” meme.

…Freud even noted in Civilization and its Discontents that

“If there had been no railway to conquer distances, my child would never have left his native town and I should need no telephone to hear his voice; if traveling across the ocean by ship had not been introduced, my friend would not have embarked on his sea-voyage and I should not need a cable to relieve my anxiety about him.”

We use technologies so that we may be closer to those for whom we most care and we use them so that we may keep our distance from those we cannot or will not yet face.

The author, Dr. Christopher Ramey, concludes with an interesting take on how language, communication itself, works – transforming private, internal thoughts to the public, external words.

In one sense, one can regard language and metaphor as the making publicly observable of one’s private observations. It is a blurring of boundaries of sorts. This is a blog by someone whom you have not met. I doubt it will ever prove ‘touching’ in some overly sentimental sense of that word, but it is certainly true that even though we are no closer to each other than strangers, these words have brought us together for a short while. What language in general and a metaphor like ‘reaching out and touching someone’ in particular reveals is that—despite our seemingly paradoxical search for personal identity and individuality, as well as our insistence on privacy—we seek each other out. All psychology is inherently and constitutively a social psychology.

on depression

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

depressed brain and non depressed brain

Yesterday someone I like and admire very much asked me about depression. I had just admitted to him directly, I think for the first time, that I’m a depressive. He’s seen me sad before and he asked me how bad it gets and I said: “very bad”. We talked a bit but I don’t know that I described things well. I’ve recently read people talking very movingly about their own experiences. Since it’s such a big part of my life I’ve thought for a while about how I might speak about it, and if I did, what I might say. Below is a start.

I probably tend not to speak about it much at all if I’m depressed. It’s like a secret about which I’m rather ashamed (though I doubt it’s actually much of a secret to those around me), a recurring reminder to myself that there is something very wrong with me and the way my brain chemistry or synapses work or whatever destructive, insidious little poison periodically gets released in my head. I think it’s part of who I am and looking back I can see clearly that I was depressed at times throughout my life and even as a kid.

I can be ok for weeks or months but always I know that at any time there’s a possibility that depression will come again, surround me like a black cloud, suffocate me, bring me low. Counted cumulatively, I’ve lost years of my life to depression. Part of what makes things difficult when I am depressed is the feeling that no one would really want to deal with me when I’m down, that I don’t want to bother others, that I don’t want to speak about it to others, that I don’t want to speak at all. So I shut myself off, hide away, stop returning phone calls, don’t reply to mail. I batten down the hatches and just try to weather the storm. If you’re a friend of mine and I have done that to you before or am doing it now – I’m sorry, I’m doing the best I can. I remember a close, caring friend who does understand depression once saying that anyone who gets close to me knows that I’m sad (as part of a conversation she and I were having about letting people see who I really am, good and bad, happy and sad and hoping that I’m accepted for it, which unfortunately isn’t always the case).

Often when in a conversation about what depression is with people who haven’t gone through it, I seem to end up speaking about what it’s not. It’s not being down based necessarily on something that has happened, something situational (though sometimes situational things can spark it). It’s not feeling sad (nor is it melancholy). It is different than grief. It’s life stripped of all color and, for me at least, all sensation except for a sort of nausea and a nagging, aching pain. It’s a kind of inability to connect, to relate, to find joy in things one might normally like. At its worst, it’s a complete, crushing lack of hope. I’ve thought that depression feels like being at the bottom of the ocean, crushed by the water, barely able to move, surrounded by silence and darkness, looking up to the surface and feeling very far away. I think most people who aren’t depressive just don’t understand it and well, good for you! if so. What I don’t like hearing from people who haven’t gone through it is that I should try to be stronger (like them, I guess), that I should just “cheer up” or “get over it”, that I think too much, that I should just focus on the positive, that I should try harder, etc.

Fortunately, I guess, I’ve been through depressions enough times to see that one can get through them, that there are things I can do to lessen the impact, that they do end – the trick is to hold on (sometimes just barely, but to hold on) and to just do the best one can. The right medication can help, exercise can help, cognitive therapy can help. Other people can be supportive, (the man I mentioned in the first sentence above can always seem to make me smile even in a bad depression, other friends can make me laugh with a little gallows humor), but I don’t think anyone else can really help you when you’re very far down. It’s occurred to me in the past that if the me now could go back and talk to the younger me going through whatever problems, griefs, mistakes, depressions, etc were happening, the one bit of advice I’d give is just: “It will be ok. It will all be ok.”

What I’m saying to myself now is: it will be ok.

Add on:
I felt kind of stupid and did delete the entry for a bit. Ashamed, I guess, as I mentioned above. Not ok, maybe. Then later, I figured, who is going to read it really? It’s pretty much just me talking to myself here and what does it matter? Maybe it’s good sometimes to fess up, to admit being a complete mess. Plus, I like the picture – it helps me understand in a different way. As to what I wrote, well, it’s crap, yes, but maybe later it would be good for me to come back and read at another time, to see if I see things any differently when a bit more above the surface of the water. Anyway, it’s back.

Things I saw today (cartoon)

Monday, May 14th, 2007

Awesome cartoon via Simon:

Protected: trade, choices, what is lost and what is gained

Monday, April 16th, 2007

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