The gift of spending time alone
Plus, when boredom backfires
“In the world we live in now, with all the stresses and tensions that we have, there's more and more of a need to get connected with other people. And part of that connection involves the sense of really understanding where people are coming from.” —Psychologist Harry Reis
Alone Again (Finally). It’s great to spend quality time with your partner, but spending time apart can be good for your relationship, too. Psychologist Robert Coplan studies the concept of “aloneliness,” which he describes as “the negative feelings that arise from not spending enough time alone.” Not all solitude is the same, he says, and sometimes being alone can be good for us. “It can help with self-understanding, serve as a context for restoration, and promote creativity.” It seems counterintuitive to talk about the need for solitude when we’ve been spending so much time at home, and certainly the pandemic has made many people crave time with others more than ever. But if you live with someone else, and spend all of your time with them, some time apart might be good for your relationship, argues writer Jancee Dunn in the New York Times. Dunn wonders what it would look like if couples framed this time apart as a gift — an opportunity to recharge, give each other space, and indulge in aloneliness. “A gift of free time can range from a night with friends to having your partner take the kids to the park on a Saturday afternoon,” Dunn writes, “so you can enjoy a deliciously empty house.”
Why cats push things off tables. Boredom has its benefits, but it can also bring out bad behavior. Some research suggests it makes us more sadistic. In a series of studies published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found a link between high levels of boredom and sadism — that is, finding pleasure in hurting or humiliating others. Soldiers, for instance, were more likely to make jokes at each others’ expense (or even physically hurt each other) when they reported feeling bored. And bored parents were more likely to tease their children. “When there is no alternative, boredom increases sadistic behavior across the board, even among individuals low in dispositional sadism,” the researchers write. We can’t help but wonder how bored the person who built this must have been.
We’ve grown accustomed to viewing climate change as an enemy we must urgently defeat. But is that the right metaphor for the greatest existential problem of our time? How to reframe the way we think about life on a changing planet: Listen to learn more.
ON THE HIDDEN BRAIN PODCAST
Jan 17: A desire to be understood, to be seen for who we are, is a powerful driver of successful relationships. So why do so many of us regularly keep our true selves hidden?
Jan 24: Life is filled with hardships and tragedies, and for thousands of years, philosophers have come up with strategies to help us cope. We talk with philosopher William Irvine about ancient ideas — backed by modern psychology — that can help us manage disappointment and misfortune.
ON THE MY UNSUNG HERO PODCAST
Jan 20: Betsy Cox was a new mom having a bad day — everything felt like a struggle. But a kind stranger at the grocery store offered a few simple words that Betsy will always remember.
Don’t forget to send us the story of your unsung hero! Record a voice memo on your phone and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A NOTE FROM THIS WEEK’S SPONSOR
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A man fell off a 20-foot ladder but did not get hurt. Why not?
LAST WEEK’S PUZZLE
There are two ducks in front of a duck, two ducks behind a duck and a duck in the middle. How many ducks are there?
The answer: Three. Two ducks are in front of the last duck. The first duck has two ducks behind it, and one duck is between the other two.
FROM THE TWITTERATI…
Hidden Brain @HiddenBrainThis week on My Unsung Hero, a story from Washington Post columnist @carolynhax. Some years ago, when her mom was dying, a distant colleague noticed her struggling at work and gently reached out to help. https://t.co/hd6zcYpwOZ https://t.co/ICNnHlH7vK
A MOMENT OF JOY
With dance moves like this, boredom is never a problem.
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