The popularity of “Don’t Look Up” and the power of stories
Plus, what we get wrong about mindfulness
“Just because you have your eyes closed doesn't mean it's not there.” —psychologist Eric Johnson
Tell me a story. In the hit movie “Don’t Look Up,” scientists discover a comet is headed for Earth and struggle to get the public to take action. Most people don’t seem to care about the severity of the problem, despite the science behind it. Said to be an allegory for the climate crisis, the movie highlights an interesting aspect of human behavior: people are drawn more to stories than they are to numbers or statistics. “Placing events into a narrative may reveal their underlying meaning or significance,” says philosophy professor Alexander Prescott-Couch at the New Statesman. A story also allows you to see the world from someone else’s perspective, Prescott-Couch argues, and this is important for fostering empathy. “Members of marginalised communities can easily come to be seen as problems for political elites to solve. Narrative can humanise individuals that are often conceived primarily as targets for policy nudges and behavioural correction, as objects rather than subjects.” In short, stories help us understand the world around us. They also help us understand ourselves.
Active mindfulness. Mindfulness comes with a range of benefits. Perhaps most significantly, some studies show it reduces stress. But we might be approaching mindfulness the wrong way. “Scientific understanding of mindfulness goes beyond mere stress-relief and requires a willingness to engage with stressors," said psychologist Igor Grossmann, who recently co-authored a study on mindfulness. Ironically, Grossman says engaging with our stressors is what makes mindfulness so effective. To maximize its benefits, we should be aware of what’s bugging us and also learn to accept it. Most of us understand this conceptually, but we don’t “walk the talk,” as Grossman puts it. He and his colleagues compared the way people understand mindfulness with how they actually practice it, and most people confused acceptance with avoidance. To truly be more mindful, we should lean into acceptance, the researchers suggest, and not just passively ignore our stressors. As philosopher William Irvine tells us, “You've got one life to live and it's happening right now. You have to actively think about what you need to do in order to embrace the one life you have to live.”
Psychologist Daniel Kahneman says there are invisible factors that distort our judgment. He calls these factors “noise.” The consequences can be found in everything from marriage proposals to medical diagnoses and prison sentences. So how can we identify noise in our own lives? Listen to learn more.
ON THE HIDDEN BRAIN PODCAST
Jan 3: When you’re at the grocery store, do you ever wonder why some items are shelved at eye level, and others are either high up, or near the floor? This week, we explore the invisible architecture that shapes our choices.
Jan 10: Some of our most pressing social issues often seem intractable. This week, we talk to psychologist Phillip Atiba Goff, who studies the relationship between race and policing. He says there are solutions that both police and the public can get behind.
ON THE MY UNSUNG HERO PODCAST
Jan 6: Julie Ort is recovering from a spinal cord injury when she has a nasty fall in front of her college classmates. Later that day, a stranger offers her a comforting gift.
Don’t forget to send us the story of your unsung hero! Record a voice memo on your phone and email it to email@example.com.
Sam’s mother had four children. The first one was named May. The second and third were called June and July, respectively. What was the fourth child’s name?
LAST WEEK’S PUZZLE
Forwards I am heavy. Backwards I am not. What am I?
The answer: TON
FROM THE TWITTERATI…
A MOMENT OF JOY
We hope this is one email you don’t find stressful.
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