Being a Minimalist

Posted under: philosophy, psychology, Uncategorized.
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The acquisition of material goods doesn’t bring about happiness. In fact I believe the contrary to be true. Stephanie Rosenbloom wrote an article about happiness in the New York Times. She writes:

TravelSuitcase

New studies of consumption and happiness show that people are happier when they spend money on experiences instead of material objects, when they relish what they plan to buy long before they buy it, and when they stop trying to outdo the Joneses. Current research suggests that, unlike consumption of material goods, spending on leisure and services typically strengthens social bonds, which in turn helps amplify happiness.

One major finding is that spending money for an experience produces longer-lasting satisfaction than spending money material goods. I would much rather put my money toward concert tickets, French lessons, guitar lessons, science classes, camping trips, and excursions to Europe or other countries. As professor Elizabeth W. Dunn (University of British Columbia) said: If money doesn’t make you happy then you probably aren’t spending it right.” We can reminisce about our experiences. Interestingly, no matter how many less-than-pleasant experiences come with it, we often remember the experience as a whole in a rosy, positive light. Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (1) Aug 09 2010


A Good Run

Posted under: health, psychology.
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Running ShoesI decided to go running this morning. I haven’t been for about two and a half years, but I remember how good I felt when I used to run regularly. I especially enjoyed running after we moved to Maine, because the climate is perfect and the scenery beautiful. After I figured out the confusing winding and dead-end roads, and no longer had to ask fellow runners for directions, it was a breeze. Since I started going to school and working full time, I’ve been feeling too overwhelmed to fit exercise into my busy schedule. Plus I haven’t been eager to brave the cold temperatures in the winter. I know. How can I call myself a “Mainer?” Anyway, anyone who gets out of a routine or habit knows how difficult it can be to get back into it.

My first motivation to get back into running was the gorgeous spring weather. Another incentive is the three grueling flights of stairs I have to climb at school. As I clear the last flight, using the railing to help pull me along, I try to feign complacency for those who may be watching. I work in the cardiology unit at the hospital which is on the ninth floor. For obvious reasons I use the elevator. One night my co-worker convinced me to take the stairs with her from the cafeteria. Midway up I wanted to punch her, kind of. As if that weren’t enough, my best boyfriend mentioned that I appear to be “squishier” than I used to be. He wasn’t trying to make me feel bad, but it got me thinking. Although I’m not overweight by any means, I am less firm than I once was. :-{
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Comments (2) Apr 13 2010


A Know-Nothing Nation

Posted under: philosophy, politics, psychology.
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Light, With Intermittant Heat, Likely
Andrew Cohen, The Atlantic, January 1, 2010

I have long been disturbed by the sensationalism and bias of the media in our country. I read this article by Andrew Cohen in The Atlantic.

Cohen states:
Media Monkeys

The lines between television news and entertainment haven’t just been blurred; they have been obliterated by a terribly divisive and destructive mix: the cynicism and greed of television executives and the concomitant apathy, ignorance, and lack of curiosity on the part of the American people. Which came first? Even if you argue “the people” and not “the media” it still doesn’t excuse the glee with which television news has embraced the fashionable at the expense of the important.

Our family has not had cable or satellite t.v. for years. We don’t watch television and do not miss it. The only reason our girls know anything about celebrities such as Hannah Montana is through their friends. A copius amount of reality shows and celebrity gossip pervades the airways and consumes the minds and lives of the American people. I constantly hear people discussing the latest shows and can’t imagine wasting my time that way. When Tiger Woods’ “indiscretion” is the top news story for weeks, I know our media has failed us.
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Comments (1) Jan 03 2010


Don’t Be A Litterbug

Posted under: philosophy, psychology.
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Skye's Litter
Today as the girls and I were walking home from the school playground, Skye took it upon herself to pick up trash along the way and find a garbage can in which to dispose of it. I was proud of her for caring about the environment, and also bothered by the negligence and indifference of whomever had left it.

I am stunned that people intentionally throw their garbage on the ground. We do have convenient disposal containers everywhere. It shouldn’t be too difficult to carry a plastic wrapper or beverage container a few feet, or even a block or two. What causes people to litter? Laziness? Carelessness? Apathy?

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Comments (0) Jun 26 2009


Book Review: Predictably Irrational

Posted under: book review, education, food, philosophy, psychology.
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I just read a fascinating book called Predictably Irrational by Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Behavioral Economics at MIT, Dan Ariely. He explores the idea that our irrationality happens the same way again and again. He performs several experiments and examines the way we make decisions, coming up with some interesting findings.

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

Ariely begins the first chapter by discussing relativity:

There’s one aspect of relativity that trips us up. It’s this: we not only tend to compare things with one another but also tend to focus on comparing things that are easily comparable and avoid comparing things that cannot be compared easily.

He writes that evaluating two houses side by side yields different results than evaluating three: A, B, and a somewhat less appealing version of A. The subpar A makes it easier to decide that A is better–not only better than the similar one, but better than B. The lesser version of A should have no effect on your rating of the other two buildings, but it does.

Most people don’t know what they want unless they see it in context. Ariely performed an experiment at MIT in which he selected pairs of photos of random people: one of them physically attractive (A), and the other one noticeably less so (B) in each pair. He then doctored the photo in Photoshop, creating a slightly but noticeably less attractive version of each of them–a decoy (-A and -B). He then approached students, presenting them with three pictures. Some of them had the regular picture (A), the decoy of that picture (-A), and the other regular picture (B). Others had the regular picture (B), the decoy of that picture (-B), and the other regular picture (A).

Whenever I handed out a sheet that had a regular picture, its inferior version, and another regular picture, the participants preferred the regular person–the one who was similar, but clearly superior, to its distorted version over the other, undistorted person on the sheet. This was not just a close call; it happened 75 percent of the time.

Humans rarely choose things in absolute terms. We don’t have an internal value meter that tells us how much things are worth. Rather, we focus on the relative advantage of one thing over another, and estimate value accordingly.

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Comments (3) Jun 14 2009


The Pollyanna Principle

Posted under: food, health, philosophy, psychology.
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I often wondered why I recall events in my life as mostly happy and positive. PollyannaThen this last semester as I was taking a sociology course, I came across a theory called the “Pollyanna Principle”. This is named after the book Pollyanna, about a young girl who fervently held a naively optimistic and grateful outlook on life. According to the Pollyanna Principle, the brain processes information that is pleasing and agreeable in a more precise and exact manner as compared to unpleasant information. We actually tend to remember past experiences as more rosy than they actually occurred.

In 1978 researchers Margaret Matlin and David Stang provided substantial evidence of the Pollyanna Principle. They found that people expose themselves to positive stimuli and avoid negative stimuli, they take longer to recognize what is unpleasant or threatening than what is pleasant and safe, and they report that they encounter positive stimuli more frequently than they actually do.

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Comments (4) May 20 2009


Traditional Marriage: An Outmoded Institution

Posted under: philosophy, psychology.
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weddingcaketopper

Adapted for Cogitations from a paper I wrote as part of my sociology coursework.

Human beings almost never have to be cajoled into pairing. Instead, we do this naturally. We flirt. We feel infatuation. We fall in love. We marry. And the vast majority of us marry only one person at a time. Pair-bonding is a trademark of the human animal (Fisher, 1992). In our pair bonding society we find our other half, become dependent, and walk off into the sunset of the nuclear family.

Men and women depended on each other from the beginning. Evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin suggested that on average men are more aggressive, and that they excel at higher mathematical problems, and at completing several visual-spatial-quantitative tasks. Women, on average, do more nurturing and exhibit more verbal skills and memory ability than men (Fisher, 1992). These gender differences make evolutionary sense. Aggression would have served men well as they confronted their predators and enemies, and nurturing capabilities of women caused them to show interest in their infants and tolerance of their needs. As ancestral males began to scout, track, and surround animals millennia ago, those males who were good at maps and mazes would have prevailed. Ancestral women needed to locate vegetable foods within an elaborate matrix of vegetation, so they developed a superior ability to remember the locations of stationary objects (Fisher, 1992).

In preindustrial Europe farming couples still needed each other to survive. A woman living on a farm depended on her husband to move the rocks, fell the trees, and plow the land. Her husband needed her to sow, weed, pick, prepare, and store the vegetables. Together they worked the land. More important, whoever left the marriage left empty-handed. Women and men were tied to the soil, to each other, and to a network of stationary kin (Fisher, 1992).
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Comments (7) May 05 2009


All American Children Are Above Average Act

Posted under: philosophy, politics, psychology, school.
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Liberal education is a vanishing ideal in the contemporary West. The aim of liberal education is to produce people who go on learning after their formal education has ceased; who think, ask questions, and know how to find answers when they need them. People who are better informed and more reflective are more likely to be considerate than those who are – and who are allowed to remain – ignorant, narrow-minded, selfish, and uncivil in the profound sense that characterizes so much human experience now.

Since the No Child Left Behind Act has been instituted, it has been counterproductive. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires public schools to administer a state-wide standardized test annually to all students, holding them accountable and withholding federal funding if they fail to meet requirements. I am infuriated and bewildered by this law.NCLB: A+

Many opponents of NCLB, including teachers and parents, do not like the idea of the testing that is provided in NCLB. They claim that “standardized testing, which is the heart of NCLB accountability, is deeply flawed and biased for many reasons, and that stricter teacher qualifications have exacerbated the nationwide teacher shortage, not provided a stronger teaching force.”

Deborah White

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Comments (6) Mar 19 2009


The Ethics of Lying

Posted under: philosophy, psychology.
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Some argue that lies are justified when truth would gratuitously cause or heighten conflict. What justifies the lie is the benefit of its outcome; if more good than harm flows from its telling, it is justified.

German philosopher and moral absolutist Immanuel Kant believed that lying is always wholly unacceptable. He based this on his general principle that we should treat each human being as an end in itself, and never as a mere means. As a deontologist, he focused on the motives or reasons behind action rather than its consequences. Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (1) Jan 01 2009


Synthetic Happiness

Posted under: psychology, video.
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I watched this video by Dan Gilbert about happiness on Ted Talks. He challenges the idea that we’ll be miserable if we don’t get what we want, and states that our psychological immune system lets us feel truly happy even when things don’t go as planned. Gilbert explains how the prefrontal cortex in our brain acts as an “experience simulator.” He states:

We have something called the ‘impact bias’ which is the tendency for the simulator to work badly–for the simulator to make you believe that different outcomes are more different than in fact they really are. But they have far less impact, intensity, and much less duration than people expect them to have. A recent study that shows how major life traumas affect people suggests that if it happened over three months ago, with only a few exceptions, it has no impact whatsoever on your happiness.

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Comments (6) Nov 24 2008