Oliver Burkeman reviews Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, by Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan and the Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir:
"Scarcity captures the mind," explain Mullainathan and Shafir. It promotes tunnel vision, helping us focus on the crisis at hand but making us "less insightful, less forward-thinking, less controlled". Wise long-term decisions and willpower require cognitive resources. Poverty leaves far less of those resources at our disposal.
Their most arresting claim is that the same effects kick in – albeit not always with such grave implications – in any conditions of scarcity, not just lack of money. Chronically busy people, suffering from a scarcity of time, also demonstrate impaired abilities and make self-defeating choices, such as unproductive multi-tasking or neglecting family for work. Lonely people, suffering from a scarcity of social contact, become hyper-focused on their loneliness, prompting behaviours that render it worse.
In one sense, Mullainathan and Shafir concede, scarcity is so ubiquitous as to be almost meaningless. But the feeling of scarcity – of not having as much of something as you believe you need – is something more specific and agonising. To use the authors’ favourite metaphor, life under such conditions is like packing a tiny suitcase for a trip. It entails a ceaseless focus on difficult trade-offs: the umbrella or the extra sweater? The greatest freedom that money can buy is the freedom from thinking about money – or, to quote Henry David Thoreau, “a man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone”.
“ Doubt comes in at the window when inquiry is denied at the door.
Madeline Levine is a clinician based in Marin County who recently posted an op-ed at The New York Times on how to raise successful children:
While doing things for your child unnecessarily or prematurely can reduce motivation and increase dependency, it is the inability to maintain parental boundaries that most damages child development. When we do things for our children out of our own needs rather than theirs, it forces them to circumvent the most critical task of childhood: to develop a robust sense of self.
A loving parent is warm, willing to set limits and unwilling to breach a child’s psychological boundaries by invoking shame or guilt. Parents must acknowledge their own anxiety. Your job is to know your child well enough to make a good call about whether he can manage a particular situation. Will you stay up worrying? Probably, but the child’s job is to grow, yours is to control your anxiety so it doesn’t get in the way of his reasonable moves toward autonomy.Read the rest here.
“ Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.
Yes. If you haven’t read this article, it’s not one to be missed.
“ The novel, of course, is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life. And there is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters.
From The Guardian, Uncomfortable in Our Skin:
Are today’s diets – the way we are encouraged to eat cognitively – to blame for our anxiety? An eating-disorder specialist at the inquiry confirmed that the “Atkins diet generates many cases for my work”, but the problem is not eating disorders but disordered eating. Disordered eating includes competitive dieting and eating in secret – it can lead to both eating disorders and obesity, but more commonly just adds to the eater’s anxiety.
Rates of depression in women and girls doubled between 2000 and 2010; the more women self-objectify, the more likely they are to be depressed. Could the mainstream media’s warm embrace of disordered eating have contributed to that rise?
Neurologist and author Oliver Sacks brings our attention to Charles Bonnet syndrome — when visually impaired people experience lucid hallucinations. He describes the experiences of his patients in heartwarming detail and walks us through the biology of this under-reported phenomenon.
From The New York Times, The Outsourced Life:
As we outsource more of our private lives, we find it increasingly possible to outsource emotional attachment. A busy executive, for example, focuses on efficiency; his assistant tells me, “My boss outsources patience to me.” The wealthy employer of a household manager detaches herself from the act of writing personal Christmas-present labels. A love coach encourages clients to think of dating as “work,” and to be mindful of their R.O.I. — return on investment, of emotional energy, time and money. The grieving family member hires a Tombstone Butler to beautify a loved one’s burial site.Via Luke
Focusing attention on the destination, we detach ourselves from the small — potentially meaningful — aspects of experience. Confining our sense of achievement to results, to the moment of purchase, so to speak, we unwittingly lose the pleasure of accomplishment, the joy of connecting to others and possibly, in the process, our faith in ourselves.
There is much public conversation about the balance of power between the branches of government, but we badly need to confront the larger and looming imbalance between the market and everything else.
Kathryn Schultz, on the nature of our internal clocks:
Among species, we humans are to time what Polish villagers have long been to place: unhappy subjects of multiple competing regimes. The first regime is internal time: the schedule established by our bodies. The second is sun time: the schedule established by light and darkness. These two we share with houseplants and virtually every other living being. But we are also governed by a third regime: social time. That sounds benign enough, like afternoon tea with a friend. But don’t be fooled. Social time is the villain in this drama, out to turn you against health, happiness, nature, sanity, even your own inner self. […]
Ultimately, though, [German scientist Till] Roenneberg is more interested in what he calls “social jet lag”: the exhaustion produced by the gap between internal and social time. You can, should you choose, quantify your social jet lag. Simply calculate the difference between the midpoint of your average night’s sleep on a workday and a day off. Say on workdays you fall asleep at eleven and wake up at six: Your midpoint is 2:30 a.m. On weekends, you fall asleep at one and wake up at nine: Your midpoint is 4:30 — and you’ve got two hours of social jet lag. You might as well fly from New York to Utah.Read more at New York Magazine.
Social jet lag, unlike real jet lag, is chronic. Its chief symptom is sleep deprivation, and sleep deprivation is — surely I do not need to tell you this — ghastly. It leaves you with the equilibrium of a despot, the attention span of a toddler, and the working memory of a fire hydrant. It’s one of the few human conditions that can make the characteristics of the tomb — dark, quiet, horizontal — seem unbelievably desirable. Not for nothing are torturers so fond of it.
“ It isn’t normal to know what we want. It is a rare and difficult psychological achievement.
Pico Iyer on the joy of quiet:
The urgency of slowing down — to find the time and space to think — is nothing new, of course, and wiser souls have always reminded us that the more attention we pay to the moment, the less time and energy we have to place it in some larger context. “Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries,” the French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in the 17th century, “and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.” He also famously remarked that all of man’s problems come from his inability to sit quietly in a room alone.
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