Feb 07

“Single at Heart”: Bella DePaulo Removes the Stigma

Social scientist Bella DePaulo‘s latest book, Single at Heart: The Power, Freedom, and Heart-Filling Joy of Single Life (2023), follows a string of others she’s written about a similar topic. These include Singlism, Single with Attitude, Alone: The Badass Psychology of People Who Like Being Alone, and Marriage vs. Single Life: How Science and the Media Got It So Wrong.

And if you want to read her elsewhere, consider her website blog and this recent viral HuffPost article about her own choice to be single.

Singlism” is her term to describe stereotyping, stigmatizing, marginalizing, and/or discrimination against singles. “Tell new acquaintances that you are single and often they think they already know quite a lot about you. They understand your emotions: You are miserable and lonely and envious of couples. They know what motivates you: More than anything else in the world, you want to become coupled. If you are a single person of a certain age, they also know why you are not coupled: You are commitment-phobic, or too picky, or have baggage. Or maybe they figure you are gay and they think that’s a problem, too (Singled Out).

In list form, per her website, the following are some prevalent myths about being single:

  1. The Wonder of Couples: Marrieds know best.
  2. Single-Minded: You are interested in just one thing – getting coupled.
  3. The Dark Aura of Singlehood: You are miserable and lonely and your life is tragic.
  4. It Is All About You: Like a child, you are self-centered and immature and your time isn’t worth anything since you have nothing to do but play.
  5. Attention Single Women: Your work won’t love you back and your eggs will dry up. Also, you don’t get any and you’re promiscuous.
  6. Attention Single Men: You are horny, slovenly, and irresponsible, and you are the scary criminals. Or, you are sexy, fastidious, frivolous, and gay.
  7. Attention Single Parents: Your kids are doomed.
  8. Too Bad You’re Incomplete: You don’t have anyone and you don’t have a life.
  9. Poor Soul: You will grow old alone and you will die in a room by yourself where no one will find you for weeks.
  10. Family Values: Let’s give all of the perks, benefits, gifts, and cash to couples and call it family values

To be clear, DePaulo is not against non-singlehood for other people. “I defend single people because we are relentlessly demeaned by myths and pseudoscientific claims that say our lives are second-rate….This is the 21st century. We don’t all have to choose the same life path (“Everything You Think You Know About Single People Is Wrong,Washington Post).

Relationship expert Jaclyn Geller states of Single at Heart, “Myriad men and women interviewed describe the benefits and pleasures: freedom to manage one’s time and finances; privacy; pursuing meaningful work; discarding convention in favor of a life based on conscious priorities; dedication to important causes; investment in community; commitment to ‘intentional’ friendship networks that include cohabitation…the list goes on. Anyone who is immersed in the uncoupled life, who is somewhat single at heart, or who cares about someone single at heart must read this pathfinding book.”
Jan 31

“How to Know a Person” by David Brooks

The greatest thing a person does is to take the lessons of life, the hard knocks of life, the surprises of life, and the mundane realities of life and refine their own consciousness so that they can gradually come to see the world with more understanding, more wisdom, more humanity, and more grace. David Brooks, How to Know a Person

Current bestseller How to Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen (2023) by David Brooks, a frequent political commentator who’s “conservative” but also anti-Trumpism and not a fan of the current Republican party, is actually of the self-help sort of genre, not the political.

In developing his case for increasing our collective ability to relate effectively to each other, Brooks “draws from the fields of psychology and neuroscience and from the worlds of theater, philosophy, history, and education” (publisher blurb). How to Know a Person, in brief, is about Brooks wanting no individual in our society to be or to feel invisible.

Per John Dickerson, CBS News, Brooks contrasts “two distinct types of people, diminishers and illuminators.” While the former contribute to you feeling unseen, the latter’s curiosity about you “make you feel lit up.”

Selected Quotes from How to Know a Person

A person who is looking for beauty is likely to find wonders, while a person looking for threats will find danger. A person who beams warmth brings out the glowing sides of the people she meets, while a person who conveys formality can meet the same people and find them stiff and detached.

On social media you can have the illusion of social contact without having to perform the gestures that actually build trust, care, and affection. On social media, stimulation replaces intimacy. There is judgment everywhere and understanding nowhere.

Successful friendship, like successful therapy, is a balance of deference and defiance. It involves showing positive regard, but also calling people on their self-deceptions. The Buddhists have a useful phrase for unconditional positive regard: “idiot compassion,” which is the kind of empathy that never challenges people’s stories or threatens to hurt their feelings. It consoles but also conceals. 

The real act of, say, building a friendship or creating a community involves performing a series of small, concrete social actions well: disagreeing without poisoning the relationship; revealing vulnerability at the appropriate pace; being a good listener; knowing how to end a conversation gracefully; knowing how to ask for and offer forgiveness; knowing how to let someone down without breaking their heart; knowing how to sit with someone who is suffering; knowing how to host a gathering where everyone feels embraced; knowing how to see things from another’s point of view.

“What crossroads are you at?” At any moment, most of us are in the middle of some transition. The question helps people focus on theirs. “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” Most people know that fear plays some role in their life, but they haven’t clearly defined how fear is holding them back. “If you died tonight, what would you regret not doing?” “If we meet a year from now, what will we be celebrating?” “If the next five years is a chapter in your life, what is that chapter about?” “Can you be yourself where you are and still fit in?”

Jan 24

Procrastination: End It–You Won’t Regret It Later

Some thoughts from experts and other thinkers on the quest to end procrastination follow.

Psychologist Timothy A. Pychyl, on his procrastination-themed blog Don’t Delay, notes the response writer Caitlin Moran once gave when asked how she accomplishes so much. Her answer: “Caffeine, alcohol, and fear.” Pychyl: “Although we might all recognize and find amusement in Caitlin’s response…it’s not a recipe for health or well-being if it’s the only route to success. The long-term costs, or the potential costs (because predicting the future is not an exact science), are too high.”

How, then, does one actually end the problem of procrastination?

One of the top-rated books on this topic is actually Pychyl’s The Procrastinator’s Digest: A Concise Guide to Solving the Procrastination Puzzle (2010). How can we change our tendency to put things off until an indefinite later? Use Pychyl’s test, taken from one of his posts:

The next time you put off a task until tomorrow, telling yourself tomorrow (later) is better, then simply note the next day whether you now believe that tomorrow is better.  Chances are, it’s not. If anything you may feel more guilt and pressure related to the task at hand and yet not have any more motivation to do the task.

So, if the time to act is now, how do we find the motivation? One of my favorite quotes pertinent to this topic is David Campbell‘s “Discipline is remembering what you want.” When you remember what you truly want, the doing will follow.

Oliver Burkeman points out (“This Column Will Change Your Life“) that most ending-procrastination advisors put less emphasis on the doing part and more on creating the mood for accomplishing things. “Even in the depths of serious depression, as the author Julie Fast notes, being ‘unable to get out of bed’ in the morning really means, to get technical about it, being unable to feel like getting out of bed…” 

But what if you’re unable to feel like doing whatever it is you think you want to do? And what if that’s your pattern in general? And you’re so terrible at feeling like doing things, actually, that you believe you’re beyond help? Burkeman quotes Shoma Morita, the late Japanese therapist, who basically advises: stop the excuses and self-name-calling already.

‘Give up on yourself. Begin taking action now, while being neurotic or imperfect, or a procrastinator, or unhealthy, or lazy, or any other label by which you inaccurately describe yourself. Go ahead and be the best imperfect person you can be and get started on those things you want to accomplish before you die.’

When you get a chance– and/or feel like it– let me know how this works out.

Jan 17

“Fearless”: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

It’s been about 30 years since the movie Fearless (1993) first took flight. Fearless was adapted for the big screen from the novel by Rafael Yglesias (who also wrote the script) and was directed by Peter Weir. It offers a cinematic view of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) that’s pretty realistic and definitely worth seeing.

A 2016 study, among others listed here, found “that health care providers need to be aware that survivors may be at risk for PTSD or depression, regardless of the objective severity of their physical injuries” (PubMed).

What we know in the beginning of Fearless is that a commercial airplane is about to crash. In the final moments before it happens, married architect Max Klein (Jeff Bridges), a passenger with a fear of flying, seems to accept his imminent demise and turns toward comforting others. When he actually survives the disaster, he’s in total shock and disbelief.

Post-crash, Max is changed big-time. While now feeling personally invulnerable and godlike, he’s also emotionally distant from everyone and everything from his former life.

Are his changes related to PTSD? David J. Morris, author of The Evil Hours: A Biography of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, declared in 2018 that “the best movie about PTSD isn’t about war,” it’s this one. From TaskandPurpose:

One of the most enjoyable aspects of Fearless is its systematic demolition of virtually every PTSD cliché. It’s almost as if the filmmakers went through the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the bible of psychiatry) and looked for ways to subvert the modern medical view of post-traumatic recovery.

The airline provides Max with a psychiatrist, Dr. Bill Perlman (John Turturro). Although he specializes in PTSD, he ultimately feels unable to get through to Max.

Perlman decides, therefore, to pair Max with another survivor, severely depressed and guilt-ridden Carla Rodrigo (Rosie Perez), whose infant son died in the crash. He explains this to Carla’s husband:

Dr. Bill Perlman: He and your wife are the only survivors I can’t reach. She won’t talk and he won’t admit the crash was bad.
Manny Rodrigo: Is that right? He says it was good?
Dr. Bill Perlman: Says it was the best thing that ever happened to him.

While Max tries to help Carla, he also continually exhibits highly risky behavior and in one situation places her in harm’s way as well. Other life changes: “He’s robotic in his unfiltered truth telling. He’s burdened with nightmares and flashbacks, which his ‘invincibility’ barely masks. He’s stopped working productively as an architect, obsessed instead with visually recreating the ‘divine light’ he saw mid-trauma. His intense rapport with Carla and Byron has displaced attention to his own wife and son” (Lincoln Andrews, OnlySky.media).

Ultimately, Max and Carla build a strong friendship, each helping the other heal. And Max starts to learn that miraculously making it through one life-threatening and devastating experience doesn’t mean he can live the rest of his life fearlessly.

Jan 10

Physical Exercise As Therapy: “Joy” and “Medicine”

Two books on the benefits of physical exercise are Exercise Is Medicine (2020) by Judy Foreman and The Joy of Movement (2021) by Kelly McGonigal.

I. The Joy of Movement by Kelly McGonigal

“Movement offers us pleasure, identity, belonging and hope. It puts us in places that are good for us, whether that’s outdoors in nature, in an environment that challenges us, or with a supportive community. It allows us to redefine ourselves and reimagine what is possible. It makes social connection easier and self-transcendence possible.”

Physical exercise isn’t just about losing weight or being fit or being athletic, maintains author Kelly McGonigal. Simply put, moving your body in various ways is better than not doing so. And it’s great not just for one’s body but also for one’s state of mind.

As reported by Megan O’Neill Melle in Parade, there are six cited mental benefits of exercise, paraphrased below:

  1. Stress-busting: Not eliminating stress, but improving one’s management of stress.
  2. Social connection: Due to certain brain chemicals released, moving along with others strengthens one’s ability to enjoy time with other people.
  3. It offers hope: “Hope molecules” inject healing properties.
  4. Brain boosting: For example, protection against Alzheimer’s and relief from depression.
  5. Increased happiness: In a phenomenon known as “collective joy,” there’s an increase in such things as optimism and social connection.
  6. It works with music: Music helps exercise to occur and links to memory in ways that help stimulate such feelings as “strength, energy, courage or happiness.”

II. Exercise Is Medicine by Judy Foreman

In Exercise Is Medicine: How Physical Activity Boosts Health and Slows Aging, health journalist Judy Foreman concludes that physical exercise is “by far the most effective, and safest, strategy for promoting a long, healthy life.” Conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol can be significantly improved, for example, via regular physical movement.

Publishers Weekly: “The penultimate chapter is especially helpful, covering topics such as what happens when one stops exercising, and the relationship between excessive weight and fitness, and beta-blockers and exercise. Throughout, Foreman includes ‘Inspirational Tales,’ research studies, and boxed sidebars covering chapter-related topics.”

A blog post of Foreman’s that’s particularly pertinent for those who sit while at work is titled “Sitting Kills.” Opening sentence: “It’s not just that physical activity is good for you. It’s that a sedentary lifestyle, as a totally separate variable, is seriously bad.

Other excerpts:

Sitting too much  all by itself – can raise the risk of disease and premature mortality, even if you dutifully exercise.

If you want a short, sickly life, just sit there, for 13 hours a day, like the average American. (In Western countries overall, adults spend 55 to 70 percent of the day – 9 to 11 hours – just sitting.)

Replacing just two minutes of sitting every hour with a bit of moving around helps mitigate the risks of sitting. Better yet, don’t sit for more than 30 minutes at a stretch.

…“(S)edentary physiology” is now considered a separate field of research from the long-established field of “exercise physiology.”

…(P)hysical inactivity causes as many deaths a year globally as smoking.