Tag Archives: psychology

Why Millennials Have Trust Issues

Yesterday I read yet another article analyzing the actions and reactions of my generation, Millennials.

First and foremost, I’d like Regina George to speak to marketers and people of other generations on behalf of my people:
I mean we’re the most-studied generation. There have even been studies on that.
Anyway, here’s the inciting article: Why Millennials Don’t Trust Anything
Before even reading the article, I answered the headline’s implied question: Because we haven’t been given a really good reason why we should?
Let’s see:
  • Banks: Bunch of high-profile banking scandals blended thoroughly with a multitude of really terrible customer service experiences. Oh, and that little thing we’ll call the mortgage crisis of 2008.
  • Jobs: Our parents/we have seen too many cases where “loyal” people who gave their all to a company were summarily fired/had their benefits reduced. Doesn’t seem like the loyalty is reciprocated. Compound that with the many folk who are trained for a professional career but can’t find work in their area.
  • Owning a Home: It’s hard to own a home when you’re having job and money-related issues. And we’re prudent enough to be mistrustful in case we get trapped in the next wave of housing issues: no one wants to be “underwater.”
  • Marriage: It’s really expensive, everyone keeps telling us that we’re going to get divorced anyway (even though that statistic isn’t accurate), and we also want to feel “settled” as adults before we make a really adult financial decision.
  • Medical costs: They just suck. And all the very loud, loosely-fact-based political nonsense in the news doesn’t make anyone feel better.
  • The Environment: We’re still having fights about climate change. That’s just silly. Even if you “disagree” with the scientific fact about it, can’t we agree that it’s a good idea not to pollute?
  • Social Issues: A lot of young people (not all, I’ll say, with probability, but a lot) grew up with messages of acceptance and compassion for others (thanks, Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers!). Personally, I’ve been really disappointed in how this kind of stuff plays out in the real world, and how much intolerance there is, over really trivial crap. (I’m not even talking about Big Issues, necessarily. Even the level of “what game console do you play on?” can be fraught!) Plus there has been an awful lot of really bad stuff going on socio-politically around the world. I want to believe in Sesame Street‘s messages, but it sometimes feels like the world doesn’t want to agree with me.
So, this article in particular talks about “our” trust in blogs over traditional media. I’m a pretty big advocate for “traditional media,” having come from there education-wise. But it’s getting harder and harder to lobby on their side: I’m looking at you in particular, TV news.
That said, this is one thing I’ll disagree with: I trust traditional news sources for their veracity over blogs 95% of the time. Particularly on fact-related issues. I got in an argument with someone yesterday about a particular trendy news item, and posted a link to the New York Times. He posted back a link to an editorial on a website that sells crap…and called the NYTimes biased. Holy cow, that’s crazy.
I will say I go to blogs for more colorful types of reading, the types of things that used to be covered in the “Features” or “Lifestyles” sections of a newspaper. But sadly, that probably comes from a) the proliferation of those kinds of blogs and b) the fact that that department was the first to go when newspapers started getting budget cuts.
Do I think we’re “bashing tradition,” as the article says? Hell no. I think we’re just reacting in a very rational way.
What do you think? Is your generation maligned in articles? How?


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What Good is Reading, Anyway?

I was in a group of new folks and we were forced to do one of those awful icebreakers. “Pretend you’re on a deserted island for a year and you can only bring 1 book, 1 song (?), and one practical item. The basics are supplied for you. What do you bring?”

I was astounded at the number of people in the group of seemingly educated folks who not only couldn’t pick a book, but said they couldn’t even think of a book. Didn’t even know the last book they’d read.

One guy picked The Hunger Games “because it will make me think about survival and stuff” and one woman picked “that one book I had to read in high school about kids on an island.” She meant Lord of the Flies, and was a bit surprised when we pointed out that one doesn’t end well.

(I picked The Lord of the Rings, if it makes a difference. It’s both long and incredibly re-readable, and it’s been awhile since I’ve read it all anyway.)

I was incredibly disappointed in these new not-yet-friends, and couldn’t help like feeling like Gulliver in his eponymous travels, trying to communicate with the Yahoos. Or maybe that makes me a Houyhnhnm, and I’m the one out of place.

Anyway, it got me thinking about the relative value of reading. Of course, being a writer and editor and general appreciator of the written word, I personally value it quite a lot. But if all these otherwise lovely people can’t so much as name a recent title, maybe I’m being antiquated and longing after telegrams when everyone else has moved on to this new-fangled telephone.

Unfortunately, I’ve got science on my side. There is evidence, based on research done at the University of Toronto, that reading fiction makes people better able to handle ambiguity. Basically, reading about imaginary scenarios allows you to think deeply about situations outside of your own life and consider more options than you otherwise might. It’s mind-broadening.

Personally, I feel like open-mindedness is a characteristic our modern society could use a heckuva lot more of, particularly as we are able to communicate globally and encounter people of backgrounds formerly unimaginable to us. American politics in particular seems to have grown more and more divisive; perhaps what we need is some sort of national book club. We can call it “On the Same Page.”

Additionally, I found another study quite pertinent. Reading makes us more human.

Contemplate the gravity of that statement for a moment. More human. Woah.

The idea here is that reading is one of those things that humans have managed to do that other species have not. It may even be one of the few things that truly separates us from other creatures in this world. Interpreting written works involves basic brainpower (the actual act of reading) as well as spiritual, emotional, and intellectual connections. There is a lot to offer between two covers of a book.

I find fiction–broadly including video games, movies, really good TV shows (no reality TV dreck, thankyouverymuch), and of course books–awakens part of my spirit and mind I otherwise wouldn’t have much of an outlet for. I don’t think I could go without it. In fact, I finished reading a book and realized I didn’t have another promptly cued up. I was a bit frantic until I found a new one…15 minutes later. I am literally never truly without a book, and I hope to spread my joy of reading with the icebreaking group, and with others. We–like libraries–are places of infinite potential, if only we explore.


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The Meaninglessness of Happiness

Last year, for her birthday, I gave my mom a copy of “The Happiness Project.” It was one of those gifts I hoped she might enjoy…and that she’d read quickly and pass on to me. (I’m still waiting. Drat.) So I haven’t actually gotten to read it yet, but it’s a really brilliant concept that can be a little tricky to understand: if happiness is fleeting, how do we make ourselves more happy?

“Happiness Project” author tried a different set of suggested ideas for a month each: a year of happiness, if you will. I wish I could get that book to find out how it turned out (except I do know she’s doing quite well as an author, so I imagine that gives her some happiness now, too).

I read two articles on happiness this week that reminded me of that book.

First, The Atlantic posted “There’s More to Life Than Being Happy.”

It says pretty much what it sounds like, but I think it suffers from a lack of clarity in the word “happiness.” I mean, there are different kinds of happiness. There’s the “oh yay I found my lost sock!” happiness; there’s “hurray I’ve been cleared of all charges!” happiness; there’s “I got the big-screen TV I wanted on sale!” happiness; and there’s “I won a Pulitzer/Nobel Peace Prize/best thing ever” happiness.

It turns out that the “TV-level” type of happiness–happiness related to food or things, the kind of happiness we can be sold in a 30-second Super Bowl commercial–is very fleeting. We get used to it, we get over it, there’s something newer to be excited about. But I think that’s pretty intuitive. I mean, you can’t just keep big-screen-TVing your way to happiness, right?

And then there’s the other kind of happiness, the kind promoted by Viktor Frankl, the psychologist in the article, talks about. That might be better called “contentment.” It’s happiness achieved through purpose and meaning. And the things that give us happiness that way aren’t always happy-producing. I mean, you can love your pets/spouse/kids/job and they can still drive you absolutely crazy, right?  Right.

The other article, “Happiness Inc” in the New York Times, talks a little more about the science of happiness research. Which in and of itself is pretty fascinating. Did you know that for the longest time, psychologists never studied “normal” people: they only bothered to research people with obvious issues. But without studying “regular” folks, how would you know what was truly aberrant?

Similarly, it’s taken psychologists a long time to get around to studying happiness. The thing known as “hedonic adaptation” is that big-screen-TV-effect I mentioned earlier.

Personally, I don’t go much for that kind of happiness. I think I’m just not wired that way. I mean, yes, I can admire a big screen TV or a fancy car with the best of them, and I’ve been known to heartily enjoy some chocolate, but I think my life is very much grounded on things that provide meaning. In fact, I don’t think I could try to live “without meaning,” if  wanted to. I look for meaning all the time. Meaning is why I write. Why I edit. Heck, it’s why I’m blogging right now (because I might as well send these thoughts to an audience somewhere. I’d be thinking them anyway.)

How important is meaning to your happiness? Could you be happy without it?


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A Family In Isolation

I found this incredible article on April 1 and assumed it was an April Fool’s joke. But it’s real; the Smithsonian isn’t really known for pulling legs, and besides, the article was originally published in January.

In 1978, a team of geologists discovered a family of 5 that had been living in complete isolation more than 150 miles from any civilization for 40 years. Here’s the article. Read it, it’s fantastic.

It’s hard to imagine what that would be like. This is not “Little House on the Prairie” isolation: this is “if you can’t grow it or make it, you don’t have it” isolation. This is “our best entertainment is telling each other our dreams” isolation.

I found it very inspiring and enlightening. What does all that isolation do to a person? I think it’s fascinating the way each of the family m

embers responded to their discovery of other people. Fear, initially. Gradual acceptance. Then variations: stubborn refusal; stoic interest; awe.

The discussions of the differences in language were really interesting, too. The daughters had invented a singsong way of speaking that the geologists found difficult to understand; they didn’t really need anyone but their parents and brother to understand them anyway, so they never adopted a “grown-up” tone.

I think these kinds of amazing true stories are important to read because they can inform so much of our writing. For example, I think it would have helped Hugh Howey write his descriptions of feral children or the man alone in the silo. In short, they wouldn’t be speaking with the strangers, or maybe at all. Maybe they’d have their own languages. There’d be a lot more fear. There would be more unusual ways of coping.

The Point Cabrillo Lighthouse. Image from KelleyHouseMuseum.org

I’ve found stories of isolation compelling since I visited the Cabrillo National Monument and lighthouse in San Diego a few years ago. The museum there explained what lighthouse work was like at the time: a family lived in the lighthouse, visiting the small city of San Diego only every few weeks for supplies, a long two-day journey. They were otherwise alone, and had to rely on their ability to collect rainwater and provide their own entertainment. (Clearly they were often bored; so many things in that house were “decorated” with seashells!)

Even more interesting? The lighthouse assistant–often a woman–lived alone, in a small house nearby. While she was in training to take over the lighthouse in an emergency or possibly in the future, she did not eat or interact with the family. Her isolation was even greater than that of the lighthouse keeper, a man who could at least rely on his family to be there for him.

What inspires you?

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Review: The Power of Myth

The Power of MythThe Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I came to this book via the serendipity of the bookstore and a nudge from a great TED talk. (Go watch it, I’ll wait… really marvelous, isn’t it?)

I mean, I love mythology, I love stories, I’m interested in learning more about the hero’s journey–what’s not to like?

Let me tell you, I really wavered on those stars up there. It was thisclose to earning a 2. In fact, I almost gave up on this book a third of the way in.

First, the problems:
In my opinion, Bill Moyer, esteemed journalist that he is, completely failed in his duty in this book. I understand that it’s a transcript of a conversation, and perhaps it would have worked better in a visual medium, but Moyer is so transfixed by his subject (Joseph Campbell) that he loses the ability to control the flow of thought and respond critically to anything Campbell says. He says as much in the introduction; he is enamored of this interview.

Maybe, on TV, it isn’t as clear how frequently conversation derails, but in print, in a straight transcription, it’s a trainwreck. Had Moyer taken the time to construct a real book–with transcriptions, and sources, and clear structure–this book would have been dramatically easier to follow. As it is, the reader is just expected to hang on and sort of passively observe the literature, to sort of be transformed by its aura.

And that’s my next criticism: if you didn’t know (because Moyer says so) that Campbell is a leading scholar, you’d think he was a crackpot. He relies heavily on a swill of mixed metaphors and images pulled from whatever story happens to be handy for his current theme.

Seriously, you get things like this:

“If you undergo a spiritual transformation and have not had preparation for it, you do not know how to evaluate what has happened to you, and you get the terrible experiences of a bad trip, as they used to call it with LSD.”

If you didn’t know a professor said that, wouldn’t you think you were talking to an inebriated hippy? And that was actually a milder example; others were too long to transcribe.

Other problems with the text are products of the time it was written and Campbell’s (and Moyer, since he can’t help but butt in all the time) experiences as a child. Campbell especially has a sort of obsession with the “noble savage,” idealizing Native Americans to such a degree you lose a sense that they were a real people. He seems to apply the same idealization to “Orientals” and non-Western religion.

Paradoxically, much of the book revolves around Christian theology and ideals–in fact, it would probably be hard to understand this book without being able to reference the Bible and Christian tradition.

In a sort of one-two combination of these and a 1950s upbringing, you also get a lot of negative depictions of women and their role in society. Campbell’s pretty clear that a woman’s place is in creating children, and that requires a necessary sacrifice of any other priority in her life. He doesn’t even seem aware how these references, again and again, deprioritize women’s personal drives–heck, any sense of women as people with any desires outside of getting hitched and producing heirs for her husband–because he’s so busy deifying the process. It’s hard to argue that you aren’t meant to raise children when you’re being compared to the Virgin Mary at every turn.

Mix all that in with a giant dollop of “Back in MY day,” and you’ve got The Power of Myth.

And yet, despite all those problems, I kept reading. Weirdly, this is a book that does well if you don’t think about it too much as you’re reading, but let it marinate in the back of your head. It’s good as a general philosophy (though thank goodness no one ever thought to make a religion out of Campbell’s beliefs!) and has some good overall messages.

For example, his message for everyone, no matter who they are is “Follow your bliss.” Now that’s a nice big ebullient idea, but it’s a lovely sentiment and can be a good motivation.

Because of the philosophizing nature of this book, it’s also rife with juicy inspirational quotes of all kinds. This is the one that stood out to me:

“”Do you think I can be a writer?”
“Oh,” I would say, “I don’t know. Can you endure ten years of disappointment with nobody responding to you, or are you thinking that you are going to write a best seller at the first crack? If you have the guts to stay with the thing you really want, no matter what happens, well, go ahead.””

I’m sure anyone, regardless of their personal bliss, could find a similarly provocative quote in this book.

I wouldn’t recommend this book to most people. It’s twisty, poorly constructed, and full of sort of New-Age-y mumbo-jumbo. But I wouldn’t talk you out of reading it, either; it might provide just the right magic words for you. And besides, the message that we are all heroes traveling our own mythic journeys is pretty nice.

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IKEA, Masters of Manipulation

I love IKEA. I can maneuver through that twisty labyrinth they call a store in less than 10 minutes—I know all the shortcuts. I can sing most of Jonathan Colton’s “IKEA” from memory without a trace of irony. I think it’s amazing that I can get a dresser and a cheap-but-tasty lunch in one place. I love their inclusive advertising. And I love that feeling of sweaty accomplishment when I turn that tiny allen wrench one last rotation and stand back to revel in my newly constructed purchase of the week.

My home is truly a testament to IKEA. I go through the catalog with a loving but critical eye—what will be my next purchase? Will that coffee table fit in with the rest of my living room furniture (it’s all IKEA, so the answer, generally, is ‘yes’). I’ve finally developed a “grown-up” enough space that I could start buying “fancier” furniture, but I adore my IKEA products.

Come to find out, that’s all part of their master plan.

Well, maybe not master plan, but a nice side effect of their build-your-own furniture. Three psychologists studied the effect of labor on feelings of attachment. NPR did a great story on it.

To the shock of no one who has ever constructed a table from a pile of parts pulled from a warehouse, they found that it is not that we labor hard at things we love (though I’d argue we do that, too), but rather that we love things that we work for.

They offer a nice bunch of cheap jokes at the quality of IKEA furniture along the way (I’ll argue, however, that my furniture is, um, amazingly well-built. No crooked tables for me!…why no, I’m not possibly influenced by the IKEA effect, why do you ask?), but the authors also raise a good question: Does this apply to things besides self-constructed furniture?


Because, of course, it does. Businessmen are more enamored with an idea—even if it’s universally seen as a bad idea—if they came up with it. You know that at least some of the people on Regretsy thought their hand-crafted whatever was amazing, even while strangers mocked it online.

And writers, of course, can fall prey to the same possibility. We tell ourselves and each other to “kill your darlings.” And we try, we really do, but that’s why just about everyone recommends finding an editor—you can’t see the quality (or lack thereof) of your own work.

I think that aspiring authors are perhaps more aware of this phenomenon and its dangers than other folks. We also tend to be our own worst critics. I know I can see-saw from boundless enthusiasm to despair over a piece. There is an abundance of quotes from authors describing their own inferiority.

We know we love it. But we also know we hate it. That’s one of the reasons writing can be so painful, but also such a joy.

I’ll continue filling my home with IKEA, and I’ll continue writing, but I’ll keep an eye out for flaws in both.



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Review: “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Quiet is a well-deserved NYT Bestseller. It is thoughtful, well-paced, peppered with supporting anecdotes, and provides a much-needed voice of support for introverts.

As an introvert, I spent much of the book nodding. “Oh my gosh, I thought that was just me!” moments were pretty common. I liked progression of the book, from an explanation of what introversion is, the evolution of the extrovert ideal (with plenty of historical references), an analysis of whether introversion and extroversion are inherent or learned, how people can modify their natural tendencies, and how to deal with introversion in yourself at work, at home, and at school, and how to help others.

I mean, wowza, this book is packed!

I’ve read a few reviews that suggest the information is biased (particularly the chapter on Silicon Valley), and, while I can see where that conclusion may be reached, it seems that Cain really did her due diligence, talking to a number of people and representing both positions. I think she’s on to something about the unusual nature of that area.

Most of all, this book validated me, and I’m sure others who see themselves reflected in its pages will feel the same way. I feel like it was fair to extroverts while also championing the introverts, and providing tangible methods to invoke personal change–for both types.

This book would be particularly useful for teachers–the chapters on schoolwork and school performance resonate, and Cain gives excellent examples for ways a classroom could be built to appeal to both introverts and extroverts, while teaching each the advantages of the other. And because so much of what happens in school early on can have such an impact on the future lives of introverts, perhaps the people at the fore of so many children’s lives should take the opportunity to learn from Cain’s able and thorough research.

A fantastic read for anyone interested in psychology, even in passing.

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