The Opposite of Loneliness Essays and Stories

The poignant article by Marina Keegan, “The Opposite of Loneliness” deals with the author’s fears and hopes on graduating from college. She fears getting lost in the modern web, and losing the safety that college provides, both physically and mentally. But she also look back to what all her experiences in college have taught her, and decides to use them to quell her fears going into years ahead. Her first and unfortunately last book (author now deceased) of the same title deals with similar themes. 

Read an excerpt of the article written by Marina Keegan:

The Opposite of Loneliness We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life. What I’m grateful and thankful to have found at Yale, and what I’m scared of losing when we wake up tomorrow after Commencement and leave this place. It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team. When the check is paid and you stay at the table. When it’s four A.M. and no one goes to bed. That night with the guitar. That night we can’t remember. That time we did, we went, we saw, we laughed, we felt. The hats. Yale is full of tiny circles we pull around ourselves. A cappella groups, sports teams, houses, societies, clubs. These tiny groups that make us feel loved and safe and part of something even on our loneliest nights when we stumble home to our computers—partnerless, tired, awake. We won’t have those next year. We won’t live on the same block as all our friends. We won’t have a bunch of group texts. This scares me. More than finding the right job or city or spouse, I’m scared of losing this web we’re in. This elusive, indefinable, opposite of loneliness. This feeling I feel right now. But let us get one thing straight: the best years of our lives are not behind us. They’re part of us and they are set for repetition as we grow up and move to New York and away from New York and wish we did or didn’t live in New York. I plan on having parties when I’m thirty. I plan on having fun when I’m old. Any notion of THE BEST years comes from clichéd “should have . . . ,” “if I’d . . . ,” “wish I’d . . .” Of course, there are things we wish we’d done: our readings, that boy across the hall. We’re our own hardest critics and it’s easy to let ourselves down. Sleeping too late. Procrastinating. Cutting corners. More than once I’ve looked back on my high school self and thought: how did I do that? How did I work so hard? Our private insecurities follow us and will always follow us. But the thing is, we’re all like that. Nobody wakes up when they want to. Nobody did all of their reading (except maybe the crazy people who win the prizes . . .). We have these impossibly high standards and we’ll probably never live up to our perfect fantasies of our future selves. But I feel like that’s okay. We’re so young. We’re so young. We’re twenty-two years old. We have so much time. There’s this sentiment I sometimes sense, creeping in our collective conscious as we lie alone after a party, or pack up our books when we give in and go out—that it is somehow too late. That others are somehow ahead. More accomplished, more specialized. More on the path to somehow saving the world, somehow creating or inventing or improving. .... 

New Harvard Policy Bans Teacher-Student Relations

The article written be Ashley Southall delves into Harvard’s recent ban on romantic or sexual relationships between students and teachers in response to Title X, federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in education. The authors note that the unequal power balance in such relationships can be very harmful for a student, giving the teacher an unreasonable amount of control over their partner, thus deeming consent hard to establish. However, the drive behind this recent ban seems to be the possibility of the university being financially liable for any sexual misconduct. Universities seem to want to watch their own back rather than look out for vulnerable students.

Read an excerpt of the article written by ASHLEY SOUTHALL:

Harvard University has adopted a ban on professors’ having sexual or romantic relationships with undergraduate students, joining a small but growing number of universities prohibiting such relationships. The move comes as the Obama administration investigates the handling of accusations of sexual assault at dozens of colleges, including Harvard. The ban clarifies an earlier policy that labeled sexual and romantic relationships between professors and the students they teach as inappropriate, but did not explicitly prohibit professors from having relationships with students they did not teach. Harvard said Thursday that the change had been made after a panel reviewing the institution’s policy on Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in education, determined that the university’s existing policy language on “relationships of unequal status did not explicitly reflect the faculty’s expectations of what constituted an appropriate relationship between undergraduate students and faculty members.” It said the policy had been revised “to include a clear prohibition to better accord with these expectations.” The change was recommended by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Committee on Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedures. more

The emotional benefits of a lunchtime walk

What are the benefits of lunchtime strolls? More Importantly, emotional benefits. Gretchen Reynolds writes that a recent study showed that on the afternoons after a lunchtime stroll, walkers said they felt considerably more enthusiastic, less tense, and generally more relaxed and able to cope than on afternoons when they had not walked and even compared with their own moods from a morning before a walk. ‘There is now quite strong research evidence that feeling more positive and enthusiastic at work is very important to productivity,’’ Dr. Thogersen-Ntoumani said. She also suggests that managers might wish to acquaint themselves with the latest science.

Read an excerpt of the article written by GRETCHEN REYNOLDS:

A new study finds that even gentle lunchtime strolls can perceptibly — and immediately — buoy people’s moods and ability to handle stress at work. It is not news, of course, that walking is healthy and that people who walk or otherwise exercise regularly tend to be more calm, alert and happy than people who are inactive. But many past studies of the effects of walking and other exercise on mood have focused on somewhat long-term, gradual outcomes, looking at how weeks or months of exercise change people emotionally. Fewer studies have examined more-abrupt, day-to-day and even hour-by-hour changes in people’s moods, depending on whether they exercise, and even fewer have focused on these effects while people are at work, even though most of us spend a majority of our waking hours in an office. So, for the new study, which was published in The Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports this month, researchers at the University of Birmingham and other universities began by recruiting sedentary office workers at the university. Potential volunteers were told that they would need to be available to walk for 30 minutes during their usual lunch hour three times a week. Most of the resulting 56 volunteers were middle-aged women. It can be difficult to attract men to join walking programs, said Cecilie Thogersen-Ntoumani, the study’s lead author and now a professor of exercise science at Curtin University in Perth, Australia. Walking may not strike some men as strenuous enough to bother with, she said. But she and her colleagues did attract four sedentary middle-aged men to the experiment. The volunteers completed a series of baseline health and fitness and mood tests at the outset of the experiment, revealing that they all were out of shape but otherwise generally healthy physically and emotionally. Dr. Thogersen-Ntoumani and her colleagues then randomly divided the volunteers into two groups, one of which was to begin a simple, 10-week walking program right away, while the other group would wait and start their walking program 10 weeks later, serving, in the meantime, as a control group. To allow them to assess people’s moods, the scientists helped their volunteers to set up a specialized app on their phones that included a list of questions about their emotions. The questions were designed to measure the volunteers’ feelings, at that moment, about stress, tension, enthusiasm, workload, motivation, physical fatigue and other issues related to how they were feeling about life and work at that immediate time. A common problem with studies of the effect of exercise on mood, Dr. Thogersen-Ntoumani said, is that they rely on recall. ...Read more

How to get over a breakup

How to get over a breakup? Journaling? Does it make hurt feelings worse or better? Psychologist James W. Pennebaker feels that when people are given the opportunity to write about emotional upheavals, they often experience improved health.’’ Talking about it? Ms. Larson and Dr. Sbarra performed a few exercises. The speaking exercise helped people  because ‘‘it improved their sense of self-independent of their former partner. Dr. Sbarra explained, ‘‘and so you touch on it, you think about it, you put it out there, you reflect, and then you sort of create some distance. 

Read an excerpt from the article written by Anna North:

Writing about your feelings, a practice long embraced by teenagers and folk singers, is now attracting attention as a path to good health. And a recent study suggests that reflecting on your emotions could help you get over a breakup. But, one of its authors says, journaling can have its downsides. Is structured self-reflection, as some suggest, a healthy tuneup for the heart and head — or can it make hurt feelings worse? For a study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, Grace M. Larson, a graduate student at Northwestern University, and David A. Sbarra, a psychology professor at the University of Arizona, Tucson, looked at self-reflection through a speaking exercise. They recruited 210 young people (they ranged in age from 17 to 29) who had recently broken up with their partners, and then split this brokenhearted sample into two groups. One filled out a questionnaire on how they were feeling, then completed a four-minute assignment in which they were asked to talk into a recording device, free-associating in response to questions like, ‘‘When did you first realize you and your partner were headed toward breaking up?’’ This group repeated the same exercise three, six and nine weeks later. The second group filled out the questionnaire only at the beginning and at the end of the nine-week study period (they also did the speaking exercise, but only after filling out their final questionnaires). Ms. Larson and Dr. Sbarra found that the breakup sufferers in the first group experienced greater improvements in ‘‘self-concept clarity’’ than those in the second. Dr. Sbarra defines self-concept clarity as ‘‘the degree to which you understand yourself as a person.’’ He and Ms. Larson measured it by asking subjects how much they agreed with statements like ‘‘I do not feel like myself anymore’’ or ‘‘I have regained my identity.’’ Much of our understanding of ourselves can be bound up in our relationships with our partners, Dr. Sbarra explained. And the speaking exercise helped people because ‘‘it improved their sense of self independent of their former partner.’’ That improved sense of self, in turn, led to reductions in loneliness and ‘‘emotional intrusion.’’ ...Read more


The problem with meaning

What does a meaningful life even mean? John Gardner believes that meaning is something that we build into our life, out of our past, affections, loyalties, experiences etc. Is a meaningful life full of material wealth or inner happiness? David Brooks writes that happiness is about receiving and meaningfulness is about giving. It is built of emotion and one cannot judge another person’s emotions, hence their concept of meaningfulness. The author concludes by stating that meaningfulness is a pure and self-regarding feeling, the NutraSweet of the inner life. 

Read an excerpt of the article written by David Brooks:

Not long ago, a friend sent me a speech that the great civic leader John Gardner gave to the Stanford Alumni Association 61 years after he graduated from that college. The speech is chock-full of practical wisdom. I especially liked this passage: ‘‘The things you learn in maturity aren’t simple things such as acquiring information and skills. You learn not to engage in self-destructive behavior. You learn not to burn up energy in anxiety. You discover how to manage your tensions. You learn that self-pity and resentment are among the most toxic of drugs. You find that the world loves talent but pays off on character. ‘‘You come to understand that most people are neither for you nor against you; they are thinking about themselves. You learn that no matter how hard you try to please, some people in this world are not going to love you, a lesson that is at first troubling and then really quite relaxing.’’ Gardner goes on in this wise way. And then, at the end, he goes into a peroration about leading a meaningful life. ‘‘Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you. ... You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life.’’ Gardner puts ‘‘meaning’’ at the apogee of human existence. His speech reminded me how often we’ve heard that word over the past decades. As my Times colleague April Lawson puts it, ‘‘meaning’’ has become the stand-in concept for everything the soul yearns for and seeks. It is one of the few phrases acceptable in modern parlance to describe a fundamentally spiritual need. Yet what do we mean when we use the word meaning? The first thing we mean is that life should be about more than material success. The person leading a meaningful life has found some way of serving others that leads to a feeling of significance. Second, a meaningful life is more satisfying than a merely happy life. Happiness is about enjoying the present; meaning is about dedicating oneself to the future. Happiness is about receiving; meaningfulness is about giving. Happiness is about upbeat moods and nice experiences. People leading meaningful lives experience a deeper sense of satisfaction. In this way, meaning is an uplifting state of consciousness. It’s what you feel when you’re serving things beyond self. Yet it has to be said, as commonly used today, the word is flabby and vacuous, the product of a culture that has grown inarticulate about inner life. Let me put it this way: If we look at the people in history who achieved great things — like Nelson Mandela or Albert Schweitzer or Abraham Lincoln — it wasn’t because they wanted to bathe luxuriously in their own sense of meaningfulness. They had objective and eternally true standards of justice and injustice. They were indignant when those eternal standards were violated. ...Read more

Get to know yourself in social media

Numbers play an important role in todays world. Mainly to count the number of retweets, facebook likes or instagram followers. Our lives are centred around social media. However, the content posted by a lot of people on social networking site is vituperative, crass and critical. It only channels anger and gives way to insult. The article introduces an app call ThinkUp which tracks your social media account and gives vital information about it. ThinkUp shows the image that one is portraying on a social media site which comes across as harsh reality. Through personal experience, the author, Farhad Manjoo, says that the application helped him retweet and give importance to more insightful words. In modern times, where facebook helps employers with background checks, the need for this application is further amplified. 

Read an excerpt of the article written by Farhad Manjoo:   

Anil Dash, a longtime tech entrepreneur and blogger, was recently studying a list of the top words he had used on Twitter over the course of a month during the fall. Mr. Dash has half a million followers on Twitter, and like a lot of people in tech and media circles, he uses the social network to chat with colleagues, to pontificate about technology, politics and pop culture, and to participate in a lot of in jokes. Over the years Mr. Dash has also found himself in the middle of some of the most loaded controversies that have roiled that network. But when he looked at the list of his most-used words for that month, he decided that many of his tweets were too combative, and he wasn’t proud of that. ‘‘A lot of it was me dealing with ‘gamergate’ folks,’’ he said in an interview, referring to the past year’s antifeminist activist campaign by some video game enthusiasts. ‘‘I’m like: ‘God, I’m wasting my life. Why am I spending time on this? There are so many other things I could be doing.’’’ But, he added: ‘‘Seeing it was a revelation. I decided I’m just not doing it anymore. I immediately blocked five people, and it made my life better in 10 seconds.’’ Mr. Dash has been thinking about his behavior on social media for a while. Together with Gina Trapani, the former editor of the blog Lifehacker, he is a co-founder of ThinkUp, a year-old subscription service that analyzes how people comport themselves on Twitter and Facebook, with the goal of helping them become more thoughtful, less reflexive, more empathetic and more professional — over all, better behaved. In addition to a list of people’s most-used words and other straightforward stats like follower counts, ThinkUp shows subscribers more unusual information such as how often they thank and congratulate people, how frequently they swear, whose voices they tend to amplify and which posts get the biggest reaction and from whom. Some of this may sound trivial. But after using ThinkUp for about six months, I’ve found it to be an indispensable guide to how I navigate social networks. Every morning the service delivers an email packed with information, and in its weighty thoroughness, it reminds you that what you do on Twitter and Facebook can change your life, and other people’s lives, in important, sometimes unforeseen ways. ThinkUp is something like Elf on the Shelf for digitally addled adults — a constant reminder that someone is watching you, and that you’re being judged. That is the point. ‘‘The goal is to make you act like less of a jerk online,’’ Ms. Trapani said. ‘‘The big goal is to create mindfulness and awareness, and also behavioral change.’’ She pointed out that people often tweet and update without any perspective about themselves. That’s because Facebook and Twitter, as others have observed, have a way of infecting our brains. ...Read more

Challenging the ‘you-can- do-it’ vibe

Why should we always think positive? Is blind optimism the key to success? Dr. Oettingen disagrees. It just lowers blood pressure, he argues. He developed a technique called mental contrasting. The art to achieve our goals is to not only imagine achieving them, but also considering the barriers that could prevent them from achieving. He also developed an app called WOOP- wish, outcome, obstacle, plan. Dr. Friedman wonders to what extent would mental contrasting be affective for patients who suffer from depression, anxiety etc.  

Read an excerpt of the article written by Richard A. Friedman:

Ever hear the joke about the guy who dreams of winning the lottery? After years of desperate fantasizing, he cries out for God’s help. Down from heaven comes God’s advice: ‘‘Would you buy a ticket already?!’’ This starry-eyed dreamer is, like so many of us, a believer in old-fashioned positive thinking: Find your dream, wish for it, and success will be yours. Not quite, according to Gabriele Oettingen, a psychology professor at New York University and the University of Hamburg, who uses this joke to illustrate the limitations of the power of positive thinking. In her smart, lucid book, ‘‘Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation,’’ Dr. Oettingen critically re-examines positive thinking and gives readers a more nuanced — and useful — understanding of motivation based on solid empirical evidence. Conventional wisdom has it that dreams are supposed to excite us and inspire us to act. Putting this to the test, Dr. Oettingen recruits a group of undergraduate college students and randomly assigns them to two groups. She instructs the first group to fantasize that the coming week will be a knockout: good grades, great parties and the like; students in the second group are asked to record all their thoughts and daydreams about the coming week, good and bad. Strikingly, the students who were told to think positively felt far less energized and accomplished than those who were instructed to have a neutral fantasy. Blind optimism, it turns out, does not motivate people; instead, as Dr. Oettingen shows in a series of clever experiments, it creates a sense of relaxation complacency. ...Read more