My own life

This insightful Op-ed by Oliver Sacks gives the reader a glimpse into his struggle with cancer. Faced with his own mortality, he ruminates on how to live his life to its fullest, most productive best. He employs the philosophy of David Hume, regarding detachment from the present, and chooses instead to deepen his connections with the landscape, with the people around him and with himself. He claims, instead, to detach himself from negative aspects of the world around him, paying little attention to sensationalist news or the inevitability of climate change. Rather, he prefers to put his limited time to experiencing life in its entirety.

Read an excerpt of the article written by Oliver Sacks:

A month ago, I felt that I was in good health, even robust health. At 81, I still swim a mile a day. But my luck has run out: A few weeks ago I learned that I have multiple metastases in the liver. Nine years ago it was discovered that I had a rare tumor of the eye, an ocular melanoma. Although the radiation and lasering to remove the tumor ultimately left me blind in that eye, only in very rare cases do such tumors metastasize. I am among the unlucky 2 percent. I feel grateful that I have been granted nine years of good health and productivity since the original diagnosis, but now I am face to face with dying. The cancer occupies a third of my liver, and though its advance may be slowed, this particular sort of cancer cannot be halted. more

A conversation with Richard Price

This piece reads as a delightful conversation with Richard Price, author of ‘Clockers’. It gives the reader an insight into Price’s own reading list, what authors he admires and which he doesn’t. He also gives us a look into his childhood with books, the ones he loved and which he hated. He shares his views on iPad reading, claiming it has made him inattentive. He also suggests never reading a powerful novel in the process of writing your own. One would assume it would inspire the author, but he claims it only distracts.

Read an excerpt of the article written by JILLIAN TAMAKI:

RICHARD PRICE The author of ‘Clockers’ and, as Harry Brandt, ‘The Whites’ regrets reading ‘Sophie’s Choice’ in 1982: ‘Never ever read a powerful novel when you’re trying to write a novel of your own.’ Q. What books are currently on your night stand? A. Hans Fallada’s ‘‘Every Man Dies Alone,’’ William Carlos Williams’s 1937 novel ‘‘White Mule’’ and a collection of his short fiction called ‘‘The Doctor Stories,’’ compiled by Robert Coles. Louise Glück’s collected poems. Atticus Lish’s ‘‘Preparation for the Next Life.’’ Elaine Pagels’s ‘‘Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation.’’ ‘‘Archaeology for Dummies.’’ more


36 Hours in: Beijing

Justin Bergman explores Beijing, a few years past its 2008 Olympics and a few years before its next bid for the Winter Olympics in 2022. The article highlights the confluence of the modern and the traditional in a city of migrants. The writer explores the how the luxurious architecture and sports cars coexist with ancient Buddhist temples. He notes the street life, from clothes shacks to dumpling carts and game huts that serve local liquors. On the other hand gentrification has taken hold of the city, turning old factories into trendy cafes, ensuring neighborhoods are revamped for wealthier clients. Local shacks are eviscerated by new breweries developing craft beers. Yet, the claims are that developers are trying to retain the flavor of the neighborhoods, marrying the old to the new. One way or another, Beijing begs to be remembered.

Read an excerpt of the article written by Justin Bergman:

It seems like only yesterday that Beijing had its much-ballyhooed ‘‘coming out’’ party — the 2008 Summer Olympics — but things don’t slow down much in China’s frenetic capital. Already, the city is eyeing another Olympics bid (it is one of two finalists for the 2022 Winter Games) and planning a $13 billion airport that is expected to be among the busiest in the world when it opens in 2019. And yet compared with China’s other vertical megacities, Beijing is still a traditionalist at heart. The city may have fantastic new sculptural monuments designed by Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhaas, but to truly understand Beijing, one has to delve into the remaining hutong neighborhoods — traditional alleyways lined with courtyard homes — and smell the sweet potatoes roasting on coal fires in the winter. more

A counterterrorism officer and a Muslim comedian walk into a school

This article written by Katrin Bennhold begins with introducing Humza Arhad, a Muslim comedian, who, working with the police, mocks jihadis, in his efforts to prevent students from running of to Syria and joining the Islamic State. He asserts himself as a British citizen, who doesn't want people to lose their lives. He lays emphasis on religion and prays daily, but ridicules jihadis. He created ‘‘Diary of a Bad Man’’, a YouTube satire of life as a young British Asian that rapidly attracted a mass teenage following.

Read an excerpt of the article written by Katrin Bennhold:

Humza Arshad pokes fun at Pakistani accents and emotional soccer fans. He jokes about his weight, his voice and his own mother. But mostly, he laughs at jihadists. ‘‘Have you noticed how in those terrorist videos they’re always sitting on the floor?’’ Mr. Arshad asked a group of high school students the other day. ‘‘What’s up with that? I swear they can afford a chair.’’ And their pants: ‘‘Always coming up to here,’’ he said, pointing at his shin, ‘‘like, did you borrow this from your little brother or something?’’ Mr. Arshad, 29, is no ordinary comedian. A practicing Muslim in hip-hop gear whose YouTube videos have drawn millions of views, he is the centerpiece of the British government’s latest and perhaps cleverest effort to prevent students from running off to Syria and joining the Islamic State. more

The power of hope is real

Nicholas Kristof writes about the power of hope for the poor, in this article. Evidence shows that aid can overcome disease, boost literacy and save lives. Poverty causes stress and depression and lack of hope, and stress and depression and lack of hope, in turn, cause poverty. Researchers are now studying whether exposure to religion might have a similar effect, improving economic outcomes. A large-scale experiment shows, with rigorous evidence, what works to lift people out of the most extreme poverty. And it’s exhilarating that one of the lessons may be so simple and human: the power of hope.

Read an excerpt of the article written by Nicholas Kristof:

An awkward truth for bleeding hearts like myself is that there has never been much rigorous evidence that outside aid can sustainably lift people out of poverty. Sure, evidence is overwhelming that aid can overcome disease, boost literacy and save lives. But raising incomes is trickier — and the evidence in that arena has been squishier. Now that’s changing. A vast randomized trial — the gold standard of evidence — involving 21,000 people in six countries suggests that a particular aid package called the graduation program (because it aims to graduate people from poverty) gives very poor families a significant boost that continues after the program ends. Indeed, it’s an investment. more


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. .... 

Conflict and Ego

The article written by David Brooks openly examines the interplay between insult and response. It discusses the critical and crude nature of most reader’s comments on various articles. The author suggests responding to such a vituperative comment in a quiet and calm manner rather than in a derisive manner. The article states that the conversation becomes a battle of status as people hurl insult upon insult towards each other, making them more egoistic. Using Lincoln and ISIS as examples he enumerates the need to retaliate to such hate with peace, in order to avoid conflict. Thus we see the adverse affect “conflict” has on “ego”.

Read an excerpt of the article written by David Brooks:


Conflict and Ego By DAVID BROOKS If you read the online versions of newspaper columns you can click over to the reader comments, which are often critical, vituperative and insulting. I’ve found that I can only deal with these comments by following the adage, “Love your enemy.” It’s too psychologically damaging to read these comments as evaluations of my intelligence, morals or professional skill. But if I read them with the (possibly delusional) attitude that these are treasured friends bringing me lovely gifts of perspective, then my eye slides over the insults and I can usually learn something. The key is to get the question of my self-worth out of the way — which is actually possible unless the insulter is really creative. It’s not only newspaper columnists who face this kind of problem. Everybody who is on the Internet is subject to insult, trolling, hating and cruelty. Most of these online assaults are dominance plays. They are attempts by the insulter to assert his or her own superior status through displays of gratuitous cruelty toward a target. The natural but worst way to respond is to enter into the logic of this status contest. If he puffs himself up, you puff yourself up. But if you do this you put yourself and your own status at center stage. You enter a cycle of keyboard vengeance. You end up with a painfully distended ego, forever in danger, needing to assert itself, and sensitive to sleights. Clearly, the best way to respond is to step out of the game. It’s to get out of the status competition. Enmity is a nasty frame of mind. Pride is painful. The person who can quiet the self can see the world clearly, can learn the subject and master the situation. Historically, we reserve special admiration for those who can quiet the self even in the heat of conflict. Abraham Lincoln was caught in the middle of a horrific civil war. more

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

Parenting Advice From ‘America’s Worst Mom’

Helicopter parenting? Lenore Skenazy, America’s worst mom for sending her 9-year-old by the subway alone? Overprotective parents tend to shield their children. Yet, according to Peter Gray, a research psychologist at Boston College, ‘‘the actual rate of strangers’ abducting or molesting children is very small.’’ ‘‘It’s more likely to happen at the hands of a relative or family friend. ‘‘Students are prepared academically, but they’re not prepared to deal with day-to-day life, which comes from a lack of opportunity to deal with ordinary problems,’’ Dr. Gray said. Ms. Skenazy, screened by Discovery Life Channel, tries to give parents the confidence to loosen the reins on their kids, and give the kids the wings they need. 

Read an excerpt of the article written by JANE E. BRODY:

Lenore Skenazy, a New York City mother of two, earned the sobriquet ‘‘America’s Worst Mom’’ after reporting in a newspaper column that she’d allowed her younger son, then 9, to ride the subway alone. The damning criticism she endured, including a threat of arrest for child endangerment, intensified her desire to encourage anxious parents to give their children the freedom they need to develop the self-confidence and resilience to cope effectively with life’s challenges. One result was the publication in 2009 of her book ‘‘Free Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry).’’ A second result is the Free Range Kids Project and a 13-part series, starting on Thursday on the Discovery Life Channel, ‘‘World’s Worst Mom’’ In it, Ms. Skenazy, to whom the title applies, intervenes to rescue bubble-wrapped kids from their overprotective parents by guiding the children safely through a sequence of once-forbidden activities and showing their anxious parents how well the children perform and how proud they are of what they accomplished. The term ‘‘helicopter parents’’ applies to far more than those who hover relentlessly over their children’s academic and musical development. As depicted in the series’ first episode, it applies to 10-year-old Sam’s very loving mother who wouldn’t let him ride a bike (‘‘she’s afraid I’ll fall and get hurt’’), cut up his own meat (‘‘Mom thinks I’ll cut my fingers off’’), or play ‘‘rough sports’’ like skating. The plea from a stressed-out, thwarted Sam: ‘‘I just want to do things by myself.’’ In an interview, Ms. Skenazy said, ‘‘Having been brainwashed by all the stories we hear, there’s a prevailing fear that any time you’re not directly supervising your child, you’re putting the child in danger.’’ The widespread publicity now given to crimes has created an exaggerated fear of the dangers children face if left to navigate and play on their own. Yet, according to Peter Gray, a research psychologist at Boston College, ‘‘the actual rate of strangers’ abducting or molesting children is very small.’’ ‘‘It’s more likely to happen at the hands of a relative or family friend,’’ Dr. Gray said. ‘‘The statistics show no increase in childhood dangers. If anything, there’s been a decrease.’’ Experts say there is no more crime against children by strangers today — and probably significantly less — than when I was growing up in the 1940s and ’50s, a time when I walked to school alone and played outdoors with friends unsupervised by adults. In 1979 when my own sons were offered the opportunity to attend private school to escape their crime-ridden public middle school, they said, ‘‘What would we learn about life in private school?’’ So they stuck out those three years and emerged street smart and confident in their ability to cope, lessons far more valuable than any they might have acquired in a safer school. ‘‘The world is not perfect — it never was — but we used to trust our children in it, and they learned to be resourceful,’’ Ms. Skenazy said. ‘‘The message these anxious parents are giving to their children is ‘I love you, but I don’t believe in you. I don’t believe you’re as competent as I am.’’’ ...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 curse of early marriage

Is an early marriage a boon or bane? What’s the difference between getting married early and getting married too young? The society in Dhaka, among other cities, believes that a daughter-in-law is someone to be scrutinized and a son-in-law to be exalted. Whether married early or late, a daughter-in-law’s status is reduced in her own house and her husband’s house once she is married. Young brides often lose out on their careers, education etc. once they tie the knot. It also gives rise to a series of social and health issues. Tahmima Anam feels that there is long way to go to reverse the age-old assumption that an adolescent girl is a problem to which the solution is marriage.


Read an excerpt of the article written by TAHMIMA ANAM :

It’s wedding season in Dhaka. The invitations have gone out — thick, gilded envelopes inviting people to functions at fancy hotels. Apartment buildings, sometimes even entire city streets, are festooned with fairy lights. A school friend of mine (I can’t use her name) married when we were both in our 20s. It was, by all accounts, a thoroughly modern love match. She had known the groom since high school; they had both attended college on the East Coast of the United States, and returned to Dhaka after completing their degrees. It was a fancy wedding, with imported flowers, D.J.s, matching outfits for the entire wedding party, a hotel reception, a three-tiered wedding cake and a honeymoon in Bali. As wedding gifts, they received a car and a furnished apartment. A few weeks after the wedding, my friend told me a story I’ve never forgotten. She said she had gone to her in-laws’ house for lunch and that her mother-in-law had cooked shrimp curry, a favorite of the newlywed couple. As the dishes were served, her husband’s mother announced: ‘‘Make sure you give the biggest shrimp to my son.’’ This surprised my friend, but she smiled obediently, as one is supposed to do in these situations, and served up the biggest shrimp to her husband. A week later, they were invited to lunch at her parents’ house. Shrimp curry was again on the menu. This time, it was her own mother who said, ‘‘Give the biggest shrimp to your husband.’’ In my view, this was the beginning of the end of my friend’s claim to equality. Perhaps that sounds petty — what’s a couple of shrimp? — but the story hints at a greater injustice. When my friend went to her in-laws’ house, she was asked to make a show of serving her husband when he was perfectly capable of serving himself, in a house where, technically, she was the guest and he the host. And then, even in her own home, her status was reduced. Equality, it seems, ends at the wedding gate. You couldn’t call her match an ‘‘early marriage’’ — that term is reserved for women who marry below the legal age of 18 (as a majority here do, some as young as 12) — but I believe she married too young. She was educated, chose her own husband, and went on to have a successful career. Yet there is a subtle form of hegemony masked by the pomp of a lavish wedding and a pretense of equality. And it dictates that a daughter-in-law is someone to be scrutinized and a son-in-law to be exalted. A recent study by the development organization Plan Bangladesh and the nonprofit International Center for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh, showed that 64 percent of women aged 20-24 were married before the age of 18.  ...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

Sex ed, European style

How different is the western world? Pamela Druckerman's article answers this keen question in one major field: parenting. The articles shows the essential difference between American parents and European parents, especially in the matter of Sex Education. While sexual intercourse is dramatised in America, it is normalised in Europe. Contrary to what most sexologists advice, American parents try and avoid the "sex ed talk" until they feel their children are completely ready. Whereas in Europe parents have lots of age appropriate talks with their children to keep them aware. Through the article and her book, Duckerman concludes that "if you treat teenagers as if they’re responsible, they can live up to that".


Read an excerpt of the article written by Pamela Druckerman-

One of the many problems with parenting is that kids keep changing. Just when you’re used to one stage, they zoom into another. I realized this was happening again recently, when my 8-year-old asked me about babies. She knows they grow in a mother’s belly, but how do they get in there to begin with? I wasn’t sure how much to reveal, so I stalled. ‘‘I’ll tell you soon,’’ I said, adding, ‘‘it involves penises.’’ I didn’t want to shock her or shatter her innocence. Like any good American, I’d assumed that one day (many years hence) we’d have that stilted conversation in which I’d reveal the strange mechanics of sex, and she’d tell me that she already knew all about it. Since I live in France, I decide to investigate how Europeans approach this. Do parents give their kids the birds-and-bees talk, too? Is the subject any less awkward here? Is there some savoir-faire to help me navigate this next phase and beyond? I begin my research at a Parisian science museum with an exhibition, Zizi sexuel l’expo, (its English title is Sex — Wot’s the Big Deal?) to teach 9- to 14-year-olds about sexuality. There’s advice about kissing. (Do turn your head sideways, ‘‘especially if you’ve got a big nose.’’ Don’t do the ‘‘coffee grinder,’’ where you spin your tongue in the other person’s mouth.) In the puberty section, I’m asked to identify a smell (it’s armpit) and step on a pedal that makes small white balls — representing sperm — fly out of a pretend penis. There’s also a whole section on how complicated love is. One sign explains that ‘‘loving someone sometimes makes you happy and sometimes makes you really sad. .... read more.