Tags: mental health


Good Advice

I am struck with how good this advice is, and am trying to take it to heart. Full transcript follows, under the cut. It's worth listening to -- and reading -- the whole thing. But in brief, Minchin's nine pieces of advice are:

  1. You don't need a big dream, a big ambition. Those are OK, but you don't need them. Strive to do well at what you're doing right now.

  2. The best way to make yourself happy is to keep busy and aim to make someone else happy.

  3. Build compassion for others by keeping in mind that so much depends on luck. Build happiness and humility by remembering how lucky you are.

  4. Exercise, for your mental health.

  5. Critical thinking is important; be critical of your own thinking first. (Also, ignore the artificial conflict between science and the arts, between science and spirituality.)

  6. Be a teacher, whether formally or informally. Rejoice in what you learn and share your knowledge with others.

  7. Express your passion for things you love.

  8. Respect people with less power than you, and treat them well.

  9. Don't rush, don't panic, don't worry about finding meaning in life, because there is none. Instead, fill your life with learning, with pride in your work, with "compassion, sharing ideas, running, being enthusiastic and then there's love and travel and wine and sex and art and kids and giving and mountain climbing..."

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A Few Good Links

Usually, it's a good idea to avoid reading comments on any news story. But not this one! Be sure to read the comments on this science news story; they range from educational to charming:
Gravity’s strength still an open question

The comments following this article are worth reading, too, although many are frustrating to any American who cares about the future of healthcare in their country. Too many people in the US still believe that "we have the best healthcare in the world", and make unsubstantiated excuses for our failing system even when faced with clear and convincing evidence of its failure:
How the U.S. Health Care System Compares Internationally

"Executive Function", EF, describes how well our brains handle attention, self-control, working memory, problem solving, etc -- essentially, how our brains cognitively manage themselves. People with weak executive functions tend to have poorer health, higher crime rates, lower incomes, and generally more miserable lives than those who exhibit strong, effective EF. It's only recently that I have learned, to my surprise, of how much evidence there is that physical exercise strengthens cognitive EF!
Don't be put off by the dry title of this article, it's fascinating. What programs encourage the development of EF in children? Aerobic exercise is good, but Tae Kwon Do is even better. Classrooms run on the Montessori model encourage better Executive Function. And good old imaginative play with good friends may help the best:
Interventions shown to Aid Executive Function Development in Children 4–12 Years Old

Finally, some humor! First, an absolutely perfect send-up of postmodern literary theory:
A Review of 'Go, Dog, Go'

Next, a commercial that deserves to go viral. Anyone who was ever twelve years old and longing to grow up can relate to the girl in HelloFlo's new ad. Anyone who has ever been a parent (or teacher, or babysitter...) can cheer on her mother!
hat, smile, happy

Composing a Life Story

Thanks to supergee for the link to this great essay by Mary Catherine Bateson, Composing a Life Story.

Bateson discusses "the stories you make about your life, the stories you tell first to yourself and then to other people, the stories you use as a lens for interpreting experience as it comes along. What I want to say is that you can play with, compose, multiple versions of a life."

I have long thought that it is what we tell ourselves about our experiences, rather than our experiences themselves, that are crucial to our mental health and social well-being. My personal story of my life is part and parcel of my attitude, my self-confidence, and my integrity. It determines my character as it is itself determined by my character, in an endless feedback loop.

When I am depressed, I read the theme of my life story as repeatedly failing to reach my potential, as a sad tale of a wasted life. But when I retell my life story while in a more optimistic mood, it becomes an interesting narrative of personal growth and adventure, with more fascinating episodes yet to come.

I think the most insidiously destructive life stories are the ones in which the protagonist is A Survivor. This is a better character to be than A Victim, but it still emphasizes abuse and tribulations, instead of the humdrum reality of life. Its attraction is its Drama; each person can live their own Mary Sue story. It is harmful, however, in the way it affects relationships with others. Most of all, it is harmful in its disconnect with reality.

It may make you feel better to say that you curse and honk at slow drivers that make you slow down behind them, because your alcoholic father used to beat you when you disobeyed, so now you feel outrage at anyone who manipulates your behavior. But you are still being a jackass when you let your road rage explode. Your alcoholic father isn't standing there beating you now. You may be proud of surviving your childhood, but that doesn't give you the right to inflict your own dramatic life story on other people. Work through the anger, work through the pain, and then, and this is most difficult, work through the pride. And then forget about Drunk Dad. Stop fighting him in your mind. Let go of the precious pain you hold onto, that makes you a hero -- it hurts. Let go of it.

I'm working on letting go of my own heroic stories. Sometimes I miss drama. But not much, not anymore.