Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘psychology’

17 JANUARY, 2013

Can Money Buy Us Happiness? The Psychology of Materialism, Animated

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Experiences vs. things, or why the emotional rewards of pro-social spending outshine those of self-interest.

“Money has never made man happy, nor will it, there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has the more one wants,” Ben Franklin is often (perhaps mis-)quoted as having proclaimed. In asking what you would do if money were no object, Alan Watts echoed Franklin as he advocated for liberating creative purpose from money-work. But what does science say? Count on AsapSCIENCE to illustrate the answer:

Humans are very sensitive to change: When we get a raise or commission, we really enjoy it — but we adapt at incredible speeds to our new wealth. Some studies have shown that in North America additional income beyond $75,000 a year ceases to impact day-to-day happiness.

AsapSCIENCE have previously covered the science of productivity, what alcohol does to your brain, why we blush, the science of lucid dreaming, how music enchants the brain, the neurobiology of orgasms, and why we are all female.

Complement with this delightful vintage illustrated primer on how people earn and use money, an amusing and somewhat unsettling memento from the golden age of consumer culture.

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17 JANUARY, 2013

Benjamin Franklin on True Happiness

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“Virtue is … the only true happiness of the mind and the best means of preserving the health of the body.”

The secret of happiness has been sought in cultivating optimism, in celebrating everyday moments, in finding one’s creative purpose, and in embracing uncertainty, but it remains forever elusive and forever alluring. Writing in a 1785 essay titled “On True Happiness,” originally printed in the Pennsylvania Gazette and eventually published in On True Happiness and Other Essays (UK; public library), Founding Father Benjamin Franklin — born 307 years ago today — considers the essence of the universal human pursuit that eventually found its way onto the United States Constitution, which Franklin co-signed.

The desire of happiness in general is so natural to us that all the world are in pursuit of it; all have this one end in view, though they take such different methods to attain it, and are so much divided in their notions of it.

Evil, as evil, can never be chosen; and though evil is often the effect of our own choice, yet we never desire it but under the appearance of an imaginary good.

Many things we indulge ourselves in may be considered by us as evils, and yet be desirable; but then they are only considered as evils in their effects and consequences, not as evils at present and attended with immediate misery.

Reason represents things to us not only as they are at present, but as they are in their whole nature and tendency; passion only regards them in their former light. When this governs us we are regardless of the future, and are only affected with the present. It is impossible ever to enjoy ourselves rightly if our conduct be not such as to preserve the harmony and order of our faculties and the original frame and constitution of our minds; all true happiness, as all that is truly beautiful, can only result from order.

Whilst there is a conflict betwixt the two principles of passion and reason, we must be miserable in proportion to the struggle, and when the victory is gained and reason so far subdued as seldom to trouble us with its remonstrances, the happiness we have then is not the happiness of our rational nature, but the happiness only of the inferior and sensual part of us, and consequently a very low and imperfect happiness to what the other would have afforded us.

If we reflect upon any one passion and disposition of mind abstract from virtue, we shall soon see the disconnexion between that and true, solid happiness. It is of the very essence, for instance, of envy to be uneasy and disquieted. Pride meets with provocations and disturbances upon almost every occasion. Covetousness is ever attended with solicitude and anxiety. Ambition has its disappointments to sour us, but never the good fortune to satisfy us; its appetite grows the keener by indulgence, and all we can gratify it with at present serves but the more to inflame its insatiable desires.

The passions, by being too much conversant with earthly objects, can never fix in us a proper composure and acquiescence of mind. Nothing but an indifference to the things of this world, an entire submission to the will of Providence here, and a well-grounded expectation of happiness hereafter, can give us a true satisfactory enjoyment of ourselves. Virtue is the best guard against the many unavoidable evils incident to us; nothing better alleviates the weight of the afflictions or gives a truer relish of the blessings of human life.

What is without us has not the least connexion with happiness only so far as the preservation of our lives and health depends upon it. Health of body, though so far necessary that we cannot be perfectly happy without it, is not sufficient to make us happy of itself. Happiness springs immediately from the mind; health is but to be considered as a condition or circumstance, without which this happiness cannot be tasted pure and unabated.

Virtue is the best preservative of health, as it prescribes temperance and such a regulation of our passions as is most conducive to the well-being of the animal economy, so that it is at the same time the only true happiness of the mind and the best means of preserving the health of the body.

If our desires are to the things of this world, they are never to be satisfied. If our great view is upon those of the next, the expectation of them is an infinitely higher satisfaction than the enjoyment of those of the present.

There is no happiness then but in a virtuous and self-approving conduct. Unless our actions will bear the test of our sober judgments and reflections upon them, they are not the actions and consequently not the happiness of a rational being.

Complement with Francis Bacon on virtue.

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16 JANUARY, 2013

How to Read Faster: Bill Cosby’s Three Proven Strategies

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“Nobody gets something for nothing in the reading game.”

“All attempts at gaining literary polish must begin with judicious reading,” H. P. Lovecraft famously advised aspiring writers. Indeed, reading is an essential skill on par with writing, and though non-reading may be an intellectual choice on par with reading, reading itself — just like writing — is a craft that requires optimal technique for optimal outcome. So how, exactly, do we hone that vital technique? While speed-reading tutorials, courses, software, and books abound today, some of the most potent tips you’ll ever receive come from an unexpected source:

Bill Cosby may be best-known as the beloved personality behind his eponymous TV show, but he earned his doctorate in education and has been involved in several projects teaching the essential techniques of effective reading, including a PBS series on reading skills. In an essay unambiguously titled “How to Read Faster,” published in the same wonderful 1985 anthology How to Use the Power of the Printed Word (UK; public library) that gave us Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 timeless rules of writing, Cosby offers his three proven strategies for reading faster. Apart from their evergreen application to the printed word, it’s particularly interesting to consider how these rules might translate to the digital screen, where structural factors like scrolling, pagination, hyperlinks, and adjustable font sizes make the text and the reading experience at once more fluid and more rigid.

1. Preview — If It’s Long and Hard

Previewing is especially useful for getting a general idea of heavy reading like long magazine or newspaper articles, business reports, and nonfiction books.

It can give you as much as half the comprehension in as little as one tenth the time. For example, you should be able to preview eight or ten 100-page reports in an hour. After previewing, you’ll be able to decide which reports (or which parts of which reports) are worth a closer look.

Here’s how to preview: Read the entire first two paragraphs of whatever you’ve chosen. Next read only the first sentence of each successive paragraph. Then read the entire last two paragraphs.

Previewing doesn’t give you all the details. But it does keep you from spending time on things you don’t really want — or need — to read.

Notice that previewing gives you a quick, overall view of long, unfamiliar material. For short, light reading, there’s a better technique.

2. Skim — If It’s Short and Simple

Skimming is a good way to get a general idea of light reading such as popular magazines or the sports and entertainment sections of the paper.

You should be able to skim a weekly popular magazine or the second section of your daily paper in less than half the time it takes you to read it now.

Skimming is also a great way to review material you’ve read before.

Here’s how to skim: Think of your eyes as magnets. Force them to move fast. Sweep them across each and every line of type. Pick up only a few key words in each line.

Everybody skims differently.

You and I may not pick up exactly the same words when we skim the same piece, but we’ll both get a pretty similar idea of what it’s all about.

To show you how it works, I circled the words I picked out when I skimmed the following story. Try it. It shouldn’t take you more than ten seconds.

Skimming can give you a very good idea of this story in about half the words, and in less than half the time it’d take to read every word.

So far, you’ve seen that previewing and skimming can give you a general idea about content — fast. But neither technique can promise more than 50 percent comprehension, because you aren’t reading all the words. (Nobody gets something for nothing in the reading game.)

To read faster and understand most, if not all, of what you read, you need to know a third technique.

3. Cluster — to Increase Speed AND Comprehension

Most of us learn to read by looking at each word in a sentence — one at a time.

Like this:

My — brother — Russell — thinks — monsters…

You probably still read this way sometimes, especially when the words are difficult. Or when the words have an extraspecial meaning, as in a poem, a Shakespeare play or a contract. And that’s okay.

But word-by-word reading is a rotten way to read faster. It actually cuts down on your speed.

Clustering trains you to look at groups of words instead of one at a time, and it increases your speed enormously. For most of us, clustering is a totally different way of seeing what we read.

Here’s how to cluster: Train your eyes to see all the words in clusters of up to three or four words at a glance.

Here’s how I’d cluster the story we just skimmed:

Learning to read clusters is not something your eyes do naturally. It takes constant practice.

Here’s how to go about it: Pick something light to read. Read it as fast as you can. Concentrate on seeing three to four words at once rather than one word at a time. Then reread the piece at your normal speed to see what you missed the first time.

Try a second piece. First cluster, then reread to see what you missed in this one.

When you can read in clusters without missing much the first time, your speed has increased. Practice fifteen minutes every day and you might pick up the technique in a week or so. (But don’t be disappointed if it takes longer. Clustering everything takes time and practice.

How to Use the Power of the Printed Word is a treasure trove of illuminating essays — highly recommended.

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