• The right way to daydream

    Daydreaming is an art that we all must master. I often feel guilty for letting so much time lapse in fake scenarios and alternate lives, but according to a study done at the University of Florida, daydreaming is a part of our cognitive toolkit that's underdeveloped. 


    "You have to be the actor, director, screenwriter and audience of a mental performance. Even though it looks like you're doing nothing, it's cognitively taxing," said University of Florida psychology professor, Erin Westgate. 


    Westgate believes that recapturing a daydream state boosts overall wellness and pain tolerance, but when she had study participants daydream without guidance or instructions, she discovered that most people don't intuitively understand how to think enjoyable thoughts. 

    When we're nudged to think for fun instead of meaning, we tend to default to superficial pleasures like eating ice cream, which don't scratch the same itch as thoughts that are pleasant but also meaningful. But when Westgate provided participants with a list of examples that were both pleasant and meaningful, they enjoyed thinking 50% more than when they were instructed to think about whatever they wanted. That's knowledge you can harness in your everyday life by prompting yourself with topics you'd find rewarding to daydream about, like a pleasant memory, future accomplishment, or an event you're looking forward to, she says.

    Here's how to master it.

    * Trust that it's possible to have a good experience if you prime your brain with topics you'll find pleasant. "This is something all of us can do once you have the concept. We give 4- and 5-year-olds these instructions, and it makes sense to them."

    * That said, "This is hard for everybody. There's no good evidence that some types of people are simply better thinkers. I'm the world's worst person at this: I would definitely rather have the electric shock," Westgate said. "But knowing why it can be hard and what makes it easier really makes a difference. The encouraging part is we can all get better."

    * Don't confuse planning things with thinking for pleasure. "People say they enjoy planning, but when we test it, they do not."

    * Choose the right time to try. Research shows we're most likely to daydream when our minds are minimally occupied with something else, like showering or brushing our teeth. "The next time you're walking, instead of pulling out your phone, try it," Westgate says.   

    Read more: Why we're so bad at daydreaming, and how to fix it

    Related: Daydreaming brains are afire

  • "Ordinary Sacramento," a photo series honoring hometown listlessness

    Enoch Ku is a Sacramento-based photographer that is perfectly capturing the liminal space found all over the city in his series called "Ordinary Sacramento". 

    Sacramento is the sixth largest city of California and the capital, but if you ask anyone from there (me included), it feels so "small-town" that it can be smothering. 

    The familiarity of Ku's photos take me back to endless first days of school, babysitting myself on summer days, wandering through apartment complexes, and pointless parking lot hangouts. A time when every moment felt "in transition."

    This is not the Sacramento you'll find in the Academy award-winning Lady Bird, which confined itself to literally one upscale neighborhood dubbed the "Fabulous Forties." This is randomly planted rows of Italian Cypress trees, and muted-colored duplexes, and a lot of things in disrepair waiting to be fixed and photographed to capture its perfection. But of course, I am biased. 

  • Listen to the sounds of someone just standing silently

    Field Recordings is a podcast produced by BBC radio producer Eleanor McDowall who solicits short recordings of sounds in fields — or pretty much anywhere someone would like to stand silently for sometime. They are meditative and immersive and strangely comforting. 

    You can find Field Recordings on whatever platform you use to stream podcasts, as well as Instagram. 

    Here is a dreaming (and snoring) Clumber Spaniel in the UK.

    Or listen to coquí frogs buzzing on a farm outside the mountain town of Jayuya in Puerto Rico. 

    Or hear an Arctic blast blowing through a chimney on the West Coast of Ireland.

  • Evidence of "character identification" found in the brains of Game of Thrones fans

    If you're someone who gets easily immersed in fictional worlds, you're probably more likely to take on the traits of fictional characters. 


    Researchers at Ohio State surveyed "Game of Thrones" fans about which characters they felt most closest to and then scanned their brains while they thought of each of the following characters: Bronn, Catelyn Stark, Cersei Lannister, Davos Seaworth, Jaime Lannister, Jon Snow, Petyr Baelish, Sandor Clegane and Ygritte.


    From Ohio State News


    For the study, the participants' brains were scanned in an fMRI machine while they evaluated themselves, friends and "Game of Thrones" characters. An fMRI indirectly measures activity in various parts of the brain through small changes in blood flow.


    The researchers were particularly interested in what was happening in a part of the brain called the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (vMPFC), which shows increased activity when people think about themselves and, to a lesser extent, when thinking about close friends.


    According to Timothy Broom, lead author of the study, they found those who scored highest in what is called "trait identification" use the same part of the brain to think about their favorite characters as they do to think about themselves. 


    Participants who agreed strongly with statements like "I really get involved in the feelings of the characters in a novel," were the ones tagged high in trait identification. 


    "People who are high in trait identification not only get absorbed into a story, they also are really absorbed into a particular character," Broom said.  "They report matching the thoughts of the character, they are thinking what the character is thinking, they are feeling what the character is feeling. They are inhabiting the role of that character."


    The findings help explain how fiction can have such a big impact on some people, said Dylan Wanger, co-author of the study and assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State. "For some people, fiction is a chance to take on new identities, to see worlds through others' eyes and return from those experiences changed."


    "What previous studies have found is that when people experience stories as if they were one of the characters, a connection is made with that character, and the character becomes intwined with the self. In our study, we see evidence of that in their brains."

    Read more: "What happens in your brain when you 'lose yourself' in fiction" 

  • What a trailer park looks like in Switzerland

    I love visiting Switzerland. It is majestic and the scenery is straight out of a fairytale. I've also lived in a trailer park near Oakland and there was no majesty and it was not a fairytale. 


    These photographs by Christian Neuenschwander of a trailer park in Flumserberg, in a series called Paradiesli, German for Paradise, evoke exactly that. How cool would it be to be living semi-nomadic against a backdrop of pristine alps somewhere in the sky. 

    Via Adventure Journal

  • A curated list of sci-fi films for the "thinking person"

    The Sci-Fi Agenda is "the thinking person's guide to science fiction cinema" personally curated by Markus Amalthea Magnuson, a sci-fi film lover who caught search engine fatigue and wanted to create their own list. 

    From the website: 

    What the most mainstream lists of recommendations share is a tendency towards the least common denominator appeal. Films that stay in the middle and pacify the mind. It is my conviction that the thinking person often wants something more, something for both thought and senses; the visceral viewing of cerebral cinema.

    I don't necessarily seek out sci-fi, but most of my favorite movies tend to be sci-fi — Eternal Sunshine, Ex Machina, Open Your Eyes, Donnie Darko — and I'm happy to find them on this list, as well as discover a few films I've never heard of. 

    The list is not really sorted, but interestingly you can filter by movies that pass the Bechdel test — which I learned is a measure of the representation of women in fiction. In order to meet it, two female characters must talk to each other about something other than a man. 

  • What to do if you're "Alonely"

    If you're a person who gets energetically drained after socializing with people, you're probably "Alonely", the opposite of lonely. 

    According to this recent-ish study, Aloneliness is the negative feelings that arise from not spending enough time alone.

    Since I've become a relative recluse in the last year, I've had twelve months to perfect "me" time, and as the world slowly opens I have no plans to give that up easily. And if you're "alonely" you shouldn't either. 

    From Psychology Today

    If you're a person who needs a lot of time alone to feel balanced or clear-headed, then when you're operating at a deficiency (i.e. you are "alonely"), your well-being might be at risk. You likely end up feeling irritable, overwhelmed, or drained.


    The researchers recommended deliberately planning or scheduling time alone in order to avoid what they call a "negative degenerative cycle." They explained that when your need for solitude gets continually thwarted by the stress of competing demands on your time (or space), the result is an increase in feelings of aloneliness, which then increases stress and life dissatisfaction. This negative cycle can exacerbate internalizing symptoms (e.g. depression).


    In other words, the cure for feeling alonely is to spend more time alone. This finding might seem obvious, but in practice, it can be quite difficult to make happen in daily life.


    I'm all for taking space — mental, physical, emotional — and blocking off time for everyone but yourself. For me, every other weekend is enough, as long as I can have at least one night a week after work without socializing, screens or my husband.

    But like I said, I've had a year to figure this out. My recommendation (and my therapist's) is to take time to notice how you feel with your schedule now (when you're around other people vs alone) and figure out how much "alone time" you need to stay balanced and satisfied with life. 

  • A video breakdown of mental illness in movie scenes

    In this 40-minute video, Psychiatrist Eric Bender — who also works as a script consultant — breaks down mental health scenes in movies and TV. He gives examples of what accurate depictions of mental disorders and illnesses like Borderline, Psychopathy, Schizophrenia really look like. 

    If you don't want to watch the whole thing, I have a few takeaways here: 

    At at 0:31, BoJack Horseman shows an accurate depiction of social anxiety and therapy techniques that actually work when having a panic attack. 

    At 4:05, he breaks down Joker, which really overplays the idea that mental illness and violence issues are linked. 

    At 13:45, The Undoing — "Just because someone doesn't grieve the way we expect, doesn't make them a psychopath. But the lack of remorse seen again, and again, and again, and again — that could make someone a psychopath." 

  • Self-medicate your anxiety in these digital ambience rooms

    Ambience videos are a YouTube genre that plays peaceful soundscapes against an animated backdrop, like a haunted Victorian manor or an elf coffee shop or a stranger's living room. They're created for the sole purpose of "soothing," which differs from ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) videos that are meant to titillate you with sounds of whispers, and hair brushing and nail tapping. 

    NY Times interviewed the people who "self-medicate" by immersing themselves in these digital environments. 

    For Sam Ali, a 27-year-old who lives in Ottawa, ambience videos have been a key tool for managing anxiety levels that have been "through the roof" since last March. A book blogger, Ms. Ali likes to throw on an ambience video when she's settling down to read — a cafe with soft jazz playing, maybe, or the Hufflepuff common room. "I leave all of my thoughts outside my bedroom door, turn on my ASMR Room, get in bed and read, and completely lose myself in a different world," she said.

    Take a break and see for yourself. Teleport to this Jazz club in Paris:  

    Or just sit in this cozy cafe and listen to the rain while you read: 

    I've actually been practicing YouTube-mancy and letting the algorithm gods recommend what I listen to while I meditate, and that's how I discovered this trippy, ethereal forest where butterfly ghosts fly around sprinkling magic dust. I don't really watch the screen, but the soundscape is dynamic and definitely soothing. 

    Read more: The Soothing, Digital Rooms of YouTube (The New York Times)

  • Listen to the musical notes of an ancient conch

    An 18,000-year-old conch was recently reexamined by researchers at the Natural History Museum of Toulouse in France and found to have a completely different purpose than originally thought.

    First discovered in 1931 in the Marsoulas cave in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains, the oceanic fossil was considered to be a  "loving cup" used to share drinks during ceremonies. But after archaeologists took another look, they found the ancient conch had been carved into a wind instrument, possibly used for ceremonial purposes. 

    The Marsoulas cave is a well-known archaeological site, and is one of the many excavations in the southwestern Europe that ancient societies called their home. A group known as the Pyrenean Magdalenians inhabited the cave about 18,000 years ago, leaving behind wall art and various objects, including the conch. Early humans were known for making simple musical instruments even before that time—such as flutes carved from bird bones, but the "conch instrument" would be the oldest of its kind known today, explains Carole Fritz, the study's coauthor, who leads prehistoric art research at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS).

    Curious how the conch would sound today, the team consulted a professional horn player. "It was a very big emotional moment for me" says Fitz. She was worried that the ancient conch may incur some damage, "because it was an original shell and we didn't know how the shell would react." But the wind instrument performed well, releasing three sounds close to the notes C, C-sharp and D. "And the sound was truly amazing," Fritz says. Walter adds that that the three notes isn't the limit of the shell's abilities, but rather just a quick sound experiment. "There are many other possibilities," he says.

    Listen to what it sounds like today: 

    Read more: "Hear the Musical Sounds of an 18,000-Year-Old Giant Conch" (Smithsonian)

  • Folks who walked out on their life share their experiences

    If you've ever fantasized about running away with a bandana tied to a stick — or what I just learned is called a "bindle" — head on over to Reddit where u/always_thinking1 asked "People who just up and left one day and started a new life, what was your experience like?


    One thing I know from personal experience is that people who "just up and leave" are usually in despair and desperate for a change and you can never outrun yourself. Thankfully most of these stories have happy endings. 

    u/tikimoose:

    4 years ago, I abruptly quit a job I had worked for 7.5 years that I finally had to admit was a dead end. I got a job at a lodge in a national park flipping burgers for minimum wage. I didn't know a single person there when I moved. But it quickly led to travelling to amazing places like Alaska and making lots of friends from all over the world. The experience gave me the confidence to really pursue my career goals, and last year I finally got my dream job! Nothing good happens in your comfort zone! —

    u/Hopeful_1130:

    I did this last year. Granted I stayed in the same state, it was terrifying and exciting all rolled into one. I quit my job without having another one. Sold my house without having a home. Packed everything my son and I owned and moved 3 hours away. Best. Decision. Ever. It made me feel like I could do it again if I ever wanted too. The world is so big, so it was empowering.

    u/TotalWarspammer

    If you are in a rut and have the chance to start fresh somewhere with a better job and lifestyle then just do it. Modern transport and telecommunications mean that keeping in touch with friends and family is easier than ever.


    I took a chance and moved from a crappy place in the UK to central Europe 12 years ago and it completely transformed my life in almost every meaningful way. I went from really strongly disliking the place I live in and the kind of people I had contact with, to now living in what is for me a paradise, working in stimulating and increasingly well paid jobs and surrounded mostly by positive and intellectual people. Also my quality of life is just awesome and my health and fitness is now really good. I still haven't met my soul mate or life partner, but I've no idea if that person even exists and at least I have had some good along the way with some great and memorable people.


    Lord knows what I would have been doing with my life if I hadn't of taken that chance. Probably in some uninspiring job in an uninspiring place dreaming about how my life could have been different if only I'd had more balls.


    Life is short, so take what opportunities you can to make it better.

    u/ibjimig

    I did this a year and a half ago. Best thing I've ever done. Moved from Western New York to Arizona! It was tough at first with trying to get on my feet, and when I did…the pandemic started. But it's easier to do than most people think. I believe most people dont do it because of the "unknown" and scared of change. For me, I'm happier than I've ever been. I have a really good paying job. The best paying job I've ever had actually. And the first job I've ever had that I enjoy going to. I'm 34 so that's saying something! And to live where I live, views of mountains, beautiful weather….it's just a dream come true.

    Read more: People who just up and left one day and started a new life, what was your experience like?

  • Avoid "mental rebelling" to be happier

    If I'm ever unhappy, it's usually because something is happening that I believe should not be happening and I am dwelling on it to the point of discomfort.

    This is called "mental rebelling" and how bad you feel when you are rebelling depends on what your psychological baseline considers "normal."

    For example, if you view the baseline for your finances as having $5000 in the bank, having $3000 is going to make you feel bad. But if you view your baseline as having $1000, then $3000 is going to make you feel good!

    Spencer Greenberg over at Clearer Thinking has outlined ways to reset your psychological baseline — with acceptance and gratitude — to improve your mood and be happier with reality as it is. 

    To give another monetary example, suppose $100 accidentally fell out of your wallet while you were walking, and now it is gone. You're beating yourself up for having lost it, and are continuing to search the streets you walked down for the money even though it's become abundantly clear you won't find it, and you're feeling really bad about it.

    Acceptance in this situation might look like:

    • Fully acknowledging that the $100 is gone
    • Noting any negative self-talk ("I'm such an idiot") but letting those thoughts drift away without getting stuck in them
    • Experiencing the full psychological loss of the money right NOW (not trying to delay the feeling of loss or deny it)
    • Acknowledging that you can survive without the $100
    • Attempting to move your baseline (the state you were in when you had $100) to be one that doesn't involve having $100, so that not having this money feels normal instead of bad. You want to get yourself to the mental state where suddenly stumbling on the $100 would feel like gaining $100, not feel like simply restoring you back to the prior baseline!

    Shifting your psychological baseline can also be achieved with gratitude. By reminding yourself that not everyone has the good things you have, that you may never have had what you have now, or that you won't have it forever, you can move your baseline below the way you currently perceive it. Then what's real starts to look like a gift, rather than something merely neutral. Your food feels like more of a gift if you remember not everyone has enough food to eat. Your loved ones are more precious when you remember that not everyone is around people they love.

    Read more: How resetting your psychological baseline can make your life better

  • Time anxiety is a real thing and here are strategies to cope

    Through therapy, reframing, meditation and a lot of self-care, I can confidently say that I am down to 0-1 panic attacks a year. What I have yet to completely overcome is my time anxiety — the feeling that there is not enough time and/or that I am not doing enough. 


    This very thorough article on Fast Company did a great job of explaining the different types of time anxiety and strategies for coping. Here are my own —  seemingly effective — strategies that get me through the days panic attack free: 


    Daily time anxiety: This is the feeling of never having enough time in your day. You feel rushed. Stressed. Overwhelmed.


    Strategy: I've completely abandoned the concept of "maximizing" my day. I use a pen-and-paper task list and I ask myself "What is the one task that will make tomorrow easier for me?" and I mark that one task a priority with a ^ or an exclamation point. Everything else is low priority — most tasks usually get crossed off — but I act as if there is no urgency and therefore less stress. 


    Future time anxiety: These are the "What ifs?" that ravage your brain. You feel paralyzed thinking through everything that may or may not happen in the future depending on your actions today.


    Strategy: I keep a digital "Worry About it Later" list in my phone where I add whatever I am worried or anxious about in the moment and then I forget it. Anytime I add something new I reread my past worries and if they no longer matter (which is always) I apply the strikethrough style. I am growing a beautifully long list of crossed-out things that don't matter. (I previously shared this tip in Recomendo)


    Existential time anxiety: This is the overall anxiety of only having a limited time to live your life. No matter how much you race ahead or push forward, there's only one finish line.


    Strategy: Normalize death and dying. I lost someone I love very much last year and was able to spend his last few days and hours with him bedside. Some people say nothing can prepare you for that moment, but that's not true. I google searched the crap out of the "hospice experience" and read articles and books about death and grief, like the The Five Invitations. But my favorite tool is WeCroak, which is an app inspired by Bhutanese culture who believe you can attain more happiness by contemplating death five times a day.

  • Good Bones: a heart-tugging video poem about this terrible world

    Film by Anais La Rocca. Poem by Maggie Smith.

    Good Bones

    Life is short, though I keep this from my children.

    Life is short, and I've shortened mine

    in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,

    a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways

    I'll keep from my children. The world is at least

    fifty percent terrible, and that's a conservative

    estimate, though I keep this from my children.

    For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.

    For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,

    sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world

    is at least half terrible, and for every kind

    stranger, there is one who would break you,

    though I keep this from my children. I am trying

    to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,

    walking you through a real shithole, chirps on

    about good bones: This place could be beautiful,

    right? You could make this place beautiful.

  • A million reasons to stay alive

    A Million Reasons to Stay Alive is a website that is collecting reasons to stay alive for anyone that might ever need a reason. So far about 60,000 reasons have been contributed.

    Here are a few good ones to keep in your back pocket: 

    If you are in crisis, call 800-273-8255 or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org. You can also text via crisistextline.org or by texting START to 741741 from anywhere in the United States.

  • You could win up to 500K if you can prove life after death exists

    Billionaire businessman Robert Bigelow and recent founder of the Bigelow Institute for Consciousness Studies is offering up almost a $1 million in prizes to whoever can provide the "best evidence for the survival of consciousness after permanent bodily death." From NYTimes.com:

    Last June, four months after bone marrow disease and leukemia claimed the life of his wife of 55 years, Diane Mona Bigelow, at 72, Mr. Bigelow quietly founded the Bigelow Institute for Consciousness Studies to support research into what happens after death.

    It set the stage for his new afterlife contest, seeking the best available evidence of survival of consciousness, with prizes of $500,000, $300,000 and $150,000 for first, second and third place. The winners will be announced on Nov. 1.

    As someone who has had her fair share of ghostly encounters I was eager to enter, but very disappointed to find that entrants must qualify first as "serious researchers" with at least 5 years of study in the field of "Survival of Human Consciousness after Death."


    Deadline to qualify is Feb. 28.

  • Categorize your bookshelves by emotions

    There is a new bookstore in Seattle, Washington where the books are shelved not by topic or alphabetically, but by mood, and I'm all for it.

    From The Seattle Times:

    Oh Hello Again owner Kari Ferguson admits that in the two months the shop has been open, more than a few customers expressed confusion on entering the store.

    "It's really an interactive experience," Ferguson says. "I want a person to come in and look around and say, 'What do I need right now? What kind of book would help me in my life based on what I'm going through, or how I'm feeling?'"

    The philosophy for Oh Hello Again's unique categorization was inspired, appropriately enough, by a pair of books. Ferguson was so enthralled by the thesis of Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin's "The Novel Cure" and "The Story Cure" that she decided to build a whole shop around their concept of "bibliotherapy," which posits that reading the right novel at the right time can help to console and guide people through moments of great emotional turbulence.

    Categorizing books by emotions is more useful and makes way more sense than organizing books by color — which should be considered a crime in my opinion.

  • Thousands of dark haikus inspired by 2020

    Last year, in response to top news stories, thousands of haikus were crowdsourced and the collection was posted here at Doom Haikus

    For context, the maker Eli Holder says: 

    Back in March, I was feeling overwhelmed with 2020's terrible news, and I asked myself: What if, instead of gloomy news… we just had gloomy haikus?! Wouldn't that be better?! So I wrote a script to post each day's top news stories to Mechanical Turk, asking turkers to summarize each article as a haiku. It's been running (almost) all year. About 2,000 people have responded and there are now 2,700 haikus, forever memorializing the worst year of our lives, as anxious sets of 5, 7, 5 syllables. You might ask (rightly): Why would anyone need this? Mild entertainment? Masochistic nostalgia? An unusual dataset for text summarization? I'm honestly not sure, but it was fun to make!

    Here a few gloomy ones:

    March

    We are all Dying

    Free Treatment May Help US all

    We Will Find Out Soon


    June

    A Man was Murdered

    Because of His Skin Color

    All Black Lives Matter

    December

    A Job that Means You

    Have No Food and No Real Home

    Is not a Real Job.