Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Day 27: It helps to be social

What went well?

  1. I felt like I made a difference today in my research assisting work. Together, we managed to push past a roadblock and just get a lot of stuff done on this other project that was being perceived as overwhelming and nightmarish. Sometimes, all you need is someone to talk things through and bounce ideas over and to help motivate you - all I said was, "Sounds like you already know what you want to write, why don't we just do it now?" and we did! Though flippant, this blog post really captures what happened back there: "If you add a social element to the work that you do, you will become more productive." Hey, "synergy" is sometimes actually a thing!
  2. Finished all my readings for my mindfulness class tomorrow. They were all on the evidence base for mindfulness interventions in schools. At present, it's limited but promising and growing.
  3. More laughter and interest in my intro Buddhism lecture. We discussed Buddhist concepts of time. I don't know how the professor manages to make obscure philosophical ideas funny, but he does, and it's awesome.

What did I learn?

  • The importance of being selective about who you collaborate with in research. I was discussing this with the post-doc I'm assisting, and sometimes collaborators can be a huge source of ill-being.
  • Some other behind-the-scenes insights into what researchers do. One of which is manually generating graphs for participants' individual reports (which we're sending to them as a thank-you for participation) on Word documents linked to Excel because neither of us have figured out how to automate the process. Minimising the work by making the only personalised part of the document their graph, with a very general description of what was measured for everyone. And then, adding a couple of institutional logos to make the document look more "official". Lol.
  • We need a lot more (and better) research on school-based mindfulness interventions, especially research that's very rigorously done with appropriate active control groups, across diverse demographics, and with long-term follow-up.
  • Buddhists are one of the only religions without a "creation story", because they basically believe that it doesn't matter at all, that it's not going to change the way we lead our lives or suddenly take away our suffering even if we find out the true facts about how the world was created. In fact, thinking about these things distracts you from things that matter right now.
  • Another somewhat radical idea that some Buddhists believe, is that time is endless, so we have lived forever, and have experienced all types of existence. This leads to radical empathy, a fundamental connection with everyone, because we have all been where they are, and they have all been where we are.
  • A much better way of reading scientific journal articles. I audited a positive psychology lecture again today, and the professor said we should read like graduate students and professors, like so:
    1. Title
    2. Abstract
    3. Discussion
    4. Abstract, title, abstract
    5. Then go back to introduction, results
    6. Don't read it in sequence!!
  • I don't know why I haven't been doing this already!!!
  • Social relationships, along with health, are basically the top predictors of wellbeing. Since people our age (college students) are generally very healthy, then, this means that social relationships are likely the key factor that will most strongly influence our wellbeing.
  • According to Dan Gilbert's research, people aren't very good at predicting how certain things are going to make them feel ("affective forecasting"). In this study, participants estimated how happy they would feel a year later if they were assigned a good or bad dormitory. They estimated that they would be much happier if assigned the good dorm, compared to the bad dorm. Then a year later, they measured their actual happiness in the dorms, and there was actually no difference between those in the good dorm and those in the bad dorm. The students had overestimated their happiness in the good dorm and underestimated their happiness in the bad dorm. 
  • From Wilson & Gilbert (2005)

    • Why? Gilbert suggests that we have a psychological "immune system" that operates at a largely unconscious level. It helps us cope by making sense of our circumstances and finding benefits...i.e. rationalising away the situation "it's not that bad, I met my best friend in this dorm, I'm getting extra exercise because it's so far away from everything on campus".

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