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Social Studies

When we’re at our best Add to ...

Lazy Sunday indeed

“A new report confirms what many of us already know: Sundays are for being lazy and doing nothing,” says The Huffington Post. “The Gallup report shows that we use our strengths the least – meaning we spend the least amount of time doing what we are best at – on Sundays, compared to any other day of the week. Specifically, we spend 6.7 hours exercising our strengths on Sunday, which is less than the seven hours a day we spend on our strengths during most of the other days of the week. The day of the week that we use our strengths the most? Researchers found that it’s Thursday, when we spend, on average, 7.6 hours doing what we do best.”

A green way to get around

“This past month, I’ve discovered a ground-breaking method for turning ordinary foodstuffs into fuel,” writes Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan for Grist.org. “The potential is boundless as practically any food item will do – pumpkin seeds, cereal and salmon fillets can all transform into the energy required to get you almost anywhere you need to go while emitting almost no extra greenhouse gases. Here’s how it works: Eat food. Allow your digestive system to turn it into glycogen, which provides energy to your muscles that can be used to power physical motion. Then walk.”

Less uptight, less upright?

“Lorazepam is a widely prescribed anti-anxiety drug similar to Valium,” says The Boston Globe. “… [I]t can have serious side-effects – but one little-known one arises directly from its intended function of reducing anxiety. Researchers suspect that anxiety may be an important component of moral judgment, so they administered lorazepam to healthy volunteers and asked them to make various moral judgments. Increasing doses of lorazepam, compared to a placebo, made subjects ‘more willing to harm people directly whether or not that harm is for the greater good.’ It had no effect on willingness to harm people indirectly or in non-moral scenarios.”

The speed of listening

“Hearing is a vastly underrated sense,” writes neuroscientist Seth Horowitz in The New York Times. “We tend to think of the world as a place where we see, interacting with things and people based on how they look. Studies have shown that conscious thought takes place at about the same rate as visual recognition, requiring a significant fraction of a second per event. But hearing is a quantitatively faster sense. While it might take you a full second to notice something out of the corner of your eye, turn your head toward it, recognize it and respond to it, the same reaction to a new or sudden sound happens at least 10 times as fast.”

Happiness lies within

“Richard Ryan, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester in New York, studies human motivation and how it affects psychological well-being,” says The Wall Street Journal. “His work has shown that people who pursue extrinsic goals, such as money, image and fame, are less happy than those who focus on goals that they define for themselves, irrespective of what society may say. The happier ones have decoupled their own sense of self-worth from material possessions or recognition. And, says Ryan, it’s harder to be in a relationship with someone who is focused on money. ‘If you’re somebody who finds wealth and material goods really important, probably you’re putting less emphasis on intimacy and closeness with others,’ he says. ‘And the people around you may be less satisfied in their relationship with you.’ ”

Thought du jour

“The past almost always seems cozier than the present, because you can no longer remember the fears and uncertainties that clouded your future at the time. And whatever the case, you were 40 years younger.”

Joe Queenan, American author (1950- )

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