An Actual Window

From “Natural Happiness,” by Paul Bloom, The New York Times Magazine (April 19, 2009):

Many studies show that even a limited dose of nature, like a chance to look at the outside world through a window, is good for your health. Hospitalized patients heal more quickly; prisoners get sick less often. Being in the wild re­duces stress; spending time with a pet enhances the lives of everyone from autistic children to Alzheimer’s patients. The author Richard Louv argues that modern children suffer from “nature-deficit disorder” because they have been shut out from the physical and psychic benefits of unstructured physical contact with the natural world.

…You might think that technology could provide a simulacrum of nature with all the bad parts scrubbed out. But attempts to do so have turned out to be interesting failures. There is a fortune to be made, for instance, by building a robot that children would respond to as if it were an animal. There have been many attempts, but they don’t evoke anywhere near the same responses as puppies, kittens or even hamsters. They are toys, not companions. Or consider a recent study by the University of Washington psychologist Peter H. Kahn Jr. and his colleagues. They put 50-inch high-definition televisions in the windowless offices of faculty and staff members to provide a live view of a natural scene. People liked this, but in another study that measured heart-rate recovery from stress, the HDTVs were shown to be worthless, no better than staring at a blank wall. What did help with stress was giving people an actual plate-glass window looking out upon actual greenery.

Thinking about the Future

From Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert:

Stumbling on Happiness What is the conceptual tie that binds anxiety and planning? Both, of course, are intimately connected to thinking about the future. We feel anxiety when we anticipate that something bad will happen, and we plan by imagining how our actions will unfold over time. Planning requires that we peer into our futures, and anxiety is one of the reactions we may have when we do…

…Not to think about the future requires that we convince our frontal lobe not to do what it was designed to do, and like a heart that is told not to beat, it naturally resists this suggestion…

…No one can imagine everything, of course, and it would be absurd to suggest that they should. But just as we tend to treat the details of the future events that we do imagine as though they were actually going to happen, we have an equally troubling tendency to treat the details of future events that we don’t imagine as though they were not going to happen. In other words, we fail to consider how much imagination fills in, but we also fail to consider how much it leaves out.

Like the Fire Through the Mountain

"The truly contemporary force is something that is built of the past, but with a difference. Most of what calls itself contemporary is built, whether it knows it or not, out of a desire to be liked. It is created in imitation of what already exists and is already admired. There is, in other words, nothing new about it. To be contemporary is to rise through the stack of the past, like the fire through the mountain. Only a heat so deeply and intelligently born can carry a new idea into the air."

--Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook