I pride myself on being an avid consumer of research; as a student and reader of neuropsychology and positive psychology I understand the limits to research, the fleeting state of claims, and the fundamentals behind what constitutes a scientific finding.
However, I am also human.
So when I read “bagojobi berries make you a superhero”, I am more likely to buy a smoothie with bagojobi berries in it, as well as every other food item I see the next day (I made these berries up, please don’t open a new tab and try to find them on Amazon).
This is okay, this is human, to follow the things we’re told about and try to better ourselves with the information offered to us by others.
But it can also be extremely misleading, and at times detrimental to our otherwise balanced lifestyles.
For example, the past two weeks I have been setting my alarm to meet the optimal sleeping hours – not 8 to 9 hours of sleep, but rather 5 to 6 hours of sleep as stated by some articles I read exactly two weeks back.
And the results? Outstanding! I feel like shit.
This is important, no matter how stupid on my part, because we often forget our knowledgeable intuitions when told that something is better for us.
Why? There’s a cycle, and it goes like this: As soon as we hear that something is better for us, we are presented with an opportunity to better ourselves, which reminds us that we are not perfect, which convinces us that we are not as happy as we could be, which then makes us think that we cannot be our best selves unless we follow these regimens: eat 500 raw vegetables a day, save someone’s life every week, meditate in complete isolation in a granite cave every second Thursday. Obviously I’m exaggerating here, but you get the point.
And what else happens? When we are told something is bad for us, the same cycle starts. We begin to think that in order to better ourselves – finding our joy, our productivity, our dreams along with it – we must eliminate every element of the “1000 Worst Things You Can Do For Yourself” by BuzzFeed (also probably not a real article, please do not try to look it up and read it).
But see, what we are forgetting is how research works.
First off, there are outliers – participants that show skewed data, often data that researchers delete. Why? Because they are outliers, they don’t fit in with the average population researchers attempt to generalize to.
Second off, the averages that create the data we consume every day are created by fluctuations – some fluctuations above the determined average, and some below. Rarely, if ever, does the data average wholeheartedly represent every single participant in the study.
And if we look at ourselves, what are we?
We are humans, and humans are outliers and fluctuations.
Maybe you’ll find that you align with the typical average for one given scientific suggestion, but what about the other 400 we consume every week?
We have to remember that amidst all of the data – the LifeHack suggestions, “better yourself TODAY” articles, and marketing campaigns – the best guide for our own well-being is ourselves.
We should use research and advice to help guide our decisions, it makes us better-informed. But the key word here is help – help guide, not just guide – because ultimately we should be the ones guiding our decisions and carving out the lifestyle habits that best work for us.
When it comes down to it, well-being is fostered by something scientists like to call homeostasis, and something lifestyle branders like to call balance. When we read ultimatums on what is best for us, we tend to go to the extremes – completely avoiding the new thing that’s bad for us, only pursuing the new thing that’s good for us.
Truth is, there are a million things that are good for us, there are a million things that are bad for us, and often they tend to switch sides. Why? Because science is never as straightforward as a 3-minute-read article makes it out to be, and people come up with different results all the time.
When you are reading a “better-yourself” statement, try to replace the ultimatum word with “might”.
EATING BROCCOLI EVERY DAY WILL MAKE YOU HAPPER –> EATING BROCCOLI EVERY DAY MIGHT MAKE YOU HAPPIER.
The key is being aware of what might be, and navigating our lives with that awareness. Making a stir fry? Add some turmeric, vegetables, and lay back on the salt and oil. This doesn’t mean that you should be eating turmeric powdered vegetables for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, just because it might be good for you.
Focus on balance, on using the research to build on your library of knowledge of what might be good for us and what might be bad for us.
Is sleeping 5 to 6 hours a night better for you than 7 to 8 hours a night? Only if you know it is better for you. You are not an average on every single statistic, that is simply not how life works. So if you feel like shit sleeping 5.5 hours a night and waking up at ungodly times in the morning, try something else. Sleep for however long you need to feel fresh, to feel healthy.
And lastly, remember that not only might it not apply to you, but it might not apply to your friend. Or your coworker. Or the strangers around you.
Does social media make people less happy? I don’t know, does it make you less happy? Don’t just delete all of your social media accounts because an article told you to do so, really think about how you interact with the products being presented as devils. Don’t shame your friends for using it, or judge strangers for updating their profiles. An all or nothing decision is rarely ever fully-informed.
Take this for example, let’s try to present social media as an angel:
Social media can increase creativity, increases people’s abilities to entertain alternative perspectives in politics, and connects people from every corner of the world.
The above is all true. So sure, social media might make some people less happy, but if you know how to use it with a leveled head, there shouldn’t be any issues. In fact, as shown, there are a multitude of benefits.
Is dark chocolate good for you? Okay, well, no not really, the majority of dark chocolate brands host ungodly amounts of sugar and processed ingredients. However we still eat it because 1) It’s dark chocolate and we will never stop eating it, 2) There’s some good claims telling us it can be good for us, and we want to believe it, and 3) We enjoy it. So then, enjoy it. But don’t think that you’re eating cabbage in chocolate form.
All in all, I think I’ve made my point and case here.
Take what you are told, what you read, and what others say is best for you with open arms and a sense of reality.
Live by what you know gives you a strong sense of balance and helps you live every day with exuberance.
If you don’t know what that is yet, then sure, test things out, but remember the might rule: it might apply to you and it might not, so use your intuition.
Social media and political persuasion –
Diehl, Trevor, E Weeks, Brian, & Gil de Zuniga, Homero (2016). Political persuasion on social media: Tracing direct and indirect effects of news use and social interaction. News Media and Society, 18(9). pp. 1875–1895.
Social media and worldwide connection –