Friday, May 10, 2013

Searching for happiness: What makes life meaningful?

Recently I’ve been contemplating giving up on the modern world and moving to a cabin in the woods. I mean – what is with all of this technology, the 50+ hour work week, and guilt over the simple pleasures like spending time with friends and family on the weekends? Maybe I would be able to feel happier and more fulfilled if I turned my back on the world of today and instead started living a simple life. After all, despite the fact that technology has made our lives easier over the past century, people do not report being happier than they were before smart phones, computers, and the internet.

Picture it – a cabin in the woods next to a gurgling river, a garden out back with beautiful flowers and delicious produce, a feeling of being close to nature, like my ancestors. More time for important social interactions, which are really at the heart of a meaningful life. No more random interneting or hours spent ignoring my husband in favor of my smart phone. Instead I’ll spend my days doing meaningful things, going to bed with the setting sun and sleeping as much as I need. Really, imagine it. Don’t you all want to come and join me in the woods?

But would I really be happier if I gave up modern conventions and moved to an isolated cabin? Up until a few hours ago, I really thought that might be the solution. But then I read an article by a 26 year-old, Paul, who had given up the internet for a year. He felt that the internet was preventing him from figuring out who he truly was, and it was time to take back his life and his identity. And giving up the internet was good – for the first few months. He spent more time with friends, used his boredom to write more and explore his creativity in other ways. He read more and went out more. But then Paul adjusted to not having the internet and soon found himself developing bad habits offline. He was unable to keep in touch with people who were far away, and his snail mail began to overwhelm him until he was unable to cope with sending responses to his fans. The moral of his story – we are who we are and we will be who we will be, internet or no internet.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Group gender composition: Does it matter?

When I was younger, I can remember being split into teams in gym class and different tables in art class and having one question: how many girls and how many boys are in my group? Depending on the activity, it seemed important to know this so you could assess your chances for success. More boys on your team, and you might be more likely to win dodgeball. More girls at your art table, and you might paint a better mural.

An adult might have told me that was silly - how many boys vs. girls were in my group didn’t matter. However, recent research suggests that the gender composition of a group does matter. Though it doesn’t matter in terms of impacting actual performance, it can influence how group members think about one another and about their group as a whole. Because I love research that examines people in their natural (or somewhat natural) environments when they are interacting with other people, let’s take a look at how the researchers demonstrated this.