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A strategy for when you’re feeling depleted

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Lately, I have been almost completely out of ideas. To most people, this might not be such a big deal, but it’s my job as a writer and editor to synthesize what I notice about the world into narratives that are fresh and interesting.

I know I’m not alone here. Friends and colleagues tell me they feel like they’ve forgotten how to talk to other people, how to make connections. It’s not just that we’re out of practice—I think our mental pantries are depleted.

What’s a mental pantry? It’s the part of your brain you rummage through when you’re trying…

New research on the link between altruism and happiness

Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Suppose you’re given $10 that you can spend either to benefit someone else or to benefit yourself. Which course of action do you think would make you happier? A growing body of psychological research shows that, surprisingly, people are happier when they act to benefit others than when they act to benefit themselves.

For instance, in one of the earliest studies to investigate this link, participants rated their level of happiness in the morning and were then given either $5 or $20. One group of participants was assigned to the personal spending condition, being instructed to either pay for a…

People are much more than how they earn a paycheck

Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

One of my favorite icebreakers is to ask a stranger to tell me the worst thing they’ve ever done. Most of the time my conversation partner is taken aback, stumped, or left profoundly uncomfortable as they mine the archives of their life searching for a suitable answer. It’s not so much that I’m dying to know everyone’s worst sins but it’s a shocking enough conversation starter that very quickly morphs into meaningful discussion. Discussion that doesn’t involve what we do for work.

Without fail, nearly every time I meet a new person, the question, “So what do you do for…

Social dos and dont’s can be useful guides, but high-quality interactions require “contingent responding”

Warren Wong via Unsplash

“Five things you shouldn’t say to people who are grieving.” “Do’s and don’ts for first dates.” “Three ways to have ‘the talk’ about where your relationship is going.” We see stories with titles like these all the time. Rules of thumb for social situations can be really helpful. It’s hard to know what to say to a grieving person, and who wants to say the “wrong” thing and hurt them more? Who wouldn’t want that first date you’re excited about to go well? And who couldn’t use tips on how to approach difficult topics with a partner, like where your…

🧶 Tip: To be a better listener, visualize a ball being passed back and forth.

In a conversation, listening isn’t the price you have to pay to finally be able to say your thing. As Don Johnson explains on Human Parts, it is “an active process that signals genuine interest in the other person.” If you have a tendency to be absorbed in your portion of the chat (and no judgement—we’re all guilty of this at times), try picturing a ball being passed and forth, a metaphor that Johnson shares. The other person speaks and then tosses the ball to…

A line from a novel helped settle my unease about once-close connections that have gone cold

Photo by Marta Esteban Fernando on Unsplash

Once upon a time, we were deeply ingrained in each other’s lives. We met up for dinners or movies or just to ride the rhythm of our good time, toasting to our own riff on “nature’s masterpiece,” as Emerson described friendship. We walked and wrote and called and felt like we were getting closer and closer. We went on road trips, chose conversation over sleep, got each other out of jams. We told each other “I love you,” and we meant it. We absorbed each other’s sadnesses and made them more bearable. We were there at pivotal moments. We coded…

Tip: Take a moment for Pema Chödrön’s “just like me” practice.

Maybe you’ve been feeling a little detached lately. Hey, a year and a half in a pandemic will do that to a person. There’s a simple exercise that can help you feel more more grounded, more connected. It comes from Pema Chödrön’s Welcoming the Unwelcome: Wholehearted Living in a Brokenhearted World.

Chödrön, an author and Buddhist teacher, writes: “There’s a practice I like called ‘Just like me.’ You go to a public place and sit there and look around. Traffic jams are very good for this. You zero…

Thank God it’s not dead

Photo: CSA Images/Getty Images

The entire pandemic, I’ve been hearing about things that Covid-19 may or may not have killed. Business travel. Buffets. Birthday candles. Snow days. I’m not sure all, or any, of these things are really going to go away: Human nature has a tendency to snap back to a certain base level of accepted normalcy, and I’m not sure one (incredibly tumultuous!) year is going to upset that applecart for centuries to come. And I hope not. Because I really love shaking hands.

Shaking hands was suppose to go away, wasn’t it? It’s strange that we remained — and in many…

👯 Tip: Move in unison with a friend or partner.

No, you don’t need to get in formation and perform a full drill team routine, but according to science, moving in unison with others helps strengthen ties. Several studies have found that people are “more cooperative and generous” and “feel more bonded to their movement partners” after they move in sync, Psyche reports. So if you’re looking for a simple way to connect with someone, try it out: You can dance along to a YouTube video, paint side by side, sway to a favorite album, or even just take a…

Everything we’re doing to develop meaningful relationships is wrong

Former CIA officer Darell Blocker being interviewed by Jon Levy at a 2019 event. Photo courtesy of The Glenlivet.

In my twenties, I received some of the worst advice of my life: “If you want to succeed, you need to network.” Since I had no money or status, I took this standard approach. I showed up at every networking event, business cards in hand, and tried to strike up a conversation with anyone who would talk to me. And just like everyone else, I hated it.

I decided instead to find a way to meaningfully connect with the people I respected and admired. For more than a decade, I have been running a secret dining experience and community called…


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