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Welcome to the new “Mindf*ck Monday” Newsletter, a weekly newsletter sent out every Monday (duh) to help you be a smarter, healthier, less sucky human being this week. This is a new experiment, so whether you love it or you hate it, simply let me know by replying to this email.
Each email will have three big ideas. Some ideas will be based on articles/research I’ve found elsewhere. Some will be new articles written by myself. Some will just be random quotes or side notes. The goal is to simply give you three useful things to think about throughout the coming week. That and stuff you can mention to your co-workers and sound super smart.
For our inaugural newsletter, we’re talking about: a) social media and how it’s apparently not ruining everything, b) why we’re all sleep deprived and it is ruining everything, and c) some follow-up thoughts I have on the responses to my last article.
1. This Just In: Social Media Does NOT Cause Anxiety or Depression
Many trees have been killed the past ten years to print books and articles pissing and moaning about the mental health dangers of social media. Admittedly, even I’ve succumbed to the temptation to blame the big bad social media icon for everything. Here’s a piece I wrote two years ago blaming the internet for, well, everything, and a member’s article from earlier this year lamenting how social media makes everything so un-fun.
But here’s what’s interesting. All of the “evidence” of the ill effects of social media use, up to this point, have been based on weak data. Anxiety, depression, and social media use have risen in tandem for over a decade now, but that doesn’t necessarily mean social media use causes anxiety.
Imagine if every liquor store you went happened to be robbed after you left. It certainly looks like you did it. But there’s no proof that you did it. You just happened to be at each liquor store before it was robbed.
Now imagine that a bunch of research papers and newspaper articles are published with a terrifying chart showing on the one side, liquor stores where you’ve shopped, and on the other, liquor stores that have been robbed–and the charts look exactly the same. That would be a pretty damning chart. Everyone would think you were a criminal!
This is basically what has happened with social media. A bunch of liquor stores have been robbed (anxiety/depression), and Mr. Social Media was buying his cheap, shitty gin at every shop before it happened. So everyone has been blaming the guy.
Ultimately, the only way to figure out whether you actually robbed the liquor stores or not would be to follow you for a long time and track what happened to every liquor store you ever went to. This takes a lot of time (years) and money (thousands upon thousands of dollars) and doesn’t produce outrageous headlines. But it’s good science.
Well, this is finally what a group of researchers did. They followed 500 adolescents for eight years, tracked their social media usage and regularly asked them if they were wearing their happy pants that day or not. And guess what?
And here’s what’s really screwed up: dozens and dozens of articles, books, and papers were written about all the bad, “circumstantial” evidence implicating social media for ruining the world. But now that we have solid, good research showing that it doesn’t ruin everything, guess how many major mainstream news articles have been written?
That’s right. Zip. Zero.
Scientific American is the only publication I found who covered this study. And they’re like… scientists and stuff. Go figure.
So, if it’s not all social media’s fault, whose fault is it? Who are we supposed to get mad at? Hurry, we need to know!
My guess is what’s driving everyone to go shit-bananas is some combination of economic uncertainty (no stable careers left; industries dying off and being replaced constantly; rising prices of health care, education, etc.) and the crippling psychological effects of the paradox of choice. Basically, all the shit I said in Chapter 8 of Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope. And boy, am I glad I didn’t take the bait and include a section on social media in my book, like so many other authors. Excuse me while I pat myself on the back for a second.
OK, I’m back. Moving on…
2. What Does Make Us Miserable and Depressed? Not Sleeping
Every once in a while you come across a book that completely rearranges the deck chairs of your brain and makes you see the same boring things from a completely different point of view. This year, Matthew Walker’s book, Why We Sleep, did that for me.
Here’s a fact: not sleeping enough will kill you.
Here’s another fact: pretty much nobody sleeps enough.
Anxiety? Stress? Burn out? Depression? Mental Illness? Children with behavioral problems? None of these have shown any link to social media or television or cable news or video games or [pick your preferred evil piece of media here]. But they all have strong–very strong–links to sleep deprivation. And, apparently, pretty much anything short of a sober eight hours in a dark room qualifies as “sleep deprivation.”
I know, I know, you’re like, “What the hell man? I can snooze for 5-6 hours and crush it the next day!” That’s what I said, too. And I was wrong.
You think you are functional. You think you are making good decisions. You think you are being healthy. But the science says otherwise.
I don’t mean to sound the alarm bell. I’m usually the first to poo poo the supposed “epidemics” that are sweeping our culture. But this is kind of silent epidemic. Put it this way: the two most common causes of non-natural deaths are 1) car accidents and 2) medical errors. And guess what’s responsible for most car accidents and medical errors? That’s right: sleep deprivation.
I was sufficiently freaked out by the book that I quit a ten year caffeine habit and started prioritizing sleep over pretty much any other night-time activity. In other news: I am now a boring adult.
But, what’s amazing is that being well-rested makes almost every other desirable habit easier. I’m more focused and productive at work. I make better decisions with my time. I’m more physically active. I have more energy when talking to other people. I feel happier. And I’ve even lost a few pounds (sleep deprivation triggers food cravings and over-eating.)
Check out the book. Then grab yourself an eye mask, pour out the coffee, and get into bed at 9:30. Trust me, everyone will be jealous. You can even Instagram it. Wait, where are you going? No, I don’t want a tequila shot. Hello? Hellloooooo?
3. Our Culture’s Allergic Reaction to Anything “Negative”
The article from earlier this month “5 Tenets of a Negative Self-Help” was probably the most popular article this year. Definitely read it if you haven’t already. The feedback I got from it was great. A few other authors even reached out and said they’d love to adopt the NSH moniker for their own work.
Yet, I was intrigued and surprised by many people still had a problem with the “negative” modifier.
Many people suggested other words to replace the word “negative.” Skeptical Self-Help. Stoic Self-Help. Dark Self-Help. Anti-Self-Help. Just anything but “Negative!” some of them would say.
But nope. Not budging on this one. I had dinner with a friend a few nights ago and she was saying something similar, “I love it. It can’t be negative though, because it’s life-affirming.”
I replied, “But you cannot affirm life unless you also affirm everything that life is… including the negativity. Life-affirmation requires negativity.” You can’t affirm or pursue or hope for all the positive experiences in life without also wanting and pursuing and affirming the negative experiences. It just doesn’t work. And while pursuing the negative will get you the positive, pursuing the positive will only alienate you from the negative. Therefore, the only reasonable approach to life is a negative approach: to pursue pain, in all its forms, not just doubt or skepticism or endurance, but all negativity.
Therefore: Negative Self-Help. No other modifier carries the same philosophical load that it does.
I was surprised by the allergic reaction by many to the word negative. Positivity seems to be woven so deeply into the fabric of our culture that it’s hard to dislodge it for many people.
So, here’s my challenge to you this week: embrace the negative.
No, I don’t mean be a whiny, insensitive asshole. In fact, I mean the opposite. Look for opportunities for sacrifice. Try to make one sacrifice each day for something greater than yourself. It can be small. It can be simple. But consciously do it. Relish in the struggle and discomfort that comes with steady productivity, treating others (and yourself!) with integrity, following through on your goals and plans, nurturing and caring for a loved one, even when you wish you didn’t have to.
It’s fucking hard. And the hard part is the negative part. So get good at getting negative.
OK. That’s it for this week! Expect some new articles next week and a highly inappropriate joke about badgers.