Peer pressure is a powerful thing.  Did Americans stop smoking because of all the government ads pointing out their dangers?  Or because when a few people stopped, it made it easier for the people around them to stop?  Probably both factors were involved.  

And peer pressure continues to exert force, leading us to do things like buy and build bigger houses and drive bigger and heavier cars.  Neither of which is helpful to a warming planet. 

Economist Robert Frank writes about putting peer pressure to work for positive change, like saving the planet, in his book Under the Influence


It's not unusual for any person to feel tugged in different directions: "do I do this, or that?"  Along the way, people can feel like they've given in to forces other than their best judgment, can feel like they've "sold out." 

Lily Zheng and Inge Hansen found a surprisingly large number of people who felt like they had not been faithful to their true selves.  They tell the stories and provide perspective in their book The Ethical Sellout: Maintaining Your Integrity in the Age of Compromise.

You can be forgiven for watching or listening to the news and doing that little head-tilt things that dogs do.  Because what we see and hear doesn't always make sense. 

Political and societal norms have been inverted and subverted in our time, and it's making people cranky.  “Finding Your Sanity in an Insane World” is the title of a conference coming to Ashland on December 14th, offered by the Architects of the New Paradigm Conference series. 

Can people learn how to get a grip, in a single day? 


Depression is common enough that a variety of medications exist to ease the symptoms.  And within that broad category are several sub-categories of antidepressants that work on the body and mind in different ways. 

Even so, it may take more than pills to bring a person up from depression.  


In some realms, mainly politics, we've more or less given up on trying to persuade people.  "You can't change someone's mind," we hear. 

But people can and DO change their minds.  Like the people who have to leave people they love for their own safety, or the people who leave religious cults. 

These are among the examples Eleanor Gordon-Smith provides in her book Stop Being Reasonable: How We Really Change Our Minds.  We clearly have the power to change minds, starting with our own, and the author talks about how that happens. 


You know the person well, or did, long ago.  So it wouldn't be enough to just shake hands or nod when you say hello.  But a hug...? 

Hugs are good for sharing warmth and humanity, but we get in situations where we're just not sure a hug is appropriate.  It's a rich vein of thought that Emily Flake explores in the slender book That Was Awkward: The Art and Etiquette of the Awkward Hug

Side hugs?  Leaning-over hugs?  Short, barely-touching hugs?   There are so many variations, and so many questions. 


We may love our motor-powered vehicles, but we still get some help from horses.  Not so much in transportation as in therapeutic settings... horses help people with PTSD and other challenges to calm down and heal. 

Horses and how they work with us also provide some guidance for how humans relate to each other.  That's what Linda Kohanov focuses on, in her book Five Roles of a Master Herder: A Revolutionary Model for Socially Intelligent Leadership

Are you a leader, a nurturer, a sentinel? 


We've got some issues facing us now that require some long-term planning.  Global warming will not be solved immediately; we won't see results of climate-positive actions right away. 

Which makes it hard for creatures bent toward instant gratification.  So how do we modify our behaviors in ways that provide benefits a while from now, perhaps not in our lifetimes? 

Bina Venkataraman examines who we are and what we're capable of in the book The Optimist's Telescope


The psychiatrist James Gordon knows a thing or two about trauma, and not just the kind experienced by individuals.  As the director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine, he works with the kind of trauma that affects entire populations--think Kosovo, Gaza, or Pine Ridge. 

How would a therapist even begin the healing process?  That question and many more are answered in Dr. Gordon's book The Transformation: Discovering Wholeness and Healing After Trauma

It reveals many of the techniques he's used over 50 years in the field. 


It's really just three words contracted to two: "I'm sorry."  So there's no great expenditure of energy in saying it. 

Physical energy, anyway; psychic energy is another thing entirely.  Harriet Lerner, clinical psychologist and author of many books on relationships, examines how hard it is for so many of us to say the words and mean them sincerely. 

Lerner's book is Why Won't You Apologize? Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts

"Abraham Lincoln attacked the South." 

"I can't do it tonight, I have to wash my hair." 

"The dog broke it, Mommy."  Each one a lie, but obviously lies of somewhat different degrees. 

Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin takes up the human capacity to wander from the truth, and gives some pointers on staying in a truth-based world, in the book A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age


The barista who gave you a nice smile may have gotten a better tip from you, but there could be other costs. 

A researcher at Penn State looked into the effects on employees of enforcing "service with a smile" guidelines.  And roughly, the effect appears to be more drinking. 

Employees who force smiles at work appear to drink alcohol more heavily after work. 


Ever hear of "cab wit?"  That's the snappy comeback that arrives in your head long after a conversation has ended... like in the cab going home. 

We appreciate wit in our society, even though it may be a little difficult to define.  James Geary takes a stab at definition, explanation, and more in his boo Wit's End: What Wit Is, How It Works, and Why We Need It

Hint: it's more than a sense of humor. 


Ever put something up on social media, then obsessively check for the next few hours to see if anyone "liked" it?  If so, you're not alone. 

The current age offers all kinds of technological distractions that can turn into compulsions.  And it goes way beyond just the technology, as Matt Haig points out in his book Notes on a Nervous Planet

He explores the ways in which modern life can put a dent in our happiness. 


Abby Ellin is an award-winning journalist, and her investigative skills came in handy when her fiancé's tales of his life began to sound suspicious. 

He was indeed lying, but the bigger surprise was finding out how common such lies can be.  Abby's discoveries and her research led to a book: Duped: Double Lives, False Identities, and the Con Man I Almost Married


What better time than the New Year to take on a grudge!

British crime writer Sophie Hannah maintains that not all grudges are created equal. Some are better than others.

And embracing a good grudge -- or as Sophie Hannah puts it, walking the Grudge-Fold Path -- can be downright healthy. She outlines it all in her new book, How to Hold a Grudge


The old JPR studios were located next to a classroom that hosted many a math class.  Some of our former co-workers avoided the area when class was in session; math made them nervous. 

It's really a thing, says Jennifer Ruef at the University of Oregon.  She teaches Education Studies, and says "math trauma" from past learning experiences really happens. 


Maybe we've gotten a bit soft in the millennia since we moved indoors, but our survival skills are still pretty good.  Our primitive brains keep us moving in search of food and mates and other necessities. 

Trouble is, human ingenuity has resolved those quests, up to a point.  We have abundant food, some of it good for us, and many ways to find potential mates. 

Psychiatrist Peter Whybrow says we need to re-tune our brains for the world we live in now.  His book is The Well-Tuned Brain: Neuroscience and the Life Well Lived


Even the use of the very word "empathy" can produce some interesting gut-level reactions.  Some people feel the need to delve deeper; others just snicker. 

Empathy--the ability to sense what other people feel emotionally--is a handy skill, and helpful in many situations.  But it is often misunderstood as well. 

Cris Beam puts a journalists on fact and myth, theory and practice in the book I Feel You: The Surprising Power of Extreme Empathy


Life does not always live up to our expectations.  Is the problem life, or the expectations? 

Christine Hassler, coach, speaker, and host, says it's the expectations. 

In fact, she coins a term for that situation and uses it for the title of a book: Expectation Hangover: Overcoming Disappointment in Work, Love, and Life.  The book lays out ways to keep the expectations realistic, so the sense of accomplishment is obtainable.