Links: Don’t think of an elephant, etc.

1. Here’s a discussion of how we can’t really control our thoughts, even (or especially) when we TRY to control our thoughts (man, as someone who thinks obsessively at times, this certainly makes sense to me:

The more effort we expend on keeping something from our mind, the more likely we are to be reminded of it—because at some level, we have to keep reminding ourselves not to think about it. As long as not thinking is in the back of our minds, we will be prompted to think of precisely the thing we shouldn’t be thinking about. Wegner calls this an ironic monitoring process: each time we think about a distracter topic to put off the topic we’d like to avoid (something we do consciously), our minds unconsciously search for the unwanted thought so that they can pounce on it if it makes so much as a peep. And if we are tired or stressed or distracted—or even if our mind goes silent for a moment—the unwanted thought will take the opportunity to assert itself. It’s especially bad in social situations, when we try to avoid making mistakes that would carry some sort of social cost, such as trying not to swear or make sexual references or touch on an otherwise sensitive area of conversation. People who are asked to keep something private are more likely to mention it or allude to it in some way in a conversation.

2. A neat idea, from a beautifully rambling text, by Charles Simic:

To my great regret, I no longer know how to be lazy, and summer is no fun without sloth. Indolence requires patience—to lie in the sun, for instance, day after day—and I have none left. When I could, it was bliss. I lived liked the old Greeks, who knew nothing of hours, minutes, and seconds. No wonder they did so much thinking back then. When Socrates staggered home late after a day of philosophizing with Plato, his bad-tempered wife Xantippe could not point to a clock on the wall as she started chewing him out.

In my youth, I had a reputation of being extraordinarily lazy. My fame extended beyond our neighborhood. When my name was mentioned, my teachers in school used to roll their eyes and cross themselves. My mother could not agree more. She’d tell about the day I started for school wearing just one shoe, and when I realized my mistake, instead of going back home to get the other, I stayed where I was in the street watching a piano being lifted to several stories up to some apartment, till I was late for school.

“He’s a dreamy child,” one of my aunts used to say in my defense. I didn’t like to hear her say that, but today I’m ready to admit that daydreaming used to be my favorite occupation, especially in summer. As soon as the weather got hot, I looked for a shady place to lie down. When I got bored with daydreaming, I took a nap. One time I dozed off on the Oak Street Beach in Chicago and didn’t wake till it was almost evening, surprised to see the empty beach, the tall buildings along the lake already in shadow, and feel my back hurting from the sun and my head not knowing for a moment how I got there. After getting up and stretching, yawning, and scratching for a while, I sat down once again and thought to myself, How wonderful all this is.

3. A map of U.S. population in 1930s.

4. The U.S. isn’t so healthy as other modernized countries

Our health depends on much more than just medical care. Behaviors such as diet, physical activity, and even how fast we drive all have profound effects. So do the environments that expose us to health risks or discourage healthy living, as well as social determinants of health, such as education, income, and poverty.

The United States fares poorly in almost all of these. In addition to many millions of people lacking health insurance, financial barriers to care, and a lack of primary care providers compared with other rich countries, people in the United States consume more calories, are more sedentary, abuse more drugs, and shoot one another more often. The United States also lags behind on many measures of education, has higher child poverty and income inequality, and lower social mobility than most other advanced democracies.

The breadth of these causal factors, and the scope of the U.S. health disadvantage they produce, raises some fundamental questions about U.S. society. As the NRC/IOM report noted, solutions exist for many of these health problems, but there is “limited political support among both the public and policymakers to enact the policies and commit the necessary resources.”

One major impediment is that the United States, which emphasizes self-reliance, individualism, and free markets, is resistant to anything that even appears to hint at socialism. Interestingly, as a group, classically liberal nations like the United States and the United Kingdom—free market-oriented with less regulation, tax, and government services—are the least healthy among wealthy democracies.

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