There is this idea in health and behavioral economics called loss aversion. Basically it says that we as humans are more greatly affected by loss than we are by a gain. For instance take this thought experiment devised by Tversky and Kahneman. Say that you are a doctor and there is an outbreak of a new disease which will kill 600 people. Would you rather use a treatment which will for sure heal 200 people, or one that has a 1/3 chance of saving 600 people and a 2/3 chance of saving nobody?
All right, now that you have made your choice think about this scenario. The same 600 people are infected with the same disease. However this time your options are one drug which will kill 400 people or a drug which has a 1/3 potential of having nobody die and a 2/3 potential of having 600 people die?
Even though these two dilemmas are exactly the same numerically, doctors preferred the less risky choice in the first example and the riskier choice in the second example. Why? Because of this idea of risk aversion. But what does this have to do with you?
Let me tell you a story to bring it back to your happiness. An old tale tells of a beggar who was wandering around a city with a huge sack that was as big as he was over his shoulder. As he was hobbling around one day someone came up to him and said “What do you have in that bag of yours that is weighing you down?” He answered, “I am collecting all of the bad things that people have ever said to me.” The passerby replied, “Well hasn’t anyone said anything good to you before? Where are those things?” The man shrugged his shoulders and said “Yeah, I saved a couple of those,” and he reached down to a little pocket on his shirt to pull them out.
This idea that we hang on to the bad moments, feelings and circumstances is not a new idea, and it seems to be a part of human nature. But the minute we learn to catch ourselves when we are focusing on the bad is the minute we can retrain our minds to remain in the positive. Wouldn’t life be so much better if you forgot all the bad things that happened to you as quickly as you forgot all the great moments you had yesterday?
There is no easy solution to this problem. And it is much easier said than done. But when you find yourself hanging on to that insult you can never forget or that bad test grade that keeps haunting you, think about whether it is worth spending your energy on. And remember this quote:
“For every 60 seconds you spend angry or sad, you lose one minute of happiness.”
This quote has always hit home with me, because I, probably more than anyone else, love to jump conclusions about a person’s character.
Like that person who is biking really slowly in front of you when you are late to class. Sheesh. Or that person who made a snarky comment at you today. They must automatically be a horrible person.
It’s a common thing to get annoyed at someone when they are driving super slowly right? When I went home for the summer, my parents were holding a reception for my brother’s wedding and so we had to pick up the cake from the bakery. It was one of those big three layer cakes, and my dad and I were terrified it would turn the trunk of our car into candy land by the time we got home. So naturally my dad drove pretty slowly. Anybody who knew our situation would have agreed that driving slowly was appropriate. But I kept thinking how many times I had judged people for driving slowly when they may have had something just as fragile in the back of their car.
9/10 times we have no idea what the person’s situation or the motivation for their actions is. A lot of times it feels like we are in the right when we get mad at someone who is doing something wrong. But it never helps the situation, and only makes us into unhappy people. And just like I would want to be given a little bit of leniency on the days when I am in a bad mood, I need to give some to others.
Anyway the point is to be kind to everyone, because they might need a smile or a nice word to get them through the day.
So you’ve probably heard about the opening of the new Contemplative center on west campus. If not, the Windhover Center is a newly constructed building right in front of Roble Hall which was designed to hold the artwork of Nathan Oliveira and serve as a quiet center for Stanford Students.
While the building and artwork are pleasant, what I love most about it is the idea. The Stanford bubble, while containing a lot of joyous things also acts to insulate all that stress that you have on a daily basis. For lack of a better metaphor, the Stanford bubble is to stress as greenhouse gases are to sunlight. And this contemplative center is the perfect escape while not having to travel off campus.
That being said this center is entirely what you make of it. While it is a great place to have all that midterm stress melt away, the paintings on their own won’t do that for you. It acts as a sanctuary, but it’s up to you to actually make the decision to be mindful. Therefore when I say you should go check out the new contemplative center what I am really saying is to remember to take a few minutes out of your hectic day to spend time on de-stressing. Use the grand opening of this center as an excuse to start a habit of spending some time on yourself.
Some tips when visiting the center:
Grab a pillow on your way in if you plan to sit for a while
Go through the outdoor labyrinth (see picture below) and every time you reach a turn think of something you are grateful for
Inside the contemplative center force yourself to not be thinking/stressing about homework, but rather enjoy the moment
Do some simple meditation if that’s how you roll (start with breathing exercises)
I have a confession to make. I’ve been avoiding saying it to friends and family who ask me about the classes I’m taking, because frankly, I wasn’t proud of it. But here it goes…
I’m only taking 12 units.
That’s right I am taking the minimum number of units that you can get by on here at Stanford, and not a single yoga class more.
So now that you are done gasping and have probably started labeling me as that “12 unit person,” let me explain why I feel like a better student now than I ever have before.
First off, I am not saying to take fewer classes so that you can watch more Breaking Bad. But I have a feeling if you have more time and you are a motivated Stanford student, you probably wouldn’t do that anyway. What I am saying is that we all need that down time to watch TV, nap and pursue some hobbies. But on top of that we need time outside of class and basic homework to engage with faculty and peers, put more time into our learning, and get everything out of Stanford that we can. And that time isn’t counted in the unit-hours of a class.
In the past two years I haven’t met with a professor out of my own will more than once. In the past week I met with them twice. It takes a little bit of courage to craft an email and go to office hours. And I couldn’t muster that much energy when I was stressed out about homework or brain dead watching TV. There are bigger goals that can’t be focused on when our lives are so crowded by 18 units worth of work.
Once again Stanford has skewed our perception of what success is. Success is not 18 units and crying. It’s 12 units and flourishing.
So you might be sitting there thinking that you couldn’t possibly take less units because your major has SO MANY requirements. And that’s fine. There is nothing wrong with taking 20 units. But next time you sign up for a class because you are “only” at 15 units, take a step back, because your personal life is worth spending time on.
Here’s a collection of advice from current and former PHE’s:
“Learn what it is you need to feel like you can thrive (it can be a one hour nap a day, meditation for 15 minutes, being outside in the sunshine, eating a leisurely breakfast every morning) and carve out time for it by building it into your routine." - Sonja
"Prioritize sleep! It is so underrated and taken for granted. Get sleep to feel amazing, work more productively, and generally be at the top of your game!” - Garseng
“Feed your body! Ever wonder why you get cranky when you’re hungry? When your blood sugar levels get too low, you can become hypoglycemic, which can make you tired, irritable, and extra stressed.” - Katherine Nabel
“Set goals for yourself but make sure they are within reason and your own. Don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others. Achieve what you want to achieve. Do what you want to do. And if you accomplish that you’ll find that you know you.” - Anonymous
“Don’t stress about your own speculations of the future. Life is full of twists and turns so nothing can be predicted to the last detail! Live well today so that tomorrow stays bright. When really stressing about school work, think about the WORST consequence of not delivering your ‘best.’ Is it really worth compromising your emotional well being? Staying logical and practical (with just enough stress for motivation!) is the key to survival.” - Yasamin Sharifzadeh
“In finals week, when you feel that you are just too overwhelmed, think about what these tests will mean to you in 5 years. Yea, much better.” - Anonymous
“A happy, productive day after a good night’s sleep can be much more rewarding than a late night out! Don’t be afraid to close your door and go to bed early when you need rest :)” - Anonymous
“Even if you have an important paper that you need to finish or a challenging exam coming up, take the time to do something that makes you really happy, even if it is just for ten minutes! For example, have a great one hour dinner with your friends, or play music for half an hour, or even go for a ten minute walk. Even though you might tell yourself that you have to study or do work, those ten minutes or hour will do wonders for your well-being, and I guarantee it will improve your concentration and efficiency. It’s a win-win situation! :)” - Carolina Ornelas
“Put a (non-perishable) snack in your backpack to tide you over between meals or when you get hungry in class.” - Anonymous
I’m a senior this year, which makes this my last quarter at Stanford. Weird.
The other day I was sitting on on Columbae’s front porch talking with some friends after dinner. We had all finished eating but had gotten absorbed in a conversation that spanned from topics such as hookup culture to the role of art in our lives. One friend looked up and mentioned that she was really glad she’d come down for dinner that night. She had almost just taken food up to her room because she felt too busy.
Another friend shared the advice she’d gotten from someone who had graduated two years ago about what to do during your last quarter at Stanford:
Spend more time at dinner.
Life can feel crazy sometimes. Maybe you know what you’re up to next year. Maybe you have no idea. Maybe you’re stressed with classes. Maybe you’re enrolled in 12 units.
But all of us could spend more time at dinner. Take that extra half hour to transform a meal from a rushed event to a real conversation with people you care about. Seniors: it’s your last quarter to do this. And everyone else: it’s never too early to start.
Mona Thompson is an intern for I Thrive. No, she does not know what she’ll be up to next year. Yes, she is taking 12 units. Also, her friend, Annie Shields, took this picture.
You know what I hate? I hate it when I’m out at a party or sitting in a car with a friend on my way to a theater performance in SF and there’s a pause in the conversation and I go: “ughhh. I have SO much work I should be doing right now.”
And then everyone else goes, “oh yeah, me too.” "I have to write this whole essay.“ "You think that’s bad? I should be doing two problem sets and a job application right now!”
And suddenly this thing that started out as something fun that you and your friends all chose to do together becomes this really stupid who-has-the-most-work competition where everyone is punishing themselves for taking some time off to hang out with friends. All because there was a pause in the conversation and I defaulted to complaining about my work because I didn’t know what else to talk about.
So, here’s where my new life goal comes in:
I am going to stop complaining about homework or other things I have to get done when I have chosen to spend my time doing something else.
I believe that is it important to find time to sit down and do your work for school. I also believe that it’s important to find time to do really cool non-school things, whether it’s going to events, grabbing brunch with friends, or just reading a book for fun.
Stanford can be really stressful at times. And, when it is, it’s important to find people who you can talk with about that (friends, teachers, family, counselors, etc.). I absolutely don’t want this to come off as me saying that venting about stress and homework should never happen, because talking about what’s on your mind is a super healthy thing to do.
BUT my new challenge to myself is to be more present (sound familiar?) and give myself permission to really enjoy the fun and exciting things that I have chosen to spend my time doing. If I’m so stressed about finishing an assignment that I can’t stop talking about it, then I should probably go home and do it. And, if that isn’t the case, then I should probably stop talking about it for the time being. Because complaining about the work that I’m going to do later won’t make that work go away, and it will just cast a shadow over an otherwise really fun event.
——————————————————————————- Mona Thompson is an intern at I Thrive. She has chosen to spend her day going to a lunch event in San Francisco and out to a show with friends afterwards. And if you catch her complaining about her work while she’s having fun today, you have full permission to remind her of her new life goal.