Existential roundup

Existential RoundupWelcome to the Existential Roundup, where we bring you links to some articles currently trending that may be of interest to those in the existential-humanistic psychology community.

It’s the time of year for parties and buffets, and overindulging in nibbly bites. Well, this week we bring to you the kind of smorgasbord that doesn’t put on the pounds, so indulge all you like on this odd collection of stories from the recent media.

In Questions for Grandfather’s Psychiatrist, tempting headline if ever there was one, we find another tasty morsel from The New York Times’ new Couch series. Benjamin Anastas, who teaching writing and literature at Bennington College, tells the story of his maternal grandfather, who died by his own hand—a shotgun wound to the left side of the face—in 1966, three years before the author’s birth. Anastas describes how the shadow of his grandfather—and his exit—haunted the family and Anastas’ growing up years to such an extent that as an adult, Anastas decided research him. He knew the name of the psychoanalyst with whom his grandfather worked in his teenage years, but Anastas’ father provided him with name of the psychiatrist who treated him in Boston in the years just prior to his death. Magically enough, the psychiatrist is still alive and Anastas meets with him to try to understand what was it that drove his grandfather to suicide. But the quest for certainty in the realm of uncertainty often brings more only more uncertainty.

In the meantime, The New York Times also reports that a new study from the journal Health Psychology has some bad news for us: comfort food is not so comforting. OK, maybe this is not a huge surprise to anyone, but now we have some more scientific evidence to prove that these cookies we are (I am) eating aren’t going give me the pleasant boost we are (I am) looking for. The researchers used “food surveys,” staying away from the term “comfort food” and asked participants to choose three foods that would make them feel better if they were in a bad mood. They then showed them three movies designed to induce negative affects, such as The Hurt Locker, Sophie’s Choice, and Armageddon. Some participants received triple portions of their comfort foods while others received neutral foods. Some had nothing. Three minutes later, all three groups took another mood questionnaire. All three groups felt better, with no significant difference between the comfort food group and the others. Oh well. There goes that rationalization.

For those of you looking for something a little more soothing than all the partying this time of year, turn to Fast Company, since the magazine, contrary to its name, is telling us to slow down in an article entitled, “It’s Not Just For Your Brain: Meditating Can Actually Change Your DNA.” Citing research from the Canadian journal Cancer, the article explains that mindfulness meditation preserves the length of telomeres. Shorter telomeres—the protective caps on the end of chromosomes—are correlated with several life-threatening illnesses including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Yet another reason to excuse yourself from the noise and take a couple of minutes to notice what is present in the here and now—always a lovely idea.

And to leave this party on the ultimate existential note, the Pacific Standard offers an article entitled “The Era of Our Discontent,”  linking individual feelings of disillusionment and discontent to what the Germans call “Weltschmerz,” or world pain. The article describes how a new literary genre has emerged to chronicle this new feeling as social media makes it easy to compare our lack of happiness with others’ apparent joy, covering for their deep discontent and fear that others will discover their own lack. Use the term “Weltschmerz” at your next cocktail party or in your next Tweet to show how culturally and psychosocially savvy you are. Or if you just want to create some space around yourself.

Happy Holidays!

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