February 28, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Greetings, MindSite News readers!

Today, we look at a new book by Harvard psychiatrist Robert Waldinger and psychologist Marc Schulz that asks a question which philosophers have debated for centuries: What actually makes for a happy, fulfilling life? That people still long for the answer to that question is evident in the response to

Waldinger’s TED Talk “What Makes a Good Life,” which has been viewed more than 42 million times and is one of the ten most-watched TED talks of all time.

The two Harvard researchers and authors are leaders of the world’s longest scientific study about health and happiness – the 85-year-old Harvard Study on Adult Development. They share their findings in their book The Good Life (Simon and Schuster), an extraordinary read that brings their research to life through the histories of dozens of participants in the Harvard study. As Dr. Waldinger has written, “The research makes clear that wellbeing is not synonymous with financial success and achievement, but flows from the quality of our relationships.” And if some of your relationships are fraying, The Good Life suggests that it’s never too late to nurture them or create new ones.

In today’s newsletter, we focus on the book’s findings about the importance of work friendships, which the authors argue are more important to our well-being than you may think. Also in this edition: In Ukraine, mental health workers dispensing “psychological first aid” have their hands full. The mental health startup Cerebral is laying off more employees. And a journalist reflects on the emotional impact of seeing so much of his own life depicted in the Oscar-nominated film Everything, Everywhere, All at Once.

Do work friendships make us happier?

via Twitter

Given the amount of time we spend at work, it makes sense that good relationships with our colleagues contribute to better health and wellbeing. But now The Good Life, a new book from Harvard authors Robert Waldinger and Marc Shulz, offers scientific evidence to back that up. It also suggests that work friendships can boost our happiness, reported NPR. In the book, the two share what they’ve learned from decades of research, including long- and short-term studies, on the factors leading to overall well-being.

“The people who had the warmest connections with other people weren’t just happier, they stayed healthier longer, and they lived longer,” Waldinger said. “We get little hits of well-being, if you will, from all kinds of relationships, from friends, family, work colleagues.” The whole spectrum of relationships is important, he added. “”All of that seems to affirm our [need for] belonging. That we are seen and recognized by others, even the most casual contact.”

These days, the loss of social connection at work is beginning to show. A recent Gallup poll found that the number of people claiming to have a “work bestie” has dropped, just as the numbers of workers saying they’re disengaged at work has risen. People with close friends at work also tended to perform better—and stay with a company longer. 

Waldinger said it’s important to exercise your social muscles in the workplace. Force yourself to go to an office happy hour or work from the office more regularly, if you’re mostly remote.  Practicing intentional small talk, where you notice something about a colleague you’d like to know, can also help to build worthwhile connections. “One of the things we know is that when we are curious about someone in a friendly way, it’s flattering and it engages people in conversation,” he said. He also encouraged leaders to create an atmosphere of warmth and connection.

Mental health workers in Ukraine struggle to reduce war trauma

via Twitter

It’s been one year since the start of the Russo-Ukrainian War, and ever since the first airstrikes, mental health professionals have rallied to dispense mental and emotional first aid. “The idea is that we really need to reach people in a very early stage after the exposure to trauma, in order to be able to prevent mental health consequences,” Iryna Frankova, a medical doctor and clinical psychologist, told BBC Future

Taking appropriate action to support a person’s mental health during the “golden hours” – that brief yet pivotal time immediately after a trauma referral – can help limit or prevent certain long term effects, including PTSD, anxiety, and depression. “It is a window of opportunity when short-term memory may not become long-term memory,” said Frankova. 

However, some well-intentioned acts of support are shown to do more harm than good. Encouraging someone to “debrief” in the immediate aftermath of a trauma, for example, can be harmful: It can push them to relive the event and reinforce the trauma as it converts from short-term to long-term memory, Frankova said. One of the best supports is community, so reaching out to a trauma survivor and reminding them that they are not alone is ideal.

This is some of the information made available to people via Friend_First Aid, a psychological first aid chatbot, created by Artem Lezin and developed with the support of Frankova and ​​Sophiia Lahutina, a physician and therapist. Lezin had started working on the technology at the start of the COVID-19 shutdowns, so when strikes hit on February 24, 2022, the team was prepared to launch the next day. Since then, it’s reached 81,000 users and is growing.

“I think that our product became so popular because we launched it on the second day after the war started, while there was still a two-week period of vacuum when nobody was saying anything about mental health,” said Frankova.“It’s obvious why. People are [in shock]. People are taking care of their physical safety, but at the same time they need some guidance on how to deal with a panic attack while sitting in a shelter during missile attacks.”

Everything, Everywhere, All at Once

via Twitter

In NPR’s I’m Really Into section, journalist Gary Duong wrote about the emotional impact Oscar frontrunner Everything Everywhere All at Once has had on him since his first watch. It’s not just the demographic similarities between the main family and his own; “Evelyn Quan Wang (Michelle Yeoh) and Waymond Wang (Ke Huy Quan) are Chinese immigrant parents with a lesbian daughter. My parents are Chinese refugees from the Vietnam War, and I am their gay son,” he writes.

“I’ll admit, this movie is a family hot pot of ridiculousness,” he continues. “But even though my friends have described me as cold-hearted and the Grumpy Cat meme in real life, I was unexpectedly emotional while watching it.” In this exquisite review, he reveals the Wang family’s emotional struggles also reflected his family’s own—but without the fairy tale ending.

In other news…

Since journalists and federal investigators began looking into troubling prescribing practices at mental health startup Cerebral last year, the company has gone through a tumultuous time. On February 27 it announced it is laying off 15% of its workforce, or about 285 employees, its third round of layoffs within a year, reported Insider (formerly Business Insider). In an email sent to employees on Monday, CEO David Mou said the cuts are necessary for Cerebral “to ensure we can continue to provide care to our patients in need.”

The New York Times published a story on Elizabeth Koch—yes, that Koch—and Unlikely Collaborators, the nonprofit she started in 2021 after years of battling depression, OCD, and an eating disorder. “We all live inside an invisible but ever-present mental box — a Perception Box,” Koch told The Times. “This box distorts our perceptions of everything and everyone around us. It distorts our ability to understand other people, to see them clearly, to connect with them. And it distorts our ability to really even know ourselves.” The perception box is the heart of “most of the external conflict, messiness and miscommunication in the world,” Koch said. One of her aims with Unlikely Collaborators is to help people become more aware of their biases and internal conflicts, and eventually “lower their emotional defenses so that contentious issues can be turned into constructive conversations.” 

To date, Koch has donated money to SIY Global, a mindfulness and emotional intelligence training firm, as well as the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. If you’re furrowing your brow, Koch gets it. “I know this is a lot to throw at people,” she told The Times. But, “let’s go back to [the] Perception Box. That’s where it begins and ends.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and connect in English or Spanish. If you’re a veteran press 1. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing dial 711, then 988. Services are free and available 24/7.

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Type of work:

Courtney Wise Randolph is a native Detroiter and freelance writer. She is the host of COVID Diaries: Stories of Resilience, a 2020 project between WDET and Documenting Detroit which won an Edward R. Murrow...