In Covid-19 Lockdown, Cars Allow a Private Escape from Crowded Noisy Homes

(p. D6) Public spaces are hard to safely navigate, or totally off-limits and, as a result, I haven’t felt this strongly about my car since I was 16 — not just grateful, but deeply attached. Not just attached, but somehow amalgamated.

Every car is a getaway, even when it’s parked.

In my neighborhood, where so many people live in multigenerational homes, parked cars now double as quiet meeting spaces, meditation rooms, listening stations, nap pods, whatever extra spaces we need.

We sip coffee, fight loudly and make out in our cars. We eat snacks and take important phone calls and watch TikTok videos and put the seats way back and just breathe.

I haven’t seen my brother, who lives 15 minutes away from me, in weeks. He uses his tiny car as an office. Never mind that the floor is covered in Cheerios, and the windows are dotted with peeling stickers.

Week Three of lockdown, and it’s a privilege if you can work safely, in isolation, if you can escape momentarily into your car. Even if — especially if — you have nowhere else to go but home.

For the full commentary, see:

Tejal Rao. “Car Culture Has a New Meaning.” The New York Times (Wednesday, April 1, 2020): D6.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 31, 2020, and has the title “Dining and Driving on the Empty Freeways of Los Angeles.”)

Lincoln Was “Always Full of This Loneliness and Sadness”

(p. C6) What’s the most surprising thing you learned while writing it?

I’ve read all these books about how Lincoln was hated, but I was still surprised by how disdained and disliked he was by so many of his contemporaries. Liberal Republicans thought he was too calculating, too quick to weigh public opinion. Democrats thought he was a tyrant, a rube, and was destroying the Constitution. I think a lot of this was airbrushed out of history after he was assassinated, when he became a martyr. But when you go back to that day and look at what people were saying, you get a stunning sense of what Lincoln was up against. There’s a lot of hostility from all sides. I’m not sure how he withstood it. I guess he was defeated so many times in his life, had been down so many times, that he was able to take almost anything.

And Lincoln is always surprising to me for his extremely peculiar qualities. He’s got this immense intelligence, and he’s always full of this loneliness and sadness. He goes up to the inauguration alone. He’s a strange guy. He has an ability to step outside himself and to view issues dispassionately. All of those qualities are seen in the book.

For the full interview, see:

John Williams, interviewer. “5 THINGS ABOUT YOUR BOOK; Edward Achorn; For Lincoln, a Beginning Near the End.” The New York Times (Monday, February 24, 2020): C6.

(Note: bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date February 24, 2020, and has the title “5 THINGS ABOUT YOUR BOOK; 24 Tense Hours in Abraham Lincoln’s Life.” Williams’s question is in bold; Achorn’s answer is not in bold.)

Achorn’s book, that he discussed in the passages of the interview quoted above, is:

Achorn, Edward. Every Drop of Blood: The Momentous Second Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2020.

Daylight-Saving Time Is Bad for Brain and for Health

(p. A12) Beth Ann Malow, a professor of neurology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., wrote in an opinion piece in JAMA Neurology that switching between daylight-saving time and standard time is bad for the brain. “Going back and forth is ridiculous and disruptive, it makes no sense,” said Dr. Malow, who believes permanent standard time would be healthier for all.

. . .

Muhammad Adeel Rishi, a pulmonologist and sleep physician at the Mayo Clinic Health System in Wisconsin, is the lead author of a daylight-saving time position statement that the American Academy of Sleep Medicine intends to publish this year.

About half-a-dozen studies have found a 5% to 15% increased risk of having a heart attack during the days after shifting to daylight-saving time. “It’s a preventable cause of cardiac injury,” Dr. Rishi said. One study found the opposite effect during the fall, in the days after the transition back to standard time. “So maybe the risk stays high throughout the time when we are on daylight-saving time,” he said.

For the full commentary, see:

Sumathi Reddy. “YOUR HEALTH; Why Daylight-Saving Time Is Bad for You.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, March 5, 2020): A12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 4, 2020, and has the title “YOUR HEALTH; Here’s Why Health Experts Want to Stop Daylight-Saving Time.” Where there is a difference in wording in the first quoted paragraph, the online version is used.)

The opinion piece co-authored by Beth Ann Malow, and mentioned above, is:

Malow, Beth A., Olivia J. Veatch, and Kanika Bagai. “Are Daylight Saving Time Changes Bad for the Brain?” JAMA Neurology 77, no. 1 (2020): 9-10.

Meaning and Pride Come “From Being Part of a Shared Enterprise”

(p. 6) . . . over the past three decades, deaths of despair among whites without a college degree–especially those under age 50–have soared.

. . .

Case and Deaton — a married couple who are both economists at Princeton — try to explain the causes in a new book, “Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism.” Their basic answer is that working-class life in the United States is more difficult than it is in any other high-income country.

. . .

Many of the problems afflicting the working class span racial groups, and Case and Deaton emphasize that these problems aren’t merely financial. Life for many middle- and low-income Americans can lack structure, status and meaning. People don’t always know what days or hours they will be working the following week. They often don’t officially work for the company where they spend their days, which robs them of the pride that comes from being part of a shared enterprise.

“Many people used to associate the meaning of their life with what their corporation or institution was doing,” says Deaton, a Nobel laureate in economics. Miners and factory workers identified themselves as such. Warehouse workers, especially those whose paycheck is signed by a staffing company, rarely feel the same connection.

The result of these trends has been a “coming apart,” as Case and Deaton put it, of day-to-day life for whites without a college degree versus those with a college degree.

For the full commentary, see:

David Leonhardt and Stuart A. Thompson. “Dying of ‘Despair’ in America.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, MARCH 8, 2020): 6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MARCH 6, 2020, and has the title “How Working-Class Life Is Killing Americans, in Charts.”)

The book by Case and Deaton, discussed in the passages quoted above, is:

Case, Anne, and Angus Deaton. Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2020.

“Good Stress” Causes “a Burst of Energy That Focuses the Mind”

(p. A27) It was a staple of medical thinking dating to the 1910s that stress was the body’s alarm system, switching on only when terrible things happened, often leaving a person with an either-or choice: fight or flight.

The neuroscientist Bruce S. McEwen trailblazed a new way of thinking about stress. Beginning in the 1960s, he redefined it as the body’s way of constantly monitoring daily challenges and adapting to them.

Dr. McEwen, who died on Jan. 2 [2020] at 81, described three forms of stress: good stress — a response to an immediate challenge with a burst of energy that focuses the mind; transient stress — a response to daily frustrations that resolve quickly; and chronic stress — a response to a toxic, unrelenting barrage of challenges that eventually breaks down the body.

For the full obituary, see:

Randi Hutter Epstein. “Bruce McEwen, Who Discovered That Stress Can Alter the Brain, Dies at 81.” The New York Times (Tuesday, February 11, 2020): A27.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Feb. 10, 2020, and has the title “Bruce McEwen, 81, Is Dead; Found Stress Can Alter the Brain.”)

To Be Happy, “We Need to Have Goals”

(p. B8) A little over a year ago, I drove home from the airport with the windows down and the radio on full blast after filming the last scenes for the Netflix docu-series “The Innocent Man.” I was so proud of the work I’d done investigating two wrongful murder convictions in a small city in Oklahoma in the 1980s. This was work that mattered, and I was thrilled to be a part of it.

A few days later, I sat in my truck and cried. An empty work schedule yawned before me, and I was sure that my most meaningful achievement was in my rearview mirror.

This wave of hopelessness has a name: I was experiencing arrival fallacy.

“Arrival fallacy is this illusion that once we make it, once we attain our goal or reach our destination, we will reach lasting happiness,” said Tal Ben-Shahar, the Harvard-trained positive psychology expert who is credited with coining the term.

. . .

To be clear, acknowledging the power of arrival fallacy does not mean we should settle for a life of mediocrity.

“We need to have goals,” Dr. Ben-Shahar said. “We need to think about the future.” And, he noted, we are also a “future-oriented” species. In fact, studies have shown that the mortality rate rises by 2 percent among men who retire right when they become eligible to collect Social Security, and that retiring early may lead to early death, even among those who are healthy when they do so. Purpose and meaning can generate satisfaction, which is part of the happiness equation, Dr. Gruman said.

So wait. Reaching a goal can make us unhappy, but setting goals makes us happy? It sounds like a conundrum, but it’s not if you plan correctly, Dr. Ben-Shahar said. His advice is to lay out multiple concurrent goals, both in and out of your work life.

For the full commentary, see:

A.C. Shilton. “Success Doesn’t Always Bring Happiness.” The New York Times (Monday, June 3, 2019): B8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 28, 2019, and has the title “You Accomplished Something Great. So Now What?”)

No Evidence Base that Smartphones Cause Anxiety and Depression in Teens

(p. B1) SAN FRANCISCO — It has become common wisdom that too much time spent on smartphones and social media is responsible for a recent spike in anxiety, depression and other mental health problems, especially among teenagers.

But a growing number of academic researchers have produced studies that suggest the common wisdom is wrong.

The latest research, published on Friday [January 17, 2020] by two psychology professors, combs through about 40 studies that have examined the link between social media use and both depression and anxiety among adolescents. That link, according to the professors, is small and inconsistent.

“There doesn’t seem to be an evidence base that would explain the level of panic and consternation around these issues,” said Candice L. Odgers, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, and the lead author of the paper, which was published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

For the full story, see:

Nathaniel Popper. “The Menace of Screen Time Could Be More of a Mirage.” The New York Times (Saturday, January 18, 2020): B1 & B6.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 17, 2020, and has the title “Panicking About Your Kids’ Phones? New Research Says Don’t.”)

The Odgers paper, mentioned in the passage quoted above, is:

Odgers, Candice L., and Michaeline R. Jensen. “Annual Research Review: Adolescent Mental Health in the Digital Age: Facts, Fears, and Future Directions.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry (published first online Jan. 17, 2020).