14 seconds of happy memories

Best reaction so far, which prompts this. Also, welcome! And 7 other things worth your time.

One of the most popular editions of this newsletter over the last six months or so was the one about the 8-minute hack to calm anxiety.

Basically, you listen to an audio track designed to trigger specific neurological reactions in your brain—and it works. At least, it worked for me!

I won’t rehash the whole story, since you can go back and read it if you missed it then, but the short version is that the song is the work of a British band that teamed up with a group of sound therapists. It’s called Weightlessness.

After the newsletter went out, I was happy to hear how many readers found it useful. It’s a pretty efficient way to restore calm and ease anxiety, right? Just eight minutes!

With that in mind, a friend reminded me of another hack: one that supposedly takes only 14 seconds. (That’s an oddly specific number of seconds, I grant you.)

Writing in the journal Nature, Rutgers University researchers say they found that spending exactly 14 seconds recounting happy memories after experiencing stressful stimuli could reduce negative emotions and anxiety.

This was a lab study; they first worked with participants to identify pleasant memories they could recall on demand and then created stressful situations by:

  • telling participants to plunge their arms into buckets of ice water for two minutes, and

  • adding to the stress by telling them that their reactions were being recorded on video the entire time.

Afterward, half the participants were cued to recall the happy memories (things like going on vacation); the other half were asked to recall neutral memories (things like packing for said vacation).

Then they measured the participants’ levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

As you might imagine (since I’m bringing up the study today), those who recalled happy memories were less affected by the stress of the ice water and the video recording than those who were prompted to recall neutral memories.

All of this makes sense to me, and while I haven’t tested it the way I tried (and was amazed by) the sound therapy hack, maybe we can all try it together. Basically, bank away a happy memory that can be your go-to for your next stressful experience, and let me know if it works.

The only thing that throws me off is the “14 seconds” part. They never actually explain how they came up with that number, as far as I can find, though it seems to have something to do with keeping individual trial-recall lengths below 60 seconds for some reason. But I think we can dedicate that much time and effort to science, regardless.

And if it doesn’t work, well, we still have the 8-minute hack.

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I have an announcement: We’re doing another Understandably Live tomorrow:

1 pm Eastern, Wednesday, June 23.

Our special guest will be … Kate Sullivan!

Who is Kate Sullivan? She’s an American doctoral candidate in the UK, a reader of the daily Understandably newsletter going back to the very beginning, and drumroll please …

one of the two people I’ve recruited to work with me on Understandably.

(This is all thanks to the generosity of our paid members. There’s no way I could have added to the team without your support. Thank you!)

Kate has a varied, interesting background. Also, I’ve yet to have a conversation with her in which I didn’t learn at least one new fact, and add at least one new word to my vocabulary.

Now, I grant you that the average, run-of-the-mill newsletter might just make a small announcement when someone new joins the team, or even say nothing at all.

But I’m gratified to know that a lot of you have a stake in our success. So, I thought this would be a great opportunity—the first of two, really—to do a virtual introduction and talk a bit about the future of Understandably.

Want to be in on it tomorrow (1 pm ET)? Just sign up here.

I asked Kate if she’d write a quick introduction to share today, and she outdid herself. Don’t try to tell me you wouldn’t want to listen in on this conversation—and maybe ask a question or two.

Here’s Kate:

I am a professional eccentric and polymath. From a background in computer science, theatre, and Mesoamerican ethnoarchaeology, I somehow became a magazine editor specializing in classic cars … and then a business strategy consultant, consumer psychologist, and now an otiumologist—a psychologist and behavioral economist who works to understand how we spend both our free time and our work time in order to have the best life possible.

I keep colonies of microbes that I call my minions, mostly to recreate ancient brewing techniques and make modern drinks. I crochet hats for chemo patients and make strange fabric sculptures.

I cook a lot.

I have ADHD and try to capitalize on the strengths it can give me while managing the issues it poses in a neurotypical world. I’m an outspoken advocate for neurodiversity, mental health support, and disability issues.

I’m presently living in Scotland as I finish my PhD in enterprise psychology, though I’m a native New Yorker and have lived all over the place in brief stints. Funny how my life and career have flexed to work with my ADHD need for stimulus and change!

My favorite color is orange but my favorite hue is dark charcoal. I know how to correctly pluralize “hippopotamus” two different ways.

I am a compendium of useless information, but really fun to have on road trips.

Can’t wait to meet you all!

Sign up here for Understandably Live


7 other things worth your time

  • Tokyo announced that up to 10,000 Japanese fans will be permitted to watch the Olympics, but they will not be allowed to shout or speak loudly, and must wear face masks at all times while in venues. (BBC)

  • Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, 43, will become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics after being selected by New Zealand for the women’s event at the Tokyo Games, a decision set to reignite a debate over inclusion and fairness in sport. (Reuters)

  • A 16-year-old Rhode Island kid started buying abandoned storage units, but decided to return the contents to the owners once he realized how destitute many of them were. “I realized then that this wasn’t the same as getting stuff at a yard sale,” said Shane Jones. “[The owner] was in prison, and his storage unit was auctioned off because he couldn’t afford to pay for it. This was probably everything he had left.” (Scary Mommy)

  • Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib, 28, on Monday became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. "What's up people?" Nassib posted on Instagram. "I'm at my house here in West Chester, Pennsylvania. I just want to take a quick moment to say that I'm gay. I've been meaning to do this for a while now, but I finally feel comfortable enough to get it off my chest. I really have the best life; I've got the best family, friends, and job a guy could ask for.” (ESPN)

  • Canada said on Monday it would start cautiously lifting border restrictions for fully vaccinated citizens on July 5 but made clear it would be months before US and other foreign travelers could enter the country. The move applies to Canadians and permanent residents. "This is the first phase of our precautionary approach ... at this time we are not opening up our borders any further.” (Yahoo News)

  • The Supreme Court of the United States unanimously affirmed a ruling Monday that provides for an incremental increase in how college athletes can be compensated and also opens the door for future legal challenges that could deal a much more significant blow to the NCAA's current business model. (ESPN)

  • I kind of had to add this: AI-enhanced, colorized, 4k, 60 fps film of a c.1899 trip to the beach in France. If you haven’t seen this kind of thing before, you might be enthralled. More than 1 million other folks have watched it in the last two weeks.

Thanks for reading. Photo credit: Martina Yach. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.