The good news about bad news
“One of the effects of living with electronic information is that we live habitually in a state of information overload. There’s always more than you can cope with.” - Marshall McLuhan As Omicron recedes, the Putin variant of concern has infected our collective consciousness and threatens our wellbeing. Images of suffering in Ukraine are vivid, relentless, and overwhelming. It wasn’t long ago that radio and newspapers were the only media for news. Then television entered our homes with evening broadcasts of bad news. Then came the 24-hour bad news channels. Today we have bad news in the palms of our hands. Our brains were not designed to handle a daily barrage of bad news delivered with a side commentary of apocalyptic predictions. Consider for a moment how a continuous feed of fear, sadness, and anger delivered in high-resolution from hot zones around the world layered on top of your own worldly concerns may be affecting your inner life. Studies have found that watching negative news worsened people’s perceptions of their own worries, and that when people perceived the daily news as negative, it made them feel negative. It's not your fault that you feel you must know what's happening when world events are dire. Our brains are wired to be drawn to bad news. It’s called the negativity bias, and for much of human history our survival depended on being alert to threats in the environment. But the current volume and intensity of bad news is beyond what is normal or necessary. So what’s the good news about bad news? You can turn it off! This accidentally happened to me on Friday morning. The last word I heard before the Internet cut out was “dangerous…” You can opt out of the news. It’s not an abdication of citizenship or an abandonment of empathy. You can still care about what’s happening in the world without being immersed in it. If you wish, you can carve out a few minutes each day (not before bedtime!) to catch up on the latest news headlines, ideally in a way other than through social media that is associated with increased anxiety and depression. And you can take action. You can donate to organizations that support peace and aid refugees. You can help settle refugees when they arrive in your town. And you can take action to care for yourself. Kelly Carlin, a therapist and daughter of the late comedian George Carlin who taught me seven naughty words when I was too young to know what they meant, finds working on jigsaw puzzles to be therapeutic, a metaphor for putting pieces together amidst chaos. But after two years of avoiding the news first thing in the morning, events in Ukraine tempted Carlin with a need to know... After about 20 minutes of watching the news, I realized I had enough information (what news is for), and watching the drama unfold was not helping. I turned off the TV and turned my attention to my breath. After 20 minutes I then turned my attention to what I could do for the world. I started my day. This week, to recharge after overdosing on world events, I went to a tearoom — a crust-free oasis of genteel serenity — for high tea with a friend, dove into a novel that a neighbor recommended, and continued my epic quest to defeat my husband at Wordle. If you find that you’re in a state of information overload, I hope that you will join me in attempting to limit your consumption of bad news and replace it with something good. “A combination of fine tea, enchanting objects and soothing surroundings exerts a therapeutic effect by washing away the corrosive strains and stress of modern life..” - John Blofeld, The Chinese Art of Tea
Get Fully Charged on Something Good
“Want to support the people in Ukraine? Here’s how you can help.” Jonathan Franklin, NPR, February 25, 2022.
I donated here.
“When People Listen to Happy Songs the Market Outperforms.” Scott Berinato, Harvard Business Review, January-February 2022. (For a hit of happy — according to research out of MIT Media Lab via Spotify — listen to “September“ by Earth Wind & Fire)