How You Think When You Thank
November 25, 2020
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Editor’s note: The Daily Pnut will be taking a holiday hiatus for the rest of the week. We’d like to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving weekend and look forward to returning to your inbox next Monday morning!
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” — John F. Kennedy
“Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all.” — William Faulkner
How You Think When You Thank
(Justin Sullivan via Getty Images)
Even if the origins of what has become our Thanksgiving Day celebration aren’t as warm and fuzzy as we’d like to believe, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a really good reason for taking some time to reflect on all we have to be thankful for. Practicing gratitude isn’t just a perfunctory nod to a holiday tradition — it’s actually good for our mental and physical health. In fact, it can actually change the way we think.
A lot of research has been done on gratitude since the early 2000s, and recently, more studies on the relationship between gratitude and generosity. A University of Oregon neuroscientist, Christina Karns, is a leading researcher in this field. She wondered what happened in the brain when a person gives a gift versus when a person receives one, and whether the neural response differs depending on the person’s character. So she hooked her study participants up to a brain scanner and had them watch as a computer moved real money into their own account or gave it to a food bank instead.
The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is a region deep in the frontal lobe of the brain that acts as the hub for processing the value of risk and reward. It’s also connected to even deeper brain regions that provide a shot of pleasurable neurochemicals in the right circumstances. After the scans, Karns had the participants fill out a questionnaire and analyzed their responses. Those who showed stronger responses in the reward areas of the brain when they saw the charity gaining money — i.e. those who felt good to see the food bank do well — were demonstrating the neural connection between gratitude and giving.
Next, Karns wondered that if, by changing how much gratitude people felt, she could change the way the brain reacts to giving and getting. She split the participants into two groups. Group One journaled about things they were grateful for, and Group Two journaled about non-gratitude-specific happenings in their lives. After three weeks, people in Group One reported experiencing more thankfulness. Furthermore, the reward regions of their brains started responding more to charitable giving than to gaining money for themselves.
Karns concluded that practicing gratitude shifted the value of giving in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex —- it changed the exchange rate in the brain. Giving to charity became more valuable than receiving money. The giver was rewarded in ‘neural currency’ — the delivery of neurotransmitters that signaled pleasure and goal attainment.
Karns’ results, if true, mean that by endeavoring to practice gratitude, people can proactively retrain their brains to get more pleasure out of giving. And it’s hard to imagine a better time to think about others than at this time, in this year.
Macron’s Legislative Makeover
- France’s President Emmanuel Macron is all about exalting his country’s national motto: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. But three new pieces of legislation introduced by Macron’s government have critics wailing that it’s threatening the very freedoms he vows to defend.
- One bill setting the research budget for French universities for the next decade targets student protests. It includes a provision criminalizing on-campus gatherings that “trouble the tranquility and good order of the establishment” with a fine of up to 45,000 euros and a prison term of up to three years.
- A second piece of legislation, a global-security bill, aims to give the police a freer hand. One provision criminalizes the publication or sharing via social media of images of police unless all identifying features are blurred, in effect prohibiting live-streaming, investigative reporting, and citizen accountability of police abuses.
- A third bill would assign all French children a tracking number to enforce compulsory attendance in public or government-recognized schools, putting an end to homeschooling and unaccredited religious schools, and ensuring that all children are educated in the values of the French Republic. The bill also criminalizes sharing identifying information about a public servant that could be used to inflict harm — a response to the fact that private information about middle-school teacher Samuel Paty was shared on social media, allowing his assassin to track him down and behead him on October 16th. (Atlantic, CNN)
Additional World News
- Guess who’s back, back again: Rejecting Trump’s foreign policy approach, Biden says ‘America is back’ (Reuters)
- Biden Could Reverse Trump’s Anti-Abortion Rules For Global Aid (NPR)
- What The U.S. Election Meltdown Looks Like to Other Countries (Politico)
- The demise of the Open Skies Treaty part of an unfortunate pattern (MSNBC). A win for Russia, plane and simple.
- Russian warship ‘threatens to ram’ US destroyer (Guardian)
- Vindication from the Vatican: Pope says for first time that China’s Uighurs are ‘persecuted’ (Guardian)
- China’s embassy in Manila says visiting U.S. envoy is ‘creating chaos’ in Asia (CNBC). Beijing wants the US out of its backyard.
- A tale of two bridges: India and China vying for influence in the Maldives (CNN)
- Coronavirus is roaring back in parts of Asia, capitalizing on pandemic fatigue (WaPo, $)
- Early Coronavirus Mutation Made It Harder to Stop, Evidence Suggests (NYT, $)
- A hard task for Mr. Microsoft: Bill Gates is on a quest to vaccinate the world. Can he do it? (NYT, $)
- Elon Musk becomes world’s second richest person (BBC)
- Remote work shakes up geopolitics (Axios). When it comes to working from home, the West is best.
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Bezos Bets The Farm On Pharma
(Leah Puttkammer via Getty Images)
- Two years Amazon bought an online pharmacy, PillPack, with the goal of integrating the pharmacy business into its monolithic online store. PillPack gave Amazon the licenses to operate a pharmacy in almost every state, and the vision was always that you would eventually be able to fill a prescription for your blood pressure drug at the same time you were shopping for everything else you buy on Amazon.
- Recently, the company announced that prescription drugs would be sold through its flagship website at a discount for Prime members, of which there are nearly 120 million in the US. Prime members can get medications delivered for free within two days, up to 80 percent off generics and up to 40 percent off brand-name drugs, which might allow them to buy drugs on their own for a cheaper price than they could get using their insurance benefits.
- To facilitate the comparison, Amazon has built a slick interface that allows people to enter the last four digits of their Social Security number and pull up their insurance benefits. At checkout, the website will show insured customers two prices: one with their insurance benefits, one with the Prime discount. For certain generic drugs especially, the Amazon price is going to be cheaper even for people with insurance. For the uninsured, they will now get easy access to discounts on their prescriptions.
- Amazon’s news is an immediate threat to GoodRx, which offers discounts on prescription drugs for uninsured and underinsured patients. After Amazon’s announcement GoodRx stock plummeted 20 percent. “Amazon is offering simplicity, which is something they’re really good at,” said one health care economics expert. (Vox)
Mind The COVID-19 Learning Gap
- Experts have warned since the beginning of the pandemic, and the unexpected national experiment in online learning, that remote schooling would take a serious academic toll on children. Evidence of poor achievement in virtual classrooms is now beginning to emerge nationwide, and the most vulnerable students — children with disabilities and English-language learners — are suffering the most.
- In the Houston Independent School District in Texas, more than 40 percent of students are earning failing grades in at least two of their classes. Likewise, in St. Paul, Minnesota, nearly 40 percent of public high-school students have failing grades. In Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, which has been mostly online since March, statistics published this week are particularly disturbing.
- The percentage of F’s earned by middle school and high school students between the last academic year and this one jumped by 83 percent. What is most upsetting educators is how the pandemic is driving an equity gap in American education that may prove impossible to close. Fairfax’s data shows that children who are engaged and care deeply about school — children in stable home situations, whose parents have sufficient resources — will stay engaged in an online environment, while children whose temperament, socioeconomic status, or home situation have historically barred them from academic achievement will slip further and further behind. (WaPo)
Additional USA News
- The commander in tweets: Since Election Day, a Lot of Tweeting and Not Much Else for Trump (NYT, $)
- ‘Beyond an embarrassment,’ legal experts say of Trump and Giuliani’s floundering efforts in court (NBC). Trump’s “Elite Strike Force” was neither elite nor did it strike with much force.
- Biden Will Receive Daily Intelligence Briefings (NPR)
- Joe Biden’s Team of Careerists (Politico)
- Progressives bring the pressure: AOC and Ilhan Omar want to block Biden’s former chief of staff (Axios)
- What I Saw as a 2020 Census Worker (Atlantic, $)
- How to raise hell from the hill: Congress Has the Power to Override Supreme Court Rulings. (The Intercept)
- Former San Francisco Police Officer Charged In 2017 Killing Of Black Man (NPR)
- What Happened to Quawan Charles? (Intelligencer)
- How the Swinomish tribe has pioneered the fight against climate change (WaPo, $)
- The Heavy Toll of the Black Belt’s Wastewater Crisis (New Yorker, $)
- OANN suspended from YouTube after promoting a sham cure for Covid-19 (Guardian). A self-own for OANN.
Home Alone? This Might Help
- Because of this year’s incredibly unusual circumstances, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended Americans celebrate Thanksgiving “at home with the people you live with.” Not being able to enjoy the company of additional friends and family members is one thing. But what if you’re one of the estimated 36 million Americans who live alone?
- Most of the time these people probably cope just fine, because being alone is very different from being lonely. But admittedly, holidays can be difficult. Research suggests focusing on what you’re grateful for, rather than what you’re missing out on, can help you feel less alone. Psychologists want us to know it’s truly possible to spend a ‘family-friendly’ day alone and even enjoy it. It just depends on the way you view your circumstance and how you decide to spend your time.
- Virginia Thomas, a psychology professor at Middlebury College, says to use your “reframing tools.” Instead of viewing Thanksgiving as something that’s being taken away, choose to reclaim it as “an opportunity to go inward, to focus deeply on what we are grateful for, to take time for self-care, or spend alone time doing something for someone else.” Another psychologist who studies solitude says being alone isn’t generally valued in American society. Because we don’t have many opportunities to be alone by choice, solitude is stereotyped as a negative experience. It doesn’t have to be.
- “There is a strong correlation between choosing to be alone and being happy with your alone time,” she says. Have a plan. Here’s what one journalist is going to do. Her Thanksgiving will be spent going on a hike with her dog, followed by a bourbon hot chocolate and “most likely a nap.” Then she will complete her solo Thanksgiving with a fancy home-cooked meal — not turkey and cranberry sauce, but risotto, steak, and Brussels sprouts. Then a Zoom call with her family, a movie, and “copious amounts” of hard cider and pie. Sounds absolutely scrumptious. (Inverse)
- Spruce up your living room this December: You can get your own Christmas tree from a national forest. Here’s how it works. (SF Gate)
- Utah Officials Find Mysterious Metal Monolith In Remote Wilderness & Theories abound over mystery metal monolith found in Utah (Vice, Guardian)
- Global Tips On How To Have A Happy Pandemic Thanksgiving (NPR)
- New York Nightlife Went Underground During COVID (The Cut). The city that never sleeps doesn’t care much for rules either.
- Left out in the cold: How Will New York’s Standup Scene Weather the Winter? (New Yorker, $)
- Netflix removes Chappelle’s Show after Dave Chappelle asked it to (The Verge)
- Showing our true colors: A New Study About Color Tries to Decode ‘The Brain’s Pantone’ (Wired)
- Facebook Shows it Can Curb Election Misinformation if it Wants (Vanity Fair)
- How Misinformation Spreads–and Why We Trust It (Scientific American)
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