ScienceCareers to postdocs: Think happy thoughts!

Jul 22 2014 Published by under Uncategorized

Quite a week for ScienceCareers, eh? After their editor or whatever doubled down on his sentiment that moral indignation over the objectification of an oppressed group on his magazine's cover was just so BORING (tweets now deleted, can't imagine why), we now get this: "Happy Thoughts May Help Postdocs Handle Stress."

Are you for actual serious with this?? The article describes a new study--and I use this word lightly because it's based on a one-time survey of 200 postdocs--that found less anxiety and depression in folks who self-reported more frequent positive emotions. So, not only do we have a clear correlation vs. causation issue here - who can say that it was the positive emotions that prevented the development of clinical symptoms and not vice versa - but it belittles the many real stressful problems that postdocs face that cannot simply be "thought" away.

The real money quote is this:  "When we suggest that people need more positive emotions in their lives, I know it sounds kind of frou-frou, but it’s actually a very simple practice.” OK. a) I don't think you know what frou-frou means (frilly or ornamented, not fluffy or insubstantial, which is what you probably mean and you'd be right). b) No, it is not simple. Postdocs have personal, financial, and professional stresses on a daily basis. They are busy as fuck. To suggest that watching a sit-com or going for a run can change that reality not only presumes they have time for something like that, but has very strong undertones of "stop complaining and just change your attitude."  This is a dangerous message to convey to a population of people who are already worried about being smart enough, published enough, networked they have to worry they're just not happy enough? Uh, yeah, they're probably not happy enough. But it's not because they aren't caught up on the latest season of Veep

One final note - this isn't really a new idea at all. People have been trying to convince us that thinking about being happy will make work less stressful for almost 80 years (White et al, 1937)!


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