Is “everybody sucks/has crappy lives/etc.” actually helpful for people who are having difficulties?

One of the things I’ve noticed on blogs/fora where the author is having trouble with marriage or kids or work, or what have you, is that often someone in the comments will say, “Oh, everyone’s life is like that.  We’re all miserable/have terrible husbands/rotten kids/awful bosses.  You’re normal.  That’s normal.  Anybody who says differently is a lying liar who lies.”

And this is provided as comfort.

Does it work?

Honestly for me, if I were in a bad situation and got that comment and truly believed it, I might end up being all, “why bother?”  If life is going to nasty brutish and short what’s the point?  Why continue living or striving?  Why not just give up?

I’m glad I don’t believe it.  I’m glad I believe that life can be better.  That marriages can be functional instead of dysfunctional.  That kids can be helped.  That there are good job environments out there if the current one is bad.  I’m not an optimist, but I am optimistic that if I work hard to change things, life can get better.  Maybe not the way I would most prefer, but better than a horrible situation.

The big question though is:  Does this kind of comforting actually provide comfort?  Do people feel better when they’re in a crappy situation and someone comes along and says yeah, all situations are crappy.  (Not, mind you, “it’s not just you” but the more inclusive, “it’s everybody.”)

What does the research say?  It is true that people are happier (and healthier) when they’re at the top of a distribution and can point to people with crappy lives.  This may be why the Koch brothers and others in the 1% of 1% of 1% are trying to destroy America. Big income disparities make people on the top happier than do little income disparities.

But I don’t think it has to be that way.  You’ve got people like Gates trying to bring the bottom up, trying to decrease the income differential.

Research also notes that people who satisfice– who set an external absolute level target– are happier than people who try to optimize.  Maybe if you’re focused on comparisons with others, you’re happiest on top, but maybe you’re happier still if you’re not comparing yourself with others at all.

I don’t know the research on this, but my guess is that it is best to focus on absolute levels rather than relative differences.  Comparing yourself to other people is a sure way to misery because someone will always be better on any level.  (And it must be lonely at the top.)  Instead, compare yourself now to the yourself from before and reach for the yourself that you want to be.

And it’s best if you know that that life that you want to have is actually achievable.  And it’s more likely to to be achievable if someone else is already achieving it.  Because it’s a big world out there, and it would be pretty difficult to be the first person to have a happy marriage, great kids, or a fulfilling job if that had so far eluded the entire world’s population throughout time.

I almost tagged this with deliberately controversial, but I wasn’t sure that it fit (since this is one of those things where there’s so much potential for individual variation), so I stuck with debatable.  Still looking forward to discussion!

What do you think?  Does being told that everybody has your problem (whatever your problem is) provide comfort?  Does it provide despair?  What do you prefer as responses ?

Long-distance book and bonding club

My mother-in-law texted me that she loves me and misses me.  We both love to read, so she suggested that the two of us have a book club!  We could each read the same book and discuss it once a month.  I said that it would have to incorporate drinking wine, as that is a key feature of book club.  We agreed that we will both drink (possibly the same) wine while discussing.

We’re in different time zones, but we both have MLK day and Presidents’ Day off, so those will be our first two meetings.  Yay day-drinking for the two of us lightweights!  Well, it’s five o’clock somewhere, including possibly in one of our time zones.  Time is TBA.  The first book will be The Library at Mount Char.  She recently loved it and I’ve been wanting to read it, so we’ll discuss that in mid-January.  I’ve heard only great things about it.

I’ll update and let you know how it went!  She really is the sweetest.


Favorite Christmas presents

#1:  DH fixed the toilet (more on why the landlord didn’t fix it next week…) so it no longer occasionally just slowly drains, and also so the chain doesn’t get caught on the other thingy leading to constant flushing.  Wooo!  DH gives me the best presents.

DC1 loved this book of brain teasers and this set of really cool magnetic blocks from Tegu.  Oh, and also a sleeping bag from my sister that came early so that zie could use it to go on a class field trip.

DC2 is over the moon with hir batman slippers which will scare bad guys while keeping hir feet warm.  Zie also really loves the Tegu blocks.  Also a pretty nice winter coat and hat.  Oh, and DC2 was super happy with the alphabet gummies that DC1 got for hir.

DH is happy with Terra Mystica and Sky Rim.  He’s also really happy about new slippers.  We didn’t realize Paradise would still sometimes get cold in the morning, or perhaps we didn’t realize that wooden floors are colder than carpet.

Also, I have a confession to make.  This year we took a bunch of the gifts DH’s mom got for DC2 and took them to Toys for Tots before Christmas.  It was weird because she had already gotten them a lot of stuff, and then she visited before Christmas and got a lot more because she hadn’t realized we’d left some toys (that frankly, DC2 played with once last year and then never again) back home, so she went to Walmart and replaced the toys we’d left so the new things she bought would work with them.  When we demurred, she said that we could just throw them out at the end of the year, which seemed horribly wasteful to us.  DC2 has a slightly older same-gendered cousin who is really into something that DC2 could not care less about, but my MIL doesn’t realize that DC2 isn’t into it at all and continues to add to the collection like she does for the cousin.  It’s not cheap stuff either– some of the figures go for $20-$40 (though she also sent several cheaper versions), but not worth if it it’s going to be played with once and then just take up closet/floor space.  Hopefully another child will get more joy from them.

Next year we’re going to make a wish-list for DC2.  It’s a shame because MIL does a really great job picking out things we’d never think of for DC1 (see: Tegu blocks), but for DC2 it’s mostly boring gender stereotyped corporate stuff for shows that we don’t let DC2 watch (because that’s what the slightly older cousin is into).

#2:  Octopus Hat.  ‘Nuff said.

What were some of your standouts this year, Grumpy Nation?

Post Christmas Link Love: (Boxing day: the day we read books that came out of boxes)

They have always misunderstood our heroines

A little late, but here’s the 2015 Feminist Killjoy Holiday Gift Guide.  Smash the patriarchy, friends.

Another unwanted present...

Writing by appointment.  It works!

Comics to read after lumberjanes

Anatomy of a muppet scene

How to parse political polls

In the comments last week someone mentioned controversy about the mindset research so I did some poking around the internet, and this post is lengthy but really well worth reading all the way through.  It does a great job of pointing out how lab experiments can have multiple interpretations, as well as doing a good job discussing external validity.  Also Alfie Kohn wrote this article which is more nuanced and reasoned than any Alfie Kohn thing I have ever seen (which is not saying much), but he makes some valid points without going off into his usual potentially harmful hyperbole (Maybe that “Alfie Kohn will destroy your kids” article got to him, or maybe Salon has good editors).

People who love to sleep

Presented without comment

I wonder if he bought it from Cards against humanity

If you can’t find cold medicine that works…

I would totally watch that star trek episode

Not very Christmasy Christmas Googles (Now with micturation!)

Q:  why does my parent not seek a better life

A:  What does your parent say?  Asking your parent would probably answer your question better than asking the internet, depending on what you mean by “better life”.  Alternatively, is your parent in an abusive situation?  It can be hard to leave abuse because psychology is messed up.

Q:  why im not ready to have 2 kids by 25?

A:  Because you are normal and sane?

Q:  is $50 enough for a wedding gift for a former coworker?

A:  Yes.

Q:  i stepped on my kindle now what

A:  You cry some.  You try really hard not to get angry with yourself.  Then you buy another kindle.  And you’re super sad because the new kindles are not as cool as the old kindles were.  :(  (#2 begs to disagree for a wide variety of reasons and features)  (#1 notes that they took away features she used to have on her kindle and are charging more for them on a more expensive kindle but they don’t work as well on the more expensive kindle as they did on the original kindle she had.  But #2 is probably right for the first gen kindles which, she hears, were kind of slow and buggy.  Her stepped upon kindle was at the sweet point of features + speed.  :( )

Q:  euphemism words for urinating

A:  In the past we haven’t included questions that are answered in previous posts, but I feel like our backlog is so large that maybe current readers would like a chance to click on popular posts that they didn’t know they wanted to read.  So here’s our words for pee.  My favorite is micturation.

Q:  is it professional to say pee

A:  Probably not, unless you work with little kids.

Q:  why are white people buying tiny houses

A:  Privilege

Q:  live everyday as if it were your last example


Q:  should you make kids go to sports when they don’t want to

A:  No

Q:  can i resign from a faculty position mid year?

A:  Yes.  There may be consequences, but you can.  Academia isn’t actually slavery.

Am I a tiger mom?

Eh, maybe a little.  DH and I push our kids.

We’re not so far up the SES ladder that our kids can rest on their laurels– we both broke into the upper middle class this generation (DH from the rural working class, I’m first-gen on one side and come from a long line of middle-class working women on the other).  And OMG is it nice to be upper-middle class.  The stresses we don’t have that our parents had and that DH’s siblings and cousins still have, I can’t even.  Every day I’m mindful of (and thankful for) this miracle.

We got here from climbing the academic ladder and playing by the rules (and, of course, luck).  From pushing ourselves, and maybe being pushed a little bit too.  Well, not maybe, definitely.  (DH’s siblings, while not upper-middle-class are definitely doing much better than his cousins.) Definitely from being pushed a little bit too.  Our kids will have more freedom and latitude to maybe not play by the rules, but having that academic ladder cleared will certainly help if other ventures don’t work out.

A’s now mean life is easier later.  Challenges now mean that there’s less likely to be complete melt-downs in college.  So we push.  Not to breaking, but occasionally to leaving the comfort zone.  So far the discomfort (often followed by breaks, and then by trying again) has always led to epiphanies and growth, just as it should.

There’s no shame in getting a B, but a B also means that the material hasn’t been mastered.  There’s room for improvement and that’s a target to work on.  So, in that sense, Bs are addressed.  Material is mastered and then some.  Even if it’s not that interesting.  Even if school sometimes has arbitrary rules.

Granted, our kids are truly brilliant, and they’re highly capable of mastering many many challenges.  So it’s easier to have a home with the underlying belief that Bs aren’t good grades.  We have justifiably high expectations.  I have students who, as hard as they try, won’t pull off As in four classes a semester.  But it’s my job to get them to master as much of the material as they can, and it’s their job to try.  If my kids go someplace where they’re truly challenged, then even Cs may be fine as long as they’re still getting where they need to go, but they’re not there yet.

For K-12, A’s are pretty important.  Especially if they’re not going to fancy high schools that colleges know by reputation.  I trust that my kids will work hard and if they don’t get As it won’t be from lack of trying, but I also know that we will work hard to stem any damage by filling in knowledge gaps should a lower grade occur so that it won’t lead to downward spirals down the line.

DH and I have both gotten Bs in our high school and college careers, but not that many.  I think DH even has a C on his college transcript.  And, possibly related, we haven’t always gotten into our top choices for things.  But we keep working and we keep trying.  And that’s the message we want to send to our children.  That’s how we push.

Did you get pushed as a kid?  Do you feel like that affected your adult life?

Crowd sourcing data: An alternative to mindless games

Bored over the holidays?  Want to do something mindless that gives you a small sense of accomplishment without leaving your electronic device?  What if it also helps SCIENCE?

Zooniverse is a citizen science project– basically (if I’m understanding correctly) there’s this software that researchers can get from github that they can use to crowd-source data entry.  To be on the zooniverse page, they have some kind of competition for Science and the best projects get to go up.  People work on small bite-sized chunks of project in their spare time, essentially for free.  You can classify pictures of universes or tell them when a picture has an animal in it and what kind of animal and read histories of ancient peoples.  There’s projects to study climate change and history and wildlife.  Difficulty ranges from things a three year old can do (ex. identifying animals on the Serengeti) to reading handwriting or transcribing ancient Greek.  There’s even sounds to categorize.

Anyhow, if you need to get addicted to something on the internet, we suggest trying this out.  It might be fun!

Disclaimer:  Zooiverse doesn’t know we exist.  One of us did meet a nice gentleman who is affiliated with one of the projects though.

Have you participated in crowd-sourcing for science before?  Are there other sites you would recommend?

Annual Charitable Giving

Aiee!  We’re running out of time to do a charitable giving post!  Aiee!


Planned Parenthood: Really what is needed is to get back government funding, so if you can’t give but can write a letter to your local politicians, then do that!  Heck, do both!



sweet nourishment from someone’s facebook post


Southern Poverty Law Center: Has been doing a lot of good advocacy and illumination of racism and other hate-crimes recently.

We need diverse books:  has made a difference this past year.

Moms demand action:  I get a lot of mail from the Brady Center, but I hear a lot more from other places about Moms demand action.  I don’t know where your sensible gun legislation dollars should go, but this year I’m trying a new advocacy group instead.

Child’s Play.   Who doesn’t want to make life easier for sick kids in hospitals?

Your local library/cat shelter/food pantry– clean out your towels, etc.  also they need your volunteer time.

What are your donation recommendations this year?

Link love eat it up yum

Scott Walker rewrites election rules.

koch brothers get each other same election for christmas GOP billionaires buying election(?)

UN report:  United States blithely ignores all international human rights.

And so it starts (various triggers)

If you read one link this week, read Men explain Lolita to me .  (Lots of other people have linked to it this week because it is excellent.)

Salt and Pepa want more women in rap today.

Girls of Color in Dystopian YA fantasy

the first amendment is not a free pass to harass

Lowering the bar

I want to watch this.

The intersection of capability and circumstance

This makes me feel a little bit better about my in-laws’ gift giving

I do not like the caricature of Angela Merkel as humorless.  (Note: did not link to the caricature)

Star Wars script page leaked.  LOVE it.


Jane Austen gets a hangover, really.

A happy guest post from N-son

Let It Sleep

BCN advent calendar

Ask the grumpies: favorite shows/movies for kids

Leah asks:

What’s your favorite shows/movies for kids?

My little pony: Friendship is magic.  Except the first season has a couple of problematic episodes in terms of race. Oh why oh why oh why did they feel it necessary to include the magic negro trope (Zecora) or to trade native buffalo land for apples.  I mean, really?  But with the exception of those two episodes, it is a wonderful wonderful feminist series that is really entertaining for all ages.

Imma go old-school:  Reading Rainbow, back in the day.

(#1 notes:  both my kids hated Reading Rainbow because it is SO SLOW)

edit:  related tv for toddlers

What are your recommendations, Grumpeteers?