How can I be happier? It’s a question many people ask themselves. Three professionals share their views on happiness.
These three experts say it’s impossible to always be happy, because setbacks and bad things are natural parts of life. Once you can accept that, you’ll be more capable of seeing the good things that are right there in front of you.
Susan Bögels – being attentive
Susan Bögels is a professor in developmental psychopathology at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and specializes in mindfulness.
“Being attentive is what makes people happiest. I’m talking about flow: being so focused on something that it draws you in completely. Everything you do with great attention can create flow. But the society we live in today doesn’t encourage being attentive, and that’s why we end up seeking out very intense experiences. While feeling good can just as easily be found in the small things: a nice cup of coffee, a walk in the woods, a good conversation. It is a very special skill humans have that they can focus on things with great intensity and for a long time. We should appreciate this far more.”
Paul van Tongeren – taking action
Paul van Tongeren is a professor of philosophical ethics at Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, and is the author of the book ‘Life is an art’.
“What’s more, when we talk about happiness, many people initially think of enjoyment. But Aristotle placed enjoyment last on the list. He wrote: “If you realize your potential to its maximum, enjoyment will follow.” Enjoyment rides on the back of action. Because when you act in the best possible way and do things well, you will receive recognition naturally. If you develop your senses in an optimal way you will naturally start to enjoy beautiful things.”
Eveline Brandt – accepting the bad things
Eveline Brandt is a journalist and mindfulness trainer in the Dutch city of Leiden.
“People usually come to my training sessions because they are unhappy about something. I then have to point out to them that mindfulness training is not going to make them happier. In the long term, mindfulness may make you experience more happiness, as you learn to accept the bad things that are, after all, also part of life. The basic premise is that there is always some form of suffering in our life. Whether it’s a colleague you don’t get along with, the daily commute or a more serious problem such as chronic pain, or the loss of a loved one. This suffering is a given of life, but we humans tend to sometimes add a second layer to it, by resisting it. And that just makes it worse. We can do something about the second layer, while the first layer will always continue to cross our path.”
Interviews Renate van der Zee Photography Debby Hudson
While we're stuck inside on screens for hours per day sheltering in place, tech platforms are proving that they aren't just products we use. For many of us, they are our new digital habitats and a major lens by which we perceive reality. What are we to make of this?
Join Webcast of Tristan Harris on City Arts & Lectures on April 30
Please consider joining San Francisco’s City Arts & Lectures in its new online form on Thursday, April 30 at 7:30 pm Pacific where Tristan Harris will speak with NBC’s Jacob Ward on technology’s impact on society at this critical time. It’s free.
Jacob Ward is an NBC News television correspondent covering the ethical and social implications of modern technology.
Digital Well-Being Guidelines for Parents During Covid-19
CHT has created new guidelines in conjunction with tech and child development experts for parents trying to navigate the overwhelming amount of technology used in their children's lives, and in their own, during stay-at-home orders. We offer this guidance in the form of principles that can be applied to familiar technologies as well as new, unfamiliar products as they emerge.
Why it matters: During Covid-19, parents have a difficult balancing act between challenging and stressful variables. Better understanding our family's intentions using technology, evaluating the trade-offs, and being informed on alternatives are important ways to keep our sanity and create healthier tech use now and in the future. Even as technology may be a lifeline for our kids’ education and connection to peers and family, our increased reliance on technology doesn’t diminish the challenges and dangers it poses. Children’s brains are still developing and can literally be shaped by technology and media.
What you can do: Read and discuss the guidelines with your family for more mindful technology use.
"Stranger than Fiction" Covid-19 Misinformation Episode
In our 14th podcast episode “Stranger Than Fiction,” Claire Wardle takes us into the gray zones of information warfare, where bad actors slip between facts and falsehoods, news and gossip, sincerity and satire. Claire reveals seven types of misinformation that confound reporters and readers alike, all germinating from a kernel of truth.
Why it matters: Online misinformation can have life and death consequences, and there are so many coronavirus myths that Snopes can’t keep up. The Covid-19 pandemic lays bare the failure of social media outlets to quarantine misinformation despite their best efforts—undermining democracy, shared truth, and belief in science.
What you can do: It’s in our human nature to fall prey to misinformation. To help inoculate yourself, watch Claire in "Why Do We Fall For Misinformation?”, a powerful 12-minute TEDTalk, and read this report from her organization, First Draft, a non-profit dedicated to fighting mis- and disinformation online. Systemically, social media companies must flatten the curve of misinformation, says the Harvard Kennedy’s Shorenstein Center.
"Changing our Climate of Denial" Podcast Episode In a special Earth Day episode, Anthony Leiserowitz of Yale's Climate Change Communication joined Tristan and Aza Raskin to discuss how tech platforms could extend their redesigns to coordinate life-saving measures for Covid-19 and also coordinate global climate action. Imagine if LinkedIn showed where each company is on its Drawdown initiative to become carbon neutral, in addition to the number of employees and revenue. Or what if on Earth Day Google Maps showed 10-year, sea-level rise.
Why it matters: Covid-19 has forced tech platforms to help people find accurate information in an effort to save lives. If they can help flatten the curve of Covid-19, they can also flatten the curve of carbon emissions. It’s time for tech platforms to prove how much they can do when they operate for the common good of humanity.
What you can do: Find ways to spotlight your local climate heroes and actions on social media. Let's make visible the 58% of Americans who are “Alarmed” or “Concerned” about global warming and not let the noisy deniers—who only make up 10%—distort reality. Consensus exists. What if our news feeds were filled with daily evidence of actions to make the world better, together and not who was shouting the loudest?
As always, we are grateful to be with you on this ever-changing journey. Be well, and be gentle with yourselves.
This detail of Sandro Boticelli's "The Mystical Nativity" contains verdigris pigment. PUBLIC DOMAIN
THE ITALIAN LATE-RENAISSANCE PAINTER ANGELO Bronzino spent two years on his 1591 painting “Noli me tangere,” which depicts* Christ as a gardener. The oil-on-wood painting, which was commissioned by a man who wanted to adorn his father’s funeral chapel, would make any dead father proud, depicting a beefy Christ and Mary Magdalene dressed in vivid blues and greens. But if Bronzino saw the painting now, he would probably be sorely disappointed. Over the past four centuries, the once-brilliant green paint has faded into a mucky, unrecognizable brown.
“Noli me tangere,” which hangs today in a gallery of the Louvre, is one of many Renaissance paintings that features a copper-based pigment called verdigris. When fresh, its shade of bluish green is rare and luminous. But like many pigments popular in the 15th through 17th centuries, verdigris is toxic and unstable, Arthur DiFuria, an art historian at the Savannah College of Art and Design, explained in an interview with Copper.org, the website of a trade group that represents the copper industry. By the 19th century, verdigris had fallen out of fashion—mostly due to its poisonous nature—but no one ever figured out why the brilliant green pigment darkened so severely. Now, researchers in France have sleuthed the chemistry behind verdigris’s shadowy tendencies in a study in Inorganic Chemistry.
To anyone living in the 21st century, it might not be obvious that Renaissance paintings were once much more colorful than they look now. “If you look at the paintings of, say, Leonardo da Vinci, they are very, very dark,” says Didier Gourier, a chemist at the French National Centre for Scientific Research and an author of the study. “But they didn’t always look this way.”
Gourier knew that past researchers had speculated that light exposure and oxygen may have contributed to the darkening process, and he decided to analyze the chemical changes that took place in the verdigris. Though they had a plethora of paintings to choose from, the researchers selected two Renaissance paintings from the Louvre: Bronzino’s “Noli me tangere” and Jean Fouquet’s “Pietà.” Both works used plenty of verdigris that had sallowed over the years. Gourier took several samples, each smaller than a millimeter, and ran them through an electron microscope.
Presented with incredibly high-resolution images of the paint chips, they contrasted the color changes in verdigris sampled from the center of Bronzino’s painting against verdigris sampled right next to the frame, a shaded area that would have offered protection from light. Their suspicions were proven right when they found the frame-protected paint was far less deteriorated. When Gourier magnified a cracked paint sample from “Pietà,” he found that each crack had darkened, likely due to the diffusion of oxygen in the cracks. “The darkening is not systematic,” Gourier says. This inconsistency helps researchers pick out now-brown verdigris from originally brown paint, he says.
To chemically confirm their theories, the researchers decided to recreate verdigris according to a medieval formula and see how they darkened over an accelerated time scale. “We had to speed up the darkening, because a painting in the Renaissance period would have taken several hundreds of years to darken,” Gourier says. “We calculated that 16 hours of LED illumination corresponds with several hundreds of years of illumination by museum light.”
Verdigris, technically known as copper acetate, has a simple recipe. Simply place metallic copper in vinegar and wait three or four weeks for the metal to react with the acid, producing blue-green copper acetate on its surface. (The Statue of Liberty appears blue-green for the same reason.) The researchers mixed the pigment with boiled linseed oil to make paint, as was the custom in the Renaissance. Gourier then placed the recreated verdigris on a thin sheet of glass to allow (simulated) centuries of light to pass through the sample. As if on cue, the gaudy verdigris darkened into muddled brown, just as the researchers expected.
Though Gourier intentionally selected two paintings with poorly-aged verdigris, the pigment can be detected a little more clearly on other famous works of Renaissance art. Chemical analysis is required to know for sure that a particular painting used verdigris (and it goes without saying that a permit to sample a 15th-century masterpiece is not easily acquired), but the charismatic green can be spotted in several works by Sandro Botticelli, such as the resplendently verdant “The Mystical Nativity,” which depicts—you guessed it—Christ and the Virgin Mary. DiFuria also suspects that Jan van Eyck’s green-sheened “Ghent Altarpiece” uses verdigris. The greens in these paintings are presumably less prismatic than they would have been several centuries ago, but they still, somehow, seem to glow.
* Correction: This story previously stated that the painting “Noli me tangere” is also called “Christ the Gardener.” In fact, it depicts Christ as a gardener.
REGULAR VISITORS TO LIBRARIES MAY be missing the hush of the stacks, the smell of old books, and the welcoming atmosphere of the local branch. Many of these public, private, and academic spaces have closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But much like museums, libraries around the world have produced immersive, 360-degree tours of their interiors. These simulations can offer more than inspiring views of literary sanctuaries; often, they serve as interactive platforms that provide information about the library’s history and resources.
Last week, Harvard University’s Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library released an online, 360-degree tour to support remote access during this period of widespread social distancing. “We’ve seen an encouraging number of site visitors to our tour page in the few weeks since it has gone live, and I imagine other libraries are seeing a similar uptick,” says Matt Cook, the library’s digital scholarship program manager. The guide offers high-resolution views of the 105-year-old cultural heritage landmark, from its marble, neoclassical-style rotunda to its grand Loker Reading Room. You can also click around to read annotations on the building’s history. “This tour is the next best thing to being able to walk through the building,” Cook says. “In some ways it is better, since it provides more information than you might discover if you wandered through.”
Some of these tours even allow online visitors to browse portions of massive material collections. At Widener, Cook imagines linking the online tour to information on specific items, such as scans of rare objects and click-throughs to catalog entries, so that users can place circulating materials on hold. By moving their resources online, he adds, libraries might motivate users to visit and seek out resources they discovered remotely. Until we can safely return to these institutions, Atlas Obscura has rounded up several other virtual libraries you can visit right now.
The Klementinum library
This baroque library in Prague, Czechia, was built in 1722 as part of a Jesuit university complex, and its ornate interior has changed little over the centuries. Step into its 360-degree tour and gaze at shelves of theological literature beneath a ceiling of frescoes. In addition to housing more than 20,000 books, the library includes a collection of terrestrial and celestial globes. You can also explore nearby chambers, such as a public reading room flanked by massive oil frescoes and an observatory in the astronomical tower.
The Puratos Sourdough Library
Founded in 2013 by the Belgian bakery supply company Puratos, this collection of sourdough starters in St. Vith is the largest of its kind. Although it is not open for public visits, you can virtually venture into its refrigerators, which collectively hold more than 100 blobs of yeast- and bacteria- laden flour in jars. After hearing a brief introduction from its sole curator, Karl De Smedt—who globetrots to acquire these glorious globs—check out short videos that spotlight varieties of yeast cultivated by bakers around the world, from Altamura to San Francisco.
King’s College Library at Cambridge University
This cozy university library in Cambridge, England, was established in 1441 and is home to notable collections of rare volumes, medieval manuscripts, and incunabula, or early printed books. Its second floor also houses the Rowe Music Library, a lending library of scores that is particularly rich in 18th-century English music. Roam the all-wood labyrinth of aisles and nooks in an online tour, which features short biographies of scholars who left their mark on the college.
Completed in 1776 in the Austrian town of Admont, the world’s largest monastic library is a striking example of late European Baroque architecture. Among the treasures in its 230-foot-long main hall are seven ceiling frescoes, two massive reliefs, and bookcases adorned with 68 gilded busts of scholars. Due to the pandemic, a virtual-reality version of this opulent space is now available online, accompanied by a multimedia presentation on its history. Like the library’s physical tours, this digital one has an entry fee—for 0.99€ you can explore the main room and all its secret passageways, listen to audio guides, and flip through a selection of digitized books.
Jerome Hall Law Library
A beautiful, five-story academic library in Bloomington stores extensive collections of legal materials for Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law. You can poke around the massive interior in a virtual tour, which offers views of its airy reading room, marble and oak atrium, and more. Keep an eye out for highlights such as hanging geometric sculptures by Morton Bradley and a special collection of signatures and historical documents from U.S. Supreme Court justices.
A.K. Smiley Public Library
This small library in the city of Redlands is a registered California Historical Landmark and architectural jewel. Built in 1898, it is designed in the Moorish Style and features red brick with hand-cut sandstone trimmings. Wander through the historic building in this 360-degree tour and explore its vaulted ceilings, reading nooks, and beautiful stained glass windows, which depict symbols associated with libraries and learning. Don’t miss the bookstore in the basement, where you can catch a glimpse of the store’s mascot, Swimmy the fish, who is a card-carrying library member.