#TEDxC: Session 1, Mind

A few quick, rough thoughts on the first session of TEDxCambridge during the break: first, I’m so excited to be here. There are dinosaur robots! And kickass poets! And amazingly well color-coordinated furniture!

Second, and less fangirly: the key point I’m taking away from this session, which featured a psychologist, a neuroscientist, two guided meditations, a discussion of musical grammar, and reminders to sleep more, practice yoga, and stop trying so damn hard to be happy, is this: Versämungsangst will be the death of us.

Mindy Kaling's new book is a classic example of Versämungsangst.
Versämungsangst is an Austrian idiomatic term meaning “fear of missing out”—the feeling that makes you, as my colleague Maura Marx describes it, change out of your pajamas into a dress at midnight and drive an hour to a party you don’t really want to attend just in case. I am guilty of bowing to this feeling, at the expense of my sleep (Charles Czeisler would disapprove), mindfulness (how can you be present when you’re always worried something better is happening somewhere else?), and, ultimately, happiness.

Priya Parker’s excellent talk on rebuilding herself after a stress and ambition-induced collapse emphasized the panic we feel at the thought that we might miss out on the next big thing, whether that’s getting in on the ground level of a start-up or a chance to taste the limited edition barrel-aged cocktails at the new speakeasy. (Parker called this “FOBO” and “FOMO”—the Fear of Better Opportunities and the Fear of Missing Out; I like “Versämungsangst” for its Germanic sense of dread and despair.)

Matt Killingsworth showed data this morning from his Track Your Happiness project suggesting we’re less happy when we’re thinking about something other than the present. June Gruber argued that trying to be happy—endlessly chasing parties and opportunities—is an endless cycle of raised expectations and disappointment that prevents us from reaching our goals. And Parker worried that the fear of missing out is killing our ability to thrive.

Not an overly uplifting message, exactly, but Sara Lazar offered hope: if we make a consistent effort to be in the moment (meditation is good. So is yoga.), we may be able to alter our brain chemistry enough—neuroplasticity is awesome!—to help us maintain our calm in the face of whatever our environment throws at us.