George Church, geneticist: “We can identify a single human neuron that responds to Jennifer Aniston and not to other faces.”
Joshua Walters, bipolar comedian: “I could either deny my mental illness or embrace my mental skillness.”
Jeff Lieberman, polymath: “I’m a community of 50 trillion cells doing a magic dance.”
John Pak, advocate for disabled individuals: “I can teach you to use sound to navigate everything around you.”
Rachel Klein, Dave Sawyer, and Zach Ward, improv artists: “Whatever happens is meant to happen.” // “So you’ve got a $30k piece of equipment inside you, and it can only fax?” “Yeah.” “I bet Medicare paid for it.” // “Um. I saw that wall as…a wall.”
Put your feet on a desk.Amy Cuddy’s research shows that “power posing” for a few minutes before a job interview can boost confidence and help you make a better impression on others.
Be a vegan.Caldwell Esselstyn has proven that following a plant-based diet can help reverse heart disease.
Sharpen your pikes.John Sheffield argues passionately for a peasant revolution in genomics, imploring us to share our data and add to the network.
Smile.Ron Gutman declares that smiling makes us live longer.
Adapt.Adrian Anantawan uses a special prosthetic arm to hold his bow while he plays violin for the pope, teaches people with disabilities to play virtual musical instruments.
Exercise your right to your health information.Hugo Campos advocates for participatory medicine, in which networked patients are agents, not bystanders.
Track individual emotions for better design.Elliott Hedman uses physical sensors to monitor emotional responses to various experiences, including those of children with autism, to help inform designers who develop tools and services for various groups.
Share your health experiences.Ben Heywood founded Patients Like Me to help build community among people with similar health issues.
Use your body as an instrument. Percussionist Jerry Leake performs a polyrhythmic piece using his feet, hands, and voice.
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.
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.