Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Book Mark: Sincerity over sarcasm? Say it ain't so!

Courtesy of CanWest News Service:

After decades of sarcasm as a second language, it seems almost heretical. But social scientists, happiness researchers and cultural observers alike say all signs point to a movement toward sincerity.

A recent study of some 7,500 newspaper articles finds that readers tend to e-mail stories that uplift and amaze.

The "New Sincerity'' movement, led by National Public Radio host Jesse Thorn, promotes the idea that "the coolest stuff comes from being completely unafraid of being seen as uncool.''

And one of the most hotly anticipated movies of the year is Eat, Pray, Love, based on the bestselling book about overcoming cynicism to find enlightenment.

"We all really want to talk about optimism right now,'' says Neil Pasricha, author of The Book of Awesome. "There's so much in life to be happy about. And if we don't recognize that, the weight of the world becomes really suffocating really quickly.''

The Toronto man's book, a heartfelt liturgy of the "little things'' - the smell of crayons, the feel of fresh sheets, or getting gas before the price goes up - won't be released until mid-April but is already making Amazon's bestseller lists.

Economic malaise is surely a partial driver. Because humans are hardwired to make themselves feel good, experts say it makes sense, biologically, that we'd double our efforts in tough times.

"The economic crisis has made a lot of people feel really grateful for what they have,'' says Gretchen Rubin, a former lawyer whose recent memoir, The Happiness Project, saw her spend a year test-driving theories on how to be happy. "Taking cheap potshots at things doesn't feel as satisfying as trying to engage in a deep way.''

Even at the lowest point of recession, an Ipsos-Reid survey of 1,012 adults found two-thirds of Canadians were laughing with their partner every day.

The challenge, says Rubin, is overcoming deeply entrenched cultural biases against what REM's Michael Stipe calls the "shiny happy people.''

"There's an assumption that happy people are annoying, and that others are bugged by them, or that they're stupid,'' says Rubin. "But (studies show) it's exactly the opposite: we're very attracted to happy people, feeding off their energy and rating them more highly on things like physical attractiveness and ethical stature.''

Probably a good thing since the latest reports show that when it comes to self-reported happiness, Canada is tied for fourth out of 148 nations.

Even those people whose primary export is sarcasm are looking inward, as evidenced by a recent A.V. Club column declaring, earnestly, that "life is too short to waste on having insincere reactions to insipid things."

The author of that popular piece, Texas-based editor Sean O'Neal, makes clear he's not espousing the end of irony. But after years of pretending to like things he knew weren't worth his time, simply because it seemed amusing to do so, he says being disingenuous has gotten old.

"I'm fatigued by the idea of writing yet another snarky tongue-in-cheek list making fun of Saved by the Bell,'' says O'Neal, 31. "It'll be interesting to see in 10 years if people are still watching bad movies and bad TV shows just because they think it's a funny thing to do. I don't know that they will.''

In a recent half-year study of the New York Times' most-e-mailed articles, University of Pennsylvania researcher Jonah Berger found the more awe-inspiring a story, the greater its likelihood of being passed along. Negative stories didn't find nearly as much traction.

"The data suggests people don't share things just to entertain or for utility,'' says Berger. "They do it to emotionally bond.''

This dovetails with a 2009 Stanford University study that found the older we get, the more likely we are to associate happiness with feeling peaceful. The researchers reported that this change is driven by increased feelings of genuine connection with others as we age.

Just don't expect it to happen overnight.

"Sarcasm feels like a safer way to look at the world sometimes,'' admits Andrea Taylor, a Gen X'er from central Alberta. "But I think you can do that and still be a sincere person.''

No comments:

Post a Comment