You are likely aware of the ongoing revision of Florida’s K-12 civics benchmarks. The state has now reopened the opportunity to give feedback. It is important that honest feedback based on experience and expertise is provided. We here at the Lou Frey Institute would be grateful if you would take a look at these revised benchmarks and provide the feedback as requested. There HAVE been changes to the benchmarks since the last draft. You can find the revised standards here, and provide feedback here. Feedback is being accepted until June 10th, 2021. You can also see the first iteration of the revisions as compared to this revised draft here (and thanks to our friends at FASSS for putting this together!) PLEASE PROVIDE FEEDBACK!

the future of working from home

Michael Gibbs, Friederike Mengel, and Christoph Siemroth (2021) examined the effects of the pandemic on employees of a “large Asian IT services company,” for which they have extraordinarily detailed data. As shown in the graphs, employees worked more hours and produced less during the pandemic. Staff also received less mentoring. Those who had children at home were the worst affected. The major reason appears to be an increase in the amount of time spent on coordinating activities. Productivity worsened as the months passed–there is little evidence that the firm solved its coordination problems.

Results from one organization may not generalize. A school, a house-cleaning service, or a physical production facility might see very different results. Even a different IT company (or a similar company in a different national and cultural context) might experience the pandemic differently. However, one would think that an IT services company would be especially good at managing remote work–not only because of its employees’ skills and technical capacity, but also because its products were already virtual before COVID-19.

If–like me–you are worried about the effects of remote work on life in cities, on restaurants and other small businesses, and on workers’ solidarity, then this paper offers some good news. Apparently, it is not easy to manage remote work. It is still helpful to bring workers together into one physical location. Maybe regular routines will return in 2021-22.

I wondered to what extent the findings applied to me. I’ve certainly spent more hours working during the pandemic than ever before. I don’t actually think I spent more time coordinating activities, e.g., scheduling. I manage my own calendar, travel, etc., but I feel increasingly efficient at that–thanks, in part, to a good scheduling app.

To some extent, for me, the past year simply continued a longer-term trend of increasing work-hours, which is very common. In addition, many programs, organizations, projects, employees, and students experienced crises related to the pandemic and the economy, Trump and the election, or racism, and those issues have demanded attention.

Finally, working from home removed any need to move around, whether from one room to another on campus or from one city or country to another. As a result, I could schedule meetings back-to-back all day, when previously I would have had to build in transit time. Arguably, I was more “productive” as a result–that depends on whether those meetings did any good. But I felt less able to reflect on things, to mull things over. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always done most of my mulling-over while walking. I blogged less this year than at any time since I started to blog in 2003, and that’s partly because I often felt I hadn’t had any time to think and had nothing new to say. Again, whether that change reflects a decline in my “productivity” depends on whether the content would have had any value–maybe the world was spared some extra bytes.

I have been extraordinarily fortunate through this whole period, and one great advantage is my ability to do my job basically as well as usual. I’ve watched many other people struggle to achieve their goals and maintain their vocations. I think my courses went well online, I completed a book, and I participated in many collaborative projects. I certainly did not feel isolated–in fact, as an introvert, I felt continuously challenged by the number of consecutive hours talking with other people on Zoom. But perhaps what I have missed most is time spent alone, moving through urban space.

Source: Gibbs, Mengel & Siemroth (2021), Work from Home & Productivity: Evidence from Personnel & Analytics Data on IT Professionals,” BFI Working Paper, May 06, 2021

Jeanine Michna-Bales, Photographs of the Underground Railroad

The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC is showing a series of photographs that Jeanine Michna-Bales has taken on key points along the Underground Railroad. She captures these images at night, as if to illustrate what enslaved people would have experienced as they made their way north. This is the project website.

Online reproductions do no justice to her original photos, which are amazingly luminous chromogenic prints; they grab your attention from across the room.

The forests, rivers, starry skies, and swamps are beautiful–a challenging sensation, since the overall topic of the series is human evil and resistance. Even while people persecute other people, the moon still glows through lush canopies of leaves. Although the natural settings are enjoyable to see in a museum, they would have been frightening at the time–try to imagine crossing a Mississippi swamp by night, even if there weren’t bloodhounds and shotguns behind you.

Most of the signs of human habitation are points of refuge along the way; they look inviting. Michna-Bales accentuates lights left in windows to welcome fugitives. Yet arriving at each “station” must have been a moment of terror, because who knew whether it had been compromised?

The view across the Ohio River into a deeply dark Indiana symbolizes the uncertain future–if one can get that far. (I illustrate this post with a different view, across the Tennessee River in Alabama.)

The South Region Project Citizen Institute is accepting applications!

Good afternoon, friends in civics! We are excited to share with you this exciting opportunity!

The Center for Civic Education and the Alabama Center for Law and Civic Education present a unique opportunity for upper elementary middle school and high school teachers to take part in professional development featuring We the People: Project Citizen, one of the country’s foremost civic education programs.

The Project Citizen Research Program uses Project Citizen curricular materials as the primary base of instruction. The materials are designed to foster active participation in a process-oriented curriculum that allows students to use interdisciplinary skills to monitor and influence public policy in their communities to solve real-life issues. Each participant receives a classroom set of Project Citizen textbooks as well as additional materials on public policy. This Professional Development Institute is funded by the Center for Civic Education through a grant from the U. S. Department of Education and presented by the Alabama Center for Law and Civic Education.

This is a great opportunity to grow and learn around best practices in civics education, and has some significant benefits.

Do you have questions about the program? Please email our dear friend, and passionate supporter of civic education, Jackie Viana! Or reach out to us and we will connect you.

You can access the application and teacher agreements below!

Survey Finds Regional, Racial Divides in K-12 Remote Schooling Impact During Pandemic

I did this analysis, which was released today …

New nationwide survey by Tufts University researchers finds that parents credit schools with limiting academic harms but see damage to social relationships.

More than 70% of K-12 students across the country experienced some remote schooling during the 2020-21 school year, with stark differences emerging along regional and racial lines and the worst effects on students’ social relationships, according to a new, nationally representative study conducted by Ipsos, using its KnowledgePanel, for the Tufts University Research Group on Equity in Health, Wealth and Civic Engagement.

Thirty percent of students in the South attended entirely in-person, compared to just 11.5% in the West. Sixty-one percent of students in the West attended entirely remotely, significantly more than in the other regions.

Entirely in-person17%27%30%11.5%
Entirely remote50%32%26%61%
Mix of both30%36%35%23%
Did not attend school3%4%9%5%

White students were most likely to attend in person. Parents or guardians of color were somewhat more likely than white parents to report negative academic experiences with remote learning, but that difference was within the margin of error. (Given the sample size, analysis of specific racial and ethnic groups is not possible.)

The survey was fielded online between April 23 and May 3, 2021 and had 1,449 respondents, 248 of whom provided responses about their own children’s schooling experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. Statistics based on these 248 responses have a margin of error of +/- 6.2 percentage points.

About 24% of K-12 students attended school entirely in-person, 39% entirely remotely, 32% in a hybrid mix of both modes, and nearly 6% of school-aged children did not attend school at all.

Parents reported the worst effects on their children’s social relationships, followed by physical fitness and emotional wellbeing. On academics, slightly more parents reported positive than negative effects from the measures their schools took to limit the spread of COVID-19.

All data included in the survey was reported by parents or guardians describing their own children. Parents were not asked about the overall impact of the pandemic, but specifically about the measures that their children’s schools had taken to limit the spread of the virus.

“Many parents seem to credit schools with making the best of the situation, although some see bad effects, especially on social relationships,” said Peter Levine, an associate dean at Tufts’ Tisch College of Civic Life and co-principal investigator of this study.

Tufts University’s Research Group on Equity in Health, Wealth and Civic Engagement was established in 2019 as part of a strategic effort to use resources and expertise across the university to address major global issues. It brings together researchers from across the university to discuss and investigate aspects of equity and inequity in the United States and the world. The research has been funded by Tufts University’s Office of the Vice Provost, the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts, the Tufts Data Intensive Science Institute and the Tufts Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute. 

For more data and findings from the Research Group on Equity, please visit https://equityresearch.tufts.edu/.

The group’s principal investigators are Jennifer Allen, professor of community health in the Tufts School of Arts and Sciences; Peter Levine, associate dean for academic affairs and Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship & Public Affairs at the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts; and Thomas Stopka, associate professor of public health and community medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine. Other members of the group can be found here.

what must we believe?

A study by Roland G. Fryer, Jr. provoked controversy because of its conclusion that Black and Hispanic people are not more likely than whites to be shot to death by police, although they are more likely to experience non-lethal force at the hands of police. In “Race, Policing, and The Limits of Social Science,” Lily Hu uses this study and the resulting controversy to explore important questions about the persuasiveness of social science. Her questions are not merely academic–they have existential significance as we each decide how to interpret and improve the world.

Speaking for myself (but in a similar vein to Hu), I would draw attention to the results in the tables near the end of Fryer’s piece (pp. 39ff). You’ll see familiar-looking columns of numbers, many of which are means or coefficients. They are labeled with text, including such words or phrases as “High-crime Area,” “Carrying Suspicious Obj,” “Incident type: Street Stop,” “Officer Unit Majority White,” “Pinellas County,” and “Hispanic.”

Why are we reading these tables? For one thing, Roland Fryer has captured our attention and a baseline level of trust. This is not a given. I crunched some numbers on police discrimination last year and drew modest traffic. I am not complaining: Fryer genuinely deserves much more attention because of the ambitiousness and originality of his paper (even if one criticizes it). Yet it is worth noting that we read his paper as a consequence of many causal factors, including Fryer’s talent and hard work but also his status and position.

In short, knowledge results–like everything else–from causes. The factors that cause us to know and to trust any given claim include power and social status.

Fryer’s specific findings are the result of methods that social scientists have developed and that he chose to use. Methods are always contestable, and, in this case, they have been challenged. I do not have anything valuable to add about his methods, but their contestability is important.

As for the data that Fryer uses, they result from social processes. He analyzed five million records from New York City’s Stop, Question, and Frisk program, which mandated a great deal of data-collection as part of its approach to enforcement/social control. He also used the Police-Public Contact Survey, which is a federally funded survey conducted by the US Census Bureau for the Justice Dept. Finally, he and a team coded reports from the files of the police in LA County, Houston, Austin, Dallas, Houston and six large Florida counties.

Thousands of people generate these data: randomly selected residents who complete surveys and police officers who file required reports. Many hundreds of people design these instruments and make sure that they are completed. A police officer files a report about an incident with a civilian because of other required reports: a personnel file on the officer, an evaluation of the unit commander, etc. Deeper in the background are previous efforts to measure our social world. For instance, racial categories come from thousands of previous surveys designed and fielded for other purposes. We code and analyze stored bodies of text (such as police files) thanks to techniques previously developed for other research.

Different phenomena could be measured, and different measures could be used. The government of France does not record race and literally does not know how many French residents are people of color. In contrast, the US has always categorized our population by race, albeit with changing categories and purposes. Already in the Census of 1800, Americans were categorized as free whites, other free persons, or slaves.

One way to think about such differences is in terms of choices. We could choose not to measure race, to measure it in a different way, or to measure things that we do not measure now. But this “we” is misleading. We citizens are not convened like a committee to review discrete choices. Instead, the practice of measuring any given thing often results from concerted efforts by specific people or groups. Some people develop and revise concepts and organize and advocate; other people then spend money or apply power to cause data to be collected. I have been involved in such efforts–for instance, helping to write the federal assessment of civics, and playing a role in generating voter turnout data for most US colleges and universities. These are purposive efforts, undertaken to change the world for specific reasons. They reflect people’s values and strategies.

People also undertake concerted efforts to build up social institutions. It is not natural or inevitable that we have police at all–meaning uniformed, armed, bureaucratically organized public-sector employees with unique rights and responsibilities. Having police is a choice, but again, it is not an item on a menu that was set before the public. Instead, policing is an institution with its own inertia, constituencies, and political influence. The choice that each of us faces is whether to support policing, assent to it, subvert it, or help to build up an alternative.

The same is true of the political jurisdictions listed in Roland Fryer’s tables. It is not inevitable that Houston and Pinellas County, FL are organized as entities with police forces and other state powers. Indeed, Elinor Ostrom showed that much smaller jurisdictions produced better policing, and she found especially good results in small Black-majority communities that had their own police forces. So it is a choice to have a Houston police force–but again, this choice reflects many decades of concerted efforts by many people with many agendas.

Particular facts are the results of power deployed through social institutions. Power is not necessarily bad: it is nearly synonymous with “capacity,” and we want capacity. Nor is power necessarily zero-sum: we can measure and value more than one thing at a time. Therefore, to say that knowledge emerges from power is not cynical. Whether knowledge is good or bad depends on the motives, the means, and the consequences that relate to it.

This implies that to assess knowledge is always partly a matter of values–it is a normative as well as an empirical matter. You can’t assess the crime rate unless you know which activities are deemed illegal and how the law is enforced. You can’t assess the employment rate until you know what counts as employment, which jobs are consistent with a good life, and what happens to the people who are labeled unemployed. The crime rate or the employment rate is not a simple fact: it is a result of social institutions that cause people to behave in various ways and that cause their behaviors to be measured and classified in various ways.

The next question (for me) is: What should we evaluate? I resist evaluating very broad and vague phenomena, such as capitalism or modernity or even the USA. That is a path to ideology, in the bad sense of that word: broad assessments prevent careful thought and nuance.

On the other hand, each social phenomenon is linked tightly with many others. A claim cannot be assessed all by itself. For instance, to accept that a city block is a “high crime area” (as in one of the datasets in Fryer’s paper) is to accept a whole system of social monitoring and control that gives some places that label.

We assess one thing at a time, yet each assessment is related to many previous ones. In this way, we gradually build up a worldview that combines normative judgments, empirical generalizations, causal inferences, and many other components. Hu cites “what philosopher W. V. O. Quine so charmingly called our ‘web of belief.'”

As she points out, a particular piece of information may come along that conflicts with some existing components of our web. For instance, Fryer’s specific statistics about police-involved shootings contradict what I had believed. In such cases, we must consider “what must be sacrificed so that other beliefs might be saved. And since our webs are not all identical, what rational belief revision demands of us will also vary. One man’s happily drawn conclusion (p, therefore q!) is another’s proof by contradiction (surely not q, therefore not p!). Or as the saying goes, one man’s modus ponens is another man’s modus tollens.

Her rather startling conclusion: “Rejecting a study’s methods or its starting assumptions on the basis of disagreement with its results is a completely legitimate inferential move.”

Confronted by Fryer’s original paper, someone who is very concerned about police shootings of unarmed Black civilians might:

  • Doubt the sources of the statistics (although the paper uses several different kinds of sources);
  • Doubt the mathematics, either because of specific methodological concerns or because of a low threshold of trust in the author (who could, in theory, have made basic errors);
  • Doubt the conclusions because they conflict with other sources of information;
  • Acknowledge the specific conclusions but accentuate the part of the study that reinforces prior views: police use non-lethal force in a racially discriminatory way;
  • Modify strategies for police reform to focus more on the non-lethal uses of force; or
  • Revise basic beliefs, including beliefs about other sources of knowledge, such as news coverage of police homicides.

Hu implies that any of these responses might be rational, depending on one’s overall web of belief. For instance, it would be irrational for me to distrust Fryer’s basic mathematics, because I have accumulated trust in institutions like Harvard and the NBER. They have served me well on many prior occasions. However, other people might have no such basis for trust and might have very well-grounded reasons to doubt a result that contradicts their vivid accumulated experiences. Hu writes:

For those whose beliefs, empirical and ethical, are forged in participation in radical sociopolitical movements from below, to be ill-inclined to accept certain findings about race and policing is to remain steadfast in a commitment to a certain thick set of empirical and ethical propositions in their webs of beliefs: that systems of policing and prisons are instruments of racial terror and that any theory of causation, theory of race, and statistical methods worth their salt will see race to be a significant causal factor affecting disparate policing and prison outcomes. This just is the first test of “fitting the data.” It is not a flight from rationality but an exercise of it.

Bertrand Russell summarized a significant tradition when he wrote his Liberal Decalogue (ten commandments) for educators. He included these points:

1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.

 5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.

 6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
 7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.

 8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent that in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.

 9. Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.

This list is “liberal” in the sense that it prizes autonomy, freedom of conscience and speech for all, a marketplace of ideas, and the individual’s exercise of reason. It is a version of Kant’s “enlightenment.” It has merit–perhaps slightly underplayed in Hu’s excellent article. We suffer from motivated reasoning, intellectual conformity, and polarization, and it takes work to keep our minds open. Russell’s advice is valuable for that reason. In this spirit, we might do well to wrestle with the specific claims in an article like Fryer’s–to see what insights we can get from them.

But Russell’s list is incomplete, for the reasons that Hu presents. Basically, he treats each “truth” and each observer as independent, when they actually belong to Quinian webs of belief and social institutions. Therefore, we should also remember to:

  1. Recognize the consequences or what we choose to say, including arguments and findings that we choose to repeat from other people’s work. In making these choices, strive to do no harm.
  2. When encountering new and troubling findings, don’t forget what we already know or neglect our debt to our existing sources.
  3. When encountering a new argument or study, be open to all of it, not just the headlines. (For instance, don’t forget Fryer’s finding that police discriminate in using non-lethal force.)
  4. Cultivate our whole webs of belief, which ought to be internally diverse and complex but also reasonably coherent.
  5. Value a range of sources of knowledge, including personal experience and testimony as well as statistics and models.
  6. Ask whether it is beneficial–or not–for each of us to speak publicly on any given topic.
  7. Critically assess the institutions that generate knowledge.
  8. Critically assess our own roles in such institutions.
  9. Never neglect the normative aspect of knowledge.
  10. Don’t take the questions for granted, but ask what we could be asking about.

See also: police discrimination, race, and community poverty; more data on police interactions by race; on the phrase: Abolish the police!; some remarks on Elinor Ostrom and police reform; what gives some research methods legitimacy?; six types of claim: descriptive, causal, conceptual, classificatory, interpretive, and normative; we should be debating the big social and political paradigms; judgment in a world of power and institutions: outline of a view; teaching about institutions, in a prison; a template for analyzing an institution; what does a Balinese cockfight have to do with public policy analysis?, etc.

Despite Similar Levels of Vaccine Hesitancy, White People More Likely to Be Vaccinated Than Black People

I crunched the data for this new release, based on our very recent national survey. We find that those most hesitant to be vaccinated are younger, less educated, and more likely to trust former President Donald Trump; we also find a racial divide in access to the vaccine.

Image courtesy Tufts University Research Group on Equity in Health, Wealth and Civic Engagement

White people are more likely to have been vaccinated than Black people despite similar levels of vaccine hesitancy, or saying they are very unlikely to get a vaccine. Therefore, access to vaccines and other factors could be limiting vaccination efforts.

About 17 percent of the U.S. adult population currently say they are “very unlikely” to get a vaccination for COVID-19.

This nationally representative survey by Ipsos, using its KnowledgePanel, for the Tufts the Tufts University Research Group on Equity in Health, Wealth and Civic Engagement was fielded online between April 23 and May 3, 2021 and had 1,449 respondents.

Please read more here.

open positions at Tisch College: senior researcher for student programs, postdoc in Civic Science

Please consider applying and spread the word …

Senior Researcher, Student Programs – Tisch College (More details here)

The Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life prepares students in all fields of study for lifetimes of active citizenship. Tisch College promotes new knowledge in the field and applies this knowledge to evidence-based practice in programs, community partnerships, and advocacy efforts. Central to the university’s mission, the college offers Tufts’ students opportunities to engage in meaningful community building, civic and political experiences, and explore commitments to civic participation.

The Senior Researcher will report to the Director of Programs at Tisch College and be based on the Medford/Somerville Tufts University Campus.  As a member of the Tisch College Student Programs team, the Sr. Researcher will focus on designing and implementing a comprehensive assessment strategy encompassing all Tisch College programs and endeavors. In addition, the Senior Researcher will grow and promote a shared vision for assessing civic engagement across all the Health Sciences campuses.  Tufts has made a commitment to be an anti-racist university, and this is also an important aspect of this role. The Senior Researcher will be committed to ensuring that all assessment and evaluation is conducted with a commitment to equity.        

Specific responsibilities will include: conducing literature reviews and background research; designing and conducting quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods assessment designs; developing and executing an external publication plan, including collaborations with Tufts faculty and, where appropriate, colleagues across the nation and internationally; collaboration with the advancement team and Tufts faculty to secure grant funding; coding and transcribing data; curating and preparing data sets for various audiences; developing and executing a plan for representing Tisch College Programs with conference presentations; conducting program evaluation for community-engaged, service-learning initiatives across Tufts; providing feedback, assistance, and support to colleagues on research and evaluation related questions; performing administrative duties as needed; and participation in Tisch College and Tufts’ meetings and activities.

Postdoc in Civic Science–Tisch College (read more here)

Deadline: May 20, 2021 at 11:59 PM Eastern Time. Please note that this position was inadvertently shown as closed for a week or more, but it remains open.

Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life will award a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Civic Science for the 2021-22 academic year (June 1, 2021-May 31, 2022). This postdoctoral fellowship is offered in partnership with the Charles F. Kettering Foundation in Dayton, OH and involves some work at Kettering’s offices in Dayton as well as full-time employment at Tufts in the Boston area.

The Tisch College Civic Science initiative (https://tischcollege.tufts.edu/civic-studies/civic-science), led by Dr. Peter Levine and Dr. Samantha Fried, aims to reframe the relationships among scientists and scientific institutions, institutions of higher education, the state, the media and the public. It also asks about the relationships and distinctions among those institutions, historically and today. With this context in mind, Civic Science seeks to…

  • Reconfigure the national conversation on divisive and complex issues that are both scientific and political in nature, thereby connecting scientific institutions, research, and publications to people’s values, beliefs, and choices.
  • Define and advance the public good in science, thereby finding ways for scientific institutions to better serve communities.
  • Explore the concept of knowledge as a commons (or common-pool resource), developing a line of work pioneered by Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues
  • Develop curricula that simultaneously attend to scientific and civic issues and that teach students to understand and communicate both kinds of narratives together to a variety of audiences.
  • Develop approaches to democratic governance that are attuned to the role of the scientific enterprise in society.
  • Ask what it would mean to earn the trust of communities that have been historically marginalized by the institution of science, and what science would look like if this was a priority.
  • Intervene at institutional and grassroots levels, alongside a robust theoretical analysis.

A PhD is required. Applicants must also demonstrate a strong interest in investigating the intersections of science and civic matters as the focus of their postdoctoral year.

Civic Science is interdisciplinary, and this fellowship is open to specialists in any relevant field.

problem-solving, not worrying, is addictive

The main points I learned from Ezra Klein’s interview with Brown professor Jud Brewer may be very widely known already, but they were new to me. This is what I took away …

Anxiety and worrying can be habitual, even addictive. Most people are probably addicted to these behaviors at least some of the time. The mystery is why we would become addicted to something that brings discomfort, not pleasure. One answer is that we are not directly addicted to worrying. The addictive habit is problem-solving.

You wake up in the morning and realize you want coffee. Without expending much mental energy at all, you identify that need, locate the coffee, water, mug, and machine, make yourself a cup, and enjoy it. You experience an arc from the problem to the solution, which repeats many times every day. It brings satisfaction and is deeply habitual, partly because it is adaptive. Solving problems increases the odds of survival.

But what if you cannot solve the problem that you have identified? Perhaps it is beyond your control–you are powerless–or perhaps you cannot address it now. For instance, you will be able to deal with the problem during the meeting scheduled for next Tuesday at 3, but you can’t do anything about it until then.

In such cases, the addictive desire to address a problem causes your brain to turn it over and over, looking for a new way to solve it now. This is anxious worrying. It is unfortunate because it wastes the most precious scarce resource of all–the very stuff of life–which is time. It also tends to reduce your ability to deal with the problem at hand or other problems that may arise, because it may cost you sleep, confidence, mental sharpness, and other useful assets.

Jud Brewer’s recommendation is to replace the addictive behavior with another one that is equally or more compelling. One option is kindness: do something good for someone else. That seems right, except that there may be no available outlet for kindness when you need it. You can’t wake other people up at three in the morning to be nice to them. It is also challenging to shift one’s attention away from oneself when one is anxious.

A different option is curiosity. We are drawn to curious inquiry for much the same reasons that we are drawn to problem-solving: it is adaptive. Answering a question brings satisfaction. Brewer especially recommends asking curious questions about one’s own bodily state. The nervous system is the locus of the anxiety, and one can investigate it with curiosity. “Where do I feel nervous? How does my breath feel?”

I am certainly no expert in the science of happiness or psychological approaches to well-being. But I keep my eyes open for this kind of research, for two main reasons. First, I am always glad to learn useful tips. Second, I am fascinated by the interplay among three questions: 1) What are practical ways to enhance the quality of life (or to reduce suffering)? 2) What constitutes a good or admirable life? And 3) What are metaphysical and epistemological truths that pertain to those two questions? (For instance, is there a benign and omnipotent creator? Does the self exist?) Some people have argued that these three questions fit naturally together: an admirable person knows the truth and attains happiness as a result of believing and doing the right things. I am much less confident about such harmony.

See also: questions about happiness; why we wish that goodness brought happiness, and why that is not so; unhappiness and injustice are different problems; three truths and a question about happiness; how to think about the self (Buddhist and Kantian perspectives), etc. etc.