There’s a lot of noise out there on the wires.
And static and stress and anxiety. Much has been written about this. As technology has brought us closer together, that very connectedness has started to make us all crazy. We hear about “echo chambers” and “feedback loops” and not a whole lot about how being connected is making us….happier.
Indeed, thanks to our ancestral DNA, when we encounter stress, including digital stress, our body is preparing to outrun that saber-toothed tiger. And so our body floods with adrenaline, our pupils widen, and our breath becomes shallow.... all when someone trolls us on Twitter. Because we are so connected digitally, in the past few years it feels like that tiger is coming at us 500 times a day. No wonder we are all crazy.
The good news, confirmed by science, is that our brains are nimble enough to rewire us out of some of this fight-or-flight reaction, provided we have an antidote to all that noise and stress.
Museum of Science Boston | Photo by Ashley McCabe
To find an antidote, I recently conducted a study of one participant (me) where I found a surprisingly effective way to counter all this static and anxiety. All I had to do was experience a good news story from the world of arts and culture.
In my case, after a particularly distressing week, I received an email from a colleague. In the email, she told me about their effort to connect thousands of foster children with fun and enriching museum programs at the Museum of Science in Boston. I learned about how this often forgotten population of children is getting access to science camps, internships, summer jobs and goofy, silly fun thanks to free admission and access to education programs at the Museum.
I found a way to counter all this static and anxiety. All I had to do was experience a good news story from the world of arts and culture.
As I learned about this, it was like all the stress clenched in my stomach, for a moment, melted away. I was so thankful that she shared her story. For that moment, the saber-toothed tiger had taken a breather. (I told the journey that led to this program in my talk at the 2018 Tessitura Learning & Community Conference.)
After that unexpectedly great experience, I’ve continued this personal study and found that whenever I learn about a program that is using culture to improve the world, another synapse in my brain “pings” from negative to positive. (The MRI that I keep in my guest room was expensive, but well worth it for this study).
A family at the Museum of Science Boston | Photo © EBW
So why do you suppose each new story makes me a little happier? For me, I’ve held a passion for arts and culture since I was a kid. And I’ve been lucky enough to work in the arts or arts and culture technology for my entire career. I’ve seen it first hand — I know culture makes lives better. I’m rooting for it! To see it in action all over the world confirms this, aligns with my values, and makes my heart happy. And another synapse goes *ping* from negative to positive.
And there is another reason why this is effective. There is a Buddhist concept called Mudita: taking pleasure in the joys of others. It is the exact opposite of Schadenfreude: taking pleasure in the pain of others. Sadly, much of what we find on social media these days is Schadenfreude (“ha ha, other camp that disagrees with me, you got what you deserved!”). This might feel righteous to the poster in the moment, but makes everyone feel worse in the end. On the other hand, the concept of Mudita rewards a part of the brain that is genuinely happy for another human. *ping*.
Celebrating culture is such a natural place to practice Mudita. Who isn’t happy to learn that foster children are getting a boost in life thanks to a science museum? Or hearing how the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra is working on music programs for eldery suffering from dementia? Studies show that music has a measurable effect on calming, soothing and connecting with this suffering population. Or — on and on and on. *ping* *ping* *ping*.
Celebrating culture is a natural place to practice Mudita: taking pleasure in the joys of others.
As I travel around the globe, visiting Tessitura organizations, I hear stories like these all the time. It is often my favorite part of each trip. Going forward, I will do my part to share these stories from arts and culture with all of you. But I am just one voice — I hope you will share your stories as well. If you experience a moment of culture helping the world, tell us about it! Post it on your social medium of choice and tag it with #ShareTheCulture so we can all find it. This way, we can all practice Mudita, happily drown out the Schadenfreude, and celebrate the good that culture brings to the world. And maybe — just maybe — we can rewire our brains and bring a little more peace and calm to our own lives as well. *ping*