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Quartzy: the just fine edition

This story was published on our Quartzy newsletter, Our dispatch about living well in the global economy.
Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Happy Friday!

Sometimes, when asked for her assessment of something like a meal or an event, my mother will reply that it was “just fine,” stating each word with strong and equal emphasis: Just. Fine. “So it wasn’t that great?” I’ll ask. And she’ll protest: “No, no, it’s not that! It was fine. It was just fine.”

I used to find it a little deflating. But now I’m starting to think the phrase is kind of genius—that letting something be just fine every once in a while, is actually… just fine.

This feels a little counterintuitive in the age of “living one’s best life”—and perhaps even more so for a lifestyle reporter. I spend a lot of my time, energy, and money trying to make everything far better than fine, both personally and professionally. But this week I found myself stretched a little thin by fast-approaching deadlines, anxious anticipation of upcoming travel, and, if you must know, a touch of hormonal imbalance.

I wasn’t as far from okay as Anthony Scaramucci unloading on the New Yorker earlier this week. But I wasn’t, you know, “crushing it” either. I was just glad to tick off the essential tasks and get to yoga on Monday evening, even if that meant eating grilled cheese for dinner. No, wait—we didn’t have bread. We had leftover pasta.

And you know what? It was just fine.

Letting something be “just fine” is an act of acceptance—a topic that has been something of an obsession for Quartz’s Lila MacLellan. She wrote this week about recent psychological studies which show that accepting negative emotions, rather than fighting them, is key to our well-being: “In a cultural age that’s decidedly pro-positivity, the pressure to suppress or camouflage negative feelings is real,” wrote Lila.

Image copyright: Historical Picture Archive/Getty

“Acceptance involves not trying to change how we are feeling,” Brett Ford, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto, told Lila. “But staying in touch with your feelings and taking them for what they are.”

But how does a person do that? Some people find acknowledging and naming an emotion—just writing it down in a word or two—helps because the very fact that a name exists for the feeling means it’s a shared human experience. Others picture emotions as passing clouds.

Lila pointed me to another, weirder method, that I found to be both hilarious and effective. This comes compliments of Robert Moss, a self-described “dream teacher” who has led seminars at the Esalen and Omega Institutes, and was inspired by a Rumi poem that likens feelings to “unexpected visitors.”

Picture your emotion personified, standing on your metaphorical doorstep. What do you do with it? When Moss met Impatience—”a young, overstuffed, pompous version of myself in a power suit”—he got him to loosen his collar and cozy up on the couch with some books and DVDs. My own unexpected guest—Anxiety—took the form of the hag from The Princess Bride, who screams “Boo! Boo!” at Buttercup for the choices she has made.

Image copyright: YouTube

Rather than welcoming her in, I laid down a quilt in my shady front yard, and made the hag a sandwich. I can see her from my desk, out the window. She looks placated.

Trick yourself into dozing off. Like many people, I have a terrible time falling asleep when there’s lots on my mind. Enter: “cognitive shuffling,” a simple word game from the Canadian scientist Luc Beaudoin.

Pick a word that contains at least five letters, and ideally none that repeat. Take the first letter, think of a new word that begins with it, then vividly picture it in your mind. When you run out of ideas, move onto the next letter. For example, start with “Plant.” Okay, P: pony (picture a pony), piano (picture a piano), parachute (picture a parachute)…L: love letter… Sleepy yet?

Image copyright: New York Public Library Digital Collections

I have found (as Lila, again, writes) that the random mental activity gives my brain “just enough toys to play with, but not enough coherent information to stir executive functioning.” In fact, I’ve yet to finish a single word before drifting off.

Issa Rae is also “Team Sleep.” I have deep admiration for Insecure creator and star Issa Rae, so I was paying close attention when she addressed a panel yesterday at an American Express workshop about personal management, and pleased to hear her praise the power of a well-rested mind.

Image copyright: Invision/AP/Chris Pizzello

“I’m a huge hip-hop and rap fan,” she said. “And I remember… Diddy saying, ‘Team No Days Off,’ and Erykah Badu having a mantra of like, ‘They sleep. We grind.’ And Khaled being like, ‘Team No Sleep!'”

“I’m Team Sleep,” Rae said with a laugh, to my immediate relief. ”I’m Team ‘You grind—I’ll sleep.’ I’m Team ‘Give Me More Days Off.'”

She went on to say how valuable time off—to just live—is to her work as a creator. “The more you live, the more creative you’re able to be. The more ‘out there’ you are, the more ideas you’re able to have. And so I definitely don’t take that for granted.”

Nor do I. I’m taking off for an adventure in the wee hours of tomorrow morning, joining a small convoy of surfers (more experienced than I) to a remote spot in Mexico. I’m sure it will be just fine, but I suspect I may be the least chill of the bunch—self-described “jazz masters of life” who are “always down to improvise.”

I want to be down to improvise too, so I’ll probably spend this evening watching YouTube videos on how to gut a fish while swilling a glass of chilled red. I’m also stashing a jar of peanut butter in my bag, just in case.

Next week, while I’m following Rae’s advice to get “out there,” Quartz reporter Cassie Werber will be addressing you from London. Expect something special.

Take it easy, and have a great weekend!


Image copyright: HBO

I’m still not over HBO’s cancellation of Togetherness, but the network has brought back the Duplass Brothers with the new series Room 104, debuting tonight at 8:30pm ET. Room 104 is an “anthology series” of self-contained episodes less than 30 minutes in length, meaning it’s great if you (like me) have commitment issues with television. (Also see: High Maintenance.) The show’s setting is always the same room of a budget motel, and the brothers worked with a revolving cast of directors and actors to create a mixed bag of episodes that starts tonight with horror, but will also include romance, technology, and dance as the season unfolds.

“In the era of peak TV where you guys have so much shit to watch, … we want Room 104 to be your casual dating experience,” Mark Duplass said earlier this week. It’s “the Tinder of television,” his brother Jay added.