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Optimal Daily Experience

Posted Mar 09 2010 1:45pm

Everyone knows about RDAs (Recommended Daily Allowances) of various nutrients. In a speech to new University of Washington students , David Salesin , a computer scientist, advised them to “maintain balance” by getting certain experiences daily:

  • something intellectual [such as a computer science class] (not so hard in college);
  • something physical (like running, biking, a team sport);
  • something creative (like music, art, or writing); and
  • something social (like lunch with a friend).

This served him well in college, he said, and he continued it after college.

I think he’s right — we need certain experiences to be healthy just as we need certain nutrients. My rough draft of such a list would be this: 1. Social. 2. Physical. Nassim Taleb’s ideas about exercise seem as good as anyone’s. This is really several requirements, for different sorts of exercise. 3. Travel. About an hour per day. 4. Hunger. T he data behind the up-day-down-day diet suggest we should experience a substantial amount of hunger every week. 5. Face-to-face contact in the morning . About an hour. 6. Morning sunlight . An hour? 7. Being listened to. I suspect the therapeutic value of psychotherapy derives from this. I believe this is one reason blogging is popular — it provides a sense of being listened to. 8. Being helpful. 9. Being recognized as having value. Blogging helps here, too. 10. Being part of a group effort , something larger. Of course #1 (social) and #5 (morning faces) can come from the same experience, and so can #2 (physical) and #3 (travel). I wouldn’t say we need #7-#10 every day but perhaps several times per week.

I might add two more things: 11. Learning. After I started studying Chinese via Anki/treadmill , I started to sleep better. It wasn’t the treadmill; that wasn’t new. Several studies have found that people sleep more when they are learning intensely. After I became a professor, instances of concentrated learning — such as learning to use R — became rare. I remember how good they felt. How intense learning could go on throughout your life during the Stone Age isn’t obvious, however. Presumably all the experiences we need to be healthy were easily available then. 12. Foot stimulation. In a Beijing park, I came across a cobblestone track about a hundred yards long. Walking on it is supposed to be beneficial. I took off my shoes and socks and tried it. I was astonished how painful it felt — but day by day I could stand on it longer. This is a topic for another post but of course in the Stone Age people got a lot more foot stimulation than anyone reading this. Commercial cobblestone track . Thanks to Tim Lundeen for reawakening my interest in this.

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