Wake up and smell the cheese aEUR” thereaEUR( tm) s nothing wrong with motivational quotes | Rosie Fould

April 29, 2017

Its so easy to scoff at pseudo-profound sayings, but in my dark days I have found them comforting

If youre offended by swearing, apologies, because Im about to use the word bullshit quite a lot. Its not my fault. Its because researchers who recently published a paper about the intelligence of people who believe in the wisdom of inspirational quotes were awfully fond of the word bullshit. It appears in the title, On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-profound Bullshit; its there five times in the abstract alone; and the first keyword is well, you can probably guess.

The researchers were extremely keen to know whether certain people were more likely to believe in pseudo-profound statements, and whether that had anything to do with intelligence. You know the kind of thing: phrases such as You cant start on the next chapter of your life if you keep rereading the last one or If opportunity doesnt knock, build a door.

Usually the words are illustrated with a nice background picture of a wood or a seascape. Or a bloom. Or a woman with a pony. The reported conclusion was that people who post this stuff probably arent as clever as the rest of us, much to the pleasure of anyone who has an aunt or old schoolfriend who constantly reposts stuff like The greater your storm, the brighter your rainbow.

I dont post many inspirational quotes online. I prefer to bore my friends with pictures of my child or puppy. But I have been known to use them in real life, to stick them in the pages of a learning periodical I kept when I was on a counselling course. Ive shared them with other people and had them shared with me. And in my darkest moments, struggling with bereavement or postnatal depression, they have given me more solace than I would have supposed possible.

I once compiled an entire periodical of motivational and inspirational quotes for a magazine I was working for. By the end of it, I felt as if I were the lovechild of Gandhi and Wayne W Dyer, so I know probably better than most how much some of this stuff can curdle your eyeballs. And if Marilyn Monroe told half the things that are attributed to her online then she wouldnt have had any time to construct cinemas or pose for paintings, let alone have clandestine sessions with JFK. There is some genuinely vomit-inducing stuff out there. Anything to do with living in the present tend to construct me flinch( breathe let go and remember that the present moment is the only one we are aware for sure ). A whole Pinterest wall of inspirational sayings can construct me physically unwell. But the occasional, well timed quote can be a very powerful thing.

Photograph: Alamy

The authors of the original paper were really interested in testing peoples responses to statements that were totally without entailing. They used random generators, such as wisdomofchopra.com and The New Age Bullshit Generator was whether people were prepared to assign meaning to completely nonsensical things, such as Hidden meaning transforms unparalleled abstract beauty.

When they tested more conventional statements that did have some meaning, they found that the associations between notion in profundity and intelligence were less evident. Generally, we dont tend to repost haphazardly produced strings of words. We tend to post things that are based on truisms or maxims that have been around for years. Centuries, even. Forbes.com posts an inspirational quote every day Tuesdays from Napoleon.

Despite the 200 -odd mentions of bullshit, the authors of the paper construct some interesting points. Why do some of us believe more readily? Is it a lack of intelligence, an inherent personality trait, or are we more prepared to believe in seemingly profound statements when were more in need of answers? Was it truly any coincidence that in the aftermath of the attacks on Paris there were more quotes on my wall? Does that really construct my friends more stupid?

Perhaps, though, the reason we jumped all over this research was because it induced us feel superior. Those people on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, cluttering up our feeds with their cheeseball truisms do they actually believe that rubbish? What morons, we supposed, smugly, before posting a link to some really cool thing about Isis from the Atlantic or a super-ironic video of a puppy in a Starring Wars costume. Its like the narrative about Jade Ruthven, whose friends complained she posted too much stuff about her newborn on Facebook. Ruthven then posted the letter on Twitter, and it went viral.

We cling to the things that disclose the true etiquette and status structure of social media, because were all still figuring out how to behave online in such a way that doesnt expose us. A analyse that tells us people who post inspirational quotes are thicker than us? Brilliant. Lets definitely post a link to that story.

Bullshit may be more pervasive than ever before, say the researchers in their introduction. How true. In fact, I guess Ill stick that quote on a picture of a sunset.

My favourite( mis) quotes: theyre often misquoted, or misattributed, but they can still be useful when youre in need of a pep-talk.

Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts eternally .

Widely attributed to Lance Armstrong, who clearly left off the bit about EPO as it wasnt as catchy. Still, though, it got me through the final mile of my first half-marathon

No one can construct you feel inferior without your consent .

Darn straight, Eleanor Roosevelt. Although its likely she never actually said it. What she probably told, at a press conference, was a snub is the effort of a person who feels superior to construct someone else feeling inferior. To do so, he has to find someone who can be made to feel inferior. Not quite as snappy.

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better .

Samuel Becketts terms from Worstward Ho have reached meme status and the tennis player Stanislas Wawrinka has them tattoed on his arm. Which should construct me dislike it, but I cant.

Well-behaved females seldom construct history .

Nope, Marilyn Monroe didnt say it. The historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich said it, in 1976, in an article about funerals. She later wrote a book about what it means to construct history, use her most well known phrase as the title. Personally, I find it comes in handy when my fear of not being nice get in the way of phoning accounts departments and asking for money, which is probably not at all what she saw, but it helps.

Enjoy yourself. While youre still in the pink .

From the sung Enjoy Yourself, music by Carl Sigman and lyrics by Herb Magidson. Because are always going to die soon. So most things are probably not worth worrying about. Hurrah!

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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