Time slowed to a crawl as my little Nissan Sentra approached the BMW in front of me. With a pronounced crunch, one bumper smashed into another. The green metal hood scooted back, folding into a sharp crease near the windshield. As freeway traffic blazed by on both sides, my mind went blank. What do I do now?
Fortunately, one of my passengers was already on the telephone, dialing 9-1-1 and instructing me to cautiously maneuver the vehicle to the shoulder. What a relief that not everyone in the car had panicked as I did. As Mathias V. Schmidt and Lars Schwabe write in “Splintered by Stress,” new research helps us predict when the flood of stress hormones will bolster our brains rather than block thought. Exactly when the brain turns on the chemical spigot makes a world of difference.
Although we cannot control those physiological responses directly, we can take steps to avoid triggering them in the first place, as Robert Epstein advises in “Fight the Frazzled Mind.” Many of us get walloped by stress simply because we fail to identify and avoid predictable trouble spots, such as rush-hour traffic.
Such minor adjustments can improve anyone’s quality of life, although not all cultures rate life satisfaction using the same metrics. In “The Many Faces of Happiness,” Suzann Pileggi Pawelski explores where we differ and dovetail in the pursuit of pleasure. For example, psychologists have found that feeling materialistic tends to correlate with darker moods.
That fact adds an intriguing dimension to “Passion for Possessions: Mine!” in which Bruce Hood explores our quirky love of objects. Although some animals assemble oddities to build nests and others may learn to trade bits of food, we humans are uniquely terrible at recognizing the market value of our beloved things.
But stress not. After feeling a few pangs of sorrow for my crumpled car, I quickly realized that, unlike my vehicle, I was unscathed, as were my companions. At that moment, nothing could have made me happier.