Ellen Langer

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  • May 8, 05:18 PM

Share the Roses Interview

Below you’ll find the video of an interview with me from the Seeing the Roses blog.

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  • Mindfulness
  • Apr 24, 06:29 PM


For the past ten years I’ve ended my courses with one version or another of a powerpoint presentation of photos of my paintings with the most course appropriate one-liners as a way to help celebrate the end of the semester and to provide an easy way to remember some of the course highlights. The one-liners were culled from years of research. They include such sayings as “Predict Today and Lose Tomorrow” to remind them of the illusion of predictability and how our predictions lead to expectations that give us tunnel vision and may prevent noticing the unpredicted, for example.

There is also a message hidden in many of the sayings that I bring to light to underscore what I feel as a personal responsibility to convey to them and feel comfortable doing so since it is a send-off celebration. The message is my recipe for a happy successful life. It is not based directly on research nor theory. Still it feels right to me.

The recipe is the acronym, GLADO. The prescription is be Generous, Loving, Authentic, Direct and Open and well being should result. It implicitly follows from years of research on Mindfulness. The mindful understanding that behavior makes sense from the actor’s perspective or else s/he wouldn’t have done it, leads us to be less evaluative of others and ourselves. As such, it removes the impediments to generosity, caring, authenticity, being direct and not fearing being open and true to ourselves.

If we practice this way of being, will all failure and rejection or open personal attack be a thing of the past? Probably not. It would be nice not to have to endure the trials and tribulations we suffer from time to time. But after all, many people out there are not embracing whatever wisdom this simple acronym holds. If we stay the course, we very well may avert some unpleasant episodes and certainly recover more quickly from others.

GLADO is easy to remember, and years later many students tell me that they call it to mind when they are feeling insecure or angry. To some this will seem like pabulum. I think they don’t realize that it’s hard to be soft. To them I say, “ try it and see.”

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  • Mindfulness
  • Jan 10, 08:32 AM

Fail, Fall, Forget

At what age do we give up the right to fail, fall, or forget?

Last night Peso, our rescue dog, attacked the food we had put out in the living room for guests. He’s typically well-behaved and gentle, but last night, he behaved like an animal. We quickly scolded him and decided he needed to go to canine university. If you asked us whether we expect perfection from him, we’d be quick to answer “of course not.” We might expect a 90% success rate, but never perfection. On the other hand, like everyone else, we never consider an instance of misbehavior as part of the 10%.

It’s the same way we tend to treat older adults. If your parent or grandparent fumbles with the key when trying to open the locked door, we may take the keys and open it ourselves as if we’re always successful. If he or she falls we not only rush to help— which may be a good thing—but we take note to make sure it never happens again, which may be a bad thing. And if she or he forgets something we deem worth remembering, we start looking for signs of dementia and take each petty instance of future forgetting as evidence.

If we confined our pets to a cage and if we induced a semi-comatose state in older adults we could make sure misdeeds didn’t occur. There would be no failure, falling, nor forgetfulness. Whether beast or beauty, to be alive is to be imperfect, and that should be perfectly fine.

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  • Mindfulness
  • Dec 29, 01:59 PM


I just gave an interview about guilt. The way these conversations typically go is that I start to wax eloquently (or so I imagine), and only a half of a handful of what I say ever appears in print. So here are a few nuggets (or fool’s gold) that I think may be worth mentioning:

1) Guilt is mindless. Because our behavior always makes sense at the time or else we’d behave differently, feeling guilty suggests we weren’t/aren’t aware of why we did whatever we did. If I didn’t spend a full day with my kids, I might feel guilty unless I mindfully made the choice to go to work for good reason.

2) Guilt is mindless because the guilt-ridden are presuming that if they did whatever they think they should have done or didn’t do whatever they think they shouldn’t have done, all would be good. This is the illusion of predictability that I’ve written about since the 1970’s. If you had spent more time with the children, that does not mean that they’d now be happier. Many stay-at-home moms raise unhappy children and many moms who work all day raise happy kids. There’s no way to know that a single variable like that will have a clear effect. Children usually need to feel loved and supported, but that can be given in brief doses over time or by inundating them with attention.

Life only consists of moments. When we make the moment count, guilt never need appear.

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  • Counterclockwise
  • Dec 23, 08:56 AM

Here and Now

For those of you who missed the first airing, my interview on WBUR’s “Here and Now” show will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, December 29, just after noon.