How not to say the wrong thing
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10 tips for a better life from The Times’ Op-Ed pages in 2013

How not to say the wrong thing
Susan Silk and Barry Goldman explained the “ring theory” of kvetching in an April Op-Ed article that included a diagram and simple rules for not saying the wrong thing:

“The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, ‘Life is unfair’ and ‘Why me?’ That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring. Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.”

They also offered this wisdom:

“Listening is often more helpful than talking.”

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How to buy happiness
Forget diligently saving for a house or placing too much value on material things, argued Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton in a May Op-Ed. Research shows that spending money on experiences and doing things for other people are the key ingredients for a happier life. Their bottom line:

“How we use our money may matter as much or more than how much of it we’ve got.”

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Don’t risk your life for a tan
Skin cancer surgeon Travis Kidner wrote about his melanoma diagnosis in an Aug. 5 Op-Ed that also argued for warning labels on tanning beds. “We need to get the word out,” he said. “Tanning kills.” The scary stats:

“Specializing in the care of melanoma patients makes me all too aware of the facts. I know that melanoma is one of only a few cancers whose incidence is increasing. The chance of developing it during a lifetime is 1 in 50. And while melanoma accounts for less than 5% of skin cancer cases, it causes 75% of skin cancer deaths. This year alone there will be more than 76,000 new cases of melanoma diagnosed in the United States, causing 9,000 deaths. [...]

“People have to understand that there is no such thing as a healthy tan, particularly one that comes from a tanning bed. Research has shown that just one indoor tanning session increases the user’s chances of developing melanoma by 20%, and each additional session during the same year boosts the risk almost another 2%. One study found that when people first used a tanning bed before the age of 35, they increased their risk for melanoma by 75%.”

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When you’re on vacation, unplug
In September, Washington columnist Doyle McManus wrote about how a demon iPad stole his summer vacation. “Instead of browsing dog-eared summer-house mystery novels and bodice rippers, this year we browsed the Internet,” he lamented. “Instead of long evenings of Scrabble or Monopoly or poker, we checked our Twitter feeds and updated our Facebook pages.” Lessons learned:

“It’s important not to let the convenience of the Internet get in the way of simpler beauties. That’s not the Internet’s fault. It’s ours, for failing to curb the urge to browse.”

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When it comes to medical procedures, choose wisely
Patients in Los Angeles are increasingly demanding more medical services from their doctors, wrote Daniel J. Stone in a March Op-Ed: “Angelenos approach healthcare as they do other kinds of consumption. They expect their CT scans, when they want them, in much the same way they expect their decaf caramel extra hot low-fat macchiatos. Think of it as the Starbucks syndrome in healthcare.”

Trouble is, he said, the “ ‘more is better’ approach to healthcare ... adds cost without necessarily leading to better outcomes.”

Instead, he recommends choosing wisely. His prescription to both doctors and patients:

“A joint initiative of Consumer Reports and the American Board of Internal Medicine, the program is aimed at encouraging both physicians and patients to carefully consider the wisdom of medical procedures. The program asks each of 25 medical sub-specialty societies to identify five commonly used tests or procedures that both patients and their doctors should question. When such procedures and tests are done without need, they are not just a waste of money; in some cases they may subject patients to additional risk without the potential to improve their health.”

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Put down the Prilosec and pay attention to your heartburn
Sure, meds like Prilosec make it possible -- er, more comfortable -- to eat whatever you want, but in an October Op-Ed, Michael P. Jones argued against suppressing heartburn. His potentially lifesaving advice to readers:

“The body is an amazing machine. If you twist your ankle, it hurts and you take it easy. If you encounter a situation similar to one that was threatening or scary in the past, you get a jolt of apprehension and think twice. And if you eat too much, you get heartburn.

“Heartburn is not a disease. It is a symptom, a sign. Most often, it’s a message that you’re operating outside your body’s specifications: Please stop doing that. Or as my father said, ‘Stupidity is supposed to be painful.’ (‘Doctor, it hurts when I do that. What should I do?’ It’s usually at this point in the office visit that I can start to taste the blood from biting my lip.)

“Heartburn is your friend. It’s a warning that you’re courting high blood pressure, adult-onset diabetes and heart disease. It’s a risk factor for a lot of cancers and poor outcomes for almost any condition you’d care to list. (Does any of that sound like the American healthcare crisis to you?) Today’s heartburn after six slices of pizza is tomorrow’s crushing chest pain when you go face down in the meatballs.”

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Study abroad
In an August Op-Ed, Aaron Rosen argued that students should consider attending college in Europe. His four smart reasons:

1. “The admissions process in America has become a mutant version of ‘The Hunger Games,’ in which students grapple against their peers for a single spot in a liberal arts college, convinced by parents and guidance counselors that their survival rests on playing one more musical instrument or varsity sport.”

2. “Students applying outside the U.S. not only bypass this rat race, they also radically increase their chances of getting into a better university. Instead of jostling for places at mid-range American universities, which now have the luxury of admitting fewer and fewer students, applicants can apply to top-flight European institutions as a coveted international student.”

3. “Perhaps most important, universities abroad can be dramatically more affordable than private colleges in America. A typical top-tier U.S. liberal arts college costs about $55,000 to $60,000 a year, including room and board. Even taking into account the increased cost of living and higher tuition rate for non-European Union students, American students would pay roughly $25,000 less a year to attend a university of equivalent stature in Britain. And students can still avail themselves of U.S. federal loans, even while studying outside the U.S.”

4. “The real kicker is that most British bachelor’s degrees typically require only three years instead of four for graduation, saving both time and money. Without financial assistance, the cumulative savings for a British versus American bachelor’s degree then leaps to about $130,000.”

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Declutter your life -- and start living
Our lives have become too cluttered, taken over by physical and virtual mess, argued Howard Mansfield in a September Op-Ed. “Clutter is the cholesterol of the home; it’s clogging the hearth,” he wrote. His tidy tip:

“Ignore the decluttering gurus who pile step upon step. Don’t clutter your life with preparation and endless lists. Take this advice from the decluttering coach who calls herself ‘FlyLady': Grab 27 things and remove them. Repeat. What’s keeping you from living? Throw it all away, step over it, push it into a corner, into the garage, barn, storage shed. Mice, rats, mold, mildew will have their way. Just go live your life.”

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Select the right college for <em>you</em>
Instead of solely focusing on college rankings, Barry Glassner and Morton Schapiro advised students (and their parents) to think about different criteria when deciding which college to attend. “Consider where you will thrive, both in the near term and after you graduate,” they wrote in an August Op-Ed. Their professor wisdom:

“In the end, the payoff will be greater. After all, the goal is to develop the skills and the inclination to educate yourself for life.”

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Don’t diet for the wrong reason
Are Americans obsessed with weight loss because we’re seeking better health or avoiding weight discrimination? “Fear and loathing of fat are real, and American attitudes about fat may be more dangerous to public health than obesity itself,” argued Abigail Saguy in a January Op-Ed that described the many ways heavier women are discriminated against. Saguy’s food for thought:

“This year, before embarking on yet another diet, ask yourself why you want to lose weight. If it is to improve your health, perhaps you should focus on health-enhancing behaviors that are more directly linked to health: Pledge, for example, to get more sleep, eat more fruits and vegetables, get regular physical activity, or spend more time with friends.

“But if you are trying to change your body to shield against discrimination and stigma, consider making a different kind of New Year’s resolution: to stand up to intolerance and bigotry in all its various forms, whether racism, sexism or fatphobia.”

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