Gossip at the Office
I don’t talk about others more or less than the average person, but I have a friend at work with whom I jokingly have explicit trade-offs: If I present him with a piece of information, he owes me an equally juicy nugget in the future. There’s an unseemly pleasure to gossip, but it can also be beneficial. Some people think human language evolved so we could gain social information. And you can see how that works: If someone is plotting against you or if someone’s status has suddenly grown or dropped, you really want to know about that. Information is power, and its dissemination reduces the influence of the people who had it first.
Paul Bloom is a professor of psychology and cognitive science at Yale University and the author of How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like ($17, amazon.com). He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.
Americans aren’t good at taking vacations: It goes against our Protestant work ethic to give ourselves unstructured time. We think that if we’re not working, we’re being lazy. But continuous exertion impedes our creativity; it’s very important to have idle days. When every segment of our time is booked—when we go deadline to deadline to deadline—we don’t dream, we don’t play, and we don’t think of new projects. I know, because I’ve struggled with this my whole life. But I’ve realized that there’s incredible pleasure and possibility in deciding to veg out and do nothing for a change.
Erica Jong is the editor of the anthology Sugar in My Bowl: Real Women Write About Real Sex ($22, amazon.com) and the author of the iconic novel Fear of Flying ($16, amazon.com). She lives in New York City.