Studies Show. . . .

Studies ShowWe are a society of studies. We’ve got studies for everything. A study out of Harvard Medical School, for example, tells us the American economy loses $63 billion a year because we don’t get enough sleep. Another study showed recently that people standing alone on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City were using phones more often than people in groups. “Duh?” you might think, but apparently this study runs contrary to a prevalent notion that we are increasingly isolated by our use of phones. And then there are the relentless studies at this time of year telling us why we haven’t kept our new year’s resolutions.

Just watch how many times a study pops out of an article, most of it seeking to correct our intuition about something. You may think you are eating healthy foods, but studies show you are consuming way too many carbohydrates. Or now the problem may be eating too much protein. Unless you are over 65 and then more protein may be good for you. I remember my defiance when studies wanted me to eliminate butter, God’s main ingredient for better eating, but now butter seems okay, according to studies. It’s the margarine that was bad.

I don’t want to be cynical here. Studies surely inform us about how to live better, or at least how better to understand our lives. There are good people out there, mostly academics, conducting these studies, so many of them motivated to help us, though motivated as well to get tenure. If they are appropriate studies, they are based on standards of proper research. And that’s a good thing. We want to trust these studies.

So many studies have something in common. They mostly approach life’s assumptions with suspicion. What we suppose to be true, studies will come to the rescue and show us otherwise. Studies can also accumulate, finally defining a paradigm, and it takes a long time to dislodge those settled assumptions from our heads, even after they are challenged. The other concern about studies is the whipsaw effect. Too often, maybe especially with medicine, they tell us something is good for us only to reverse course later on. The miracle drug at the moment is the simple aspirin, once discouraged because it ripped on our stomachs.

I heard a TV commentator say the other night, in the heat of a debate, “well, you can find studies on either side of this issue. You can find your studies, and I can find mine.” If we hear too much of that, real cynicism about studies will settle in.

So we ought to be careful about studies. We need to carry ourselves with a little suspicion about studies. But we need to listen, because studies do help us live better, and also because the notion of studies permeates everything we read.

But here is a point I want to make: We ought to trust as well our own intuition. We ought to seek a little more commonsense. And perhaps this drives us to some deeper principles of living, some of it coming to us from ancient sources of wisdom. One thinks about the notion of moderation in all things. How about the joy of good work, the positive value of building healthy families, the need to reduce stress, finding time for silence before God, showing kindness to others, being loyal and trustworthy? We can rely on these steady teachings. They will make our lives better no matter what studies might tell us. Studies won’t, in the end, trump true wisdom.