The Good Life

Positive psychology and what makes life worth living.

For What Are You All Surfing?

The attention of many surfers is drawn to nasty words.

One of comedian George Carlin's best-known routines, from the 1970s, was about the seven words that you can never say on television. Here is an update circa 2009: If you use words like these in a blog entry title, you get lots of hits. I've got the data.

In two of my 25 blog entries to date, I used nasty words* in the titles (see "Positive Psychology and Assholes" and "Positive Psychology and Bullshit"). In each case, I was discussing a book that used these exact words, but to be honest I was also trying to be provocative.

Mission accomplished, at least to judge by the very large number of hits these entries have received compared to almost all of the others I have written. Thank goodness, the most viewed entry I have written was about Randy Pausch (see "The Last Lecture: A Positive Psychology Case Study") That was a genuinely good blog entry, simply because of the subject matter.

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But it seems a fair conclusion that the attention of many surfers is drawn to words that promise outrage, words according to Carlin that will "infect your soul and curve your spine." Maybe that's a human tendency, or maybe my readers are all 16-year old adolescents.

Mind you, as a 59-year old adolescent myself, I'm not immune to the criticism I am implying. But it is also true that as I have become older, my vocabulary has become a lot less salty. Or maybe it's because I've tried deliberately to become more positive, and the nasty words have fallen away or at least become less important.

The Good Life (the title of this blog) is not about cursing or shocking. I doubt that too many people at the end of their lives wished that they had used more profanity. If you have read any of my entries here, including the jarringly-titled ones, you know my opinion about really matters: other people. What do we gain by turning them off or away or upside-down?

Then again, surfers are other people, too, and it's good to have their attention, whatever their motives.

If I ever want to end by career as a Psychology Today blog writer, I will post an entry that uses all of Carlin's words in the title. I've already thought of a few, and I guarantee that entry would be hit like a punching bag in the Kronk Gym.

In the meantime, I hope some of you keep reading what I have to say, whatever the titles may say or promise.

* To be precise, "asshole" and "bullshit" were not among what Carlin dubbed the heavy seven. But the points here remain.

See also Jay Dixit's interview with George Carlin—the last one conducted before Carlin passed away last year.

Christopher Peterson was professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.

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