Weekend reads: Why teens love Harry Potter, tips for New Year's resolutions, 2017's best good news

Kristin Tyndall's reads

Bill Gates "retweets" some of 2017's best happy news on his blog, for those of us feeling overwhelmed by a deluge of negative headlines. "On the whole, the world is getting better," he writes in a subsequent post on the same theme (that assertion is supported by a Steven Pinker book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, that I've been meaning to read for ages). Among Gates' picks for happiest tweets of 2017, you'll find a celebratory post from a first-generation college graduate and Gates' submission to the "extreme reading challenge."

Sadness may help us better comprehend complex ideas, according to recent research. Neuroscientists are discovering that emotions don't get in the way of learning—they help us create memories and understand nuances within a text. However, the takeaway is not that we should make students sad before their lessons, scientists say. Several studies have found that stress and fear have a negative impact on learning. Instead, scientists say their research may one day help instructors make lessons more meaningful for students and create learning environments that better support different types of activities.

Seren Snow's reads

Why are teens are so addicted to dystopian novels like Harry Potter and Hunger Games? It's because teens themselves think they're in somewhat of a dystopian novel. For example, "their parents impose curfews, and no one lets them drive unless they are ready or not," says Jon Ostenson, a researcher in young adult dystopian literature at Brigham Young University. Teens are also very sensitive to ideas and content that provide emotional stimuli, which novels tend to do well, adds Laurence Steinberg, a psychologist at Temple University. Dystopian novels allow them to grapple with ideas of fairness, love, and morality without all of the consequences of grappling with those ideas in real life.

Hospital gowns are being transformed. Patients at hospitals often have a hard time walking around and abiding by doctors' requests without feeling exposed. That's why students from the Parsons School of Design and a "healthwear" company called Care and Wear are working together to  change them. The new gowns allow patients to expose only the required parts of their bodies using ties. It also has wide sleeves with plastic snaps for when patients are getting an IV. It even includes pockets so they can store their personal belongings. MedStar hospital system is currently testing the gown at one of its Maryland-based hospitals. Too often, "patients get stripped of their sense of personhood, of their privacy," says Dr. Mark Smith, the chief innovation officer of MedStar Health and the director of the MedStar Institute for Innovation.

Kathleen Escarcha's reads

For many of us, the new year brings a renewed commitment to self-improvement—that often sputters out by mid-February. Luckily, the New York Times’ Smarter Living newsletter identified strategies to help set resolutions you’ll actually keep. As someone who love to set (then forget) her resolutions, I'm trying out a few of their suggestions, like including a concrete timeline and practicing more self-compassion.  

Emoji enthusiasts can expect more than 20 new additions to the emoji library this 2018. Some of the most popular emoji requests, like redheads and softballs, will finally make their debut, says Jeremy Burge, vice chair of the Unicode Emoji Subcommittee. The addition I’m most excited about? A bagel emoji—although I’ll reserve my judgement until it's confirmed that the image includes cream cheese. 

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