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DUCKWORTH: Oh my gosh. That is where Instagram really comes from.

*      *      *

DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.

MAUGHAN: I’m Mike Maughan.

DUCKWORTH + MAUGHAN: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.

Today on the show: Why do we think nature is beautiful?

MAUGHAN: We all, in person, are asking ourselves, “Is this real?” And, I mean, obviously it was real, but it’s so stunning. 

*      *      *

MAUGHAN: Angela, I’m so excited to talk to you today.

DUCKWORTH: Samesies. Hello, Mike.

MAUGHAN: I’m so pleased you started with “samesies.” Okay. So, we have a listener named Tim. He said, “I saw a stunning photo on Twitter with a serene lake in Italy with majestic mountains in the distance.” And he said, “I wondered, why do I find this so beautiful, because beauty is supposedly in the eye of the beholder, but I can’t imagine anyone who looks on this sight in nature having a negative reaction to it. It seems objectively beautiful. Is it hard-wired or learned? And is this appreciation of beauty unique to humans?” So Angela, you live in a large city. Philadelphia has about 6 million people in the greater metro, right?

DUCKWORTH: Stephen Dubner always makes me call it “Filth-adelphia.” But let me just say that the denizens of Philadelphia did not appreciate that nickname.

MAUGHAN: I was going to say, talk about offending 6 million people all at once. So, you live in “Filth-adelphia” —.

DUCKWORTH: By choice.

MAUGHAN: No one is holding you captive there. I live in a smaller city. It has about 840,000 people. So, your city has more people than my entire state. My house is right at the mouth of a canyon. My back deck of my house overlooks miles of mountain ranges. And so, before we hop in, I thought it would be helpful to define your relationship with nature. Are you mostly city-bound? Do you get out in nature often, or is your exposure to nature parks?

DUCKWORTH: You know, I would be that person who looked at the photo of a serene lake in Italy with majestic mountains in the distance and be like, “Eh, nah.” I live in a city that is, you know, relatively large and not surrounded by mountains. I guess you are, like, close to Salt Lake City, right?

MAUGHAN: About 45 minutes. Yeah.

DUCKWORTH: But my recollection of my several visits to Salt Lake City, is that, like, even in downtown, I mean, it’s 360, right? You just look around and there are majestic mountains. 

MAUGHAN: Yes. When I moved here 10 years ago, people would say, “Oh, just go toward the mountains.” And I was like, “Give me a freaking break. There are mountains everywhere.” And they’re like, “Well, the close mountains.” And I was like, “Okay, anyway.” First of all, I’m really bad at directions, I’m terrible at geography. If I had lived in any era before Google Maps on your phone, I certainly would’ve died and been lost forever. But yes, people are always like, “Oh, go toward the mountains.” And I just want to punch them in the face a little bit, because I’m like, “There are mountains, literally everywhere you look.”

DUCKWORTH: We have none of that. You could do a 360 turn anywhere in Philadelphia, you will not see any mountains. And, in fact, what you will see is not necessarily beautiful. If you ask me what’s in view from my back deck, I realized when we moved into this home that we didn’t even have a patch of grass, right? So, there is a back deck, but we abut this, like, 25-story apartment building that towers over our townhouse.

MAUGHAN: Did you have to pay extra for the view of said building?

DUCKWORTH: No, but it is populated largely by Wharton MBA students, and so I’m a little self-conscious hanging out on my back deck. And these lovely apartment residents occasionally will have beer cans and other things, like, roll off their deck. So, we actually had to install an awning to prevent, you know, head injury. 

MAUGHAN: Oh, oh, you’re saying they roll off onto you? 

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. We’re, like, down there on the, whatever, second floor, and then 25 floors above somebody’s beer can rolls off, and then could hit you in the head.

MAUGHAN: Bombs away! 

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. So, I know that’s not exactly about beauty, but it is a practical concern. So, I don’t have much of a relationship with nature.

MAUGHAN: I think you’ve really, really solidified the “Filth-adelphia” thing, though.

DUCKWORTH: With the rolling beer cans and the, yeah, projectiles that might kill you. I mean, look, I fully appreciate that some people think that being in nature is the apogee of human experience. I mean, Lucy, my younger daughter who you know, she goes camping. Every weekend, I feel like she’s, like, canoeing or hiking, and she loves natural beauty in a way that, I don’t know, her mom doesn’t so much. 

MAUGHAN: Okay, so, natural beauty, maybe not your thing. But I can’t believe you could look at that picture — that was the entire point of Tim’s question, he sent a copy of the picture and I mean, I realize people can’t see it on a podcast, but —.

DUCKWORTH: So yes, this is the majestic mountain. There’s, like, a canoe in the front, right? Or something. Is this real, by the way? It looks like, unreal. Do you think it’s a real picture?

MAUGHAN: Yes, I think it’s a real picture. I went biking in Italy last summer up in the Dolomites, and we went to this lake called Lake Garda. And I’m sitting there on the edge of this lake with two of my sisters and my parents, and we all, in person, are asking ourselves, “Is this real?” And I mean, obviously it was real, but it’s so stunning.  

DUCKWORTH: Okay, look, I look at this and I’m like, it is not my taste. I’ll say that. I’m not like, wanting to print this out and put it on my wall, but I can recognize that it’s beautiful. I’m just not feeling “moved” by it. 

MAUGHAN: I don’t know how to talk to you about this then.

DUCKWORTH: You’re like, “Who are you?” “I don’t trust you.” 

MAUGHAN: I don’t trust you anymore. That said, we still have to finish this conversation, but here’s what researchers have found in this article, “Nurtured by Nature,” which was in The American Psychological Association Monitor on Psychology. 

DUCKWORTH: That’s, like, the magazine that you get if you are a member of the American Psychological Association — like, “APA,” as we call it in the industry. So anyway, the rag for psychologists who are members of this association. Go on.

MAUGHAN: But in it, it talks about that a stroll through a city park and a day spent hiking out in nature — both of those are exposure to nature. Now, to different degrees, but that exposure to nature alone is known to improve attention spans, lower stress, get people into a better mood, reduce the risk of psychiatric disorders, and they even say that it leads to upticks in empathy and cooperation. And so, what I found interesting about this was, there is this natural human draw, and exposure to nature actually has real impacts on both our mental and physical health, even if it’s just a city park. So, my experience in Chicago versus my experience, you know, traipsing up through Sundance in Utah are equally beneficial in their own way.

DUCKWORTH: Well look, I was looking at a study of the kind that you just described. You randomly assign people to either go on a walk through nature — like, through a little wooded area that’s beautiful or some other thing that’s like the same amount of time, the same amount of effort, but it’s not through nature. And in this study, yes, there are these amazing benefits of just taking a walk with natural beauty around you. And it’s so interesting because at the time that I read that study, I was like, “Come on, really?” It’s, like, what we want to believe. I was a little skeptical, nay, I may even say cynical about it, but, I was having this conversation with a friend and we were talking about kids on screens, for whatever reason. She’s a mom, she’s got lots of kids. She’s spent her whole life in education, and she’s like, “I wonder if it’s not just that kids are on screens, but they’re not in nature.” Right? Like, there is something like, you know, a vitamin that we’re not getting like “vitamin N” for nature. And it’s not —. 

MAUGHAN: Also, vitamin D, literally. 

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. So, this is what my friend said, and I think that maybe there is something bizarrely restorative, or uniquely restorative, about nature. And I’ve tried it myself. Like, when I am feeling really anxious and unhappy and I have a choice of walking out my door to the right which goes toward this little river trail that isn’t exactly like majestic mountains and so forth, but, like, it is on the river, and there are trees, and there is grass. I can go that way for a walk or I can turn to the left and that would be walking into the city, right? And there’s, you know, townhouses, and coffee shops, and sidewalk. And when I turn right and I go to the river and I take a long walk, I very often feel like, somehow, gosh, healed? I don’t know, restored? There’s something really good — nourishing even, about taking a walk through nature.

MAUGHAN: I mean, I believe all these things. And there are three hypotheses as to why. One is called the biophilia hypothesis. And that’s the idea that our ancestors evolved in the wild. And there’s this innate evolutionary drive that we have to connect with nature and that when that’s not there, then we feel something missing, right? You’ve kind of talked about your experience going on this walk. The — another is this stress-reduction hypothesis.

DUCKWORTH: That was really my walk, right? I wasn’t so much like, “Oh, I feel like I want to enjoy nature,” but more like, “I’m stressed.”

MAUGHAN: Right, and it’s this idea that it lowers stress levels more than just, say, a walk through the city. Now, I don’t know exactly why that is. I think we could guess. You know, probably a lot less stimulation. So, if you’re in a city, and if you went the other way with the coffee shops, you still are hearing horns, and people, and da-da-da. Whereas if you’re on this walk in nature, it’s much more calming sounds — the stream going by, the birds singing in the trees. The last is this attention-restoration theory, which says basically the time in nature just reboots the brain. And afterward you can pay attention better, you can concentrate more, and you can kind of participate in life more fully than you had before. 

DUCKWORTH: Well, let me make a friendly amendment just to the last one, right? So, okay. It’s like, you said one reason why nature could be awesome sauce, is that it’s just, like, biophilia. Like, we love it, right? It’s intrinsically enjoyable. The second one was stress reduction. And the third explanation is cognitive. So, I do remember one of these, like, really high-profile studies, and it was co-authored by a friend of mine named John Jonides. So, I talked to him a little bit about it. This is a paper in 2008 in Psychological Science. This paper’s called “The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting With Nature,” so it’s this third hypothesis that you have, and it is all about attention restoration theory. So, I will quote from the article, “Unlike natural environments, urban environments are filled with stimulation that captures attention dramatically, and additionally requires directed attention, e.g., to avoid being hit by a car, making them less restorative.” In Philadelphia, you absolutely could get hit by a car at any given moment, even if you’re on the sidewalk.

MAUGHAN: You are literally the worst ambassador of Philadelphia of all time.

DUCKWORTH: I’m going to get in so much trouble, but it’s so true. And then, the article goes on, “we present two experiments that show that walking in nature or viewing pictures of nature can improve directed attention abilities, thus validating attention restoration theory.” But look, I think John’s put it like, your attention’s getting mugged. Your attention’s being grabbed by the lapels and like shaken down and nature is like, it’s there, and you can direct your own attention wherever you want, but it’s not grabbing it. Maybe this is why you decided not to live in the city of Salt Lake even, right? You made a choice to live on a cliff — or wherever you have your little house.  

MAUGHAN: Yeah. And to be clear, I am still in a small city and Salt Lake City is still not Philadelphia, but yes. Here’s what I think is so interesting about what you just said, is that you were skeptical. Seems like you are now willing to acquiesce the point, or at least entertain it.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. I’m not a skeptic anymore. I don’t know if I want to say that I’m, like, an evangelical, like, “everybody should go outside all the time.” We don’t have to all live on a cliff, but I’m just saying nature’s good. So Mike, people may have their own opinions and experiences. We would both like to hear from our listeners, what do you find beautiful? Whatever it is, tell us your name, where you’re from, record in a quiet place, put your mouth up to the phone, of course. And email us at Maybe we will play your story on a future episode of the show.

Still to come on No Stupid Questions: Have people always seen nature as beautiful?

MAUGHAN: All of these spots that didn’t used to be super popular, suddenly people would show up and stare at nature backwards.

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Now, back to Angela and Mike’s conversation about the benefits of getting outside and experiencing nature. 

DUCKWORTH: So, separate from the restorative attention thing, and maybe even separate from, like, emotional wellbeing, there’s just the aesthetics. You’re, like, one of those people who buys paintings. Right? 

MAUGHAN: I do, yeah.

DUCKWORTH: Well, this, like, aesthetic element of nature — there was this recent article in the Journal of Environmental Psychology just last year, 2022, and it’s called “Testing the Biophilia Theory,” colon, “Automatic Approach Tendencies Toward Nature.” And they simply ask people to complete tasks, based on your reaction time — like, how quickly you press a button for something which is, like, natural beauty versus, you know, an urban scene, and that’s kind of the setup for all these experiments. They’re trying to get at what your unconscious associations are with natural beauty versus urban scenes that could be considered beautiful. Their conclusion is that, quote, “All tasks reveal a tendency to approach nature and avoid cities,” unquote. 

MAUGHAN: Boom. “All tasks,” let’s go. So, what I think is interesting is that our relationship with nature as humanity has obviously changed over time. In the 1700s in Great Britain, there was this construct about nature where it was considered so untamed, so rugged, so out there, that people were kind of afraid to go into the wilderness. And the prevailing sentiment at the time was that there were kind of these two ways to talk about nature. “The sublime” was this idea that nature is so untamed, so rugged and awe-inspiring that it’s just this dangerous, out-there thing that we can’t approach. And then on the other side, you’ve got what’s beautiful, which is think of your manicured garden, right? With beautiful lawns, fresh flowers, little saplings and that was very approachable. But the untamed wilderness was unapproachable.

DUCKWORTH: So, nature — like, wild nature — was sublime and manicured, tamed nature was beautiful. Was that the general idea?

MAUGHAN: Yes. And people kind of had this either-or view. And then there’s the rise of this idea of the “picturesque.” And the “picturesque” was sort of the melding of the two where it was saying, “Yeah, you can experience the beauty while also being in the awe.” Meaning, I think, like, you can go hike in this mountain. It’s not so terror-filled. It’s approachable. And at the same time, there was this thing called the Claude glass. Have you ever heard of the Claude glass?

DUCKWORTH: The Claude glass?

MAUGHAN: Yes. Named after Claude Lorrain, a French landscape painter.

DUCKWORTH: Never heard of it. 

MAUGHAN: And so people would go and turn their back to the view and hold up a mirror to look at the scenery reflected in the glass. Now, it was often used by painters and artists. It did have kind of these convex mirrors. So, think of, like, a fun house mirror. So it — yes, it allowed you to take this step back. 

DUCKWORTH: They would literally look at nature through the reflection in a mirror? 

MAUGHAN: Yes, it was a mix of the beginnings of the selfie stick and Instagram.

DUCKWORTH: Oh my gosh. That is where Instagram really comes from. 

MAUGHAN: Right? You know, on Instagram, it was really popular for years to filter everything?


MAUGHAN: With the Claude glass, they would carry these different glass slides in different colors so they could view the landscape with different tones and filters, right? 

DUCKWORTH: Oh, this really is the beginning of the selfie, whatever, you know — like, perturbation of reality. 

MAUGHAN: And you’ll not be surprised that, just like with selfie sticks, people would get hurt because they’re looking at the view backwards through this lens.

DUCKWORTH: Oh God, just as dumb as you know, all those, like, terrible videos of people, like terrible things happening to them while they’re taking a selfie of themselves.

MAUGHAN: Right. So, people would fall, they would whatever — who do you think, by the way, are more likely to die when taking a selfie? Men or women? 

DUCKWORTH: I’m going to go with men 100 percent, but I’m probably wrong —.

MAUGHAN: Yes. Men are two to three times more likely to die. 

DUCKWORTH: Okay. I was going to say, like, men are always worse than women. I was like, is this a trick question? It’s always men doing incredibly dumb things that lead to the demise of the species.

MAUGHAN: I know. But yeah. So, that’s this idea of the Claude glass.

DUCKWORTH: Wait, wait, wait. Here’s the thing I don’t understand about the Claude glass, right? Like, is it to enhance the awe experience? Is it to enhance the aesthetic experience? Or is it because, you know, kind of, like, you can’t look at an eclipse with your naked eye or you go blind? Is it to mute a little bit, like, the awesome force of natural beauty because no human being can look at it without this, you know, intermediary? 

MAUGHAN: So, I think it was both. I think its practical purpose was for painters. Now, why they wouldn’t just face it, I don’t know but—. 

DUCKWORTH: No, but it has the framing thing, right? 

MAUGHAN: And the convex mirrors. So again, the sort of experience in a fun house where it just steps you back a little bit. It was almost like taking two steps back so you could get more of it.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah, it’s like using the zoom function.

MAUGHAN: It had that practical impact, but then it was used very popularly just by tourists and all of these spots that didn’t used to be super popular, suddenly people would show up with their Claude glass and stare at nature backwards.  

DUCKWORTH: So, I did not know anything about anything that you said in the, what is it, 18th century? But here’s something I do know that is just the science of the emotion of awe. So, you know, Dacher Keltner, do you know that name? Have you heard of this Berkeley psychologist?

MAUGHAN: I love this game so much. No. 

DUCKWORTH: So, Dacher is awesome, and Dacher studies, appropriately, awe. And this word by the way, “awesome,” which we just use without thinking, I mean, it does come from the root “awe,” and there’s, a sense in the emotion of awe of being part of something much larger than yourself and also that you don’t fully understand. And I think the theory that Dacher Keltner advances is that there’s something about this feeling of being in the presence of something that transcends your understanding — like, you don’t fully grasp it, but it’s amazing — that changes your perspective in a way that makes you more open to new ideas, to connecting with people that you might otherwise not connect with. There’s research showing that it’s linked to being healthier, and of course happier, as you might imagine. And, you know, one of the things that I read that Dacher Keltner wrote on the topic, he wrote, “Our culture is becoming more awe-deprived. Adults spend more and more time working and commuting and less time outdoors and with other people. So often our gaze is fixed on our smartphones rather than noticing the wonders and beauty of the natural world or witnessing acts of kindness, which also inspire awe.” So, this idea that maybe, unwittingly, we have built a world for ourselves that is concrete, and steel, and glass that, you know, I stay in my little townhouse. I don’t really talk to other people all day long. I am not out in nature, but I’m also not in the community. Like, I’m just, like, by myself on my laptop. That this kind of individualistic and material trend away from community and natural beauty is just bad. And I think that’s why when my friend said, “I don’t know, maybe screens are bad, sure, but maybe the real evil here is what they take us away from” — like, that biophilia that we should be experiencing, you know, every day. Like I said, I was really cynical at first, maybe because I’m, like, a city mouse. But now I’m kind of like, yeah, that kind of makes sense.

MAUGHAN: Well, I love that concept that it’s not even just nature, but that we’re losing our sense of awe. Okay. Can I play one more game with you?


MAUGHAN: Because Tim asked us the question, is it hardwired into us? Is it just humans? And so, I thought it was worth looking at how humans and animals maybe diverge in terms of their perception.  

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. Okay. Go on.

MAUGHAN: So animals, it turns out, perceive colors very different than humans. So, I’m going to make you stack-rank just four as to which animals you believe can see the widest swaths of colors.

DUCKWORTH: Oh, oh my God, I just snorted, so unattractive.

MAUGHAN: Okay. You ready?


MAUGHAN: Okay. Butterflies, dogs, mantis shrimp, and sparrows. Who can see most colors and the fewest?

DUCKWORTH: Butterflies, dogs, “manta” shrimp?

MAUGHAN: Mantis shrimp and sparrows. 

DUCKWORTH: And sparrows. Okay. So, you have to be an animal that needs to see differences in color. So, I’m going to go with either butterflies or sparrows, because they need to identify flowers. So, I will go with butterflies. I can’t remember what sparrows eat, but I don’t think they eat flowers. They’re just hanging out near flowers and probably eating grubs, which are probably easily discerned by their shape. So, I’m going to go sparrows number two, butterflies number one. And then, I don’t know what a mantis shrimp is. Can I ask you what a mantis shrimp is, is that cheating?

MAUGHAN: May I phone a friend? A mantis shrimp is neither a mantis nor a shrimp but it looks a little like a shrimp. It grows to about six inches long. It lives in the ocean in the water —.

DUCKWORTH: Oh, it’s like a shrimp.


DUCKWORTH: Oh, come on. For all intents and purposes, it’s a shrimp.

MAUGHAN: But you don’t want to eat this guy.

DUCKWORTH: I don’t want to eat it. I’m going to go with the number three mantis shrimp. And number four, I’m going to go with dogs, because they have such a great sense of smell. So, number one, butterflies. Number two, sparrows. Number three, mantis shrimp. Number four dogs. And if you ask me how confident I am on a scale from zero to 10, I’m going to go with nine. 

MAUGHAN: Wow, you did a remarkably good job, but have one error that is stark. 

DUCKWORTH: Okay, I thought you were going to say a remarkably good job of getting it entirely wrong.

MAUGHAN: No, I’m not that mean. Okay. Animals see things differently. Dogs see the least. 

DUCKWORTH: Good, I got that right.

MAUGHAN: Yes. So they see blue, green, black and white. So, next in the list is sparrows. And sparrows can —. 

DUCKWORTH: Ooh, I got the sparrows thing wrong.

MAUGHAN: Yeah, well they can see a much broader rainbow than humans. Especially way more shades of red. Butterflies are next.

DUCKWORTH: No! Okay.  

MAUGHAN: Butterflies have five or six color receptors, humans only have three. But the difference is that a color receptor is, it’s not like a linear expansion of how many colors you can see, it’s exponential. So, when you go from three that we have to five or six that they have, it’s not just, oh, two more, it’s this exponential increase of colors that they can see. But the craziest one is the mantis shrimp. So, if butterflies have five or six, mantis shrimp have 16 photoreceptors.  

DUCKWORTH: Woah! And then you put that together with that exponential thing you just said, and it’s a lot of colors.  

MAUGHAN: They can see way more colors than any other animal on the entire spectrum of known organisms. 

DUCKWORTH: Why do you think that is? They have to eat things and like, oh gosh, if it’s this hue, then it’ll kill you. And if it’s that hue, it’s great —.

MAUGHAN: It’s kind of a mystery, because they’re not like these, you know, “let’s go enjoy a sunset,” they’re incredibly violent creatures. They have these little hammer claws that they punch their prey with, and the speed of their punch is 50 times faster than the human eye can blink. It’s like a bullet fired from a gun. And so they just, like, punch you. So, I watched a video of them like punching a hermit crab, and they just punch through the shell, break it, and then take the crab, and the water around the punch is as hot as the surface of the sun because of the speed at which they punch.

DUCKWORTH: Wow. You could spend your whole life studying mantis shrimp.

MAUGHAN: Isn’t that crazy?

DUCKWORTH: Maybe you need to see a lot of different hues in order to —.

MAUGHAN: Well, they have no idea actually, but they’re beginning to think that maybe different colors signal, like: Oh, go attack this thing. This color signals sex, this color signals safety but with that many, I mean, think 16 photoreceptors, we have no idea, we can’t even see the color so it’s not like we can understand why they do it.

DUCKWORTH: You know, we started off with this like, I don’t know, cheesy picture that Tim sent in —. 

MAUGHAN: That is so rude. Tim, I thought it was a beautiful, not cheesy picture. 

DUCKWORTH: Well, okay. With the majestic mountains in the background, there’s the boat, and the mirror-like surface of the lake and all that. Sorry, Tim. I kind of find it cheesy, but you know what this conversation has convinced me of Mike, is that whether it’s, like, the mantis shrimp, or Tim, or you, or me, maybe there is something evolutionarily adaptive about beauty. I think I’m kind of going from a cynic about all of that to being, like, a total convert. 

MAUGHAN: Welcome to the team, we’re so happy to have you. I also think that it’s okay that people view things somewhat differently, as we’ve talked about. And so you can be a city mouse, I can be a mountain person, but all of us, it turns out, benefit from getting some exposure to nature. So, I’d just say after you listen to this, I hope you’re out taking a walk with some trees.  

This episode of No Stupid Questions was produced by me, Katherine Moncure. And now, here’s a fact-check of today’s conversation. Early in the conversation, Mike says that he lives in a city of about 840,000 people. According to the latest U.S. census data from 2022, the population of the Provo/Orem metro area, where Mike lives, is just over 715,000. Then, when Mike lists the colors that dogs can identify, he omits yellow. Later, Mike says that you don’t want to eat a mantis shrimp. He might not, but mantis shrimp can be eaten. The website Serious Eats describes their meat as “intensely sweet, like lobster.” Finally, Mike says that when a mantis shrimp punches its prey, the water around the punch becomes as hot as the surface of the sun. In fact, a mantis shrimp punch releases enough energy to make the water around it 8,500 degrees fahrenheit — but the surface of the sun is about 10,000 degrees fahrenheit. Keep trying, mantis shrimp! That’s it for the fact-check.

Before we wrap today’s show, let’s hear some of your thoughts about last week’s episode on regret:

Beatrice TAYLOR: My name is Beatrice Taylor from Toronto, Ontario. One of my biggest regrets is going to Harvard for my master’s degree. I did not expect to win a scholarship for half of the tuition, but I did. I decided to go to Harvard even though I won a full scholarship to a very good university in my hometown. The main reason I went to Harvard was that I was worried that I would regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t go. But in hindsight, it was absolutely the wrong decision for me. A master’s degree at Harvard, even with a half scholarship, is still an enormously expensive undertaking. I did not enjoy the program. I did not feel connected to my professors or classmates, most of whom had financial backing from their parents. I desperately wanted to quit after the first two months, but I felt trapped in my decision, and I did not want to be a quitter. Most of all, I simply could not afford the financial hit to move back home and start again at my local university. It took me 15 years to pay off my student debt. I still don’t know if I would’ve been happier had I gone to my local university, but I am 100 percent certain that I regret going to Harvard.

Jacqueline MIDGLEY: When I was 20, I was living in Auckland, New Zealand, and I met an American boy who was studying abroad for a semester, and it was like a fairytale. It was, like, eyes locked across the room, and we were just kind of drawn to each other. And we had this really deep connection. But then, he had to go back to the States to finish his degree. So, I kind of just, I just left it. It’s been 18 years, so I always wonder what my life could have been if I had kind of been assertive and gone over to the States, at least after he finished studying or whatever, and if I had known how difficult that kind of connection is to find. And I just didn’t realize at the time.

That was, respectively, Beatrice Taylor and Jacqueline Midgley. Thanks so much to them and to everyone who sent us their thoughts. And remember, we’d still love to hear about what you find beautiful. Send a voice memo to Let us know your name and whether you’d like to remain anonymous. You might hear your voice on the show!

Coming up next week on No Stupid Questions: Angela and Mike discuss the pressure to drink alcohol.

DUCKWORTH: She says, “Angela, why drink if you don’t want to?” And I just was dumbstruck.

That’s next week on No Stupid Questions.

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No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio, People I (Mostly) Admire, and The Economics of Everyday Things. All our shows are produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio. This episode was mixed by Eleanor Osborne with help from Jasmin Klinger. We had research help from Daniel Moritz-Rabson and our senior producer is Rebecca Lee Douglas. Our theme song was composed by Luis Guerra. You can follow us on Twitter @NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow. If you have a question for a future episode, please email it to To learn more, or to read episode transcripts, visit Thanks for listening!

DUCKWORTH: Superfluous. Superfluous, superfluous, superfluous.

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  • William Gilpin, 18th-century English artist, travel writer, and cleric.
  • John Jonides, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Michigan.
  • Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.
  • Claude Lorrain, 17th-century French painter.



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