The Psychology of Why You Love Humans of New York

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD, explains the psychology behind how Humans of New York has garnered millions of fans.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
6-minute read

People often end up replicating a difficult relationship in their life—it’s so common for kids of abusive parents to marry an abusive partner, or for others to jump from one unhealthy relationship to another. For some, it can feel like a chance to try again—a hope that things will be different this time. For others, it can be a sense of consistency—if a relationship feels familiar, it often feels right and normal, even though it costs us tremendously. But the happy ending to his story, as well as the look of hard-earned confidence on his face, just makes me want to give this man a high-five.  

This veteran nails the ability to hold a “both-and” mindset. He can hold two incompatible thoughts simultaneously, and allow them both be true. It’s the opposite of either-or, which sets things up as an (often) false dichotomy. Don’t get me wrong, there are true either-or situations (the criminal justice system, for example, isn’t known for wiggle room between guilty or not guilty), but in general, being able to see that a situation can be black AND white can be freeing. Without getting into Buddhist territory or quantum physics, suffice it to say this gentleman’s ability to make peace with both his truths is far more powerful than denying one in service of the other.

Do you read Humans of New York? Are the photos and captions moving to you? Do you find they help you feel less alone? Let me know on my Savvy Psychologist Facebook page. I'd love to hear from you.

And don't forget to listen to my full episode with HONY's Brandon Stanton, in which we discuss how to talk to strangers and the importance of empathy, on iTunes and Stitcher. Or you can simply read the transcript here.

You can purchase a copy of Humans of New York: Stories on AmazonBarnes & NobleIndieBoundBooks-a-Million, or Apple.

This content is strictly for informational purposes and doesn't substitute for mental health care from a licensed professional.


Medical Disclaimer
All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets.