Thursday, September 30, 2010

Happiness is Six Hours of Sleep, a Quick Commute, Two Hours Playtime...

Are you as organized as these cats? Then you might like to try
the Daily Record's happiness schedule. From Music Juice.
Today the Daily Record of Scotland reports on a very specific recipe for happiness. Apparently most happy people get six hours and 15 minutes of uninterrupted sleep per night, have a 20-minute commute to and from work, enjoy five cooked meals per week, and get home at 5:42 pm. The data comes from a survey of 4,000 adults.

Of course these results are correlational, so we don't know if this schedule makes people happier, or if happy people just happen to follow this schedule. To test causation, someone would need to ask volunteers to follow the schedule while testing happiness before and after.

You can read the article for the full list. It has 17 items on it and gets very specific. I don't know if it can be put into practice, but you're welcome to try if you want.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cambridge Using Cellphones to Track Happiness

From Fast Company.
Here's some more tech news:  Cambridge University is studying happiness through cellphones. They're using a special technology called Emotionsense in modified Nokia phones to track people's daily activities. The technology compares user voice samples with those in a database called the "Emotional Prosody Speech and Transcripts Library," which gives the researchers data on the volunteers' moment-by-moment happiness. The phones also correlate the mood data with GPS data, to find out where people are the happiest.

This all sounds like a rather mechanical way to measure human emotion, but it actually represents an advancement. Previously, researchers would have to interrupt test subjects to get them to note their internal state of being. These interruptions could affect the data, but Emotionsense gets results without interruptions.

Dr. Cecilia Mascolo, leader of the research, has this to say:
"What we are trying to produce is a completely non-intrusive means of achieving that which also respects privacy. In time, it could have an enormous impact on the way in which we study human behaviour and give psychologists a deeper insight into what it is that makes different types of people tick."
For now, the actual results of the study aren't surprising:  test subjects were happiest at home, and more tense or sad at work. Hopefully the study will produce more interesting results if it continues, but the real story is the technology.

What do YOU think of this stuff? Is Emotionsense too much of an invasion of privacy? It's only been used on volunteers so far, but as they say, the genie can't go back in the bottle, and it's easy to imagine advertisers or other undesirables abusing the technology.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Internet Increases Happiness!? Say Wha--!?

A pictorial representation of internet data packets traveling around the world over a two-week period in 2005. Who knows what it looks like now? From Discover Magazine. Click here for a better look.
This news kind of surprised me, but here it is:  the Ashdown Group, a job recruitment agency, reports that internet access improves a person's happiness. This information comes from a study done by BCS, a UK institute for information technology. The study also found that women benefit the most from the internet, supposedly because of their openness to online social networking. Elizabeth Sparrow, president of BCS, says, "IT has a direct positive impact on life satisfaction, even when controlling for income and other factors known to be important in determining well-being." You can read more about the study, and watch a few (long) videos about it here.

Maybe the results surprise me because they go against the stereotype that internet users are all lonely nerds typing away from their parents basement (no offense if that describes you!). This also comes at an interesting time, because David Fincher's new movie The Social Network comes out on Friday here in the U.S. It looks like a great film, maintaining a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, but it also seems to be a part of the "internet=lonely emptiness" image, as depicted in the story of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. I can't wait to see it, though.

So this might be a case of actual research going against "common sense". I hope more people study the internet's effect on actual happiness (a long-term one would be nice), but what do you think? Do you think the internet has made you happier?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Exercise May Rewire the Brain for Happiness

From Discovery Health
Hello! Let me be the first to welcome you to Monday. This morning brings good news to you exercisers out there:  your brain may be more adept at handling stress. The Springfield, Missouri News-Reader reports on a Princeton study that put animals on a six-week aerobic conditioning program. After six weeks, researchers compared the braincells of the exercise group to those of the sedentary control group. The exercised brains morphed into a "biochemically calm" state, while the sedentary brains continued to react strongly to anxiety. Cardiovascular exercise is apparently better for this than strength training, though both have a noticeable effect.

Unfortunately, the article doesn't go into much detail about which animals were used in the study, but Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain explains a similar study with hamsters. In that study, exercise was shown to increase braincell production, as long as the hamsters exercised willingly (as opposed to being forced). This brings up the issue of neuroplasticity, which I've mentioned once or twice. The long and short of it is that brains are more malleable (in a good way) than people realize.

So if you don't exercise regularly, this is another reason to start. Like most things in life, it takes effort and practice, but the benefits are nearly unimaginable!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Weekend Viewing: The Minds of Animals

Jeffrey Kluger, floating in Charlie Rose's
empty void of an interview room.
Ah, Weekend Viewing. It's the equivalent of a teacher putting in a video for the kids because he or she wants to sleep in the back of the room.

Anyway, Charlie Rose is my favorite interviewer on television. He always has the most interesting guests and he always lets them get to the heart of the matter, instead of just fishing for soundbites. In this interview, we meet Jeffrey Kluger of Time Magazine, who talks about animal consciousness. It turns out that animals are more self-aware than most people realize. He also goes into detail about teaching apes to "speak" using pictograms. The implication is that since many animals have consciousness, perhaps we need to think more about their happiness and emotional wellbeing instead of making life hard for them.

So watch the video, kids. You can see it here:, because I don't know how to embed Charlie Rose's content. I'll just be at my desk, working with my head down.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Casual Friday: Happiness Fit

Do you think a lot of this happiness stuff is cheesy? That's okay:  so do I. And so does Sonja Lyubomirsky. Luckily, this doesn't mean we're walled off from the benefits of happiness science; it just means we need to find happiness activities that fit our personalities.

Sonja Lyubomirsky is one of the world's leading happiness researchers. In her book The How of Happiness, she includes a test for those of us who think a lot of positive psychology is cheesy:  "The Person-Activity Fit Diagnostic." This test asks you to assign number values to 12 activities shown to increase happiness. You can see a PDF version of the test here. Read the document for further instructions.

So give it a try. The test will give you ideas on how to meaningfully increase your happiness in the least cheesy way possible. This is important because if you're going to continue these activities over the long term, you shouldn't have to feel like a big cheesy idiot!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Boarding School with Classes in Positive Psychology Now Teaching Parents

From The Telegraph
Alastair Jamieson of The Telegraph reports that Wellington College, a boarding school with happiness classes for its students, is now offering those classes to parents. Wellington began teaching happiness and wellbeing classes in 2006. Anthony Sheldon, the teacher who introduced the classes, says that that they have been enormously successful, as evidenced by the creation of similar programs at other schools.

I've never heard of this school before, so I don't have much to add, other than these classes would probably be a good idea in American public schools as well, but with so many educational budget problems, they may not make the cut. It's an easier argument to make in college, where positive psychology classes overflow with students. Taxpayers may be harder to convince!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Bhutan Wants the UN to Include Happiness as a Development Goal

The Prime Minister of Bhutan at the UN. From Kuensel.
Kuensel Online, Bhutan's daily news site, reports that Prime Minister Lyonchhoen Jigmi Y Thinley made a speech before the United Nations on Monday. The speech asked world leaders to put "happiness" on the list of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The UN created this list of goals in 2001:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women
  4. Reduce child mortality rate
  5. Improve maternal health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability
  8. Develop a global partnership for development

The UN wants to meet these goals by 2015. As we speak, a review board is looking at how close we are, so the results should be in soon. Bhutan's Prime Minister says that happiness should be number nine on the list because it "stands as a separate value while representing as well the sum total outcome of the other eight."

Bhutan itself is an interesting country because it considers Gross National Happiness (GNH) to be more important than GDP, based on a policy enacted in 1972. As far as I know, it's still the only country with this policy. It's an interesting experiment, so I'll probably talk more about Bhutan in the future!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

One Out of Two Australian Men Want to Trade in Their Girlfriends for Someone New

Think this kangaroo is satisfied with his current relationship? Think again. From
Is Australia a nation of criminals? Maybe, but apparently it's also a nation of men dissatisfied with their partners. The Herald Sun reports on a new study that shows half the Australian men surveyed think that the key to happiness is a different woman. This is higher than the 44% of women surveyed who want a new man. Perhaps even more shocking are the whopping three-quarters of men who say their current relationships are not fulfilling enough.

Now don't go thinking that this is a problem with romance. According to Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness (a book I reference a lot), people are often dissatisfied with what they have, as long as there are other choices available. This, of course, is also a part of common wisdom. Just remember the phrase, "The grass is always greener on the other side." The point is that unhappiness with choices is a part of the human psyche, not necessarily a problem with the relationship itself. If this is the case, then all these roving Australian men will probably NOT feel happy within a new relationship, unless they feel they have no other choice.

So, anyone feel like sharing? What do you think about romantic relationships and their relation to happiness?

Monday, September 20, 2010

You Don't Need a Job to Be Happy!?

From NYDailyNews
Apparently not, as Jamie Doward of The Observer reports. According to a new study in The Economic Journal, unemployed people are less satisfied with their life in general, but on a day-to-day basis, they have the same level of positive feelings as the employed. The researchers explain that most people are happiest when at leisure and least happy at work, so in a way the results make sense because the unemployed have more leisure time.

But don't quit your job yet! Remember that money DOES buy happiness for people below the poverty line (just not for the middle class or higher). Unemployment can also add a lot of stress in today's tough job market. Still, though, this Economic Journal study may at least give jobless people reason to step back and be thankful for what they DO have as they continue down the difficult path to employment.

Those of you without a job, do you feel happy? How do you feel about this study? (Those with jobs can join in the discussion, too!)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Weekend Viewing: Martin Seligman

Here he is, the father of modern happiness science:  Martin Seligman. Mr. Seligman coined the term "positive psychology" in the early '90s as a response to most psychologists' focus on mental disorder (as opposed to the good parts of the human psyche). Psychology students may also recognize him as the creator of the learned helplessness concept.

In this TED Talk, Seligman gives a good introduction to his theories. He starts out being maybe a little too down on regular psychology, but he soon moves on to discuss the difference between real happiness and "Hollywood happiness," flow, and optimism. He gives very practical advice on finding happiness, especially after the 18-minute mark, so give it a watch! Hopefully it'll get your weekend off to a (meaningfully) happy start!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Casual Friday: Meditation

Hello and welcome to Friday! Today I'll give a brief introduction to the benefits of meditation using Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche's The Joy of Living. Born in Nepal in 1975, Yongey is one of the many Tibetan Buddhists to embrace modern science. He is also a best-selling author that is remarkably good at explaining the marriage between the two traditions.

In The Joy of Living, Yongey recounts a study by the neuroscientist Richard Davidson that tested meditation's effect on the brain. Davidson recruited test subjects from a Midwest corporation, hooking them up to an EEG and fMRI to measure their brain activity. He then gave the test group a ten-week course in beginner's meditation (leaving the control group alone, of course). The results were astounding. Even this short experiment produced significant electrical increases in the pleasure centers of the test subjects' brains. They felt happier, calmer, and more compassionate toward others. In blood tests, they also had a higher number of antibodies in their immune system.

So how do you meditate? Well, it's pretty simple actually, but it might not be easy. It's simple because all you need to do is calm your mind. Unfortunately for most of us, that takes practice.

Here's a simple method to get you started:

  1. Sit in a comfortable position.
  2. Really notice what thoughts are going through your head, but don't get attached to any of them. Just let them pass through your mind.
  3. If you want something to focus on, try counting your breaths without letting other thoughts come in. If you get distracted, that's okay. Gently remind yourself to keep counting.

That's pretty much all there is to it. As I said, this is a brief introduction, and other people are better at explaining it than me. The important thing is to PRACTICE. Like most things in life, meditation becomes easier and better the more you do it. Over time, it can actually change the physical structure of your brain for the better (see neuroplasticity).

Anyway, have a happy and calm Friday!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pet Talk

Picture not by me, unfortunately, but I forgot the source!
Hey gang. Today I'm going to talk about pets and their effect on happiness. It's a little off the beaten path for a weekday, but the daily news isn't so interesting right now. Necessity is the mother of invention, so let's get to it!

A May 2009 article on Physorg reports that Australia has saved around $3.86 billion in healthcare due to the health benefits of pets. Not only do pets increase happiness, they also help children learn empathy, and may help autistic children speak. After further research, prescriptions for pet ownership may not be far off.

So how about it? What benefits do YOU have from pet ownership? Feel free to post pics in the comments to break up this slow news day!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

African Americans Closing Racial Gap in Happiness

Source:  New York Times. Click here for the full image.
Black people have long gotten the short end of the stick in America. To this day, black unemployment is double that of whites, just like it was in 1975. The income gap between races is also growing. Today, however, David Leonhardt of The New York Times reports that African Americans are making significant progress in one important category:  levels of happiness.

A new study by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, economists from the University of Pennsylvania, finds that levels of happiness in Caucasians have stayed pretty much the same since the '70s. On the other hand, happiness in African Americans has risen by at least 5% in that same time period. This may not seem like much, but Mr. Wolfers explains that it is "one of the most dramatic gains in the happiness data that you’ll see."

As you can see from the graph, a significant happiness gap still exists, but if Caucasian happiness stays the same (which is likely), the gap may close within the next few decades. The study does not claim to know why the gap is closing, but one theory is the huge drop in racism from the 1970s to now (though of course we still have a ways to go before racism is gone completely).

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Happy Employees = Higher Stock

From Metropolis. Image link from Blue Crab Boulevard
Today Cindy Krischer Goodman of Kansas City reports something that most people probably expect anyway:  companies with happy employees perform better. Hewitt Associates, a human resources firm, conducted a survey of employee engagement. The survey found that organizations with high levels of employee engagement (65% or higher) post shareholder returns 19% greater than average, while companies with less than 40% engagement have shareholder returns 44% lower than average. These findings may seem like common sense, but it's nice to have real evidence, because that's what companies actually listen to (if they listen to anything).

So here's a message to employers out there:  make sure your work environment is a happy place! Machine-like efficiency standards, such as scientific management, are outdated. Even if you only care about stock prices, it's still worthwhile to invest in happiness. Open lines of communication with your employees and actually LISTEN. Don't just pretend, like with a dusty old suggestion box that you never open. Read up on modern organizational communication, proven methods for happier employees and better companies.

I might go into detail about orgcomm in the future, because we all spend so much of our lives at work that it's important to be happy there, but the science of it can seem rather technical without an explanation!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Charity May Depend More on Happiness than Wealth

From Need Magazine
Aaaaaand we're back to our weekday schedule. Hopefully you enjoyed our weekend features. If not, we can always improve them! This blog is still a newborn, so post a comment if you have suggestions to help it past its toddler phase, and eventually its awkward teenage years. Only YOU can help this blog grow into a happy, well-adjusted adult!

Now for the news: Clayton Jones of The Christian Science Monitor reports that a country's average level of charity depends more on its happiness than on its wealth. This information comes from a Gallup survey called "The World Giving Index 2010". The survey asked the following questions in 153 countries:

Which of the following three charitable acts have you undertaken in the past month:
1. Donated money to an organization?
2. Volunteered time to an organization?
3. Helped a stranger, or someone you didn’t know who needed help?
Gallup then compared the answers to indexes of wealth and happiness. Assuming people answered honestly (usually when huge numbers of people are surveyed, honest people outweigh the fibbers), a surprising number of economically poor countries are generous. Sierra Leone, for instance, ranks as the ninth most generous country in the world, even though it is the third lowest country on the Human Development Index.

So if you follow positive psychology tips to become happier, you may become more generous, and becoming more generous may make you happier, and so on! It's win-win!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Weekend Viewing

Yes, another new weekly feature! Weekend Viewing is a chance to share interesting videos, so you can take a break from reading (and I can take a break from writing).

To get the ball rolling, I've chosen a TED Talk by Daniel Gilbert. Mr. Gilbert is the author of Stumbling on Happiness, the book that got me into this subject in the first place. This video was recorded in 2004, before the book was published. It should serve as a good introduction for those of you new to the science of happiness, but it's also extremely informative if your an old hand at the subject.

So without further ado, watch this video and enjoy your weekend!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Casual Friday

Hey, it's a new weekly feature! Actually since this blog is only 48 hours old, all features are new, but this one is especially so. Since it's Friday, I thought it might be nice to take a break from discussing current happy science news. Instead, I'll use Casual Fridays to share some quick and easy happiness tips--all based on scientific evidence, of course.

On this casual-est of Fridays, I've picked the book Happier:  Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment by Tal Ben-Shahar. Mr. Ben-Shahar became famous for teaching "Positive Psychology" at Harvard, a class that filled up with 855 students in a single semester. In addition to writing several books on the subject, he has also appeared on The Daily Show:

In a nutshell, Happier is a guide to creating happiness by balancing what you want now (pleasure) vs. what you want in the future (meaning). To be as happy as possible, you should, do things that are both pleasurable and meaningful at the same time. For instance, watching TV is pleasurable, but not particularly meaningful (unless you're watching The Wire, the greatest show ever!), so it won't make you happy in the long run. On the other hand, volunteering to clean up toxic sewage may be meaningful, but not pleasurable, so if you do it everyday you'll get burnt out before you feel long-term happiness.

To help you balance pleasure and meaning, Ben-Shahar suggests that you create a chart for yourself, mapping out your activities throughout the day and assigning a number value (on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being the lowest) to each activity's meaning and pleasure. So you might give "Watching TV" a 2 in the "Meaning" column and a 4 in the "Pleasure" column. Then write down how much time per week you spend doing each activity. At the end of the week, look at your chart and try to make a commitment to spend more time doing activities with high scores in both "Meaning" and "Pleasure", and less time doing activities with low scores.

Whew. That may seem like a lot of work, but it only takes a few minutes per week, and it can be an eye-opening experience to actually look at the time you waste doing stuff that's not meaningful or pleasurable. Like tallying up your expenditures for the week, actually seeing the numbers in front of you can make a huge difference in creating positive change.

So give it a try, then send us a comment to tell us how it goes--as long as commenting rates high enough on your chart.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A New Architecture of Happiness?

The proposed campus of the Rethinking Happiness project (from
Hello and happy Thursday morning. It's another overcast day in Los Angeles, so let's get right into the news--namely this story by Maria Popova of big think. It details a new architectural/research project by Aldo Cibic that aims to create a sustainable community of happy people.

Aldo writes:
We have to prepare ourselves to see with new eyes, to think about a tabula rasa situation in which to redefine needs, habits, activities, dreams in relation to new conditions of existence, to think about a more up-to-date idea of contemporary life.
Apart from the artsy talk, this community sounds like a great place to live. Most researchers agree that a sense of community is an important ingredient for happiness (and also life-expectancy). If Aldo's campus brings people closer together than more "normal" city housing, it probably will make for a happier population.

What do you think? If you live in a big city, how happy are you? Would living in the Rethinking Happiness community make you happier?  We're still hard up for comments, so send one our way.

Via big think

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Different Cities = Different Salaries for Happiness?

Hello world.

Source:  Wikipedia
For the inaugural post of this happy blog, we have an interesting story by Phil Izzo from The Wall Street Journal. Phil writes that a new study has found that overall happiness in America drops off after a salary of $75,000 a year. In other words, once you make $75,000 a year (on average), a raise won't make you any happier.

But as we all know, $75,000 can't buy as much in New York as it does in Wyoming, so the article goes on to compare the "happiness salaries" of several major American cities. According to the chart, New York City has the highest happiness cap at $163,500, while Fort Smith, AK, at $62,250 has the lowest.

Psychologists have long known that money doesn't buy happiness--as long as you're above the poverty line (read Daniel Gilbert's book Stumbling on Happiness for more information). This may be the first time a specific price has been put on happiness, though. Depending on how you look at it, this could be good news or bad news. On the one hand, people in Fort Smith apparently require less to be happy. On the other, it's probably a sign that they make less to begin with, so they may have less opportunity to reach the goal anyway.

What do YOU think?

Also, since this blog is just getting started, what would YOU like to see more of? It's lonely being a new blog, so leave us a comment or three. You can also email me specifically at