Saturday, October 30, 2010

Weekend Viewing: The Dalai Lama's Happiness Conference at Emory

Hey, this is something to view on the weekend:  it's a full video of the Dalai Lama's visit to Emory University, moderated by NPR's Krista Tippett. I already wrote about this conference two weeks ago, but here is the full video of the conversation. Watching the video is better than reading about it, because the humor of the participants comes through much better, especially from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and the Dalai Lama himself. You can also go to the official website to download a podcast version of the discussion.

With that said, you should get something to eat right now, because you'll be in it for the long haul:  this video is just shy of two hours long. Here are some time codes, in case you want to skip ahead (though maybe that defeats the purpose of the dialog in the first place):
  • Beginning -  The Dalai Lama gives his introduction to happiness
  • 7:19 - The Dalai Lama puts on a visor while Krista Tippett gives her introduction to the panel
  • 10:36 - Rabbi Jonathan Sacks gives his introduction to happiness in Judaism and the importance of making happiness for others
  • 19:20 - Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori gives her introduction to happiness in Christianity
  • 23:10 - Professor Sayyed Hossein Nasr gives his introduction to happiness in Islam while also using Buddhist terms
  • 32:10 - Beginning of question and answer time, where Krista asks questions and everyone on the panel answers individually. This goes on so long that it's hard to document each question and answer, so you should watch the whole thing, but here are some highlights:
  • 33:20 - The Dalai Lama talks about happiness in relation to suffering
  • 54:18 - The Dalai Lama talks about the right to pursue happiness and his definition of happiness as the meaning of life
  • 1:10:35 - Professor Nasr makes jokes about prayer in Islam
  • 1:22:13 - Rabbi Sacks jokes about the importance of food in Judaism
Anyway, this post is becoming as long as the video itself, so here it is:

Pursuing Happiness with the Dalai Lama from Being on Vimeo.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Casual Friday: Do Random Acts of Kindness!

From Drive.
Hello and good Friday to all you in Internet-land! Today I have a very important happiness tip:  give to other people! The concept may seem obvious, but scientific evidence backs it up. Doing things for other people makes you happier.

Sonja Lyubomirsky and her team studied this in 2004. She had a group of test subjects put quarters into strangers' parking meters. By measuring the test subjects' happiness levels before and after the quartering (and comparing them to those of a control group, of course), she found that performing kind acts really does make people happier. Some call it a "giver's high." It works even if the recipient of the kind act isn't aware that you did anything (or that you even exist)!

Interestingly, Sonja's tests show that the best way to perform kind acts is to do a bunch of them all in a single day, instead of spreading them out over a week. The reason may be that pushing yourself to do one act every day becomes too routine, while doing around five all at once is more spontaneous, which keeps things fresh and makes you more likely to be kind in the future.

So give kindness a try. It can be as simple as putting quarters in a stranger's parking meter!

(For more details on this experiment and many others, check out Sonja's book, The How of Happiness.)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Stanford: Getting Older Leads to Greater Happiness

Pixar's Up. From RTE 2FM.
Good news for those of you who get older over time:  a new report from Stanford says that people grow happier and more emotionally stable as they age. Starting in 1993, the study tracked around 180 Americans between the ages of 18 and 94, with new participants added to replace those who died or aged out of their groups. For one week every five years, participants carried a buzzer that would ask them questions about their mood (hopefully controlling for the annoyance of being interrupted by a buzzer all the time).

Laura Carstensen, the study's lead researcher and the director of Stanford's Center on Longevity, says, "As people age, they're more emotionally balanced and better able to solve highly emotional problems...  They care more and are more compassionate about problems, and that may lead to a more stable world." This is important because as the world gets healthier, we also live longer, and within 20 years, more Americans will be over 60 years old than under 15. Previous studies have shown correlations between age and happiness, but this may be the first to examine change in individuals over such a long period.

Great news, because the conclusions apply not just to the Greatest Generation, but to aging people in all generations. If you've discovered the fountain of youth, you're missing out!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Google Measures Webmaster Happiness

Going for the obvious image today.
Here's an interesting story for all you Internet people out there:  Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable reports that Google apparently measures webmaster happiness. They tabulate the data every week and try to improve their scores over time. The funny thing is that no one (outside of Google) knows what the happiness data measures. Some people on webmaster forums are trying to figure out how it all works.

A lot of you may have heard of Twitter mood maps. The Google data probably uses a similar method, just with a focus on webmasters. I find large-scale measurements like these fascinating, but also somewhat troubling. The subjects in both of these examples were never asked to be surveyed. Where is the line between data and privacy?

Leave us your opinion in the comment section. Whether you do or not, Google probably already knows what you think!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Whoops, Looks Like Money CAN Buy Happiness (Even Beyond the Poverty Line)!

Scrooge McDuck:  happiest duck in the universe?
From Joshua Kennen.
Science is a fickle mistress. Sometimes she merely confirms what we already think we know, and sometimes she turns common wisdom on its head. According to a new study linked in the Harvard Crimson, “money can buy many, if not most, if not all of the things that make people happy.” The study comes from one of my favorite people, Daniel Gilbert, along with Elizabeth Dunn and Timothy Wilson.

The researchers hypothesize that money's traditional inability to provide happiness comes not from money itself, but from humanity's general lack of knowledge about longterm happiness. In other words, if consumers actually knew the best way to spend money, it would make them quite happy. Instead, people base their purchasing decisions on price and superficial factors that won't matter to them as time goes on.

This story holds sentimental value for me, because my very first post on this blog was about different salary-based thresholds for happiness. Seems like only yesterday! (Actually it was only a bit less than two months ago.) If this new Daniel Gilbert study is true, it would overturn that previous study, as long as people spend their money more wisely. Which they probably won't, but oh well.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Is Britain Losing Happiness?

How could this make anyone unhappy? From Stippy.
Yes, according to a new survey by the Legatum Institute. They are also dropping in wealth and prosperity. The survey covered around 90% of the world's population in 110 countries. Britain may be falling behind because of decreased trust in financial institutions, anxiety over jobs, and lagging healthcare and education systems. As usual with lists such as these, Scandanavian countries like Denmark and Norway came in on top, while the U.S. came in tenth and Britain came in 13th.

This is the Legatum Institute's fourth annual survey of prosperity and wellbeing. Their goal is to provide a "holistic understanding of Prosperity," which sounds similar to Bhutan's concept of Gross National Happiness, but with economic factors included.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Weekend Viewing: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Watch this video to learn how Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi pronounces his name! Just kidding. He never says it out loud, but I've since learned that you pronounce his last name "chick-sent-me-HIGH-ee." See if you can remember that!

In this TED Talk, Csikszentmihalyi (a living advertisement for copy-and-paste if ever there was one) gives a presentation about creativity and how to maximize flow experiences. What's interesting is how he and his team can predict what activities give each person flow. A nice companion piece to my previous post. I'll stop typing now so you can watch:

Friday, October 22, 2010

Casual Friday: Flow

Welcome to Friday, everyone! Today I'm going to discuss flow and how it affects happiness. Flow is a concept proposed by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (don't even ask me how to pronounce that) in his 1990 book Flow:  The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

So what is flow? Even if you don't know what it is, you've probably experienced it at some point in your life. It's basically the feeling of losing yourself in an activity that you are excellent at. Some people describe it as being "in the zone." Along with social connections and an optimistic viewpoint, positive psychologists consider regular experience of flow to be one of the most important components in longterm human happiness.

Here is a basic recipe for flow (from Wikipedia):

  1. One must be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals. This adds direction and structure to the task.[8]
  2. One must have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and his or her own perceived skills. One must have confidence that he or she is capable to do the task at hand.[8]
  3. The task at hand must have clear and immediate feedback. This helps the person negotiate any changing demands and allows him or her to adjust his or her performance to maintain the flow state.[8]

Maybe you do all of these things already, so this recipe is a bit like stating the obvious in more difficult language. In that case, just keep doing what you're doing! The thing I like about flow is that it's not dependent on other people, like social connections and other forms of happiness may be. So even if your friends aren't around, you can still be happy and productive. Just lose yourself in your favorite activities!

(On a slightly unrelated blogging note, be sure to check out 5 Minutes for Mom and Jenny on the Spot, especially all you parents out there!)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Artists Create a 3D Happiness Map of Leeds, England

From the BBC.
The BBC reports that Invisible Flock, a group of interactive artists, is embarking on the two-month "Bring the Happy" project to collect happiness data and turn it into a 3D happiness map. Invisible Flock--composed of Ben Eaton, Victoria Pratt, and Richard Warburton--are holding their giant map installation in an empty Leeds shopping unit. Visitors to the installation can remember happy memories, rate those memories on a scale of one to ten, and point out where those memories occurred. The 3D effect comes from the use of glass rods, with "ten" memories using the longest rods and "one" memories using the shortest.

Invisible Flock member Richard Warburton says, "There have been about 100 memories added to the map so far and we've already got some hot spots. Elland Road and St Jimmy's are already populated with happy memories." The group plans to stage "happiness intervention" in areas that seem to be lacking in happiness, so you may want to avoid those areas if you're not into that sort of thing. A graphical version of the map will come online once the project is complete.

This is an interesting idea that could produce a beautiful work of art. However, some happiness researchers, like Daniel Gilbert of Stumbling on Happiness fame, think memories of past happiness are inaccurate. Even so, I can't wait to see the finished map!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Happiness Tops List of Things Americans Want for Holidays

Is happiness inside any of these boxes?
Wait 'til Christmas to find out! From A Simple Man.
Yes, it's that time of year again! Can you hear those jingle bells? They start ringing earlier and earlier, and apparently now you can hear them (or at least a survey about them) even before Halloween! Business News Daily reports on a recent survey of American adults' holiday wishes. Peace and happiness came in at number one, followed by laptops, iPads, and iPods.

I'm having trouble finding similar wishlist surveys from previous years. Most of them only consider actual consumer products, like this one from 2009, which lists the Nintendo Wii at the top. It would be interesting to see if "peace and happiness" has gone up or down on people's wishlists, but apparently most surveyors don't think to ask about feelings like that. Though of course if you know of a good survey, link to it in the comments!

At any rate, it seems to me that these are positive results. With "peace and happiness" ahead of consumer products, adult Americans may have their priorities in order. Without data from previous years, though, we can't see if this is only because of the Great Recession.

What do YOU think? And what are you wishing for this holiday season, even if it seems like it's still a year away? (Also remember to follow me on Digg! I just started using that site, so I may not know what I'm doing!)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Happiness Class Now Offered at Duke Law School

From Duke Law Map.
Ashby Jones of the Wall Street Journal reports that Duke Law is now offering a class entitled "Well-Being and the Practice of Law." This makes a lot of sense, given that lawyering is an incredibly stressful occupation--so much so that around 1/3 of lawyers say they would choose another profession if they could.

As for what's in the class itself, American Lawyer magazine's Dimitra Kessenides explains:
"Four weeks in, they’ve already tackled Aristotle (as part of a consideration of the philosophical roots of happiness) and renowned psychologist Albert Maslow, the founder of 'humanistic' psychology (in a review of pre-World War II scientific research on happiness)."
The class goes on to cover Martin Seligman and the like. So it sounds like an extremely comprehensive review of happiness through the ages, from ancient times to the present day. This is an interesting approach (different from other happiness classes I've heard of) that may or may not relieve stress. For students who are truly stressed out, a class like this may only act as a Band-Aid. The world needs lawyers, but law is not a profession for everyone, so I hope those who are troubled will put happiness ahead of status and money to find a career that suits them. In any case I wish Duke Law and its students all the best!

Hey, do you like this blog? If so, follow me on Digg and vote up the stories I post! Also, don't forget to click the social networking links on this site to re-tweet, re-share, and re-whatever. I'd like to get more people involved in the comments section, so this blog can be as interesting as possible!

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Dalai Lama's Happiness Summit

From Emory University.
The USA Today and Huffington Post report on the Dalai Lama's happiness summit at Emory University. His Holiness conducted a round-table discussion with some of the major emissaries of world religion, like Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the Episcopal Church, and George Washington University Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr. They talked about each religion's view of happiness.

According to Old Testament professor Carol Newsom, the Old Testament recommends the kind of happiness that comes from understanding the consequences of your actions, then doing the sorts of things that produce the consequences you want. Professors of the New Testament and Quran, however, say that the goal of life is not happiness in this life, but salvation in the next. The Dalai Lama, like most Buddhists, stresses the importance of happiness on a moment-by-moment basis.

These are complex issues, so you may want to go to the actual website instead of reading this short blog summary. You may also want to view live streaming of the event. Go to the Huffington Post story to look at the schedule.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Weekend Viewing: Tony Hsieh

Ah, the first weekend back after a long trip! Today I found an excellent speech that Tony Hsieh (pronounced "Shay") gave at Google headquarters. As I said in my previous post, Tony gave one of my favorite presentations at the Global Happiness Summit. This Google Talk is a longer version of that presentation.

Tony mostly talks about corporate culture and how to increase employee happiness. He emphasizes core values and bottom-up communication. The video is in widescreen format, which screws up the blog formatting a little bit, so I downsized it. Just use the fullscreen button if you want a bigger size, or click here if you want it directly on YouTube. I'll quiet down now so you can watch!

Friday, October 15, 2010

SPECIAL REPORT: Global Happiness Summit Part 2

The first annual Global Happiness Summit was an interesting experience with a lot of room for improvement. Setting it on the U.S.S. Hornet was, in theory, an inspired choice, as it symbolized the repurposing of a harmful machine for more hopeful goals. In reality, however, the location may have contributed to the somewhat-low turnout. As you can see from the photos below, it also had a lot of empty space, which became somewhat oppressive over the conference's two days.

Don't get me wrong, though:  even with only around 40 attendees, I and the rest of the team enjoyed meeting each of them. The speakers also gave some fantastic presentations, and our screening of Happy was a resounding success. Even with rough sound work and a few stock images, the audience laughed, cried, and gave a standing ovation. I wish I had pictures of it, but unfortunately my camera had run out of juice, so I only have pictures of the second day.

So without further ado, here are some of my photos (wish I could post larger pics, but it screws up the formatting!):

Robert Biswas-Diener helping the team carry our stuff.
Walking through the entrance to the carrier.
A view of the conference floor.
A view of the stage area.
Aymee Coget
Roko, Omid, and Robert at our booth.
Macaiah Tillman
Roko and Omid looking positively rapturous at our booth.
A view of the flight deck upstairs.
Robert Biswas-Diener talking with Kevin and me.
Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.
Tony gave one of my favorite talks, even with a slightly annoying intro. He and his co-workers started by playing one of those new-fangled viral videos, with kids hip-rappin' and rap-boppin' about a bus or something. The song has a catchy chorus line, but it seemed to go on and on and on. After that was over, though, Tony gave an excellent presentation about how corporations should be run to maximize happiness (and therefore profits).
Laura Delizonna
A view from our surrogate house in Tiburon.
(Fans of Genghis Blues will be interested to know that we stayed at Ralph Leighton's beautiful house for the entire five-day trip.)
Kevin and Roko apparently reenacting The Sorcerer's Apprentice on a mountain.
Everyone in Muir Woods, the redwood forest.
This trip as a whole was fantastic, even with a few now-infamous events involving a flat tire on the way up and me falling off a ledge, skinning my knee and elbow. (Roko had the brilliant idea of hiking up a foggy mountain at night with no handrails or lights of any kind.)

I have a lot more photos and possible things to talk about, but this post is already really long, so just ask if you have any questions!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Happiness Quotient May Predict People's Happiness with 75% Accuracy

From Project Appleseed.
Ahhh, my short break has given me a lot to catch up on! Hopefully this news story is enough to get started:  PRWeb reports that a recent study by Dr. Tom Stevens may predict happiness with 75% accuracy. The study--which you can read here--followed 3,446 people to create a Happiness Quotient (HQ) formula. HQ is determined by three internal factors:  personal values, core beliefs, and life skills. People who display internal values such as compassion and optimism in the three categories show a greater degree of happiness than people with external values like materialism.

While the study confirms what most happiness researchers already know, it has an unusually high level of predictive accuracy. Dr. Tom Stevens is a psychologist emeritus at California State University. If you can get past the somewhat primitive web design, you can take the HQ questionnaire for yourself at his website.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

SPECIAL REPORT: Global Happiness Summit Part 1

Hey, remember me? I've been off the grid for almost a week, attending the first annual Global Happiness Summit in Alameda, CA. It was held on the U.S.S. Hornet, a decommissioned aircraft carrier that is now a museum. A very interesting place for a happiness conference! Only around 40 people attended, but I had a good time.

I'll post more about the summit on Friday, including photos and details, but for now, here are some pictures of the journey up there and San Francisco.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Australian School Teaching Positive Psychology to Alleviate Test Anxiety

From The Sydney Morning Herald.
More Australian news for you today:  The Sydney Morning Herald reports that schools are teaching students life coaching and positive psychology skills because of greatly increased stress levels. Over the past five years, students appealing their test scores for psychological reasons have increased 30 percent--greater than the increase in the student population. So either students are getting craftier in how they improve their grades or they really are more stressed out.

Dr. Anthony Grant of the University of Sydney's psychology department says, "The children of today, particularly those in selective schools, are under more pressure than they have ever been before." Dr. Grant studied 56 high school students and found that life coaching decreases levels of depression while increasing hope and resilience. He became interested in the subject because two or three principals called him per week asking for positive psychology classes. Another study from the University of Sydney found that high-stakes testing harms motivation.

I don't have much more to say about this story, but I do have a SPECIAL MESSAGE for those who read this blog every day (hopefully you exist):  I might not be able to update this blog until next Tuesday because I'm attending the Global Happiness Summit near San Francisco! I'll try to take pictures and tell you how it goes, but I don't know if I'll have the time or the Internet connection to update while I'm there. It'll be a change of pace for this blog, but that's okay because variety is actually a big component of happiness!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Want to Be Happy in Canada? Move to the North Shore of Vancouver

A room with a view. From Wikipedia.
Today Jane Seyd of North Shore News reports on a new survey by the Vancouver Foundation that found residents of the North Shore to be happier and more optimistic than other people in the Lower Mainland. The results don't indicate why this is, but project director Lidia Kemeny says that it may be due to the incredible view and comfortable standard of living, while still maintaining a "small-town" feel.

As for the actual numbers, around 69% of residents describe themselves as happy, while 79% are optimistic about the future of their community. Looking at this most recent survey of happiness by country, Denmark still ranks as the happiest country in the world, with the rest of Scandinavia close behind. Canada is tied for eighth with Australia, Switzerland, and Israel. The United States is tied for 14th with Austria.

What are some of the happiest countries YOU have been to? This isn't a scientific question, but an excuse to post some gorgeous photos in the comments section.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Neanderthals May Have Been More Compassionate Than You Thought

The face of compassion. From Wikipedia.
Good news for you time travelers out there:  the Herald Sun reports that Neanderthals cared for their sick and injured. Researchers from the UK's University of York found that our ancient cousins nurtured the infirm rather than abandoning them. The researchers, as published in the journal Time and Mind, discovered remains of a child with a brain abnormality who was looked after for around six years. They also found evidence that a half-blind Neanderthal with a withered arm and feet remained in the community for as long as 20 years.

Researchers now believe that the journey to human compassion happened in four stages, beginning around six million years ago with chimpanzees offering simple gestures to help others. This evolved further with Homo erectus around 1.8 million years ago and started including animals, objects, and abstract concepts 120,000 years ago. Since compassionate behavior ranks as one of the best and easiest ways to increase long-term happiness, I'd imagine all these folks felt pretty good about what they were doing.

So if you get injured during a time jump and see a Neanderthal walking toward you, don't worry! Maybe he just wants to offer you medical care.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Another Study Finds That Happiness Depends on Life Goals and Choices

What I imagine Melbourne University
looks like. From BUGBOG.
Hi! Sorry for the slow news day, folks, but today the only story seems to be this one from Australia's The Age. On weekdays I'm a slave to the news, so here it is! A new study by Bruce Heady of Melbourne University found that around 40% of people experience large fluctuations in happiness over their lifetime. These results may seem obvious, but the study is notable for being so large:  the researchers looked at 60,000 Germans over 25 years.

Altruistic and relationship-oriented goals were found to be the best at creating happiness, while materialistic goals created the most unhappiness. Some say that these results go against Sonja Lyubomirsky's findings that 40% of our happiness can be changed (with 50% determined by genetics and 10% determined by circumstances like economic status). The article doesn't go into much detail about just how much the respondents' happiness changed.

I don't have much more to say about this story, so how was your weekend? Me, I didn't do much, but it's finally raining in California! It's been so long. Also check out this Falling Sand Game. You might have seen it already, but at least it's something to do on a slow day.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Weekend Viewing: Tal Ben-Shahar's Happiness Class

Hey, let's watch Tal Ben-Shahar teach a class! You may remember me writing about Tal in my very first Casual Friday. As a quick refresher, he is the author of the excellent book Happier, as well as being the professor of the famously popular happiness class at Harvard. This video shows him on the first day of a new semester, but after he had already become famous.

For some reason, I was only able to find this video on a Chinese version of YouTube, but don't worry--it's all in English. I haven't watched the whole thing yet, but he starts by talking about one of my favorite topics:  the difference between the popular notion of outgoing cheeriness and real happiness. After a few notes on the class itself, he goes on to talk about the importance of silence in our lives. He is an engaging and informative speaker, so give it a try! (Embedding seems to stop working periodically. If that happens, use this link:

Friday, October 1, 2010

Casual Friday: Can We Be TOO Happy?

Today is kind of a change of pace for this blog. It may seem like a bit of a downer, but bear with me here. Longtime readers probably realize by now that I'm not in favor of acting happy when you're not, but now I'll discuss why, using Ed Diener's book Happiness:  Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth.

Ed Diener has researched happiness for twenty-five years. He and his son Robert--the co-author of this book--travel the world measuring wellbeing. They often risk life and limb to measure fringe populations, like sex workers in India and the homeless in California, which has earned Robert the nickname "Indiana Jones of psychology."

Ed devotes an entire chapter to the subject of over-happiness. He writes of an experiment where a group of New Yorkers said "yes" to every request for a month. This group thought that such a display of positivity would make everyone's lives better, but actually by the end of the month, they had LOWER happiness levels due to exhaustion. They were simply too spent after a month of getting coffee for people, babysitting, and other menial tasks that people asked them to do. Even though I have documented the numerous benefits of a happy lifestyle on this blog, Diener writes that extremely EXTREMELY happy people actually have decreased lifespans, possibly because they're so blissed out they don't notice actual health problems.

So if you are a happy person who worries about becoming even happier, don't! Experiencing complete ecstasy every moment of every day is not necessarily a sustainable goal, and may leave you burnt out in the end. In my opinion, you have to leave room for sadness and other "negative" emotions, because those are the ones that alert you to real problems in your life. Don't just ignore them!

It's like when you burn your hand on the stove. The pain may be, well, painful, but without it, you would never know to get your hand away from the hot surface. You don't want a cooked hand, do you!?

But what do YOU think about this idea of over-happiness?