Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Marriage Links Happiness Levels Between Spouses

You'd better like how your fiancée feels, because they'll be
your emotions soon enough! From Public Records Search
Are you often in the same mood as your spouse? You're not alone. According to the Calgary Herald, married couples share happiness levels as long as they're together. The University of British Columbia's Christiane Hoppmann led the study of existing self-reported mood data from Seattle, Washington. The data came from 178 married couples between 1956 and 1991.

Compared to data of random pairs of men and women, married couples show a closer link in happiness. Hoppmann says, "Not only did spouses report similar levels of happiness when they entered the study, but when there were changes in happiness in one spouse, that did have an effect on the other spouse as well." These effects may take place because spouses share many of the same experiences and same stressors.

The study does leave room for speculation, however, because it did not look at same-sex marriages or long-term unmarried couples, though Hoppmann theorizes that the results would likely be the same.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Toronto is Canada's Least Happy City

Feeling sad yet? From wallpaperbase.
Hey everyone, guess what:  holiday's over. We'll have to wait an ENTIRE month for the next one, so get back to work!

As you're shuffling to your jobs, be happy. Why? Because you don't live in Toronto. According to this story from The Star, Torontonians are the least happy citizens in Canada. These results come from a study called Does Money Matter?: Determining the Happiness of Canadians.

The researchers theorize that Toronto's low happiness scores come from its long commute times (sometimes reaching two hours), high stress levels, and lack of community feeling due to sky-scraper living. It is also Canada's "immigrant capitol," which effects happiness because immigrants often have difficulty finding jobs.

If you DO live in Toronto, take heart:  Canada is still an excellent place to live. It often ranks among the five happiest countries in the world, and is the happiest member of G7. If the big city is REALLY getting you down, however, you might think about moving to the North Shore of Vancouver.

So how was everyone's Thanksgiving? I didn't really do much, since I'm half the country away from my family, but I'd still like to hear about everyone else. Then it'll be like YOU are my family! AWWW!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

HAPPY Thanksgiving!

From Netstate.
Yes, today is Thanksgiving, the American celebration of eating and awkward family moments. Remember to give thanks for what you have, even if you don't tell anyone, because gratitude increases happiness, whether you you make it public or not.

I'll probably take the next few days off, just so you know. See you on the next non-holiday!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

SPECIAL REPORT: Happy Movie Pre-Order!!

Buy buy BUY!!
Yes, I'm selling something, but hopefully that's okay because you'll like it. We at the Happy movie are selling a pre-release DVD for $19.99. Order now and get it in time for Christmas!

This is Oscar-nominated filmmaker Roko Belic's latest documentary feature. It is a journey across 14 countries on 5 continents featuring interviews with extraordinary everyday people, as well as positive psychology superstars Ed Diener, Richard Davidson, Sonja Lyubomirsky, the people and leaders of Bhutan, and many more. Also features appearances by Daniel Gilbert and the Dalai Lama.

So head over to our buy page for more info. You can get special deals on three- and ten-packs if you have a lot of Christmas shopping to do. You can also try our "Award Winner" pack, which includes Happy, the Oscar-nominated Genghis Blues, and the multi-award-winning Indestructible, an inspiring documentary about an ALS patient who travels the world one last time. If you like T-shirts, you can also get those in children's or adult sizes.

And that's not all! Roko Belic, the man himself, will personally sign all pre-order DVDs of Happy! We won't stop until his signin' hand falls off! He has worked very hard on this film for four years, and now it's ready for release.

I have seen the film many times (I even transcribed it word-for-word) and I can attest to both its emotional power and its educational value for people learning about happiness science. It never loses its ability to move, especially when seeing it with a crowd (like I did in San Francisco).

So give it a try. This limited edition pre-order will end December 31. After that, you'll have to wait until the official release.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Man Attempts to Live an Entire Year Without Unhappiness

From Twitter.
Today the Wall Street Journal reports on a man named Cathal Morrow who is trying to live an entire year without feeling unhappy. According to his website, he started this project because of his belief that happiness is a permanent state underpinning all other feelings, so if we can remind ourselves to be happy, we will be. He uses techniques like jumping up and down to stave off unhappiness.

This project comes hot on the heels of his last one:  living a whole year without lying. Morrow's honesty experiment was sponsored by Ten Large Capital, a private equity firm, and he will probably release a book about it. He is currently looking for someone to sponsor his happiness project. Unfortunately, his website apparently hasn't been updated since July, so we can't check in on his progress, but he still tweets regularly.

What do YOU think about projects like this? Would you be able to chase away unhappiness for a whole year? Is that even desirable? Drop us a line in the comments section.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Costco Tops Employee Happiness List

Who would have thought that spending
all day here could make you happy?
From TCMnet.
Just in time for the holidays comes this story from The Globe and Mail. According to a new survey from CareerBliss, Costco has the happiest employees among retail chain stores. Rounding out the top three are Nordstrom and Old Navy.

CareerBliss's Happiest Holiday Retailer list combines data from almost 100,000 independent reviews submitted to their website. The reviews rate each company on a scale of one to five in these eight categories:  growth opportunity, compensation, benefits, work-life balance, career advancement, senior management, job security, and employee recommendation of the job. Costco has the best salary and benefits on the list, which contribute to its high happiness rating, but other companies made the list because of work-life balance--even with lower salary than the companies below them.

It's an interesting list because I never thought working in a mega-store could make ANYONE happy. Also, Wal Mart, the biggest corporation in the world, doesn't even make CareerBliss's top ten. All is mystery when it comes to employee happiness! Go to the news story for the full list.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Weekend Viewing: Matthieu Ricard

Wow, another TED Talk!? How original! Yes, TED is basically my go-to place for videos, but the collections are usually so interesting that I feel no shame in doing so.

Today's video is courtesy of Matthieu Ricard, a French Buddhist monk with an education in molecular genetics. He completed his doctoral thesis in 1972, but left the Institut Pasteur to move to the Himalayas. You may also recognize him from his work with Richard Davidson studying the neurological effects of meditation. He has also received the French Order of Merit for humanitarianism in the East.

Matthieu talks about desire, meditation, neuroplasticity, Richard Davidson, and more, so give it a look-see!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Casual Friday: Run!

From Barefoot Ted, one of the
people in the book.
Today I'll talk about Christopher McDougall's excellent Born to Run. It's very popular, so you may have read it already, but it's so good I have to bring it up again. It's a non-fiction book about modern ultramarathoners running a race against the Tarahumara, a Mexican tribe with (apparently) superhuman running abilities. The "plot" is set up like any great sports movie, so it's exciting to read as well as educational.

Christopher's general thesis is that we humans are literally born to run, in that running possesses the secrets to our evolutionary survival and lifelong wellbeing. Not to get all cosmic on you, but running may be the reason that we exist at all. The book goes into the evolutionary divergence between Homo sapiens (us) and the Neanderthals. Spoiler alert:  we survived and they didn't, probably because our bodies are made for running, allowing us to develop our intelligence instead of physical strength.

I've written before about the emotional and neurological benefits of exercise. Running carries the most benefits, but you have to do it right so you don't get injured. Basically, everything you think you know about shoes is wrong. According to the book, high-end running shoes make you 123% MORE prone to injury. So what can you do?

Run barefoot!

Yes, apparently the natural musculature of the human foot is the best running shoe there is. Professional running shoes, with all their padding and rubber, block your feet from doing their job. Tiny scrapes on your feet are minor compared to the knee and bone injuries that you could suffer if you run with too much shoe padding. People may look at you funny, but your legs will thank you. Just make sure you run on grass in the beginning! Also, don't pay too much attention to your timer. Running should be a joy, not homework. Interestingly, running for no reason will probably make you faster anyway, and will certainly make you more likely to continue running over time. Like the Tarahumara, you can live longer, and continue running marathons well into your sixties!

So why are you still at your computer? Run!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hey, France Is Also Measuring Happiness

The river kinda looks happy already. From cooltownstudios.
Because why not, right? According to this story from the Guardian, France will probably start measuring its national happiness as well, joining the ranks of England and Bhutan. Last year, Nicolas Sarkozy commissioned a happiness report from Nobel-winning economists Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen. More recently Insee, the French national statistics office, included a new chapter in its annual Social Portrait of France. The chapter details how any future happiness studies should take place.

Interestingly, the report focuses more on unhappiness than happiness. Stéfan Lollivier, director of social studies at Insee, explains:
"You can't measure happiness, it's impossible, people don't have the same preferences for what makes them happy. But you can measure the fraction of people who are dissatisfied, who think they are unhappy, and the proportion of people who are missing out on happiness or feel excluded from it."
Current French statistics show that single parents are the most dissatisfied, and around one fifth of the French populace has gone through times of poverty--either emotional or financial.

Most researchers would disagree with Mr. Lollivier, by the way. Positive psychologists measure happiness all the time. Read just about any story on this blog for evidence! Still, this French method of surveying unhappiness should be just as valid, and could yield interesting results.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

iPhone App Tracks Happiness, Finds Out Sex is Number 1!

From cnet.
Today in obvious news:  cnet reports on results from the iPhone app Track Your Happiness. It turns out that people are happiest during sex and moments of intense focus. Both rated 90 out of 100 on the app's happiness scale...BUT there's no indication of when people gave their ratings (i.e.:  if they waited or if they interrupted their activity to fiddle with the app).

This app comes from Harvard researchers Daniel Gilbert and Matthew Killingsworth. You may have heard about it recently because of its implications to mind wandering, but the other results are new. The app features a basic happiness survey like the ones used by many positive psychology researchers. The study gathered around 250,000 happiness responses from 2,200 people.

These iPhone happiness apps are a somewhat-new phenomenon. You can sign up for Track Your Happiness here. If you're in the UK, you can also try Mappiness, which maps the location and time of your happiness ratings. If you have an iPhone (and you don't mind being interrupted throughout the day), give 'em a try!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Utah Professor Researches Holiday Happiness

Happy holidays from the bottom of a stampede! From Dim Bulb.
Are holidays a happy time, or are you so stressed out that you just want them to be over? According to this story from The Daily Utah ChronicleUniversity of Utah professor Trish Henry is looking into this question--and hosting a seminar for those in the latter category. Seeing as a recent American Psychological Association (APA) survey found that 61% of Americans feel a lack of money will stress them out during the holidays, a seminar like this could be helpful. An additional 42% are apparently stressed out by gift-giving in general.

Stress can also come from the prospect of family gatherings. Even when family members have been away from each other a long time, we all know that old conflicts can suddenly bubble up again, making people dread family reunions in general.

All is not lost, though. Professor of educational psychology J.G. Farr says, "If you can find meaning, and it doesn't have to be all about money, then it tends to make you have a happier holiday season." This may bode well for Americans because, as I've written previously, happiness tops the list of holiday wishes, not commercial products.

What about all of you? Are you feeling the stress of the holiday season coming on or are you looking forward to it?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Britain to Start Measuring People's Happiness

I wonder if surveyors will be happy with the task of
surveying all these Brits. From The Guardian.
Happy Monday everyone! I didn't do anything special for my birthday...except surf for the first time a few days before! Although maybe I shouldn't describe what I did as "surfing." It was more like "falling off." Also, not being a California native, it strikes me as utterly bizarre that the climate here allows me to surf in the ocean in the middle of November.

What was I talking about? Oh yeah, Britain. According to this story from the Sydney Morning Herald, Britain will soon measure happiness, similar to what Bhutan does with their Gross National Happiness metric. Prime Minister David Cameron has wanted to measure the "general wellbeing" of his country for awhile, and now the Office of National Statistics will  actually carry out the policy.

On November 25, national statistician Jil Matheson will come up with new happiness questions to put on next year's national survey. In addition to happiness, the survey will also cover how close respondents are to achieving their life goals. This survey can lead to good things, because as I've reported in the past, Britain's happiness levels have dipped, and at other times the country has had strange opinions about the topic.

What do you think of this? Would you like to see happiness taken seriously in your country? Do you have any surfing tips? Any opinions would be appreciated!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Weekend Viewing: Nic Marks

Sorry I didn't update yesterday, in case you noticed. My birthday is tomorrow and I may have been derelict in my duties. Luckily Saturday is also a lazy day for me, except I can still do my job. I can just post a video and run! Love how I've set that up.

This weekend, take a gander at this TED Talk with statistician Nic Marks. He argues for a new measure of human progress that takes happiness and environmental impact into account. This sounds quite similar to Bhutan's measurement of Gross National Happiness, which I'm a huge fan of, but Nic prefers the Happy Planet Index. This index combines life expectancy, life satisfaction, and ecological footprint into one measure on a scale of 1 to 100. You can look at a world map showing each country's HPI score here.

So that's it for the week. I'll just be over here, continuing my slide into unproductivity!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Comfort Food, Sex Found to Change Brain Chemicals for at Least Seven Days

Google Image results for "comfort food and sex"
were not encouraging, so this is what you get.
From I Just Love Food.
Today in the somewhat obvious news department:  WTOP reports that researchers at the University of Cincinnati have found that both sex and comfort food reduce stress. The study may seem like a waste of time, but the researchers also discovered the neural pathways by which the stress reduction occurs, and that the reduction lasts for a longer period than previously expected. These findings may eventually aid people with sex addiction (if you believe in that sort of thing) or extreme obesity.

You can read the study itself here at PNAS. The researchers found that sucrose triggers most of the stress dampening in the brain. Here's a quote for the technically inclined:
"Moreover, sucrose intake increases mRNA and protein expression in the BLA for numerous genes linked with functional and/or structural plasticity. Lastly, stress dampening by sucrose is persistent, which is consistent with long-term changes in neural activity after synaptic remodeling."
Mm mmm! nothing gets me hot, bothered, and hungry like protein expression in the BLA!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Teachers in Ireland Starting to Teach Kids About Happiness

Sixth graders in Castletownbere. From The Creaky Traveler.
School Days reports that Irish teachers are jumping on the positive psychology train by teaching their students about happiness. According to Cian Traynor of the Irish Times, around 400 Irish primary and secondary school teachers have enrolled in the Teaching Happiness program, which is based on Martin Seligman's principles of learned optimism.

This means that Ireland has joined England, Australia, and others in teaching happiness to kids. The programs often improve kids' attention spans, memories, and problem solving abilities.

Some teachers in Ireland think these classes should be mandatory. What about you? Would mandatory happiness classes in your country improve your children's education?

I don't know the answer, but I do wonder if making these classes mandatory would turn them into "just another class," making them lose their effectiveness. Not that they would ever become mandatory, because I'm sure there are plenty of budget hurdles to overcome before they're even offered in most countries!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Australians: Shorter Working Hours May Bring Happiness

Beneficiaries of a shorter work week. From molly in oz.
Hey, it's more news about jobs and stuff. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that four out of five Australians want different hours at work. The survey covered 1,786 people, with 80% of full-time employees wanting fewer hours, while 60% of part-time employees want more.

The results are so striking that many are considering a government-mandated 30- to 35-hour cap on the work week. Adam Bandt of the Greens party says, "People who want to work less should have a right to do so...It's time for government to start ensuring a fairer spread of working hours, so those who want to work more can, and that those who don't, don't have to."

Some businesses disagree with this, saying that a government mandate would act as a "straight jacket." On the other hand, as I've said time and time again, happy employees are more productive and ultimately lead to more profitable companies, so if shorter hours lead to happiness, that would in fact be good for business. As Richard Denniss, executive director of The Australia Institute, says, "Having happy, productive, retained workers is far more important for the productivity of the country…than short-term attempts to keep wages bills down by relying on lots of unpaid overtime, burning out your employees."

So what do you Internet people think? What are the working hours in your country and are you happy with them? I personally think Americans put too much focus on work, so a shorter work week might be good for this country, but maybe that's just me.

Monday, November 8, 2010

America's Ten Happiest Companies

Inside Google's lunch room.
Here's a Forbes story that lists the ten happiest companies in America. It doesn't have a number ranking, and also doesn't contain many surprises, but it's interesting nonetheless. As I've written in the past, happier companies are generally more profitable, even when their policies can seem counterintuitive. For instance, Google offers free oil changes, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks to its employees, while UBS has a nap room and Friday beer cart.

If you don't want to keep clicking "Next" on that Forbes site, you can get more info at this Yahoo link, but that only lists five of the companies for some reason. Here is the full list:

American Express
Southwest Airlines

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Weekend Viewing: Shawn Achor's Five Tips for Happiness

Here's a short video to balance out last weekend's loooooong one. It's Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, talking about five easy tips for a happier life. I haven't read the book, so I'm not exactly sure what he means by "Tetris effect," but his basic tips are good. He talks about journaling, good deeds, etc.

Anyway, the video is so short that I probably don't even need to summarize it, so just watch!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Casual Friday: The Importance of Meaning

From Extreme Kindness.
In his book Happier, Tal Ben-Shahar relates this thought-experiment by the philosopher Robert Nozick:  Imagine a machine that could give you the feeling of any experience you could possibly imagine. It could give you the feeling of a vacation in the Riviera, the feeling of directing a great movie, the feeling of discovering a cure for cancer, the feeling of being in love, or any other infinite number of feelings. If such a machine existed and the feelings it created were perfect replicas of the real things, would you choose to stay plugged into it for your entire life? Would you be happy staying plugged in?

Most people would say no. Even though humans desire pleasure, we also intuitively know that pleasure alone is not enough for longterm happiness. We desire to make a REAL difference in the world, no matter how small that difference may end up being. So as long as you know that the "experience machine" is not real, you would almost certainly feel a nagging incompleteness if you stay plugged in for a long time. (But if you don't realize you're in a machine, like a citizen in The Matrix, that might be a different story.)

So how do you create meaning in your everyday life? Not everyone has an obviously meaningful job like cancer researcher, but meaning is still within your reach in the billions of small moments you experience throughout your day. Tal Ben-Shahar suggests that you make a list of the things you find meaningful, then list the things that give you pleasure, then list your strengths as a person. When something shows up in all three categories, that's what you should spend your time doing, even when it seems insignificant to other people. This is the most basic recipe for longterm happiness there is, but it takes effort.

I think it's worth it, though.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Most British People Think Money is the Number One Cause of Unhappiness

British people:  "Mmm, money money money!"
From Webshots.
A new survey by BBC Radio 3 says that 65% of Brits consider money to cause the most unhappiness. This is much larger than the 32% who responded with "family problems," the 27% for "health," and the 21% for "welfare of their children" (!!!). The survey was done to kick off Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival, which has the theme "The Pursuit of Happiness" this year.

The actual effect of money on happiness is somewhat debatable, but most researchers seem to agree that after you have enough money to live a middle-class existence, more money won't significantly affect your happiness. On the other hand, Daniel Gilbert just recently authored a study that says money DOES affect happiness past the middle class--it's just that most people don't know how to spend it effectively.

You should head over to BBC's article because it lists a whole lot of other statistics from the results. It also goes into the generational divide, with younger people putting much more stock in loneliness and anxiety as causes of unhappiness. I'm kind of shocked that "welfare of their children" ranks among the bottom, but that just shows how much I know!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Interns Are the Happiest Employees!? WHA--!?

From Georgia Tech's Internship Fair.
Now this is unexpected. AsiaOne reports on a new survey by JobsCentral that says job happiness does not necessarily increase with salary. This in itself is not surprising (I've reported on that sort of thing before), but what is surprising is that interns are apparently the happiest employees of all. Out of 3,402 survey participants, the average happiness score was 55.5 out of 100, while interns scored 63.5. Temporary workers were the least happy, with a score of 54.3.

This is the second year that JobsCentral has conducted its Work Happiness Indicator survey. All respondents are Singaporean.

Since my coworkers and I are kinda sorta interns ourselves, this news hits close to home. Interning can be a tough and thankless job, depending on what industry you're in, but apparently that's not enough to get people down.

Have YOU ever interned anywhere (or are you an intern now)? Were you happy? Tell us about it.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Pizza Makes People Happy!?

Pizza. Pizza? ...PIZZA! From Marler Blog.
Yay, pizza! That's what the totally-unbiased Pizza News reports today. Apparently a new survey of 2,000 people in Britain found that pizza (along with chocolate) is the food that makes them happiest. The survey also found that £40,000 a year is the ideal wage for happiness, but we don't care about that. We just care about PIZZA!!!

Hmm. On the other hand, I wish the article gave more detail, like the names of the researchers and exactly how much pizza is the ideal amount (you need to be scientific about pizza-eating). I'd also be interested to know if pizza helps longterm happiness, or if it just creates a momentary glad feeling before an emotional crash and tummy-ache. The health risks also probably affect longterm happiness.

So in conclusion, more research is needed on the subject. Who wants to help me? *NOM NOM NOM NOM NOM!*

(On an unrelated side-note, after typing it over and over again, the word "pizza" now looks completely strange to me. Two Zs in the middle of the word!? How is it possible!?)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Will a Higher Retirement Age Change French Happiness?

French citizens protest changes in their retirement age.
From The Christian Science Monitor.
I'm no expert on French politics, but this story from The Canadian Press caught my eye. It's a character piece about a 61-year-old French man and how happy he is after retiring at 60. The man, Guy Roberts, says, "What happiness! To retire at 60, in good health, allows you to discover things... I retired with a sense of great joy and liberation."

This experience will probably change soon, as President Nicolas Sarkozy is in the process of raising the retirement age to 62. The president says that the costs of retirement pensions are unsustainable due to a constantly increasing life expectancy. The French are up in arms about this, with protests and strikes that have closed all of France's 12 oil refineries and a quarter of its gas stations.

But how does retirement affect happiness? I'm having trouble finding data. As I wrote last week, happiness tends to increase in old age, but I'm sure anyone has done a happiness study on retirement itself (if you know of one, post it in the comments).

So what do you think of France's predicament and what do you think of retirement? Since populations are increasing in average age all over the world, you may soon have to deal with this issue, even if you don't live in France. Also, I'm no expert on French politics, so if I'm missing anything important, be sure to let me know!