Thursday, May 26, 2011

New Zealand Does Its Own Happiness Study

A sheep on a quest to Mordor. From Wicked Campers.
Continuing the theme from yesterday, the New Zealand Herald reports that New Zealand has published its own national happiness study. The 18-month study, entitled "Working Towards Higher Living Standards for New Zealanders," says, "Treasury's role as a central agency with oversight over all significant policy issues across the state sector has also led it to acknowledge that living standards are broader than income alone, and are determined by a wide range of material and non-material factors."

Ross McDonald, a senior lecturer at the University of Auckland Business School, says that he hopes the study will provide good advice to politicians. For instance, the study could lessen the move toward increasing work hours. "We've got to get out of the mindset that sees growing economies as our ultimate purpose in life," he says.

The news story doesn't go into detail about how New Zealand conducted this study, but if it's anything like other Gross National Happiness measures, they probably sent out thousands of questionnaires to citizens, asking them about their life satisfaction. As always, click on my Gross National Happiness tag to see all the other countries that are into this sort of thing, and which ones are holding out.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The OECD Throws Its Hat into the Happiness Measuring Ring

You'll never guess who this logo belongs to!
From Supply Chain Management Review.
The Guardian reports that the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (or OECD) has started including "life satisfaction" with its economic measures. As part of the OECD's 50th anniversary, The Better Life Index uses these 11 separate dimensions of measurement for each of the OECD's 34 member countries:  housing, income, jobs, community, education, environment, governance, health, life satisfaction, safety, and work-life balance. This should provide a more useful view of progress than the measurement of GDP alone.

OECD secretary-general Angel GurrĂ­a says, "This index encapsulates the OECD at 50, pushing the boundaries of knowledge and understanding in a pioneering and innovative manner. People around the world have wanted to go beyond GDP for some time. This index is designed for them. It has extraordinary potential to help us deliver better policies for better lives."

This effort to look beyond GDP is part of a recent trend. It started in Bhutan in the 70s, but within the past year Britain, Germany, Canada, one or two U.S. cities, and more have all started measuring their own happiness. Look at my Gross National Happiness tag for more info.

If YOU want to participate in the OECD's measurements, go to their Better Life website, where you can view stats for each country and take the survey yourself.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Men Who Like Culture Are Happier

The Louvre. From Brock's Renaissance Art.
Hey gang. Today's story is again brought to you by Julia of The Thank You Project. It seems whenever I have trouble finding new stories, there she is with a good one. Any help is always welcome!

As for the story itself, LiveScience reports that men who enjoy cultural outings, like visits to art museums or the ballet, tend to be happier with their lives than those who don't. The researchers call this "receptive culture," which is separate from "creative culture," wherein a person actually takes a hands-on approach by painting, singing, or writing.

Study author Koenraad Cuypers and his colleagues looked at data on the activities, life satisfaction, perceived health, anxiety, and depression of 50,797 adult residents of Nord-Trondelag County in central Norway. Even after controlling for income and education, participating in receptive culture has a positive effect on the wellbeing of both genders, but the effect is not equal. Cuypers says, "Men seemed to get more of a percieved health benefit from being involved in different receptive cultural activities than women did."

Since this study did not examine people's happiness over time, it can make no assertions on whether receptive culture causes happiness or if the two just happen to go together. Cuypers wants to expand the research to answer that question, and also to find out if the correlation is true in European countries other than Norway.

You can read the actual study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Martin Seligman Wants to Apply Positive Psychology to Games, the Army

Martin Seligman. From Princeton.
Martin Seligman, considered to be the father of positive psychology, is still pushing the science in new and interesting directions, according to Gamasutra. His recipe for happiness is PERMA, or positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievement. Seligman is now assisting the U.S. Army in teaching PERMA to soldiers in an attempt to alleviate common problems that soldiers have, like post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, drug abuse, and divorce.

The Army will ship drill sergeants to the University of Pennsylvania, where Seligman teaches. The effectiveness of PERMA techniques will then be measured on one million soldiers over their entire careers. The whole program will cost $150 million.

On the topic of games, Seligman mentions a lot of untapped potential. Though he hasn't seen any games that relate to positive psychology thus far, he says, "I believe that PERMA's future...might be that gaming will be the great, exponential amplifier. Teaching emotional literacy to young people throughout the entire world [through gaming]." He also mentions a lack of research on this topic, but that there is some evidence of Bridge's positive effect in preventing dementia.

For more on positive gaming, you might check out Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal. I haven't read it, but I'd really like to. You can also click on my Martin Seligman tag.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Another Study Shows the Benefits of Kindness

Kindness. From On the Fence with Jesus.
Longtime readers probably know that acts of kindness can improve your mood over the long term, but here's another study to heap on the pile of evidence. The Globe and Mail reports on a York University study that monitored 700 people as they performed small acts of kindness over the course of a week. Participants helped other people for 5-15 minutes a day, and still felt the positive mood effects six months later compared to a control group.

The researchers first evaluated participants' levels of depression, happiness, and self-esteem, then evaluated them again four more times over the six-month period. Lead author Myriam Mongrain says, "What’s amazing is that the time investment required for these changes to occur is so small. We’re talking about mere minutes a day."

Mongrain theorizes that compassion boosts our mood because it gives us meaning and self esteem. "If you make a conscious decision to not be so hard on others," she says, "it becomes easier to not be so hard on yourself. Furthermore, providing support to others often means that we will get support back. That is why caring for and helping others may be the best possible thing we can do for ourselves. On a less selfish level, there is something intrinsically satisfying about helping others and witnessing their gratitude."

You can read the actual study in a forthcoming issue of The Journal of Happiness Studies. Read more about this general topic in my blog post here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

When the Pursuit of Happiness Backfires

Maybe Will Smith isn't always for you. From Gregg Hawkins.
Today the Times of India reports that the pursuit of happiness actually makes some people depressed. This information comes from a study by June Gruber of Yale, Iris Mauss of the University of Denver, and Maya Tamir of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

These three say that problems arise when you set too many expectations for your own happiness. Gruber says, "But when you're doing it with the motivation or expectation that these things ought to make you happy, that can lead to disappointment and decreased happiness." The authors also outline some problems that happen when you really are too happy, like decreased creativity and unnecessary risk taking.

So if you read this blog or others like it and you feel disappointed when some of the suggestions don't work out for you, it may be a good idea to cut back for awhile! There's no shame in it, and you may be doing yourself a favor.

Read more about this study in Perspectives on Psychological Science.

Neuroscientists Attempt to Identify Leadership in the Brain

Here is you and everything you know. From IBT.
Nothing much is going on with "happiness" per se, but some interesting news has come in regarding another aspect of positive psychology:  the flourishing of human skills. International Business Times reports that researchers at the W. P. Carey School of Business are using brain imaging and neurofeedback techniques to identify and improve the leadership areas of the brain.

Professor Pierre Balthazard and his team have collected EEG data on around 350 senior executives at various businesses. They then correlated this data with performance data to see which areas of the brain help create inspiring leadership. Balthazard says, "The concept has been proven. Now we have to go beyond the proof of concept into operationalization. Then, we will move into the delivery of products and services."

This process will probably involve neurofeedback, wherein scientists will reinforce certain areas of subjects' brains to help steer neuroplasticity in the right direction. The mental health implications of these techniques sound rather exciting to me, but I could also see how some people might be freaked out by the possibility of "mind control." As long as the scientists understand ethical boundaries with what their doing (and it sounds like Balthazard does) these techniques could be a great help to a lot of people!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Big Government is Best for Happiness?

From Visiting DC.
Today's story is brought to you by Julia over at the Thank You Project. It's always great receiving story submissions from people, so be sure to check out her blog. It's all about the power of gratitude, which should interest a lot of you.

Anyway, in a post that will probably be controversial, LiveScience reports that citizens of bigger governments tend to be happier than those of smaller governments. The actual study, published in the April issue of Politics & Policy, says that the United States ranks 10th out of 15 industrialized nations in life satisfaction. The countries with more social welfare programs rank higher on the list.

Patrick Flavin of Baylor University conducted the study by looking at data from the 2005 to 2008 World Values Survey, which asks citizens of various countries how satisfied they are with their lives. The researchers then measured the size of their governments by looking at tax revenue, gross domestic product (GDP), government consumption, average unemployment benefits, and social welfare expenditures.

After controlling for health, age, individualism, and other factors, government size proved to be the biggest influence on average happiness. Flavin says, "The jump in happiness in going from a country that's low on the government intervention scale to one that is high on the government intervention scale is about the same as the effect of getting married."

Suffice it to say, not everyone agrees with the study's conclusions. Critics point out that the study's sample of 15 countries is not big enough, while the researchers say they limited their sample size to draw more reliable comparisons between similar countries. The story itself goes into much more detail than I could summarize here, so read that if you want to learn more.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Bhutan Makes Bid for Olympics

The prince doing archery, Bhutan's national sport.
From Bhutan-360.
Today Xinhuanet reports that Gross National Happiness pioneer Bhutan is now interested in hosting the Olympics. Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck, the 26-year-old heir to the throne of Bhutan, is also president of Bhutan's Olympic committee.

With 60% of the country's population aged between 10 and 29 years old, the prince says that sports play an important role in alleviating social problems. He explains, "With increasing migration to the city, there are more social problems, and sports can play an important role in decreasing youth criminal rate."

Since Bhutan focuses on citizen wellbeing rather than money, its sporting industry is not as developed as those of other countries. Now the Olympic committee has members from departments of finance, agriculture, and statistics to help Bhutan compete on an international level.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Scientists Identify Happiness Gene

What your whole life looks like under a microscope.
From KQED.
TGDaily reports that researchers have found a gene that controls the flow of serotonin to the brain, which in turn affects overall life satisfaction. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve of the London School of Economics and Political Science conducted the study, wherein he examined genetic data from 2,500 participants of the US National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. De Neve specifically looked for variations of the 5-HTT gene.

This gene can have long or short variations, with the long forms being more efficient and therefore able to create more serotonin transporters in cell membranes. When De Neve's team looked at how satisfied participants were with their lives on a five-point scale (very satisfied, satisfied, dissatisfied, very dissatisfied, or none of the above), they found that a whopping 70% of those with the efficient 5-HTT gene variation (long-long) were either very satisfied or satisfied, compared with just 19% of those with the inefficient version (short-short). Possessing even one long version of the gene allele can increase one's likelihood of being "very satisfied" by 8.5%.

Happiness has long been known to have a genetic component (such as in the work of Sonja Lyubomirsky, who says that happiness is 50% genetic), but this may be the first study to show a clear link between one single gene and life satisfaction. De Neve explains, "It has long been suspected that this gene plays a role in mental health but this is the first study to show that it is instrumental in shaping our individual happiness levels." While other genes may also have a role in happiness, De Neve says, "This finding helps to explain why we each have a unique baseline level of happiness and why some people tend to be naturally happier than others."

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Not Every Culture Sees Positive Emotions the Same Way

From Free Fish Care Tips.
Time reports that the concept of "positivity" may be more culturally subjective than previously thought. This comes from a University of the Washington study that shows some cultures get no benefit from individual positive emotions--sometimes even seeing them as suspicious or dangerous.

The study's authors surveyed around 600 students from three different cultures:  European-Americans, Asian-American citizens, and Asian immigrants. The Asians tended to associate positive feelings with social harmony, while Americans associated those feelings with personal achievement.

Asians' emphasis on social harmony may not be very surprising, but the study also found that the Americans felt more stress relief from positive emotions than the Asian immigrants. Emotions like "happy," "joyful," "proud," and "strong" all reduced stress and depressive symptoms in Americans, but not Asian immigrants, with mixed results among Asian-Americans.

It would be interesting to see a more generalized study on this topic. From what I can tell, this study only looked at university students, which is already a self-selected sample (meaning participants are probably middle-to-upper class with somewhat high goals in life, simply because they are at a university). Surveying lower class people might give completely different results, as might looking at Asians within their native culture instead of Asian immigrants living in America. And there are more cultures in the world than just "European-American" and "Asian"!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Looking Back on Positive Memories Keeps You Feeling Happy

"The Persistence of Memory" (1931) by Salvador Dali.
From VirtualDali.
As more peaceful news starts to break through again, The Times of India reports that people who remember positive experiences are happier than those who focus on negative experiences. This information is based on a study that looked at correlations between "Big Five" personality traits and happiness.

As Ryan Howell of San Francisco State University explains, "We found that highly extraverted people are happier with their lives because they tend to hold a positive, nostalgic view of the past and are less likely to have negative thoughts and regrets. This is good news because although it may be difficult to change your personality, you may be able to alter your view of time and boost your happiness."

If you've got $31.50 burning a hole in your pocket, you can pay to read the actual study in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, which is good because the news article is very light on details. How was this study conducted? How many participants were there? How were cultural differences in memory controlled for?

Who knows, but at least it's kind of normal news again, right!?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Vicarious Happiness from Royal Wedding May Not Be So Bad

Who wouldn't want to be Mr. and Mrs. Plate and Mug?
From The Telegraph.
In recent weeks I've had the curious problem of not being able to find enough news to cover. All the news is old news! Apparently broadcast media in general is going through a similar dry spell, so they have turned themselves over to 24/7 coverage of a wedding between a figurehead monarch and a fashion photographer. This may have some unintended positive consequences, however, as The Boston Globe reports.

Boston College psychologist Joseph Tecce says that people watching the happiness of others often feel happiness themselves. He explains, "There's a Freudian theory called identification that says whenever we identify with someone of a higher social standing than we are, we feel good about it." This identification often relieves the stresses of everyday life.

On the other hand, Ronald Siegel of Harvard Medical School warns us that too much identification may be a bad thing. "If you think the only people who matter are those who are famous," he says, "then the wedding may remind you of how much you don't matter, and that will get you down." You should also be careful about dwelling on all the divorces the royals have gone through over the years, especially if you have had a bitter marriage yourself.

But all in all, it may not be so bad if you mark your calendars for a wedding between two people you've never met. Tomorrow, April 29, Prince William weds Kate Middleton! Be there or be slightly less able to enjoy vicarious thrills!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Botox May Keep You From Reading Other People's Emotions

Gah, needle to the face! From Beauty Resurgence.
You may know that Botox makes smiling difficult, but WebMD reports that it also dampens one's ability to read the emotions of others. Researchers in Los Angeles took 31 women who had received either Botox or Restylane--a treatment similar to Botox, but without the muscle paralyzing effects. Researchers also looked at 56 women and 39 men who used a cream that augmented signals from facial muscles. All participants were then asked to look at faces on a computer screen and identify the displayed emotion. Researchers found that the women who used Botox were less likely to name the correct emotion than their Restylane counterparts, but people who used the facial cream were best of all.

David R. Neal of the University of California, one of the authors of the study, says, "If you have a poker face because your facial muscles are paralyzed, you can’t read others emotions as well." This happens because our faces subtly mimic the emotions we see in others, giving the brain multiple ways to process emotional information. But since Botox paralyzes facial muscles, that avenue is closed to users.

Dr. Neal points out, however, that this deadening effect is subtle, and probably only affects heavy Botoxers. "People are not becoming automatons," he says. "It’s just a matter of weighing whether the aesthetic and self-esteem boost outweighs any subtle impact on your ability to perceive others emotions."

Monday, April 25, 2011

Gallup Releases Latest National Wellbeing Poll Results

Gallup's deserted front desk. Apparently everyone
was out doing surveys. From The Woodlands Texas.
The Atlantic reports that Gallup, one of the world's leading statistical organizations, has released its 2010 list of countries ranked by wellbeing. Here are the top five, along with how many of its citizens are "thriving" by their own admission:

  1. Denmark:  72% thriving
  2. Sweden:  69% thriving
  3. Canada:  69% thriving
  4. Australia:  65% thriving
  5. Finland:  64% thriving
Some other interesting factoids:  the U.S. ranks 12th with 59%, which is between Panama and Austria. Also, the United Kingdom ranks 17th with 54%, which is just ahead of Qatar, but just below the United Arab Emirates. It'll be interesting to see if the U.K.'s rank improves once its Gross National Happiness measures kick into gear. As far as I know, none of the countries in the top five has official measures like that (except possibly Canada in the future).

Like the gap between the rich and the poor, there is also a huge gap in wellbeing. In 19 countries, the majority of citizens consider themselves to be thriving, yet in a whopping 67 countries, that percentage falls below 25. Russia is one of these, with 24% of its population thriving. So is China with 12%, which is even lower than Iraq, Libya, and Tunisia. The Chinese government apparently has a long way to go if they're serious about focusing on happiness (which they probably aren't).

The African nation of Chad comes in at the bottom of the list with only 1% of its population thriving. Of course, there may be worse countries out there, but those aren't even well enough to report statistics.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Happiest Places Also Have The Highest Suicide Rates

By Vincent Van Gogh. From 0rchid Thief.
Some troubling news today, as Eurasia Review reports on new research that compares the happiness, both of cities and of countries, to suicide rates. It's all part of a research paper entitled "Dark Contrasts: The Paradox of High Rates of Suicide in Happy Places" from University of Warwick, Hamilton College in New York and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

Researchers have previously suspected a link between national happiness data and suicide rates when it comes to Denmark, but this new study shows a similar link in Canada, the United States, Iceland, Ireland, and Switzerland. Since different cultures have different standards on reporting suicide rates, so the paper also goes into detail on happiness and suicide rates within a single geographic region--namely the United States.

Using a happiness sample of 1.3 million Americans and data on 1 million "suicide decisions," the researchers found happy states are also high in number of suicides. For instance, Utah was ranked first in life satisfaction, but showed the 9th highest suicide rate, while New York was ranked 45th in life satisfaction, yet had the lowest suicide rate in the country. Hawaii, sometimes considered the happiest state, was second on their life satisfaction list, yet had the fifth highest suicide rate.

The researchers theorize that this link happens because humans always compare themselves to those around them. In other words, living in a happy place could make unhappy people even MORE unhappy because they feel disconnected from the happy people around them. As Professor Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick says, “Those dark contrasts may in turn increase the risk of suicide. If humans are subject to mood swings, the lows of life may thus be most tolerable in an environment in which other humans are unhappy.”

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Happiness Apparently Makes You Eat Candy

From A Basket Case.
The Times of India reports that happy people tend to eat candy, while "hopeful" people eat fruit and vegetables. This comes from a series of studies by Karen Page Winterich of Pennsylvania State University and Kelly L. Haws of Texas A&M University. They got their results by having participants either thinking about the past, present, or future, then seeing whether they picked candy or fruit.

In the first study, hopeful participants ate less M&Ms than those thinking of present happiness. In the second, participants thinking of the past ate even more unhealthy snacks. In the third study, participants thought of positive emotions in the past and the future. The "future" people chose healthier food.

The study authors conclude, "So the next time you're feeling well, don't focus too much on all the good things in the past. Instead, keep that positive glow and focus on your future, especially all the good things you imagine to come. Your waistline will thank you!"

Overall, this sounds like a rather unconventional series of studies with a lot going on. The article doesn't go into much detail, but it sounds like different snacks were used in each study (M&Ms in one, unspecified candy bars in another, etc.), which could make the conclusions suspicious because of all the variables. I also hope the authors kept strict definitions of "hope," "pride," and "happiness," as these are somewhat airy concepts that participants could have defined however they wanted.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Apparently Working Long Hours Makes Americans Happier?

From Static.
Yeah, this one's just crazy enough that it might be true. The Daily Mail reports that Americans who work long hours are happier than those who don't, while in Europe, that trend is reversed. This information comes from a study at the University of Texas at Dallas. The study's authors could not conclude whether work actually CAUSES happiness in America, but they speculate that the results have more to do with worker expectations and the pursuit of income than with their actions.

American and European survey respondents were asked to rate themselves as "Very Happy," "Pretty Happy," or "Not too Happy." Results showed that "Very Happy" Europeans dropped from around 28% to 23% as work hours increased from under 17 a week to more than 60. American happiness, on the other hand, stayed the same as work hours increased, while their sense of "bliss" increased. This holds true despite other factors, such as age, marital status, and income.

Economics professor Richard Easterlin, who was not involved in the study, but comments on it anyway, theorizes that Americans believe more in the rewards of hard work. "It's not really that hard work brings more success in the U.S. than in Europe; it's what people believe in," he says.

You can read the actual study in the April issue of the Journal of Happiness Studies.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Dalai Lama Visits Ireland to Promote Action for Happiness

From NewsWhip.
Today NewsWhip reports on the Dalai Lama's trip to Ireland. He is visiting the economically depressed country to promote Action for Happiness, a British nonprofit organization that encourages people to value their emotional wellbeing over material consumption.

The Dalai Lama discussed wealth with a Kildare church, saying "The ultimate source of happiness, peace of mind, cannot be produced by money. Billionaires, they are, I notice, very unhappy people. Very powerful; but deep inside, too much anxiety, too much stress."

Even though His Holiness wakes up at 3:30 a.m. every day, he always gets eight or nine hours of sleep, which he attributes to the peace of mind afforded by meditation. He has previously written about happiness in his excellent book The Art of Happiness (which celebrated its tenth anniversary a few years ago), a fact which puts Action for Happiness right in his wheelhouse.

(Read more about what Action for Happiness is doing by clicking my Action for Happiness tag.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Shawn Achor Finds Great Return on Investment for Employee Happiness Training

"Yay, let's all go to a corporately mandated class!"
(At least that's what they'd be saying if they went to
Shawn Achor's class.) From Training Seminars
and Workshops
We've long known that employee happiness affects a company's bottom line, but now PR Web reports that training in positive psychology may be even better than traditional employee training. Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, conducted a study wherein a group of 77 managers was given a single class in positive psychology. Their moods were then compared four months later, showing that the managers had higher energy, life satisfaction, and stress management compared to a control group.

The study began in December 2008 with a 10-minute survey that looked at 14 different metrics, including stress, social support, and optimism. Then Shawn Achor conducted a single three-hour class entitled "Positive Psychology:  the Science of Happiness and Potential". In April 2009, the managers in the class and the control group took another survey, which found that even after four months, the class produced significant increases in life satisfaction. This is important for companies because previous studies have shown that life satisfaction is one of the most important factors in employee performance and profitability.

Shawn Achor says, "By testing employees over many months we can determine if there is a long term ROI (return on investment). This sets a new standard for trainings."

To read more about what various companies are doing to improve employee happiness, remember to click on my employee happiness tag.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Action for Happiness Says British People Don't Trust Each Other

From The Telegraph.
As Britain tries to start its Gross National Happiness campaign off on the right foot, The Telegraph reports that the initial results are not looking good. Action for Happiness, a nonprofit organization, says that the country may be heading for increased rates of depression and suicide due to the culture's desire for money instead of social connection and intrinsic value.

The organization bases many of these predictions on a new study that shows British people don't trust each other any more. Only around 30% of them trust most of their peers, compared to around 60% a half century ago. Since trust is a major component of social relationships, a lack of it may spell doom for the country's wellbeing.

Anthony Seldon, one of the group's members and headmaster of Wellington College, says that children need to be taught better values to prevent this sort of thing from taking root. He says, "If we don’t act now, in the future we are likely to see increased levels of adolescent suicide and mental illness, and a culture in which taking anti-depressant drugs is the norm."

Unfortunately, the article doesn't go into much detail about the actual study that found this 30% trust figure (and Action for Happiness's website is overwhelmed at the moment), but other recent studies of Britain have been more optimistic. I guess we'll have to wait for the full results.

Monday, April 11, 2011

People Who Change Jobs Are Happier

A completely undoctored photo of Sydney.
Today the Sydney Morning Herald reports on an Australian study that shows most people change jobs not to seek out more pay, but to seek out more satisfaction--and they usually find it. Around 17% of Australian workers (or 1.2 people) changed jobs in 2008, mostly for reasons of job security and job satisfaction. The National Centre for Vocational Education Research conducted the study.

Dr. Ian Watson, author of the study, says that most changes in jobs do not lead to an increase in pay or job security. "On the other hand," he says, "job changing does lead on average to greater levels of job satisfaction.'' This may occur because workers in new jobs get to learn and use new skills. The study also includes other interesting results, like how extroverts are more likely to change jobs than introverts.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Happy Voters More Likely to Vote

Hmm, yes, this picture confirms the research!
From NY Daily News.
Today The Montreal Gazette reports that people who are happy are more likely to vote. This information comes from research to be published in a forthcoming issue of The Journal of Happiness Studies. The researchers compared American survey respondents' voting habits and political participation (displaying a yard sign or working for a campaign, etc.) with their overall happiness. They found a positive correlation, even when controlling for income, sex, race, education, and interest in government.

According to study authors Patrick Flavin and Michael J. Keane, these results ran counter to their original hypothesis. "We went in with the theory that people who were satisfied with their lives would be less likely to participate; they're doing fine, so there's less reason to get involved in politics or to change the status quo," says Flavin. "But we found that people who (said) that they were very satisfied, as compared to not very satisfied, were about seven percentage points more likely to vote."

This perhaps means that once a country reaches a certain level of stability and prosperity, happy citizens can vote on things they didn't have time to care about previously--like the environment--so they come to the polls in greater numbers. The researchers add that that the results do not work the other way around; in other words, there is no evidence that voting increases happiness.

It seems kind of backward, since you would think that unhappy people would want to vote for change, but that's apparently the way it is! (You can read the actual 30-page study in PDF format here.)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Kansas University Does Easter Egg Hunt to Study Happiness

This place was all full of eggs yesterday. From KU.
The University Daily Kansan reports on a Kansas University Easter egg hunt that took place yesterday. But this was no regular hunt, as the eggs contained messages along with chocolates. The messages told students to give one of the chocolates to a friend, then take a five-question online survey to rate their feelings upon receiving the chocolate and upon giving it away. Survey respondents will be entered into a drawing to receive a prize, which will probably be a gift card.

This whole experiment was created by associate professor Sarah Pressman for a positive psychology class. Out of 500 hidden eggs, the class has received 40 survey responses so far. After Thursday, students will tabulate all the responses and use them in a research paper.

It's certainly an interesting idea, and it could lead to some interesting results, as well as (hopefully) showing people how great generosity can feel!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

American City Also Getting into the Happiness Measurement Game

A look at Somerville. From CNN.
Yes, America may not be interested in measuring Gross National Happiness right now, but that doesn't stop cities from trying it on their own. The Christian Science Monitor reports that Somerville, Massachusetts included a life satisfaction survey with its annual census. The ten-question survey went out to 80,000 citizens in February.

Some households will also receive more detailed phone interviews. After the results are tabulated, they will be presented at town hall meetings, where citizens can decide how to use them. City officials hope to create a happiness index after a few more years of data.

Mayor Joseph Curtatone started the initiative to learn what factors influence people to live in certain areas. He says, "I don't rely just on the financial numbers. [That] doesn't tell you why your family decides to stay here."

One other U.S. city that has tried happiness initiatives is Seattle, but that survey was conducted by a non-profit organization, not the government. As always, you can stay up to date about all the multitude of governments that are trying out Bhutan-like happiness measures by clicking on my Gross National Happiness tag.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education

From Stanford.
You may have noticed a lack of updates lately, but that's only because all the news seems to be old news that I've already covered. Today will be a little different, in that I'm not really covering news at all but an interesting organization. It's the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (C.C.A.R.E.), which is a Stanford organization that aims to provide research into compassion. They especially focus on compassion's neurological causes and effects.

Their website is full of interesting videos on the subject, with plenty of information on current research projects as well. Even though the graphics show a heavy Tibetan Buddhist influence, all of the organization's research is secular, with some assistance from religious figures.

Anyway, I had never heard of them before, but their outlook is intriguing, so check out their website. It looks like the next news cycle is picking up, so I think I'll have more to post tomorrow!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Beautiful People Are Apparently Happier Than the Rest of Us

The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli. From Painting Here.
In news that may be disheartening to most of the population, the University of Texas at Austin reports that beautiful people are generally happier than their plain-looking or ugly counterparts, no matter what their gender or culture. This information comes from a new paper entitled "'Beauty Is the Promise of Happiness?'" by Daniel Hamermesh and Jason Abrevaya.

The authors analyzed data from five surveys conducted in America, Canada, Germany, and Britain. These surveys asked more than 25,000 participants about their levels of happiness while an interviewer either rated their attractiveness in person or by photograph. The results of this analysis showed that people in the upper 15% of beauty ratings were over 10% happier than people ranked in the bottom 10%.

Hamermesh says, "Personal beauty raises happiness. The majority of beauty's effect on happiness works through its impact on economic outcomes." His previous research showed that beautiful people make more money. The economic impact of beauty may account for around half of the happiness boost shown in his current research.

The actual paper goes into much more detail, using charts and graphs over its 47 pages. You can read it for free in PDF format by clicking here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

British People Really Like Coffee and Parks

From Coffee Ratings.
Yes, according to this story from The Telegraph, Britain has just released some preliminary results of the Gross National Happiness survey, and the results show that coffee and walks in the park are among the responses to how British people define happiness. This information comes as a result of focus groups trying to define happiness before the British government begins the main survey phase of its happiness plan.

When asked how they define happiness, the people in the focus groups showed a diversity of responses, from big ideas to little details. Some of the responses included:

  • “Having access to open, green space within walking distance of my home.”
  • “Access to low-cost facilities that enrich life - e.g. libraries, parks, swimming pools.”
  • “Opportunity to laugh, ability to trust, opportunities to recharge my batteries and restore my mental health.”
Some people responded negatively, saying that what really matters is contentment, freedom, health, or money.

In case you don't know what all this is about, last year British Prime Minister David Cameron began a campaign to put wellbeing statistics alongside Britain's economic indicators. You can join an online version of the happiness focus groups by going to the Office for National Statistics website here.

Monday, March 28, 2011

You Probably Won't Reach Full Happiness Until You Are 85 Years Old

From The Telegraph.
We've long suspected that people tend to get happier as they age, but now that theory has a number:  85. The Telegraph reports on a survey of 341,000 people conducted by the American National Academy of Sciences. The results showed that most people feel less life satisfaction in their 20s and 30s, then begin an upward trend in their late 40s that peaks at 85.

Lewis Wolpert of the University College London explains the findings in his new book, You're Looking Very Well. He says that young adults are busy trying to start families and careers; paths which don't provide benefits until later in life. Andrew Steptoe, also of the University College London, adds that elderly people now enjoy much better health and opportunities than at any other time in history, making this longevity and happiness possible. A further explanation may be that people tend to use their time more selectively as they age, focusing their days on meaningful activities that bring them true joy and cutting out those that don't.

Unfortunately, the article doesn't mention some relevant details about the survey respondents, like how nursing homes affect happiness. But still, these results might make you think more positively about growing older. You can read more news about this topic by clicking on my "age" tag.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Study Shows Correlation Between Diet and Mental Disorders in Women

Mmm, depression! From Science Daily.
Today the Sydney Morning Herald reports on a new Australian study that shows eating certain foods increase the likelihood of developing depression and anxiety disorders. Lead by Deakin University research fellow Dr. Felice Jacka, the study examined around 1,000 Australian women from all stratas of society. Participants who followed the national dietary guidelines were less likely to have depression.

This correlation happened regardless of the women's socioeconomic status, education, frequency of exercise, whether they smoked or not, and even physical problems like obesity. Dr. Jacka also says, "And conversely, women who mostly ate junk and processed foods were more likely to have depression and exhibit increased psychological symptoms." The study ultimately aims to help prevent depression before it starts.

So this pretty much confirms what a lot of you probably expected anyway. Unfortunately, the news story doesn't go into much detail about how this study was carried out (by listing control groups and the like), so not much else can be inferred from it. For more on how food affects mood, remember to click on my food tag, and especially this list of good foods to eat if you want to be happy.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bhutan Starts Marketing Its Brand of Happiness

A look at the new brand. From The Independent.
Today The Independent reports that positive psychology paradise Bhutan is opening up its marketing floodgates. Having convinced many other countries that happiness is worth measuring (as evidenced by the recent spate of nations adopting Gross National Happiness measures), Bhutan now wants to convince tourists. The Tourism Council of Bhutan hopes to do this with their new branding slogan:  "Bhutan, happiness is a place."

According to the story, Bhutanese tourism started in 1974, only two years after King Jigme Singye Wangchuck started this whole Gross National Happiness thing. Tourism has grown in recent years, but Bhutan wants visitors who don't impact the environment or culture, preferring low-key visits with larger financial contributions. The government calls these visitors "high-end" tourists.

Last year, Bhutan received 40,873 of these high-end tourists, well over its goal of 35,000. By 2013, the country is hopes to receive at least 100,000 annually. They hope that this marketing campaign attracts people who respect tradition and the environment.

So if you're filthy rich but not filthy, think of Bhutan for your next vacation!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

New Mobile Phone App for Journaling Happy Thoughts

A look at the app. From
Shawn Achor.
Do you like journaling with your mobile phone, but need some help keeping things positive? Then maybe this app is for you! Business Wire reports on a free new iPhone and Android app called "I Journal" that prompts you to journal about things you are grateful for. It also lets you record voice memos and take photos relating to your daily experiences with meditation and acts of kindness.

The app comes from a partnership between positive psychologist Shawn Achor and software developer Shawn Achor says, "When you write down a list of three good things that happen per day, your brain will be forced to scan the last 24 hours for positives, boosting your happiness. Now, instead of dusting off an old journal, I am thrilled to team up with the experts at to bring this proven practice into the new millennium. For the next twenty-one days, record three things you’re grateful for on your mobile device in I Journal. If you try to make at least one of them work-related, you’ll be training your brain to become more skilled at letting go of daily hassles and noticing the good things about your job."

Of course, you could probably do all of those things without a new app, but having them all in one package makes it that much easier to do them regularly. I don't have an Android phone or iPhone, but this app sounds pretty interesting, and the price is certainly right!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Happiness Course in Ireland Thrives

Dr. Deirdre MacIntyre. From
Today reports on an Irish happiness class that is receiving offers for international expansion around the world. The class was originally offered only for teachers in Maynooth, but in February of this year, it opened its doors to everyone.

Dr. Deirdre MacIntyre, who runs the course, is the director of the Institute of Child Education & Psychology Europe, Maynooth. She started the course in May 2010 because of pervasive negative attitudes, saying, "We did an online survey of about 400 teachers and parents in May 2010 and discovered that more than 75% of respondents reported that children and young people were anxious about the recession. We decided to look for an antidote to this depression, helplessness, and pessimism."

The course lasts eight weeks, during which participants learn various techniques to improve their psychological wellbeing. Dr. MacIntyre focuses on the positive psychology theory that humans need a 3:1 ratio of positivity to negativity to thrive, and a 5:1 ratio to really flourish.

Dr. MacIntyre partnered with Action for Happiness to offer many scholarships to the €99 course.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Daily Mail Reporter Tests Her Own Blood for Happiness

Suzanne Taylor doing research. From the Daily Mail.
Can a blood test determine someone's happiness? I don't know, but that's what Suzanne Taylor of the Daily Mail tried to find out. She let researchers sample her blood and examine its oxytocin levels. Oxytocin--sometimes called the "love hormone"--is released into the blood when someone touches another human being. The chemical helps create feelings of trust, security, and possibly sexual arousal in the brain, with more oxytocin creating more positive feelings.

So what actions release the most oxytocin? That's what Suzanne Taylor wanted to find out, so in a rather unscientific test, she did four different activities on four separate days and had blood tests after each one. She went on a date, spent time with her daughter, went shopping, and spent time with a female friend.

Here are the results, in descending order of the amount of oxytocin from each activity (the theory is that the higher the number, the more actual happiness she felt):

  1. Time with daughter:  115 picograms of oxytocin per mL of blood.
  2. Time with female friend:  94 picograms/mL.
  3. Shopping:  88 picograms/mL.
  4. Date:  62 picograms/mL.
So there it is. No real surprises, except maybe that shopping scored higher than actual contact with a human being (the date, even though it apparently went well). Of course these results mean very little, seeing as this is an uncontrolled test with too many variables (maybe the date scored lowest because it was the first day tested, and she wasn't used to the needle yet). Also, everyone's oxytocin levels are probably different, making these results almost meaningless for other people.

This is an interesting course of study, however, so if anyone could do a similar test with a control group and a large sample size, the results would probably be quite helpful to everyone. Of course, you would need to find a lot of test subjects willing to be pricked by needles every day, or at least find a better way to check oxytocin.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Twitter Users Tend to Stay in Groups with the Same Mood as Them

Sorry for the lack of an update yesterday, folks, but I actually couldn't find a new story to cover. It was all old news, except for continuing coverage of the tragic events following the tsunami in Japan, which are outside my ability to handle. For more up-to-date information on relief efforts and the disaster itself, visit Google's excellent crisis center here.

As for what's going on in the world of positive psychology, Online Social Media reports that Twitter users group themselves together by mood. This information comes from a new study published in New Scientist, probably timed to coincide with Twitter's upcoming fifth anniversary.

This Cornell University study examined around 102,000 Twitter users over six months, totaling around 129 million tweets. The researchers analyzed words in the tweets to determine users' subjective wellbeing. They found that users of happy words tend to stick with other happy tweeters, and "unhappy" tweeters stay in their own groups.

Johann Bollen, main author of the study, says, "Beyond demographic features such as age, sex, and race, even psychological states such as 'loneliness' can be assortative in a social network." The research doesn't cover why this might be, but it seems that the old adage of "misery loves company" holds true, even in a massive, wide-open, semi-anonymous social network like Twitter.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Zappos CEO to Start New Company to Teach Happiness Principles

Tony Hsieh. From Fast Company.
Today Fast Company reports that Tony Hsieh, billionaire CEO of Zappos, plans to start a new company based on the principles in his book Delivering Happiness. The new start-up, also called Delivering Happiness, will advise businesses on value-based management and design a line of "motivational apparel." Hsieh (pronounced "Shay") says that his company’s root principles are to inspire, connect, educate, and experience. He suggests that companies adhere to their principles, even when they impact the bottom line.

In the future, Hsieh also wants to expand beyond helping businesses. He and his business partner Jenn Lim hope to publish educational literature for college students and provide "experience packages"--which include things like helicopter pilot lessons and foreign trips. Whether these packages will help longterm happiness or just create short-term pleasure is anyone's guess, but Zappos has an incredibly low employee turnover rate, even in its call center, so Hsieh probably knows what he's doing.

(You can read about Tony Hsieh at the Global Happiness Summit here, or see a video of a speech he made to Google here.)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Casual Friday: A Trip to the Art Museum

As Aristotle was fond of saying, "There comes a time in one's life when one has no idea what to post on one's blog." For me, that time is now, so I'm just going to post a bunch of paintings that I like, because art is a great method of transmitting meaning and joy. I don't know if anyone else will like them and I don't know if most of these would even be classified as "happy" art, but they do all have a positive feeling to them. (You can click each one for the full-sized version.)
"First Steps (after Millet)" by Vincent Van Gogh. He painted this in 1890 while he was a voluntary insane asylum patient at Saint-Remy, where he also did some his most famous work (like "Starry Night").
"The Botanist" by Louis Wain. Louis Wain is one of my favorite painters, even though he's not really considered serious or deep by the art world (because he mostly painted cats with funny anthropomorphic features). He is also famous for becoming schizophrenic, with his cat paintings often looking completely abstract and psychedelic before psychedelic was even a word. You can check out other Wain paintings at Catland.
"Every Girl Should Have a Unicorn" by Dr. Seuss. Many people don't know this, but the famous children's author and artist Dr. Seuss also made paintings for adults--he just didn't release them usually. Well, his "adult" paintings are just as colorful and imaginative as the ones in his children's books, if not more so. You can see them in the excellent book The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss.
Hopefully these are some paintings you haven't seen before. I'm keeping it short so YOU feel free to post any paintings you like in the comments!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Happiness From Romantic Relationships May Dissipate After Three Years

From Uber Review.
Tracy Clark-Flory of Salon reports on new research that shows the happiness and passion of marriages and other romantic relationships tend to fizzle out after three years. Part of this information comes from a new study suspiciously funded by Warner Brothers, but to avoid the icky feeling of corporate research, the article focuses on a 2007 study that found similar results.

In this 2007 study, researchers interviewed each participant twice with six years between interviews. Some participants were single at the time of the first interview, then found a longterm relationship by the second, while some were already in a relationship, then got married by the second interview, and some were married during both interviews. Results showed that, on average, married people were happier, but that this happiness boost declined after three years. Researchers call this short-term boost the "honeymoon effect."

Kelly Musick, sociologist and one of the researchers on the study, says the decline after the honeymoon effect may be caused by shattered expectations of longterm romance. In other words, after three years, couples learn that marriage is more about doing laundry and other chores than constant romance. Musick is quick to point out, however, that these results are averages, so some couples even improve their happiness and passion over many years.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Gallup Finds "Happiest Man in America" in Hawaii

That's Alvin on the right. From the Daily Record.
Like Big Foot or the Loch Ness Monster, a "happiest person" in any given country might seem like a mythical creature whose only evidence is some sham photographs or an odd sighting by unreliable sources. Well, according to this story from the Los Angeles Times, Gallup has apparently done the unthinkable (or maybe unnecessary?) and found the happiest man in America:  69-year-old Alvin Wong of Hawaii.

Gallup accomplished this by first assembling data on what traits and situations make people the happiest. They found that happy Americans tend to be one or more of the following things:  tall, Asian American, Jewish, 65 or older, married with children, living in Hawaii, and running their own business with a household income of more than $120,000 a year. So a theoretical "happiest person in America" would be all of these things put together, right?

Well, Gallup found that this collection of traits is not just theoretical, but that one real person in America actually meets all of them, and his name is Alvin Wong. Alvin is a Chinese-American convert to Judaism who is 5ft 10in tall, has children, owns his own business, and all the rest. The Daily Record reports that Alvin says his life philosophy is "if you can't laugh at yourself, life is going to be pretty terrible for you." He also says, of the study itself, "This is a practical joke, right?"

Who can blame him, really? Congrats, Alvin, on apparently winning at life! Your new title carries with it a lot of expectation, but you seem like the kind of guy who can take the pressure!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Children Apparently DO Make Parents Happier, Just Later in Life

Look on the bright side:  someone else will
probably deal with messes like this after you're 40.
From the Missourian.
In spite of the common wisdom that children bring happiness to their parents, psychologists have long known that parents' happiness scores actually drop the more children they have. Now, however, Medical News Daily reports that this trend reverses after age 40. Once parents reach that age, they become happier with up to three children, and after age 50, they become happier no matter how many children they have, all independent of sex, income, or partnership status.

This information comes from a survey by the University of Pennsylvania and the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR). The survey covered around 200,000 men and women in 86 countries from 1981 to 2005.

MPIDR demographer Mikko Myrskylä theorizes that the change in happiness has to do with life stages of the parents, saying, "Seeing the age trend of happiness independent of sex, income, partnership status and even fertility rates shows that one has to explain it from the perspective of the stage of parents' life." The negative aspects of early childhood--like messes, troublemaking, and safety concerns--often overshadow the positive aspects, but as children mature, parents can rest easy and enjoy the benefits. Researchers also believe that the financial burdens of early childhood weigh on young parents, because countries with better-developed welfare systems show less difference in happiness between people with children and those without.

People's decision to have children is usually independent of what science shows, but in case it does affect your decision, this stuff is good to know anyway!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Racial Identity May Be Part of Happiness

A strange old chart of racial classification.
From Associated Content.
The Michigan State University website reports on a new study that shows African Americans who identify more strongly with their race tend to be happier. The study, published in Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, surveyed black adults in Michigan.

Stevie C.Y. Yap, lead researcher on the study and MSU doctoral candidate, says, "This is the first empirical study we know of that shows a relationship between racial identity and happiness," even though previous studies have made a connection between racial identity and self esteem.

Yap hypothesizes that this link may have something to do with a sense of belongingness. Do these results apply to other racial groups as well? We don't know yet, but further research might find out.