Monday, February 28, 2011

Divorce or Separation May Be Worse for Child Happiness Than Poverty

Ingmar Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage.
From An opinion on film.
Today The Daily Mail reports on something that you may already suspect:  divorce or separation of parents has a more negative effect on children's life satisfaction than poverty. This information comes from a new survey by the Understanding Society, a British government-funded organization.

Initial findings show that British children rank lower in overall life satisfaction than children in other developed countries. Parental happiness plays a big role in how happy they feel. They also experience a higher prevalence of bullying than children in the United States.

The researchers interviewed 34,500 people, including 2,000 children between 10 and 15 years old. The organization hopes to survey around 100,000 people every year to gain a deeper understanding of issues such as health, crime, finances, and work.

Professor Nick Buck, the director of Understanding Society, says, "We are collecting a much richer set of data than the national census, for instance, and I think this is going to lead to a major change in the way social research is performed, to understand how individual wellbeing and happiness is developed, and how behavior impacts on later outcomes."

Friday, February 25, 2011

SPECIAL REPORT: Downtown Independent Screening

It's been awhile since I've done one of these, partly because they always seem to go well, so it gets repetitive, but also because I haven't been to one in awhile. Also, theaters are dark places, so my pictures don't turn out as often as I'd hope, except when I take pictures of hallways for some reason.

Anyway, as usual The HAPPY Movie had a SOLD OUT screening, this time at the fantastic Downtown Independent theater. I've never been there before, but I may start going regularly because they have an excellent facility, an incredible staff, and great taste in movies. This screening also featured special guests Darlene Mininni, author of The Emotional Toolkit, and Mark Adler, composer for the film.

We'd also like to give a HUGE thanks to Project Fresh for making it all happen! Couldn't have done it without you!

I'll let the pictures do the rest of the talking (click for bigger versions):

The stage.
Roko introducing the movie in front of an outdated ad of Carlos for some reason. (Carlos is excellent, by the way. You should see it, but the long version is five hours long.)
Roko doing the Q&A with Mark and Darlene after the movie.
The packed audience. Some people sat on the stairs.
Mark Adler talking about his composing methods.
The lobby area reception after the Q&A.
A view from the roof of the theater. Looking at the interesting parking garage across the street.

And now some artsy shots of lights and hallways and stuff. Hopefully they'll expand your mind or something:

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Britain Starts Their Happiness Survey

Prime Minister David Cameron and an anonymous dog.
From Green Consultancy.
Yes, as reported back in November, Britain plans to focus on the wellbeing of its citizens. Well, now The Telegraph reports that the nation's first official happiness survey is afoot. This first batch will cover 200,000 people over the age of 16, asking them to rate themselves on the following questions on a scale of 0 to 10:

  • Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?
  • Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?
  • Overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday?
  • Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?

Future questions will probably focus on more specific areas, such as the state of their marriage, friendships, and health. Paul Allin, head of the wellbeing project, expects the large sample size to rule out most dishonest answers, saying, "We essentially trust people to give us the answers they give us and we will work what they say."

The whole initiative comes from Prime Minister David Cameron's belief that governments play a role in helping their citizens "feel better." It is run by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and has a current budget of £2 million a year. Previous surveys show that Britain's life satisfaction has failed to keep up with its GDP over the last 40 years.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Lifestyle Changes May Treat Depression as Effectively as Drugs and Counseling

From Layout Sparks wallpapers.
According to this story from Medical News Today, simple lifestyle additions like exercise, nature walks, and generosity may be just as effective as drugs and therapy for treating some mental illnesses. This information comes from a paper in the January issue of American Psychologist, the American Psychological Association's (APA) flagship journal.

The paper, authored by Dr. Roger Walsh of the University of California Irvine, reviews previous research on what he calls "therapeutic lifestyle changes" (or TLCs). Examples of TLCs include exercise, nutrition, social connection, recreation, relaxation, spiritual involvement, spending time in nature, and service to others. He says, "Lifestyle changes can offer significant therapeutic advantages for patients, therapists, and societies, yet are insufficiently appreciated, taught or utilized. In the 21st century, therapeutic lifestyles may need to be a central focus of mental, medical and public health."

Some highlights from Dr. Walsh's findings (which you may have already heard about in other contexts) include:

  • Exercise helps reduce anxiety and depression, yet also improves kids' school grades, reduces age-related memory loss, and increases neurogenesis.
  • Eating fruits, vegetables, and fish may reduce the symptoms of affective and schizophrenic disorders.
  • Altruism can give you a "helper's high" (or "giver's high") that carries numerous physical and mental benefits.
There are a lot more, so read the actual story to see them all. A lot of this stuff may be common sense, but it's nice to have it in one place. So if you or someone you know is going through depression or a similar mental illness, try some of these lifestyle changes before spending too much money on drugs or counseling. You'll always have those more conventional methods to fall back on, and it doesn't hurt to try!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Fake Smiles Can Apparently Make You Depressed

BBC's "Spot the Fake Smile" test. From Greg Hughes.
Do you often try to smile, even when you're not happy? According to this story from The New York Times, you may actually be worsening your mood. This information comes from a study in the Academy of Management Journal, wherein researchers examined a group of bus drivers for two weeks. Why bus drivers? Because they often smile whenever a passenger gets on their bus, which theoretically gave researchers a large data set.

The study found a difference between "surface acting," or fake smiling, and "deep acting," which is a technique of using positive thoughts or memories to bring out real smiles (similar to method acting, I guess). The researchers had the bus drivers alternate between surface acting and deep acting on different days. On days when the drivers surface acted, they tended to become depressed and withdrawn from work. On days when they deep acted, their moods became more positive and their productivity increased.

These differences in technique affected women more than they did men. Dr. Brent Scott, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan and co-author of the study, suspects that cultural norms are to blame. He says that women are socialized to be more emotionally expressive, so hiding their emotions may strain them more.

So the lesson here might be to avoid smiling when you're not feeling it. Instead, try to recall enough positive feelings that your smile comes naturally.

By the way, want to know which of your friends are genuinely happy and which ones are secretly wallowing in an existential morass of boredom and contempt, hidden only by a plastered-on contraction of facial muscles and teeth that they think will dull the pain, but in fact only pulls them deeper down the gaping hole of self-pity that they call life? Then head over to BBC's Spot the Fake Smile test! It only takes a minute or two, and you may not be as good as you think. I scored 16 out of 20! See if you can beat that!

Monday, February 21, 2011

China May Start Caring About Happiness

Well, that was easy! Everyone in China is already happy,
if this 100%-accurate portrait is any indication.
From Cultural Revolution Artifacts.
Here in America, today is Presidents Day, but for our Chinese friends on the other side of the world, it is the start of a new five-year plan. According to this story from, Chinese leaders may start prioritizing the happiness of its citizens. However, before you start thinking this will turn into a Bhutan-like Gross National Happiness program, it seems that the Chinese system will be much more focused on economic measures.

For instance, instead of emphasizing the measurement of happiness, Beijing plans to lower its GDP by one percent and raise income for its residents by two percent. Other cities will go through similar adjustments, and social security programs will also be revamped. Shanxi Province in northern China plans to add freelance, migrant workers, and farmers to its social security network, and Shandong Province will aid disadvantaged residents when prices rise. Other provinces also want to improve their social services while lowering GDP.

These policies act as a response to survey results that show citizens believe economic issues to be most important. Out of 11,519 respondents, around 30% believe "economic status," "quality of life," and "public services" are the three primary factors in their happiness.

(Remember to click my Gross National Happiness tag to read what other countries are doing with regards to happiness.)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Casual Friday: The Blog Turns 100! And SPECIAL REPORT on the Roxie

Here's a photo of the blog today. From Trustar Vibrations.
Yay! Today the blog turns 100! Well, not 100 YEARS old, but 100 POSTS. Yes, this is my 100th post here, and I intend to use it in the laziest way possible.

If you don't want to be as lazy as me, go to San Francisco tomorrow. Why? Because you can see a "sneak-preview" screening of the documentary HAPPY at the Roxie Theater at 7:00 pm. Director Roko Belic will be there, and so will Melissa Moody, one of the people featured in the movie. They will hold a Q&A session after the film.

Tickets are $10, or $6 for seniors. You can order online or see more info at the Roxie website. You can also pay at the box office. As this is a non-profit, fully independent film, proceeds go toward a proper theatrical release (expensive costs borne by a movie studio or distributor on most films).

Remember:  Tomorrow, February 19, 7 pm, at this address:

Roxie Theater
3117 16th Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 863-1087

Hope you can make it!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Marketers Teach Happiness to Sell Products

One of the most well-known campaigns to sell "happiness."
From 2010 and High Heels.
Today I read this interesting Fast Company article about a consultant who specializes in teaching corporations how to market happiness. Her name is Jennifer Aaker, and she teaches a Stanford graduate marketing class entitled "Designing Happiness". She also consults with AOL, Facebook, Adobe, and other corporations.

According to Aaker, "The idea of brands enabling happiness and providing greater meaning in the world is powerful. People have an aversion to anything that feels overly manufactured." The article also mentions John Kenny of the ad agency DraftFCB saying that nostalgia and other "safe emotions" can create happiness in an ad campaign, making happiness into a commodity used to sell products.

Students in Aaker's class create a photo project by taking pictures of happy moments for a month, then rating those moments on a scale of one to ten, thereby allowing themselves to discover moments that they didn't realize could make them happy. They apply the happiness principals they learn to a fictional company.

How do YOU feel about this corporatized streak in happiness research? We've seen before that when corporations take employee happiness seriously, they increase productivity and stock price, so everyone benefits. Happiness classes can also be a great experience for students, and Jennifer Aaker sounds like a great teacher.

HOWEVER, I sort of feel like using those principles to sell products steps over the line into creepiness. Does Coca Cola actually make people happy? No, it doesn't--at least in the longterm, after the sugar and caffeine leave your system. Coke is flavored high fructose corn syrup that will harm your body and actually ruin your smile if you drink too much, so why pretend that it causes happiness? It's the same thing with these other companies. I'm sure marketers love creating emotional links in consumers, but in the real world their products invite no emotion whatsoever. Now they seem to be explicitly using happiness as just another cynical tool used to manipulate consumers instead of a worthy goal in itself.

Maybe people will know the difference between the short-term pleasure that comes from a newly-bought item and the longterm happiness that comes from meaningful social connection and personal action. Hopefully?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Vast Majority of British Couples Are Happy

Here's what every British wedding should
look like. From the BBC.
Continuing this week's Valentine's theme, this story from United Press International says that almost all British couples are happy, but married couples are even happier. In fact, around 90% of married women and around 93% of married men are happy in their relationship, compared to around 88% cohabiting women and 92% cohabiting men.

This information comes from Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex. Researchers surveyed couples (both members individually) on a 1-to-7 happiness scale, with 1 meaning extremely unhappy and 7 meaning perfect. The survey also found that the happiest couples have been together less than five years, have no children, have an employed man, and both members hold a college degree.

It would be interesting to view similar data--possibly including gay couples--for other countries to see if Britain is unique in this regard. I found this article, which I can't view fully, but which seems to suggest that other countries have similar marriage happiness correlations, especially developed nations. That's good news if you're not British!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Yale Photography Exhibition Showcases Happiness

From Yale Daily News.
Today Yale Daily News reports on a new photo exhibition that aims to show the contagious nature of happiness. The exhibition, entitled "Happiness Around the World," is sponsored by the International Student Organization and "HappyHap @ Yale," a student group focused on happiness.

Sunnie Tölle, co-founder of HappyHap, says, "One of the exhibition’s goals is to showcase in an artistic way that happiness is contagious and can inspire, empower and unite people across countries and cultures. Happiness can be expressed in infinitely many ways."

The photographs also entered a competition. Wanwan Lu, the first-place winner with a photo of a Cambodian child in a rice field, says, "I was travelling in Cambodia and saw this little girl playing around in the mud and she looked happy. We all need some positive energy in life."

You can see "Happiness Around the World" in the Davenport Art Gallery until February 19. Donations to the exhibition go to support SmileTrain, a charity that helps children with cleft lips.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Diminished Spending May Help Build Romance

Try not to eat them all at once. From NewsFuze.
Today is Valentine's Day, a day when we give chocolates and roses to each other to commemorate one or more Christian priests/bishops/missionaries who may or may not have performed wedding ceremonies/built a basilica/died anonymously. But before you spend too much on gifts, consider this article from The Sacramento Bee. Apparently a lot of couples find that NOT spending money keeps their relationship strong.

The University of Virginia's National Marriage Project found that around 52% of married Americans (in a "Very Happy Marriage") believe that the Great Recession has deepened their commitment to marriage. Not only that, but around 38% of couples who had been considering divorce have recommitted to marriage because of the lack of money. These results come from a survey of 1,167 married Americans 18 to 45 years old.

So those of you who forgot to buy a Valentine's Day gift, don't worry:  your absent-mindedness will only strengthen your relationship. (That's how this works, right? I hope?) For an especially romantic evening, you can read the actual study, "The Great Recession and Marriage," in PDF format.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Casual Friday: Foods That Make You Happier

You are what you eat! Don't you want to look
like this? Portrait by Giuseppe Arcimboldo.
From Wikipedia.
Today I thought it would be nice to highlight diet tips that can improve your mood, using this article by Elsa Jones from and this article by Mary Bourgeois from Top Wire XS as guidance. As most of you probably know, food can have a big effect on levels of your serotonin, also known as the "happiness hormone" (even though it's a neurotransmitter, not a hormone). But what kind of diet is best? Let's find out!

  1. Eat folate-rich foods. A study by the University of York and the Hull York Medical School showed that low folate levels can lead to depression, so eat foods like peas, bananas, oranges, broccoli, and others like them.
  2. Eat protein with every meal. Protein-rich food keeps blood sugar balanced and contains tryptophan, which is necessary for serotonin production. Some good foods in this category are turkey, cottage cheese, and bananas.
  3. Eat B vitamins, especially B6. B vitamins help with serotonin production, but B6 also helps in the metabolism of red blood cells. B-vitamin foods include oats, leafy green vegetables, and eggs.
  4. Eat omega-3 foods, like fish. A study by the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry showed that eating fish capsules three times a day improved bipolar and depression patients' moods after eight weeks. This makes sense because omega-3 helps create dopamine (another neurotransmitter related to happiness) and slows the breakdown of serotonin.
  5. Eat vitamin D. Most of us don't get enough vitamin D from sunlight, especially in the winter, which can cause problems because this vitamin is a mood booster. Some good vitamin-D foods are oily fish, leafy green vegetables, and eggs.
So there you have it. Give some of these tips a try. You'll probably be glad you did!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Patriotism Makes for Happier People

Captain America:  happy man, or happiest man?
(Probably not, except if he's poor.)
Portrait by Alex Ross. From Fox News.
Today LiveScience reports on a new 128-country study that shows the more patriotic a population is, the happier they feel in general. This especially applies to poor and non-Western nations. The survey, conducted by Gallup, asked people about their income, job satisfaction, and opinions about their country.

This month's Psychological Science journal published the analysis of the data by Mike Morrison and Ed Diener.  As Morrison says, "You can hear politicians in any country declare, 'We live in the best country in the world!' and people cheer." The researchers hypothesize that people with low income find patriotism to be consoling in rough times, while wealthier and Western respondents attribute their happiness to the individual factors of health, job satisfaction, and standard of living.

The study implies that societal characteristics may influence happiness more than people realize. Ed Diener says, "What is more, societal characteristics become even more important to happiness when one's life is not going well. This might explain why nationalism, the loyalty of sports fans, and religiosity can be very strong in the toughest of times."

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Facebook Users May Overestimate Their Friends' Happiness

None of these people are having as much fun as you think.
From The Huffington Post.
Good news for jealous people who use Facebook:  The Times of India reports that most users overestimate the positive feelings that their friends post on their profiles. These results come from Stanford University, which surveyed students about their moods and what they thought their friends were feeling. When the researchers compared the friends' actual moods, they found that students underestimate their friends' negative feelings and overestimate the positive, which in turn made respondents unhappy because they felt less normal.

As lead researcher Alex Jordan says, "People think, 'Why am I alone on a Saturday night' or, 'Why I am not in a relationship?' When people overestimate the happiness of friends, they felt more negatively about their own lives." The study revealed that the misattribution of friends' feelings happened even between people who knew each other very well.

The more students underestimated the negative emotions of their friends, the more their feelings of loneliness increased--a trend that Catalina Toma of the University of Wisconsin says can be emotionally harmful to passive Facebook users. She writes, "People naturally compare themselves to those around them, a process known as social comparison. If you perceive yourself to be doing better than your friends in an area that is important for you the social comparison will make you feel good. However, if you think your friends surpass you in an area that's important to your self-concept, you will likely feel dejected as a result of the comparison."

You can read the actual study, "Misery Has More Company Than People Think: Underestimating the Prevalence of Others’ Negative Emotions," in the January 2011 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (if you're willing to pay for it or you have a SAGE Journals Online account).

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Young Indians Are Actually Pretty Happy

From dot-EDU.
Today CNN-IBN and Hindustan Times report that youth living in Indian cities are happier than expected. Around 74.6% of people 25 years old or younger feel happy with their lives, while around 20.7% feel neutral, leaving only around 5% feeling unhappy. This may come as a surprise, especially as India's urban sprawl seems to have little to no effect on respondents' answers.

Unfortunately, the news story doesn't go into detail about how the survey was conducted, but it does have some interesting figures on which cities are happiest. Jaipur comes out on top with 91% of respondents saying they are very happy, with Mumbai (where this slum pic was taken) coming in second at 89.5% very happy. Guwahati is the unhappiest city, with around 43.5% happiness.

It would be interesting to see the methodology of this survey, or a breakdown of responses from slum residents compared to those living in better neighborhoods, but for now, the news story itself has some informative and easy-to-read graphs that you should see.

Monday, February 7, 2011

New "International Journal of Wellbeing" Offers Articles on Happiness

From the International Journal of Wellbeing.
Ahh, doesn't the Super Bowl put you in the mood to curl up and read a new scientific journal? Well, you may be in luck. Today the Wellington.Scoop reports on the launch of a new online research journal that specializes in positive psychology. The journal--founded by Dan Weijers of the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand--is called the International Journal of Wellbeing.

Aaron Jarden, co-founder of the journal and president of the New Zealand Association of Positive Psychology, says the IJW is a natural extension of the International Wellbeing Study, which is being conducted by around 70 researchers worldwide. The journal's editorial board consists of around 50 top researchers on four continents.

The founders hope to affect positive change around the world, especially with the recent crop of Gross National Happiness laws. As Weijers says, "...policymakers are increasingly being asked to take various aspects of wellbeing into account when making new policies. Since the journal is open access and accessibly written, policymakers from all over the world will be able to gain deeper insight into what promotes wellbeing so that society is able to flourish."

The journal already boasts papers from "father of positive psychology" Martin Seligman and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman. All articles are free to view and download, so check it out!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Casual Friday: Loneliness

From Wine Press of Words.
Today is Friday, a day when many people try to put away their stress and go out with friends, so it seems as good a time as any to discuss the importance of social interaction. I'll be using the excellent book loneliness:  Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection by John T. Cacioppo and William Patrick for most of my information, so read that if you want to look deeper.

Most of you probably realize that habitual social isolation affects health negatively, but you may not know to what extent. According to a study done by epidemiologist Lisa Berkman, people with few social ties are two to three times more likely to die of ischemic heart disease, circulatory disease, cancer, respiratory failure, gastrointestinal failure, and all other causes of death. This makes extreme loneliness just about as dangerous as obesity, lack of exercise, or smoke inhalation.

Many researchers were skeptical of such harsh results, but studies since then have supported them. One of the most extensive studies of loneliness was conducted by the authors (Cacioppo and Patrick) themselves. At Ohio State University, they gave volunteer test subjects a battery of tests, including not only daily surveys of their subjective wellbeing, but also objective physiological measurements like blood tests, salivary gland tests, and even sleep tests. The results show that lonely people (especially older people) experience chronic stress at a 25% higher rate, and this stress compounds over a lifetime. On brain scans they are even less happy than normal when they DO finally experience social connection.

Okay, so now that (I hope) I've convinced you that loneliness is a serious health problem, what counts as loneliness? The authors define it as a lack of meaningful social interaction. The interaction has to be meaningful because people standing in a crowded mall can be just as lonely as someone alone in a basement, if not more so. If you feel better with a small group of friends than a large one, that's okay. It's the quality of the interaction that counts, not the quantity.

As for how to get out of a lonely slump, that's a difficult question. You might start by looking for people with similar interests as you. I recommend the website Meetup, which allows you to find groups and clubs in your area, then meet them in person. The important thing is to keep trying, even if it doesn't seem to go well at first (loneliness can amplify negative feelings of yourself, even when you have no cause for concern).

This post is already rather long, so might as well go read the book at this point. Just remember that everyone goes through these feelings at some point, so even if you're lonely, you're not alone.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Loving-Kindness Meditation Shown to Produce Longterm Results

Just find a sittin' rock in the middle of a lake
and you're good to go! From Meditations Online.
A somewhat-new Journal of Positive Psychology study that may have slipped through the cracks shows that loving-kindness meditation produces longterm benefits, even when the subject stops meditating regularly. The study comes from Michael A. Cohn at the University of California San Francisco and Barbara L. Fredrickson at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While the short-term benefits of meditation are well documented, this may be the first time beginning meditation students were followed up on over the long term (as far as I know).

Cohn and Fredrickson conducted their initial loving-kindness meditation experiment on 202 beginning meditators over two months in 2008. Then, after 15 months without communication, the researchers contacted the subjects again and had them fill out a survey of their current emotional state.

The results show that people who continued regular meditation after the initial study felt the most positive emotions during the follow up. However, even those who stopped meditating felt more positive than the control group, who never started meditating in the first place. This is significant because while feelings of happiness from certain events (buying a new car, getting a job promotion, etc.) dissipate rather quickly, feelings of happiness from meditation apparently endure.

The actual paper goes into much more detail, so you should read that if you're interested.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Brazilian Lawmakers Consider "Happiness Bill"

The bill will force everyone to look like this.
From The Telegraph.
Today The Telegraph reports that Brazil may soon pass a "Gross National Happiness"-type of happiness bill, possibly in time for Carnival. The bill is currently in the Senate, which reconvened this week after Dilma Rousseff--the first woman president in Brazil's history--was inaugurated on New Year's Day.

A non-government group called the "Happier Movement" was largely responsible for getting the bill this far. Mauro Motoryn, director of the Happier Movement, says "Happiness isn’t a game, people confuse it with something that is superfluous and it isn’t. We need quality health care, which we don’t have. We need quality education, which we don’t have."

Unfortunately, the news story doesn't go into detail about what's actually in the bill, but if it's similar to other Gross National Happiness bills, it probably contains provisions for conducting a national survey of the nation's wellbeing. Remember to click here to read news about other countries who are adopting Gross National Happiness laws, because there are so many that it's honestly difficult to keep a running tally!