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!