December 15, 2017

Happiness and Defensive Pessimism

Several of the more interesting 'Happiness' articles that appeared recently

The 8 Friends You Need To Be Happy In Life

The Builder: Someone who motivates you and encourages you to take it to the next level.

The Champion: Somebody who roots for you and describes you to others in a way that makes you blush.

The Collaborator: A friend with similar interests — the basis for many great friendships. When you talk with a Collaborator, you’re on familiar ground.

The Companion: They won’t just help you move; they’ll help you move bodies. .They’ll be at the police station at 3AM with bail money. Again.

The Connector: No matter what the issue, they know somebody who can help. They make friends more often than most people make excuses. Even if they were locked in solitary confinement with no one to talk to, they’d end up best pals with the prison guard.

The Energizer: That fun friend. The person you’re always laughing around. The one who always knows the great place to go or the awesome thing to do.

The Mind Opener: They send you interesting articles. They get you to question your assumptions. They challenge you and make you think really hard.

The Navigator: Like a high school guidance counselor, except useful.  Navigators are the friends who give you advice and keep you headed in the right direction. You go to them when you need guidance, and they talk through the pros and cons with you until you find an answer. In a difficult situation, you need a Navigator by your side. They help you see a positive future while keeping things grounded in reality.

The Power of Negative Thinking Pessimists fare better than people with a sunnier disposition.

Married couples who were extremely optimistic about their relationship’s future were more likely to experience relationship deterioration.  Optimism may also be tied to lower earnings. A study of data from British households found that across two decades, especially optimistic self-employed people earned about 25 percent less than their pessimistic peers. And National Cancer Institute researchers found that people who lowballed their risk of heart disease were more likely to show early signs of it...

Embracing negativity may also have social benefits. Compared with cheery moods, bad moods have been linked to a more effective communication style, and sadness has been linked to less reliance on negative stereotypes. Feeling down can make us behave more fairly, too. People who saw sad video clips before playing an allocation game were more generous with their partners than those who saw happy clips.

A rosy outlook leaves us overconfident and can beget disappointment.  So try “defensive pessimism” and  harness your anxiety for good.  A pair of follow-up studies found that by setting low expectations and envisioning worst-case scenarios, defensive pessimists optimized their performance on a variety of tasks, from darts and math problems to fulfilling real-life goals.  A 30-year study of more than 10,000 Germans found that older adults who had underestimated their future satisfaction were less likely than their optimistic peers to end up disabled or die prematurely.  Defensive pessimism isn’t exactly a new strategy, of course—the Stoics were urging “the premeditation of evils” some 2,300 years ago.

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

How To Create Happy Memories That Will Last A Lifetime

Create moments of elevation: Boost sensory appeal (light some fireworks.) Break the script (don’t wait for the 4th of July.) Raise the stakes (hope you don’t get arrested.)

Celebrate moments of pride: If your first book comes out and someone insists you go someplace special that night, do it. Otherwise you wouldn’t have a vivid memory. You wouldn’t have photos. All you would have is some random date to remember like in 8th grade history class.

Build moments of connection: Struggle. Working together on something, especially something meaningful, bonds us together. So just help Gary move this weekend and stop whining.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:34 AM | Permalink

May 1, 2017

Make Life Magical

Here’s how to make life magical — scientifically: : 5 Secrets Backed By Research

  • Believing you’re lucky increases performance: Excuse me while I go look for four-leaf clovers.
  • Believing in fate helps you cope: When things are bad, saying it was “meant to be” can make you feel better and help life make sense.
  • Placebos can work wonders: Sugar pills can give you superpowers — even if you know they don’t give you superpowers.
  • Make routines into rituals: If this doesn’t help, please don’t put a hex on me.
  • Deluded love is the best love: Seeing the one you love as better than they really are improves relationships.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:40 PM | Permalink

March 2, 2017

Sounds that make us happy

Sounds that make the nation happy.

According to the World Health Organization, there are 360 million people living with disabling hearing loss worldwide.
Hearing loss is a major public health issue and its impact is set to increase. 'In adulthood hearing loss is associated with greater unemployment, increased risk of poor health, depression and increased risk of other conditions including dementia.'

March 3 is designated World Hearing Day.  To mark the occasion, Cochlear commissioned a poll of 1000 people in the UK to reveal the top 5 happy sounds:

1. Children laughing
2. Birds singing
3. Being told 'I love you'
4. Waves crashing
5. Music

Others which missed the top five included the revving of a car engine, walking on gravel and the sound of skis on fresh snow as well as the grind of a coffee machine and rain on a tin roof.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:25 PM | Permalink

May 24, 2016

Health Roundup: Cheese, potatoes, church, belonging, 'hidden killers', long life personality traits and Oct4, the 'fountain of youth' gene

Cheese triggers the same part of the brain as hard drugs, say scientists

Researchers from the University of Michigan have revealed that cheese contains a chemical found in addictive drugs. Casein, a chemical, which is found in all dairy products, can trigger the brain’s opioid receptors, producing a feeling of euphoria linked to those of hard drug addiction.

Scientists studying dairy products found that in milk, casein has a minuscule dosage. But producing a pound of cheese requires about 10 pounds of milk — with addictive casein coagulating the solid milk fats and separating them from the liquids.  As a result the super-strength chemical becomes concentrated when in solid dairy form, so you’ll get a higher hit of addictive casein by tucking into a cheese sandwich than you will in your morning bowl of cereal.

Eating potatoes four times a week raises risk of high blood pressure: Baked are as bad as fries - but chips  have no effect

Baked, boiled, or mashed potatoes raises the risk of high blood pressure.  Researchers, from Harvard Medical School, think eating any form of potato too often can cause blood pressure problems. They suspect the starch in potatoes is to blame. Because potatoes have a high glycaemic index, these starchy carbohydrates rapidly transform into sugars in the body, triggering a sharp rise in blood sugar levels.  Over time, this may cause blood sugar problems, the researchers said.

The experts, whose work was published in the British Medical Journal, analyzed data from 187,000 men and women tracked in three large US projects for 20 years.  The results suggest women who eat regularly eat potatoes may be at slightly higher risk of suffering high blood pressure than men. Overall, however, they found men or women who ate four or more servings a week of baked, boiled, or mashed potatoes had an 11 per cent increased risk of high blood pressure compared to those who ate potatoes less than once a month.

New Harvard Study: Women Live Longer if They Go to Church

A new Harvard study published in JAMA Internal Medicine shows that women who regularly attend church services live longer. In the study, titled “Association of Religious Service Attendance With Mortality Among Women,” researchers found that women who attended church more than once per week had a 33% lower mortality rate, compared with women who never attended church.  The self-reported research took place over a 20-year period and investigated the church-going habits of 74,534 women who participated in the U.S. Nurses’ Health Study. The average baseline age of the women studied was 60 and most were Catholic or Protestant.

Tyler VanderWeele, Harvard professor and author of the study, said church attendance was an under-appreciated health resource. “Religious attendance is a relatively good determinant of health,” he said. Women who attended church regularly were more optimistic, had greater social support, lower rates of depression, were less likely to smoke and suffered less from anxiety.

A sense of belonging makes you happier:

If you feel you belong with your social group, chances are you are likely to be a happy soul.  Psychologists have found that people the more people feel connected to a group and connect with others, the more satisfied they were with their lives.  The findings show that identifying as part of a group may give people a stronger sense of purpose and security, as well as providing support them when times are tough.

Researchers from Nottingham Trent University focused on how connected people felt to certain groups, measuring the impact this had on their happiness and life satisfaction. They looked at almost 4,000 people, and focused on how much they identified with their family and local community. Additionally, participants added a group of their choice, such as a sports team, or a hobby group.

Managing your emotions can save your heart    The negative impact of emotions when your heart is already vulnerable

There are two kinds of stress that impact your brain. Helpful stress (also known as eustress) can assist you with getting things done by helping you focus your attention. Unhelpful stress (distress), on the other hand, can be so severe that it can lead to fatigue and heart disease.

If you have coronary artery disease (CAD), your heart may be deprived of oxygen. This deprivation of oxygen, called myocardial ischemia, can occur in as many as 30% to 50% of all patients with CAD.  It can be further exacerbated by emotional stress. In fact, if you have any type of heart disease, any strong emotion such as anger may also cause severe and fatal irregular heart rhythms. Expressions like “died from fright” and “worried to death” are not just hyperbole — they are physiologic possibilities. Furthermore, when patients with newly diagnosed heart disease become depressed, that depression increases the risk that a harmful heart-related event will occur within that year.

Revealed, the five 'hidden killers' that could send you to an early grave

Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Chicago University researchers said we must look at a person as a whole if we are to accurately judge their health. Lead author Martha McClintock said: ‘The new comprehensive model of health identifies constellations of health completely hidden by the medical model.’
The team, which included psychologists, sociologists and doctors specializing in the care of the elderly, analyzed a mountain of data on the health and habits of 3,000 men and women aged between 57 and 85 and discovered the 'hidden killers':

Losing your sense of smell
Broken sleep
Breaking a bone in middle age
Difficulty in walking

The researchers say these factors are just as important as obvious medical conditions such as weight, blood pressure and heart disease.  In fact, being obese won’t necessarily send people to an early grave. And age, it seems, really is just a number. These contained some surprises.  For instance, the members of the healthiest group were all overweight. And despite them having only a 6 per cent chance of dying or becoming very unwell, high blood pressure was also common.However, psychological health, mobility and the sense of smell were all good and the researchers said that if an older adult is otherwise healthy, obesity ‘seems to pose very little risk’.

Scientists have discovered 5 personality traits linked with a long life

For their 75-year study of 300 engaged couples who enrolled in the study in their mid-20s, researchers found that men who were seen by their friends as more conscientious, meaning they were less likely to take risks but also tended to be more thorough and efficient, lived longer.  In sum, the five traits are:

Emotional stability
The ability to express feelings

'Fountain of youth' gene prevents heart attacks, stroke - and could lead to drugs that DELAY aging

A single gene is thought to protect against heart attacks and stroke as well as delay aging, scientists have discovered. The strand of DNA responsible - dubbed the 'fountain of youth' gene - had previously been thought to be inactive in adults.
Scientists believed the gene, named Oct4, was active in embryos but silenced as a person reached adulthood.

However, the new discovery is now hoped to open a new avenue for those battling deadly conditions, and raises the tantalizing prospect that doctors could one day use the gene to protect or delay the effects of aging. Dr Owens and his colleagues have determined the gene plays a crucial protective role in the formation of key plaques inside the blood vessels. The rupturing of these plaques is the underlying cause of many heart attacks and strokes.

The researchers found Oct4 controls the creation of protective fibrous 'caps' inside the plaques - caps that make the plaques less likely to rupture. In addition to this finding, the scientists believe the gene promotes a number of changes in gene expression that help to stabilize these plaques
Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:38 PM | Permalink

December 9, 2014

In Praise of Melancholy

From last week's Brain Pickings, Maria Popova examines the importance of melancholy

[T]e modern happiness industrial complex seems bent on eradicating this dark, uncomfortable, but creatively vitalizing state — something Eric G. Wilson explores with great subtlety and wisdom in Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy .

I can now add another threat, perhaps as dangerous as the most apocalyptic of concerns. We are possibly not far away from eradicating a major cultural force, a serious inspiration to invention, the muse behind much art and poetry and music. We are wantonly hankering to rid the world of numerous ideas and visions, multitudinous innovations and meditations. We are right at this moment annihilating melancholia.

Considering what lies behind our desire to eradicate sadness from our lives, Wilson admonishes that our obsession with happiness – something he considers a decidedly American export – "could well lead to a sudden extinction of the creative impulse."

To be clear, I myself am deeply opposed to the Tortured Genius myth of creativity. But I am also of the firm conviction that access to the full spectrum of human experience and the whole psycho-emotional range of our inner lives – high and low, light and darkness – is what makes us complete individuals and enables us to create rich, dimensional, meaningful work.

It is important, then, not to mistake Wilson's point for romanticizing melancholy and glorifying malaise for its own sake – rather, he cautions against the artificial and rather oppressive distortion of our inner lives as we forcibly excise sadness and inflate happiness. He writes:

I for one am afraid that our American culture’s overemphasis on happiness at the expense of sadness might be dangerous, a wanton forgetting of an essential part of a full life. I further am wary in the face of this possibility: to desire only happiness in a world undoubtedly tragic is to become inauthentic, to settle for unrealistic abstractions that ignore concrete situations. I am finally fearful over our society’s efforts to expunge melancholia from the system. Without the agitations of the soul, would all of our magnificently yearning towers topple? Would our heart-torn symphonies cease?

He is especially careful to delineate between the creatively productive state of melancholy and the soul-wrecking pathology of clinical depression:

There is a fine line between what I’m calling melancholia and what society calls depression. In my mind, what separates the two is degree of activity. Both forms are more or less chronic sadness that leads to ongoing unease with how things are – persistent feelings that the world as it is is not quite right, that it is a place of suffering, stupidity, and evil. Depression (as I see it, at least) causes apathy in the face of this unease, lethargy approaching total paralysis, an inability to feel much of anything one way or another. In contrast, melancholia (in my eyes) generates a deep feeling in regard to this same anxiety, a turbulence of heart that results in an active questioning of the status quo, a perpetual longing to create new ways of being and seeing.

Our culture seems to confuse these two and thus treat melancholia as an aberrant state, a vile threat to our pervasive notions of happiness – happiness as immediate gratification, happiness as superficial comfort, happiness as static contentment.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:03 PM | Permalink

November 10, 2014

The Habits of Unhappy People

Ryan McKenzie's experience informs his  22 Habits of Unhappy People

This isn't a guide to try and fix people who are clinically depressed, but a series of things I have learned over my life that have shaped the way I look at life and the world.  It is my experience that the more positive habits you have in your life, the more emotional happiness you will experience.  Instead of telling you things you should do to increase your emotional satisfaction, I’ve created a list of bad habits you should try to correct.  Not only will they make you happier, they will also make you a better person.
Chronic Complaining
Retail Therapy
Binge Drinking
Worrying About the Future
Waiting for the Future
Lack of Hobbies
Eating Poorly
Talking Poorly of Others
Holding Grudges
Stop Learning
Not Following Through
Hating Your Job
Loneliness (How you choose to socialize)
Letting Negative Thoughts Enter Your Mind
Jumping to Conclusions
Self Labeling
Not Having a Goal
Worrying About What Others Think
Letting Strangers Affect Your Mood
Wanting More Money
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:52 AM | Permalink

April 1, 2014

5. Watch 'Groundhog Day' Repeatedly

Charles Murray in the Wall Street Journal with Advice for a Happy Life

1. Consider Marrying Young

Merger marriages are what you tend to see on the weddings pages of the Sunday New York Times: highly educated couples in their 30s, both people well on their way to success. Lots of things can be said in favor of merger marriages. The bride and groom may be more mature, less likely to outgrow each other or to feel impelled, 10 years into the marriage, to make up for their lost youth.

What are the advantages of a startup marriage? For one thing, you will both have memories of your life together when it was all still up in the air. You'll have fun remembering the years when you went from being scared newcomers to the point at which you realized you were going to make it.

Even more important, you and your spouse will have made your way together. Whatever happens, you will have shared the experience. And each of you will know that you wouldn't have become the person you are without the other.

Many merger marriages are happy, but a certain kind of symbiosis, where two people become more than the sum of the individuals, is perhaps more common in startups.

2. Learn How to Recognize Your Soul Mate

Marry someone with similar tastes and preferences. Which tastes and preferences? The ones that will affect life almost every day…..What you see is what you're going to get. If something about your prospective spouse bothers you but you think that you can change your beloved after you're married, you're wrong. Be prepared to live with whatever bothers you—or forget it.
It is absolutely crucial that you really, really like your spouse. You hear it all the time from people who are in great marriages: "I'm married to my best friend." They are being literal. A good working definition of "soul mate" is "your closest friend, to whom you are also sexually attracted."…

A good marriage is the best thing that can ever happen to you. Above all else, realize that this cliché is true. The downside risks of marrying—and they are real—are nothing compared with what you will gain from a good one.

3. Eventually Stop Fretting About Fame and Fortune

Fame and wealth do accomplish something: They cure ambition anxiety. But that's all. It isn't much.

4. Take Religion Seriously

Start by jarring yourself out of unreflective atheism or agnosticism. A good way to do that is to read about contemporary cosmology. The universe isn't only stranger than we knew; it is stranger and vastly more unlikely than we could have imagined, and we aren't even close to discovering its last mysteries. That reading won't lead you to religion, but it may stop you from being unreflective.

Find ways to put yourself around people who are profoundly religious. You will encounter individuals whose intelligence, judgment and critical faculties are as impressive as those of your smartest atheist friends—and who also possess a disquieting confidence in an underlying reality behind the many religious dogmas.

They have learned to reconcile faith and reason, yes, but beyond that, they persuasively convey ways of knowing that transcend intellectual understanding. They exhibit in their own personae a kind of wisdom that goes beyond just having intelligence and good judgment.

5. Watch 'Groundhog Day' Repeatedly

The movie "Groundhog Day" was made more than two decades ago, but it is still smart and funny. It is also a brilliant moral fable that deals with the most fundamental issues of virtue and happiness, done with such subtlety that you really need to watch it several times.
Without the slightest bit of preaching, the movie shows the bumpy, unplanned evolution of his protagonist from a jerk to a fully realized human being—a person who has learned to experience deep, lasting and justified satisfaction with life even though he has only one day to work with.

You could learn the same truths by studying Aristotle's "Ethics" carefully, but watching "Groundhog Day" repeatedly is a lot more fun.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:27 PM | Permalink

February 25, 2014

State of American Well-Being

Via Miss Cellania at Neatorama in The States of Happiness  comes this gorgeous and informative chart from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index,

For the sixth consecutive year, global well-being improvement leader Healthways and world-leading management consulting firm Gallup have released their analysis of the state of well-being across the United States.

More than 178,000 interviews nationwide fueled the 2013 analysis, which examined Americans’ perceptions on topics such as physical and emotional health, healthy behaviors, work environment, social and community factors, financial security, and access to necessities such as food, shelter and healthcare to create a composite well-being rank for each state.

 Chart States Of Happiness
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:23 AM | Permalink

December 17, 2013

"The secret to happiness through work is earned success"

Arthur Brooks in the New York Times on A Formula for Happiness

After 40 years of research, they attribute happiness to three major sources: genes, events and values. Armed with this knowledge and a few simple rules, we can improve our lives and the lives of those around us. We can even construct a system that fulfills our founders’ promises and empowers all Americans to pursue happiness.
If about half of our happiness is hard-wired in our genes, what about the other half?….studies suggest that isolated events do control a big fraction of our happiness — up to 40 percent at any given time.  But while one-off events do govern a fair amount of our happiness, each event’s impact proves remarkably short-lived.
That leaves just about 12 percent. That might not sound like much, but the good news is that we can bring that 12 percent under our control. It turns out that choosing to pursue four basic values of faith, family, community and work is the surest path to happiness
I learned that rewarding work is unbelievably important, and this is emphatically not about money. …

Work can bring happiness by marrying our passions to our skills, empowering us to create value in our lives and in the lives of others. Franklin D. Roosevelt had it right: “Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.”

In other words, the secret to happiness through work is earned success.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:00 PM | Permalink

October 7, 2013

The meanings of life

From Aeon. The meanings of life

Happiness is not the same as a sense of meaning. How do we go about finding a meaningful life, not just a happy one?

Parents often say: ‘I just want my children to be happy.’ It is unusual to hear: ‘I just want my children’s lives to be meaningful,’ yet that’s what most of us seem to want for ourselves. We fear meaninglessness. We fret about the ‘nihilism’ of this or that aspect of our culture. When we lose a sense of meaning, we get depressed. What is this thing we call meaning, and why might we need it so badly?
The difference between meaningfulness and happiness was the focus of an investigation I worked on with my fellow social psychologists Kathleen Vohs, Jennifer Aaker and Emily Garbinsky, published in the Journal of Positive Psychology this August…..we found five sets of major differences between happiness and meaningfulness, five areas where different versions of the good life parted company.
The satisfaction of desires was a reliable source of happiness. But it had nothing — maybe even less than nothing ­— to add to a sense of meaning. People are happier to the extent that they find their lives easy rather than difficult….The frequency of good and bad feelings turns out to be irrelevant to meaning, which can flourish even in very forbidding conditions.
The second set of differences involved time frame.  Meaning and happiness are apparently experienced quite differently in time. Happiness is about the present; meaning is about the future, or, more precisely, about linking past, present and future….people experience happiness as something that is felt here and now, and that cannot be counted on to last. By contrast, meaning is seen as lasting, and so people might think they can establish a basis for a more lasting kind of happiness by cultivating meaning.
Social life was the locus of our third set of differences. As you might expect, connections to other people turned out to be important both for meaning and for happiness….Simply put, meaningfulness comes from contributing to other people, whereas happiness comes from what they contribute to you.
A fourth category of differences had to do with struggles, problems, stresses and the like….all these are notably low or absent from the lives of purely happy people, but they seem to be part and parcel of a highly meaningful life.
The final category of differences had to do with the self and personal identity. Activities that express the self are an important source of meaning but are mostly irrelevant to happiness. ….If happiness is about getting what you want, it appears that meaningfulness is about doing things that express yourself.
Marriage is a good example of how meaning pins down the world and increases stability.
The meaningful life, then, has four properties. It has purposes that guide actions from present and past into the future, lending it direction. It has values that enable us to judge what is good and bad; and, in particular, that allow us to justify our actions and strivings as good. It is marked by efficacy, in which our actions make a positive contribution towards realizing our goals and values. And it provides a basis for regarding ourselves in a positive light, as good and worthy people.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:03 AM | Permalink

October 4, 2013

Secrets to a Fulfilling Life

I've written often about George Vaillant, the Harvard professor who directed the Harvard Grant Study from 1972-2004 and later wrote several books summarizing the study, but it's always good to revisit the lessons learned.

The 75-Year Study That Found The Secrets To A Fulfilling Life

Love Is Really All That Matters.  It may seem obvious, but that doesn’t make it any less true: Love is key to a happy and fulfilling life. As Vaillant puts it, there are two pillars of happiness. "One is love," he writes. "The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away."  Vaillant has said that the study's most important finding is that the only thing that matters in life is relationships. A man could have a successful career, money and good physical health, but without supportive, loving relationships, he wouldn't be happy.
It’s About More than Money and Power.  The Grant Study's findings echoed those of other studies -- that acquiring more money and power doesn't correlate to greater happiness. That’s not to say money or traditional career success don’t matter. But they’re small parts of a much larger picture -- and while they may loom large for us in the moment, they diminish in importance when viewed in the context of a full life.
Regardless of How We Begin Life, We Can All Become Happier.  A man named Godfrey Minot Camille went into the Grant study with fairly bleak prospects for life satisfaction: He had the lowest rating for future stability of all the subjects and he had previously attempted suicide. But at the end of his life, he was one of the happiest. Why? As Vaillant explains, “He spent his life searching for love.”
Connection Is Crucial  "Joy is connection,” Vaillant says. "The more areas in your life you can make connection, the better."

The study found strong relationships to be far and away the strongest predictor of life satisfaction. And in terms of career satisfaction, too, feeling connected to one's work was far more important than making money or achieving traditional success.

"The conclusion of the study, not in a medical but in a psychological sense, is that connection is the whole shooting match," says Vaillant.
Challenges –- and the Perspective They Give You -- Can Make You Happier  The journey from immaturity to maturity, says Vaillant, is a sort of movement from narcissism to connection, and a big part of this shift has to do with the way we deal with challenges.

Coping mechanisms -- “the capacity to make gold out of shit,” as Vaillant puts it -- have a significant effect on social support and overall well-being. The secret is replacing narcissism, a single-minded focus on one's own emotional oscillations and perceived problems, with mature coping defenses, Vaillant explains, citing Mother Teresa and Beethoven as examples.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:19 PM | Permalink

August 16, 2013

Just a reminder - Ten Simple Things You Can Do to Be Happier

Lifehacker proposes Ten Simple Things You Can Do to Be Happier, Backed by Science

1.Exercise More
2. Sleep More
3. Move closer to Work
4. Spend Time with Friends and Family
6. Go Outside
7. Help Others
8. Practice Smiling
9. Plan a Trip
10. Meditate

Don't miss the wonderful discussion and images about the scientific studies that back all this up.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:41 AM | Permalink

August 10, 2013

"Meaning is Healthier than Happiness"

In the Atlantic, Meaning Is Healthier Than Happiness by Emily Esfahani Smith

People who are happy but have little-to-no sense of meaning in their lives have the same gene expression patterns as people who are enduring chronic adversity.

A few months ago, I wrote a piece called “There’s More to Life Than Being Happy” about a psychology study that dug into what happiness really means to people. It specifically explored the difference between a meaningful life and a happy life.

It seems strange that there would be a difference at all. But the researchers, who looked at a large sample of people over a month-long period, found that happiness is associated with selfish “taking” behavior and that having a sense of meaning in life is associated with selfless “giving” behavior.

"Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desire are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided," the authors of the study wrote. "If anything, pure happiness is linked to not helping others in need.” While being happy is about feeling good, meaning is derived from contributing to others or to society in a bigger way. As Roy Baumeister, one of the researchers, told me, "Partly what we do as human beings is to take care of others and contribute to others. This makes life meaningful but it does not necessarily make us happy.”

 Meaning Of Life Google

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:49 AM | Permalink

June 3, 2013

Marriage makes people happier

Marriage makes people happier than six figure salaries and owning a home

In the U.K., the Office of National Statistics (ONS) found that

being married is 20 times more important to a person’s well-being than their earnings, and 13 times more important than owning a home.

The figures also indicate that having children has almost no impact on a person’s day-to-day happiness, although it does make them feel life is more “worthwhile”.

The ONS analysis was based on an survey of 165,000 people, in which they were asked to rate their life in four areas: their satisfaction with life, how worthwhile they thought their life was, how happy and how anxious they felt.
Dawn Snape, one of the authors of the report, said: “It [marriage] gives people a sense of stability, and a greater sense that their life is worthwhile.
The researchers said they made some unexpected findings. They found that people with degrees were significantly more anxious than those who had not been to university, while the top 10% of Britain’s earners were more anxious than those who earned less.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:56 AM | Permalink

April 4, 2013

Wisdom, Prudence and Human Flourishing

The English writers  Orwell and Huxley describe two types of enslavement, external and internal  In U.S. we are more Brave New World than 1984 though we have elements of both.

Hunger Games and Dystopia

George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, as has often been pointed out, imagined two very different dystopias. In 1984, written just after the Second World War, Orwell depicts the forces that held people captive as fundamentally external: coercion, espionage, laws, constraints, threats, lies, the state.  By contrast, Huxley’s Brave New World, published just after the Wall Street crash had turned the excess of the twenties into the Great Depression of the thirties, portrays a future in which people are enslaved to forces within themselves: desire, inanity, hedonism, egotism, fatuity. For all the similarities between the two books, it is this difference that is the most striking.
The greatest threat to human flourishing is the lack of wisdom, phronesis, or virtue. Whereas moderns understand freedom in terms of unconstrained individual choices, many ancients regarded the forces underlying individual choices—passions and desires which might in turn be foolish, selfish, or carnal, much like those depicted in Brave New World—as something from which people needed to be freed.
The essence of eleutheria, in the vision of writers from Aristotle to St. Paul, was being free to become what one was originally designed to be, rather than simply being free to make decisions (decisions which, of course, might stunt one’s progress towards ultimate fulfillment). Thus humans could be enslaved, not just to the other, but to the self. One needs redemption from the flesh as much as from the powers. Under such a vision of liberty, modern Westerners might not be as free as we would like to think.

Eleutheria is the Greek term for liberty. Eunoia, in addition to being the shortest English word containing all five vowels, comes from Greek meaning "well mind" or "beautiful thinking" and is a rarely used medical term referring to a state of normal mental health.

Phronesis is the Greek word is most often translated as "practical wisdom" or prudence.  Sophia is the other Greek word for wisdom sometimes translated as "theoretical wisdom".  Young people can acquire sophia in their respective fields, but, as Aristotle pointed out, maturation is required for  phronesia or prudence.  Young people do not as yet as have the life experience of sufficient particular experiences that's necessary for prudence.    This was clearly evident to Cicero who said:

"Rashness belongs to youth; prudence to old age," 
"Prudence is the knowledge of things to be sought, and those to be shunned."
"Precaution is better than cure"

One of the seven virtues, prudence is often misunderstood by young people as Kathryn Britton points out In Praise of Prudence from Positive Psychology News.

Generally speaking, adolescents understood them quite well, but I remember they had a tendency to confuse Humility with humiliation and Prudence with prudes. According the authors, “It seems that for most students, caution/prudence is a stuffy trait associated with timidity and lack of adventurousness.”

No wonder that "“The least prevalent character strengths in human beings are prudence, modesty, and self-regulation.”

Britton continues:

Psychologist Vincent Jeffries defines prudence as, “the use of reason to correctly discern that which helps and that which hinders realizing the good.” Think about all that entails: being able to project today’s actions into the future, to imagine the possible outcomes, and to form judgments about alternatives. I expect a person with the character strength prudence must have a high tolerance for ambiguity, needing to deal with incomplete and often conflicting information in order to make judgments.

As the expert contributor to the Prudence chapter in Character Strengths and Virtues, Nick Haslam identifies the following qualities of prudence:
A foresighted stance toward the future, holding long-term goals and aspirations

Ability to resist self-defeating impulses and to persist in beneficial activities, even if they lack immediate appeal (Grit anyone?)

• Reflective, deliberate, and practical thinking about life choices

• Ability to harmonize multiple goals into a “stable, coherent, and un-conflicted form of life.

• Ability to seek personal good without being collectively destructive.

In positive psychology, flourishing is “to live within an optimal range of human functioning, one that connotes goodness, generativity, growth, and resilience.”
Flourishing is the opposite of both pathology and languishing, which are described as living a life that feels both hollow and empty.
Flourishing is a positive psychology concept which is a measure of overall life well-being and is viewed as important to the idea of happiness

A pioneer in positive psychology, Corey Keyes describes flourishing thusly:

flourishing is the epitome of mentally healthy adults having high levels of emotional well-being; they are happy and satisfied; they tend to see their lives as having a purpose; they feel some degree of mastery and accept all parts of themselves; they have a sense of personal growth in the sense that they are always growing, evolving, and changing; finally, they have a sense of autonomy and an internal locus of control, they chose their fate in life instead of being victims of fate.

Keyes reports that only 18.1% of Americans are actually flourishing. The majority of Americans can be classified as mentally unhealthy (depressed) or not mentally unhealthy or flourishing (moderately mentally healthy/languishing).

He is quoted as saying,

"We are living longer — on average 30 years longer than at the start of the 20th century — yet we are not living healthier. The question is: Are we just living dependent and sick, or are we living healthy and able to contribute?"

"I think we set up an impossible task, because our hedonistic version of happiness is impossible to sustain. But it is quite possible to feel fulfilled and content and that the world is meaningful by aligning yourself with some ideals, something that is bigger and better than you, and trying to live up to it."

For a flourishing life, one that is well-lived, we do well to cultivate the virtue of prudence.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:02 PM | Permalink

May 22, 2012

Strong Families, Happy Parents and No to Facebook

Nothing beats a two-parent family for raising happy and successful children.

Strong families make successful children, not the nanny state, says study

The welfare state has little or no bearing on how children turn out, an international research project has found.  Strong families are the key to producing well adjusted and successful youngsters, it adds.  In fact, say the researchers, the children of married parents are likely to do better than those from broken or single-parent families – no matter how much state support the family is given.

The study singled out the British welfare state as an example of the failure of state support to make a difference to the lives and success of children.  The findings, published in the US in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour, come in the wake of David Cameron’s announcement of free parenting classes and relationship support  sessions, and a £3.4million website which will give tips on every aspect of child rearing.
Boys were more likely to have difficulties than girls, health problems led to other difficulties for children, and children of divorced parents faced a greater likelihood of trouble.

Yes, it can seem a struggle… but parents are actually happier people, study says  Fathers and older parents the happiest of all.

The findings are among a new wave of research that suggests that parenthood comes with relatively more positives, despite the added responsibilities.  The study, which contradicts the prevailing view that parents are less happy overall, also dovetails with emerging evolutionary perspectives that suggest parenting is a fundamental human need.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor of psychology at UC Riverside and a leading scholar in positive psychology, said: 'We are not saying that parenting makes people happy, but that parenthood is associated with happiness and meaning.

'Contrary to repeated scholarly and media pronouncements, people may find solace that parenthood and child care may actually be linked to feelings of happiness and meaning in life.'
However, their findings came with important caveats. Professor Lyubomirsky explained: 'Our findings suggest that if you are older (and presumably more mature) and if you are married (and presumably have more social and financial support), then you're likely to be happier if you have children than your childless peers.

'This is not true, however, for single parents or very young parents.'

One ti for staying together is staying away from Facebook, the social network that lawyers say contributes to an increasing number of break-ups.

More than a third of divorce filings last year contained the word Facebook, according to a U.K. survey by Divorce Online, a  legal services firm. And over 80% of U.S. divorce attorneys say they’ve seen a rise in the number of cases using social networking, according to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. “I see Facebook issues breaking up marriages all the time,” says Gary Traystman, a divorce attorney in New London, Conn. Of the 15 cases he handles per year where computer history, texts and emails are admitted as evidence, 60% exclusively involve Facebook.

“Affairs happen with a lightning speed on Facebook,” says K. Jason Krafsky, who authored the book “Facebook and Your Marriage” with his wife Kelli. In the real world, he says, office romances and out-of-town trysts can take months or even years to develop. “On Facebook,” he says, “they happen in just a few clicks.” The social network is different from most social networks or dating sites in that it both re-connects old flames and allows people to “friend” someone they may only met once in passing. “It puts temptation in the path of people who would never in a million years risk having an affair,” he says.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:42 PM | Permalink

May 11, 2012

'Earned Success' Makes You Happier than 'Learned Helplessness'

Arthur Brooks quit his government paid job as a French horn player in the Barcelona Symphony and pulled up stakes to emigrate to America.  He didn't have a college degree and his wife's English was 'limited'.  Today he is President of the American Enterprise Institute and this article published in the Wall St Journal.

America and the Value of 'Earned Success' 

To friends in Barcelona, this move was ridiculous. Quitting a job in Spain often meant permanent unemployment. As we departed, my in-laws tearfully gave us a gold bracelet which, they said, we could pawn in the coming hard times.
In the end, I concluded, what set the United States apart from Spain was the difference between earned success and learned helplessness.

Earned success means defining your future as you see fit and achieving that success on the basis of merit and hard work. It allows you to measure your life's "profit" however you want, be it in money, making beautiful music, or helping people learn English. Earned success is at the root of American exceptionalism.
The opposite of earned success is "learned helplessness," ...refers to what happens if rewards and punishments are not tied to merit: People simply give up and stop trying to succeed.
Learned helplessness was what my wife and I observed then, and still do today, in social-democratic Spain. The recession, rigid labor markets, and excessive welfare spending have pushed unemployment to 24.4%, with youth joblessness over 50%. Nearly half of adults under 35 live with their parents. Unable to earn their success, Spaniards fight to keep unearned government benefits.

Meanwhile, their collective happiness—already relatively low—has withered. According to the nonprofit World Values Survey, 20% of Spaniards said they were "very happy" about their lives in 1981. This fell to 14% by 2007, even before the economic downturn.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:13 PM | Permalink

April 25, 2012

Happiness Ascendant

An excerpt on happiness from Jerome Kagan's new book, Psychology's Ghosts as reviewed by Carol Tavris

In his second essay, "Happiness Ascendant," Mr. Kagan virtually demolishes the popular academic effort to measure "subjective well-being," let alone to measure and compare the level of happiness of entire nations. No psychologist, he observes, would accept as reliable your own answer to the question: "How good is your memory?" Whether your answer is "great" or "terrible," you have no way of knowing whether your memory of your memories is accurate. But psychologists, Mr. Kagan argues, are willing to accept people's answer to how happy they are as if it "is an accurate measure of a psychological state whose definition remains fuzzy."

Many people will tell you that having many friends, a fortune or freedom is essential to happiness, but Mr. Kagan believes they are wrong. "A fundamental requirement for feelings of serenity and satisfaction," Mr. Kagan says, is "commitment to a few unquestioned ethical beliefs" and the confidence that one lives in a community and country that promote justice and fair play. "Even four-year-olds have a tantrum," he notes, "if a parent violates their sense of fairness." His diagnosis of the "storm of hostility" felt by Americans on the right and left, and the depression and anomie among so many young people, is that this essential requirement has been frustrated by the bleak events of the past decades. War, corruption, the housing bubble and the financial crisis, not to mention the fact that so many of those responsible have not been held unaccountable, have eroded optimism, pride and the fundamental need to believe the world is fair.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:19 PM | Permalink

March 14, 2012

People who are happy

After 25 years of lecturing on happiness, Dennis Prager summarizes what he has learned in Who Is Happy?

People who control themselves.

People who are given little and earn what they have.

People who do not see themselves or their group as victims.
If the primary conclusion you have reached after years of therapy is that you are a victim, you really are a victim — of lousy therapy.
People who rarely complain.

People who have close friends.

People who are in a good marriage.
A good marriage — having a real partner in life — is so contributive to happiness that it is almost enough. Almost.
People who act happy.

People who aren’t envious.

People who don’t have high self-esteem.

People who have few expectations.

People who are grateful.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:09 AM | Permalink

October 20, 2011

The dark side of happiness

New study sheds light on ‘dark side of happiness’

In a review paper published last week in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, researchers define what they call the “dark side of happiness’’: feeling happy all the time can destroy relationships and careers, while avidly pursuing happiness is bound to lead to disappointment.
While some of us may envy those manic folks at the extreme end of the cheerful spectrum, they often have the same level of dysfunction as a person who’s too sad, some recent studies suggest. They may completely tune out sad events around them like, say, their spouse being laid off or a parent dying.

“It’s happiness turned inward,’’ says June Gruber, a professor of psychology at Yale University who is studying mania. “They’re attuned only to their own happiness’’ and completely oblivious to what loved ones are feeling around them. It’s the flip side of depression, where individuals can only focus on their own suffering.

Happiness is a byproduct of what you are doing or where you are  in life.  You can't aim for it directly. 

Iris Mauss, a psychologist and researcher at the University of Denver...discovered that those who value happiness the most have a lower state of well-being, less satisfaction with life, and are more likely to be depressed. She also found that teaching people to adopt happiness as a value caused them to feel more lonely and socially disconnected.

“People may be happiest when they’re not monitoring their own happiness,’’ Mauss contends. That doesn’t mean we should completely abandon the pursuit of happiness and resign ourselves to leading unhappy lives. But rather, we should pursue happiness the right way — defining it as leading a meaningful life, rather than partaking in hedonic pleasures.

Gareth Cook continues

In situations that demand careful attention to novel information, happy people do not perform as well. When you are a little bit sad, you are more ready for trouble, scanning around you for signs that something has gone awry. When you are happy, you are more oblivious.

“You don’t want to be too happy if you are monitoring a nuclear power plant,”
says Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California Riverside and author of “The How of Happiness.”
All of this suggests that the big-picture, positive thinking that comes with happiness brings with it a necessary weakness: a lack of attention to detail, a downplaying of potential threats and problems.
When people value happiness, they strive to achieve it, Mauss explains, but that also becomes the standard by which they judge themselves. The disappointment is toxic.
However, well before the modern study of happiness, that very American thinker Henry David Thoreau understood the matter perfectly: “Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.”
Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:00 PM | Permalink

August 4, 2011

Young happiness, old happiness

Are you feeling young happy or old happy? Generations feel pleasure in different ways

Young and old people are actually experiencing completely different emotions when they say they are ‘happy’, according to a new scientific study.

For young people, around 60 per cent of happiness is all about excitement, say scientists.
Researchers found that young adults find it difficult to find joy without excitement and for children the two things are virtually inseparable.

In contrast, as we get older we associate 80 per cent of happiness with ‘contentment’.

The study indicates there are at least two quite different kinds of happiness.
The results come from a study of different age groups by Professor Cassie Mogilner, of the University of Pennsylvania. 

Professor Mogilner, who carried out the research, said: 'We are talking about two distinct types of happiness, one associated with peacefulness and one associated with being excited.

'Whereas younger people are more likely to associate happiness with excitement, as they get older, they become more likely to associate happiness with peacefulness.'

The difference appears to come from the varying degrees of importance placed on the future compared to the present.  Younger people, generally more interested in the future, base their happiness more on excitement, said Prof Mogilner.  Meanwhile, older people place a higher value on the present, and so contentment tends to be a greater source of happiness for them.
The results are published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:44 AM | Permalink

February 26, 2011

"Many patients can find happiness in ways that we simply cannot imagine"

The human ability to adjust and be happy even with extreme disability is extraordinary and reassuring.

Many locked-in syndrome patients happy

You are awake, aware and probably unable to move or talk — but you are not necessarily unhappy, says the largest study of locked-in syndrome ever conducted.

A surprising number of patients with the condition say they are happy, despite being paralyzed and having to communicate mainly by moving their eyes. Most cases are caused by major brain damage, often sustained in traumatic accidents.

Sixty-five patients used a scale to indicate their sense of well-being, with 47 saying they were happy and 18 unhappy. They were also asked a variety of questions about their lives, including their ability to get around or participate in social functions, or if they had ever considered euthanasia.

Only a handful of patients said they often had suicidal thoughts. The patients responded to questions largely by blinking.

Adrian Owen, a neuroscientist at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, said of the results: "We cannot and should not presume to know what it must be like to be in one of these conditions."

"Many patients can find happiness in ways that we simply cannot imagine," he said via e-mail. He was not linked to the study.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:49 AM | Permalink

October 8, 2010

The tested formula for inner calm

From the Daily Mail, wisdom in a headline.

The secret to happiness: don't date a neurotic or worry about your career, go to church and stay thin

Experts have now come up with a simple formula for those in search of inner calm.

According to their research, people who go to church, stay thin, avoid worrying about their careers and have emotionally stable partners should be well on their way to achieving the sought-after state of mind.

Challenging the theory that an individual's long-term happiness depends on their genes, a group from the University of Melbourne, in Australia, found changes in lifestyle led to significant long-term changes in general satisfaction.

Bruce Headey, an associate professor at the university, questioned people in Germany about their jobs, social lives and religious activities during a 25-year period.

Initially, some 3,000 people responded to their surveys but towards the end of the period, this figure stood at 60,000.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:29 PM | Permalink

October 1, 2010

Consuming Happiness

"We have no more right to consume happiness without producing it than to consume wealth without producing it."

-George Bernard Shaw

via Word Around the Net

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:27 PM | Permalink

June 28, 2010

"The nature of parenting is to beat that out of you"

Tony Woodlief presents a parent's Case Against Happiness

Any parent will tell you children are difficult, and they wear you out, and they likely will just break your heart in the end. And who knows -- maybe when we believe we are feeling deep joy from parenthood (usually over a glass of wine, after all the little stinkers are finally in bed), we are simply sentimentalizing the whole ordeal to keep ourselves from rooting out our unused passports from the sock drawer and dashing off to Europe, never to be heard from again. Or perhaps we just feel too guilty to admit that, while we couldn't bear losing them now that we have them, we very well could have been delightfully satisfied had we never met them.

And here's where I wonder if we ought to re-examine our commitment to happiness. It seems to me that there's possibly some merit -- if we persevere and have the sense to learn from it -- in the other-orientation that is (good) parenting. It's fine to go through life happy, in other words, but I suspect we also want to go through life without becoming big fat self-absorbed jackasses. Children really help in that regard.

To be sure, there are too many parents who, despite their children, remain narcissistic nimrods. But the nature of parenting is to beat that out of you.
Instead of asking parents and non-parents whether they are happy right now, we might ask whether they are becoming more like the people they want to be. And then we might see children not as factors that may or may not be contributing to our happiness, but as opportunities to practice what most of us -- perhaps me most of all -- need to do more often, which is to put someone else before ourselves.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:16 PM | Permalink

June 22, 2010

"Giving is the most potent force on the planet and will protect you your whole life"

Giving is the most potent force on the planet and will protect you your whole life," says Dr. Stephen Post.

Happiness is a byproduct of living generously. People who are self-described as being people of generosity and self-giving love, people who are concerned for others in their actions or in affect are happier than people who don't fall into these categories. The chief predictor of self-reported happiness is not material wellbeing. It is not the power we hold over others, the accumulation of accolades or prestige. The single most important predictor of happiness is whether a person is living as much for others as for self.
caring for other alcoholics, the disinhibition of self-giving love, doubles the likelihood of recovery during this one-year period. That's big news, especially since there are probably 350 to 400 12-step groups based on the 12-step paradigm.
A remarkable fact is that giving, even in later years, can delay death. The impact of giving is just as significant as not smoking and avoiding obesity.

A remarkable essay "Do Good Things Happen to Good People?"

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:22 PM | Permalink

May 18, 2010

Happy Iceland

 Aurora Borealis Iceland

From Bing, an amazing photo of the aurora borealis above Iceland by photographer Olgeir Andresson.  Iceland now ranks #1 as the happiest country  in terms of life satisfaction based on a 2009 survey from the OCED, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

That’s right – the country which had to be bailed out by the International Monetary Fund, faced austerity on a massive scale, suffered social upheaval and booted out its government, and watched itself go from global wonder to basket case overnight, is, statistically, the smuggest country in the world.

It's quite amazing how facing adversity  can make us happy.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:28 AM | Permalink

May 4, 2010

It's Electron Boy

The best story you'll read all day.

 Superhero For Day

Erik Martin, who is living with liver cancer, has always wanted to be a superhero. On Thursday, the regional chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation granted him that wish with an elaborate event that involved hundreds of volunteers in Bellevue and Seattle.

Local boy with cancer turns into a superhero for a day

Like any good superhero, Electron Boy kept his innermost thoughts to himself. But he did have one important thing to say:

"This is the best day of my life."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:33 AM | Permalink

April 28, 2010

Laughter is the best medicine and the best exercise

Forget going to gym – 'laughercise' session just as good for you

CURLING up with laughter has similar effects on the body as pumping iron in the gym, a study has shown.

Sessions of mirthful laughter – dubbed "laughercise" by researchers – enhance mood, reduce stress hormones, boost
the immune system and lower blood pressure and levels of "bad" cholesterol, researchers have found.

Like physical exercise, they also appear to stimulate appetite, offering a potential way to help malnourished patients who are off their food.

Laughter has long been thought of as the "best medicine" but recent research has shown that it really can have health benefits.

Previous research by US scientists led by Californian physician Dr Lee Berk has demonstrated how laughter improves mood, reduces stress and activates immune system cells, especially those which combat cancer.

Laughter has also been shown to benefit blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

The latest study from Dr Berk's team suggests that some of the effects of laughter mirror those of repetitive exercise.


Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:54 AM | Permalink

March 19, 2010

Talk Deep, not Small

Deep conversations made people happier than small talk, one study found.  Not stop-the-presses news, but a good reminder.

Talk Deeply, Be Happy?

Would you be happier if you spent more time discussing the state of the world and the meaning of life — and less time talking about the weather?

It may sound counterintuitive, but people who spend more of their day having deep discussions and less time engaging in small talk seem to be happier, said Matthias Mehl, a psychologist at the University of Arizona who published a study on the subject.
But, he proposed, substantive conversation seemed to hold the key to happiness for two main reasons: both because human beings are driven to find and create meaning in their lives, and because we are social animals who want and need to connect with other people.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:12 AM | Permalink

March 2, 2010

Be Happier

5 Things that will make you happier as reported in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

1. Be grateful - Some study participants were asked to write letters of gratitude to people who had helped them in some way. The study found that these people reported a lasting increase in happiness - over weeks and even months - after implementing the habit. What's even more surprising: Sending the letter is not necessary. Even when people wrote letters but never delivered them to the addressee, they still reported feeling better afterwards.

2. Be optimistic - Another practice that seems to help is optimistic thinking. Study participants were asked to visualize an ideal future - for example, living with a loving and supportive partner, or finding a job that was fulfilling - and describe the image in a journal entry. After doing this for a few weeks, these people too reported increased feelings of well-being.

3. Count your blessings - People who practice writing down three good things that have happened to them every week
show significant boosts in happiness, studies have found. It seems the act of focusing on the positive helps people remember reasons to be glad.

4. Use your strengths - Another study asked people to identify their greatest strengths, and then to try to use these strengths in new ways. For example, someone who says they have a good sense of humor could try telling jokes to lighten up business meetings or cheer up sad friends. This habit, too, seems to heighten happiness.

5. Commit acts of kindness - It turns out helping others also helps ourselves. People who donate time or money to charity, or who altruistically assist people in need, report improvements in their own happiness.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:36 AM | Permalink

December 6, 2009

Thanksgiving in Zimbabwe

Shumuley Boteach travels to Zimbabwe with Dennis Prager and about seven Christian volunteers. 

No Holds Barred
Indeed, of the hundreds who came to our feast, only a few were young mothers and fathers; the vast majority had already been lost to AIDS. We saw scores of young children strapped to their grandmothers' backs in the African way. An entire generation has been wiped out by this killer disease, which is still met by denial in Africa. Most of the people we spoke to who lost relatives to AIDS told us that "they got sicker and thinner." They knew exactly what caused the ailment but would never pronounce it. Strict moral codes govern life in southern Africa, so a sexually-transmitted disease is rarely acknowledged.

BUT AMID these serious challenges, the people exhibit unbelievable warmth. Are they happier than we in the West? I can't say. I have never believed in the supposedly ennobling effect of poverty, and I will not glamorize a life with so little. But what is undeniable is that they seemed far more satisfied, grateful and content than us. We in the West who are fortunate to be able to translate so much of our potential into something professionally and personally fulfilling are more often than not plagued by insatiable material hunger, rarely finding the inner peace which they seemed to possess.
Most memorable were the children, who were wondrous in every way. Gorgeous, extremely polite and exceptionally well-behaved. They exhibited none of wildness that is becoming common among Western kids. Hundreds of them sat in perfect rows on the floor, grateful to have a hot meal. They too sang and danced for us, and we danced with them.

The most moving part of the day was when we distributed the corn seed. The chief called out the names and as the families came forward, they were glowing. Many of them kissed the bags as they collected them. A few bags broke open and their recipients searched for, and found, every last seed as if it were a diamond.

It should be mandatory to take Western kids to Africa for at least one humanitarian mission. It would help wean them from the corrosive materialism that is suffocating us all, and it would lead them to appreciate their blessings and share more with others.

One woman volunteer particularly impressed him.

...she is not a household name and she will never be as famous as Britney Spears. But to me she was a small reminder that the suffocating selfishness of Western material culture can indeed be transcended.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:12 AM | Permalink

September 18, 2009

"Happiness is more contagious than unhappiness"

The Framingham Heart Study which started in 1948 to discover the underlying causes of heart disease is the longest on-going study in the country.

Two years ago, James Fowler and Nicolas Christakis, both social scientists, used the information gathered to discover the "contagious" nature of social behavior. 

By analyzing the Framingham data, Christakis and Fowler say, they have for the first time found some solid basis for a potentially powerful theory in epidemiology: that good behaviors — like quitting smoking or staying slender or being happy — pass from friend to friend almost as if they were contagious viruses. The Framingham participants, the data suggested, influenced one another’s health just by socializing. And the same was true of bad behaviors — clusters of friends appeared to “infect” each other with obesity, unhappiness and smoking. Staying healthy isn’t just a matter of your genes and your diet, it seems. Good health is also a product, in part, of your sheer proximity to other healthy people.

From the New York Times magazine Is Happiness Catching?

The subconscious nature of emotional mirroring might explain one of the more curious findings in their research: If you want to be happy, what’s most important is to have lots of friends.

Christakis and Fowler say their findings show that the gamble of increased sociability pays off, for a surprising reason: Happiness is more contagious than unhappiness.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:19 PM | Permalink

May 27, 2009

Happy Like God

He's a philosophy professor who asks whether the traditional philosophical idea of happiness as an experience of contemplation is really so ridiculous.

Simon Critchley in Happy Like God.

For the philosophers of Antiquity, notably Aristotle, it was assumed that the goal of the philosophical life — the good life, moreover — was happiness and that the latter could be defined as the bios theoretikos, the solitary life of contemplation. Today, few people would seem to subscribe to this view.

Happiness is not quantitative or measurable and it is not the object of any science, old or new. It cannot be gleaned from empirical surveys or programmed into individuals through a combination of behavioral therapy and anti-depressants. If it consists in anything, then I think that happiness is this feeling of existence, this sentiment of momentary self-sufficiency that is bound up with the experience of time
As Wittgenstein writes in what must be the most intriguing remark in the “Tractatus,” “the eternal life is given to those who live in the present.” Or ,as Whitman writes in “Leaves of Grass”: “Happiness is not in another place, but in this place…not for another hour…but this hour.”

 Chalice Of Repose

But think about it: If anyone is happy, then one imagines that God is pretty happy, and to be happy is to be like God. But consider what this means, for it might not be as ludicrous, hubristic or heretical as one might imagine. To be like God is to be without time, or rather in time with no concern for time, free of the passions and troubles of the soul, experiencing something like calm in the face of things and of oneself.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:42 PM | Permalink

May 2, 2009

"the Israelis have something better than security. They have faith."

Why Israel is the world's happiest country, David Goldman in First Things who formerly wrote as the anonymous Spengler.

If any of you are depressed, morose, despondent, pessimistic, and glum, I have a cost-effective solution. For the price of a dozen sessions with a medicore therapist, you can get on a plane and go to Israel. That will cheer you up. Trust me. Insecurity doesn’t make you unhappy. This life isn’t secure. Shut yourself up in a cave ten miles under the earth with all the distilled water and freeze-dried food you can hoard, equip it with an intensive care unit and a dozen physicians… you still are going to die. Being alive is a very insecure condition as the probability of becoming dead at some future point is — let me check the chart — 100%. Care will slip in through the keyhole,  no matter how secure you try to be. But the Israelis have something better than security. They have faith. That’s true even of secular Israelis, for to be an Israeli is a statement of faith.

And that is why Israel is the happiest country in the world. Last year I made this argument in a
Spengler essay:

“In a world given over to morbidity, the state of Israel still teaches the world love of life, not in the trivial sense of joie de vivre, but rather as a solemn celebration of life. In another location, I argued, “It’s easy for the Jews to talk about delighting in life. They are quite sure that they are eternal, while other peoples tremble at the prospect impending extinction.
It is not their individual lives that the Jews find so pleasant, but rather the notion of a covenantal life that proceeds uninterrupted through the generations.” Still, it is remarkable to observe by what wide a margin the Israelis win the global happiness sweepstakes.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:07 AM | Permalink

April 23, 2009

Cultivating Friendship

Close friendships often have a greater effect on health than a spouse or a family member.  They will shape your life, sustain it and make it better.

What Are Friends For?  A Longer Life

Researchers are only now starting to pay attention to the importance of friendship and social networks in overall health. A 10-year Australian study found that older people with a large circle of friends were 22 percent less likely to die during the study period than those with fewer friends. A large 2007 study showed an increase of nearly 60 percent in the risk for obesity among people whose friends gained weight. And last year, Harvard researchers reported that strong social ties could promote brain health as we age.

“In general, the role of friendship in our lives isn’t terribly well appreciated,” said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. “There is just scads of stuff on families and marriage, but very little on friendship. It baffles me. Friendship has a bigger impact on our psychological well-being than family relationships.”


The only reward of virtue is virtue; the only way to have a friend is to be one.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

If a man does not make new acquaintance as he advances through life, he will soon find himself left alone. A man, Sir, should keep his friendship in constant repair.
- Samuel Johnson (1709 - 1784) British lexiographer.

My friends are my estate.
- Emily Dickinson

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:43 PM | Permalink

April 5, 2009

Happiness is contagious

This is wonderful.  Happiness is contagious.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:55 AM | Permalink

March 24, 2009

The 'happiness suppressant

The survey is not recent (2003) but still surprising. 

Nigeria tops happiness survey

Nigeria has the highest percentage of happy people followed by Mexico, Venezuela, El Salvador and Puerto Rico, while Russia, Armenia and Romania have the fewest.

"New Zealand ranked 15 for overall satisfaction, the US 16th, Australia 20th and Britain 24th - although Australia beats the other three for day-to-day happiness," New Scientist says.
The survey is a worldwide investigation of socio-cultural and political change conducted about every four years by an international network of social scientists.

The survey appears to confirm the old adage that money cannot buy happiness.
The researchers for World Values Survey described the desire for material goods as "a happiness suppressant".

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:44 PM | Permalink

February 23, 2009

"I want love and children but they are nowhere to be seen."

The backlash against feminism continues as more women come to grips with their decisions to forego children for a career.

Madonna syndrome:  I should have ditched feminism for love, children and baking.

A playwright who embraced the feminism espoused by her mother and flaunted by Madonna now feels betrayed.

My mother was a hippy who kept a pile of (dusty) books by Germaine Greer and Erica Jong by her bed (like every good feminist, she didn't see why she should do all the cleaning). She imbued me with the great values of choice, equality and sexual liberation. I fought with my older brother and won; at university I beat the rugby lads at drinking games. I was not to be messed with.

Now, nearly 37, those same values leave me feeling cold. I want love and children but they are nowhere to be seen.
I wish a more balanced view of womanhood had been available to me. I wish that being a housewife or a mother wasn't such a toxic idea to middle-class liberals of yesteryear.

Increasing numbers of my feminist friends are giving up their careers for love and children and baking. I wish I'd had kids ten years ago, when time was on my side, but the problem is not so much time as mentality. I made a conscious decision not to have serious relationships because I thought I had all the time in the world. Many of my friends did the same. It's about understanding what is important in life, and from what I see and feel, loving relationships and children bring more happiness than work ever can.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:16 AM | Permalink

January 12, 2009

Childhood spirituality boots well-being

Children happy with spirituality

The spiritual lives of children has come under close scrutiny by two different sets of researchers who reached the same conclusion. Spirituality is a good thing for youngsters, a positive influence.

It makes them happier - and healthier.

"Children who were more spiritual were happier," said a University of British Columbia study released Friday, which methodically quantified the typical ups and downs in a young life.

The study, which questioned 320 children from four public schools and two religious schools about their spiritual practices, revealed that happiness was boosted by 26 percent among those children in touch with an "inner belief system."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:13 AM | Permalink

January 11, 2009

Religious Faith Cultivates a Sense of Gratitude

To regret religion is, in fact, to regret our civilization and its monuments, its achievements, and its legacy. And in my own view, the absence of religious faith, provided that such faith is not murderously intolerant, can have a deleterious effect upon human character and personality. If you empty the world of purpose, make it one of brute fact alone, you empty it (for many people, at any rate) of reasons for gratitude, and a sense of gratitude is necessary for both happiness and decency. For what can soon, and all too easily, replace gratitude is a sense of entitlement. Without gratitude, it is hard to appreciate, or be satisfied with, what you have: and life will become an existential shopping spree that no product satisfies.

Theodore Dalrymple in City Journal on What the New Atheists Don't See

A few years back, the National Gallery held an exhibition of Spanish still-life paintings. One of these paintings had a physical effect on the people who sauntered in, stopping them in their tracks; some even gasped. I have never seen an image have such an impact on people. The painting, by Juan Sánchez Cotán, now hangs in the San Diego Museum of Art. It showed four fruits and vegetables, two suspended by string, forming a parabola in a gray stone window.

Fra Juan Sánchez Cotán 001

Even if you did not know that Sánchez Cotán was a seventeenth-century Spanish priest, you could know that the painter was religious: for this picture is a visual testimony of gratitude for the beauty of those things that sustain us. Once you have seen it, and concentrated your attention on it, you will never take the existence of the humble cabbage—or of anything else—quite so much for granted, but will see its beauty and be thankful for it. The painting is a permanent call to contemplation of the meaning of human life, and as such it arrested people who ordinarily were not, I suspect, much given to quiet contemplation.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:45 PM | Permalink

December 4, 2008

Happiness as a Contagion

Happiness Can Spread Among People Like a Contagion reports the Washington Post

Happiness is contagious, spreading among friends, neighbors, siblings and spouses like the flu, according to a large study that for the first time shows how emotion can ripple through clusters of people who may not even know each other.

"You would think that your emotional state would depend on your own choices and actions and experience," said Nicholas A. Christakis, a medical sociologist at Harvard University who helped conduct the study published online today by BMJ, a British medical journal. "But it also depends on the choices and actions and experiences of other people, including people to whom you are not directly connected. Happiness is contagious."

One person's happiness can affect another's for as much as a year, the researchers found, and while unhappiness can also spread from person to person, the "infectiousness" of that emotion appears to be far weaker.

Other experts praised the study as a landmark in the growing body of evidence documenting the influence of personal connections and the importance of positive emotions.

"It's a pathfinding article," said Martin E.P. Seligman, a University of Pennsylvania psychologist. "It's totally original, and the findings are striking."

Stanley Wasserman, who studies social networks at Indiana University, said: "We've known that one's network ties are important, but we've never looked at anything on this scale. The implications are you can't look at individuals as little entities devoid of their social context."

The New York Times adds the following quotation of Christakis

There’s kind of an emotional quiet riot that occurs and takes on a life of its own, that people themselves may be unaware of. Emotions have a collective existence — they are not just an individual phenomenon.”

The subtle transmission of emotion may explain other findings, too. In the obesity and smoking cessation studies, friends were influential even if they lived far away. But the effect on happiness was much greater from friends, siblings or neighbors who lived nearby.
Another surprising finding was that a joyful coworker did not lift the spirits of colleagues, unless they were friends. Professor Fowler believes inherent competition at work might cancel out a happy colleague’s positive vibes.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:29 PM | Permalink

November 13, 2008

Happiness in America

 Joy Of Life  A Mongolian photographer From the Cream of the Crop at Flickr

The modern world, according to Christopher Lasch, is most of all in futile rebellion against “the ancient religious insight that the only way to achieve happiness is to accept limitations in the spirit of gratitude and contrition.” It is, Lasch goes on, in rebellion against “the central paradox of religious faith: the secret of happiness lies in renouncing the right to be happy.”
For most human beings — most social animals — happiness is something like the opposite of loneliness. There are some people who want to be left alone. But for the most part, studies show that married people are happier than single people, people from large families are happier than people from small families, and people with lots of close friends are happier than people with just a few. Happiness also correlates strongly with faithful involvement in religious communities, active participation in political life, and worthwhile work with others. Happiness usually depends on really developing the attachments — a non-Darwinian would say the personal love — that come from doing what social animals do. No study confirms the individualistic thoughts that love is for suckers or hell is other people.
According to Alexis de Tocqueville (writing in the 1830s), the Americans have characteristically never made the error of believing either Locke or Darwin teaches the whole truth.
The Americans’ religion, most of all, causes them not to understand themselves as merely self-interested individuals or playthings of some impersonal process. The Americans, semi-consciously, reconcile individual liberty and personal happiness by understanding themselves in different ways at different times. They understand themselves as free individuals insofar as they restlessly work in pursuit of the material conditions of happiness, but they find happiness by using what they’ve acquired as parents, children, friends, citizens, creatures, and as men and women (as opposed to abstracted or sexless individuals). It’s as religious, familial, and political beings, Tocqueville explains, that the Americans are happy.

Being at Home with Our Homelessness by Peter Augustine Lawler

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:01 AM | Permalink

October 25, 2008

"Everything's amazing, nobody's happy."

How easy it is to forget that we live in a world of wonders.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:06 PM | Permalink

September 18, 2008

"The Proper Sorrows of the Soul"

By focusing only on symptoms and not on causes, has psychiatry incorrectly diagnosed too many cases of ordinary sadness  - what Thomas `å  Kempis called "the proper sorrows of the soul" - as depression?

Ronald Pies, a professor of psychiatry at Tufts, outlines some of the conceptual and scientific problems in Redefining Depression as Mere Sadness.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:47 AM | Permalink

June 18, 2008

The Pursuit of Happiness

Arthur Brooks seems to be all over the place these days decoding what social science research has found out about happiness.

In the City Journal, he writes that Free People Are Happy People.

Freedom and happiness are highly correlated, then; even more significant, several studies have shown that freedom causes happiness.
Pundits and politicians on the left often tell us that a free economy makes for an unhappy population:... But for most people, it turns out, that isn’t true.

To begin with, those who favor less government intervention in our economic affairs are happier than those who favor more.

Religious freedom—known to the Founding Fathers as the “first liberty”—probably brings happiness, too.
Many of the happiest people in America achieve their happiness through faith. When asked in the 2000 GSS about the experiences that made them feel the most free, about 11 percent of adults put religious and spiritual experiences at the top of the list.

Brooks  reports that religious people who practice their faith are twice as likely to say they are happy than secular people.  The psychological well-being that religion can promote is also linked to better physical health.

"Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America--and How We Can Get More of It" (Arthur C. Brooks)

Brooks, the author of the new published Gross National Happiness writes
According to hundreds of reliable surveys of thousands of people across the land, happy people increase our prosperity and strengthen our communities. They make better citizens--and better citizens are vital to making our nation healthy and strong. Happiness, in other words, is important for America. So when I chanced upon data a couple of years ago saying that certain Americans were living in a manner that facilitated happiness--while others were not--I jumped on it.
I had always thought that marching to the beat of my own drummer and making up my own values as I went along were the right things to do, and that traditional values, to put it bluntly, were for suckers.

Turns out that I was in for some surprises.

In Why We're Happy, he lays out  the top five happiness predictors
1. Faith
2. Work
3. Marriage and Family
4. Charity
5. Freedom

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:15 AM | Permalink

May 15, 2008

Israel at 60 -L'chaim

The wonder is how this most ancient of nations has survived and thrived as a tiny sliver in the Middle East in the face of continuous danger.

Spengler writes they are also the happiest country in the world

In a world given over to morbidity, the state of Israel still teaches the world love of life, not in the trivial sense of joie de vivre, but rather as a solemn celebration of life. In another location, I argued, "It's easy for the Jews to talk about delighting in life. They are quite sure that they are eternal, while other peoples tremble at the prospect impending extinction. It is not their individual lives that the Jews find so pleasant, but rather the notion of a covenantal life that proceeds uninterrupted through the generations." Still, it is remarkable to observe by what wide a margin the Israelis win the global happiness sweepstakes.

Nations go extinct, I have argued in the past, because the individuals who comprise these nations choose collectively to die out. Once freedom replaces the fixed habits of traditional society, people who do not like their own lives do not trouble to have children. Not the sword of conquerors, but the indigestible sourdough of everyday life threatens the life of the nations, now dying out at a rate without precedent in recorded history.
The faith of Israelis is unique. Jews sailed to Palestine as an act of faith, to build a state against enormous odds and in the face of hostile encirclement, joking, "You don't have to be crazy to be a Zionist, but it helps." In 1903 Theodor Herzl, the Zionist movement's secular founder, secured British support for a Jewish state in Uganda, but his movement shouted him down, for nothing short of the return to Zion of Biblical prophecy would requite it. In place of a modern language the Jewish settlers revived Hebrew, a liturgical language only since the 4th century BC, in a feat of linguistic volition without precedent. It may be that faith burns brighter in Israel because Israel was founded by a leap of faith.

A love of life and leap of faith, think of that.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:02 PM | Permalink

April 14, 2008

Learning how to be happy

Anna Pasternak is astonished to learn and experience for herself that the skills of happiness can be taught.

Happy now?  The course claiming to replace the blues with true happiness

Some selections from  her diary of her encounter with American professor Richard Davidson

"You will never be happy as long as you are afraid of your sadness. You don't have to learn to like your unhappiness - but you do have to learn not to be afraid of it.
His key message is that it is not self improvement that will make us happy, but self-acceptance.

"Classically, people believe that if they improve themselves enough, they will be happy. But we can never improve enough.
Holden explains the difference between who we really are and who we think we are: our "essential self" as opposed to our "self-concepts".

He warns that self-image can be extremely detrimental to happiness. Often, we allow our "story" about who we think we are to become our identity. 

"You can try to change your thoughts, but they are driven by your identity. If you want to change your thinking, change your identity."
When Robert Holden said: "You must let go of your hope for a better past" something released inside. I felt unbelievably drained but buoyant. As if I've re-ignited hope.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:44 AM | Permalink

April 3, 2008

Sad Stats

How we spend our time has a great deal to do with how happy we are. 

Down the Tube: Sad Stats on Happiness, Money and TV

Sure our natural disposition and our  circumstances matter, but what we have most control over is how we spend our leisure time.

The standout cluster was what the authors label "engaging leisure and spiritual activities," things like visiting friends, exercising, attending church, listening to music, fishing, reading a book, sitting in a cafe or going to a party. When we spend time on our favorite of these activities, we're typically happy, engrossed and not especially stressed.

"These are things you choose to do, rather than have to do," notes one of the study's co-authors, Prof. Schkade of the University of California, San Diego. we spend too much time watching television rather than time on "engaging leisure and spiritual activities" .

But too many people - women, divorced or separated, the less educated and lower income earners - are likely to spend a bigger chunk of their time in an unpleasant state.

there's been a significant increase in the hours devoted to what the authors call "neutral downtime," which is mostly watching television. Women now spend 15% of their waking hours staring at the tube, while men devote 17%.

Watching TV may be low-stress and moderately enjoyable. But people aren't mentally engaged the way they are when they're, say, exercising or socializing.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:19 PM | Permalink

March 11, 2008

The Art to Growing Older

Making art, whether it be singing, writing, painting or crafts seems to be the key in the art of growing older happily, still contributing, still creating. 

Studies Suggest There's An Art to Getting Older

In 2006, the preliminary findings from the federally funded Creativity and Aging Study suggest that
making art, or even listening to music or viewing paintings, supports physical, mental and emotional well-being and eases some symptoms of illness, including dementia.

Sometimes arts participation can be powerful therapy. Susan Perlstein, the founder of the National Center for Creative Aging and New York's nonprofit Elders Share the Arts, recalls a Holocaust survivor who sat watching her peers perform theater for a year before she told them how she escaped death more than 60 years earlier. The group turned her story into a play and made her the star.

"She said to the group . . . she felt for the first time she could feel at home," Perlstein said. "This process of being able to share your stories and transform them into art is actually a deeply healing process. She went from a depressed, sick older person to a lively young person. It was phenomenal to watch this change."

Taken as a whole, the benefits to the well-being of the old who participate in creative arts are quite extraordinary:
• new growth of brain cells stimulated
• better overall physical health
• less depression and loneliness
• medication use down
• a heightened sense of control and social engagement
• increased sense of independence

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:56 AM | Permalink

March 3, 2008

"We are entitled brats."

Dan Zac on why a sense of entitlement can wreak havoc on happiness in me, me, it's all about ME.

Broad pronouncement of the week: We are entitled brats.

In real life, we want what we want and we want it now. No delay. No aggravation. No hassle, pain-free, our way, right away.
Narcissism and entitlement among college students have increased steadily since 1979, according to a study to be published this year in the Journal of Personality.
The data are clear: The ascent of narcissism and entitlement is dramatic.
To complement her research, Twenge offers evidence from the field: "I have a 14-month-old daughter, and the clothing available to her has 'little princess,' or 'I'm the boss,' or 'spoiled rotten' written on it. This is what we're dressing our babies in."
Feeling entitled to something you aren't getting leads to frustration, which leads to bratty behavior and confrontation. Nearly 80 percent of Americans say rudeness -- particularly behind the wheel, on cellphones and in customer service -- should be regarded as a serious national problem, according to a study by the opinion research firm Public Agenda.

Zac then explores some tried and true ways of getting over your inner brat by going to, in tried and true fashion, to a stress expert who recommends practicing relaxation techniques  to turn the frustration of waiting for someone into an opportunity to relax.

Cultivating the habit of being grateful, the attitude of gratitude, will lead to a happier life and much lower levels of entitlement.

Other habits I learned in Sunday School were "offering it up"  and blessing those who were frustrating me, which in the end is simply loving your enemy.    Not a bad way of getting through a three hour flight delay.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:52 AM | Permalink

February 13, 2008

Happy Republicans

From the Washington Post by Eric Weiner  Why Republicans Are So Darn Happy

No single morsel of happiness data, though, is more intriguing than this: Republicans are happier than Democrats.

A 2006 Pew Research poll found that 45 percent of Republicans describe themselves as "very happy," compared with only 30 percent of Democrats (and 29 percent of independents). This is a sizable gap and a remarkably consistent one, too. Republicans have been happier than Democrats every year since the General Social Survey, conducted biannually by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, began asking about happiness in 1972.

Is it money? Power?  Ignorance? 

Basically, Republicans have in spades all the things that combine to make us happy. Church attendance is particularly crucial. People who attend religious services regularly are more likely to report being "very happy" than those who don't -- 43 percent vs. 26 percent (a happiness boost, by the way, that cuts across all the major religious denominations). In addition, Republicans are more likely to be married than Democrats, and married people are happier than singles.

Weiner says that some of the Democrats' pet policies, income equality and diversity, have little effect on our contentment.

The View of Alexandria looks at the Post article and writes
Republicans stress freedom and individual responsibility, which lead people to feel in control and take action that changes their lives for the better, while Democrats assign blame to institutions, which makes people feel powerless and discourages them from undertaking ameliorative courses of action.

The comments to his post are particularly interesting.

No one mentioned gratitude which to me is the single greatest predictor of happiness.  People who are grateful for what they have  and have been given are by far the happiest people.  Republicans generally are more sincerely grateful for the great blessing of being born American than are Democrats.

What's so interesting about the current race is the sense of hope that Senator Obama brings to the Democrats.  There's no denying that the palpable sense of joy Democrats feel when they contemplate the November election contrasts sharply with the gloom Republicans feel.  Whether that will change any of the underlying dynamics of happiness remains to be seen.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:33 PM | Permalink

January 29, 2008

There's no place to go but up

There is a trough in middle age that is truly depressing as everyone who has lived it can tell you but reports a study in England.

Middle-age is truly depressing, study finds

In a remarkably regular way throughout the world people slide down a U-shaped level of happiness and mental health throughout their lives," Andrew Oswald at Britain's Warwick University, who co-led the study, said on Tuesday.

The researchers analyzed data on depression, anxiety levels and general mental health and well-being taken from some 2 million people in 80 countries.
"It happens to men and women, to single and married people, to rich and poor, and to those with and without children," Oswald said. "Nobody knows why we see this consistency."

I think it's because they are unhappy with all that they had to do because those were the rules, that's what their parents said to do, it's what they had to do for their children or their career.  Somewhere around 50, with all the intimations of mortality that brings, they begin to think for themselves,  about the unlived parts of themselves and about their legacy. 

In their fifties they begin to climb out of the trough and start to become themselves, the people they were meant to be and as they do so, they become happier each year.

The good news is that if people make it to aged 70 and are still physically fit, they are on average as happy and mentally healthy as a 20-year old.

There's no place to go but up .  In great relief, you begin to experience the pleasures of maturity.

As life goes on it becomes tiring to keep up the character you invented for yourself, and so you relapse into individuality and become more like yourself every day. This is sometimes disconcerting for those around you, but a great relief to the person concerned. -  Agatha Christie

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:54 PM | Permalink

January 14, 2008

"My BMW doesn't visit me in the nursing home."

Don Aucoin in the Boston Globe explores why Analyzing happiness is a growth industry.

In that  piece he quotes author and TV host John Izzo who asked 235 elderly people how and where they found happiness.

"I've always been interested in the question of why some people live well and die happy, and some people die as if they missed the party," explains Izzo. So he asked his interviewees, who ranged in age from 60 to 106, such questions as "What brought happiness to your life?", "What do you wish you'd learned sooner?", and "What do you regret?"

"Almost no one regretted something they tried in their life that didn't work out, yet almost everyone said they wished they had risked more," Izzo says. "They said the greatest fear at the end of life is not death or failure. It's that you didn't even try." The men in particular regretted not showing their wives or children how much they loved them. "What I've discovered is my BMW doesn't visit me in the nursing home," one retired businessman told Izzo.

So what were some of the secrets of happiness? In addition to living in the moment and being true to yourself, the consensus of the interviewees, Izzo says, was: "If you want to be a person who's happy, be a giver." In other words, focus not on yourself but on the needs of others. "They said when you're young you think your greatest happiness will come from what you get from life, but looking back they realized the only things that gave meaning was the fact that they gave," says Izzo.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:44 AM | Permalink

January 3, 2008

America happier, Britain not

America is a very happy place, Investor's Business Daily points out.

"Most Americans say they are generally happy, with a slim majority saying they are 'very happy,' " according to the Gallup Poll released on the final day of 2007. "More than 8 in 10 Americans say they are satisfied with their personal lives at this time, including a solid majority who say they are 'very satisfied.' "

Another extensive survey conducted in 2007 by the Pew Research Center found that 65% of Americans termed themselves "satisfied" with their lives. That compares with the four economic powerhouses of Britain, France, Germany and Italy, which averaged about 53%.
As economist Irwin Stelzer recently noted, "teenage drug use, pregnancies, smoking and drinking are all on the decline; welfare reform is working, bringing down child poverty, and the divorce rate is falling."

Oh, and we're having more babies than at any time since the 1970s — not something that a gloomy, depressed society does.

If Americans are happier than ever, the Brits are not.  Over the New Year, the London Ambulance Service received an emergency call every 8 seconds, the great majority related to binge drinking.

50 years ago, 50% of Brits said they were very happy.  Today, only about a third say that.

The Harvard Professor of Happiness Tal Ben Shahar gave them some advice in the Guardian on Cheering Up

1. Give yourself permission to be human and to feel the full range of human emotion including the painful ones.
2. Simplify your life.  Do less, enjoy more.
3. Exercise regularly. 
Michael Babyak and his colleagues at Duke University medical school, for example, showed that exercising three times a week for 30 minutes each time was as helpful for patients diagnosed with major depressive disorder as taking an antidepressant.
4. Focus on the positive.
The question we need to ask ourselves is: must things get worse before we recognise how wonderful life was? Do we need something negative to happen to us, a tragedy, to appreciate life? The answer is "no" if we make gratitude a way of life - because to be grateful for something is the opposite of taking it for granted

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:50 AM | Permalink

December 6, 2007

The Best Things in Life Are Free, Really

A bar of chocolate, a long soak in the bath, a snooze in the middle of the afternoon, a leisurely stroll in the park. These are the things that make us the most happy, according to new research from The University of Nottingham.

Happiness Comes Cheap -- Even for Millionaires

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:23 AM | Permalink

October 6, 2007

The mysterious albino town

An amazing story, Aicuna is Not an Albino Town

It is the same message that she had made us read—the one by Carlo Brero, a nearly eighty-year-old Italian who, on September 28, 2006, bade his farewell to La Casa with these words, in Spanish: “I came to this town to find albino genes and I found the happiness of my youth.” Mr. Brero’s farewell letter, written in a trembling hand but with unwavering care, takes up the entire page. Before signing it, he added: “I feel personally content and I think that it’s because of the way of life here: happy children, simple, tranquil, and affable people. Love is found here amid an everyday landscape.”

It’s like something out of García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. Once upon a time in northeastern Argentina there was a village of grape and almond farmers and goat breeders. This place, called Aicuña, also known as “the town of the Ormeños,” or later “the mysterious albino town,” remained isolated for more than three centuries, two hundred and fifty years longer than García Márquez’s Macondo. Inbreeding was punished in Macondo by the birth of a boy with a pig’s tail. In Aicuña, say some vicious people in neighboring villages, the punishment is colorless children. Forty-six of them, to be precise, in little more than a century.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:17 PM | Permalink

October 2, 2007

The Happiness Paradox and Aeschylus Moments

Some of the most interesting articles published are not accessible to the average reader, hidden behind the subscriber walls of very expensive trade journals.

In the Washington Post, Shankar Vendatam writes about one such study - Is Great Happiness Too Much of a Good Thing?

But according to the new study, led by University of Virginia psychologist Shigehiro Oishi, people who report a large ratio of positive to negative events also seem to derive diminishing returns from additional happy events -- and ever larger adverse effects when they encounter negative events.

By contrast, Oishi found that even though Japanese people were less happy overall than Americans, they needed only one positive event to regain their equilibrium after experiencing a negative event. European Americans needed two positive events on average to regain their emotional footing.

Oishi's research also provides an intriguing window into why very few people are very happy most of the time. Getting to "very happy" is like climbing an ever steeper mountain. Additional effort -- positive events -- doesn't gain you much by way of altitude. Slipping backward, on the other hand, is very easy.

Slipping backwards is what Jeffrey Lord calls "Aeschylus moments" those difficult times when everything goes seriously off track from what we expected life to be.

Aeschylus moments can include the death of a family member or close friend, a serious illness for yourself, the ending of a treasured relationship. It can, in short, be anything that qualifies as trauma, a turning of one's world upside down -- or, to use the term associated with Aeschylus, tragedy. And when the pain of that moment passes, after it has fallen "drop by drop upon the heart," the person in question comes out the other side a different person than he was before he had his Aeschylus moment. If he's lucky, he is wiser, more thoughtful, determined to use his hard earned wisdom for something greater than himself.

Martin Seligman identified the three components of happiness as pleasure, engagement and meaning with the later two being far more significant.  Meaning comes later in life, most often after an "Aeschylus moment", after pain, after suffering.    Life becomes more precious after being broken which calls to mind the Asian practice of filling cracks with gold.

“When the Japanese mend broken objects they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold, because they believe that when something's suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful,Barbara Bloom.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:42 AM | Permalink

September 27, 2007

Getting happier

LifeTwo, a new site about midlife improvement, is getting happy this week with a series of articles and exercises over seven days on how to become happier.    So even if you think you are already happy, if you do the exercises over seven days, you can get even happier quickly.

Wesley Hein is basing his articles and exercises on a new book 

"Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment" (Tal Ben-Shahar)

by a Harvard professor named Tai Ben Sharar who has the most popular class at Harvard.  I wrote about the professor last year in Harvard Teaches Happiness and again in a Happiness Roundup.

What we are seeing is the outgrowth of the positive psychology movement begun by Martin Seligman that I wrote about in The Science of Happiness.

Seligman has found three components of happiness.
pleasure- we all know about what feels good.
engagement.  - the depth of involvement with one's family, work, romance and hobbies .
meaning - using personal strengths to serve some larger end.

Of those three roads to a happy, satisfied life, pleasure is the least consequential, he insists: "This is newsworthy because so many Americans build their lives around pursuing pleasure. It turns out that engagement and meaning are much more important."

I understand the premise of Ben-Shahar's book is you can teach yourself mental habits that will make you happier.  While some  people are genetically disposed to be generally happier than others, everyone can learn to be happier if they adopt simple  habits like being grateful for three things during the day.

Your grandmother  called it "counting your blessings'. 

What's still remarkable to me  new is that so many people never heard or never paid attention to what their parents and grandmothers said. After all, Happiness, It's Not Rocket Science.

So head on over and get happier.  It's not selfish at all.    I think we have a moral obligation to be happy.  If you want to have a happier world, you have to work on yourself first.    After all, as Mahatma Gandhi said, "We have to be what we want to see"

In fact one of the great pleasures of maturity is a growing happiness, a fact that is inexplicable to the young.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:56 PM | Permalink

August 21, 2007

Family Key to Happiness

You know I really like this new generation of people between 13 and 24.  They've got their heads on straight.

Family is Key to Happiness, NOT Money and Sex Says New Study of Youth

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:50 PM | Permalink

May 17, 2007

Dawn Eden

Dawn Eden, author of the Thrill of the Chaste, is receiving well-deserved praise and recognition for her counter-cultural stand on chastity.

One reviewer wrote,

Part memoir, part self-help guide, The Thrill of the Chaste provides a joyous rebuttal to a culture obsessed with sex.
One of the biggest hurdles toward advancing the virtues of a chaste lifestyle is the widely accepted dichotomy between the notion that people who engage in wanton sex are mentally healthy and 'sexually liberated,' and the idea that people who abstein are 'sexually repressed' and only refrain due to some unresolved neurosis. Eden brilliantly illustrates how what is commonly defined as 'liberation' is really a kind of enslavement, since in order to participate in this lifestyle, one has to set up all sorts of emotional and psychological barricades, the likes of which, she reports from experience, are very difficult to overcome. Similarly, by presenting the happiness and self-respect gained from chastity, she punctures the lie that abstinence is unnatural and unhealthy.

Her posts on The Dawn Patrol, an always interesting, different and thoughtful blog, demonstrate similar counter-cultural tendencies, such as looking for a more excellent way.

Essentially, then, for me, the major difference between experiencing romantic disappointment without faith and experiencing it with faith is a refusal to increase in bitterness. It may seem easier to slide into bitterness than to fight its onset, but I've experienced enough bitterness to know that it's not a condition in which I would want to remain ; not if there's the slightest chance I might instead learn to better love my neighbor.
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May 16, 2007

How Freedom Slips Away

Theodore Dalrymple in another brilliant essay on The Virtue of Freedom, speaking of Tony Blair's legacy

  Theodore Dalrymple
But his government has created 3,000 new criminal offences in ten years, that is to say more than one per working day, when all along the problem in Britain was not a insufficiency of laws, but a lack of will to enforce those that we had. The law is now so needlessly complex,  and so many laws and regulations are promulgated weekly, daily, hourly, without any parliamentary oversight, that is to say by administrative decree appropriate to a dictatorship, that lawyers themselves are overwhelmed by them and do not understand them. There could be no better recipe for the development of a police state.
The average Briton, for example, is photographed 300 times per day as he goes about his normal, humdrum existence

The assault on freedom in Britain in the name of social welfare is an illustration of something that the American founding fathers understood, but that is not very congenial to the temper of our times: that
in the long run, only a population that strives for virtue (with at least a degree of success) will be able to maintain its freedom. A nation whose individuals choose vice rather than virtue as the guiding principle of their lives will not long remain free, because it will need rescuing from the consequences of its own vices.

In Britain, it is not so very long ago that most - of course not all - people had an idea of virtue that was intensely focussed on their own individual conduct, irrespective of whether they were rich or poor. People did not in general believe that poverty excused very much.
One of the destructive consequences of the spread of sociological modes of thought is that it has transferred the notion of virtue from individuals to social structures, and in so doing has made personal striving for virtue (as against happiness) not merely unnecessary but ridiculous and even bad, insofar as it diverted attention from the real task at hand, that of creating the perfect society: the society so perfect, as T S Eliot put it, that no one will have to be good.

Dalrymple understands that under the guise of solving serious social problems, immense control over the population can be achieved and brand new bureaucracies created to serve the "victims'.

Social problems, when they are on a sufficiently large scale, create two large classes of dependents: those who are dependent on the government because of their own behaviour, and those who are employed by the government to alleviate the inevitable consequences of that behaviour. In other words, a very large vested interest is created in the continuance of the very behaviour that causes social problems.

Read it all.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:34 PM | Permalink

May 15, 2007

Tony Snow to Graduates: "Live boldly. Live a whole life"

The best Commencement Address of the year so far; - Tony Snow speaking on  Reason, Faith, Vocation at Catholic University.

First, live boldly. Live a whole life.  I have five tips for pulling this off and - let me warn you - they've all been road tested. I learned the old-fashioned way, through trial and error.

Number one, think.
Heed the counsel of your elders, including your parents. I guarantee you, they have made some howling mistakes if, like me, they were in college in the '70s and '80s. They probably haven't owned up to them, but they might now, because they want to protect you. You see, they know that you are leaving the nest. And now that you're leaving the nest, predators soon will begin to circle. Some are going to try to take your money, but the really clever ones are going to tempt you to throw your life away. They'll appeal to your pride and vanity - or worse, to your moral ambition. After all, there's nothing more subversive than the offer to become a saint. So think things through. Be patient. If somebody tries to give you a hard sell, you know they're peddling snake oil; don't buy it. If something's not worth pondering, it is certainly not worth doing. And if your gut tells you something's fishy, trust your gut.
Second recommendation: Go off-road.
Third: Commit.

Tolstoy once said all happy marriages are happy in the same way and here's what he meant. When both people commit, when they say, "You and I are bound together, forever, period, no questions, no codicils, no pre-nups, no escape clauses," then all of a sudden, the temptations become irrelevant, and the glories become possible.

There is nothing like the pleasure of being a parent. Waking up the next morning to somebody whose breath has become the echo of your heartbeat. Trust me on this, it does not get any better. Commit.
Next, get out.

I've been informed by my teenage daughter that there's a new trend in high school now: dating. Only it's a peculiar kind of dating because the "datees" do not actually spend time in each other's presence. Instead they conduct their courtship online. Now technology invites us to build communities out of electrons rather than blood and flesh and I'm just encouraging you, please understand the difference between a closed parenthesis followed by a colon, and a smile. Ladies and gentlemen, you cannot kiss a cursor.

Finally, love
How trite is that? But it's everything. It separates happiness from misery. It separates the full life from the empty life. To love is to acknowledge that life is not about you. I want you to remember that: It's not about you. It's a hard lesson. A lot of people go through life and never learn it. It's to submit willingly, heart and soul, to things that matter. Love is not melodrama. You don't purchase it, you don't manufacture it. You build it.

Every time I buy something gaudy for my wife she says, "Oh that's nice," and then it goes away someplace. The love letters she keeps; I don't know where the jewelry is.
Think not only of what it means to love but what it means to be loved. I have a lot of experience with that. Since the news that I have cancer again, I have heard from thousands and thousands of people and I have been the subject of untold prayers. I'm telling you right now: You're young [and you feel] bullet-proof and invincible. [But] never underestimate the power of other people's love and prayer. They have incredible power. It's as if I've been carried on the shoulders of an entire army. And they had made me weightless. The soldiers in the army just wanted to do a nice thing for somebody. As I mentioned, a lot of people - everybody out here - wants to do that same thing.
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