A 5-year study of 333 Australians found those with the short-short version of the 5-HTTLPR promoter of the SERT serotonin transporter gene were more likely than other adults to be depressed if they had suffered abuse as a child. However, if they hadn't suffered childhood abuse, they were likely to be happier than the rest of the population. This may help resolve inconsistent previous results about the effects of the allele.
The voluntary nature of friendship makes it subject to life’s whims in a way more formal relationships aren’t. In adulthood, as people grow up and go away, friendships are the relationships most likely to take a hit. You’re stuck with your family, and you’ll prioritize your spouse. But where once you could run over to Jonny’s house at a moment’s notice and see if he could come out to play, now you have to ask Jonny if he has a couple hours to get a drink in two weeks. [more inside]
"There is no good answer to being a woman; the art may instead lie in how we refuse the question." In "The Mother of All Questions", Rebecca Solnit writes for Harper's about being asked to justify her own (and Virginia Woolf's) childlessness, and more broadly about how to define happiness and a meaningful life.
Once, work was a major source of friendships. We took our families to company picnics and invited our colleagues over for dinner. Now, work is a more transactional place. We go to the office to be efficient, not to form bonds. We have plenty of productive conversations but fewer meaningful relationships.
Playing with bubbles, frolicking outside, after a bath, taking a nap. Meet Darren and Phillip, a pair of sweet Staffies from Brisbane: The Blueboys! [h/t]
A study of 2,016 Germans has found that, "on average, the effect of a new baby on a person’s life is devastatingly bad — worse than divorce, worse than unemployment and worse even than the death of a partner."
“Six figures, right off the bat,” Mr. Minton said. “To me, it was astonishing.” The average class length among the schools is just under 11 weeks, and costs $11,000. [more inside]
"Historically, spinsterhood has meant a kind of radical unavailability to straight men, implying either rejection of them or rejection by them or both. This sought or unsought rejection has the potential to be experienced by women as a source of strength. It can mean making the choice not just to set your own terms on the marriage or meat market, but to opt out of the market altogether." [Briallen Hopper for LA Review of Books: On Spinsters.] [more inside]
"‘big’ decisions turn out to have much less impact on a life as a whole than the myriad of small seemingly insignificant ones.” When a NYT columnist asked readers to share how they found their purpose in life, a surprising theme emerged: a re-examination of the scale of our lives, and the source(s) of happiness therein.
Study reveals Unhappiest (and Happiest) Cities in the U.S. “Our research indicates that people care about more than happiness alone, so other factors may encourage them to stay in a city despite their unhappiness,” says Gottlieb. “This means that researchers and policy-makers should not consider an increase in reported happiness as an overriding objective.” [more inside]
The Japanese government is attempting to end Japan's culture of "death by overwork" (now known as karoshi) by moving to make it illegal to not take mandatory paid vacation days. Why won't Japanese workers go on vacation? The Japanese work some of the longest hours in the world and fear taking paid holidays in case they are ostracised by colleagues. The stress is so extreme that every year thousands of workers succumb to “karoshi”, or “death by overwork”. They either commit suicide (the see suicide as salvation), or die of a stroke or a heart attack. The Japanese are literally dying for work and the phenomenon is spreading to other Asian countries such as China, South Korea, and Bangladesh. A "chapter" of the award winning documentary "Happy" (now on Netflix and other online venues) looks at this Japanese phenomenon of Karoshi. HAPPY (trailer here) takes you on a journey from the swamps of Louisiana to the slums of Kolkata in search of what really makes people happy. Combining real life stories of people from around the world and powerful interviews with the leading scientists in happiness research, HAPPY explores the secrets behind our most valued emotion.
What makes for a merry Christmas? According to a study [PDF] published in 2002 in The Journal of Happiness Studies, having positive experiences with your family and buying environmentally conscious gifts helps - as does being older and male. [more inside]
Jackson Lears is interviewd by Public Books on The Confidence Economy
Absolutely, the confidence games take the form of their setting. In capitalist settings, it’s multivalent. Not only does one need confidence to trust the merchant who’s selling you an item, but the merchant needs confidence to start his own business, he needs it to invest, and the market needs it to be propelled forward. Of course we’re sitting here talking about this in the shadow of the banking crisis and recession! The cultural feature we’re talking about may be common to human interaction, no matter the specific setting, but those specific settings—a Mississippi River steamboat in the the mid-nineteenth century, or Catholic Italy a half millennium before—give form to its expression.[more inside]
"The residents of Denmark regularly report the highest levels of life satisfaction in the world. Economists Eugenio Proto and Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick cautiously submit that there is a genetic component to this high level of contentment."
The OECD has for a long time offered up measures of human wellbeing across a range of indices. Now they've taken the resolution a step further, providing measures of well being at a regional level for 300 regions/provinces/states across the developed world. How does your neck of the woods fare? What other part of the world is comparable to where you live? Allow your location and see.
After coming it at #19 in 2012, the great state of North Dakota was the happiest state to live in for 2013, according to The Gallup-Healthways Well Being Index. [more inside]
Twenty cancer patients were asked to keep their eyes shut while they were given a makeover. A photographer then immortalized the moment they opened their eyes in front of a one-way mirror.
Commenting on work by Hannes Schwandt, Peter Levine writes: "Many young adults feel that they are not yet getting what they want from life but expect to get it in five years. In middle age, people are disappointed not to have seen their expectations met and rate themselves dissatisfied. They also expect life to get worse–it won’t offer important new satisfactions or successes, but their health will decline as their years run out. Instead, life does offer new rewards in the later decades, and so people are pleasantly surprised. Mean self-reported satisfaction is the same at age 70 as it was at age 30 (and much higher than it was at 50). What could we do to avoid the dreaded U-curve of satisfaction?" [more inside]
Why do we feel happy when we listen to sad music? A study from the Tokyo University of the Arts and RIKEN says that while we expect sad feelings to result from sad music, often the emotions are more neutral or even positive. [more inside]
Quit. Quit early and quit often, not when something is hard, but when something isn't for you. That's the way you find your genius, (YT) says Prof. Deepak Malhotra, who gave this among other tips to graduating students at Harvard Business School in a speech on how to avoid the tragedy of living an unhappy life. [more inside]
Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy - A short essay on happiness, reality, frustration, and generational expectations.
The Quality of Life: As Macaulay once noted: “If men are to wait for liberty till they become good and wise in slavery, they may indeed wait forever.”
Does giving gifts to strangers make you happier? The people behind redditgifts think so, and are trying to monetize it.
Home Sweet Home "'I told him I did live my life forward, but sometimes I couldn’t help thinking about the past, and it was rewarding,' he says. 'Nostalgia made me feel that my life had roots and continuity. It made me feel good about myself and my relationships. It provided a texture to my life and gave me strength to move forward.' The colleague remained skeptical, but ultimately Dr. Sedikides prevailed. That lunch in 1999 inspired him to pioneer a field that today includes dozens of researchers around the world using tools developed at his social-psychology laboratory, including a questionnaire called the Southampton Nostalgia Scale. After a decade of study, nostalgia isn’t what it used to be — it’s looking a lot better."
The UK Office of National Statistics is measuring and reporting on more than just money as a measure of national success The ONS has started a process of measuring and reporting on national wellbeing. They've also made some very pretty animations with the information
Oliver Burkeman: "In order to be truly happy... we might actually need to be willing to experience more negative emotions – or, at the very least, to stop running quite so hard from them."
Oliver Burkeman on happiness through negative thinking: "I think many of the techniques that claim to enable us to achieve happiness don’t work. They are too focused on strenuously stamping out any trace of negativity, rather than cultivating the conditions of real happiness... We are all to some extent in its grip, whenever we think that the way to achieve whatever we’re trying to achieve is to go after it vigorously, and that if we believe it will all work out fine then it will." A "five books" interview with the author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking. [more inside]
Barking Up The Wrong Tree distils scientific research, focused on its motto: "I want to understand why we do what we do and use the answers to be awesome at life." With a gradual shift to more digest posts packed with links to summaries & sources, a sampling of the past couple weeks includes: What are 10 things you should do every day to improve your life? - What are 10 things you should do every week to improve your life? - 25 research-based ways to increase your intelligence - What are 7 things that can make you happier in 7 seconds? - 7 steps to never procrastinating again. Another blog along the same lines but less glib & immediate is Peer-Reviewed By My Neurons; recently: How confusion facilitates learning - The science of coming on too strong - Want to be creative? Play Dungeons & Dragons [more inside]
Happyism: The Creepy New Economics of Pleasure. Economist Dierdre McCloskey, in the New Republic, digs into the mathematical underpinnings of the scientific study of happiness. Executive summary: she doesn't like what she finds.
Brian Lam, from the excellent resource the wirecutter, drops some knowledge about what it's like to live a bit more meaningfully. "I owe my livelihood to technology and I love the raw capability it offers us as a tool, but I fear it a bit more than most people do. It's a tool, but it's not quite a hammer, because a hammer doesn't seduce you into sitting around lonely in your underwear for 6 hours at a stretch clicking on youtube videos and refreshing Twitter.
Back in October, NYT columnist David Brooks asked his older readers (aged 70+) to send him "life reports." He wanted them to appraise their lives, in an effort to glean some life lessons for all of us to learn by. After receiving thousands of replies, he published his assessment of them a couple weeks ago, in two columns (Part 1: Nov 24, 2011; Part 2: Nov 28, 2011). He's also selected specific ones and published them on his blog. [more inside]
This little girl just had surgery to correct her cleft palate. Watch as she sees her "new" smile for the first time, and prepare to experience sheer, pure joy with her. SLYT. [more inside]
The Harvard Study of Adult Development is the longest prospective study of mental and physical well-being ever conducted. For 72 years, researchers at Harvard have been following 824 individuals through war, career, marriage and divorce, parenthood and grandparenthood, and old age. Designer Laura Javier took ten of those cases and visualized them in the Elements of Happiness. [via flowingdata]
"The mind knows not what the tongue wants." We all take variability and niche markets for granted these days, but back in the 70's and 80's, the American food industry was obsessed with the so-called platonic dish - a perfect and universal way to serve a food. Howard Moskowitz, of prego fame, helped explode the idea in the food industry and beyond. In this TED talk, Malcom Gladwell, tells you all about it and why variability matters a lot. [more inside]
L'equip petit - "... if one day I score, I'll be so happy that I'll fly."
Denmark is the happiest place on Earth! At least according to 24/7 Wall Street, which has released their list of the 10 "Happiest" Countries in the World. Determined using "11 measurements of quality of life including housing, income, jobs, community, education, the environment, health, work-life balance, and life satisfaction," the United States did not make the cut. The US, however, made it to #1 on the list of the 10 Countries with the Most Millionaires. [more inside]
One of the best things you can do to increase your happiness is to move closer to where you work. [Previously]
Recent research on children. (1) Brothers and sisters who argue a lot can improve their language, social skills and outcomes: Guardian article; paper on part of the research (pdf). (2) First findings from Understanding Society. Conclusions include: the unhappiness of children’s mothers with their partners affect children’s happiness, but this is not the case if children’s fathers are unhappy in their relationships; having older brothers or sisters doesn’t appear to affect children’s happiness, but having younger brothers or sisters is associated with less happiness; not living with both natural parents has a greater negative impact on a young person’s life satisfaction than their material situation. (3) A longitudinal study on people now in their forties has found that for these people reading is linked to career success, though not necessarily to better pay, whilst playing computer games and doing no other activities was associated with less likelihood of going to university. In particular, those who owned a ZX Spectrum or Commodore C64 were less likely to go to university. thinq interview with researcher. Guardian article. Telegraph article. (4) Poll about children’s attitudes to losing in sport. Press release. Data from children’s survey. Data from parents’ survey. (All three are PDFs.)
Life after Capitalism - Beyond capitalism, it seems, stretches a vista of... capitalism: [more inside]
"Affluence breeds impatience, and impatience undermines well-being." Avner Offer is the professor of economic history at the University of Oxford, and he is interested in the well-being of people and families in liberal market societies. His latest work, The Challenge of Affluence: Self-Control and Well-Being in the United States and Britain since 1950, is an empirical socioeconomic history of the effects that liberal and neo-liberal economics has had on happiness, relationships, and social welfare. Specifically, he argues that Reaganism/Thatcherism catapulted forward the ability to produce new goods and services, and to create the desire for them, far ahead of society's ability to cope. Reagan and Thatcher "smashed the family to pieces;" the result of market liberalism is societies of ever-more dissatisfied, atomized, unhappy communities of dual-worker consumerist families.
New evidence of religion's reproductive, cooperative, and personal benefits militates against the belief that religion is a "virus of the mind." [more inside]
"We infer that beyond about $75,000/y, there is no improvement whatever in any of the three measures of emotional well-being." Two social scientists at Princeton, Angus Deaton and Nobelist Daniel Kahneman, have a new paper in PNAS about money and the determinants of happiness. Increased income above $75,000 is not associated with higher subjective happiness, though it is associated with superior scores on measures of overall life satisfaction. Other tidbits: "Religion has a substantial influence on improving positive affect and reducing reports of stress, but no effect on reducing sadness or worry... The presence of children at home is associated with significant increases in stress, sadness, and worry."
On money and happiness Takeaway: buying stuff doesn't make you happier, although investing in experiences that strengthen social and familial bonds can. Interestingness: savings increased to 6.5% this year and some experts think this is permanent; conspicuous consumption is shifting to calculated consumption; “There’s massive literature on income and happiness. It’s amazing how little there is on how to spend your money.” [more inside]
On Self-Delusion and Bounded Rationality A short story by M.I.T. faculty member Scott Aaronson about a woman whose rationality got in the way of her happiness. [more inside]