Photo: Flickr/lululemon athletica
Here are a bunch of quick facts about happiness and life success that you probably had no idea about, but probably should.Many of these tips may seem counterintuitive, but rest assured that their backed up by data and scientific studies.
Whatever your gift philosophy, you may be thinking that you would be happier if you could just spend the money on yourself -- but according to a three-part study by Elizabeth Dunn, Lara Aknin, and Michael Norton, givers can get more happiness than people who spend the money on themselves.
Liz, Lara and Mike approached the study from the perspective that happiness is less dependent on stable circumstances (income) and more on the day-to-day activities in which a person chooses to engage (gift-giving vs. personal purchases).
To that end, they surveyed a representative sample of 632 Americans on their spending choices and happiness levels and found that while the amount of personal spending (bills included) was unrelated to reported happiness, prosocial spending was associated with significantly higher happiness.
Our research is simply about documenting a fact: since the 1970's, women's self-reported happiness has fallen, relative to that of men. This seems paradoxical, given the tremendous strides made by the women's movement. We report this fact, test that it is a robust finding, and suggest that future research may help sort out whether it reflects how the women's movement affected women's hedonic state; whether it reflects the differential impact on women of some broader social trend; or if instead it is telling us something about the (un)reliability of happiness data.
Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert:
Some of the things Grandma told you were exactly right. Find a nice boy, settle down: good advice. It turns out marriage is a cause of happiness. Grandma might have told you to find a good job and make some money. That advice is not terrible advice. More money makes you happy, but it doesn't do a whole lot for you, and once you're in the middle class, more money does very little. The last piece of advice grandmothers give is children. There are virtually no studies demonstrating a positive correlation between children and happiness, and most studies show a small negative correlation. By and large, people with children are less happy.
The Atlantic Monthly reports that Facebook is keeping tabs on the national mood via its Gross National Happiness Index. It 'counts the number of 'positive' and 'negative' words used in each status update, converts them to percentages, finds average percents based on all users that day, then subtracts the 'negative per cent' from the 'positive per cent' to get a value for the y axis--but the results are clear: Weekends and holidays are better than midweek, and Mother's Day and Father's Day '09 recorded more happiness than '08 (probably because more celebrating mums and dads had Facebook pages in '09.) And the bottom line: Despite a deepening recession and prolonged wars, Americans seemed to be happier in 2009 than 2008.'
In my essay on social networks and research of Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, I describe a few of the striking medical effects produced by social networks:
By studying Framingham as an interconnected network rather than a mass of individuals, Christakis and Fowler made a remarkable discovery: Obesity spread like a virus. Weight gain had a stunning infection rate. If one person became obese, the likelihood that his friend would follow suit increased by 171 per cent. (This means that the network is far more predictive of obesity than the presence of genes associated with the condition.)
A similar pattern appears when the researchers looked at the spread of smoking, loneliness and happiness. In each instance, the social network appeared to be a major causal factor, determining whether or not someone was able to quite cigarettes or experience lasting happiness. The reality, then, appears straightforward: our friends strongly shape our behaviour. We imagine ourselves as individuals, responsible for our own choices and emotions, but that sense of independence is a romantic myth. There is no wall between people.
'Hope is an important part of happiness,' said Peter A. Ubel, M.D., director of the U-M centre for behavioural and Decision Sciences in Medicine and one of the authors of the happily hopeless study, 'but there's a dark side of hope. Sometimes, if hope makes people put off getting on with their life, it can get in the way of happiness.'
The results showed that people do not adapt well to situations if they are believed to be short-term.
Contrary to previous research, the study found that people who engage in behaviours that increase competency, for example at work, school or the gym, experience decreased happiness in the moment, lower levels of enjoyment and higher levels of momentary stress. Despite the negative effects felt on an hourly basis, participants reported that these same activities made them feel happy and satisfied when they looked back on their day as a whole. This surprising find suggests that in the process of becoming proficient at something, individuals may need to endure temporary stress to reap the happiness benefits associated with increased competency.
People paid by the hour exhibit a stronger relationship between income and happiness, according to a study published in the current issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (PSPB), the official journal of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.
Researchers explored the relationship between income and happiness by focusing on the organizational arrangements that make the connection between time and money. They found that the way in which an employee is paid is tied to their feeling of happiness.
The researchers theorize that hourly wage-earners focus more attention on their pay than those who earn a salary. That concrete, consistent focus on the worth of the employee's time in each paycheck influences the level of happiness the employee feels.
You have to earn 2.5x as much money to be as happy working for someone else as you would be working for yourself
This is consistent with the one undisputed finding in all the research on entrepreneurship: people who work for themselves are far happier than the rest of us. Shane says that the average person would have to earn two and a half times as much to be as happy working for someone else as he would be working for himself.
The relative income or income status hypothesis implies that people should be happier when they live among the poor. Findings on neighbourhood effects suggest, however, that living in a poorer neighbourhood reduces, not enhances, a person's happiness. Using data from the American National Election Study linked to income data from the U.S. census, the authors find that Americans tend to be happier when they reside in richer neighborhoods (consistent with neighbourhood studies) in poorer counties (as predicted by the relative income hypothesis). Thus it appears that individuals in fact are happier when they live among the poor, as long as the poor do not live too close.
Source: 'Does Your neighbour's Income Affect Your Happiness?' from 'American Journal of Sociology'
In this research, we drew on system-justification theory and the notion that conservative ideology serves a palliative function to explain why conservatives are happier than liberals. Specifically, in three studies using nationally representative data from the United States and nine additional countries, we found that right-wing (vs. left-wing) orientation is indeed associated with greater subjective well-being and that the relation between political orientation and subjective well-being is mediated by the rationalization of inequality. In our third study, we found that increasing economic inequality (as measured by the Gini index) from 1974 to 2004 has exacerbated the happiness gap between liberals and conservatives, apparently because conservatives (more than liberals) possess an ideological buffer against the negative hedonic effects of economic inequality.
Source: 'Why Are Conservatives Happier Than Liberals?' from 'Psychological Science'
Tim Harford explains why here:
Three economists, Cahit Guven, Claudia Senik and Holger Stichnoth, have shown that romantic partners tend to be equally happy when they get together. Worse, the same researchers also show that when one partner is much happier than the other, trouble is often in store. A happiness gap in any given year is correlated with an increased probability of separation in the subsequent year.
Most of us have genes that make us as hardy as dandelions: able to take root and survive almost anywhere. A few of us, however, are more like the orchid: fragile and fickle, but capable of blooming spectacularly if given greenhouse care. So holds a provocative new theory of genetics, which asserts that the very genes that give us the most trouble as a species, causing behaviours that are self-destructive and antisocial, also underlie humankind's phenomenal adaptability and evolutionary success. With a bad environment and poor parenting, orchid children can end up depressed, drug-addicted, or in jail--but with the right environment and good parenting, they can grow up to be society's most creative, successful, and happy people.
For sports fans watching their favourite team play, the greatest enjoyment comes only with a strong dollop of fear and maybe even near-despair, a new study suggests.
Researchers studied fans of two college football teams as they watched the teams' annual rivalry game on television.
They found that fans of the winning team who, at some point during the game, were almost certain their team would lose, ended up thinking the game was the most thrilling and suspenseful.
'You don't want to be in a great mood during the whole game if you really want to enjoy it,' said Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, co-author of the study and associate professor of communication at Ohio State University.
'We found that negative emotions play a key role in how much we enjoy sports.'
Physical appearance plays a crucial role in shaping new relationships, but does it continue to affect established relationships, such as marriage?
In the current study, the authors examined how observer ratings of each spouse's facial attractiveness and the difference between those ratings were associated with (a) observations of social support behaviour and (b) reports of marital satisfaction. In contrast to the robust and almost universally positive effects of levels of attractiveness on new relationships, the only association between levels of attractiveness and the outcomes of these marriages was that attractive husbands were less satisfied. Further, in contrast to the importance of matched attractiveness to new relationships, similarity in attractiveness was unrelated to spouses' satisfaction and behaviour. Instead, the relative difference between partners' levels of attractiveness appeared to be most important in predicting marital behaviour, such that both spouses behaved more positively in relationships in which wives were more attractive than their husbands, but they behaved more negatively in relationships in which husbands were more attractive than their wives. These results highlight the importance of dyadic examinations of the effects of spouses' qualities on their marriages.
Source: Beyond initial attraction: Physical attractiveness in newlywed marriage. By McNulty, James K.; Neff, Lisa A.; Karney, Benjamin R. Journal of Family Psychology. Vol 22(1), Feb 2008, 135-143.
In recent studies of heterosexual couples in their first few years of marriage, researchers learned that too much support is harder on a marriage than not enough. When it comes to marital satisfaction, both partners are happier if husbands receive the right type of support, and if wives ask for support when they need it.
The findings illustrate the need for couples to understand the various ways they can be supportive, and the importance of communicating what they need and when, said Erika Lawrence, associate professor of psychology in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
'The idea that simply being more supportive is better for your marriage is a myth,' Lawrence said. 'Often husbands and wives think, 'If my partner really knows me and loves me, he or she will know I'm upset and will know how to help me.' However, that's not the best way to approach your marriage. Your partner shouldn't have to be a mind reader. Couples will be happier if they learn how to say, 'This is how I'm feeling, and this is how you can help me.''
A study shows that because gamers frequently 'resolve threats' during game play they would experience fewer 'threat severity variables' in their dreams. That's right: blowing away zombies and defending the USA on your Xbox could mean fewer nightmares:
Revonsuo proposes an evolutionary theory of dreaming in which dreams allow an individual to prepare for real world threats in the safety of the virtual setting of the dream world. Based upon previous work examining the dreams of video game players, it was hypothesized that high-end gamers would experience fewer threat simulation dreams because of frequent threat resolution rehearsal during game play. Subjects were asked to report a night before dream and fill out surveys regarding their gaming history, media use, and dream experiences. Using a factor analysis, support for the main hypothesis was found. Individuals with a history of game play experienced fewer threat severity variables in their dreams.
Source: The relationship between video game play and threat simulation dreams. from Dreaming - Vol 19, Iss 4 by Gackenbach, Jayne; Kuruvilla, Beena
(According to) Andrews and Thomson, depression alters thinking and behaviour in beneficial ways. For instance:
*People in the grip of depression tend to ruminate, to turn an issue over and over in the mind. If they're ruminating on why they can't get a date, that might seem bad--since it keeps the person depressed. But this way of thinking, note the scientists, is 'often highly analytical.' That can be useful, producing solutions to what tipped the person into depression in the first place, not to mention 'Eureka!' moments such as discovering fire. Evidence: people who felt depressed before tackling challenging maths problems tend to score higher than happier test-takers, Andrews and Thomson reported in a 2007 study.
*Depression tends to focus thinking. That 5HT1A receptor, it turns out, also supplies neurons with fuel, allowing them to fire without flagging. That includes neurons in the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, which have to fire continuously to keep the mind from wandering. (It's an attention circuit.) Focused thinking, like analytical thinking, might help someone overcome depression.
Florida State University professor Roy Baumeister had college students play a video game, and they did really well. Then a grad-student confederate would enter the room and give the players a compliment. Immediately, they lost the game. They stopped paying attention to the game; they were too focused on the person assessing their performance.
Researchers have found that people are sometimes happier and more effective when they do a task for no money at all than when they receive a small payment. If someone offers a good Samaritan $5 for helping with a flat tire, then he starts thinking about the actual market rate for tire-changing, so a fiver is now insufficient--when a minute ago, he'd have been perfectly content with $0.
In those classic rat-maze experiments, rats didn't keep improving as the incentives increased (i.e., the electric shocks got stronger). Instead, their progress was more of an inverse U. For a while, escalating the shock stakes did catalyze success. However, after a certain point, increasing them even further only backfired; their performance worsened.
- Lucky people tend to see the positive side of their ill fortune. They imagine how things could have been worse. In one interview, a lucky volunteer arrived with his leg in a plaster cast and described how he had fallen down a flight of stairs. I asked him whether he still felt lucky and he cheerfully explained that he felt luckier than before. As he pointed out, he could have broken his neck.
The problem with optimism is that it's blatantly incorrect: we aren't all above average in everything, things do not always get better, and we can't always get what we want. The problem with realism is that by itself it is depressing, a demotivator that does not elevate.
Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All of these things have come upon them through ignorance of real good and ill... I can neither be harmed by any of them, for no man will involve me in wrong, nor can I be angry with my kinsman or hate him; for we have come into the world to work together
Now, this at first seems rather banal: don't sweat mean people. But this is actually quite important, because frustrations with people, not nature, causes most of our grief. Most of what causes people angst are not exogenous constraints of no one's fault, but rather, when people do things that seemingly are intended to harm you: someone cuts you off in traffic, privately belittles your contributions to colleagues. recognise there are things you can control, and those you can't, and this include other people's actions: learn the difference, and don't worry about things you can't control (aka the Serenity Prayer).
You may wonder about your ability to deal with extreme adversity -- or even extremely positive events. Turns out we can usually anticipate major events and quickly adapt. Chances are, you'll be fine:
This paper addresses the question of when and to what extent individuals are affected by major positive and negative life events, including changes in financial situation, marital status, death of child or spouse and being a victim of crime. The key advantage of our data is that we are able to identify these events on a quarterly basis rather than on the yearly basis used by previous studies. We find evidence that life events are not randomly distributed, that individuals to a large extent anticipate major events and that they quickly adapt. These effects have important implications for the calculation of monetary values needed to compensate individuals for life events such as crime or death of spouse. We find that our new valuation methodology that incorporates these dynamic factors produces considerably smaller compensation valuations than those calculated using the standard approach.
Source: 'Happiness Dynamics with Quarterly Life Event Data' from Social Norms and Social Capital
Pace of life was fastest in Japan, Europe and cold, rich, individualistic countries -- and they did have greater subjective well-being. They also smoked more and had more heart attacks. Can't have it all, I guess:
This study compared the pace of life in large cities from 31countries around the world. Three indicators of pace of life were observed: average walking speed in downtown locations,the speed with which postal clerks completed a simple request(work speed), and the accuracy of public clocks. Overall, pace of life was fastest in Japan and the countries of Western Europe and was slowest in economically undeveloped countries. The pace was significantly faster in colder climates, economically productive countries, and in individualistic cultures. Faster places also tended to have higher rates of death from coronary heart disease,higher smoking rates, and greater subjective well-being. Discussion focuses on how the pace of life is intertwined with the social-psychological and community characteristics of a culture, and the central role of pace of life in defining the personality of a place and its people.
Source: The Pace of Life in 31 Countries Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, Vol. 30, No. 2, 178-205 (1999)
Should a man be happier than his wife? Not if he wants to stay married:
This paper asks whether the gap in subjective happiness between spouses matters per se, i.e. whether it predicts divorce. We use three panel databases to explore this question. Controlling for the level of life satisfaction of spouses, we find that a higher satisfaction gap, even in the first year of marriage, increases the likelihood of a future separation. We interpret this as the effect of comparisons of well-being between spouses, i.e. aversion to unequal sharing of well being inside couples. To our knowledge, this effect has never been taken into account by existing economic models of the household. The relation between happiness gaps and divorce may be due to the fact that couples which are unable to transfer utility are more at risk than others. It may also be the case that associative mating in terms of happiness baseline-level reduces the risk of separation. However, we show that assortative mating is not the end of the story. First, our results hold in fixed-effects estimates that take away the effect of the initial quality of the match between spouses: fixed-effects estimates suggest that a widening of the happiness gap over time raises the risk of separation. Second, we uncover an asymmetry in the effect of happiness gaps: couples are more likely to break-up when the difference in life satisfaction is unfavorable to the wife. The information available in the Australian survey reveals that divorces are indeed predominantly initiated by women, and importantly, by women who are unhappier than their husband. Hence, happiness gaps seem to matter to spouses, not only because they reflect a mismatch in terms of baseline happiness, but because they matter as such.
Source: 'You Can't Be Happier than Your Wife: Happiness Gaps and Divorce' from 'Social Norms and Social Capital'
Does social exclusion literally feel cold? Seems like there's a natural association between the two:
Metaphors such as icy stare depict social exclusion using cold-related concepts; they are not to be taken literally and certainly do not imply reduced temperature. Two experiments, however, revealed that social exclusion literally feels cold. Experiment 1 found that participants who recalled a social exclusion experience gave lower estimates of room temperature than did participants who recalled an inclusion experience. In Experiment 2, social exclusion was directly induced through an on-line virtual interaction, and participants who were excluded reported greater desire for warm food and drink than did participants who were included. These findings are consistent with the embodied view of cognition and support the notion that social perception involves physical and perceptual content. The psychological experience of coldness not only aids understanding of social interaction, but also is an integral part of the experience of social exclusion.
Source: 'Cold and Lonely: Does Social Exclusion Literally Feel Cold?' Chen-Bo Zhong. 2008; Psychological Science
Turns out merely being nostalgic has notable affects on making you feel less lonely:
Four studies tested whether nostalgia can counteract reductions in perceived social support caused by loneliness. Loneliness reduced perceptions of social support but increased nostalgia. Nostalgia, in turn, increased perceptions of social support. Thus, loneliness affected perceived social support in two distinct ways. Whereas the direct effect of loneliness was to reduce perceived social support, the indirect effect of loneliness was to increase perceived social support via nostalgia. This restorative function of nostalgia was particularly apparent among resilient persons. Nostalgia is a psychological resource that protects and fosters mental health.
Source: 'Counteracting Loneliness: On the Restorative Function of Nostalgia' in the journal 'Psychological Science'
Believe it or not, it's interruption:
Six studies demonstrate that interrupting a consumption experience can make pleasant experiences more enjoyable and unpleasant experiences more irritating, even though consumers avoid breaks in pleasant experiences and choose breaks in unpleasant experiences. Across a variety of hedonic experiences (e.g., listening to noises or songs, sitting in a massage chair), the authors observe that breaks disrupt hedonic adaptation and, as a result, intensify the subsequent experience.
Source: 'Interrupted Consumption: Disrupting Adaptation to Hedonic Experiences' from the Journal of Marketing Research
Social, yes. Small talk, no:
...happy people spend significantly more time talking to others in general; dissatisfied people spend much more time alone. That's not so surprising in itself, but happy people also engage in much less small talk--roughly a third as much--and have about twice as many meaty conversations.
Source is Full Frontal Psychology.
The tricky part can be talking that much about subjects that are meaty and not getting into arguments. I find there are a lot of environments today where meaty subjects just aren't welcome.
This experiment found that the speed of thought affects mood. Thought speed was manipulated via participants' paced reading of statements designed to induce either an elated or a depressed mood. Participants not only experienced more positive mood in response to elation than in response to depression statements, but also experienced an independent increase in positive mood when they had been thinking fast rather than slow--for both elation and depression statements. This effect of thought speed extended beyond mood to other experiences often associated with mania (i.e., feelings of power, feelings of creativity, a heightened sense of energy, and inflated self-esteem or grandiosity).
Source: Manic Thinking, Independent Effects of Thought Speed and Thought Content on Mood' from 'Psychological Science'
The old saw is true: 'What you have makes you happy. What you want makes you unhappy.':
A specially designed household survey for rural China is used to analyse the determinants of aspirations for income, proxied by reported minimum income need, and the determinants of subjective well-being, both satisfaction with life and satisfaction with income. It is found that aspiration income is a positive function of actual income and reference income, and that subjective well-being is raised by actual income but lowered by aspiration income. These findings suggests the existence of a partial hedonic treadmill, and can help to explain why subjective well-being in China appears not to have risen despite rapid economic growth.
Source: 'Income, Aspirations and the Hedonic Treadmill in a Poor Society' from University of Oxford, Department of Economics, Economics Series Working Papers #468.
Stick stuff in a box. No, I'm not kidding:
This research investigates whether the physical act of enclosing an emotionally laden stimulus can help alleviate the associated negative emotions. Four experiments found support for this claim. Using recalled negative experiences such as regretted past-decisions and unsatisfied strong desires, we showed in Experiments 1A and 1B that emotional negativity was reduced for participants who placed a written recollection of such experiences inside an envelope. However, enclosing a stimulus unrelated to the emotional experience did not have the same effect (Experiment 2). In Experiment 3, we showed that the effect were not driven by participants simply doing something extra with the materials, and that the effect of physical enclosure was mediated by the psychological closure that participants felt towards the event.
Source: 'Sealing the Emotions Genie: The Effects of Physical Enclosure on Psychological Closure', soon to be published in Psychological Science
The current meta-analysis examined the relationship between job satisfaction and subjective well-being (SWB). Consistent with the spillover hypothesis, we found positive relationships between job satisfaction and life satisfaction, happiness, positive affect, and the absence of negative affect. In addition, an examination of longitudinal studies suggested that the causal relationship from SWB to job satisfaction was stronger than the causal relationship from job satisfaction to SWB.
Source: 'A meta-analytic examination of the relationship between job satisfaction and subjective well-being' from Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology