Archive for the ‘Lifestyle’ Category

Life Advice

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Here is my summary of a collection of advice I ran across for people who are struggling in life:

Your solutions are shaped by your specific problems.  You might start with something like the Mooney Problem Check List (Personality Tests), see where your problem areas are, and work from there.

Follow the advice you would give to a good friend.  Or pick someone you really admire, who shows good judgment.  And ask, “What would they do?”  Only listen to those you have good reason to trust.

Keep it real.  You need to be honest with yourself about your motives and the situation.  You value something to extent you are willing to sacrifice for it.  Don’t rationalize and play word or mind games with yourself.  Recognize what’s bothering you and name it.  Try to see the whole picture: the evidence, the logic, and your feelings as they relate to the problem.  “Reason means truth, and those who are not governed by it take the chance that someday the sunken fact will rip the bottom out of their boat.” ~Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Don’t catastrophize. Ask yourself, “How important will this be one year from now?”  Don’t be afraid of something more than it is due. Sometimes it’s best to face your fears.  For example, one way to deal with panic attacks is to get in a safe situation, deliberately initiate one, make it as intense as possible, encouraging it to kill you, and let it burn itself out over the course of an hour or so.

You have to set priorities, make tradeoffs, adjust to life’s limitations, and accept imperfectionsBe flexible, opportunistic, and creative in pursuing the means towards your ends.  When setting goals make them reasonableMeasure your progress; you will pay attention to what you measure.  One of the strongest predictors of success is being able to delay gratification. Create/choose a helpful environment.

Don’t make excuses to be a jerk. It’s counterproductive because people won’t put up with it, and besides it won’t help you solve your problem.  Don’t whineFlush the guilt about a failure, and do something useful.  Control the controllablesDon’t procrastinate.  Learn and teach others.  Do be gratefulSee the humor and beauty in lifeChallenges are necessary, they keep us from going crazy from boredom.

Don’t worry, but do plan and problem solve. If you have a problem you have several options: You can try to fix it by confronting it rationally.  Can you at least mitigate the situation?  If you can’t fix or mitigate the problem then you can try to ignore it.  In that case try to change the topic, and then do something else that’s productive.   You can also try to disown it, “That’s what father believes, but I don’t.”   Sometimes doing nothing can be better than doing something.  Sometimes it’s best to cut your losses and retreat from a problem, while sometimes it’s best to confront it.  Knowing which to do and when is not always simple, and is one of the main reasons life can’t be reduced to a simple set of rules.  So, there is no substitute for rationality, and really knowing what you are talking about. Problem solving involves such things as the intelligent application and understanding of plans, probabilities, appropriate risk taking (and accepting the mistakes you will make), persistence, diminishing returns, and a whole lot of domain specific knowledge.

You have to learn to negotiate and compromise, observe and set appropriate boundaries, disagree agreeably, give appropriate credit, and the art of forgiveness. Learn the rules of etiquette, humility, how to be a good team player, how to show respect, how to value and appreciate others.  Love is dependable, helpful, and compassionate.  You should practice the golden rule within an appropriate circle of concern.  Not everyone is good, so flush toxic people.  Adult relationships are between equals; otherwise they might very well involve unfair manipulation.  Platonic love across the genders is not a myth.  Actions and plans are a balance of thought, action, and emotion; which create reflection, involvement, and warmth.  Your actions should reflect your core values directed by reason.  Sometimes you just have to laugh and accept the embarrassments of life.  To have mature love it is necessary to share deeper thoughts and mutual beliefs.  Ignore the bling; everyone is ordinary in most ways.

To have a community you need shared values, understandings, rules, a sense of identity, and a sense of shared history.  (See also: The Uplift Program for Happiness - Lost Wanderer) You have to conform to some degree to belong to a community, so fit in and be ordinary in a healthy community.  People need to be dedicated to something larger than themselves.  Spirituality helps happiness.  The other choices are believing in ridiculous chance, or depressing determinism.  Meaning generates energy.  The gratifications of being part of a healthy community for most people exceed the pleasures of power, hedonism, popularity, and money.  Although money can help a lot, you can’t simply buy happiness off the shelf.  A person’s commitment to the communal welfare can even trump status, health, and safety.  The importance of community is shown by the fact that many of the greatest fears people have are socially related: isolation, bereavement, betrayal, disgrace.  Mental health doesn’t come from reading a book, but from practice and habit within a healthy community.

Guess positive if you don’t know. For example, imagine that you estimate there is an 80% chance you will all die even if you are all positive about a situation.  And you also estimate that there is a 100% chance you will all die if you aren’t.  Which do you choose?  Make the best out of whatever happens - make lemonade.   Use your thoughts and actions to train your feelings and habits, which then shape your values, which then shape your thoughts and actions….

There are many traps people fall into: Drugs are reinforcement traps, so is being co-dependent.  Practice good health and hygiene.  Be careful when inferring motives from behavior, don’t assume bad intentions or strategic interference unless you have confirmed it.  If you are over-controlled you might become compulsive.  If you are under-controlled you might be histrionic.  You can stupidly rebel for its own sake.  You can chronically argue, and be a know it all.  You can be closed minded and dogmatic, or be a doormat.  Don’t just react to some wrong (or wrong idea) in a simple mirror-like fashion, but react thoughtfully, at a time and in a manner of your own choosing.

Happiness and Gender Differences

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Women start out happier than men, but end up less happy in later life, partly because they are less able to achieve their life goals.  The areas of family and finances help explain this.  Men are less happy in their 20′s, because their financial situation falls farther short of their aspirations, and they are likely to be single.  As men age they are more likely to be married than women, and this marriage gap widens with age.  So in their later years they are more likely to be satisfied with their family lives.  Also in later life men generally come closer to meeting their financial and status goals.  After age 48 men’s average overall happiness exceeds women’s.  (New Research Finds Gender Differences In Happiness – Medical News Today)   Researcher Todd Kashdan says that if he had to name three factors that are essential for happiness and meaning they would be meaningful relationships, gratitude, and living in the present with openness and curiosity.  He also speculates that since men are taught to control their softer emotions they might be limiting their happiness. (Key to Happiness is Gratitude, and Men May be Locked Out – Science Daily)

Happiness and Work

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

All other things being equal, the more enjoyable a job is the less it will pay.  So, of course, the worst paying jobs in 2010 involved activities that many people would enjoy.  These jobs involved kids and family, art and music, food, religion, sports, and nature.  The converse of this is that if a job is distasteful it will pay more, and if it involves doing things most people can’t do, so much the better.  So naturally the best paying jobs were all in technical fields involving lots of math. (20 Worst-Paying College Degrees in 2010 and Top 20 Best-Paying College Degrees in 2010

People who find meaning, purpose in their work are healthier, happier, and more productive.  Meaning and purpose involve such things as being of service, a sense of community, and/or a sense of appreciation of people. (Spirit At Work – Secret To Workplace Happiness? – Medical News Today)  The happiest workers are often in professions that involve teaching, care-giving, protecting, and creative pursuits.  For example, ministers live out their convictions by doing meaningful work, and have status within a community that shares their faith. (Looking for Satisfaction and Happiness in a Career?  Start by Choosing a Job that Helps Others – Science Daily)  Weak social ties at work increase the risk of burning-out. (Weak social ties at workplace increase risk of burn-out - Physorg). 

The Work Happy Now blog by Karl Staib is all about how to find work you will be happy doing.  His entries discuss such topics as having confidence and taking risks (What is the Underlying Theme in Most Careers?), what makes a career fulfilling (How to Find Career Fulfillment by Joe Wilner), and the importance of having a good attitude (Your Attitude and How it Affects Your Career).  Here is the collection of entries by him that all are tagged under “happiness.”  This selection of articles covers such topics as tracking your moods, problem solving, getting a happiness coach, connecting with nature, connecting with people you like, being grateful, giving back, and using failures as steps to success.  In his collection tagged “emotional intelligence” he discusses such topics as mind training, celebrating your mistakes, and recommends the book “Personal Development for Smart People” by Steve Pavlina.

When you are paid by the hour, your pay will be more salient as a measure of your worth, and therefore there will be a stronger correlation between your income and your happiness.  (Hourly Employees Happier than Salaried – Medical News Today)

The Grant Study

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

The Grant Study is a longitudinal study that has been following the mental and physical health of a cohort of 268 male Harvard students since the 1930′s.  The researchers seem to take a somewhat psychoanalytic-like view in modeling how people respond to life’s problems, (1) and they argue that much of what determines a person’s happiness isn’t necessarily how much trouble a person has, but often it’s which coping mechanisms they use in responding to itPeople’s coping mechanisms can be rank ordered, starting with the unhealthiest:  The least functional responses to problems are the psychotic adaptations: paranoia, hallucination, or megalomania.  Next up the ladder are the immature adaptations: acting out, passive aggression, hypochondria, projection, and fantasy. (Using drugs, alcohol (excessively), and isolating oneself probably fall in this list about here.)  (See also: Delusions as Strategic Deception – Lost Wanderer)  The third healthiest are the neurotic defenses: intellectualization (which they describe as, “mutating the primal stuff of life into objects of formal thought”), dissociation (intense, often brief, removal from one’s feelings); and repression (which can involve seemingly inexplicable naïveté, memory lapse, or failure to acknowledge input). The healthiest responses include: helping others, humor, realistic problem solving (such as planning ahead), ignoring the problem until you have some way of productively dealing with it, and channeling your energies into other ends (e.g. aggression into sports).  Researchers have found that people can change significantly over time, so looking at a person at one time in their life can be very misleading.  As adolescents the participants mostly utilized immature defenses, but by middle age they were four times as likely to use the mature ones.

Our understanding of the factors that lead to successful ageing and happiness are often shallow, because researchers often don’t know the reason a given variable correlates with happiness.  Having said that, this study has found that there were a number of major factors that predict healthy physical and mental aging: using the mature adaptations, education, a stable marriage, not being depressed or pessimistic, not smoking, not abusing alcohol, some exercise (regular exercise in college predicted mental health in later life), and maintaining a healthy weightMoney helps to a point, marriage and spirituality also help.  The risk factors for healthy life adjustment change over time, and it turns out that, surprisingly, a number of factors didn’t matter much (if at all) for health in late life: cholesterol at age 50, social ease in college, and childhood temperament.  The researchers argue that social aptitude, not IQ or social class, is what leads to successful aging. (2)  Good relationships are absolutely key.  Also, good sibling relationships when young are very powerful predictors of good adjustment in old age.  If you are born poor, industriousness in childhood predicts good adult mental health.  The authors argue that this implies that what we do affects how we feel, as much as our feelings affect what we do.  Being born into a lower class apparently does have at least one advantage.  It turns out while lower status men were more likely to become alcoholics; they were also more likely to recover from their alcoholism.  This is because recovering requires hitting bottom, and this means not having the resources available to be able to deny your situation.  The researchers also point out that the positive emotions, e.g. love, are much of what make life worth living, but they do have a down side since they expose people to the possibility of rejection.  (What Makes us Happy? – The Atlantic)  

(1) Many of the ideas Freud is given credit for are actually plagiarized from others.  From a previous post, Freudian Psychology is Horsesh*t – Lost Wanderer, readers will know that I hold Freud in utter contempt as a charlatan.  So I am assuming that if these purported psychological mechanisms do have any real merit they probably didn’t originate with Freud.

(2) I do not believe this claim, especially in regards to IQ.  In terms of both social class and IQ they are dealing with a range restricted population, which would tend to reduce the effects of these variables.  This claim also directly contradicts a number of other results I have run across.  (See: SES Status, Health, and the IQ Connection – Lost Wanderer)

Happiness and Marriage

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

It’s very likely you won’t achieve perfection in a relationship, but you want to do as well as possible.  So you need to take into account your own needs, and then set priorities concerning what qualities in a potential mate are optional, and which are essential.  As we go through life we learn who we are as we interact with others, in both romantic and non-romantic relationships, and at least cut down on making the mistake of eliminating candidates on the basis of superficial factors.  Experts advise you to narrow your list to about three non-negotiable demands.  Some typical categories people tend to choose include: You should be compatible in living styles and how you generally think (e.g. emotionally or rationally).  An adequate level of sexual attraction is important, but it doesn’t have to be at a level 10.  Don’t demand incongruent things, such as demanding someone who is both a high earning work-alcoholic, but who should spend a lot of time at home with you.  Respect and mutual admiration helps a lot.  Finally, you should listen to your gut, and, even if your checklist says yes, if your gut says no, be very careful.  (The ‘Good Enough’ Marriage – WebMD) 

Larson and Holman conclude that premarital predictors of success include such factors as family of origin, education, race, support from family and friends, physical and emotional health, similarity in status, race, and religion; similarity of values and attitudes, conflict resolution skills, and communication skills.  For those planning marriage Larson, et al. reviews three well validated tools that have been developed for predicting marital success: PREPARE, FOCCUS, and RELATE. (1)  PREPARE’s inventory has scales for such things as: expectations, personality issues, communication, financial management, sexual relationship, conflict resolution, leisure activities, children and parenting, role relationship, spiritual beliefs, and family and friends.  FOCCUS has 10 separate scales that cover similar ground as PREPARE, including such areas as: life styles, problem-solving skills, values, and money management.  Larson criticizes both PREPARE and FOCCUS for not measuring three variables that are known to help predict marital satisfaction: parental mental illness, similarity of intelligence, and similarity of absolute status.  The RELATE inventory has a survey of eight personality areas (including self-esteem, happiness, calmness, organization, flexibility, emotional maturity, and sociability). It also includes a survey of general values/attitudes (including employment, sexuality, children, religiosity, and marriage roles).  It has a section on partner perceptions of family background (family processes, relationship with father and mother, family stressors, conflict resolution styles, and parental marital satisfaction).  The last section includes communication, relationship satisfaction, relationship stability, conflict resolution style (based on John Gottman’s work, see below), and problem areas (including power, alcohol, drugs, and money problems).  RELATE doesn’t have a measure of absolute status, and there are no remarriage items.  Larson recommends that these instruments be supplemented with a broader personality measure, and self-help materials.  (A review of three comprehensive premarital assessment questionnaires, Predicting Marital Success For Premarital Couple Types Based on Prepare)  Also, at the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy site they discuss these three tools. (This paragraph is a repeat of an earlier post: For those who are Contemplating Marriage – Lost Wanderer)
 
Similarity in personality is one of the most important factors leading to a happy marriage.  Such things as extraversion, conscientiousness, positive and negative emotions, and attachment predict marital satisfaction.  Couples do assortatively marry, and so they are similar on other things such as their attitudes, religion, values, and beliefs, but these factors did not predict marital satisfaction in this particular study.  The researchers speculated that, while other factors are salient, personality factors are more subtle and therefore take much longer to be recognized.  They argue that in a committed relationship, involving regular interaction and coordination, personality factors will either smooth or create conflict. (Do Opposites Attract or do Birds of a Feather Flock Together?  - Science Daily) (2) 
 
Dr. James Murray and Dr. John Gottman teamed up years ago to create their ‘love lab,’ where they record and mathematically analyze the conversations of married couples.  In the love lab couples discuss contentious topics for 15 minutes, which then are coded for such things as the use of humor or contempt.  (As you might expect, contempt is a very bad sign.)  It turns out that the marriage is in good shape if the ratio of positive to negative interactions is 5:1 or greater.  Murray and Gottman claim a 94% success rate at predicting who will divorce. (Love lasts when the maths (sic) is right – News in Science, Mathematician predicts divorce by the numbers, The Gottman Relationship Institute) (This paragraph is largely a repeat of an earlier post: The Math of Love - Lost Wanderer)  
 
Michael W. Fordyce writes that the single best predictor of relationship success is the mental health of both parties prior to the relationship. (Close Relationships are #1 - Human Happiness Its Nature and Attainment) 
 
A wife’s happiness is strongly influenced by: her husband’s emotional commitment to the relationship, his making enough money, and his doing a fair share of the housework (after taking into account his work-related contributions).  (How to Make Your Wife Happy – LiveScienceAnd for a marriage to be stable, both partners need to be equally happy. (You Can’t Be Happier than Your Wife: Happiness Gaps and Divorce)
  
Researchers have found that, especially when in a good quality marriage, if a wife holds her husband’s hands when under stress her brain scans show that she will have a strong decrease in threat-related brain activity.  (High-Quality Marriages Help To Calm Nerves – Medical News Today)    
 
The bad news is that married couples see each other as more irritating the longer they are together.  The good news is the same progression wasn’t found for relationships with friends or children.  The researchers suggest that this pattern is a normal development, which could simply be the result of people being more comfortable, and therefore better able to honestly express themselves. (Marriage: It’s Only Going to Get Worse - LiveScience
 
To be a good husband: Assume equal work and responsibilities.  Appreciate what she does.  Romance is required.  Respect her.  Don’t be overconfident, a bore, or a showoff.  (Summarized from 10 Things Husbands Should Never Do – Shine)
  
In a recent study researchers estimated that increasing your rate of intercourse from once a month to once a week is equivalent to getting a $50,000/year raise.  A lasting marriage is worth $100,000 a year, while a divorce is like losing $66,000 annually.  One qualification regarding these results is that these effects of sex on happiness seem to be greater in highly educated people.  This suggests that they would also be wealthier, and that they might have reached a level of income where diminishing returns for money would have set in.   So at such levels it would take a lot more money to have a significant impact. (Sex Better Than Money for Happiness – WebMD)

People in intimate relationships often are poor at giving each other presents.  There are several reasons for this:  Knowing someone well makes people overconfident, which lead them to put too much weight on prior information while ignoring clues in their present situation.  They also tend to assume their tastes are more similar than they are.  Another part of the problem is affluence, which means that people generally already have everything they really need.  So gifts often have only symbolic or self-identity value.  Since symbolic statements are more subject to interpretation people frequently get them wrong.  (Why Lovers Give Dud Presents – News in Science) 

A happy marriage depends mainly on its day-to-day aspects.  Happy couples often negotiate explicit agreements about such things as who does the dishes, also they communicate in a respectful, considerate way.  (Probing Question: What predicts a happy marriage? - Physorg) (See also: The Uplift Program for Happiness - Lost Wanderer)

Happy couples tend to share a number of characteristics:  They think in terms of “we,” and share a common vision of what kind of life they want, although they also keep a balance between their relationship and individual interests.  They are good friends, are honest and open, know each other well, and support one another by listening and attempting to meet each other’s needs.  They keep working at seducing each other.  They respect each other; don’t try to fundamentally change each other, or to be overly controlling.  They value each other for who they are.  Their relationship is their first family, and together they set common boundaries between themselves and their relatives.  They fight fair, while feeling safe and secure together.  (The 7 Steps to Happily Ever After – WebMD) (See also: Fighting Fair in Relationships - Lost Wanderer)

Like just about everything else worth having, a good marriage requires intelligent focused attention and doing the work of problem solving.  It requires being aware of your partner’s needs and sometimes sacrificing to meet them.  You have to guard against the common problems of temptations, jealously, and not living up to your responsibilities.  A good relationship requires clear and open communication.  You can’t play mind games, such as being passive-aggressive or stonewalling.  You need to make time for just the two of you to interact and engage.  Finally, you have to accept your partner as they are, and don’t expect them to change fundamentally. (Eight Keys to a Happier Marriage – Zenhabits)

(1) Two other instruments that are not discussed, partly because of the lack of evidence for their predictive validity, are The Cleveland Diocese Evaluation for Marriage, and the Premarital Inventory Profile.  
 
(2) I suspect that these researchers aren’t taking into account the problem of restriction of range.  If couples are self-selecting for similar attitudes, religion, values, and beliefs then as a result these factors are less likely to be sources of conflict.  Those remaining factors, which they aren’t able to select as efficiently on, will be the left over residue that will cause a disproportionate number of their later problems.  So it isn’t that such issues as different religions are unimportant.  Such a difference very likely would have caused problems if people hadn’t anticipated this possibility, and obviated it by selecting their partners the way they did.
 

Happiness and Community

Friday, October 15th, 2010

One study found that, of all the variables they looked at, only one type of consumption helps happiness – leisure consumption.  The authors also found that this was partly due to the fact that leisure consumption increased social connectedness and reduced loneliness.  (Does consumption buy happiness? Evidence from the United States - International Review of Economics

Our best and worst experiences in life don’t usually involve individual accomplishments.  Interaction with other people and the fulfillment of social connection generally make up the most important moments of our lives.  Falling in love, making a new friendship, someone dying, or breaking our hearts are the sorts of things that touch people the most deeply. (Research Shows That Our Best And Worst Moments Occur Within Social Relationships – Medical News Today

For communities to exist they have to have rules, and some means of enforcing them.  Even macaques have to have their enforcement mechanisms.  When researchers removed the dominant male macaque police from a group cohesion disintegrated, cliques formed, social networks broke down, and violence escalated.  Meanwhile playing, grooming, and sitting together all decreased. (Monkey Cops Key to Group Happiness – NewScientist)

People who benefit from kindness respond by being more altruistic toward others, and this can result in a positive upward spiral in a community.   This finding suggests that through this mechanism healthy interpersonal networks can drive good behavior.  (Acts of Kindness Spread Surprisingly Easily: Just a Few People Can Make a Difference - ScienceDaily)

Happier people have more frequent and more substantive conversations with others, since deeper conversations create greater meaning and intimacy between people.  (Talking Your Way To Happiness: Well-being Is Related To Having Less Small Talk And More Substantive Conversations – Medical News Today)

Religious people are less anxious. Researchers suggest that this is because it lets you know what the rules are, and when you are doing the right thing.  This way you aren’t as subject to second guessing yourself. You know when you are right with the tribe. (Religious people less anxious, brain activity shows – NewScientist) (I made the same point in a previous post in foot note 23. Happiness – Lost Wanderer)

People who work out in groups produce more endorphins, and researchers suggest that this functions as a natural bonding mechanism.(http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/164265.php)

According to Daniel Kahneman, “Research concludes that “happiness is mainly being satisfied with being with people that we like.” (Highlights from TED 2010, Wednesday: “We can eat to starve cancer” – Boing Boing)

Happiness and Children

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

To improve the odds of being happy it helps for children to be spiritual, have reasonable social skills, to not be bad at sports, and to have been breastfed.  

According to one study children who are “spiritual” are happier, with two aspects of spirituality accounting for most of the effect: a feeling their lives have value and meaning, and having deep good quality relationships.  These two factors accounted for up to 27% of the differences in happiness among children.  On the other hand, religiousness – institutional rituals, practices and beliefs had little effect on happiness.  (Spirituality Is Key To Kids’ Happiness, Study Suggests - Science Daily)  (1)

Researchers have identified some of the main differences between children who are socially accepted and those who are rejected.  To avoid rejection children need to be able to pick up non-verbal and social cues.  Next, they need to be able to understand what they mean.  Finally they need to be able to reason about the situation, engage in problem solving, and respond appropriately.  In short, they need to be able to sense what is going on, decide on a reasonable course of action, and be able to self-regulate such that they can carry out their plan. (Three Key Factors to Help Children Avoid Social Rejection Identified – Science Daily)

Children who are poor at sports are more likely to be sad, isolated, and experience social rejection at school.  (Playground Politics: Lack of Athletic Skill Often Means Loneliness and Peer Rejection – Science Daily)

Even after researchers controlled for children’s education, their family’s level of functioning, their happiness, and their parent’s SES children who were breastfed for six months or longer have a lower risk of mental health problems.  The study followed children up to age 10, and the risk increase ranged from 37% to 61% depending on the child’s age.  The most marked differences showed up in rates of delinquency, aggression, anti-social behavior, depression, anxiety, and social withdrawal.  (Breastfeeding Boost Mental Health, New Research Reveals - Science Daily) (2)

In a recent study Dutch children came out the happiest.  Some of the likely reasons are they live in a highly protective and caring environment, with very open communication with their families.  They also have a lot of freedom.  For example, they can smoke at 16, and legally buy marijuana.  Finally, they are a democratic country, with a very good education system.  (Why are Dutch children so happy? – BBC News

Dr. Halabe Bucay speculates that the chemicals a mother’s or father’s brain generates because of different moods might affect their eggs and sperm.  This could affect the way an offspring’s genes are expressed, and how that child develops. (Can Happiness Be Inherited? - Science Daily)

Finally, from the point of view of the parent’s happiness, whether or not having children increases happiness depends on the situation.  When people are married, ready, and want to have children having them generally improves their lives.  But if they are unmarried or separated having children doesn’t contribute to happiness, and might even reduce it by limiting people’s leisure and social time.  (Married With Children The Key To Happiness? - Science Daily)

(1) As I have written before, I think that spirituality is something that tends to naturally come along with being a member of a healthy community.

(2) I’m always skeptical of breastfeeding studies because of the almost inevitable problem of confounding variables that could fly under the radar.  Mothers who breastfeed, and the fathers who support them, might be different in many ways from those who don’t.  For one example, they might have genes that decrease the likelihood of mental health problems, and also increase the likelihood of breastfeeding.  These genes could be passed on to their offspring, who would therefore likely have better mental health, and the breastfeeding itself would have played no causal role in the outcome.

Happiness and Money

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

Following up on my previous happiness post (Happiness – Lost Wanderer), here is one that takes a closer look at the relationship between money and happiness.  The lessen I take from this post is that money should be seen in terms of the functions it serves.  It is useful as a means, but generally not as an end, in and of itself.  The question to ask then is, “What is this money getting me in terms of those things that do directly relate to happiness?”  If money gets you such things as time with your family and friends, status, a sense of community, warm memories, freedom from worry, and good medical care then it’s probably well spent. (See also: Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence: Revised and Updated for the 21st Century by Vicki Robin et al.) 

Contrary to earlier studies, in one study lottery winners reported overall being happier after winning.  Researchers found winners reported that being able to spend more time with their family contributed more to their happiness than the financial stability, security, and the material possessions the money brought.  (also, after winning a higher percentage of them became married) (Money Can Buy Happiness, Study - Medical News Today)

According to Ed Diener, very happy people are gregarious, self-confident, and have more close friendships.  So if someone is concentrating too heavily on their career, success, and income they actually might be too conscientious about material success, and thereby cost themselves when it comes to relationships and happiness.  (Of course, this reminds me of the character Ebenezer Scrooge.) Don’t Worry, Be Moderately Happy, Research Suggests – Science Daily)

People who give to charity are happier.  (As always, I wonder about the direction of causation here.) (Can Money Buy Happiness? Yes, But Only When Spent On Others – Medical News Today)

One study reports that psychological therapy could be 32 times more cost effective than money at making you happy.  800 (British pounds) of therapy turned out to be equivalent to 25,000 pounds of money at increasing happiness.  (Therapy 32 Times More Cost Effective At Increasing Happiness Than Money – Medical News Today) Psychological Therapy 32 Times More Cost Effective at Increasing Happiness Than Money – Science Daily)

When a person buys experiences instead of buying products they tend to be happier over time.  This is both because of selective memory, and also the subjective nature of experience.  With something like a vacation it is hard to line up and directly compare it to other experiences.  Also, people tend to selectively remember the best parts of it, so over time it gets better.  On the other hand, physical objects can be more easily compared, and this often can promote second guessing leading to later regrets.  (Shopping For Happiness? Get A Massage, Forget The Flat-Screen TV – Medical News Today)

Once people are above a certain level of income it seems money can only increase happiness if it changes people’s social status