What Voltaire knew about Health and Happiness

So, eminent French philosopher Voltaire died about 230 years ago – but obviously, he had some intuitive insights into what psychological science would find out over the later part of the 20th century: namely, that happiness is not (only) and end in itself, but also a doorway to further human objectives, such as creativity, success, and a long and healthy life

Voltaire_Happiness

 

On TED: The Hidden Influence of Social Networks (on Happiness and much more)

In this TED talk, Nicholas Christakis (nowadays professor at Yale) shares his fascinating research on the influence of the people surround us (and the influence of those that surround those that surround us…and so on).

In short: the question of how happy you are, or how much you weigh, if you start or stop smoking, get married or have children, depends to a large degree on those people that you socialize with, and the people those folks interact with – at least statistically speaking.

It’s a whole new perspective on the adage “You are who you know.”

On TED: What is your Time really worth?

If you think that money cannot by happiness, you´re probably wrong. Science shows that money can indeed buy happiness if you spend it on the right things (which mostly aren’t things at all…)

You can learn all about it via these two TED talks. Elizabeth Dunn is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia. Michael Norton is the Harold M. Brierley Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. Together, both researchers have published the book Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending.

Elisabeth Dunn´s talk will also be posted as No. 47 on my topical list of Positive Psychology-infused TED talks, Michael Norton´s is already there.

33 ½ Science-backed Methods to Boost Your Mood and Be Happier | Part I

Want to lead a happier life in 2016 (and beyond)?

This list includes valuable tips, exercises and “hacks” to be happier and lead a more meaningful life. All of these recommendations are backed by psychological science. In case you are interested to learn more, I´ve included links to some research articles that have examined the corresponding topic. No. 12 – 22 can be found here, No. 23 – 33 ½ will be published shortly. The pieces of advice are ordered (roughly) by difficulty/level of effort etc. Share and enjoy!

1) Smile, Baby

Conventional wisdom holds that people tend to smile because they are happy. And while that is certainly true, it turns out that the other way around makes sense as well. We get happier because we smile. This is called facial feedback hypothesis and it has been shown to hold true over many studies. Accordingly, one way to better our mood is to make ourselves smile – even if we don´t feel like it in that particular moment. A popular method in order to achieve this is to hold a pencil between your teeth for a minute or so.

2) Eat (dark) Chocolate

Consuming moderate amounts of chocolate, especially the darker, less sugary type, has been shown to improve peoples´ mood. Whether this is just a consequence of the pleasurable eating experience, or caused by specific psycho-active ingredients in the cocoa, is still under debate. It works, anyway. But don´t overdo it. You know what I mean…

3) Please don’t stop the Music

Listening to happy and/or you favorite music is associated with elevated mood. It seems that there´s music that has a general happiness-inducing quality (e.g., Happy by Pharrell Williams) but otherwise, it´s more important that you really, really like what you´re listening to. By way of example, I´m really into heavy metal – a type of music that was once seen as fostering aggression and antisocial behavior. In the meantime, it became clear, that the emotional consequences of listening to music should be attributed to the fit between music and listener.

Nico - Family - Mappalicious4) Catch the Sun

Low levels of Vitamin D seem to be associated with depressive disorders, especially S.A.D. (seasonal affective disorder a.k.a. winter blues) – and it´s comparably difficult to generate enough intake just from food. Our body is able generate this vitamin, but we need exposure to sunlight in order to pull off that stunt. That´s why we need to go out regularly, even when the weather is not all that great. You don’t need to take an actual sunbath – just being outside is enough (even when it´s cloudy), especially around noon-time. Sitting in the sunlight inside of the house does not help. What´s more, sunscreen seems to inhibit the process that generates the vitamin. For more advice, please see this article on Psychology Today.

5) Go green

Paying heed to No. 4 will additionally help you with this one: the so-called biophilia hypothesis states (among other things) that spending time in green environments (parks, forests etc.) helps to fight off stress and boosts our mood. Basically, the equation goes: the greener, the better, so you´ll profit more from a stroll in a nearby forest than a walk in the park. Long-term studies have found that moving from an inner-city area (lots of concrete, few greens spots) to a more rural area is greatly beneficial for several aspects of our psychological and physiological health.

6) Shake that Booty

Now, I´m perfectly aware of the fact that dancing may not be the most favorite subject among lots of my fellow men. Actually, psychologists have described a specific facet of our personality by the name of dance confidence – and that tends to be a bit lower with the not-so-fair sex. Nevertheless, regular dancing – even when you do it on your own in your living room – has tons of positive side effects, e.g., lifting your mood, boosting your immune system, and fighting stress by decreasing the concentration of cortisol in your blood.

7) Hit the Pillow

It is known that people need different amounts of sleep, and that the need for sleep changes over our lifetime (generally becoming less the older we get). And yes, there are people out there that claim to get along with just four hours of sleep per night. But the truth is: those folks are probably killing themselves very slowly. Most “normal” adults need at least seven to eight hours of good rest per night. Anything below that level for prolonged periods of time will very likely lead to performance problems (e.g., concentration disorders) – and yes: bad moods.

Nico - Workout - Mappalicious8) Move your Ass

Most people start exercise regimens at the onset of a new year to lose some pounds in order to look better in their Speedos once summer comes along. As less known fact: regular physical activity, especially endurance exercises like jogging, swimming etc. at medium intensity might just be one of the strongest anti-depressants out there.

9) Put down that Smartphone

Now, I certainly don´t belong to the type of people that engage in simple-minded smartphone (and social media) bashing – but: there are more and more studies that show detrimental effects of too much smartphone use. Especially among heavy users, there seem to be several adverse effects such as concentrations disorders – and also, a kind of separation anxiety when not having access to one´s favorite toy, e.g. due to low battery. Bottom line: the tool is fine, but don’t get attached to it.

10) Don’t be a Hater, stop the Gossip

Research shows the more meaningful conversations you have (as opposed to small talk and gossip), the happier you will be. Additionally, certain types of expressions on social media, such as swearing and verbalizing aggression, seem to be associated with bad moods and even adverse health conditions, e.g., a higher risk rate for cardio-vascular diseases. So, watch your language, young ladies and gentlemen.

11) Practice Gratitude

Cultivating gratitude seems to be the Swiss Army knife of Positive Psychology. It´s one of the most thoroughly researched positive interventions. Mostly, it comes in the form of keeping a gratitude (or: www for “what went well”) journal; please see this post on Greater Good Science Center´s website for more detail). The power of gratitude lies in its ability to counter the effect of what psychologist like to call the hedonic treadmill. We get used to almost all circumstances and things in our lives, whether they be desirable or undesirable. That´s why it´s helpful to actively focus our attention on all the good things in our lives once in a while. Also, it doesn’t cost thing.

Please note

Science shows that you do not have to practice all of these things (at once) to be happier. Rather, you should find out which of these activities best fit your personality and current way of life – so you´ll find it easy to sustain them. Please refer to: To each his own well-being boosting intervention: using preference to guide selection.

(Almost) everything you know about Happiness is wrong. Maybe…

LancetA recent study that was published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet found that happiness (or unhappiness) does not affect our health and mortality (see The Atlantic or New York Times for coverage about the original piece). According to the NYT, the

“results come from the so-called Million Women Study, which recruited women ages 50 to 69 from 1996 to 2001, and tracked them with questionnaires and official records of deaths and hospital admissions. The questionnaires asked how often the women felt happy, in control, relaxed and stressed, and also instructed them to rate their health and list ailments like high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, arthritis and depression or anxiety.”

The research article received a huge amount of attention as the results run counter to a large body of extant empirical evidence on the relationship of positive emotions and longevity (please see the paper Happy People Live Longer: Subjective Well-Being Contributes to Health and Longevity for an overview).

Accordingly, a reply to the Lancet article was written as an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times by Positive Psychologists Ed Diener, Sarah D. Pressman, and Sonja Lyubomirsky (Can 1 million women be wrong about happiness and health?). They provide several arguments on why the interpretation of the data about the happiness-health-relationship might be flawed.

For more detail, I urge you to read the L.A. Times article. Just my five cents: The participants were 59 years old on average when entering the study. So, whatever happened before that age was out of scope. Now, I´m not an expert on this – but I hypothesize that how happy you were in your 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s might (strongly) affect how healthy you are in your 60s and beyond.

For that reason, even though the research is based on a truly large sample, I am not willing to follow the authors´ conclusion.

10 brilliant Quotes, Adages, and short Poems related to Positive Psychology

Over the last years, I´ve collected countless quotes, sayings, short poems and similar inspirational stuff that (to my mind) is related to Positive Psychology. Here are my top-10 for the time being. Enjoy!

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.
(Frederick Douglass)

Be yourself. No one can say you´re doing it wrong.
(Charles M. Schulz)

Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most.
(Abraham Lincoln, among others)

Your brain is not designed to make you happy. That´s your job.
(Tony Robbins)

People were created to be loved. Things were created to be used. The reason why the world is in chaos is because things are being loved and people are being used.
(Unknown)

Be you! The world will adjust.
(Unknown)

We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.
(Carlos Castaneda)

A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort.
(Herm Albright)

To laugh often and much: To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you lived. This is to have succeeded.
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)

I will not die an unlived life. I will not live in fear of falling or catching fire. I choose to inhabit my days, to allow my living to open me, to make me less afraid, more accessible, to loosen my heart until it becomes a wing, a torch, a promise. I choose to risk my significance; to live so that which came to me as seed goes to the next as blossom and that which came to me as blossom, goes on as fruit.
(Dawna Markova)

Be Yourself - Schulz

Recent Nobel Laureate Angus Deaton talks about Happiness [Video]

Yesterday, I wrote a post introducing the fact that recent Nobel Laureate in economics, Angus Deaton, has also accumulated a considerable body of research in the area of subjective wellbeing. If you´d like to have him explain his research to you in person – here you go:

Richard Branson: “I am successful, wealthy and connected BECAUSE I am happy.”

Book - Dear StrangerSir Richard Branson seems to be an endless source of formidable quotes (I´ve used one in my TEDx Talk). Today I stumbled upon another one that I find particularly striking – as it promotes one of the central tenets in Positive Psychology: Namely, that (financial) success in life may be a consequence of positive emotions, and not so much a prerequisite. This quote s art of a longer “letter to a stranger”, where Branson shares his core ideas on how to live a life that is worthwhile living.

I know I’m fortunate to live an extraordinary life, and that most people would assume my business success, and the wealth that comes with it, have brought me happiness. But they haven’t; in fact it’s the reverse. I am successful, wealthy and connected because I am happy.

This letter, in turn, is part of a new book that consists of more “letters to strangers” on the same subject, among them Lord Richard Layard and Arianna Huffington. I´m pretty sure this will be on my reading list soon.

Branson - Happiness

Your Brain is not designed to make you happy. That´s YOUR Job.

I have to admit I have never been a big fan of Tony Robbins. Being German, I think it´s a little harder to relate to his “special” style of presentation. Nevertheless, this quote is spot-on. It reminds me of the way our brains work (please see Bad is Stronger than Good) and that happiness is the result of intentional activity – rather than a state of being.

Robbins - Brain - Happy