Why that Swiss Friend of yours is probably Happier than You are

Frau_BartSome nations are happier than others, that’s a fact. In most year’s rankings, Switzerland or one of the Scandivian countries (quite frequently: Denmark) take the No. 1 spot in the carefully researched list. Quite obviously, this does not mean each and every person over there is happier than your fellow countrymen – but on average, they are. Why is that the case? The solution can be found in the answers to these high-level questions:

  • Do people earn enough money – and how well does the economy do in general? Additionally: Is the distribution of wealth (perceived as) fair?
  • Do people form strong social bonds in your society? Do they value highly their family and friends?
  • Do people have access to (enough) healthy food, clean water, and decent doctors/hospitals?
  • Do people live in a (stable) democracy granting a high amount of individual freedom and safety?
  • Can people afford to be generous and compassionate vis-a-vis your countrymen (and generally, those in need)?
  • Can your citizens trust their political and economic leaders?

Or, in the words of University of British Columbia economics professor John Helliwell, co-editor of the World Happiness Report (as quoted on ThinkAdvisor.com):

Six factors explain about three-quarters of the difference in country rankings […]: GDP per capita, social support (based on the question, “Do you have a friend or relative to call on in times of trouble?”), life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity (having donated to charity within the past month) and trust (perceptions of business or governmental corruption). 

In order to make make the top ranks of the “happiest nations list”, a country needs to do pretty well on each of those factors. But they also explain why some countries that don’t do so well economically might be far ahead of some richer counterparts:

(Some of) the best things in life are free – e.g., your family and friends.

Planting Seeds Of Happiness The Danish Way [TEDx]

Our northermost neighbors, the Danes, frequently take the number one spot when researchers try to find the happiest country on earth. While this finding has to be treated with some caution (please see What people around the world mean when they say they’re happy) they probably one or two things about the good life. 

Here’s what former corporate executive and nowadays writer Malene Rydahl has to say on the topic.  

The healthiest Companies outperform their Competition on the Stock Market

Smiling - MappaliciousAre you working for a company that treats you like a valuable human being? Do they care about your psychological and physiological health? Yes? Good for you! And good for them as well!

A couple of weeks ago, I shared Alex Edmans´ studies on how the “Best Companies to work for” in the U.S. outperform their competitors on the stock market. Now here comes another piece of compelling evidence for the idea that treating your employees exceptionally well is not a cost factor, but rather gives your company an edge pertaining to financial performance. For a study published in the Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, a group of researchers compared the stock market performance of companies that were awarded the “. Everett Koop National Health Award”(a prestigious award for companies running outstanding employee health programs named after a former Surgeon General) with the average performance of companies comprising the Standard and Poor’s (S&P) 500 Index. What they´ve found:

The Koop Award portfolio outperformed the S&P 500 Index. In the 14-year period tracked (2000–2014), Koop Award winners’ stock values appreciated by 325% compared with the market average appreciation of 105%.

The researchers conclude that “this study supports prior and ongoing research demonstrating a higher market valuation – an affirmation of business success by Wall Street investors – of socially responsible companies that invest in the health and well-being of their workers when compared with other publicly traded firms.”

 

Image via Gratisography

 

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.

What makes a Good Life? Lessons from the longest Study on Happiness

Robert Waldinger is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the current Director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development (part of that is the so-called Harvard Grant Study; see this post for prior coverage on Mappalicious).  It is a 75-year longitudinal study of 268 physically- and mentally-healthy Harvard college sophomores from the classes of 1939–1944. It has run in tandem with second study called The Glueck Study, which included another cohort of 456 disadvantaged inner-city youths from Boston.

In his TEDx talk, Waldinger shares his most important takeaways from that study on what keeps people happy and healthy – and it shouldn´t surprise you all that much:

Other People Matter!

 

P.S.

This presentation will also be posted as No. 46 on my topical list of Positive Psychology-infused TED talks.

(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.

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: