Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Avoid the Flu - Be Happy!

In 2003, Sheldon Cohen et al published a study called Emotional Style and Susceptibility to the Common Cold in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

They took 334 healthy people, noted their emotional tendencies (positive versus negative emotional range), gave each study participant nasal drops with cold viruses, and studied who got sick.

They found that people with a "positive emotional style" had a lower risk of developing a cold. In addition, the people with the "negative" emotional styles experienced more symptoms that were not thought to be due to the cold.

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Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert has been getting press about his book, "Stumbling on Happiness." Here are some of his conclusions:

- We're not very good at remembering how happy we've been in the past
- We're bad at predicting future happiness
- We're OK at stating if we're happy in the moment

Apparently, "genes" and "culture" influence us to have bad theories about happiness. Gilbert notes that the genetic drive to procreate leads us to think and believe that having children will bring happiness. His research shows that having children has a small negative effect on happiness. When he asked people in the moment how happy they were interacting with their children, it was the same level of happiness as doing housework (!!!), and less happy than where exercising (!), grocery shopping (!!), sleeping, and hanging out with friends. He hypothesizes that the general sense of happiness of having children comes from those few moments of joy that we tend to remember ten, twenty years down the road. And, since we're supposedly not very good at remembering how truly happy we were in the past, we selectively remember the great times.

The cultural part is that we live in a culture that encourages us to buy, have, use. That marketing leads us to believe that if we only had this or were able to buy that, we'd be happier.

Money has an effect on happiness, but not in the way we're used to thinking about it. It can bring happiness to the very poor, but apparently after about the $50,000 mark, there's not as much happiness gained per increase in income.

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Pew Research Center collected survey data on happiness.

They called over 3000 adults in the continental U.S. in 2005.

Here are some of their results:

Marriage and Kids:
- Married people are happier than unmarried people (43% to 24%)
- Kids don't make a difference: Unmarried people without kids are as happy as unmarried people with kids. Same is true for married people.

Age
- Young people are less happy than older people. (28% vs 38%)
- The happiest group: men 65+. The unhappiest group: men 18-29.

Work
- Working people are as happy as retired people (35% vs. 36%). Hmmm...
- People who feel rushed are less happy than those who aren't. (27% vs 42%)
- Suburbanites are happier than city folk. (36% vs 31%)
- Sunbelt people are happier than their counterparts in the cold. (37% vs 32%)

Pets
- People without are as happy as people with. ('cause they don't know what they're missing! ;P)

Health
- Healthy = happy. (48% vs 15%)

Education
- College grad happier than non-college ( 42% vs 30%)

Money
- People making $30,000 to $100,000 have a similar level of happiness (~35%)

- Those making less than $30,000 have a slightly lower level (25%)
- Those making greater than $100,000 have a slightly higher level (50%)

Misc
- Conservatives are happier than liberals (40% vs 27%)
- More religious people (measured in this study by attending more church) are slightly happier

What do you think? Anything else you think brings us happiness?

Picture of a picture - an insect described on one of the trails in a Hawaii rainforest

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