Health and Happiness
As anybody who has experienced the euphoria that comes after a long run—or even a restorative nap—can attest, health and happiness make for obvious bedfellows. But medical research tends to prioritize things that aren’t working, so we know far more about the link between negative emotions and physical illnesses than the reverse. It’s been proven, for instance, that long-term stress and fear can lead to heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. But what exactly is happiness, and how can it change our bodies for the better?
Doctors and public health experts who belong to a controversial new school of thought suggest that looking at only one half of the mind-body connection is shortsighted. A growing branch of research shows that there are very real links between happiness and physical well-being—and those in this field say a further understanding of this dynamic could be key to solving some of our most pressing health problems. Happier people have better immune systems, fewer heart problems, and lead longer lives. Last year, a study found a link between those who reported feeling a sense of purpose in life and a reduced incidence of sleep disturbances. Of course, a bad night’s sleep will not kill you, but a greater purpose in life is also associated with reduced likelihood of having a stroke, developing Alzheimer’s disease, or becoming disabled.
For a long time, the medical community thought of a positive mindset simply as the absence of a negative one. But now, Harvard’s newly opened Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness is devoted to studying this subject and mapping its nuances. And people like the center’s codirector Laura Kubzansky, a professor of social and behavioral sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, are working to tease apart the different kinds of happiness (or “positive psychological well-being,” as scientists call it), and their respective benefits. These sub-categories of mental wellness include optimism, resilience, connectedness, vitality, and purposefulness. Happiness appears to be some part genetic, and also shaped by positive life circumstances such as social support, employment, and education.
“I’m interested in prevention, rather than fixing things after they’ve gone wrong,” Kubzansky says. “While I come from a background of looking at the bad stuff, like stress and anxiety and PTSD, I became interested in looking at the positive psychological states that confer some benefit above and beyond not being depressed. We need to understand, what is optimal functioning and how do we get there? Otherwise we are not going to be able to fully understand the deficits.”
How are they going to do this? The center's funding—including $21 million from the Chinese Lee Kum Kee family, who built their fortune on oyster sauce—will go towards numerous studies, the results of which are sure to make headlines in years to come. “To prove to skeptics that positive psychological wellbeing is truly causally contributing to improved physical health—that’s our number one goal,” Kubzansky says. Another big priority is communication, so that the center's findings move beyond the confines of academic journals and help governments set policies that will ward off large-scale health issues.
In the meantime, how can we improve our own sense of happiness? Kubzansky and her codirector K. “Vish” Viswanath—a professor of health communication at Harvard’s School of Public Health—are reluctant to offer advice this early. But one theme Viswanath is excited about is the positive role of friendship—or social capital, as he calls it. “It’s an unfortunate term that suggests money, but it’s actually the product of relationships between two people, and it matters a lot to our well-being,” he says. Those with positive personal relationships are more likely to take care of themselves, he notes. He is also fascinated by research showing links between a sense of purpose and lower mortality and decreased cardiovascular risk.
“It sounds like such a pat formula, but the notion of having a purposeful life geared toward something larger than you is enormously beneficial,” Viswanath says. “People ask me why I work all the time, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
This is a fascinating report on happiness
among people with psoriasis. With over
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What is Happiness in China?
What is happiness? It’s one of the most basic human emotions. The pursuit of it is considered a basic human right, enshrined in the American Declaration of Independence and recognised by the UN as a “fundamental human goal.” But what is it? And is it the same on the other side of the world?
Spoiler Alert: No, it’s not. In fact, the belief that happiness is universal is a common mistake that could impact how you market your global business. After all, “happiness” is one of the major emotions that marketers appeal to. Here are some examples of how happiness varies across cultures, and some tips to avoid this common international marketing pitfall.
Why Happiness Gets Lost in Translation
Why is “happiness” so hard to translate? To start, it’s more difficult than you’d think to define it, even in English. Sure, Merriam-Webster may define it as “the state of being happy.” But if it were that easy, the self-help industry wouldn’t be raking in billions of dollars, would it? In the pop culture of the English-speaking world, it’s been described as everything from a warm puppy to a warm gun.
So, what is happiness? Even sociologists who study happiness for a living have had trouble creating a definition that translates easily to other languages and other cultures. As the Washington Post points out, that’s the trouble with all the studies that claim to have identified the “happiest countries,” usually Denmark. The definition of happiness may have been lost in translation:
“Some researchers say the reason is that happiness in Danish is often translated as lykke — a term that can describe a kind of everyday well-being that might be brought on by a nice cup of coffee or a slice of bread with cheese.”
Although now that I think about it, good coffee and good cheese make me a very happy girl, and I’m not even Danish. What is happiness? Is there more to it than that? I’m not sure.
In most languages, there are a variety of possible translations for “happiness.” Each one carries its own shades of meaning, and often none of them match the English definition exactly. For example, researchers studying happiness in China used three different words in surveys and interviews, “xingfu for a good life, you yiyi for meaning and kuaile for a good mood.”
What is Happiness? The Answer Has Changed Over Time
But even in English, the meaning of the word “happiness” has changed over time. The word hasn’t always indicated a feeling, or a goal to achieve. In fact, the Western ideal of “happiness” as a state to be pursued is a recent invention. A research paper published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin noted that
Across cultures and time, happiness was most frequently defined as good luck and favorable external conditions. However, in American English, this definition was replaced by definitions focused on favorable internal feeling states.
So, what’s the difference? In Western, English-speaking cultures, happiness is something you chase. In many other cultures, it’s something that just comes to you. Or doesn’t. And that affects how people make decisions…including purchasing decisions. To quote the research paper above:
In contrast, in cultures where happiness is conceived as luck and fortune, happiness might not be the conscious goal. Thus, various decisions might not be made to maximize happiness.
What is Happiness? It Depends on Culture
Additionally, activities and occasions that are considered “happy” can vary from culture to culture. The Washington Post gives an example of an old woman in China picking out her burial clothes. She calls it “a happy thing.” Meanwhile, only the most morbid of Westerners would agree with this sentiment.
When Happiness Isn’t Happy At All
Worldwide, happiness isn’t always considered a good thing. Some cultures believe that being “too happy” can actually invite misfortune. According to an article published in the Journal of Happiness Studies:
“These cultures hold the belief that especially extreme happiness leads to unhappiness and other negative consequences that outweigh the benefits of such positive feelings…People in non-Western cultures, such as Iran and neighboring countries, worry that their peers, an “evil eye” or some other supernatural deity might resent their happiness and that they will eventually suffer any number of severe consequences.”
4 Takeaways for International Marketers
Marketing and advertising have always been, in part, about selling happiness. But in recent years, more and more brands have built campaigns that are explicitly centered around the concept of “happiness.” How can you make sure your marketing maintains its effectiveness across cultures? Here are 4 key takeaways:
- Understand the local culture, and how it differs from your own.
- Understand your audience, and how they fit into the local culture. To use one of the examples above, not everyone in Iran is afraid that bad luck will strike if they are “too happy.”
- Understand the emotions you’re selling, and what provokes them in your target audience.
- Sometimes, translation isn’t enough. Transcreation is often a better option. With transcreation, marketing campaigns are reinvented to take cultural differences into account and produce a consistent emotional response.
See also Understanding Happiness in China
How a Smart Watch Can Predict Your Happiness Levels
One of the more important challenges of 21st-century living is figuring out how to be happy. There is no shortage of advice. Aristotle wrote that “happiness is a state of activity.” And one team of researchers found that it is possible to increase happiness levels by surrounding yourself with people who are happy. Indeed, each happy individual in your life reportedly increases your happiness by about 9 percent.
But the science of happiness is hindered by a significant measurement problem. How can we measure happiness levels accurately and then use that data to predict when and how a person will be happy in the future?
Today we get an answer of sorts, thanks to the work of Pascal Budner and pals at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. These guys have found a way to use a smart watch to measure and predict happiness.
The technology involved is a Pebble smart watch connected to an Android smartphone, each running an app that collects and then displays data. The watch collects data such as heart rate and activity levels. The smartphone app enables users to report how happy and active they feel, via a “Happimeter” that suggests a user’s mood and allows the individual to change it if it is wrong.
The Happimeter’s suggestions are based on psychologists’ traditional view of happiness as a parameter with two dimensions: arousal and valence. Arousal reflects readiness to act or activity level and is associated with being more alert than usual and having a higher blood pressure or heart rate. The team measures arousal on a scale of not active, active, or very active. Valence is a measure of the user’s level of happiness: feeling very pleasant, pleasant, or unpleasant.
That produces a two-dimensional space in which users can be in any one of nine different states. For example, being very active and feeling unpleasant is the state of being angry, whereas feeling very pleasant and not active is the state of relaxation.
Users are prompted to choose a state four times every day, but they can also choose to input a state at any time. In addition, the apps record external factors such as the user’s location, day of the week, time, and weather conditions.
Budner and his collaborators recruited 60 people to wear the smart watch over a two-month period in 2017 and to enter their happiness data during this time. The participants included graduate students, researchers, faculty members, consultants, and business industry leaders, ranging in age from 22 to 59.
By the end of the experiment, the team had gathered almost 17,000 pieces of data, getting an overall picture of people’s moods. Over the course of the two months, almost 80 percent of mood inputs indicated that participants felt very pleasant, with only 3 percent of participants feeling unpleasant. Only 16 percent felt very active, with 26 percent saying they felt not active.
There is more to be gleaned from this data. Budner and his team use a form of machine learning to find patterns in heart rate, location, weather conditions, and so on, that can predict how happy a user will be.
The researchers claim the prediction rate is good. “We achieve prediction accuracy of up to 94 percent,” they say.
Some pieces of data are significantly more predictive of happiness than others. “We found that weather and movement between locations are highly predictive, whereas body measures such as heart rate have lower predictive power,” say the researchers.
That suggests that smart watch data could be hugely useful in mapping happiness in the general population. It might also help people increase their happiness levels.
Of course, there are some caveats to keep in mind. The study included only 60 people—a relatively small number. What’s more, those people might reflect a selection bias because they were all interested in happiness research.
Budner and his colleagues are well aware of those limitations and hope to address them in the future with a bigger study carried out with randomly selected individuals. “Nevertheless,” they say, “we think that we have introduced a novel system for tracking and increasing individual happiness.”
Aristotle would surely be thrilled.
11 Habits of Supremely Happy people
Happiness is synthetic—you either create it, or you don’t. Happiness that lasts is earned through your habits. Supremely happy people have honed habits that maintain their happiness day in, day out.
Happiness and Age by Christopher Ingraham
The shape of the curves, rather than any absolute value, are what's important here. The surveys asked about happiness in different ways — some framed it in terms of “satisfaction,” while others asked people to rate where they fell between “happy” and “unhappy.” So the absolute values of each line aren't directly comparable.
These similarities are even more remarkable given the differences in the underlying surveys, which were administered in different countries. They include the General Social Survey (54,000 American respondents), the European Social Survey (316,000 respondents in 32 European countries), the Understanding Society survey (416,000 respondents in Great Britain) and others.
Researchers have been finding evidence of a U-shaped happiness curve for years now. It's even been observed among apes. The strength of this particular study is in demonstrating how consistent that curve is across a variety of different data sources.
Note that rock bottom in the chart above doesn't denote absolute misery — people in their 50s still generally rate their life satisfaction in the mid-to-high range, a seven out of 10, for instance, or a 3.5 out of five. But that's substantially and significantly lower than how people in their late teens or early 20s rate their happiness. The difference between the two — happiness at youth and happiness at middle age — is roughly equivalent to the decline in well-being caused by getting divorced or losing a job, according to the analysis.
“There is much evidence,” the paper's authors conclude, “that humans experience a midlife psychological 'low.'" The exact causes of this aren't entirely clear. One common explanation is that in wealthy countries like ours, middle age is a particularly stressful time. People in their late 40s and early 50s are often at the peak of their careers (will all the headaches that entails), and many are dealing with unruly adolescent children to boot.
There's also some disagreement about the universality of the U-shaped happiness curve. Researchers who have teased out country-level trends have found different variations on the curve, particularly among less wealthy nations. Other researchers have examined longitudinal data, which tracks the same individuals over time, and found evidence for flat or wavy happiness trajectories throughout a lifetime.
Still, the authors of this working paper argue that the evidence they've mustered is strong enough that “these kinds of plots of happiness and life satisfaction should be shown — with a discussion of appropriate caveats — to all young psychologists and economists.”r the rest of us under the age of 50, it may simply be enough to know that even if we're having a particularly bad day, statistically speaking things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.
Chief Happiness Officer needed
Explorating Well Being
10 Horrible Habits That Destroy Your Happiness
10 Horrible Habits That Destroy Your Happiness
We are all constantly in pursuit of happiness. Every day we make choices in life that affect how we feel and think about ourselves. We usually believe we are making good decisions that will bring us closer to a state of well-being. We naturally seek to avoid fear and create a comfortable life.
The only problem is that sometimes the choices we make actually increase our anxiety and despair. We fall into bad habits that hurt us and destroy our chances of finding lasting contentment.
You can stop the negative cycle and begin taking back your happiness by quashing these 10 horrible habits.
Tal Ben-Shahar: The Secret to Happiness
Six Tips for Happiness
Advice from Tal Ben-Shahar.
Everyone wants to be Happy
The investing upside of having more cash on hand than you need
In a paper called "How Your Bank Balance Buys Happiness: The Importance of 'Cash on Hand' to Life Satisfaction," researchers stacked up the bank account balances for nearly 600 Brits against their reported levels of happiness.
Turns out that liquidity makes us feel better.
"Holding investments and not being in debt are both associated with greater financial well-being, but having cash "on hand" is meaningful above and beyond those measures of wealth," wrote co-authors Peter Ruberton and Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California, Riverside, and Joe Gladstone at the University of Cambridge.
"While many individuals believe that increasing income or total wealth will improve their happiness, they may also benefit by building a financial buffer in their checking and savings accounts. We found this buffer to be associated with improved well-being regardless of how much a person earns, invests, or owes," wrote the academics.
Gratitude as a Gateway to Presence
A Harvard psychologist explains why forcing positive thinking won’t make you happy
Orange Frog Workshop: Leading Positive Performance™ is an on-site experiential workshop that teaches the science of sustainable peak performance. The research is clear. Positive environments are performance enhancers. They are characterized by higher productivity, less turnover and more resilient cultures.
Applying the latest research-based techniques from the field of positive psychology, individuals learn the practices of resilient leaders; they become more adaptable and develop a capacity to “see” more opportunities, leading to better results.
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What makes a good life? A good life is built on good relationships
A new study tries to unpick what makes people happy and sad
The authors found that in the three rich countries mental illness was the strongest predictor of misery. With all other variables held constant, people who had visited a doctor recently with emotional-health problems were 10.7 percentage points more likely to be extremely unhappy than those who were not—roughly twice the impact of being poor. On one hand, this correlation should come as little surprise: people seeking treatment for depression are by definition unhappy. However, the study also included people suffering from stress or anxiety in this group. In Indonesia, mental health is also an important factor, though less so than employment.
How's Life? 2015 Measuring Well-being
How’s Life? describes the essential ingredients that shape people’s well-being in OECD and partner countries. It includes a wide variety of statistics, capturing both material well-being (such as income, jobs and housing) and the broader quality of people’s lives (such as their health, education, work-life balance, environment, social connections, civic engagement, subjective well-being and safety). The report documents the latest evidence on well-being, as well as changes over time, and the distribution of well-being outcomes among different groups of the population