I was doing some web site maintenance when I found this post from 9 years ago ( June 2006 ). It was about then the new and novel field of scientific research into happiness had started to be publicized.

I heard a piece on the radio while driving and was stunned by what I heard. Some of the poorest, most depraved people on the planet are among the happiest people and many of the things that contribute to happiness also seemed to overlap with what I read elsewhere about longevity.

Nine years later, there is now a documentary about happiness research. The trailer is above.

Among many other interesting facts in the documentary is that money does buy happiness, but only up to about 80K per year in US money. After that the amount of happiness returned per extra dollar goes way down with a lower middle class person often being happier than a billionaire.

Bottom line, watch the video, read the old post, and look up some of the many articles on this amazing science. You should do all of those things because the things science has actually measured as creating happiness for people are within the reach of most people regardless of their resources and has nothing to do with McMansions, big screen TVs, iPhones or SUVs.

Sometime last year while I was driving to work I was listening to the news segment on one of the local rock stations. There was a report about a large study done by an international organization on the nature of happiness. To my lasting regret I never memorized the name of that group nor the study. I searched on google, but came up with nothing.

What struck me the most was the finding that the happiest people in the world turned out to be some of the poorest people in the world. They lived in squalor in such places like Mexico or India. The greatest concentrations of depression were found in the most developed countries of the world.

The study listed these factors as being common among the happiest people in the world:

  1. Belonging to a community
  2. Having a sense of purpose
  3. Feeling needed.
  4. Health.
  5. Rewarding relationships with family and friends.

After reading the October 2005 issue of the National Geographic magazine I was amazed again. That issue was devoted to longevity and looked at three areas of the world where the inhabitants enjoyed some of the best longevity in the world.

  1. Okinawa
  2. Sardinia ( a remote mountain village in Italy )
  3. Loma Linda, California

You read #3 correctly, Loma Linda California. A smoggy suburb of Los Angelas. Also the home of a large community of Seventh Day Adventists. The oldest members of that community ( still active and healthy ) credited their longevity to their vegetarian diets, straight edge lifestyle, staying socially engaged and their faith.

There were no surprises in any of the communities examined in regards to nutrition or exercise. All of the communities ate very little if any animals, ate large amounts of fresh produce, and were regularly active.

The people interviewed in these communities placed importance on those things, but they also emphasized various psychological factors and lifestyle choices I have read over the years as being associated with people who live to very old ages:

  1. They are happy
  2. They put family first
  3. They stay socially active and socially engaged.
  4. They have a sense of purpose

That list looks familiar doesn’t it?

It would seem that things that make us happy also make us live longer. Jogging everyday and living off raw broccoli may not guarantee a long life if you live life alone and with a cranky attitude.

Conspicuously absent from these lists are things like bigger SUVs, over priced suburban homes, expensive college degress, a fancy position in a big company, dvd players, and cell phones.

Who would of thought?

In the world where I live and very possibly where you live also, it is very hard to make it through life without some of those things. Yet, maybe we should remind ourselves of these lists and redirect our resources when we can to different things.

Maybe in getting through the days we lost sight of where we want to be going through the years.

Fatigue, Compulsion, Phones And The Internet

First, a warning. The cute companion video above only contains a fraction of the interesting points in this SHORT article.

The other day I got disgusted with some web sites that I often pop off to when I want to take a mental break. I vowed not to surf for the rest of the day. I almost made it. No surprise that I got more done, but I was shocked that by the end of the day I felt much less tired..

That incident reminded me of the article I linked to above, about how allowing yourself compulsive distractions comes at a cost. Hence this blog post.

You see, there is no such thing as “multitasking”. Computers can’t do it and neither can human brains. You can’t do more than one task at a time. You can only switch back and forth between multiple tasks, what the authors of the article call “rapid toggling”. There are always people claiming that they are the one person who can get away with “multitasking” or “rapid toggling”. Ironically, I have read in other articles on the subject that those people actually do the worst with rapid toggling. The quality and quantity of their work scored the least.  Switching back and forth between tasks comes at a cost. Rapid toggling or “multitasking” only makes sense when switching between lower order, repetitive tasks such as folding laundry while listening to music.

In one study, students temporarily interrupted during a test got scores 20% lower. Another group of students, who were told they were being watched were asked to work on their academic tasks for 15 continuous minutes. After only two minutes many students started succumbing to the temptations of their electronic devices. Only 65% of the time that they had set aside for studying actually went to studying. Frequent distractions also take a bite out of that 65% since “encoding”, the process of the brain transferring information to long term memory, gets sabotaged with interruptions.

It’s a big problem for both students and adults, Paul counters, for plenty of reasons. Assignments inevitably take longer when learners split their time between tasks, she says. All that task-switching wears out the brain and makes learners more tired and less competent. Most important, several studies have shown that information learned while partially distracted is often quickly forgotten, so the learning is tragically shallow.

This really puts an old job I had in perspective. The policy was that even if you could not address a person’s concerns immediately, you had to personally confirm receipt of their message so that they felt like they were heard. Emails and phone calls came at least once every 15 minutes. Quality of the technical work was a frequent topic of conversations, as well as people complaining about feeling “fried”.

If you want an impressive demonstration, sit down to do some work on a computer, especially in a web browser. Try to go for 15 – 30 minutes without popping off to a web site or checking an electronic device. You will probably be able to do it, but you will also notice the twitchy sensations of compulsion…several times.

So Paul is among a group of researchers who worry that the digital divide is not about the gadget haves and have nots, but rather about those who can resist the constant distracting tug of technology and those who cannot. She compares it to the famous marshmallow test, which shows that children who can delay eating one marshmallow for 10 or 15 minutes on the promise of gaining a second one are the most likely to succeed later in life. In a new “marshmallow” test, educators or employers might test to see how long people can resist “a blinking inbox or a buzzing phone.”

To me the nice thing is that ( in my opinion ) all learned habits can be unlearned. If you relax through those twitchy feelings and watch them pass you can get rewarded with having more energy and feeling calm when your work is finished.

Who doesn’t want more time to do things?  Who doesn’t want to feel more calm?  Who doesn’t want more energy.

It looks like the answer to getting at least some of those things has been around us all along.

Anger & Catharsis



“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
–  Viktor E. Frankl

I read this interesting  Psychology Today article about some research pertaining to anger management.   The researchers had two interesting things to say about anger.

The first was that cathartic venting doesn’t help reduce anger in the long term.  Sometimes not even in the short term.   Though internet rants were primarily mentioned things like punching a pillow were also covered.  Venting tends to increase anger. Doing things like punching pillows increased the chances of going on to doing more destructive things.

The second interesting thing the researchers had to say was what worked better than venting for reducing anger.  Calmly describing why you are angry, in detail, in writing, and additionally explaining what would make you stop being angry was far more effective for reducing anger.  People who do that instead of cathartically venting, acting out, ranting, punching pillows, etc … reduced their anger a lot more in the short term, as well as making it less likely they would get as angry again in the future.

I found that article interesting because I grew up with a father with quite a childish temperament.   He could go from zero to ballistic at the drop of a dime.  Yelling at the top of his lungs, saying the most offensive things he could think of, and doing things like punching walls.  You know, basic two year old behaviour.

I was so disgusted by his temper I vowed as a teenager to simply not act like that.  I learned how to clamp down on my responses.  I think I was helped by my involvement with karate and having to do things like hold painful positions for a long time.   In those endless moments of shaking legs and sore muscles, I think I learned what I later discovered in the Victor Frankly quote above.

I exploded in anger a few times in college.   At one point I realized that acting out was a choice.  There was a very small moment when I could choose to flip out or clamp down.  I think I chose to flip out because not flipping out seemed alien to me and that I had the belief I would hurt myself if I suppressed my anger.

Time showed me the stupidity of that.   You can always revisit a conversation after you have calmed down and you can always apologize, but no matter what anyone says there are some things you just can’t take back.

Avoiding the damage from acting out is the most important part of anger management, but that isn’t the only important part.  The second most important part, in my non-expert opinion, is stopping the emotion itself to be kind to yourself.  Many people believe that anger clamped down on tends to turn inward and cause other emotional problems.   The technique in the article offers a potential cheap and easy tool to deal with that.