The ‘How to Be Happy’ article has become a staple of newspapers, magazines, books and, increasingly, of websites. We should ‘accept reality’, or ‘take a break’, or ‘be honest with ourselves’, or ‘surround ourselves with happy people’.
These things are unlikely to do us any harm but that doesn’t stop them reading like a list of platitudes – the kind that people are always doling out but never follow themselves.
Being happy and staying happy is all about our day-to-day activities according to this theory of sustainable happiness. Research suggests that the contributions to our happiness are 50% genetic, 10% from our life circumstances and fully 40% determined by our day-to-day activities. But what evidence is there for this theory?
A new study finds that when positive events happen to European Americans, they do not increase happiness as much as for Japanese, Asian Americans and Koreans. The Washington Post reports that on average, for each single negative event a European American experiences, they need 1.91 positive events to bring them back to the same level of happiness. For Koreans it is 1.32, for Asian Americans it is 1.31 and for Japanese it is 1:1. How can this be explained?
Nowadays men are apparently happier, on average, than women, claims a piece in the New York Times. This claim of a ‘happiness gap’ comes from evidence finding that in the last 35 years women’s subjective well-being has been in decline, despite the objective improvement in women’s lives over that time. In the 1970s women’s subjective wellbeing was higher than men, now the reverse is true.
Just having a break from work is not enough suggests new research, it is activities in the open air which have the strongest restorative effects on our mental states.
Everyone gets down sometimes – it’s only natural. It would be more unusual never to be depressed. The idea that depression is an on-off condition with a purely chemical foundation is a myth no psychologist would endorse. The causes of depression can be many and widespread. But one cause many of us have to cope with is work.
One of the main weapons against stress building up from work is going on vacation. Holidays are a firmly established way of allowing the mind and body to recuperate. In new research, however, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, Hartig, Catalano and Ong (2007) find that all holidays are not created equal.
Prospect Magazine has a blue skies article on the intersection between the psychology of happiness and politics. It asks how the research about what makes us happy can inform the way we organise our society.
While most of the suggestions made in this article are sensible, the weak link is motivation. Do we really want to be happy, and if we do, is there any reason for the political machine to deliver the changes that are required? These are simple but fundamental questions.
Still, it does us all some good to dream about a utopia. Without a dream, how do we know what to aim for? From Prospect Magazine
For the last century or more, psychology has focussed on mental illness. It’s challenge has been to help people with their problems, and to bring them back to ‘normality’ – whatever that is!
It wasn’t until the late-90s that psychologists studying the science of happiness started to hit the headlines. Time magazine describes some of their surprising findings. One of my favourites is the idea that pleasure is not actually an important component of happiness.
It seems that the tide of opinion is beginning to turn against SSRI anti-depressants, the most well-known of which are Prozac and Seroxat. The UK Government announced today that doctors should, in most cases, prescribe them at their lowest doses.
This is one of the first official steps back that the government has been prepared to make on this difficult issue. Many argue that this is not enough, especially in the case of children where the evidence is questioning their suitability. Indeed, the prescription of all SSRI anti-depressants except Prozac to those under eighteen has already been banned.
The real cause of these problems is the number of people presenting at their GPs complaining of depression. Psychological interventions have been shown to be just as effective as anti-depressants, but without the side-effects. Unfortunately their cost has so far been prohibitive.