Is soaking up culture the key to health and happiness?

June 7, 2011

The answer may be yes, particularly if you live in Norway. A study examining 50,797 Norwegian men and women found that those who participated in cultural activities were more likely to report being satisfied with their lives and in good health.

The participants were questioned on their participation in two cultural fields. “Receptive culture” includes activities such as visiting museums and attending concerts. “Creative culture” refers to engaging in an activity, such as playing in a band or singing.

The happiness inducing activities were slightly different for men and women. Women who participated in creative cultural activities were more likely to report being in good health and satisfied with life. Meanwhile, men who participated in any receptive cultural activity were more likely to perceive themselves as being in good health.

The study found the more cultural activities, the better. 91 percent of those who participated in at least four activities reported being satisfied with their lives, TIME reports.

The Los Angeles Times points out that people with higher incomes are more likely to participate in cultural activities and those with higher incomes are more likely to be healthy; however, the researchers believe they have found an association between participation in cultural activities and health that is independent of socioeconomic status. Additional research is necessary to prove whether a causal relationship exists.

The study is published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.


Happiness is… overtime?

April 18, 2011

Americans still don’t know how to sit back and relax, according to a new study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies. The findings reveal that Americans experience a very slight increase in happiness from working longer hours, while Europeans are happier with more leisure time.

While the researchers cannot say for certain whether work causes happiness or unhappiness, they do hypothesize that the association is related to how an individual measures success.

The study used surveys of European and American attitudes, finding the likelihood of Europeans describing themselves as “very happy” decreased from 28 percent to 23 percent as work hours increased. Meanwhile, Americans’ happiness stayed relatively consistent, with a 43 percent chance of describing themselves as happy regardless of the amount of hours spent working, LiveScience reports.

To read more about the study, click here.


When it comes to relationships, a little gratitude goes a long way

May 26, 2010

New research out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill suggests small gestures that provoke gratitude may be associated with happier and stronger relationships.

The study consisted of more than 65 couples who were already in committed, satisfying relationships. Over the course of two weeks, the participants kept nightly diaries where they would record actions from their partner that benefited them, as well as any thoughtful gestures, no matter how small, they may have completed toward their partner.

The participants were also told to record their emotional responses to these interactions with their significant other, in addition to overall relationship satisfaction. The results indicated that gratitude was strongly associated with relationship satisfaction for both men and women.

Dr. Sara Algoe, lead author, says in the study’s news release:

“Gratitude triggers a cascade of responses within the person who feels it in that very moment, changing the way the person views the generous benefactor, as well as motivations toward the benefactor. This is especially true when a person shows that they care about the partner’s needs and preferences.”

Here are some additional findings reported by WebMD:

  • 43% of women and 36% of men said their partners did something thoughtful for them.
  • 35% of women and 33% of men said they did something thoughtful for their partners.
  • Participants agreed with their partners 61% of the time and disagreed 39% of the time.
  • Of the days when the partner reported doing something thoughtful, the participant agreed 51.2% of the time. However 48.8% of the partner-reported thoughtful behaviors went undetected by the participant.
  • Men were more likely to associate gratitude with indebtedness than women.

This study is published in the June issue of Personal Relationships.


A talking cure (literally)

March 8, 2010

A new study finds that people who have substantial conversations on a regular basis appear to be happier than those who engage in mostly small talk.

In order to conduct the study, psychologists from the University of Arizona and Washington University in St. Louis, had 79 college students carry a portable electronically activated recorder for four days. HealthDay reports that the device samples 30 seconds of sound every 12 and a half minutes, resulting in over 23,000 recordings. The study participants also took tests in order to evaluate personality and happiness level.

While analyzing the recordings, the researchers labeled each conversation as either small talk or substantial conversation. HealthDay provides these examples:

“For instance, small talk: “What do you have there? Popcorn? Yummy!” But the conversation that went like this was substantive: “She fell in love with your dad? So, did they get divorced soon after?”

According to LiveScience, participants who were found to be happiest spent 70 percent more time talking and 25 percent less time alone than those who were unhappiest. Compared to the unhappiest participants, the happiest students also had two times as many meaningful conversations and only engaged in about one third the amount of small talk.

All in all, more substantial conversations could potentially increase happiness, although this study does not prove a cause and effect relationship. The study is published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science.

In other happiness news, another new study finds that when it comes to happiness, it’s better to spend money on experiences, such as vacations, rather than material things. This study can be found here.


Unhappiness is a U-Shaped Curve

February 1, 2008

Women on average are most miserable in the U.S. when they hit 40; men, when they hit 50. Across 70 countries American and British researchers found that if life has a blue period, it hits in middle age. As Scientific American reports, it may have something to do with the slow realization that one’s youthful aspirations – to direct a movie, to do something meaningful – are not going to happen, and that one has compromised on simply getting by. The researchers did find that most people emerged from this funk in their 70s with the zest of a 20-year old, but, alas, minus the flexibility or endurance.


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