Facebook and Happiness

This Scientific American article on a study that suggests a correlation between Facebook and higher levels of unhappiness does a pretty balanced job of evaluating the merits and flaws of the study’s findings. This paragraph below sums it the article’s concluding remarks on the study after discussing its limitations:

Despite these limitations, the study addresses a pressing question about the way our social lives are structured, and provides some intriguing evidence that social interaction online may be associated with reduced well-being. The internet is not going anywhere, and as the proportion of people connected to the web rises, so too does its importance as central part of our social world.

Notice the words in bold (mine) that illustrate how the article employs a series of connectors, adjectives and verbs to argue for the importance of the study’s impacts even though its methodology had several shortcomings.


Facebook and Personality

Image from Slate Magazine

Interesting study looks at words used in Facebook statuses to analyse personality, gender, age differences etc. Rather creative methodology that uses the natural and voluminous expression of people rather than make them sit through standardized surveys or interviews.

Of Stress and Suicides

According the Samaritans of Singapore, suicides rates in the city-state hit an all-time high of 467 in 2012 mainly due to stress and relationship issues.

And a report from Today recently mentioned how a local survey found out that six in ten employees report feeling mentally exhausted due to stress, depression and other factors.

Oh dear.

Why do people commit suicide? Why do people feel mentally exhausted at work? Why supports are they lacking? What supports are there, but not well-received? What are some larger systemic issues with society? With the mindsets of employers?

I think. I want to be happy.

How can having an education, or at least a greater ability to think more critically, make us happier? Not necessarily because it lands us better jobs or careers.

But because it allows us to make sense of our daily grind of life – turning situations of banality and self-absorbed irritation in this dense segmented urban space into opportunities to make sense of the world and to wonder about those around you. The dozens in your ATM or taxi queue, the hundreds squeezing on the bus and train, the thousands in the university. What are their probably backgrounds? Their stories? What sides of their personality or life do we not see? How did we all land up in this situation?

“Learning how to think” really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think.It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.Because if you cannot or will not exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.”

Happiness Starts with Embracing Failure

Happiness is a glass half empty

In an unremarkable business park outside the city of Ann Arbor, in Michigan, stands a poignant memorial to humanity’s shattered dreams. It doesn’t look like that from the outside, though. Even when you get inside – which members of the public rarely do – it takes a few moments for your eyes to adjust to what you’re seeing. It appears to be a vast and haphazardly organised supermarket; along every aisle, grey metal shelves are crammed with thousands of packages of food and household products. There is something unusually cacophonous about the displays, and soon enough you work out the reason: unlike in a real supermarket, there is only one of each item. And you won’t find many of them in a real supermarket anyway: they are failures, products withdrawn from sale after a few weeks or months, because almost nobody wanted to buy them. In the product-design business, the storehouse – operated by a company called GfK Custom Research North America – has acquired a nickname: the Museum of Failed Products.

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Economics of Happiness

Economics of Happiness
by Jeffrey D Sachs (original link here) 

The mad pursuit for corporate profits is threatening us all. 

We live in a time of high anxiety. Despite the world’s unprecedented total wealth, there is vast insecurity, unrest and dissatisfaction.

In the United States, a large majority of Americans believe that the country is “on the wrong track”. Pessimism has soared. The same is true in many other places.

Against this backdrop, the time has come to reconsider the basic sources of happiness in our economic life. The relentless pursuit of higher income is leading to unprecedented inequality and anxiety, rather than to greater happiness and life satisfaction. Economic progress is important and can greatly improve the quality of life, but only if it is pursued in line with other goals.

In this respect, the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan has been leading the way. Forty years ago, Bhutan’s fourth King, young and newly installed, made a remarkable choice: Bhutan should pursue “gross national happiness” (GNH) rather than gross national product (GNP). Since then, the country has been experimenting with an alternative, holistic approach to development that emphasizes not only economic growth, but also culture, mental health, compassion and community.

Dozens of experts recently gathered in Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, to take stock of the country’s record. I was co-host with Bhutan’s Prime Minister, Mr Jigme Thinley, a leader in sustainable development and a great champion of the concept of “GNH”.

We assembled in the wake of a declaration in July by the United Nations General Assembly calling on countries to examine how national policies can promote happiness in their societies.

All who gathered in Thimphu agreed on the importance of pursuing happiness rather than pursuing national income. The question we examined is how to achieve happiness in a world that is characterised by rapid urbanisation, mass media, global capitalism and environmental degradation. 

How can our economic life be re-ordered to recreate a sense of community, trust and environmental sustainability?

Here are some of the initial conclusions.

First, we should not denigrate the value of economic progress. When people are hungry, deprived of basic needs such as clean water, health care, and education, and without meaningful employment, they suffer. Economic development that alleviates poverty is a vital step in boosting happiness.

Second, relentless pursuit of GNP to the exclusion of other goals is also no path to happiness. 

In the US, GNP has risen sharply in the past 40 years but happiness has not. Instead, single-minded pursuit of GNP has led to great inequalities of wealth and power, fuelled the growth of a vast underclass, trapped millions of children in poverty and caused serious environmental degradation.

Third, happiness is achieved through a balanced approach to life by both individuals and societies. 

As individuals, we are unhappy if we are denied our basic material needs, but we are also unhappy if the pursuit of higher incomes replaces our focus on family, friends, community, compassion and maintaining internal balance. As a society, it is one thing to organise economic policies to keep living standards on the rise, but quite another to subordinate all of society’s values to the pursuit of profit.

Yet politics in the US has increasingly allowed corporate profits to dominate all other aspirations: Fairness, justice, trust, physical and mental health, and environmental sustainability. Corporate campaign contributions increasingly undermine the democratic process, with the blessing of the US Supreme Court.

Fourth, global capitalism presents many direct threats to happiness. 

It is destroying the natural environment through climate change and other kinds of pollution, while a relentless stream of oil-industry propaganda keeps many people ignorant of this. It is weakening social trust and mental stability, with the prevalence of clinical depression apparently on the rise. The mass media have become outlets for corporate “messaging”, much of it overtly anti-scientific, and Americans suffer from an increasing range of consumer addictions.

Consider how the fast-food industry uses oils, fats, sugar and other addictive ingredients to create unhealthy dependency on foods that contribute to obesity. One-third of all Americans are now obese. The rest of the world will eventually follow unless countries restrict dangerous corporate practices, including advertising unhealthy and addictive foods to young children.

The problem is not just foods. Mass advertising is contributing to many other consumer addictions that imply large public-health costs, including excessive television watching, gambling, drug use, cigarette smoking and alcoholism.

Fifth, to promote happiness, we must identify the many factors other than GNP that can raise or lower society’s well-being. 

Most countries invest to measure GNP but spend little to identify the sources of poor health (like fast foods and excessive television watching), declining social trust and environmental degradation. Once we understand these factors, we can act.

The mad pursuit of corporate profits is threatening us all. To be sure, we should support economic growth and development but only in a broader context: One that promotes environmental sustainability and the values of compassion and honesty that are required for social trust.

The search for happiness should not be confined to the beautiful mountain Kingdom of Bhutan. – PROJECT SYNDICATE

Jeffrey D Sachs is Professor of Economics and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He is also Special Adviser to United Nations Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals.