Posts Tagged ‘happiness’

Does weather affect your mood?

Friday, July 29th, 2016 | Science

Recently an internal poll at Sky asked employees whether the weather affected your mood. Responders overwhelming said that it did.


However, this is people self-reporting in a poll. When you get into the science, the picture is far less clear.

The Huffington Post reported on all kinds of maladies that studies suggest are caused by weather. The list includes changes in empathy, violent crime and mental health problems.

In contrast, a 1998 study by David Shkade and Daniel Kahneman suggested that people’s hapiness was unaffected by weather. Their conclusion was clear: better climate does not make you happier. They conclude…

It is not unlikely that some people might actually move to California in the mistaken belief that this would make them happier. Our research suggests a moral, and a warning: Nothing that you focus on will make as much difference as you think.

The same BBC article also quotes a 2008 study by Jaap Denissen that concludes…

The idea that pleasant weather increases people’s positive mood in general is not supported by the findings of this study.

These findings cannot be generalised to everyone. Some people suffer from seasonal affective disorder. It comes with the acronym SAD, just like social anxiety disorder does, suggesting that mental health professionals would benefit from improved coordination.

Seasonal affective disorder is a genuine and widely-accepted condition and is one that should not be taken likely: it is a serious mental illness. However, it only accounts for a small amount of the population. A study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry puts the prevalence at 2.4% of the population.

So are the rest of us just imagining it?

Well, maybe. But a study by Klimstra et al. fought back. They suggested that some personalty types may be affected by weather while others may not be.

Their figures suggest that around half of people are unaffected by weather, while others are affected by summer, and by rain. They conclude…

Overall, the large individual differences in how people’s moods were affected by weather reconciles the discrepancy between the generally held beliefs that weather has a substantive effect on mood and findings from previous research indicating that effects of weather on mood are limited or absent.

So does weather affect your mood? Probably less than you think. But, as ever, more research is needed.

The Happiness Hypothesis

Saturday, January 9th, 2016 | Books

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom is a book by Jonathan Haidt. In it Haidt, a psychologist, looks at the ideas of happiness developed by Eastern religions, and puts them in a context of modern science in an attempt to develop an evidence-based happiness hypothesis.

He uses the analogy of an elephant and a rider. The rider is the higher-level rational part of your mind, the elephant is the rest. The rider can decide the think happy thoughts, eat healthily, exercise regularly and not spend all one’s time eating cake. It can even tell the elephant. But unless you actually train the elephant, the elephant is going to do what it wants.

Haidt starts off my demonstrating just how little control over our lives we really have. For example people who are named Dennis are more likely to become dentists. You are also more likely to marry someone with a similar sounding name to you. He gives his own personal example: he (John) is married to Jane. I did a quick scan of my friends and family and the rule does not work so well, but statistically it does seem to hold. It’s kind of horrible when you think about it. Are we pawns to environmental biases to quite such an extent? It would seem so.

Haidt points out that if you try hard to not think about negative thoughts, you end up thinking about them more. This has interesting implications for anxiety. Actively trying to avoid negative thoughts for example could actually reinforce them. I also identified strongly with his example of feeling the urge to shout random things at dinner parties just because I know I shouldn’t.

Another example of Haidt being a soulmate was his discussion of vegetarianism. He, like myself, is a vegetarian. He believes that killing animals for food is wrong. But, like me also, he can’t quite seem to actually cut meat out of his diet.

He talks about the negativity bias. We are programmed to reactive to negative things more strongly than positive. This is because if we miss a meal, we will probably find some more. If we miss a predator, we we will probably be eaten. This is not be confused with the positivity bias that Kahneman demonstrates we also have.

Haidt argues in favour of gossip. He suggests it is an important social tool for maintaining fairness. If someone is cheating the system, morality only works when people know about the transgressor. Whether that justifies the deep invasion of people’s personal lives that is often associated with gossip is another matter, but gossip as concept serves a useful evolutionary purpose.

We all have a base level of happiness, and we tend to return to it. This is probably had news for someone like me that seems to have a low level of happiness. Winning the lottery is not going to fix that. However, on the flip side, getting a terrible debilitating disease is unlikely to decrease it in the long term either. We get used to the situation and our base levels return to normal. Material possessions will only bring very short-lived happiness. Spend the money on experiences instead, and for maximum affect ensure you do it with the people you love.

Some things we do not adjust to though. For example noise levels, traffic and commuting are always bad. It is worth eliminating noise from your life were possible, especially traffic noise. As I learnt in Happiness By Design, commuting really is the worst thing you can do with your time. Given that, and that money does not make you happy because you adjust, taking a pay cut to live closer work is a smart move that will increase your happiness.

Critically, social connections correlate with happiness more than almost anything else. This backs up something I can come to realise and begun preaching over the past few years. Moving away from your friends and family to a different city, for career advancement, is a bad move. Yes you get more money. However, as discussed, this does not make you happy. What does make you happy is friends and family and these you lose when you move cities.

Unless your job is literally your entire life’s passion, take a lower-paid job in a city where your friends and family live, with a short commute. Don’t worry if it’s not your perfect job, it’s not your life.

Too many choices are bad. You want some choice, but above half a dozen it actually decreases your happiness because you expect a better match than you get and the probably that you selected an imperfect match increases. If you, like myself, have had the experience of walking into a shoe store, seeing 200 different trainers, and not liking any of them, you will know what I mean. If there were five styles of trainer, it would actually be a lot easier.

In his conclusion he says that the ancient wisdom and modern science often converge and both are needed, to some extent, to achieve true happiness. Happiness does come from within (to the extent that you cannot buy it) but the only way to achive it is through behaviour changes, and these can only be achived by re-training your elephant, not merely deciding as a rider.


Happiness By Design

Friday, October 30th, 2015 | Books

I had not heard of the book Happiness By Design when I passed it in Waterstones. However, my eyes were drawn to it by a quote from Daniel Kahneman on the front. When I found out Kahneman had also written the forward I decided it was not worth spending any more time figuring out whether it was worth reading and just assume that it was.

The author turned out to be Paul Dolan, a British academic who studies positive psychology. He says that happiness is what you pay attention to. It is essentially the combined total of pleasure and purpose over time.

Both of these contribute to your happiness, so you can do something pleasurable but not purposeful such as watching TV, or you can do something purposeful but not pleasurable such as going to work. Ideally, you would do something that is both pleasurable and purposeful such as volunteering, and not do things which are neither pleasurable nor purposeful, such as commuting.

He also suggests you maintain a balance between these. If you life is all pleasure you would probably be happier if you occasionally did something useful. Equally, if your life is all purpose, go the other way.

This is particularly important in middle age when people experience the least amount of happiness in their lives. This is possibly due to high expectations of this being the top of the bell curve in your life. Having kids is at best neutral on your happiness, though it does add purpose.

Your job is an important contributor to your happiness. The most rewarding jobs are ones who get to see the benefits of their work – florists, gardeners, hairdressers. In contrast working in IT is one of the least rewarding things you can do, second only to being in banking.

There is some interesting related psychology in there too. For example, doing more exercise can often lead to weight gain (and not just from converting fat into muscle). Doing something positive allows you to think “I have earned this treat” even though the exercise does not even cancel out the treat, so you end up piling the pounds on.

Also a reduced sense of smell can lead to a poorer diet. As something with a below average sense of smell, I would be interested in reading further in this.

The summary of the book is that happiness is what you pay attention to, so pay attention to things that make you happy. These are things that contain pleasure, or purpose, or both. And do not put off having all your jam today in favour of having jam tomorrow because once you have lost it, recovering it is pretty much impossible.


Ilkley Happiness Centre

Friday, May 9th, 2014 | Photos


It is both “hot and traditional”.