The University of California , San Diego, issued the following news release:

Acts of Kindness Spread Surprisingly Easily: Just a Few People Can Make
a Difference

For all those dismayed by scenes of looting in disaster-struck zones,
whether Haiti or Chile or elsewhere, take heart: Good acts — acts of
kindness, generosity and cooperation — spread just as easily as bad.
And it takes only a handful of individuals to really make a difference.

In a study published in the March 8 early online edition of the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from the
University of California, San Diego and Harvard provide the first
laboratory evidence that cooperative behavior is contagious and that it
spreads from person to person to person.

When people benefit from kindness they “pay it forward” by helping
others who were not originally involved, and this creates a cascade of
cooperation that influences dozens more in a social network.

The European Society of Cardiology issued the following news release
about a study published today in the *European Heart Journal*:

Don’t worry, be happy!  Positive emotions protect against heart disease

People who are usually happy, enthusiastic and content are less likely
to develop heart disease than those who tend not to be happy, according
to a major new study published today (Thursday 18 February).

The authors believe that the study, published in the Europe’s leading
cardiology journal, the European Heart Journal [1], is the first to show
such an independent relationship between positive emotions and coronary
heart disease.

Caution and passtion live on opposite ends of block, and live very different lives. One can’t fault either of them, because they come by their lifestyles honestly, and there is a lot to be said for both. And since our human bodies and beings are wired for both caution and passion, we should be respectful. But which end of the block do we want to live on at this point in our finite lives?

Caution tells us: stay put. Things aren’t too bad now. It’s OK. But if you take a risk, who knows what will come out and bite you? Passion says: check things out, go exploring. Things could be even better.  Who knows what opportunities lie around the next corner? Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Caution says: If you express yourself brightly, vocally, people might not like you. You might get rejected. You don’t know what you really think anyway; maybe you’ll say something stupid. How awful. Passion says: you have a voice, use it. You feel strongly about something, say so, act on it. Who cares in the end what other people think… what do you think?  If they don’t like it, let them deal with it. There is room for lots of voices in the world, including yours.

Caution says: If you let go of what you have, you might never get it back. You will be worse off than you are now. It says: we live in a world where there is not enough to go around. It is better to have half a meal than none. You can make this job work. You can make this relationship work. You can make this living situation work, you guess. You have to anyway. Things can get pretty chaotic, and at least you know where you are now, you have figured out how to live with it. Who says there is anything better around that corner?  Passion says: what do you really want? Is this your heart’s true desire?  If you listened to yourself, truly, what would you be doing, who would you be doing it with?  It wonders, is this how you want to be spending your precious minutes?  Passion says: life is opportunities, and if you fall and scrape your knee, well, that was to be expected; now pick yourself up and go play some more.

Caution tells us to look at what we actually need, and counsels conservation. Passion tells us that what we want and feel matter too, and it says hopefully that there is lots out there for us, if we go find it. And we can.

Which end of the block are you living on?  How did you get there?

Brian Grady, Ph.D. R. Psych.

The University of Chicago issued the following news release:

Loneliness can be contagious
People who feel lonely spread that feeling to others

Loneliness, like a bad cold, can spread among groups of people, research
at the University of Chicago, the University of California-San Diego and
Harvard shows.

Using longitudinal data from a large-scale study that has been following
health conditions for more than 60 years, a team of scholars found that
lonely people tend to share their loneliness with others. Gradually over
time, a group of lonely, disconnected people moves to the fringes of
social networks.

“We detected an extraordinary pattern of contagion that leads people to
be moved to the edge of the social network when they become lonely,”
said University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo, one member of the
study team and one of the nation’s leading scholars of loneliness. “On
the periphery people have fewer friends, yet their loneliness leads them
to losing the few ties they have left.”

Other members of the study team were James Fowler, Associate Professor
of Political Science at the University of California-San Diego, and
Nicholas Christakis, Professor of Medicine and Professor of Medical
Sociology in the Harvard Medical School.

Before relationships are severed, people on the periphery transmit
feelings of loneliness to their remaining friends, who also become
lonely. “These reinforcing effects mean that our social fabric can fray
at the edges, like a yarn that comes loose at the end of a crocheted
sweater,” said Cacioppo, the Tiffany & Margaret Blake Distinguished
Service Professor in Psychology.

Because loneliness is associated with a variety of mental and physical
diseases that can shorten life, Cacioppo said it is important for people
to recognize loneliness and help those people connect with their social
group before the lonely individuals move to the edges.

The scholars’ findings were published in the article, “Alone in the
Crowd: The Structure and Spread of Loneliness in a Large Social
Network,” published in the December issue of the Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology.

For the study, the team examined records of the Framingham Heart Study,
which has studied people in Framingham, Mass. since 1948. The original
group, including more than 5,209 people, was originally studied for the
risks of cardiovascular disease.

The study has since been expanded to include about 12,000 people, as the
children and the grandchildren of the original group and others have
been included to diversify the population sample. The Framingham study
now includes more tests, including measures of loneliness and
depression. The second generation in the study, which includes 5,124
people, was the focus of the loneliness research.

Because the study is longitudinal, researchers kept in touch with the
subjects every two to four years and accordingly collected names of
friends who knew the subjects. Those records became an excellent source
of information about the people’s social networks.

By constructing graphs that charted the subjects’ friendship histories
and information about their reports of loneliness, researchers were able
to establish a pattern of loneliness that spread as people reported
fewer close friends. The data showed that lonely people “infected” the
people around them with loneliness, and those people moved to the edges
of social circles.

The team found that the next-door neighbors in the survey who
experienced an increase of one day of loneliness a week prompted an
increase in loneliness among their neighbors who were their close
friends. The loneliness spread as the neighbors spent less time together.

Previous work suggested that women rely on emotional support more than
men do, and in this study women were more likely than men to report
“catching” loneliness from others. People’s chances of becoming lonely
were more likely to be caused by changes in friendship networks than
changes in family networks.

Research also shows that as people become lonely, they become less
trustful of others, and a cycle develops that makes it harder for them
to form friendships. Societies seem to develop a natural tendency to
shed these lonely people, something that is mirrored in tests of
monkeys, who tend to drive off members of their groups who have been
removed from a colony and then reintroduced, Cacioppo said.

That pattern makes it all the more important to recognize loneliness and
deal with it before it spreads, he said.

“Society may benefit by aggressively targeting the people in the
periphery to help repair their social networks and to create a
protective barrier against loneliness that can keep the whole network
from unraveling,” he said.

The research was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Aging.

“Previous research has shown that loneliness and lack of social
connection can have a significant negative effect on the overall health
and well-being of older people,” said Richard Suzman, Ph.D., director of
the NIA’s Division of Behavioral and Social Research, which funded the
research. “This pioneering research into the connections of individuals
within their social networks has important implications for the larger
issue of social interactions and health.”

The University of Warwick issued a news release:  “Therapy 32 times more
cost effective at increasing happiness than money.”

PLEASE NOTE:  Contact info for the study’s author appears at the end of
the news release.

Here’s the University of Warwick’s statement:

Research by the University of Warwick and the University of Manchester
finds that psychological therapy could be 32 times more cost effective
at making you happy than simply obtaining more money.

The research has obvious implications for large compensation awards in
law courts but also has wider implications for general public health.

Chris Boyce of the University of Warwick and Alex Wood of the University
of Manchester compared large data sets where 1000s of people had
reported on their well-being. They then looked at how well-being changed
due to therapy compared to getting sudden increases in income, such as
through lottery wins or pay rises. They found that a 4 month course of
psychological therapy had a large effect on well-being. They then showed
that the increase in well-being from an ?800 course of therapy was so
large that it would take a pay rise of over ?25,000 to achieve an
equivalent increase in well-being. The research therefore demonstrates
that psychological therapy could be 32 times more cost effective at
making you happy than simply obtaining more money.


“The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness.

The authors are Betsey Stevenson & Justin Wolfers.

Here’s the abstract: “By many objective measures the lives of women in
the United States have improved over the past 35 years, yet we show that
measures of subjective well-being indicate that women’s happiness has
declined both absolutely and relative to men.  The paradox of women’s
declining relative well-being is found across various datasets, measures
of subjective well-being, and is pervasive across demographic groups and
industrialized countries.  Relative declines in female happiness have
eroded a gender gap in happiness in which women in the 1970s typically
reported higher subjective well-being than did men.  These declines have
continued and a new gender gap is emerging — one with higher subjective
well-being for men.”

The article is online — but requires a subscription — at:

Courtesy of Ken Pope

This morning *Atlantic Monthly* placed an article from its June issue
online: “What Makes Us Happy?” by Joshua Wolf Shenk.

Here’s the intro: “Is there a formula–some mix of love, work, and
psychological adaptation–for a good life?  For 72 years, researchers at
Harvard have been examining this question, following 268 men who entered
college in the late 1930s through war, career, marriage and divorce,
parenthood and grandparenthood, and old age.

Here’s an excerpt: “Begun in 1937 as a study of healthy, well-adjusted
Harvard sophomores (all male), it has followed its subjects for more
than 70 years.”

Another excerpt: “Bock assembled a team that spanned medicine,
physiology, anthropology, psychiatry, psychology, and social work, and
was advised by such luminaries as the psychiatrist Adolf Meyer and the
psychologist Henry Murray. Combing through health data, academic
records, and recommendations from the Harvard dean, they chose 268
students–mostly from the classes of 1942, ’43, and ’44–and measured them
from every conceivable angle and with every available scientific tool.”

Another excerpt: “What allows people to work, and love, as they grow
old? By the time the Grant Study men had entered retirement, Vaillant,
who had then been following them for a quarter century, had identified
seven major factors that predict healthy aging, both physically and

Another excerpt: “What factors don’t matter? Vaillant identified some
surprises. Cholesterol levels at age 50 have nothing to do with health
in old age. While social ease correlates highly with good psychosocial
adjustment in college and early adulthood, its significance diminishes
over time. The predictive importance of childhood temperament also
diminishes over time: shy, anxious kids tend to do poorly in young
adulthood, but by age 70, are just as likely as the outgoing kids to be
‘happy-well.’ Vaillant sums up: ‘f you follow lives long enough, the
risk factors for healthy life adjustment change. There is an age to
watch your cholesterol and an age to ignore it.'”

Another excerpt: “The study has yielded some additional subtle
surprises. Regular exercise in college predicted late-life mental health
better than it did physical health. And depression turned out to be a
major drain on physical health: of the men who were diagnosed with
depression by age 50, more than 70 percent had died or were chronically
ill by 63. More broadly, pessimists seemed to suffer physically in
comparison with optimists, perhaps because they’re less likely to
connect with others or care for themselves.”

The article is online at:

courtesy of Ken Pope list

Tomorrow’s *Chicago Tribune* (Sunday, May 3) includes an interview with social psychologist David Myers:  “Money does buy happiness — but only temporarily” by Eve Hightower.

Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts]

Q  What should we know about happiness during times like these?

A  Economic growth has not led to happiness over time.  Growth and
downfalls can lead to short-term happiness, but we rebound to our normal
level of happiness after a while.

People who value high income, occupational success and prestige to
having very close friends and a close marriage are twice as likely to
describe themselves as “fairly” or “very” unhappy.

The need to belong runs deeper, it seems, than any need to be rich.

For all but the very poor, more money buys no more than a temporary
surge of happiness.

Q  What does predict happiness?

A  Perhaps the most important predictor is close, supportive
relationships.  We’re social animals.  Forty percent of married adults
say they’re happy, whereas 23 percent of never-married adults say
they’re happy.

But just being married doesn’t mean you’re happy.  You can be in an
unhappy marriage.

Q  There’s also a correlation between religion and happiness. Are
religious people happy or are happy people attracted to religion?

A  Causal traffic is two-way between happiness and marriage and could be
with religion too.   Happy people tend to be more social in general.


QAnd unhappiness can be a good thing?

AWhen bad things happen in our lives, unhappiness alerts us to do
something about it.

[end excerpts]

The interview is online at:

courtesy of Ken Pope

The American Physiological Society issued the following news release:

Laughter remains good medicine

New study reports on the mind-emotion-disease model

The connection between the body, mind and spirit has been the subject of conventional scientific inquiry for some 20 years. The notion that psychosocial and societal considerations have a role in maintaining health and preventing disease became crystallized as a result of the experiences of a layman, Norman Cousins. In the 1970s, Cousins, then a writer and magazine editor of the popular Saturday Review, was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. He theorized that if stress could worsen his condition, as some evidence suggested at the time, then positive emotions could improve his health. As a result, he prescribed himself, with the approval of his doctor, a regimen of humorous videos and shows like Candid Camera(c). Ultimately, the disease went into remission and Cousins wrote a paper that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine and a book about his experience, Anatomy of an Illness: A Patient’s Perspective, which was published in 1979. The book became a best seller and led to the investigation of a new field, known then as whole-person care or integrative medicine and now, lifestyle medicine.

Points from the news release:

  • Beta-endorphins elevate mood state
  • Human growth hormone (HGH) helps with optimizing immunity
  • Cortisol and epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) are detrimental stress hormones that negatively affect immunity if chronically released.
  • A group of 10 diabetics with hypertensoin and high cholesterol were assigned regularly to watch funny videos for 30 minutes. Over 12 months, their blood chemistry was compared to 10 matching people who were not made to laugh.
  • Adding laughter standard diabetes care may lower stress and inflammatory response and increase “good” cholesterol levels. The authors conclude that mirthful laughter may thus lower the risk of cardiovascular disease associated with diabetes mellitus and metabolic syndrome.

In describing himself as a “hardcore medical clinician and scientist,” Dr. Berk says, “the best clinicians understand that there is an intrinsic physiological intervention brought about by positive emotions such as mirthful laughter, optimism and hope.

More details follow:


A key to happiness

Studies hint at possible ways to get off the hedonic treadmill and find lasting happiness.

By Zak Stambor

University of California, Riverside, psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, recalls being “almost blind” until a few years ago. Then she had LASIK eye surgery, and for the first time since she was 12 years old, she could see perfectly. Lyubomirsky was ecstatic.

“It was completely miraculous,” she recalled at a Div. 8 (Society for Personality and Social Psychology)-sponsored session at APA’s 2006 Annual Convention.

But after a week, Lyubomirsky found herself taking her vision for granted, and her elation faded.

Lyubomirsky’s experience illustrates the mind’s ability to quickly adjust to both positive and negative changes, she said. This tendency puts people on a “hedonic treadmill,” where they are always seeking out short-term mood boosts, she said. As a result, increasing “chronic happiness” is extremely difficult, said Lyubomirsky.

But despite the challenge, the quest for increasing long-term happiness is not futile, she noted. Lyubomirsky’s research suggests that it can be done through conscious efforts, such as pausing to count your blessings, performing kind acts and reframing situations in a positive light.