Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Money weakens ability to savour life’s little pleasures | Not Exactly Rocket Science | Discover Magazine
Today is Towel Day, where fans around the world celebrate the works of beloved author Douglas Adams, a master of witty prose and observational humour. Consider his description of money:
“This planet has – or rather had – a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.”
Adams was right to highlight the perceived link between money and happiness. Many people dream of the life they could lead if they won the lottery, a world of mansions, fine restaurants, and first-class travel. But few consider the costs. These fineries could lead to enjoyment overload, compromising our ability to savour life’s simpler pleasures, whether it’s a walk on a sunny day or the taste of a bar of chocolate. This idea of wealth as a double-edged sword is widely held and while it’s easy to suggest that it springs from jealousy, a new set of experiments supports the idea.
Jordi Quoidbach from the University of Liege showed that richer people aren’t as good as savouring everyday pleasures than their poorer counterparts. Even the mere thought of money can make us take mundane joys for granted. Normal people who were reminded about wealth spent less time appreciating a humble bar of chocolate and derived less enjoyment from it.
Quoidbach’s study helps to make sense of a trend in psychological research, where money has an incredibly weak effect on happiness. Once people have enough to buy basic needs and rise out of abject poverty, having extra cash has little bearing on their enjoyment of life. Perhaps this is because money both gives and takes away: it opens doors to new pleasures, while making delights that were already accessible seem less enticing. Obsessing over wealth is like being on a hedonic treadmill – continuously running to stay in the same emotional place.
To begin with, Quoidbach asked 351 university employees, from cleaners to senior staff, to complete a test that measures their ability to savour positive emotions. Each recruit was asked to put themselves in a detailed pleasant scenario, from finishing an important task to discovering an amazing waterfall on a hike. Afterwards, they were quizzed in detail about how they would react to the scenarios, to see how strongly they savoured the experiences.
Using other questionnaires, Quoidbach also assessed how happy they were, how much money it would take to live their dream life, how much money they earned and how much they had saved. And as a final twist, half of the questionnaires included picture of a large stack of euros, while the other half saw the same picture that had been blurred beyond recognition.
He found that the more money the recruits had, the worse they were at savouring their positive emotions. Of course, it’s possible that people who appreciate their lot in life are less eager to chase after wealth. But Quoidbach found that a person’s savouring ability was unrelated to their desire for money. And even suggesting the thought of money, by showing them the euro picture, had the same negative effect, dampening their to the happy imaginings.
Regardless, the recruits also tended to be slightly happier the more money they had. Other studies have found the same trend, but Quoidbach’s important result is the money would have had a far greater impact on the volunteers’ happiness were it not for its negative effect on their savouring ability.
Of course, there’s only so far you can take the results of the questionnaires. A more objective experiment would be better, and that’s exactly what Quoidbach did. He asked 40 students to volunteer for a taste test. They were given a binder that included a questionnaire about their attitudes toward chocolate. On the opposite page, marked as material for an unrelated study, was a picture of either money or a neutral object. Afterwards, all they had to do was eat a chocolate.
Two researchers kept an eye on them and not only timed their munching, but rated how much enjoyment they were showing. The results were clear – the recruits who saw the money took 32 seconds to eat the chocolate, significantly less than the 45 seconds spent by the others. And on average, their happiness rating, as judged by the observers, was 3.6 out of 7, compared to a higher score of 5 for their peers. (Incidentally, the observers didn’t know which group their subjects belonged to, and their scores strongly agreed with one another’s).
These studies are part of a growing body of research showing that the link between money and happiness is more complicated than we might imagine. Elizabeth Dunn, who also worked with Quoidback, has previously shown that money can buy happiness if it’s spent on others, but that having money reduces the odds that people will actually spend it in this way! Dunn has also found that money is better used to buy happiness if it’s spent on experiences rather than goods. And here we see that wealth can undercut the very happiness that it boosts.
In both experiments, a simple reminder of wealth undermined people’s ability to appreciate life’s little pleasures, be they imagined ones or the very physical joys of chocolate. That’s a striking result and Quoidbach explains it best himself. “One need not actually visit the pyramids of Egypt or spend a week at the legendary Banff spas in Canada for one’s savouring ability to be impaired,” he writes. “Simply knowing that these peak experiences are readily available may increase one’s tendency to take the small pleasures of daily life for granted.”
Image from Muffet on Flickr
More on happiness or money:
- Fake and counterfeit goods promote unethical behaviour
- Travels with dopamine – the chemical that affects how much pleasure we expect
- The peril of positive thinking – why positive messages hurt people with low self-esteem
- To predict what will make you happy, ask a stranger rather than guessing yourself
- Money can buy happiness… if you spend it on other people
So those folks who are driven to get more money tend to forget to smell the roses... we needed a study to tell us this?
Monday, May 24, 2010
New research shows a possible explanation for the link between mental health and creativity. By studying receptors in the brain, researchers at Karolinska Institutet have managed to show that the dopamine system in healthy, highly creative people is similar in some respects to that seen in people with schizophrenia.
So, turns out that they were right when they said that there is a fine line between genius and madness :-)
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Friday, May 21, 2010
1 -- Larry Devich http://larry-devich.blogspot.com/ It is more blessed to ask forgiveness than permission
Monday, May 17, 2010
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Friday, May 14, 2010
-- Larry Devich http://larry-devich.blogspot.com/ It is more blessed to ask forgiveness than permission
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Last week I mentioned a story about scientists having now detected evidence that Homo sapiens sapiens (Us) interbred at some point in the past with Homo sapiens neanderthalensis (Them, specifically DNA obtained from several Neanderthal individuals discovered in Croatia, thus the "My" in the title.) This would have occurred as humans were leaving Africa on their way out to populate Europe, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas, since all of these peoples have the Neanderthal gene trace (1-4% of the genome) while those groups that remained in sub-Saharan Africa do not have this trace at all. I was quite pleased to hear this as it introduced all sorts of interesting possibilities for wild speculation, and if there is one thing I love it's wild scientific speculation. :-)
This does present some difficulties for the Reasons to Believe theory of Old Earth Creationism, where humans are considered to be a special creation, not evolved from previous hominids as most other scientists believe. RTB holds that those hominids that precede humans in the fossil record were animals with some unique abilities like tool making, advanced cognitive abilities and such but that they did not have the Imago Dei, or the Image of God. They hold that the Neanderthals were a separate species from true humans. Listening to their most recent podcast on the subject I felt that they were still struggling to deal with the new information and they really hadn't figured out a good way to shoe-horn it into the theory. I'm sure they will eventually twist it into some sort of fit but it seems they are being forced to reach pretty far on this one.
Oddly enough this does not present any significant difficulties for the Young Earth Creationist crowd such as Answers in Genesis or the Institute for Creation Research who have always maintained that the Neanderthals and Homo-Erectus type of hominids were fully human anyway, so that interbreeding is not an issue for them.
The news also is not a problem for standard evolutionary theory of course, it's a surprise but it was always a possibility, they just had not had any evidence for it before now.
Two bits of speculation that the RTB people put out yesterday are that the "reason" God allowed this interbreeding with "animals" (they maintained that Human-Neanderthal interbreeding would have been the sin of bestiality in their podcast) was to introduce racial diversity into the population after the flood as part of the tower of Babel dispersion event. In other words it helped to make people different enough that they would avoid each other and move away to different places to live. This speculation was based on the fact that a few years ago it was announced that Neanderthals were pale skinned and red haired, and that one of the differences they found in the genomes of the non-African populations was on a gene that selects for pigmentation. I suppose then that for some reason this lighter skin color would have been selected for in Europe more than most other places. It is known that the lighter skin allows a more efficient use of limited sunlight to produce vitamin D for example. This interbreeding event would explain where that gene came from in the first place while not requiring a random mutation to explain it, which is pretty cool. The second bit of speculation was that this news makes it almost certain that Adam and Eve were black Africans, which is also pretty cool :-)
I continue to think that RTB has the best basic model to work with from a biblical perspective. God clearly created different species IMO, but just how narrowly you define species is open to a lot of debate and is fertile ground for study (or better for me Wild Speculation!) I tend to think that the divine interventions to create new species were less frequent than RTB thinks, so that there are many related species extant today that have evolved through natural selection from a common ancestor. I think probably horses, zebras and donkeys for example descended from a common ancestor. I don't know where the lines would be drawn but I think it very unlikely that fish evolved into land dwelling reptiles or reptiles into mammals. Of course the main biological creation event would have been the very first life. There is no remotely plausible scenario that gets you from ordinary non-living chemicals to a living cell. Every single explanation I've heard of for the origin of life, other than it being designed and specially created, is laughably unlikely to have happened.
I look forward to hearing more on this over the next several months and even years, science is always learning new things which makes it endlessly fascinating. This should be fun to watch :-)
Monday, May 10, 2010
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry
Friday, May 7, 2010
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Growling sea lion pup pulled from under police car
SAN DIEGO – A sea lion pup has been captured after hiding under a San Diego police car for four hours in the middle of a road. Police Sgt. Jack Knish says officers got a call about 4 a.m. Wednesday that the pup was crossing a street in the Ocean Beach area.
Knish says an officer parked his car in the middle of the road and went to investigate. That's when the sea lion came out from under another car and scuttled under the patrol car.
SeaWorld experts retrieved the growling pup at about 8 a.m.
Rescuer Kevin Robinson grabbed it by the tail and put it in a net. Robinson says the pup, who's less than a year old, was dehydrated but uninjured. He says the pup weighs about 25 pounds — less than half what it should weigh.
Robinson says it will be released within two months.
-- Larry Devich http://larry-devich.blogspot.com/ It is more blessed to ask forgiveness than permission