Why Olympic bronze medalists are happier than silver medalists

Laurie Santos, a psychology professor, teaches the "most popular class in the history of Yale University," according to this article in The Atlantic. Her class is called “Psychology and the Good Life.” She spoke at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Monday to present the “shortest possible crash-course version of the class.” She said the human mind has two glitches that make it hard to be happy.

The first glitch is “hedonic adaptation.”  We get used to the good stuff we have (like a warm bed, food, tech gadgets) and stop appreciating them. She offers two ways to reduce hedonic adaptation -- the first is to spend your money on novel experiences rather than things. The second is to set aside time to think about the things you should be grateful for in your life.

The second glitch is that we tend to compare our lives to people who are doing better than us:

People, says Santos "dwell on relative comparisons instead of absolutes—in other words, how what we have compares with what others have, not whether what we have is plenty for us. She pointed to research that looked at Olympic medalists: Those who won gold were of course visibly thrilled after their event, but bronze medalists appeared happier on the medal stand than silver medalists. That’s because of, the psychological theory goes, each medalist’s reference points. The silver medalists were probably fixated on the gold medal they didn’t get, but the bronze medalists were probably thinking about how their alternative reality was receiving no medal at all."

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Yale's most popular course ever: Happiness

When Yale psych professor Laurie Santos offered a course in how to be happy -- based on the latest peer-reviewed science -- she hoped that a reasonable number of students would sign up (after all, the literature suggested that there is an epidemic of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation among US college students); the course was the most successful in Yale's history, with one in four students enrolling Read the rest

Five second rule conclusively debunked

Few things match the delight of my dogs and myself at the sight of Floor Food. When it happens we're like "Ooo! Floor Food!" and compete to dive on it and eat it first. Sadly, The New York Times reports that the Five Second Rule—the cherished belief among some humans that it is 'safe' to eat Floor Food so long as it has been in contact with the floor for less than five seconds—has been debunked.

Professor Donald W. Schaffner, a food microbiologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey, said a two-year study he led concluded that no matter how fast you pick up food that falls on the floor, you will pick up bacteria with it.

The findings in the report — “Is the five-second rule real?” — appeared online this month in the American Society for Microbiology’s journal, Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

They tested stainless steel, ceramic tile, wood, and carpet, with four different traditional floor foods: bread, buttered bread, watermelon and gummi bears. All resulted in the transfer of a salmonella-like bacterium.

HOWEVER. They also noted that while "bacteria can contaminate instantaneously," it was also the case that "longer contact times resulted in transfer of more bacteria," so I figure we're still good.

Photo: reader of the pack [CC BY-ND 2.0] Read the rest

Excellent advice for grads

Lisa Wade and Gwen Sharp, two sociologists (who also work on the excellent Sociological Images blog) have advice for this year's college grads that goes beyond "find your passion, follow your dreams" (something that actually doesn't work for most college grads, statistically). Instead, they offer research-grounded advice in how to lead a happy, full life:

2. Make Friends Americans put far too much emphasis on finding Mr. or Ms. Right and getting married. We think this will bring us happiness. In fact, however, both psychological well-being and health are more strongly related to friendship. If you have good friends, you’ll be less likely to get the common cold, less likely to die from cancer, recover better from the loss of a spouse, and keep your mental acuity as you age. You’ll also feel more capable of facing life’s challenges, be less likely to feed depressed or commit suicide, and be happier in old age. Having happy friends increases your chance of being happy as much as an extra $145,500 a year does. So, make friends!

4. Don’t Take Your Ideas about Gender and Marriage Too Seriously If you do get married, keep going with the flow. Relationship satisfaction, financial security, and happy kids are more strongly related to flexibility in the face of life’s challenges than any particular way of organizing families. The most functional families are ones that can bend. So partnering with someone who thinks that one partner should support their families and the other should take responsibility for the house and children is a recipe for disaster.

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Double rainbows: Here's what they mean

The physics blog Skulls in the Stars has answers to your rainbow-related questions. Among the fascinating things we learn here — each color in a rainbow represents the light reflected by a separate group of raindrops; skydivers can see circular rainbows; and the famous double rainbow happens when light bounces off the inside of a raindrop not just once ... but twice. Read the rest

The men who tickle rats

Apparently, if you tickle a rat it will respond with vocalizations that scientists have good reason to interpret as happy ones. Basically, it's the rat equivalent of laughter, only at ultrasonic frequencies that the human ear can't detect on its own. What's more, tickling rats on a regular basis appears to reduce the negative effects of stress in their lives. Scicurious' write up of this research includes the amazing quote: "For the “tickling treatment”, rats were tickled once daily, in two sessions of two minutes each, for two weeks." Also, there is video of this. Read the rest

Researchers: Friday best weekday

According to science, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are equally as loathsome as Mondays. [BBC] Read the rest

Lazy harp seal has no job

Good luck getting this song out of your head.

Via Deep Sea News

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Graffiti artist in Urbana, Ill. has an upbeat message for you

This bit of graffiti, spotted by entomologist and photographer Alex Wild, seems like the perfect way to start off a Monday morning. Thanks, anonymous tagger! I feel better already! Read the rest