Graying but grinning: Despite physical ailments, older adults happier

Dilip Jeste, M.D., Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences and director of the Center on Healthy Aging at UC San Diego. CREDIT: UC San Diego Health

Dilip Jeste, M.D., Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences and director of the Center on Healthy Aging at UC San Diego.
CREDIT: UC San Diego Health

While even the best wines eventually peak and turn to vinegar, a new study by researchers at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine suggests a paradoxical trend in the mental health of aging adults: They seem to consistently get better over time.

“Their improved sense of psychological well-being was linear and substantial,” said senior author Dilip Jeste, MD, Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences and director of the Center on Healthy Aging at UC San Diego. “Participants reported that they felt better about themselves and their lives year upon year, decade after decade.”

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United States Parents Not as Happy as Those without Children, Baylor University Researcher Says

Conflict in a familyParents in the United States generally are not as happy as those who aren’t parents. Not only that, the U.S. has the largest “happiness gap” among parents compared to non-parents in 22 industrialized countries, according to a report by researchers at Baylor University, the University of Texas at Austin and Wake Forest University.

The report — prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families housed at the University of Texas at Austin — poses the question: “Why?”

The answer: The relative lack of workplace “packages’’ of policies such as paid sick time, paid vacation, flexible work hours and paid maternal or parental leave, said co-researcher Matthew Andersson, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology at Baylor University and formerly a researcher at Yale University’s Center for Research on Inequalities and the Life Course.

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New equation reveals how other people’s fortunes affect our happiness

This is the updated equation to predict happiness, where t is the trial number, w0 is a constant term, other weights w capture the influence of different event types, 0 ? γ ? 1 is a forgetting factor that makes events in more recent trials more influential than those in earlier trials, CRj is the certain reward if chosen instead of a gamble on trial j, EVj is the average reward for the gamble if chosen on trial j, and RPEj is the RPE (reinforcement prediction error) on trial j contingent on choice of the gamble. The RPE is equal to the reward received minus the expectation in that trial EVj. If the CR was chosen, then EVj = 0 and RPEj = 0; if the gamble was chosen, then CRj = 0. The variables in the equation are quantities that the neuromodulator dopamine has been associated with in previous neuroscience studies. The additional term w4 relates to advantageous inequality (guilt) when the reward received by the subject Rj exceeds the reward received by the other player Oj, and w5 relates to disadvantageous inequality (envy) when Oj exceeds Rj. CREDIT: Robb Rutledge, UCL

This is the updated equation to predict happiness, where t is the trial number, w0 is a constant term, other weights w capture the influence of different event types, 0 ? γ ? 1 is a forgetting factor that makes events in more recent trials more influential than those in earlier trials, CRj is the certain reward if chosen instead of a gamble on trial j, EVj is the average reward for the gamble if chosen on trial j, and RPEj is the RPE (reinforcement prediction error) on trial j contingent on choice of the gamble. The RPE is equal to the reward received minus the expectation in that trial EVj. If the CR was chosen, then EVj = 0 and RPEj = 0; if the gamble was chosen, then CRj = 0. The variables in the equation are quantities that the neuromodulator dopamine has been associated with in previous neuroscience studies. The additional term w4 relates to advantageous inequality (guilt) when the reward received by the subject Rj exceeds the reward received by the other player Oj, and w5 relates to disadvantageous inequality (envy) when Oj exceeds Rj.
CREDIT: Robb Rutledge, UCL

A new equation, showing how our happiness depends not only on what happens to us but also how this compares to other people, has been developed by UCL researchers funded by Wellcome.

The team developed an equation to predict happiness in 2014, highlighting the importance of expectations*, and the new updated equation also takes into account other people’s fortunes.

The study, published in Nature Communications, found that inequality reduced happiness on average. This was true whether people were doing better or worse than another person they had just met. The subjects played gambles to try to win money and saw whether another person won or lost the same gambles. On average, when someone won a gamble they were happier when their partner also won the same gamble compared to when their partner lost. This difference could be attributed to guilt. Similarly, when people lost a gamble they were happier when their partner also lost compared to when their partner won, a difference that could be attributed to envy.

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Two in five formerly depressed adults are happy and flourishing

happy adult coupleA new study reports that approximately two in five adults (39%) who have experienced major depression are able to achieve complete mental health.

Researchers consider complete mental health as occurring when people achieve almost daily happiness or life satisfaction, positive social and psychological well-being, and are also free of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and substance abuse for at least one full year.

“This research provides a hopeful message to patients struggling with depression, their families and health professionals. A large number of formerly depressed individuals recover and go on to reach optimal well-being” said Esme Fuller-Thomson, lead author of the study and Sandra Rotman Endowed Chair at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and the Institute for Life Course and Aging.

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Study finds genes linked to happiness, depression and neuroticism

HappinessHow people think and feel about their lives depends on multiple factors, including genes. In a paper published in Nature Genetics, a multi-institutional team, including a researcher from Baylor College of Medicine, reports that they have found genetic variants associated with our feelings of well-being, depression and neuroticism.

This is one of the largest studies on the genes involved in human behavior. More than 190 researchers in 140 institutions in 17 countries analyzed genomic data from nearly 300,000 people.

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Can positive memories help treat mental health problems?

Young laughing woman imagining somethingResearchers from the University of Liverpool have published a study highlighting the effectiveness of using positive memories and images to help generate positive emotions.

It has been suggested that savouring positive memories can generate positive emotions. Increasing positive emotion can have a range of benefits including reducing attention to and experiences of threat.

The study, supervised by Dr Peter Taylor from the University’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, investigated individuals’ emotional reactions to a guided mental imagery task focussing on positive social memory called the ‘social Broad Minded Affective Coping (BMAC)’ technique.

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Measuring happiness on social media

University of Iowa computer scientists found that Twitter users' feelings of satisfaction with their lives remained steady over time, consistent with traditional social sciences research on subjective well-being. CREDIT Photo by Lesly B. Juarez.

University of Iowa computer scientists found that Twitter users’ feelings of satisfaction with their lives remained steady over time, consistent with traditional social sciences research on subjective well-being.
CREDIT: Photo by Lesly B. Juarez.

Chao Yang, lead author on the study and a graduate of the UI Department of Computer Science, says this study is different from most social media research on happiness because it looks at how users feel about their lives over time, instead of how they feel in the moment.

“In countries like Bhutan, they are not satisfied with current measures of success like GDP, so they are measuring the Gross National Happiness Index,” Yang says. “They want to know how well their people are living; we saw an opportunity there.”

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Outgoing people lead happier lives

Friends togetherResearch from the University of Southampton has shown that young adults, who are more outgoing or more emotionally stable, are happier in later life than their more introverted or less emotionally stable peers.

In the study, published in the Journal of Research in Personality, Dr Catharine Gale from the Medical Research Council’s Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton and a team from the University of Edinburgh and University College London, examined the effects of neuroticism and extraversion at ages 16 and 26 years on mental wellbeing and life satisfaction at age 60 to 64 and explored the mediating roles of psychological and physical health.

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Misery of work second only to illness

The Mappiness app sends data from thousands of users to researchers at the University of Sussex and LSE who are working on mapping happiness across the UK. CREDIT: Alex Bryson/George MacKerron

The Mappiness app sends data from thousands of users to researchers at the University of Sussex and LSE who are working on mapping happiness across the UK. CREDIT: Alex Bryson/George MacKerron

British people are at their least happy while at work – except when they are sick in bed – according to researchers at the University of Sussex and the London School of Economics (LSE).

The team analysed more than a million responses uploaded to a smartphone app, called Mappiness, that sporadically asks users questions such as how they are feeling, where they are and what they are doing.

Mappiness users receive a ‘ding’ on their smartphone at random times of the day, prompting them to complete a short survey, during which they rank their wellbeing using a sliding scale.

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Valuing your time more than money is linked to happiness

AshleyFullValuing your time more than the pursuit of money is linked to greater happiness, according to new research published by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

In six studies with more than 4,600 participants, researchers found an almost even split between people who tended to value their time or money, and that choice was a fairly consistent trait both for daily interactions and major life events.

“It appears that people have a stable preference for valuing their time over making more money, and prioritizing time is associated with greater happiness,” said lead researcher Ashley Whillans, a doctoral student in social psychology at the University of British Columbia. The findings were published online in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

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