TIME

Quiz: How Does Your City Affect Your Happiness?

Answer these 13 questions and find out

Happy CityIn his book Happy City, Charles Montgomery offers evidence that where you live has a powerful effect on how you feel. From our commutes to our neighbors and our daily routines, where we choose to live can influence our feelings in ways most of us never imagine.

mcgill_logoThe following quiz will ask you 13 questions about your life. After answering each one, you’ll see how thousands of others have answered the same question. This survey will help us reveal new insights about the relationship between cities and happiness. All responses are completely anonymous.

The quiz was developed by Montgomery, Chris Barrington-Leigh of McGill University, along with TIME.

The data for average happiness scores will update as more readers take the survey. Current results based on 3,302 respondents. Data may also be used for a future study by Barrington-Leigh on happiness across the United States.

Read next: What Your Zip Code Says About You

TIME psychology

How Can You Use Technology to Make You Happier?

Man with phone
Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Many say technology is tearing us apart but studies generally show that tech and the internet make us happier. What gives?

There’s certainly a near-term and long-term difference: your brain loves things that give you more options even if too many choices end up making you miserable. (Humans aren’t always rational. Welcome to Earth.)

More relevant, technology is a tool, and it’s all about what you do with it. Research has shown time and time again that what makes you happier is relationships with people.

Problem is we all have a tendency to use technology to replace relationships.

You do it with television:

Study 1 demonstrated that people report turning to favored television programs when feeling lonely, and feel less lonely when viewing those programs.

Television competes with friends for your free time and acts as a (poor) substitute. It fills the slot of real relationships so effectively that when your favorite TV shows go off the air, it can be the equivalent of a real life break-up. And more TV only makes you more unhappy.

You do it with your phone:

“The cellphone directly evokes feelings of connectivity to others, thereby fulfilling the basic human need to belong.” This results in reducing one’s desire to connect with others or to engage in empathic and prosocial behavior.

You’re not addicted to your phone — brain scans show it’s more like you’re in love with it. (There are now more iPhones sold than babies born in the world every day.) By stripping away the emotional information in faces and intonation, text messaging might be simulating autism.

Too much computer time can degrade social skills. Research shows Facebook often promotes weak, low-commitment relationships and it’s curated presentation of only life’s best moments can make us depressed. Email can stress you out and turn you into an asshole if you’re not careful.

So should we smash the machines and live like the Amish?

No way.

Like I said, it’s all about how you use it. In fact, research shows compulsive internet users have happier marriages. Overall, Facebook users get more emotional support than average.

So how do you get the good without the bad?

Technology can increase happiness and improve relationships if you leverage it to connect with other people:

The results were unequivocal. “The greater the proportion of face-to-face interactions, the less lonely you are,” he says. “The greater the proportion of online interactions, the lonelier you are.” Surely, I suggest to Cacioppo, this means that Facebook and the like inevitably make people lonelier. He disagrees. Facebook is merely a tool, he says, and like any tool, its effectiveness will depend on its user. “If you use Facebook to increase face-to-face contact,” he says, “it increases social capital.” So if social media let you organize a game of football among your friends, that’s healthy. If you turn to social media instead of playing football, however, that’s unhealthy.

So don’t just hit the LIKE button. Comment, interact and most importantly, plan face-to-face get togethers.

Your phone can make you happier too. (In fact, there’s an app for that.) Use your phone to make plans to meet with friends in person or to connect with those you can’t see face to face.

And when you’re with friends, put it away. Seeing friends and family regularly is worth an extra $97,265 a year. Whatever you want to check on that phone ain’t worth a hundred grand.

Summing up:

We frequently use technology to replace relationships. This is bad. Technology can increase happiness and improve relationships if you leverage it to connect with other people.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join 25K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY psychology of money

Why You Almost Never Dream About Money

woman sleeping at night
You're more likely to be dreaming about cats than checkbooks. rubberball—Getty Images

If your sleeping hours are filled with visions of your financial life, you're in the minority. Here's what that means.

In your sleep, do you dream about money? Surprisingly, most people do not—at least not literally. And if you believe the thoughts that enter your head while you sleep actually mean something, this may suggest we’re shockingly content.

Dream analysts say that winning the lotto or a boat, or getting a bonus aren’t even among the top 50 most common thoughts in slumber. Money is nowhere to be found on a state-by-state chart of popular dream symbols. The dream map is dominated by things like “family” in Texas, “cats” in New York, “pigs” in Nebraska, and “sex” in perhaps the most honest states Missouri and New Hampshire.

We each have three to nine dreams per night, and most of us think about money everyday. Yet up and down the list of most common nighttime visions are things like dancing, school, guns, drugs, movies, and food. Nothing about greenbacks. Zilch. “This shows that people place more importance on the quality of their real happiness,” says dream expert Anna-Karin Bjorklund, author of Dream Guidance. “If you never dream about money, chances are your happiness is not related to feeling powerful or having the means to acquire material possessions.”

That’s good, right? Our subconscious is telling us that our pets and friends and experiences are what we really care about—even if we’re carrying a credit card balance and haven’t earned a decent raise in five years. To a degree this confirms much of what polls have shown since the Great Recession: a broad rediscovery of basic values and things that money can’t buy.

But before we congratulate ourselves on being phenomenally high-minded, we need to dig a little deeper. For one thing, materialism creeps onto the dream list in the form of “beach house” in Alabama; in the fourth richest state in America, Connecticut, “shopping” and “malls” make the top-five list. “Cruise ship” sneaks onto the list in Florida.

Besides, dreams are rarely literal—and thankfully so because on the list of popular dream subjects we find cheating, adultery, cemetery, and murder. If you dream about doors opening or being given the keys to an important room—that may be dreaming about a cash windfall, says dream expert Kelly Sullivan Walden, author of It’s All in Your Dreams. And, she says, “If you’re stressed about money in your waking life, you might find yourself dreaming of a leaky faucet, animals fighting over food, or your teeth falling out.”

Got that? How you view whatever you are dreaming is far more important than the dream itself. “If you have a dream where someone is stealing your vegetables, this could indicate that you feel what you’ve been planting has been taken away,” says Bjorklund. According to dream expert Lauri Loewenberg, author of Dream On It, financial stress also shows up in dreams as:

  • Drowning (debt)
  • Bleeding (savings disappearing)
  • Falling (diminishing financial security)
  • Getting lost (directionless career)
  • Calling 911 but no one answers (poor financial advise)

“Dreams are symbolic and speak to us in metaphors,” says Loewenberg. “If you want to look for your dreams to help you with your financial situation, they will, but they may not use money to get the message across.” So maybe a good deal of our subconscious nighttime adventures are about money after all. We just don’t know it.

TIME psychology

The Single Most Important Thing to Do Today if You Want to Live a Long, Happy Life

Friends talking
Abel Mitja Varela—Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Might sound trite or corny, but go see a friend.

The research regarding what it takes to live a long life and what it takes to live a happy life overlap significantly. One of the things they share is spending time with friends.

Harvard happiness expert Dan Gilbert says that what brings us the most happiness is family and friends.

Having a better social life can be worth as much as an additional $131,232 a year in terms of life satisfaction.

By allowing unobserved individual fixed effects to be factored out from the life satisfaction equation, an increase in the level of social interaction with friends and relatives is estimated to be worth up to an extra £85,000 a year. In terms of statistical significance, this is strikingly large. The estimated figure is even larger than that of getting married (which is worth approximately £50,000). It can compensate for nearly two-third in the loss of the happiness from going through a separation (minus £139,000) or unemployment (minus £143,000). It is also roughly nine times larger than the average real household income per capita in the dataset, which is around £9,800 a year.

Most of what we do to relieve stress doesn’t actually work. Friends, however, do take the edge off.

Via The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It:

According to the American Psychological Association, the most effective stress-relief strategies are exercising or playing sports, praying or attending a religious service, reading, listening to music, spending time with friends or family, getting a massage, going outside for a walk, meditating or doing yoga, and spending time with a creative hobby. (The least effective strategies are gambling, shopping, smoking, drinking, eating, playing video games, surfing the Internet, and watching TV or movies for more than two hours.)

Can money buy happiness? Yes, but not how you might expect. Harvard’s Michael Norton explains that one of the most notable ways cash brings joy is by spending it on other people:

Connecting with and helping others is more important than obsessing over a rigorous exercise program.

What yes/no question can likely predict whether you will be alive and happy at age 80?

“Is there someone in your life whom you would feel comfortable phoning at four in the morning to tell your troubles to?”

Via Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being:

Is there someone in your life whom you would feel comfortable phoning at four in the morning to tell your troubles to? If your answer is yes, you will likely live longer than someone whose answer is no. For George Vaillant, the Harvard psychiatrist who discovered this fact, the master strength is the capacity to be loved. Conversely, as the social neuroscientist John Cacioppo has argued, loneliness is such a disabling condition that it compels the belief that the pursuit of relationships is a rock-bottom fundamental to human well-being.

The Longevity Project details a research project at Harvard that has followed 268 men for over 72 years, making it one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history.

What was the most important lesson the scientists learned?

…the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.

And, sorry: Facebook isn’t enough. John Cacioppo, author of Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, explains that technology is best if you use it to arrange face-to-face contact:

In one experiment, Cacioppo looked for a connection between the loneliness of subjects and the relative frequency of their interactions via Facebook, chat rooms, online games, dating sites, and face-to-face contact. The results were unequivocal. “The greater the proportion of face-to-face interactions, the less lonely you are,” he says. “The greater the proportion of online interactions, the lonelier you are.” Surely, I suggest to Cacioppo, this means that Facebook and the like inevitably make people lonelier. He disagrees. Facebook is merely a tool, he says, and like any tool, its effectiveness will depend on its user. “If you use Facebook to increase face-to-face contact,” he says, “it increases social capital.” So if social media let you organize a game of football among your friends, that’s healthy. If you turn to social media instead of playing football, however, that’s unhealthy.

And choose wisely. Spending time with fake friends — or “frenemies” — is worse than spending time with real enemies:

“Friends that we feel ambivalently about raise our blood pressure more — cause more anxiety and stress — than people we actively dislike.

Want to strengthen your friendships? Go here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 100,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

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What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

What Are the Three Ways to Train Your Brain to Be Happy?

Happy brain
Derek Bacon—Getty Images/Ikon Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

You can train your mind to be unhappy and you can train it to be happy.

Training your mind to look for errors and problems (as happens in careers like accounting and law) can lead you toward a pervasive pessimism that carries over into your personal life.

Via One Day University Presents: Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness (Harvard’s Most Popular Course):

I discovered the tax auditors who are the most successful sometimes are the ones that for eight to 14 hours a day were looking at tax forms, looking for mistakes and errors. This makes them very good at their job, but when they started leading their teams or they went home to their spouse at night, they would be seeing all the lists of mistakes and errors that were around them. Two of them told me they came home with a list of the errors and mistakes that their wife was making.

Why are lawyers 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression and more likely to end up divorced?

Martin Seligman, psychology professor at UPenn and author of Authentic Happiness, explains they have trained their minds to seek out the bad in life because pessimists excel at law:

Pessimism is seen as a plus among lawyers, because seeing troubles as pervasive and permanent is a component of what the law profession deems prudence. A prudent perspective enables a good lawyer to see every conceivable snare and catastrophe that might occur in any transaction. The ability to anticipate the whole range of problems and betrayals that non-lawyers are blind to is highly adaptive for the practicing lawyer who can, by so doing, help his clients defend against these far-fetched eventualities. If you don’t have this prudence to begin with, law school will seek to teach it to you. Unfortunately, though, a trait that makes you good at your profession does not always make you a happy human being.

Is there a way to get your mind out of these negative loops? Yes.

Here’s how.

Three Blessings

You must teach your brain to seek out the good things in life. Research shows merely listing three things you are thankful for each day can make a big difference.

Via Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being:

Every night for the next week, set aside ten minutes before you go to sleep. Write down three things that went well today and why they went well. You may use a journal or your computer to write about the events, but it is important that you have a physical record of what you wrote. The three things need not be earthshaking in importance (“My husband picked up my favorite ice cream for dessert on the way home from work today”), but they can be important (“My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy”). Next to each positive event, answer the question “Why did this happen?”

This technique has been proven again and again and again. One of the reasons old people are happier is because they remember the good and forget the bad.

Social Comparison

People probably encourage you to not compare yourself to others. Research shows it’s not necessarily harmful — but only compare yourself to those worse off than you:

“Generally if people compare themselves to those who are worse off, they’re going to feel better,” continues Bauer, now a research associate at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and a clinical psychologist at Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Associates of Toronto. “When they compare themselves to people who are better off, it can make them feel worse.”

Tell Yourself the Right Stories

When your vision of your life story is inadequate, depression can result. Psychotherapists actually help “rewrite” that story and this process is as, if not more, effective than medication.

Via The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human:

According to the psychologist Michele Crossley, depression frequently stems from an “incoherent story,” an “inadequate narrative account of oneself,” or “a life story gone awry.” Psychotherapy helps unhappy people set their life stories straight; it literally gives them a story they can live with. And it works.

“Retrospective judgment” means reevaluating events and putting a positive spin on them. Naturally happy people do it automatically, but it’s something you can teach yourself.

Via Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth:

Lyubomirsky showed that happy people naturally reinterpret events so that they preserve their self-esteem.

Timothy Wilson, author of Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change, has talked about how the process of “story-editing” can help us improve our lives:

we prompted students to reinterpret their academic problems from a belief that they couldn’t cut it in college to the view that they simply needed to learn the ropes. The students who got this prompt—compared to a control group that didn’t—got better grades the next year and were less likely to drop out.

And when it comes to the future, be optimistic. Optimism can make you happier.

So, to sum up:

Count your blessings

Only compare yourself to those worse off than you

Tell yourself a positive story about the challenges in your life

What else can make you happier? The things proven to help are here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join 25K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

Why Do You Read 1,000 Things About Change and Never Change?

Arrow pointing up
Looking Glass—Getty Images/Blend Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Knowing isn’t doing.

I post a lot of stuff about getting better at things. A common response to my posts is “I know that.”

Knowing is great for watching Jeopardy. It’s not nearly as good for life.

So why is learning about improvement so easy and actually improving so damn hard?

Most any change that requires a lot of consistent mental effort is going to fail because you spend most of the day on autopilot.

Via Charles Duhigg’s excellent book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business:

One paper published by a Duke University researcher in 2006 found that more than 40 percent of the actions people performed each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits.

Any change has to work when you’re on autopilot. The importance of self-control is one of the biggest myths about improvement.

Almost all the techniques for change that have been shown to work don’t rely on thought or willpower.

Changing Your Environment

If there are no cookies in the house, guess who’s not eating cookies at 3AM? Manipulate your environment so you don’t have to exert self-control.

There’s a great story on NPR that shows just how important context is in maintaining (and ending) bad habits:

According to her research, the number of soldiers who continued their heroin addiction once they returned to the U.S. was shockingly low.

“I believe the number of people who actually relapsed to heroin use in the first year was about 5 percent,” Jaffe said recently from his suburban Maryland home. In other words, 95 percent of the people who were addicted in Vietnam did not become re-addicted when they returned to the United States.

You’re often lazy, busy or distracted so most things that are out of sight really are out of mind.

More here.

20 Second Rule

Make the things you want to do take 20 seconds less time to start and the things you want to avoid take 20 seconds longer to get going. Amazon makes a gazillion dollars every year because of that “One Click” button. Before the cash register at a store there’s the “impulse buy” section. Take the same idea, use it to your benefit.

Via The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work:

Lower the activation energy for habits you want to adopt, and raise it for habits you want to avoid. The more we can lower or even eliminate the activation energy for our desired actions, the more we enhance our ability to jump-start positive change.

More here.

Peer Pressure is a Glorious Thing

Peer pressure helps kids more than it hurts them. And face it, you’re still a big kid, you just have to pretend to be an adult most of the time — and it’s exhausting.

Surround yourself with people you want to be and it’s far less taxing to do what you should be doing.

Via Charles Duhigg’s excellent book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business:

In a 1994 Harvard study that examined people who had radically changed their lives, for instance, researchers found that some people had remade their habits after a personal tragedy, such as a divorce or a life-threatening illness. Others changed after they saw a friend go through something awful, the same way that Dungy’s players watched him struggle.

Just as frequently, however, there was no tragedy that preceded people’s transformations. Rather, they changed because they were embedded in social groups that made change easier… When people join groups where change seems possible, the potential for that change to occur becomes more real.

More here.

“If-Then” Plans

That’s a fancy way of setting a standard response to a situation so you don’t have to think. When someone asks you to vote for that “other” political party, to inject heroin or consider murder you probably don’t actually consider it. You have a knee jerk script in your head that says “I don’t do that.”

If everything you did required a thoughtful decision, you’d never get out of bed in the morning. Too much of this and you’re a computer. But used deliberately it can be quite powerful.

Via Nine Things Successful People Do Differently:

It’s called if-then planning, and it is a really powerful way to help you achieve any goal. Well over a hundred studies, on everything from diet and exercise to negotiation and time management, have shown that deciding in advance when and where you will take specific actions to reach your goal (e.g., “If it is 4 p.m., then I will return any phone calls I should return today”) can double or triple your chances for success.

More here.

What do they all have in common?

All of these techniques remove mental effort and can easily be incorporated into the routine you already have. That’s their strength.

But they all require a little bit of planning ahead of time. With these systems most people don’t really fail — most people never really start. How do you plan?

Chip and Dan Heath distill effective behavior change down to three simple steps in their well-researched and enjoyable book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard.

  1. First, direct the rational mind
    • Provide crystal-clear direction. What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.
    • Script the critical moves — don’t think big picture, think in terms of specific behaviors.
    • Point to the destination. Change is easier when you know where you’re going and why it’s worth it.
  2. Second, motivate the emotional mind
    • Focus on emotions. Knowing something isn’t enough to cause change.
    • Make people (or yourself) feel something.
    • Shrink the change. Break down the change so it’s not scary.
    • When leading a group, cultivate a sense of identity and instill a growth mindset. Believe change is possible.
  3. “Shape the Path”
    • What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.
    • Tweak the environment. When a situation changes, behavior changes.
    • So change the situation.
    • Build habits. When a behavior is habitual it doesn’t tax our minds as much.

Pick one of the techniques. Plan for 20 minutes. You might struggle to implement for a couple days, but after that, it’s easier to stay the course than it is to deviate. That’s the secret.

Don’t try to reinvent yourself. You’ll fail. Fit the new into the old. Make the new easier than the old.

You change all the time. The TV shows you watch change, the products you buy change, and the projects at work change. Change is going to happen, no matter what.

The question is, will you be in control of the change or will the change control you?

Join 25K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

What do people regret the most before they die?

What five things can make sure you never stop growing and learning?

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY office etiquette

Germans Say “Nein!” to Late-Night Work Email. Here’s How You Can, Too

Mariella Ahrens attends the Dresscoded Hippie Wiesn 2014 at Golfclub Gut Thailing on August 28, 2014 in Steinhoering near Ebersberg, Germany.
Turns out Germans may have us beat when it comes to balancing work and play. Gisela Schober—Getty Images

Sick of your boss's 3 a.m. emails? Maybe you should move to Germany—where support is growing for a law banning late-night work communication.

Despite their reputation for industriousness, it turns out Germans have a thing or two to teach us about work-life balance.

The country has shaved nearly 1,000 hours from the annual schedule of its average worker (compared with 200 hours in the U.S.) in the last half-century. And now a movement is growing there to make after-hours work emails verboten.

A newly initiated study on worker stress led by the German labor minister is expected to lead to legislation preventing employers from reaching out to employees outside of normal office hours. (That might surprise those who’d expect such a thing only from the French.)

Though the law wouldn’t come to fruition until 2016, Germans—and Europeans in general—are still slightly better off than Americans in the meantime. While the average work week in major developed countries is 47 hours, that number balloons to about 90 hours per week for U.S. workers (vs. 80 for Europeans) if you include time that people are checking email and staying available outside of the office.

“We have become such an instantaneous society,” says Peggy Post, a director of The Emily Post Institute and expert on business etiquette. “We’re expected to be on call 24/7.”

And all this late-night work isn’t without consequences: Studies have found that staying up checking work emails on smartphones actually makes workers less productive the next day because of effects on sleep. Other downsides include more mistakes and miscommunications.

In lieu of practicing your Deutsch and moving your whole life overseas, take back your “offline” time by doing the following:

1. Become an email whiz while at work.

One major reason we’re forced to take to our phones late at night and on weekends? Because it’s so hard to get actual work done during work these days, due to smaller staffs, long meetings, floods of email, and noisy open floor plans.

At least in some jobs, the more you get done during regular hours, the less you’ll be penalized if you aren’t available during evenings or weekends. Some experts suggest giving yourself a specific window during the day to handle emails. See nine specific tips on more efficient emailing from former Google CEO Eric Schmidt here. With smart rules, like “last in, first out,” you can become a speed demon.

And if you just can’t pack it all in, you might also think about a quick end-of-day meeting (preferably at the scheduled end of day) to check in with whomever you’re most likely to get emails from later on.

2. Make sure you understand the expectations.

You assume your boss wants an immediate response to that late-night brainstorm, but are you sure? It’s worth finding out.

Alison Green, who blogs at AskaManager.org has suggested phrasing your question as follows: “Hey, I’m assuming that it’s fine for me to wait to reply to emails sent over the weekend until I’m back at work on Monday, unless it’s an emergency. Let me know if that’s not the case.”

But what if the boss says that you really are expected to be at the ready? You might need to communicate your dissatisfaction with these terms—rather than succumbing to burnout.

Again, the words you choose are important. Green suggested the following: “I don’t mind responding occasionally if it’s an emergency, but I wonder if there’s a way to save everything else for when I’m back at work. I use the weekends to recharge so that I’m refreshed on Monday, and I’m often somewhere where I can’t easily answer work emails.”

Post agrees that how you speak up goes a long way toward getting the result you want. “Without whining, try to share specific constructive solutions,” says Post. “For example, you could suggest having employees take on separate after-hours times to be on call for different days of the week.”

3. Stop the cycle.

Remember, you’re perpetuating the expectation when you engage in these email chains. Should you write back once at 10 p.m., those above you will likely begin to assume that you’ll be available at that time (even if they didn’t initially expect you to be).

Likewise, if your boss emails you, you might feel that you’re in the clear to contact those below you in their free time. But that’s a no-no, according to many experts.

While you may simply be trying to send something while you remember it, you are actually putting someone else in the same predicament you’re in. Some suggest limiting yourself to answering or writing emails to between 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., unless there’s a particularly urgent need or project—though the right window for you probably depends upon your company and office culture.

And if you do have your most brilliant thought at 2 a.m.? Go ahead and write it, but then use a tool like Boomerang that lets you schedule it for a more reasonable post-shower hour.

TIME Happiness

8 Scientifically-Backed Ways to Feel Happier Right Now

Women laughing together
Amanda Marsalis

The math is simple: Plenty of time outside plus good friends, minus too much Facebook and fast food, add up to serious joy.

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

The key to happiness is obviously a whole lot more complicated than simple addition (x+y=joy). But maybe a “happiness equation” isn’t such a far-fetched idea: In fact, researchers at the University College London have developed a formula to accurately forecast the happiness of more than 18,000 people, Time.com reported.

A big part of the equation had to do with expectations: low enough so you aren’t disappointed, but high enough that you have something to look forward to.

While the formula is still too complicated for everyday application (you can see what it looks likehere), plenty of other recent studies offer quick, simple strategies for improving your happiness, no math required. We rounded up a few:

1. Log off Facebook (and phone a friend). More likes don’t necessary add up to more happiness,according to research from the University of Michigan. The more the study participants (82 young adults) used Facebook over a two-week period, the more their life satisfaction levels declined. In contrast, the researchers found that direct interactions with others—whether it be over the phone or face-to-face—actually helped people to feel better over time.

(MORE: 5 Ways to Stay Cool Under Pressure)

2. Focus on people, not things. For a Swedish study published last year in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, researchers found that “people words”—like the names of celebrities, family members or even just a personal pronoun (you, me, us, or them)—were more likely to appear in daily publications alongside the word “happiness.” Articles with words like “iPhone,” “millions,” and “Google” almost never had the word “happiness” in them.

3. Go outside. A pilot study from the United Arab Emirates last year identified a link between time spent outside and improved mood. The study’s co-author, Dr. Fatme Al Anouti, an assistant professor at Zayed University’s college of sustainability sciences and humanities, suggested that this could be because of the body’s increased production of vitamin D in response to sun exposure, The Huffington Post reported.

4. Think happy thoughts. There might be some truth to the old “fake it ‘til you make it” advice. AJournal of Positive Psychology study published last year showed that when two sets of participants listened to “happy” music, the people who actively tried to feel happier reported a better mood afterwards.

(MORE: How to Tell If Someone Is Lying)

5. Play Cupid. Think two of your friends would make a great match? Set ‘em up—for their happiness and yours. A study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science suggests that matching others based on how well you think they will get along boosts happiness and is more rewarding than deciding who wouldn’t get along. The researchers also found that the more unlikely the match, the more satisfying the set-up.

6. Get some sleep. According to a report published by the American Psychological Association many people have built up a so-called “sleep debt” from long periods of inadequate shut-eye. And depriving yourself of z’s is linked to problems with both mood and relationships. The remedy? The APA suggests a catch-up period where you aim to get an extra 60-90 minutes of sleep per to cut down on “sleep debt.” (And the sleep/mood connection works both ways: One study found being happy can help you get a good night’s sleep.)

(MORE: 50 Great Books That Will Change Your Life)

7. Give back socially. Giving back pretty much always feels good, but adding in a social component makes it even more of a mood booster. One study suggests that donors feel happiest when they give charity directly to someone they know or in a way that bolsters a social connection rather than just making an anonymous donation to their cause of choice. Research has also linked volunteering with increased life satisfaction and decreased levels of depression.

8. Skip the fast food. A study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science suggested a possible link between repeated exposure to fast food restaurants and an inability to savor pleasurable experiences. “We think about fast food as saving us time and freeing us up to do the things that we want to do,” study co-author Sanford DeVoe, an associate professor of organizational behavior and human resource management at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, said in a statement. “But because it instigates this sense of impatience, there are a whole set of activities where it becomes a barrier to our enjoyment of them.”

(MORE: 5 Ways to Win People Over)

 

MONEY Workplace

5 High-Paying Jobs That Will Make You Miserable

Hand in medical glove with thumbs down
Don Bayley—Getty Images

If you think that a fat salary is all you need to be happy, think again. Many high-paid professions are also high-stress—and highly likely to lead to misery.

Physician
In the new memoir Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician, Sandeep Jauhur does a lot more than trace his own dissatisfaction with the medical profession. The cardiologist makes the case that doctors, once the proud, well-paid, contented pillars of communities around the country, are deeply unhappy with what’s been happening in the field of medicine—and that many regret going into the profession. He points to data such as a survey in which only 6% of physicians described morale on the job as positive, and in an excerpt recently published in the Wall Street Journal, Jauhur references the quotes of other doctors venting their frustrations with their choice of career:

I feel like a pawn in a moneymaking game for hospital administrators. There are so many other ways I could have made my living and been more fulfilled. The sad part is we chose medicine because we thought it was worthwhile and noble, but from what I have seen in my short career, it is a charade.

At least it’s a highly paid charade. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, physicians dominate the nation’s top 20 highest-paying occupations, with median pay over $150,000 per year for a wide range of medical specialties. (Anesthesiologists seem to do the best of all, with median salaries of $431,977.) Even so, the majority of doctors say their pay has been flat or on the decline for years. More importantly, they’re unhappy.

As Jauhur puts it, “American doctors are suffering from a collective malaise,” for reasons ranging from bureaucratic hassles to increased pressure to see more and more patients. Hence surveys showing that up to 40% of current doctors would choose a different career if they had to do it all over again, and even more say they would try to talk their kids out of a career in medicine. Physicians also tend to have unusually high suicide rates. According to the American Society for Suicide Prevention, male physicians commit suicide at a 70% higher rate compared with other professions, and female physicians die by their own hands at shocking clip that’s 250% to 400% higher than women in other lines of work.

Doctors are hardly the only workers whose high salaries are perhaps offset by a high-pressure environment and general discontent in the field. Here are four other well-paid professions in which practitioners are likely to be unhappy.

Junior Investment Banker
In his new book, Young Money, author Kevin Roose follows eight recent college grads through their first years in investment banking. What he found isn’t pretty.

“It’s a terrible labor practice, and the banks are getting wise to that,” Roose told Vox, referring to the 120-hour weeks new bankers are forced to work. The load is so unbearable that even high salaries—base starting around $75,000, with bonuses that could double that, and the potential to make millions down the line—aren’t attracting the number of recruits banks are used to. This January, institutions like Credit Suisse and Citigroup moved to limit some employees’ hours, and other banks have raised junior bankers’ pay to compensate for their grueling schedules.

“The banks had this social contract with young people: Give us two years of your lives, don’t see your friends, chain yourself to your desk, but we will give you this glorious life where you’re making many times what you could ever imagine,” Roose said. “But now that contract is being broken.”

What advice does he have for prospective finance workers looking to make a fast buck? “I’d tell them first that it will make them truly miserable, the kind of miserable it could take years to recover from, and that it also no longer has that imprimatur. It can actually hinder you.”

Sales Manager
Being in sales in hard. Being in charge of sales is even harder. That’s why, despite its high average paycheck—$123,150 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—sales managers still landed on Forbes’ Unhappiest Jobs of 2014 list, which used self-reported job reviews from CareerBliss. What’s the problem? Complaints run the gamut from constant pressure to feelings of boredom and emptiness. That’s not a great combination.

Dentist & Lawyer
The median annual salary for dentists is around $155,000. First-year law associates command salaries of around $160,000 in big cities like New York and Chicago. In both cases, however, the money doesn’t seem to correlate to happiness. The consensus of research usually puts dentists at or near the top of the list for professions with the highest suicide rates (though some question the data). Lawyers, known for high suicide rates themselves, were found to have the highest rate of depression among 100 professions included in a much-cited Johns Hopkins study. In fact, attorneys are 3.6 times more likely than average to be depressed.

In 2013, associate attorneys topped Forbes’ “Unhappiest Jobs” list, just ahead of (or below?) much lower-paying gigs like customer service associate and store clerk. Whereas those poorly paid workers are most unhappy with limited growth potential and unexciting workplace cultures, associate attorneys say they are most frustrated by long hours, the pressure to constantly be billing clients during those long hours, and pay that’s paltry compared to partners in their law firms.

Dentists are often unhappy because they graduate with huge student loans (often around $200,000), and their jobs largely come with all the pressures—but not as much prestige—of running your own medical practice. It can’t help either of these career fields that everybody jokes about lawyers, and about how much they hate dentists.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

6 Things You Must Know About Money and Happiness

Money stack
Getty Images

If you were offered a well-deserved raise at work or a no-strings-attached wad of money, would you take it? You’ve surely heard that money can’t buy happiness, but it can certainly get you closer to an enjoyable life, right?

Yes and no, says Elizabeth Dunn, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and author of Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending. “It turns out, what you do with your money seems to matter just as much to your happiness as how much you make,” she says—good news for those of us without a sudden windfall or promotion in our near futures.

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Here are six facts that may surprise you—and tips on how to live the good life, no matter how much you’ve got.

Don’t sweat the six-figure job

“There is definitely a correlation between income and happiness,” says Dunn. “But actually, money buys less happiness than people assume.” And in some ways, it buys happiness only up to a certain point: A 2010 Princeton University study found that emotional well-being—defined by the frequency of emotions like joy, anger, affection, and sadness—tended to rise with salary, but only up to about $75,000. Beyond that, people continued to rate their lives as more satisfying, but they didn’t seem to experience any more happiness on a day-to-day basis.

Spend on experiences, not things

Material goods may last longer, but a 2014 San Francisco State University study shows that life experiences—like trips, fancy dinners, and spa treatments—provide more satisfaction in the long run. Researchers interviewed volunteers before and after they made purchases of both types, and found that afterward, most people viewed the intangibles as a better use of money. However, they add, an experience has to fit a person’s personality in order to have benefit; someone who doesn’t like show tunes, for example, probably won’t see the value in a Broadway play.

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Donate to charity

Giving to people or organizations in need “has a direct correlational effect on happiness that is basically equivalent to a doubling of household income,” says Dunn, citing research from a Gallup World Poll. How you give matters, too, she says: You’ll get more of an emotional reward by supporting groups you feel closely connected to, or when a close friend asks for your help. (In other words, accept that Ice Bucket Challenge already—the giving money part, at least!)

Pay it off early

“The pleasure of consumption can be dragged down by the pain of having to pay for it,” says Dunn. One way to get around that? Put money down for things as early as you can, even if you won’t actually experience them for a while—book trips months in advance, pre-order books and albums you’re excited about, or purchase credit for a service you can redeem at a later date. “Research shows that what lies in the future is much more emotionally evocative than what lies in the past,” she adds. “If we paid for something last year, it’s almost like our brain forgets we ever spent money on it.”

Health.com: Money Trouble? 14 Depression-Fighting Tips

Give thoughtful gifts

When money gets tight, it may seem wasteful to splurge on presents and tokens of affection—but Dunn’s research shows that spending money on others, especially a loved one, is one of the happiest things you can do with your money. (In one study, people who had been asked to spend $5 on someone else felt better at the end of the day than those who’d been asked to spend it on themselves.) It’s the thought that counts, too: Both givers and receivers are happier when a gift is a good fit for the recipient’s personality.

Use a debit, not credit card

Being in debt is negatively associated with happiness, and is linked to health problems such as depression and anxiety. It may be hard to avoid all forms of debt, but one way to keep from falling deeper into it is to make everyday purchases with debit accounts, rather than charging them. “Debit cards are way happier plastic,” says Dunn. “They provide a lot of the same conveniences as credit cards, but don’t have the same long-term problems associated with them.”

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This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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