TIME human behavior

4 Ways of Choosing Happiness from Within

What makes you happy?

Reflect on what you’ve done today. What do your behaviors say about your approach to happiness?

These are the question I usually ask students on the first day of my psychology courses. Often, their responses sound something like this: food, shopping, a new car, a better job, money, sex, an honest spouse, and nice teachers.

For many, this is a very familiar list as it represents a very common approach to happiness.

All of these answers refer to something outside of us. Hence, the common approach is to change the external conditions of our lives, and we end up treating happiness like buried treasure: something that we have to find, attain, and pursue.

However, this may not be a very effective approach. It might be hard to believe, but studies indicate that the circumstances of our lives only account for approximately 10% of our long-term happiness. Sure, we may get a happiness high after buying the new shoes or electronic device, but (as your closet may attest to) that high does not last very long.

Instead of enhancing our happiness, the common approach may be a detriment, since shortly after attaining our pursuits we may begin craving even more of it in order to recreate our previous emotional boost. We can become trapped in what positive psychologists (those who study human happiness) refer to as the hedonic treadmill—the non-stop desire for more or greater pleasures: the bigger house, bank account, sound system, etc…

It’s no wonder some of us never feel truly fulfilled. If we think getting more will make us happy, we can never be happy, since there’s always more to be had.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t strive to improve our lives. It’s only saying that if we believe our happiness is solely dependent on crossing the finish line, it may be impossible to have a happy life if we continually push that line further out with each step.

Instead of the conditions of our lives, research indicates that our long-term level of happiness is more influenced by how we choose to think and what we choose to think about.

So based on this research, instead of searching for happiness on the outside, what can we do to choose happiness from within?

Don’t be Your Own Worst Enemy

While some of our suffering is the result of unpleasant experiences, if you take an emotional inventory of your day, you may notice that much of your suffering is actually self-induced—judgments about oneself or others, replaying unpleasant past experiences, or fixating on possible problems that have yet to occur. Even when rain does ruin your party, how much of your suffering is the result of you prolonging the misery with your own negative judgments about the experience? So choosing happiness from within includes choosing the contents of your own mind, directing your attention away from exaggerated negative assessments and imagined conflicts and towards more neutral or joyful thoughts.

Practice Gratitude

Due to our bias to focus on past failings, we often fail to give all the positive events in our lives their just due. In order to compensate, we can choose to dedicate some time to remembering what has gone well for us. Make it a habit to reflect on your day and take a short account of what experiences you may have taken for granted.

Savor Pleasant Experiences

How frequently do you choose to savor an experience? Did you actually savor your warm shower this morning or your most recent meal, or did the experience just pass you by? While gratitude helps to refocus our perception of our past, choosing to savor pleasant experiences gives us a way to appreciate that which that fills our present, thereby building our repertoire of positive memories.

Exercise Optimism

We don’t know the future. So, why choose to only focus on negative possibilities when neutral or positive events are often more likely? Instead, make an effort to exercise optimism. Choose to imagine what could go right with tomorrow and anticipate positive occurrences since we can often miss them if we aren’t open to seeing them. Choosing to be optimistic is not only more realistic, but it can invigorate our lives as we become more aware of the wonderful possibilities that lay before us.

These choices are not always easy since we are going against some natural tendencies, including our tendency to search outside ourselves for a happy life. It’s a difficult habit to break since at every turn advertisements advocate “happiness from without” rather than the less profitable “happiness from within” approach.

Yet, through practice, choosing happiness can also become habit. Through practice we can more deeply realize that happiness is not the result of what we bring into our life, but the consequence of how we choose to experience our life.

 

Javy W. Galindo is currently a popular Humanities and Social Science professor at John F. Kennedy University and De Anza College, located in the heart of Silicon Valley. His latest book, based on his graduate course on the psychology of happiness, is entitled Authentic Happiness in Seven Emails: A philosopher’s simple guide to the psychology of joy, satisfaction, and a meaningful life. Javy is also the author of The Power of Thinking Differently: An imaginative guide to creativity, change, and the discovery of new ideas. For more information visit www.JavyGalindo.com.

TIME Advertising

Like My Facebook Page, Buy My Product? Well, No

A view of Facebook's "Like" button May 1
Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images

Social media doesn't drive sales, research says

People go on Facebook and Twitter mostly to learn about companies or products. True or false?

Answer: Are you kidding me? I don’t do it. You don’t do it. Nobody you know does it. We use social media to brag about our accomplishments, post vacation photos, see what our friends and family (and maybe a few celebrities) are doing and talking about.

This seems almost too obvious to mention—but companies are desperate to reach consumers, and with hundreds off millions of them visiting social media sites every day, marketers feel like they simply have to be there too, so they are—to the tune of more than $5 billion last year in the U.S. alone, according to social media consultants BIA/Kelsey. By 2018, that figure could rise to $15 billion.

Evidently, they’re wasting their money. A new report from the Gallup Organization titled State of the American Consumer has now quantified the obvious: 62% of consumers say that social media have “no influence at all” on purchasing decisions, while only 5% say the sites have “a great deal of influence.”

That’s not to say that social media isn’t a great place to get advice about stuff to buy—it’s just that we tend to look or advice from people we know and trust. And those people aren’t usually named “L’Oreal” or “Coca-Cola.”

Like much of the research that gets published, the results of this survey seem pretty obvious. Still, a study like might be useful for advertisers and marketers who aren’t always at the forefront of understanding how society is changing (think of Don Draper confronting the ’60s on Mad Men). What they should do, writes Gallup’s Ed O’Boyle in a blog post for the Harvard Business Review, is to come across as more authentic, be more interactive, and make their content more compelling. “Gallup research has consistently shown,” he writes, “that customers base purchasing decisions on their emotional connections with a brand. Social media are great for making those connections—but only when a brand shifts its focus from communication to conversation.”

Good advice. Now let’s see if anyone is paying attention.

TIME human behavior

4 in 10 Teens Admit Texting While Driving

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found kids are still engaging in a range of risky behaviors, despite a reported drop in cigarette use.

Today’s teens are distracted behind the wheel, according to a new survey. Though they aren’t smoking cigarettes in high rates, or regularly driving drunk, about 41% of America’s driving teens reported that they had texted or emailed while driving.

This is in spite of the often horrifying commercials and campaigns aimed at keeping teen drivers’ eyes on the road while behind the wheel. The findings, published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest Youth Risk Behavior Survey, are especially daunting given the fact that the bulk of teen deaths are the result of motor vehicle crashes.

But texting and driving isn’t the only risky business teens are engaging in. Though teens aren’t watching as much TV as they were in 1999, more are using the computer for longer periods of time. About 41.3% said they’re using computers for more than 3 hours a day, up from 31.1% in 2011. About 14.8% of students said they had been bullied online, compared to 19.8% who had been bullied at school.

And sitting in front of screen does little to help the nearly 21% of adolescents considered obese.

Another risk that should have parents worried: sexually active teens are using condoms a bit less than they have in the past. About 47% of students said they had ever had sex, but of the 34% of teens that are sexually active, only about 59% are using condoms, down from 63% in 2003.

The annual survey of a nationally representative sample of ninth through 12th graders in the U.S. examines the unhealthy behaviors teens have engaged in over the past 12 months to gage what leads to the unintentional injury, obesity, and unplanned pregnancy within the group. About 13,500 surveys, which were administered at public and private high schools, were examined to determine results.

TIME human behavior

Rick Perry Is Not a Neanderthal, Says Rick Perry

Pointing the way to crazytown
Pointing the way to crazytown Pool: Getty Images

The Governor of Texas and possible presidential aspirant compares homosexuality to alcoholism—and that was just the beginning of his scientific know-nothingism

Scoring a zero on any test is harder than it seems. Unless you leave the answers entirely blank, mere guesswork and randomness suggest you’re going to get enough things right to put a few points on the board. So kudos to Governor Rick Perry for managing an impressively perfect goose egg on a recent lightning round of science topics.

Perry’s latest amble through know-nothingism came at a Q&A in San Francisco on Wednesday, and the biggest headline from that fumble-fest was his comparison of homosexuality to alcoholism. Now, a prudent man might stop to reflect on whether, if you’re going to say something so colossally, head-spinningly wrong, San Francisco is really the venue you want to choose. But never mind. The moderator asked the governor whether he believed homosexuality is a disorder, and the governor swung at the pitch.

“Whether or not you feel compelled to follow a particular lifestyle or not,” said the thrice-elected leader of a state of 26 million people, “you have the ability to decide not to do that. I may have the genetic coding that I’m inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that, and I look at the homosexual issue the same way.”

So where to begin? With the comparison of sexual orientation to what is often a fatal disease? With the airy reference to “genetic coding,” which whatever the governor thinks the term means, reveals almost no familiarity with the deep and smart research that’s been done in recent years on the biological roots of any one person’s sexual orientation? Or with the belief that it’s healthy or even possible for a gay man or woman simply to “desire not to do that.” You’re a heterosexual, governor. How would a lifetime of “not doing that” work for you?

Perry doubled down on dumb when it came to the topic of “reparative therapy,” the all-but-universally condemned practice of trying to convert people from homosexuality to heterosexuality. The draft platform of the Texas Republican party endorses the dangerous faux-treatment for “patients [sic] who are seeking to escape from the homosexual lifestyle.” When Perry was asked if the therapy works, he demurred, saying he doesn’t know. Fine, but you know who does know? The American Psychiatric Association. And you know what they have to say about it? This:

“The American Psychiatric Association opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion’ therapy, which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder, or based upon a prior assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation.”

For the record, blood-letting, rattle-shaking and leeching won’t work either, so the Texas GOP probably wants to keep them out of the platform too.

Perry next pivoted—inevitably—to global warming. He began by stating his opposition to carbon caps or taxes, which he insists would “strangle” the economy — a powerful argument, if economists agreed with him (they don’t), and if cap and trade hadn’t worked extraordinarily well to control the sulfur dioxide that led to acid rain, which it did, during the boom times of the 1990s.

The larger problem, Perry suggested, might be the climate scientists themselves, who take the position that, “You either believe this all the way, or you’re a Neanderthal.” But here’s the thing—for the billionth time—the scientists never, ever speak in absolutes like that. There is no “all the way” when it comes to prescriptions for solving the climate crisis, no universality even about exactly how the problem will unfold over the next years and decades and centuries.

What is scientifically proven is that greenhouse gases lead to global warming and human beings are significant drivers of that problem. The “debate,” like it or not, is over on that score. But the rest? Scientists are the first to say there is lots of wiggle room in their models and their predictions—a lot more than the ideologues on the right who call the whole thing a hoax and stop talking there.

Perry’s time as governor is limited—he leaves office after this year—though his presidential aspirations are currently unknown. The damage he and others like him do, however, endures. There is only so long America can go on embracing scientific rubbish and the politicians who traffic in it—at least if we expect to continue be a leading nation in an increasingly sophisticated world. Perry, for his part, just flunked his leadership test.

TIME

‘Cool’ Kids More Likely to Have Problems Later in Life

From left: Lindsay Lohan as Cady, Amanda Seyfried as Karen, Rachel McAdams as Regina and Lacey Chabert as Gretchen in Mean Girls.
From left: Lindsay Lohan as Cady, Amanda Seyfried as Karen, Rachel McAdams as Regina and Lacey Chabert as Gretchen in Mean Girls. Michael Gibson—AP

Being a nerd never felt so good

Growing up, movies taught us that being popular in high school wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The nerds and losers in Mean Girls, Sixteen Candles and Superbad may have gotten picked on, but they always got their happy ending and the assurance that one day they would grow up to be smarter, wealthier and happier than the cool kids. Now, research suggests that the revenge of the nerds is no longer a pipe dream: popular teens are more likely to have problems later in life.

A new decade-long study published Thursday in the journal Child Development found that people who tried to act “cool” in early adolescence were more likely to have issues with drugs, their social lives and criminal activity later in life.

Researchers at the University of Virginia gathered information from 184 teens, their peers and their families for ten years, beginning at age 13. The participants in the study all attended public school in either suburban or urban areas in the southeastern United States and came from a variety of racial and socio-economic backgrounds.

Teens who were considered cool at 13 tended to take part in delinquent behavior, engage in sexual activity earlier than their peers and placed a premium on hanging out with physically attractive people—you know, just like Regina George. But by the age of 22 these once-cool kids had fallen from social grace. Their peers rated them as less competent when it came to managing social relationships than others. The formerly popular youngsters were also more likely to become alcoholics, drug addicts and criminals.

“It appears that while so-called cool teens’ behavior might have been linked to early popularity, over time, these teens needed more and more extreme behaviors to try to appear cool, at least to a subgroup of other teens,” says Joseph P. Allen, a professor of psychology at UVA who led the study. “So they became involved in more serious criminal behavior and alcohol and drug use as adolescence progressed.”

In other words, kids who are cool in seventh and eighth grade are so desperate to stay cool as young adults that they engage in unadvisable activities. The takeaway? Teens are better off when they don’t care about what other people think—as hard as that may be.

TIME human behavior

Study: Kids Know When Adults Are Keeping Secrets

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Father and daughter having a talk Nick Daly—Getty Images

A new study from MIT shows that kids won't trust adults who don't tell them the whole truth

Lying about Santa Claus, how babies are born or whether there are cookies in the cookie jar could get parents into trouble. Children are extremely perceptive: past studies have shown that kids can tell when adults are lying to them. But telling children only part of the truth can get adults into trouble too. New research suggests that youngsters can tell when people commit “sins of omission” and even learn not to trust those people.

Researchers at MIT studied how 42 six and seven-year-olds evaluated information. They conducted two experiments. In the first study, the children were separated into two groups: one group got a toy that had four buttons, each of which performed a different function—lights, a windup mechanism, etc.; the other group got a toy that looked the same but only had one button, which activated the windup mechanism.

After the two groups of children had played with their respective toys, the researchers put on a show: a teacher puppet taught a student puppet how to use the toy, but only showed the student puppet the winup function. For the kids playing with the one-button toy, this was all the information; but for the kids playing with the four-button toy, the teacher puppet had left out crucial information.

The researchers then asked all the children to rate the teacher puppet in terms of how helpful it was on a scale from 1 to 20. The kids with the multi-functional toy noticed that the puppet hadn’t told them the whole story and gave it a lower score than the children with the single-function toys did.

The second experiment began with the same premise—splitting the children into two groups, letting them play with their simple or complex toys and then giving a puppet demonstration. But then after the demonstration, the researchers brought out another, totally different toy and gave it to both groups of children. This toy had four functions, and the teacher puppet demonstrated only one.

Children who had the multi-functional toy in the first part of the experiment—and therefore had seen an incomplete demonstration from that teacher puppet before—explored the toy more thoroughly than the children who only had the single-function toy. These children, it seems, had learned to not trust the teacher because of the first uninformative demonstration.

“This shows that children are not just sensitive to who’s right or wrong,” lead author Hyowon Gweon says. “Children can also evaluate others based on who’s providing information that is enough or not enough for accurate inference. They can also adjust how they learn from a teacher in the future, depending on whether the teacher has previously committed a sin of omission or not.”

So watch what you say parents: if you lie to your kids—or even keep secrets from them—they’ll learn to not trust you.

TIME human behavior

Rats Regret Making Bad Decisions, Study Finds

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Henrik Sorensen—Getty Images

A new study shows that rats may rue the road not taken, just as humans do

Scientists used to think only humans felt regret, but new research suggests that some members of the animal kingdom also regret bad choices.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota Academic Health Center created an experiment called “restaurant row” which consisted of four different food stops a rat could make. At each entrance, a tone sounded that indicated how long the rat would have to wait to receive food. A rat could either stay, or choose to try something else. The researchers compared this to humans opening a door at a Chinese restaurant and seeing a long line, so deciding to go to the Indian restaurant across the street instead.

The rats had preferences for specific foods and would only wait a certain amount of time to get it. The researchers decided to see what would happen if the rats skipped a ‘good deal’ only to discover a ‘bad deal’ at the next place. For example, the rat would skip an entrance where it thought the wait was too long, only to find the wait at the next door was even longer. To the surprise of the researchers, when the rats made a bad choice they stopped and looked back. This, the researchers surmised, suggested they regretted their decision.

The researchers then used imaging to study the brain activity of the rats and found that when a rat made a mistake, the orbitofrontal cortex of the brain–the part of the brain believed to process regret in humans–was activated.

Although the regret response of the rats was similar to humans, the University of Minnesota researchers said they were unsure whether rats have the same reflection about decisions as humans do. But they said the study shows that animal models may be used to better understand human behaviors.

TIME technology

3 Ways Video Game Companies Are Getting Your Kids Hooked

A seven year old boy plays with a Microsoft Xbox 360 on March 22, 2014 in Göttingen, Germany.
A seven year old boy plays with a Microsoft Xbox 360 on March 22, 2014 in Göttingen, Germany. Swen Pförtner—picture-alliance/DPA/AP

Jaden Darnell, 10, of Southbridge, Mass., plays video games on an Xbox 360, a PlayStation 3 and an iPhone. At times, he says, it can be hard to tear himself away from the action, especially when he’s playing NBA General Manager on his phone. Whether it’s because he wants to get to another level or earn more points, “sometimes, I just don’t want to stop,” says Jaden.

Long gone are the days when playing video games was synonymous with gathering around a console in the family room. According to the NPD Group, a market research firm, kids ages 2 to 17 are shifting more and more of their gaming to mobile devices. Many start playing games on phones and tablets when they are toddlers, and by the time they are in their teens, they are on average spending seven hours a week playing mobile games.

Mobile game designers are playing an active role in making this happen. Many mobile games are free or nearly free to download, but the game companies rack up revenues by charging users for in-game enhancements such as “boosters” that make winning easier or “extra lives” that let you stay in the game. In this model, the potential revenue from a user is strongly correlated with the total time they spend playing the game. Games as a result are being designed with an emphasis on keeping users hooked — and wanting more.

What are some of the common tactics being used by game designers?

1) Positive reinforcement makes people play longer.

Take one popular game, Peggle. It blasts a rousing, operatic rendition of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” every time you succeed at beating a level. “This gives us a strong sense of agency, like what we’re doing has made a difference,” explains Raph Koster, author of A Theory of Fun for Game Design. Since Peggle is a game that mostly depends on luck, “it’s an example of insanely over-the-top celebratory feedback for fairly minor achievement,” says Koster. “But it gives you this amazing amount of celebration, and as a result, you feel awesome.” And you tend to stay with the game longer.

2) People like to finish what they started.

Extended play alone doesn’t automatically motivate users to pay for the experience. Game makers know that once players have put in the time and effort to achieve a certain goal, they don’t like to give up. That’s why many games start out easy, then suddenly become more challenging. At that point, the player may be offered a resource that makes it easier to progress to the next level. “The game creates a problem that it offers to solve for you in exchange for cash,” explains Ian Bogost, a video game designer, critic, and professor of interactive computing at Georgia Institute of Technology.

3) Sometimes the game is smarter than the player.

The more we play, the better game makers get at roping us in. Mobile games by their very nature are played on devices that are more often than not connected to the Internet. This enables developers to keep tabs on players’ choices in order to find out what keeps people plugged in and what makes them most likely to buy things. “It’s very easy for us to get data on every user and build a statistical picture of what is working,” says Koster.

While adults may be aware of these tactics, some people worry about how the experience of playing this type of games impacts kids. “They’re not old enough to understand that the free part is just a come-on and that the game is in fact rigged to get them to spend money,” says Josh Golin, associate director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. Golin believes that games designed for kids under 13 should not have in-app purchases. “You should pay one price for the game, and it should not try to manipulate you into spending more and more,” he says.

Currently, age rating systems do not take into consideration whether a game pushes in-app purchases. This means that even Candy Crush, the famously addictive game that grossed more than a billion dollars in 2013, receives the most inclusive ratings: Ages 4+ in the iTunes store and Everyone in the Google Play store. Golin thinks this is misleading. “If it is designed to get more money out of you, that should be factored into the rating, just like if it has violent or sexualized content,” he says.

Golin also says that surveillance of kids should not be allowed. “[Developers] should not be collecting information about how to make them more vulnerable, more frustrated,” he says. “It’s outrageous that that’s occurring with games kids are playing.” That’s something to think about the next time the game-playing child in your life asks for your credit card.

 

TIME human behavior

When Girls Use the Word ‘Slut’ to Bully Each Other

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MachineHeadz—Getty Images

A new study finds that girls police social hierarchies by slut-shaming one another

Though hashtag campaigns like #YesAllWomen remind us that women are often the victims of men’s misogyny and sexual aggression, men are not the only culprits. A new study finds that young women are guilty of bullying their peers using degrading sexual language.

Some college-age women maintain their social status by calling other girls “sluts,” according to a study published Wednesday in the Social Psychology Quarterly. Researchers tracked the social lives of 53 women who lived on the same college dorm floor at a Midwestern university during the 2004-05 academic year. The high-status women in that group were primarily from upper-middle class backgrounds and achieved peer status through their participation in the Greek scene.

Those well-off, high-status women were less likely to be “slut-shamed” by their lower-status peers, despite engaging in more sexual behavior than the low-status women, researchers found. “This finding made little sense until we realized that college women also used the term [slut] as a way to police class boundaries,” lead researcher Elizabeth Armstrong said. “One of the ways that high-status women signaled to those trying to break in to their social groups that they did not fit in was by engaging in public ‘slut shaming.’”

Slut-shaming can refer to a wide range of behaviors, from telling a woman her outfit is too revealing to accusing her of having sex with too many men to explicitly calling her a “slut” or “whore.” Slut-shaming is an easy way for women to bully each other and put one another down. Whether or not there’s truth to such accusations, publicly criticizing another woman can help a bully to distance herself from the stigma of sexuality while also lowering the status of the girl she’s bullying.

Researchers found that low-status women who tried to enter the high-status scene risked public slut-shaming. The result? The queen bees maintained their social dominance and were more free to participate in the campus “hookup scene.” (Hookups can range from kissing to sex.)

The researchers found that the higher social status you had, the more hookups you would participate in: Of the low-status girls, five had little or no sexual experience, eight had only been in monogamous relationships, one had primarily had relationships but also participated in hookups and seven had participated in both hookups and relationships. By contrast, all of the high-status girls had some sexual experience: One had had only monogamous relationships, three had primarily had relationships but also participated in hookups and 19 women had both hookups and relationships.

These high-status women with more sexual experience tended to define their lifestyle is “classy” rather than “trashy.” However, if lower-status girls tried to mimic that experience, they would immediately be called trashy. The bullying tactic has particularly stinging implications considering those women at the top tended to be upper-middle class white women, and the women with lower social status tended not to be.

Sadly, girl-on-girl fighting usually ends up empowering men. As Tina Fey’s character said in the movie Mean Girls: “You’ve got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it OK for guys to call you sluts and whores.”

 

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