Thursday, November 30, 2006

Cookin' - recent Happiness Experiment entries

Lunch al fresco at Amici, low autumn sun - invented a new sandwich: salami milano, artichoke, cucumber

Good moblog thread on the deathstar church - banter with strangers

URM8 sesh in adland (JWT) with Axel Caldecott and Chris Turner (plus phone convo with Sarah McVittie of 82ASK) - charidee endeavours

The new Glass Bridge in our new improved house - built by Liam Burke, a very decent fella

Reading and responding to an interesting blog on things-you-really-need-to-learn

Watching Hugh Fernley-Wittingstall with D delighting in the cooking and hard work, beaming - that boy's gonna do something fantastic

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Blast - Today's Happiness Experiment entry

Developing Hotshots with Renegade - brainstorming and creative connecting

Hooking up with my bro after a few weeks

A blast of Sinead O'Connor from Throw Down Your Arms - on the iPod coming home

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Rules of the Movies

Evil butlers have no tongues [by N e.g. Stormbreaker, Goldfinger]

Superheroes with high strength are fat [by N e.g. Fantastic Four, The Incredibles]

Dustin Hoffman will always run given half a chance (e.g. The Graduate, Marathon Man, Kramer vs Kramer)

Happiness Experiments in the news

This article was spotted in Yahoo News by my pal David Bausola. It makes reference to the same Happiness Experiment introduced to me (on the radio) by Carol Craig and which forms the basis of this blog:

Researchers seek routes to happier life By MALCOLM RITTER, AP Science Writer
Sun Nov 26, 6:23 PM ET

NEW YORK - As a motivational speaker and executive coach, Caroline Adams Miller knows a few things about using mental exercises to achieve goals. But last year, one exercise she was asked to try took her by surprise.

Every night, she was to think of three good things that happened that day and analyze why they occurred. That was supposed to increase her overall happiness.

"I thought it was too simple to be effective," said Miller, 44, of Bethesda. Md. "I went to Harvard. I'm used to things being complicated."

Miller was assigned the task as homework in a master's degree program. But as a chronic worrier, she knew she could use the kind of boost the exercise was supposed to deliver.

She got it.

"The quality of my dreams has changed, I never have trouble falling asleep and I do feel happier," she said.

Results may vary, as they say in the weight-loss ads. But that exercise is one of several that have shown preliminary promise in recent research into how people can make themselves happier — not just for a day or two, but long-term. It's part of a larger body of work that challenges a long-standing skepticism about whether that's even possible.

There's no shortage of advice in how to become a happier person, as a visit to any bookstore will demonstrate. In fact, Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania and colleagues have collected more than 100 specific recommendations, ranging from those of the Buddha through the self-improvement industry of the 1990s.

The problem is, most of the books on store shelves aren't backed up by rigorous research, says Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychologist at the University of California, Riverside, who's conducting such studies now. (She's also writing her own book).

In fact, she says, there has been very little research in how people become happier.

Why? The big reason, she said, is that many researchers have considered that quest to be futile.

For decades, a widely accepted view has been that people are stuck with a basic setting on their happiness thermostat. It says the effects of good or bad life events like marriage, a raise, divorce, or disability will simply fade with time.

We adapt to them just like we stop noticing a bad odor from behind the living room couch after a while, this theory says. So this adaptation would seem to doom any deliberate attempt to raise a person's basic happiness setting.

As two researchers put it in 1996, "It may be that trying to be happier is as futile as trying to be taller."

But recent long-term studies have revealed that the happiness thermostat is more malleable than the popular theory maintained, at least in its extreme form. "Set-point is not destiny," says psychologist Ed Diener of the University of Illinois.

One new study showing change in happiness levels followed thousands of Germans for 17 years. It found that about a quarter changed significantly over that time in their basic level of satisfaction with life. (That's a popular happiness measure; some studies sample how one feels through the day instead.) Nearly a tenth of the German participants changed by three points or more on a 10-point scale.

Other studies show an effect of specific life events, though of course the results are averages and can't predict what will happen to particular individuals. Results show long-lasting shadows associated with events like serious disability, divorce, widowhood, and getting laid off.

The boost from getting married, on the other hand, seems to dissipate after about two years, says psychologist Richard E. Lucas of Michigan State University.

What about the joys of having children? Parents recall those years with fondness, but studies show childrearing takes a toll on marital satisfaction, Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert notes in his recent book, "Stumbling on Happiness." Parents gain in satisfaction as their kids leave home, he said.

"Despite what we read in the popular press," he writes, "the only known symptom of 'empty nest syndrome' is increased smiling."

Gilbert says people are awful at predicting what will make them happy. Yet, Lucas says, "most people are happy most of the time." That is, in a group of people who have reasonably good health and income, most will probably rate a 7.5 or so on a happiness scale of zero to 10, he says.

Still, many people want to be happier. What can they do? That's where research by Lyubomirsky, Seligman and others comes in.

The think-of-three-good-things exercise that Miller, the motivational speaker, found so simplistic at first is among those being tested by Seligman's group at the University of Pennsylvania.

People keep doing it on their own because it's immediately rewarding, said Seligman colleague Acacia Parks. It makes people focus more on good things that happen, which might otherwise be forgotten because of daily disappointments, she said.

Miller said the exercise made her notice more good things in her day, and that now she routinely lists 10 or 20 of them rather than just three.

A second approach that has shown promise in Seligman's group has people discover their personal strengths through a specialized questionnaire and choose the five most prominent ones. Then, every day for a week, they are to apply one or more of their strengths in a new way.

Strengths include things like the ability to find humor or summon enthusiasm, appreciation of beauty, curiosity and love of learning. The idea of the exercise is that using one's major "signature" strengths may be a good way to get engaged in satisfying activities.

These two exercises were among five tested on more than 500 people who'd visited a Web site called "Authentic Happiness." Seligman and colleagues reported last year that the two exercises increased happiness and reduced depressive symptoms for the six months that researchers tracked the participants. The effect was greater for people who kept doing the exercises frequently. A followup study has recently begun.

Another approach under study now is having people work on savoring the pleasing things in their lives like a warm shower or a good breakfast, Parks said. Yet another promising approach is having people write down what they want to be remembered for, to help them bring their daily activities in line with what's really important to them, she said.

Lyubomirsky, meanwhile, is testing some other simple strategies. "This is not rocket science," she said.

For example, in one experiment, participants were asked to regularly practice random acts of kindness, things like holding a door open for a stranger or doing a roommate's dishes, for 10 weeks. The idea was to improve a person's self-image and promote good interactions with other people.

Participants who performed a variety of acts, rather than repeating the same ones, showed an increase in happiness even a month after the experiment was concluded. Those who kept on doing the acts on their own did better than those who didn't.

Other approaches she has found some preliminary promise for include thinking about the happiest day in your life over and over again, without analyzing it, and writing about how you'll be 10 years from now, assuming everything goes just right.

Some strategies appear to work better for some people than others, so it's important to get the right fit, she said.

But it'll take more work to see just how long the happiness boost from all these interventions actually lasts, with studies tracking people for many months or years, Lyubomirsky said.

Any long-term effect will probably depend on people continuing to work at it, just as folks who move to southern California can lose their appreciation of the ocean and weather unless they pursue activities that highlight those natural benefits, she said.

In fact, Diener says, happiness probably is really about work and striving.

"Happiness is the process, not the place," he said via e-mail. "So many of us think that when we get everything just right, and obtain certain goals and circumstances, everything will be in place and we will be happy.... But once we get everything in place, we still need new goals and activities. The Princess could not just stop when she got the Prince."

Friday, November 24, 2006

Licence to thrill - Recent Happiness Experiment entries

Feeling the new bit of the house taking shape - site visit with Tom Knott
Twilight in The Stables, Camden Lock - a quiet moment alone
Banksy's maid at Chalk Farm - graffiti palimpsest
The anticipation waiting for the new Bond - ten minutes to go (writing this in The Rex) - the naughtiness of a Friday afternoon film
Picking up some French rapping

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Name that choon - recent Happiness Experiment entries

Walking the boyz to skool

Listening to Dylan covers (including Ballad of a Thin Man)

Prompting a fantastic story with a photo on Moblog of Crossbones Graveyard

Lunch with Angela Pope after a long, long time

Starting Wilkie Collins' Woman in White

Sharing my iPod with D - what a smile! (after a good evening sesh on the home including The End and the Buzzcocks Why Can't I Touch It?)

Because something is happening here

But you don't know what it is

Do you, Mister Jones?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Give me the Beatbox - yesterday's Happiness Experiment entry

Walking on a rainy autumn night through Green Park and down the Mall (to do a talk at Internet People with Alex Tew of Million Dollar Homepage and others)

Alex doing his human beatbox and chatting with him about beatboxing, Schlomo, Dubafex, looping pedals, etc.

Working out the guest list for the Big Art Project gathering with Mike Smith and Tracey Li of Carbon

Monday, November 20, 2006

Familiar - this weekend's Happiness Experiment entries

Watching Momix perform Lunar Sea at the Peacock Theatre in LSEland

Drinking sherry in the Savoy

Reading Fatherland - Robert Harris with a black coffee at hand

Wandering about the backstreets around Borough market with D especially the Red Cross Gardens and Brood Cafe tucked in beside Southwark Cathedral (where the Kosovan cook explained why he found Jewish areas good to live in [peace and love])

The DB5 in Goldfinger which delighted the enfants terribles

Radio 4 on Sunday mornings - especially Desert Island Discs

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Freedom of the City - Today's Happiness Experiment entry

Watching Christy Moore on Jools Holland's show - timeless, an elder statesman of Musicland

Having a good look at William Frith's Railway Station and Royal Academy Exhibition (with Oscar) paintings at the Guildhall Art Gallery - over there to apply for my Freedom of the City of London at the Chamberlain's Court

Learning more about Wikipedia and coding while fixing up the article I initiated on User-Generated Content

Thursday, November 16, 2006

West of Eden - Today's Happiness Experiment entry

Hearing Tim Smit, the man behind the Eden project, explain the principles underlying his very modern business

Having a new mediary/public service media chat with Anthony Lilley of Magic Lantern in the penumbra of Horseferry Road caff

Lunch artchat with Liz O'Sullivan of Creative and Cultural Services, formerly behind London Underground's enjoyable Platform for Art scheme

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

85.3 - Today's Happiness Experiment entry

Hampstead Heath in the early morning, passing my birthplace at Whitestone Pond

Getting The Mission/iGenius/Afford project up&running - a different story of Africa

Working on The Tower with Eleven Films, Patrick Uden + Kate Vogel

Street life - Today's Happiness Experiment entry

A wander around Southwark/Borough market - found a new Banksy?

Lunchchat with Peter Welles-Thorpe

Working on (Russell Commission) volunteering projects with Kerynne including Street Style

Monday, November 13, 2006

Ghostly pram - Today's Happiness Experiment entry

Golders Hill Park in autumn mode - hopefully the spirit of Dora G wheels a ghostly pram around it

Helping N with his scriptwriting homework - homely tranquility

Feeling the spirit of Jim (Morrison) and Jimi (Hendrix) in the done-up Roundhouse

Reading Converging Culture by Henry Jenkins - not a big one for factual books but fun from time to time

Tidying up Street Style

Talking big picture tv/new media with Andy Taylor

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Street Life - Today's Happiness Experiment entry

N winning the karate competiton this morning - his outstanding kata style, deliberate and powerful

The bagpipers who struck up a stirring tune as they passed us on the route of the Lord Mayor's Show

Finding four Banksy graffitis in the backstreets around Smithfield

Friday, November 10, 2006

Walking on the Moon - Today's Happiness Experiment entry

Walking the children to school

D in his O'Neill beanie

Hooking up with the hard-core of the drawing class in The Regency to celebrate Nick's impending nuptials

Receiving a big compliment from my peers via JW and JW

Gym sesh on Friday evening - chatting to a ju-jitsu guy

Wandering from meeting to meeting around EC2 - from Disorder/Street Style at Rich Mix to John Grounds at NSPCC to Elena Caton at a cheap and very cheerful Vietnamese

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Today's Happiness Experiment entry

Lunchchat with Marko of

Meeting with Richard Golland of Imperial War Museum, an old school gent

Getting in to - lost touch with the habit of music-while-you-work

Going back to Cambridge - an autumn afternoon by the Cam at King's

Reading in Girton library - starting Roger Scruton's Gentle Regrets (bought at Heffers in Trinity St.)

The train journey up to Cambridge - sitting opposite a young budding actress

Saturday, November 04, 2006

A Numbers Game

Been up in Sheffield at the Documentary Festival. Saw David Benchetrit's 'Dear Father, quiet, we're shooting' about conscientious objectors in Israel. Includes a very powerful interview with a former helicopter pilot hero whose arguments against serving in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories are all the more powerful for his characterisation of himself as a fighting man and war as part of nature. My abiding feeling from the film was of the mutual fear fuelling the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The Q&A was appropriately tense with a legitimate although slightly tetchy question from a young Palestinian film-maker provoking a bit of a clash. The Palestinian wanted the people who shot some of the footage in Nablus and elsewhere in the occupied areas to be credited to them: Benchetrit evidently bought the footage in good faith from various agencies and channels like TF1. But some kind of misunderstanding kicked in. Says it all.

The chat in the bar afterwards was altogether better humoured with young Israelis and ex-pat Palestinians speaking civily and with genuine engagement. I felt David got a very hard time from an Irishman in the audience who accused him of being arrogant - I tried to counter-balance an ungenerous public assault by reassuring David and applauding the bravery of the film. David's leg was severely damaged in the making of the film - the young Palestinian film-maker showed me the bullet wound behind his ear. It was like that scene from Jaws when Quint and the marine-biologist compare scars.

Also bumped in to Daisy Asquith, maker of My New Home, whose online dimension we discussed. She was with Maxyne Franklin of the Channel 4 British Documentary Film Foundation.

The next morning caught by chance 'Dreaming by Numbers' by Anna Bucchetti, which portays Napolitan Italy through a lotto office and all those passing through it, focusing on a strange numerology derived from Kabbalism. Using a core location and the people associated with it as the hub of a documentary narrative often works well because of its basic simplicity. The black and white photography brought a real sense of the city's historic roots and resonance. The number thing was fascinating, centred on a book called The Grimace. Different numbers correspond to different objects or concepts - all of which is applied to the interpretation of dreams.

I've always loved the magic of numbers - it appeals to the pantheist in me.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Documentaries - Latest Happiness Experiment entry

Watching a FourDoc called Ringing the Changes centred on a series of phone calls and the phoner, delightfully simple

Seeing D in his halloween costume

Helping URM8 charity get its shit together

Lunch with Doug Miller talking about creativity, happiness/anxiety (the subject of his new book) and, of course, music [Note to self: buy Lambchop]

Researching the world of online documentaries in preparation for the Sheffield Documentary Festival

Working on the train

Reading Robert Harris' Fatherland, a pacey historical thriller (after getting bogged down in James Meek's People's Act of Love)