March, 2008 Archive

April Fool’s day and the benefit of laughter

March 31st, 2008 by Christiane

Tomorrow is April Fool’s day and here I am with a fitting question: Is laughter really the best medicine?

Based only on my gut feeling, I would wholeheartedly say yes. I always feel so relaxed and stress free after a good laugh. This must be good for my body and health, don’t you think so?

Imagine my surprise when I discovered, researching the topic “laughter and health” that there are actually conflicting results with respect to the stress-reducing effect of laughter.

Laughter evolved to bring people together. It’s a social activity, and consequently we laugh much less when we are alone. The physiological effects are described as an increase in heart rate and blood pressure.

According to a Swedish study, laughter activates the fight or flight system and thus increases the release of certain stress hormones. Another study points to a stress relieving effect of laughter, and consequently a reduction in stress hormones.

Studies about another supposed effect of laughter convey less confusing results: Laughter seems to make people less sensitive to pain.

One effect for sure is: We are in a better mood, if we have something to laugh about.

Therefore, any ideas for April fool’s day?

CNN lists today the 10 best pranks; among them all female employees told the boss confidentially that they are pregnant:

The top ranked prank on the list of the Museum of Hoaxes is a BBC TV story. In 1957, BBC announced that thanks to a mild winter Swiss farmers would have a record spaghetti harvest. The report showed footage of people pulling strands of spaghetti down from trees. After the show, many people called BBC wanting to know where they could get a spaghetti tree. BBC’s advice: “Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.” This story and 99 more pranks at:

(Information about laughter is based on an article by Robert R. Provine, Ph.D., published in Psychology Today, 11/01/2000)

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Philanthropists are happier!

March 26th, 2008 by Christiane

While I’m researching and working on my planned e-book, this story made recently headlines: The secret to happiness is giving away your money.

It was already known, based on earlier studies, that getting more money is not doing much for most people’s happiness, provided they are not extremely poor. Just consider how much money we have today and how much money our parents or grandparents had. Earlier generations often struggled just to get enough food on the dinner table so that nobody would have to go to bed hungry. Today, most of us take food for guaranteed, also cell-phones, cable TV and computers. Well, are we happier than our parents and grandparents? We aren’t, and now we may have an answer why:

According to the new study, recently published in the journal Science, how people spend their money is at least as important as how much money they make.

A survey of 632 Americans showed that those, who gave more money to charities or spent it on friends and relatives reported higher levels of happiness. In another survey 16 employees of a Boston company were polled about their happiness before and after they received fat bonuses and also here, the researchers found a correlation between happiness and the amount of money people spent on others.

In an experiment, 46 students at the University of British Columbia received envelopes with $5 or $20. The students were told to either spend the money on themselves or on other people. The group that were told to spend it on others, either by donating it or to buy someone a gift, felt happier when they were polled again than those, who could spend it for themselves, regardless whether they could spent $ 5 or $20.

The researchers suggest now that governments may consider promoting philanthropy just to increase their citizens’ happiness. My personal suggestion is of course different: Get a life coach and discover the purpose of your life. Take it from there to discover what would make YOU happy.

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In Pursuit of Happiness

March 19th, 2008 by Christiane

I’m working right now on an e-book about the general topic ‚Happiness‘and ‘How to improve one’s life?’ My plan is to publish the book here on this website in approximately three months. I don’t want to add another textbook or another self-help book to the growing collection of e-books about this topic. Rather, I’m planning a book that will guide the reader toward more clarity about own goals, wishes and needs.

I don’t believe that there is a general answer to the question “What is happiness?” For one person true happiness could come with raising children, for another it may come as result of mastering challenging tasks in a chosen profession, and for a third person happiness may be equal to making the world a better place to live in, or having a positive impact on the life of others.

Daniel Gilbert, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, writes: “If we were to agree to reserve the word happiness to refer to that class of subjective emotional experiences that are vaguely described as enjoyable or pleasurable”…..”we might still wonder whether the happiness one gets from helping a little old lady across the street constitutes a different kind of emotional experience – bigger, better, deeper – than the happiness one gets from eating a slice of banana-cream pie.” (Stumbling on Happiness, Daniel Gilbert, published by Vintage books, 2007, p. 41/42)

In my opinion, there is a fundamental difference. Happiness is not only about feeling good. If it would be, we won’t need to think about it. Why should we? Eating banana-cream pie would do the job. Kids think like that. They believe that having money will make you happy. However, countless of middle aged professionals, exchanging their well paying job for cheese-making farms know otherwise. Happiness involves fulfilling your own personal needs.

Now, the question many people can’t answer is: What are these needs? What is it that I must have, do, accomplish, or experience during my time on this earth so that I will feel complete at the end of my journey? I believe, knowing the answer to this question provides the foundation for finding happiness.

Gilbert also writes that “the human being is the only animal that thinks about the future” (p.4). He believes that thinking about the future contributes to our stumbling on happiness, because we must decide here and now what we might enjoy and want in future and this is where we fail.

I would like to reword his thought; the human being is the only animal that expects that there is more to life than mere survival as a race.

Would we be happier if we had lower expectations?

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Get ready for Daylight Saving Time

March 3rd, 2008 by Christiane

The snow outside of my window betrays the fact that it’s already this time of the year: clocks spring forward for daylight saving time this Sunday, 3/9.
It sure doesn’t feel like spring, yet; However, regardless of weather and temps outside, I know, I will never be ready for DST. The shift upsets my circadian rhythm, and I will miss the one hour of lost sleep for weeks to come. The shift back in fall is always much easier. I truly enjoy getting one more hour of leisure time on a Sunday.

Many people have a difficult time with the spring DST shift and a few years ago, a Canadian study provided evidence for an increase in the number of traffic accidents that result in fatalities for the Monday following the spring DST shift. The measured increase has been particularly strong in the second half of the day, and the researchers attributed it to effects of the sleep deficit and the resulting fatigue. (

This year, I’m determined to be better prepared. I’m planning to move tonight my bed time and get-up time back 10 minutes. If I continue this for the next days, I will be on DST by Sunday. Would be nice if the weather would go along, too.

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