Health benefits in non-humor-dependent aerobic laughter


Get this! As part of a study called "Workplace Laughter and Personal Efficacy" (Journal of Primary Prevention, vol. 28:2), 33 employees of a behavioral health center met for 15 minutes a day for 15 consecutive workdays to engage in "a guided program of nun-humor-dependent laughter" (i.e., making your body laugh regardless of whether anything funny is going on). And, as arduous as such forced laughter might sound, it made everybody feel better. The participants reported significant increases in self-regulation, optimism, positive emotions, and social identification – increases they maintained at a follow-up examination.

But why was this study done?

"One of the biggest methodological problems in the research on laughter is the failure to distinguish between humor and laughter," wrote researchers Heidi Beckman, Ph.D., Nathan Regier, Ph.D., and Judy L. Young. "Humor is a construct, while laughter is a physiological event… Humor is a stimulus, and laughter is one of several possible behavioral responses to that stimulus. When this distinction is made, it is easier to see that humor and laughter are distinct (although often associated) events. Humor can occur without laughter, and laughter can occur without humor."

Ahhh. So thanks to this work, we now know that "Purposeful laughter is a realistic, sustainable, and generalizable intervention that enhances employees’ morale, resilience, and personal efficacy beliefs." And if we suggest this practice to our coworkers and they laugh incredulously, we need only remember: they are not laughing at us, they are merely ameliorating their self-regulation and optimism.

Betsy Robinson

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Finding happiness on $5 a day


The results of three simple studies from a team of researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Harvard Business School may add up to a simple key to happiness.

First, the researchers asked more than 630 Americans to report their annual income, rate their general happiness, and provide a breakdown of their monthly spending (including bills, gifts for themselves, gifts for others, and donations to charity). As reported in ScienceDaily, UBC psychologist Elizabeth Dunn said, "Regardless of how much income each person made, those who spent money on others reported greater happiness, while those who spent more on themselves did not".

The second study measured the happiness levels of employees at a firm in Boston before and after they received their $3,000 to $8,000 profit-sharing bonus. What affected the employees’ happiness, says Dunn, was not so much the size of the bonus but how they spent it. The employees who devoted more of their bonus to gifts for others or toward charity consistently reported greater happiness than employees who simply spent money on their own needs.

In the third experiment, participants were given $5 or $20 and told to spend the money by 5 p.m. that day. Half the participants were instructed to spend the money on themselves; the other half had to spend the money on other people. Once again, the participants who spent the money on others reported feeling happier at the end of the day than those who spent the money on themselves.

Concludes Dunn, "These findings suggest that very minor alterations in spending allocations, as little as $5 a day, may be enough to produce real gains in happiness."

Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

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Why your doctor doesn’t feel your pain


Does your doctor rush? Do you feel that he or she doesn’t empathize with you, but is more concerned with moving on?

When most of us see someone in pain, our neural circuits mimic what we see and cause us to feel pain as well. But a study published in Current Biology shows that physicians learn to shut the circuits off.

The study, by Jean Decety, Ph.D., at the University of Chicago and a Taiwanese team, was conducted with 14 physicians and a control group of 14 people who had no experience with acupuncture. Brain responses were recorded while individuals from both groups viewed videotapes in which people were pricked with acupuncture needles in their mouth regions, hands, and feet. They also watches as patients were touched with a Q-tip. Brain scans showed that physicians, unlike the controls, registered n increase in activity in the portion of the brain related to pain. But the physicians registered an increase in activity in the front areas of the brain, with the neural circuit related to emotional regulation and cognitive control.

Because doctors sometimes need to inflict pain on patients as part of the healing process, they must also develop the ability not to be distracted or overwhelmed by the suffering, explains Decety. And that also explains why some doctors need to work on their bedside manners.

Neil Bartlett

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Why attractive mates seem so scarce

Why is that special someone so elusive for so many people? Or that perfect job? Or that perfect community? Now, an international team of psychologists have found an answer: Our own longings seem to create an illusion of scarcity.

Researchers Xianchi Dai, Klaus Wertenbroch, and Miguel Brendi from INSEAD, the international business school with campuses in France and Singapore, have been studying cognitive shortcuts or "rules of thumb" we use when we are unable to make informed decisions about value. The connection between scarcity and value is something we readily accept; for example, gold is considered precious because it is rare. The psychologists theorized that we also accept the inverse: that what’s valuable must be scarce.

To test their theory, the researchers had a group of young people view nearly 100 pictures, half of birds and half of flowers, in random order. the participants were told that they would get paid for each bird or flower picture they had seen – birds or flowers determined by a flip of a coin. Before getting paid, all participants were asked to estimate the total number of bird pictures and the total number of flower pictures they had seen.

The results: People who were paid for spotting flower pictures thought there were fewer flowers than birds, and those who were made to value birds believed there were fewer birds than flowers. in truth, there were exactly the same number of flowers and birds.

In other experiments, participants of both sexes viewed portraits of men and women, some attractive and some not. When questioned later, both men and women believed that there were fewer attractive people of the opposite sex than there were of the same sex.

In both experiments the participants appeared to be substituting their emotional desire entwined with a belief in scarcity for real calculation, suggesting that our cognitive shortcuts may have us assume (and perhaps live) more solitary lives than might be warranted by reality.

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Going vegan may have fringe benefits

What’s the best diet for preventing heart disease? Low fat, high carb? High fat, low carb?

For years, champions of one diet or another have argued.

Now, scientists at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute have joined the fray by suggesting that removing all animal products from your diet – including milk and eggs – may have unexpected health benefits for your heart.

In their study, which was published in the medical journal Arthritis research & Therapy, 66 patients with rheumatoid arthritis (people with rheumatoid arthritis are at increased risk for heart disease) were randomly assigned to either a vegan, gluten-free diet or a well-balanced, non-vegan diet. Here’s what they ate for three months:

The vegan diet consisted of 10 percent protein, 60 percent carbohydrates, and 30 percent fats (with no more than 10 percent in saturated fats). The vegans consumed vegetables, nuts, fruits, and sunflower seeds along with gluten-free grains and starches, such as buckwheat, millet, corn, and rice. They drank "sesame milk" made from unshelled sesame seeds to make sure they got enough daily calcium.

The non-vegan diet contained 10 to 15 percent protein, 55 to 60 percent carbohydrates, and the same fat intake as the vegan regimen. Non-vegans were encouraged to have five or more daily servings of fruits and vegetables and to increase their intake of starch and other complex carbs, including whole-grain products.

As it turned out, going vegan and gluten-free fora at least three months lowered cardiovascular and atherosclerosis risk factors, including total cholesterol, LDL (low-density lipoprotein, often called "bad cholesterol"), the ratio of LDL to HDL (high-density lipoprotein, or "good cholesterol"), weight, and body mass index (BMI).

What’s more, the vegan diet raised the level of natural antibodies that may keep disease processes from developing. "Our findings suggest a new mechanism by which the level of natural protective antibodies can be increased," says Karolinska professor Johan Frostegard, who led the study. "They also show that diet can have effects on the immune system, with implications for the incidence of disease."

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Sad? Stay out of the mall.

William James pointed out in 1890 that "misery is not miserly" and scam artists have always targeted the sad. now scientists from Carnegie Mellon, Harvard, and Stanford are getting closer to understanding why sad people are so willing to part with their money.

In their experiment (see Psychological Science, June 2008), participants viewed either a sad video clip or one devoid of human emotion. Afterward, they could purchase a water bottle at various prices. Participants randomly assigned to the sad video clip were willing to spend three times as much money for the bottles as were "neutral" participants. Even more surprising, those in the sad group typically insisted, albeit incorrectly, that the emotional content of the film clip did not affect their spending.

The researchers also tested the level of self-focus in both groups. Among participants "primed" to feel sad, those who were highly self-focused paid more more money than those low in self-focus. Why might a combination of sadness and self-focus lead people to spend more money? First, sadness and self-focus cause one to devalue both one’s sense of self and one’s current possessions. Second, this devaluation increases a person’s willingness to pay more for new material goods, presumably to enhance the sense of self.

As James wrote, "a man’s Self is the sum total of all that he CAN call his, not only his body and his psychic powers, but his clothes and his house…" When that self is shrunk by sadness, shopping therapy may geel good, but it’ll likely be very expensive.

Stephen Kiesling

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Improve your credit record

A lot of people spend more than they can afford and pay less toward their debts than they should. To get control over your finances and to manage your debt, try:

Budgeting – In many cases, people design and then stick to a budget to get their debt under control. A budget is a plan for how much money you have and how much money you spend. Sticking to a realistic budget allows you to pay off your debts and save for the proverbial rainy day.

Credit Counseling – Many universities, military bases, credit unions and housing authorities operate nonprofit financial counseling programs. Some charge a fee for their services. Creditors may be willing to accept reduced payments if you’re working with a reputable program to create a debt repayment plan. When you choose a credit counselor, be sure to ask about fees you will have to pay and what kind of counseling you’ll receive. A credit counseling organization isn’t necessarily legitimate just because it says it’s nonprofit. You may want to check with the Better Business Bureau for any complaints against a counselor or counseling organization. Visit for your local Better Business Bureau’s telephone number.

Bankruptcy – Bankruptcy is considered the credit solution of last resort. Unlike negative credit information that stays on a credit report for seven years, bankruptcies stay on a credit report for 10 years. Bankruptcy can make it difficult to rent an apartment, buy a house or a condo, get some type of insurance, get additional credit, and sometimes, get a job. In some cases, bankruptcy may not be an easily available option. Finally, recent changes to the bankruptcy laws may affect your ability to seek bankruptcy relief. For a discussion of some of these changes, see New Bankruptcy Law Requires Credit Counseling Before Filing. You also may want to visit That is the website of the U.S. Trustee Program, the organization within the U.S. Department of Justice that administers bankruptcy cases.

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