We Only Eat What We Like, Part 7 – What makes people happy in the 21st century?
A team of psychologists and economists reported in Science [Kahneman et al. 2004] what many of us know but don’t always admit: watching TV is a very enjoyable way to pass the time, but taking care of children is often as much fun as housework. The study asked 909 women living in Texas to use a novel questionnaire that probes the moment-to-moment emotions that constitute an ordinary day: the Day Reconstruction Method, with a diary listing everything from reading the newspaper in the morning to arguing with coworkers over lunch, or falling asleep with the socks on. Each activity was relived the next day and rated using 12 scales: how the subjects felt at the time, whether criticized, hassled, worried or warm, friendly and happy [Carey 2004]. In general the group had a slow start but soon experienced mild pleasure that increased through the day, with bouts of anger, anxiety or frustration. Sex, socializing with friends, and relaxing were rated most enjoyable; while commuting, housework, or facing a boss, were the least pleasurable. These women rated TV-watching high on the list, ahead of shopping and talking on the phone.
One of the most consistent findings in the study was how little difference money made (these data would probably look very different in a survey conducted in Hong Kong!). Job security, too, had little influence (this would be heresy in the US or France these days!). And, contrary to previous research, it was found that divorcees reported being slightly more cheerful during the day than did married women (great news for the Christian Right!).
Laughter remains good medicine in the 21st century. Beta-endorphins & HGH increased by 27% and 87% in subjects watching a humorous video. Cortisol, epinephrine and DOPAC were reduced by 39, 70 and 38% respectively. In diabetic patients, “mirthful laughter” increased HDL, lowered TNF-alpha, γ-IFN, IL-6 and hs-CRP [66% vs. 26%] (= reduced inflammation) [Berk et al. 2009]. These great results were sustained after one year!
Modern science-based interventions may revolutionize our use of “pleasure”. Deep brain stimulation [DBS] of the nucleus accumbens (the center for ‘pleasure’), with a portable (or even implantable) device was administered in 10 patients with severe long-term resistant [antidepressants, psychotherapy, ECT] depression. After 1 year of DBS, all patients showed improvement, including in anxiety. DBS did not impair the overall brain functioning. This was conducted in 2010 [Bewernik et al. 2010], but many more groups are testing this technology. Stay tuned!
For references, please see the previous articles, same title.
Georges M. Halpern, MD, PhD
Distinguished Professor of Medicinal Sciences
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
E-mail: [email protected]