Saturday, March 12, 2022

Ways to Greater Happiness: Policy strategies could be investing in happiness research, support of vulnerable people & promoting voluntary work and supporting non-profits; individual strategies could be investing in social networks, doing meaningful things & caring for one’s health

Ways to Greater Happiness: A Delphi Study. Dan Buettner, Toben Nelson & Ruut Veenhoven. Journal of Happiness Studies volume 21, pages 2789–2806. Feb 5 2020.

Abstract: In the first round of this Delphi study 14 experts suggested strategies for improving life-satisfaction. In a second round, experts rated these strategies for (a) effectiveness, (b) feasibility and (c) cost-effectiveness. They considered 56 strategies policy makers can use to raise average happiness in a nation and 68 ways in which individuals can raise their own happiness. Experts were informed about the average ratings made by the panel and about the arguments advanced. Then, in a third round, experts made their final judgments. Summed ratings for average effectiveness and feasibility of the strategies ranged between 8.4 and 4.9 on scale 2–10, which means that most of the recommendations were deemed suitable. Agreement was slightly higher on policy strategies than on individual ways to greater happiness. Policy strategies deemed the most effective and feasible are: (1) investing in happiness research, (2) support of vulnerable people and (3) improving the social climate, in particular by promoting voluntary work and supporting non-profits. Individual strategies deemed most effective are: (a) investing in social networks, (b) doing meaningful things and (c) caring for one’s health.


Above, we summarized the experts’ responses, focusing on strategies deemed both effective and feasible. Let us now take a helicopter view of the results. Below, we will first consider the differences between the view taken by experts and prevailing public opinion on ways to greater happiness. We then dwell on the difference in views among experts; we set out to establish consensus but find much disagreement. Next, we consider possible ideological bias in the expert ratings; could their reading of facts be influenced by their political preferences? Lastly, we propose an agenda for further synthetic research on ways to greater happiness.

Differences with Common Views on Ways to Greater Happiness

The results of this study will not surprise most of our colleague researchers, since they reflect the current state of the art. Still, some may have expected greater consensus than appears from the ratings. There will be more news for lay people, since many of the recommendations made by the experts are absent in public opinion polls on perceived sources of happiness.

Discrepancy in Expert-Lay View on Ways to Raise Happiness in the Nation

Studies on perceived sources of happiness in the general public are listed in the Bibliography of Happiness (Veenhoven 2017c), in the subject section ‘Views on happiness in public opinion’.

We acknowledged this literature in the comments below.

Expert’s views fit common sense with respect to (a) reducing unemployment, (b) creating a supportive social climate and (c) providing minimum income security, (d) free health care and free education and (e) investing in clean air.

A surprise may be in the high rating of (f) good governance, the functioning of bureaucracy in particular, though corruption figures in some polls as a source of unhappiness. Lay people may not expect that experts rate (f) more happiness research highest, as they will think that experts know everything already.

Things mentioned by the experts, that may not be expected by the public are; (g) increased taxes, (h) prioritize mental health care and (i) bringing life skills into schools.

Lay-people may be surprised to see that experts disagree so much in their effectiveness ratings of (j) improving work conditions, (k) reducing unemployment and (l) prioritize preventive healthcare, in particular (m) healthy living.

Discrepancy in Expert-Lay Views on Ways to Greater Happiness for One-Self

Studies on perceived sources of one’s own happiness i are listed in the Bibliography of Happiness (Veenhoven 2017c), in the subject section ‘Views on one’s own happiness’. What are the similarities and differences with the expert’s recommendations?

The expert recommendations fit public opinion with respect to importance of (a) social bonds, family in particular, (b) an active life-style and (c) a green home environment. Expert’s ratings also fit lay-people’s majority view that (c) building wealth is not required for a happy life.

Expert’s ratings also fit common-sense view that no greater happiness is to be expected from following trendy alternative life-style advice, such as (d) eliminate screens, (e) create a flow-room in your house or (f) become a vegan. Likewise, lay-people may be equally skeptical about the effectiveness of psychological training as most of the experts are.

The expert’s opinion that (g) children do not add to happiness, differs from the dominant view in public opinion, though this counter-intuitive finding has received much attention in the media. There is no strong public opinion on the effect on happiness of (h) self-employment, but lay-people will be surprised to see that experts differ so much on this issue.

Why Not More Agreement?

The prime aim of this study was to assess scientific consensus on ways to greater happiness. We found considerable agreement among our experts, but also much disagreement, as can be seen from the many red colored cells in Tables 2 and 3. Why is there so much disagreement among experts?

One reason is in the maturity of this research field. Happiness research is new, taking off in the 1990s, and many issues have not yet had sufficient research for the answers to become crystallized. This is why reviewers disagree so often (cf. Sect. 1) and why, for getting an overview, we resorted to the Delphi method.

Another reason may be found in disciplinary differences in our panel of experts, in particular between economists and psychologists, each drawing on a somewhat different research literature. The divergence in effectiveness ratings for life-coaching and psychological exercises may results from this.

One more reason lies in the questions we presented the experts. We asked them for ways to greater happiness that apply for all countries and all individuals, that is, one-size-fits-all recommendations. We did so, because we wanted to grasp consensus about universal conditions. Yet, in reality, conditions for happiness differ considerably between and within countries.

Leftish Bias?

Some of the strategies endorsed by the experts fit a left wing socialist-political agenda, such as (a) free health care and free education, (b) minimum income security, (c) increased taxes and (d) favor economic stability over growth. Yet experts do not cherish all leftish ideas, given their low ratings for (e) reduction of income inequality and (f) counter-balancing global capitalism. In their rating of individual strategies, the experts also do not endorse less work or lavish spending. Note that experts were asked to judge ways to greater happiness based on their scientific knowledge, not to present their ideological preferences.

Future Research

This study reflects the views of leading experts on happiness at this moment. Since much progress is made in this research field, it would be interesting to repeat this study every 10 years.

A possible addition can be, to run parallel studies among policy-makers, practitioners in the field of life-coaching and the public. This would provide us a better view on the difference between current beliefs about ways to greater happiness and established facts on that matter.

World-wide Evidence for Gender Difference in Sociality: approx 50% more female-female than male-male pairs are observed in public spaces globally

World-wide Evidence for Gender Difference in Sociality. Tamas David-Barrett. arXiv, Mar 6 2022.

One of the most contested questions about human behaviour is whether there are inherent sex or gender differences in the formation and maintenance of social bonds. On one hand, female and male brains are structurally almost identical, and while there are sex differences in the endocrine system, these are small, while much of gendered identity and behaviour is learned. On the other hand, sex differences in some aspects of social behaviour have deep evolutionary roots, and are widely present in non-human animals. This observational study recorded the frequency of same-aged, adult human groups appearing in public spaces through 2636 hours, recording group formation by 1.2mn people via 170 research assistants in 46 countries across the world. The results show (a) a significant sex-gender difference in same-sex-same-age frequency, in that ~50% more female-female than male-male pairs are observed in public spaces globally, and (b) that despite regional variation, the patterns holds up in every global region. This is the first study of sex-gender difference in dyadic social behaviour across the world on this scale, and the first global study that uses direct rather than internet-based observations.

People are usually off the mark when it comes to assessing how much and in what direction public attitudes toward contentious issues have changed

Widespread misperceptions of long-term attitude change. Adam M. Mastroianni and Jason Dana. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, March 7, 2022 | 119 (11) e2107260119.

Significance: People change when they think others are changing, but people misperceive others’ changes. These misperceptions may bedevil people’s efforts to understand and change their social worlds, distort the democratic process, and turn imaginary trends into real ones. For example, participants believed that Americans increasingly want to limit immigration, which they said justifies tighter borders. However, participants also said that limiting immigration would not be right if attitudes had shifted against it––which is what actually occurred. Our findings suggest that the national discourse around contentious social issues, policies resulting from that discourse, and perhaps the opinions that drive discourse in the first place would be very different if people better understood how attitudes have and have not changed.

Abstract: America is embroiled in cultural wars over abortion, immigration, gun control, climate change, religion, race, gender, and everything in between. Do people know how much attitudes have shifted on these contentious issues, or even which side is winning? Two preregistered studies suggest they do not. In Study 1, we asked a nationally representative sample of participants to estimate how 51 different attitudes had changed over time and compared their estimates to actual polling data. Participants overestimated the amount of change on 29 attitudes (57%), underestimated change on 10 attitudes (20%), estimated change in the wrong direction on 10 attitudes (20%), and estimated change correctly on only two attitudes (4%). In most cases, participants did not know whether an attitude had grown to a majority or shrunk to a minority. These misperceptions had little to do with participants’ demographics or ideologies and seemed instead to arise from a stereotype that the present is far more liberal than the past. Indeed, in Study 2, participants overestimated the liberal shift on most attitudes, believing that the liberal side had gained ground that it had in fact lost (e.g., gun control), or already held (e.g., climate change), or never held (e.g., religion). In three additional preregistered studies, we found that these misperceptions could justify policies that would otherwise seem objectionable. Overall, our findings suggest that widely shared stereotypes of the past lead people to misperceive attitude change, and these misperceptions can lend legitimacy to policies that people may not actually prefer.

Women were more likely than men to believe in or fear all nonmaterial or spiritual supernatural phenomena, as well as Atlantis

Supernatural Sociology: Americans’ Beliefs by Race/Ethnicity, Gender, and Education. Tony Silva, Ashley Woody. Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World, March 10, 2022.

Abstract: The authors analyze the 2020–2021 Chapman University Survey of American Fears (n = 1,035), the most recent nationally representative survey to examine fears of and beliefs about supernatural and paranormal phenomena, including ghosts, hauntings, zombies, psychics, telekinesis, Bigfoot or Sasquatch, Atlantis, and extraterrestrial visitation. This research examines how supernatural beliefs vary by race/ethnicity, gender, and education after adjustment for other demographic characteristics and religiosity. There were five gender differences, such that women were more likely than men to believe in or fear all nonmaterial or spiritual supernatural phenomena, as well as Atlantis. People with a bachelor’s degree or higher were less likely to believe in extraterrestrial visitation, hauntings, Bigfoot or Sasquatch, and Atlantis. There were also six beliefs and fears for which racial/ethnic differences emerged. The results highlight how gender, education, and race/ethnicity are strongly related to complex belief systems, including supernatural phenomena.

Keywords: supernatural, paranormal, gender, race, education, ghost, haunting, Bigfoot, Sasquatch, extraterrestrial, psychic, telekinesis, Atlantis

We used nationally representative data collected in 2021 to examine how fears of and beliefs about supernatural phenomena vary by key social axes: race/ethnicity, education, and gender. Our research makes several key contributions to the literature. First, we used the most recent data available to examine the relationship between supernatural phenomena and social axes. Second, this study contributes to the large body of research showing that social axes are strongly related to attitudes and religiosity (e.g., Schnabel 20182020). Third, we analyzed several supernatural beliefs individually, rather than combining them into an index, to detect patterns of significance or lack of significance on the basis of particular beliefs or types of beliefs. Empirically, this study shows that gender, race/ethnicity, and education are strongly related to supernatural beliefs and fears. Theoretically, the results suggest that beliefs about supernatural phenomena are shaped by gendered, racialized, and classed social processes.

It is notable that there are large gender differences in some beliefs but not others. One explanation could be the perceived role of spirituality in supernatural phenomena. Ghosts, hauntings, zombies, and psychics all involve the influence of spiritual forces, and telekinesis similarly involves a nonmaterial energy. In contrast, Bigfoot or Sasquatch and extraterrestrial visitation (for the most part) indicate concrete but unexplained issues such as undiscovered animals and contact with advanced nonhuman species. As Bader et al. (2017) argued, gendered differences in belief reflect how women are more likely to be interested in supernatural phenomena that provide a greater understanding of the world, even if the processes cannot be scientifically documented. In contrast, men may be more interested in phenomena that can be scientifically established with the correct evidence, although we did not find that men were more likely than women to believe in any phenomena.

It is unclear why women had a higher PP to believe in Atlantis and other advanced ancient civilizations than men, although it is possible that people differently interpreted the question. For instance, some people may have interpreted the question to mean lost but discoverable ancient civilizations. Others may have interpreted “advanced” to mean technological capabilities more sophisticated than today’s. Still others may have considered the purported link between ancient civilizations and metaphysical energy (e.g., some people believe that residents of advanced ancient civilizations used crystal energies). Thus, the implications of the finding about advanced ancient civilizations are unclear.

The fact that most configurations of American masculinity are characterized by notions of rationality (Connell 2005) could explain men’s lower probability of belief in supernatural phenomena linked to spiritual and nonmaterial forces (see also Thomson et al. 2020Ward and King 2020). Indeed, American men are socially rewarded for displaying traits such as detached rationality (Bain 2009) and may be socially sanctioned for relying on intuition and spiritual beliefs. Men are also socialized to demonstrate stoicism. Femininity, in contrast, is often associated with the emotional and spiritual realms.17 Women are less likely to be sanctioned for using intuition and expressing fear. This pattern could explain women’s higher levels of belief in hauntings and supernatural human abilities (foretelling the future and telekinesis), and to fear ghosts and zombies. Similarly, a 2017 study by the Pew Research Center showed that 20 percent of adult men in the United States believed in astrology, 27 percent believed in reincarnation, 34 percent believed in psychics, and 37 percent believed that “spiritual energy can be located in physical things” (Gecewicz 2018). In contrast, equivalent figures for women were 37 percent, 39 percent, 47 percent, and 46 percent, respectively (Gecewicz 2018). Thus, gendered social expectations likely shape supernatural beliefs.

Education is related to supernatural beliefs in a straightforward way. People with a bachelor’s or more had lower marginal estimates or PPs of belief in extraterrestrial visitation, hauntings, Bigfoot or Sasquatch, and Atlantis. Notably, there were no educational differences for other supernatural beliefs/fears. Although higher levels of education are associated with lower levels of belief in several supernatural phenomena, there are others in which there are no significant educational beliefs. These findings are similar to those of Bader et al. (2017) and unlike those of Rice (2003). It is possible that today, unlike in prior decades, higher levels of education have become associated with disbelief in most supernatural phenomena.

It is notable that several racial/ethnic differences emerged. Asian Americans had higher PPs of belief in Atlantis and fear of zombies than most other groups, and white people had the lowest PP of fearing ghosts than all other groups. Black people had higher levels of belief than white people regarding extraterrestrial visitation and hauntings and higher marginal estimates of belief in supernatural human abilities than both white and Latinx people. Similarly, the Pew research cited above showed that Black and Latinx people had higher levels of belief than white people regarding astrology, reincarnation, psychics, and spiritual energy in physical things (Asian Americans were not analyzed) (Gecewicz 2018).

There are several different possible explanations for these racial/ethnic differences in supernatural beliefs. First, it is possible that trust in science may be related to belief in supernatural phenomena. According to a 2020 Pew survey, 88 percent of white people and 87 percent of Latinx people have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of confidence in scientists, compared with 79 percent of Black people (Asian Americans were not analyzed) (Funk, Kennedy, and Johnson 2020). Thus, trust in science may be one of many factors that shape racialized belief systems.

Second, cultural traditions may also explain racial differences in paranormal beliefs. For instance, Black Americans historically had a tradition of intergenerational oral culture that can be traced back to enslavement (Gorn 1984). Historically, superstitions and stories of ghostly visitations were prominent within African American folklore (Gorn 1984), which may shape the belief systems of some Black Americans today (see also Bellot 2021). Similarly, the idea of ancestral spirits visiting the living is deeply embedded in some racial/ethnic cultural traditions such as Lunar New Year, which is widely observed throughout the East Asian and Southeast Asian American diasporas (Wen 2021). On the eve of the new year, special meals are prepared to honor the spirits of deceased ancestors (Wen 2021). Even outside of prominent holidays, ancestor worship is a daily spiritual practice for groups such as Vietnamese Buddhists (Jellema 2007). Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), which has its origins in both European Catholicism and Indigenous traditions, is widely celebrated throughout Mexico and in the Mexican American diaspora to honor the spirits of deceased relatives and friends (Lopez 2021). These cultural traditions may explain why Black, Latinx, and Asian Americans are more likely than white people to believe in certain paranormal phenomena.

It is intriguing that this study revealed numerous racial/ethnic differences in supernatural beliefs, whereas most other studies have not. In contrast, findings for gender and education largely mirrored those of other recent research. Differences in findings regarding racial/ethnic differences in supernatural beliefs may exist for variety of reasons. First is random sampling variation. To confirm these results, more research needs to be done, ideally with larger samples. Research findings are robust when they are confirmed by studies using multiple samples. Replication is particularly important when the sample size of certain subgroups is small, as with Black and Asian Americans in this sample. Thus, results regarding race/ethnicity should be evaluated with caution until further studies are conducted. Second, and relatedly, no prior research about the supernatural included Asian Americans except, possibly, in a combined “other” category. Several of the differences in this study were between Asian Americans and other groups; no prior research could have documented these differences when it did not examine Asian Americans specifically. And third, rapid social changes over the past several years may have shaped belief systems such that group differences emerged or became larger. In addition to the decline in church, synagogue, and mosque membership previously discussed (Jones 2021), the past several years have brought multiple social changes: the coronavirus pandemic, sharp political polarization, and increased attention paid to structural racial inequities, among others. These changes, combined, may have affected belief systems in varied ways depending on racial/ethnic identity. Future research will need to examine this possibility.

It is possible that other factors shape belief in supernatural phenomena. For instance, a recent study showed that lower levels of self-control were associated with a higher level of belief in supernatural phenomena (Mowen, Heitkamp, and Boman forthcoming). Low self-control is defined by one’s tendency to favor short-term gratification while ignoring long-term consequences (Mowen et al. forthcoming). The authors theorized that low self-control may be related to the adoption of paranormal beliefs, which “reflect a decision-making process whereby scientific evidence is cast aside in lieu of an easy explanation for some of life’s greatest mysteries” (p. 12). This study also showed that women were more likely than men to believe in supernatural phenomena, as were people of “other” races compared with white people (comparisons between white and Black people were not statistically significant) (Mowen et al. forthcoming). Although that study was based on a convenience sample of undergraduate students, the results indicate that researchers should include additional measures in surveys to better understand why individuals report supernatural beliefs.

Future research can build on this study. It would be beneficial to collect a larger sample size of Black, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, and Indigenous individuals, which would make it possible to produce more reliable estimates of beliefs by race/ethnicity. Although the results related to race/ethnicity are intriguing, future research with larger samples will need to further investigate this topic, particularly with regard to Black and Asian American respondents, as their sample sizes were small (which resulted in large confidence intervals). Future studies might also deploy explanatory frameworks to identify reasons why there is observed variation in paranormal beliefs by race/ethnicity.

Additionally, the CSAF did not query about sexual identification, even though it is one of the strongest predictors of social attitudes (Grollman 2017Schnabel 2018) and is strongly related to religiosity (Schnabel 2020), which in turn is related to supernatural beliefs (Bader et al. 2012Baker and Draper 2010Baker et al. 2016Mencken et al. 2009). Some scholars have argued that cryptids have become queer symbols in part because “the identification of cryptids as queer both reclaims and challenges a past in which queerness was considered monstrous” and because cryptids challenge conventional ideas about normativity and natural orders (Hord 2018:2). Others have argued that queerness is less stigmatized in online supernatural communities because supernatural communities are built on embracing the unfamiliar, thus making them more appealing to queer people (Wall 2018). Additionally, queer people may find cryptids intriguing because they are often framed as threats, just as queer people were historically and still are today in many contexts, and because the existence of cryptids, like queer people, is often denied or rendered invisible (Wall 2018). In short, there are a variety of reasons why queer people may be more inclined to believe in supernatural phenomena, and future research should include a measure of sexual identification to capture possible group differences on the basis of sexual identity.

In conclusion, we examined how beliefs about, and fears of, supernatural phenomena—including ghosts, hauntings, zombies, psychics, telekinesis, Bigfoot or Sasquatch, Atlantis, and extraterrestrial visitation—vary by race/ethnicity, gender, and education. Specifically, women are more likely to believe in or fear phenomena that relate to nonmaterial or spiritual matters (ghosts, hauntings, zombies, and supernatural human abilities including psychic powers and telekinesis) rather than material phenomena that could potentially be proved through conventional scientific investigation (Bigfoot or Sasquatch and extraterrestrial visitation), although women were also more likely than men to believe in Atlantis. Education is also strongly related to several supernatural phenomena, such that people with a bachelor’s degree or higher are less likely to believe in certain phenomena than people with less than a bachelor’s degree. Race/ethnicity was also strongly related to supernatural beliefs and fears, although in ways that differed on the basis of the belief or fear. The results underscore how gender, education, and race/ethnicity are strongly related to beliefs, including about supernatural phenomena.

Increasing social media use most likely displaces other media activities, doesn't reduce time on face-to-face interaction

Social media use, social displacement, and well-being. Jeffrey A. Hall, Dong Liu. Current Opinion in Psychology, Mar 11 2022, 101339.

Abstract: Social displacement is the proposition that time spent on social media replaces time spent in face-to-face interaction, particularly with close friends and family, thus reducing well-being. There is clear evidence of growing mobile and social media use, and some evidence of a decline in face-to-face communication. This essay concludes, however, there is very little direct or causal evidence of social media time displacing face-to-face time. This essay concludes that increasing social media use most likely displaces other media activities. To explain findings that seem to support social displacement, this essay examines the difference between population-level trends and within-individual behavior, and the difference between within-person and between-person displacement.

Keywords: face-to-face communicationinternetsocial media usesocial displacementTVwell-being