Saturday, October 25, 2008

The secret to happiness? Having at least 10 good friends

Very mixed up! They first admit that direction of cause is unknown then speak as if it is known. All that the study tells me is that happy people tend to have a loose definition of what constitutes a friend

In love, two is company and three's a crowd. But in friendship, ten is the magic number. Being able to count at least ten people as friends makes us happy, researchers say. But those with five or fewer are likely to be miserable with their lot, they claim. Their study of hundreds of men and women also found that contented sorts tend to have lots of close friends and regularly make new ones.

While it is not clear whether our friends make us happy or we make friends because we are happy, the researchers say it is clear we should nourish our friendships.

Psychologist Richard Tunney said: 'Whatever the reason, actively working on friendships in the same way as to maintain a marriage is a prerequisite to happiness.' Dr Tunney, of Nottingham University, quizzed more than 1,700 people about their satisfaction with their lives and the state of their friendships. Those with five friends or fewer had just a 40 per cent chance of being happy. In other words, they were more likely to be unhappy than happy.

Ten was the first number at which people were more likely to be happy than unhappy. Happiest of the lot were those with dozens of friends, according to the study, which was carried out for the National Lottery. For women, this meant having 33 friends; for men, the figure was 49.

Dr Tunney said: 'People who were extremely satisfied with their lives had twice the number of friends of people who were extremely dissatisfied.' Women tended to have fewer friends than men but formed tighter bonds.

Interestingly, the study found that childhood friends are no more likely to make us happy than people we become close to later in life. Lottery winners, however, had a different take on life. They tended to be happier than others despite spending their time with a small circle of old friends. This could be because they trust those they've known for longest. Alternatively, financial security may allow them to lavish more time and attention on those who matter the most to them.

The analysis also showed Brummies [inhabitants of Birmingham] to be the happiest people in Britain, with an average 29 friends each and a 75 per cent chance of happiness. Most miserable are the people of Brighton. Despite an average friend total of 42, residents have just a 56 per cent chance of happiness.

Dr Tunney, who describes himself as happy and having a lot of good friends, said factors such as a high cost of living could be behind the city's poor rating. 'Brighton is a very gregarious city, so maybe there is more pressure to have social networks than elsewhere,' he said, adding: 'I spent three happy years in Brighton when I was younger. I would be quite happy to live by the sea.'


One brain cell may reverse muscle paralysis

Sounds hopeful

Activation of a single brain cell may be enough to help restore muscle activity in the arms of paralysed patients with spinal cord injuries, scientists say.

Chet Moritz of the University of Washington and colleagues rerouted control signals from the brains of temporarily paralysed monkeys directly to their muscles. The brain region utilized was an area known as the motor cortex, which controls movements.

The research, published in the Oct. 16 issue of the research journal Nature, has potential for the future treatment of spinal cord injury, stroke and other impairments affecting movement, according to the group.

The researchers explained that they created artificial pathways for the signals to pass down. As a result, muscles that lacked natural stimulation after paralysis regained a flow of electrical signals from the brain. The monkeys were then able to tense the muscles in the paralysed arm, a first step towards producing more complicated goaldirected movements.

The team argues that a neuron, or brain cell, previously not associated with movement could be "coopted" to assume a new control role. This has implications for future brainmachine interface machines, devices designed to translate thoughts into physical movements by harnessing the electrical activity of neurons.

Brain-machine interfaces are an important tool for the study of brain injury and motor control, but the machines have so far focused on exploiting populations of neurons rather than single cells, Moritz and colleagues noted.


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