Thursday, May 21, 2009

Happiness Is ... Being Old, Male and Republican

Americans grow happier as they age, surveys find. And a new Pew Research Center survey shows the tendency is holding up as the economy tanks.

Happiness is a complex thing. Past studies have found that happiness is partly inherited, that Republicans are happier than Democrats, and that old men tend to be happier than old women.

And even before the economy got nasty, seniors were found to be generally happier than Baby Boomers. Some of that owes to the American Dream being lived by past generations, while Boomers work two jobs and watch the dream wither. In times like this, it's clear how age can have its advantages. While not all seniors are weathering the recession well, for many the impact is much less severe than it is for younger people.

Why? Many people 65 and older retired and downsized their lifestyles before the economy imploded, according to Pew analysts. Most aren't raising kids and many are not so worried about being laid off. Loss of income can be, of course, a source of stress and displeasure. (While money doesn't buy happiness, a study in February showed cash can help, especially when people use it to do stuff instead of buy things.)

If you're thinking that Republicans are happy just because they perhaps make more money, that does not seem to be the case. The study that found Republicans to be happier than Democrats also showed that it held true even after adjusting for income.

It's those age 50-64 who've "seen their nest eggs shrink the most and their anxieties about retirement swell the most," the Pew survey found. It also finds that younger adults (ages 18-49) "have taken the worst lumps in the job market but remain relatively upbeat about their financial future."

Not everyone in any category is blissful, of course. Other research has shown that happiness in old age depends largely on attitude factors such as optimism and coping strategies. Add financial planning to the list.

In the new Pew telephone survey, taken in March and April of 2,969 adults, here's how many respondents in each age group said they had cut back on spending in the past year:

18-49: 68 percent
50-64: 59 percent
65+: 36 percent.

And is the recession causing stress in your family?

18-49: 52 percent
50-64: 58 percent
65+: 38 percent.

Now for the good news: A study in January found that key groups of people in the United States have grown happier over the past few decades, while other have become less so. The result: Happiness inequality has decreased since the 1970s. Americans are becoming more similar to each other on the happiness scale.


Old-time toys are the best

This may well be true but no research evidence is quoted

CREATIVE play with traditional toys and games is a healthy way to stimulate the imagination and support learning, childhood development experts say. University of Adelaide child psychiatrist Dr Jon Jureidini is concerned about the shift towards electronic toys and computer games. "The role of the child in play becomes more reactive," he said. "Much more of the content is going to be generated by the computer than would be the case if a child was playing with a doll's house . . . The danger is that children aren't having as much stimulation to their imagination and creativity."

Dr Jureidini uses play in therapy. "Playing through some distressing event helps children to come to terms with it and feel less bullied by their scary memories,"he said. "There's the working-through aspect and also the communication aspect."

Deakin University Associate Professor Karen Stagnitti said imaginative play also had been shown to expand children's vocabulary, comprehension and social skills.

Pembroke Junior School visited the Australian Museum of Childhood in Port Adelaide to see how toys had changed over time. Teacher Alison Woodcock said some children had to be taught how to play. "The children are very confident on the computers these days," she said. "We need to help them develop skills in creative play."

Student Julian, 6, said he liked playing with trucks. "I play with them and build things in the dirt, like building New York City," he said.


Why curry could STOP you putting on weight (if you are a mouse)

If you are trying to stop piling on the pounds, eating lots of curry might seem like a bad idea. But it is not as ridiculous as it sounds, according to the latest scientific findings. The flavouring turmeric, used in most Indian meals, has an active ingredient which could help fight obesity.

A meal which includes turmeric will lead to less weight gain than a meal with all the same ingredients apart from the yellow powder. Turmeric contains a plant-based chemical called curcumin which is easily absorbed by the body, according to a study from Tufts University in Boston. Reporting their findings in the Journal of Nutrition researchers found curcumin suppresses the growth of fat tissue in mice and human cell cultures.

In particular turmeric is effective when added to a high-fat meal, suggesting it could help fight obesity. It appears the curcumin prevents the formation of new blood vessels which in turn help expand fatty tissue which is the cause of weight gain. The laboratory tests saw one set of mice fed high-fat diets for 12 weeks and another set given the same food except with 500mg of curcumin added to each meal. After 12 weeks, the mice which were fed curcumin weighed less than those which did not eat it. The researchers found the curcumin-fed mice were not growing as many new blood vessels as the others and had lower blood cholesterol.

Senior researcher Mohsen Meydani said: 'Weight gain is the result of the growth and expansion of fat tissue which cannot happen unless new blood vessels form, a process known as angiogenesis.' 'Based on our data, curcumin appears to suppress angiogenic activity in the fat tissue of mice fed high-fat diets.' The next step will be to perform clinical trials on humans, said the researchers.


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