Making Australia Happy” : a reality show with… a meaning :-) Eight unhappy people, all living in a suburb of Sydney (Marrickville), picked from an unhappy area, to be part of a unique project. The group represents a range of ages, backgrounds and life circumstances. It’s also a multi-media story which, it is hoped, will show the rest of us how to get happy as well. Making Australia Happy begins is screening on ABC1.

Over the eight weeks, =their changing happiness levels were measured with the Happiness 100 Index. http://makingaustraliahappy.abc.net.au/measurements.php explains which kind of measurements were taken:

When we talk about the “science of happiness”, we are referring to the scientific research into happiness – and one of the key factors in any scientific method is the collection of observable and measurable evidence. So how do you measure something as subjective as happiness? Is it the size of someone’s smile or the number of laugh lines? Science is showing that happiness is more than just a good feeling – and that our brains and bodies actually work better when we are happier. Thatʼs why positive psychology has been called “the science of optimal human functioning”.

Obviously you cannot measure happiness as objectively as weight and height, because it is an entirely subjective experience. But psychologists can reliably measure what people think about how happy they are, simply by asking them. This is called self-report assessment, and there is a wealth of scientifically validated questionnaires that measure different components of happiness likelife satisfaction, emotional states and mental wellbeing. In Making Australia Happy, Dr Tony Grant developed the Happiness 100 Index from a selection of well-established questionnaires.

We took saliva samples from our volunteers before, during and at the end of the eight-week happiness program, looking for changes to their cortisol and melatonin levels. Cortisol is the body’s main stress hormone. It is a naturally occurring hormone that is pumped out at varying levels during the day and during the body’s stress response (aka “Fight or Flight”). People living stressful lives are often in a semi-permanent state of stress response, and research shows that high levels of cortisol can be detrimental to physical and mental health. The hormone melatonin was another useful marker for measuring change.

Metabolic syndrome has emerged as a common condition in developed countries where people live the so-called “Western lifestyle” of inactivity, high stress, and poor diet. It is not so much a disease as a cluster of risk factors that include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood glucose (type 2 diabetes) and obesity around the trunk. These conditions increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease but the good news is that they are also very responsive to positive lifestyle changes and stress reduction. Stay tuned to find out what happened to the volunteers’ metabolic markers after the eight-week program…

Based on a decade of research into the effect of mindfulness meditation on brain functioning, we wanted to know if an integrated program of lifestyle changes, positive psychology interventions and mindfulness training would cause changes at a neural level. Using state of the art MEG technology at Macquarie University, neuroscientist Mark Williams used faces as the visual stimulus, recording activity in the parietal and temporal lobes of the volunteers’ brains. Stay tuned to find out what he found in the volunteers’ brain scans after the eight-week program…

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