Monthly Archives: May 2011

Canada ranks high in the OECD Better Life Index. Canadians make more, work less, are happier with their lives and better educated than most residents of the 34 countries that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a new index suggests.

The OECD launched the “better life index” Tuesday, which allows comparisons between the member countries that go beyond the traditional economic measures, such as gross domestic product.

“Canada performs exceptionally well in measures of well-being,” the agency said, citing statistics such as:

– Nearly four out of five Canadians are satisfied with their lives, compared with three out of five for the OECD as a whole.
– Average Canadian household income of $27,015 US in 2008, more than $4,700 above the OECD average.
– Nearly 72 per cent of Canadians 15 to 64 have a paid job, above the OECD average of 65 per cent.
– Canadians work 40 hours a year (a work week) less than the OECD average.
– About 87 per cent of Canadians have the equivalent of a high-school diploma, much higher than the OECD average of 73 per cent.
– Life expectancy in Canada is 80.7 years, a year above the OECD average.
– The level of atmospheric PM10, tiny particles that are small enough to damage the lungs, is 15 micrograms per cubic metre, lower than the OECD average of 22.

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OECD Better Life Index is designed to let you visualise and compare some of the key factors – like education, housing, environment, and so on – that contribute to well-being in OECD countries. It’s an interactive tool that allows you to see how countries perform according to the importance you give to each of 11 topics that make for a better life.

What’s the point of Your Better Life Index?
There’s been a lot of debate lately on measuring the well-being of societies – is wealth all that matters, or should we be looking at other things, like the balance between work and the rest of our lives? The Index aims to involve citizens in this debate, and to empower them to become more informed and engaged in the policy-making process that shapes all our lives.

Why choose 11 topics of well-being for the OECD Better Life Index?
Since it was founded in 1961, the OECD has helped governments design better policies for better lives for their citizens. More recently, the OECD has been keenly involved in the debate on measuring well-being. Based on this experience, these 11 topics reflect what the OECD has identified as essential to well-being in terms of material living conditions (housing, income, jobs) and quality of life (community, education, environment, governance, health, life satisfaction, safety and work-life balance).

Each topic is built on one to three specific indicators: For example, the Work-Life Balance topic is based on three separate measures: the number of employees working long hours; the percentage of working mothers; and the time people devote to leisure and personal activities.

In the future, these indicators reflecting current material living conditions and quality of life will be complemented by indicators describing sustainability of well-being over time.

Which country is Number 1 in the OECD Better Life Index?
That’s up to you! The OECD has not assigned rankings to countries. Instead, Your Better Life Index is designed to let you, the user, investigate how each of the 11 topics can contribute to well-being. If you think Housing is more important than Environment, for example, just change the ratings in Your Better Life Index toolbar and instantly see how countries compare. When you’ve created your own I

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Beijing. The people of Shijiazhuang, capital of northern Hebei province and an industrial hub, have reason to cheer. This month, the city with a population of about 11 million was named China’s happiest city.

It beat more than 290 Chinese cities to the title in an annual competitiveness study by a government think-tank. The news was greeted with both shock and envy — that this relatively poor city could grab such a coveted position and score major political points with the top leadership, whose new campaign is to make people happy.

This was the first time that the closely watched annual survey included a “happiness index,” as the Chinese Communist Party strives to maintain social stability by showing that it cares about the people’s well-being.
Linyi in Shandong province and Yangzhou in Jiangsu province were placed second and third. Beijing squeezed into the top 10 at No. 9.

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Interesting research. Hopefully, we’ll also remember there is much more than genes in life, including environment, choices which form habits, and the – mostly still unexplored – “switches” which can turn genes on/off.

People tend to be happier if they possess a more efficient version of a gene which regulates the transport of serotonin in the brain, a new study has shown.

The findings, published recently in the Journal of Human Genetics, are the first to show a direct link between a specific genetic condition and a person’s happiness, as measured by their satisfaction with life.

This research led by behavioural economist Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), examined genetic data from more than 2,500 participants in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (a representative population sample in the US). In particular, it looked at which functional variant of the 5-HTT gene they possess.

The 5-HTT gene, which provides the operating code for serotonin transporters in our neuron cell walls, has a variation (or allele) which can be either long or short. The long allele is more efficient, resulting in increased gene expression and thus more serotonin transporters in the cell membrane. Inheriting the gene from both parents, each of us will have a genotype which can be long-long, short-short or a combination of the two alleles.

The study compared the subject’s genetic type with their answer to the question “How satisfied are you with your life as a whole?” – to which they could give one of five possible answers: very satisfied, satisfied, dissatisfied, very dissatisfied or neither.

The results showed that a much higher proportion of those with the efficient (long-long) version of the gene were either very satisfied (35 per cent) or satisfied (34 per cent) with their life – compared to 19 per cent in both categories for those with the less efficient (short-short) form. Conversely, 26 per cent of those with the short-short allele were dissatisfied, compared to only 20 per cent of those with the long-long variant.

The study showed that possessing one long allele increases the likelihood of being very satisfied with life by 8.5 per cent as compared to having no long alleles of the 5-HTT gene. For two long alleles, the average likelihood of being very satisfied with life rose by 17 per cent in the study population.

Jan-Emmanuel De Neve said: “It has long been suspected that this gene plays a role in mental health but this is the first study to show that it is instrumental in shaping our individual happiness levels.”

“The results of our study suggest a strong link between happiness and this functional variation in the 5-HTT gene. Of course, our well-being isn’t determined by this one gene – other genes and especially experience throughout the course of life will continue to explain the majority of variation in individual happiness. But this finding helps to explain why we each have a unique baseline level of happiness and why some people tend to be naturally happier than others, and that’s in no small part due to our individual genetic make-up.”

The paper is entitled ‘Functional polymorphism (5-HTTLPR) in the serotonin transporter gene is associated with subjective well-being: evidence from a US nationally representative sample’ and is available at the Journal of Human Genetics ( or from the LSE Press Office or the author.

A related paper prepared by Jan-Emmanuel De Neve and co-authors Nicholas Christakis (Harvard Medical School), James H. Fowler (University of California, San Diego), and Bruno Frey (University of Zurich) further develops this research and looks at the evidence produced from a study of twin pairs. This work shows that genetics explain about one-third of the variation in human happiness. This paper is currently available as a SSRN working paper at

SOURCE: London School of Economics and Political Science

Prof. Martin Seligman on positive psychology: Martin Seligman TED lecture about positive psychology

Martin Seligman talks about positive psychology, as a field of study and as it works one-on-one with each patient and each practitioner. As it moves beyond a focus on disease, what can modern psychology help us to become?

Martin Seligman founded the field of positive psychology in 2000, and has devoted his career since then to furthering the study of positive emotion, positive character traits, and positive institutions. It’s a fascinating field of study that had few empirical, scientific measures — traditional clinical psychology focusing more on the repair of unhappy states than the propagation and nurturing of happy ones. In his pioneering work, Seligman directs the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, developing clinical tools and training the next generation of positive psychologists.

His earlier work focused on perhaps the opposite state: learned helplessness, in which a person feels he or she is powerless to change a situation that is, in fact, changeable. Seligman is an often-cited authority in this field as well — in fact, his is the 13th most likely name to pop up in a general psych textbook. He was the leading consultant on a Consumer Reports study on long-term psychotherapy, and has developed several common pre-employment tests, including the Seligman Attributional Style Questionnaire (SASQ).

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