Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


Being miserable might be in your genes

sitting_on_curb_holding_sign_12927Brits, Americans and the French are born to be miserable according to UK research.

People from Britain and America have apparently have a short-form version of a gene that regulates levels of serotonin, the chemical linked to happiness and French people have the shortest of all. No wonder we think of the French as Les Miserables!

The Danes however, who often top the league of happy countries, and the Netherlands have the lowest proportion of people with the short-form version. This means that Americans with ancestors from Denmark would also be happier.

Professor Andrew Oswald’s team at Warwick University looked at 131 different countries. Genetics turned out to be one of the most important factors in determining happiness.

Happiness league tables often take into account job satisfaction, health, wealth, education and political stability. Have a look at the OECD Happiness Index and decide for yourself.

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Copenhagen Airport, expensive or what?

I hadn’t enough Danish currency and they won”t take foreign coins, only notes , then give you Danish currency in return. So I thought £20 might cover 2 small beers and 2 coffees. The change you can see on the counter wouldn’t even buy a coffee at that bar!

Kindadukish's Blog - I am not a number, I am a free man (The Prisoner)

My colleague and I have just returned from Vilnius in Lithuania where we have been doing some work at Vilnius University. Our route home was via Copenhagen airport with a five and a half hour stop over for our connection to Manchester.

So, as one normally does with such a long wait we decided to find a bar and have a beer to while away the time. My friend ordered a glass of Kronenburg and I asked for Tuborg and we were quickly presented with two glasses.

Are these the two most expensive beers in Europe? Are these the two most expensive beers in Europe?

My friend offered to pay and the young lady serving us rang the amount into the till machine and up popped the amount of £15.00………..our jaws dropped as we looked at each other and said “well we knew that is was expensive in Copenhagen but we didn’t realise we were personally subsidising the Danish…

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Statues of naked women

The 66′ bronze statue of Verity by Damien Hirst, which he gifted to Ilfracombe for 20 years, has been the centre of some controversy.

Not least because of its explicit depiction of the pregnant women’s internal organs but also because Hirst, a multi-millionaire, has been accused of plagiarism and doesn’t actually do much work on his artistic products but uses a production line paying workers £11 an hour.

Local businesses are mostly happy however because all the publicity has generated a record number of visitors. Which will also make Hirst happy as he has a restaurant there and plans to build 500 homes in the town.

However it’s not the only large statue of a woman overlooking a waterfront.

In Konstanz, Germany, there is a 9 metre statue of a well-endowed courtesan called Imperia which was erected in 1993 overlooking the harbour and which you  can’t fail to notice.

She holds two naked figures; Pope Martin V in one hand and the Emperor Sigismund in the other, and rotates every 4 minutes.

It was created by Peter Lenk based on a satirical story by Balzac, “La Belle Imperia”  about the corrupt catholic clergy and Imperia’s seduction of priests and princes alike at the 15c Council of Constance. (The real Imperia, an Italian courtesan called Lucrezia de Paris, never actually visited Konstanz).

FYI There are other sculptures in Konstanz which are rather bizarre (so ideal for a future post) and which some of the conservative catholic locals I talked to find disgusting.

Both statues are talking points and perhaps that is just the point of this art.

Less artistically perhaps there is this oversized version (on the right) of the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen not far from the real thing (below).

One thing you may not know about the real Little Mermaid statue is that she doesn’t have a fish tail but legs so is she a real mermaid without a tail?

The mermaid basking by the river in the Uzupis district of Vilnius certainly has one.


Where would you have a better life?

If you want to know which country to live in to enjoy life more go to the OECD better life index.

They  have identified 11 key factors such as health, education, earnings, and sense of community.

You can decide how important these are to you. After I’d scored my choices and pushed the buttons it turned out Australia would be my ideal place to live, followed by the Nordic countries, with Turkey at the bottom of my list. The UK came 13th!

Australia is also top of the official OECD list followed by Canada and Sweden with the USA 7th and the UK not in the top 10 so my preferences seem to be shared by many people across the developed world.

Three quarters of Australians say they are satisfied with their lives and over 80% still expect to be satisfied in 5 years time with 85% reporting that they are in good health. They also trust their politicians (doesn’t mention bankers in the survey), 71% of women with school age children are working and relatively few people work extremely long hours. And the gap between low performing and high performing children is extremely small.

In other surveys Finland and Denmark have featured as the best countries to live in for various reasons and France the most miserable.

Denmark has also come out top of countries in the OECD for the best work-life balance (WLB).


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France miserable? c’est la vie

Sacrebleu! France is the most miserable country in the world.

According to the Global Barometer of Hope and Despair for 2011 life is looking grim for many Europeans but the French are the most pessimistic.

Iceland was the second most pessimistic followed by Romania, Serbia and the UK in joint third place (some people say the French have always been a melancholic race but we seem to have followed them since our latest recession).

Pascal Bruckner, a philosopher, was quoted in the Times as saying that France had a tradition of self-flagellation but was concerned that; ” the better we live, the more we complain” and that France was wallowing in “le miserabilisme”.  A French newspaper, La Croix, said that; “The French are the European champions of the bad mood”.

The most optimistic countries were Nigeria, Vietnam, Brazil, Ghana, and China.

The survey asked a sample of 64,00 from all social groups in 53 countries, whether they felt optimistic or pessimistic about 2011. The percentage of optimists and pessimists were then subtracted from each other to show whether that country was hopeful or pessimistic. Globally 30% expect 2011 to be a year of prosperity and 28% expect it to be a year of economic difficulty – so the net Global Hope score is 2%. But of the 53 countries only 19 can be classified as hopeful whilst the rest are pessimistic.

Global hope is highly concentrated among the rising economic powers of Brazil, Russia, India, and China (the BRIC countries) which have a Hope score of 35%. In sharp contrast the score for the rich countries of the world known as the G7 (USA, Canada, Germany, France, UK, Italy, and Japan) is a negative score of -17%.

The survey also looked at per capita income in each country and found that most of the countries high on income were low on hope and the most hopeful countries were those lowest in income.  But 20 of the 53 countries fall into the category of both low income and low hope. These countries include many of the former soviet republics such as Ukraine, Latvia, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, and Lithuania, as well as Egypt, Turkey and Bosnia

By contrast there is a small group of countries which had both a high per capita income and a high hope score. These were Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Switzerland.

These countries have been in the limelight before. Finland has been judged the best country in the world, followed by Switzerland and Sweden, and one of the top countries people would like to live in, along with Sweden and Denmark. It’s scandinavian neighbour Denmark has been judged to have the most satisfied populace, followed by Switzerland and with Finland and Sweden both not far behind. There is definitely something to be said about these Nordic countries but Norway must feel left out.

Updated 30 January 2011: To add to France’s woes President Sarcozy is proposing that French schoolchildren are taught English from an early age! The President is well-known for his love of Anglo-saxon culture and now wants to teach the “language of Shakespeare” to toddlers.

Right wing intellectuals are up in arms reminding everyone that de Gaulle never spoke a word of English in public (but we know what an ungrateful so-and-so he was) and that another former President, Jacques Chirac (currently in a spot of trouble with the law), walked out of a meeting being addressed by a Frenchman in English. They see language as an agent of domination

The English language borrows from the French (usually courtesy of 1066) but the French don’t generally reciprocate. “Le weekend” is about the extent of it apart from internet language and air traffic control. The government is proposing that children start learning at 3 years of age – rather than at seven as at present – assisted by computers, and there should be student exchanges for older pupils. Some experts say that three is too young anyway and that children can’t learn a foreign language until they learn their own at age 5 or 6.

Others argue that standards in French have slipped and those should be improved before teaching English. The President himself has been criticised for his use of slang and vulgar expressions. The Academie Francaise has always resisted the spread of “franglais” and “globish” and insisted on French words such as “courier electronique” for e-mail.

Updated 21 February 2011: Good news at last for the French, or at least the French “baby boomers”. It seems they might have found the secret of beating old age and believe that senior years can bring joy and fulfilment rather than what Charles de Gaulle called a “shipwreck”.

There has been a backlash against jeunisme (youngism) led by psychotherapist Marie de Hennezel. Her best-selling book: “The Warmth of the Heart prevents your Body from Rusting” promotes staying healthy but embracing physical decline rather than resisting it. She says it means; “accepting age without becoming old”.

She is a government adviser on end-of-life policies and finds that although quality of life allows people to live longer, old people are hidden from site and France has one of the highest suicide rates in the world for the elderly.

As you might expect from the French, the need to continue to delight in sex is an important part of this new philosophy and Hennezel says; “it just gets more beautiful and lasts longer as you get older“.

And older women are revered on French TV (the top rated newscaster is a 56 year old woman) and many foreign stars like Sharon Stone and Kristin Scott Thomas have resurrected their careers in sexy roles in French cinema.

So for baby boomers follow the French way: accept your age but enjoy the sex!

Updated 28 February 2011: I never thought I would say this but after the last update and the latest news from France – I am getting to like the French (except for Arsene the Winger)!

The news is that part of the planning to reduce the 9.3% unemployment rate is to offer free hairdos, manicures and makeovers to female jobseekers. Action Relooking is an initiative open to a dozen women every month from the 1.5 M who have been out of work for more than a year. OK it would take over 10,000 years to clear the backlog but it’s a start.

Pole Emploi, the national employment agency, has been accused of sexism by feminist groups because it hasn’t offered the same service to men. In the politically correct UK of course it would never have got off the ground in the first place unless men were offered the same treatment.

The French Prime Minister’s wife is backing the scheme and those who have been the lucky recipients say it has boosted their morale in difficult times and given them confidence when they attend interviews knowing that first impressions are important.

Others are less convinced. A union activist said it was a “get pretty and go to work philosophy” and feminist websites are saying that makeup and fashionable clothes will only be good for bosses who are predominantly male.

Updated 2 May 2011: You have to feel sorry for the French riot police, the CRS. They’ve been told they can no longer have a glass of wine with their lunch when on duty!

The police union aren’t happy about this attack on a Gallic tradition of having a 1/4 litre of red with their meals. The union is suggesting a very French compromise – having their meals and drink out of sight of the public. Other police departments are watching with more than interest as they fear the same rule will be applied to them.

French employment law prohibits alcohol in the workplace with the exception of, wine, beer, apple or pear cider (so now you know the French definition of alcohol) and police regulations forbid drinking altogether but this has always been officially ignored (and you have to admire the French for their willingness to ignore rules and regulations).

The CRS spend most of their time waiting to deal with riots and see the wine as a convivial tradition. Unfortunately last year riot police were seen drinking beer during demonstrations they were supposed to be policing.