Cleanliness

figure_sweeping_800_10765You either enjoy cleaning or you don’t.

I know people who enjoy it so much they clean other people’s houses whenever they get the chance – and for nothing! But let’s not go there.

Several years ago a University of Michigan study found that a better predictor than SAT scores of how well children would do in later life was the level of cleanliness in their homes.

Children raised in clean homes were found to have completed more school and have higher earnings potential than children raised in dirty homes.

Why should that be? The researchers think that clean homes may indicate that the families with clean homes value organisation and orderliness, skills which are useful at school and at work.

The research covered a 25-year period. At the beginning 5,000 homes were assessed for their level of cleanliness –  from “dirty” through “not very clean”, “clean”, and “very clean” – and after 25 years they checked the educational attainments and earning power of the young people who had grown up there.

The study took into account things like race, socio-economic status, and parental education (which some studies have shown to be important).

Allowing for those variables they found that children brought up in the clean categories of homes completed almost 2 extra years of school than children brought up the dirty categories and they earned over $3,000 more.

The researchers stressed that this is not just about cleanliness, or intelligence for that matter, but the fact that being organised and efficient pays off in academic and financial success.

This study was about the cleanliness of homes , not personal cleanliness. And that’s a different story because whether or not you are concerned about keeping yourself clean may be down to your genes.

Researchers at the University of Utah found a specific gene, called HoXb8, which is linked to washing and grooming.

Tests on the gene suggest that the presence of this gene can lead to compulsive cleaning, which taken to extremes can be self-harmful, and which the researchers believe is the key to obsessive cleanliness.

Not only can it lead to obsessive hand waging but a mutation of it might be responsible for the compulsion to tear out your hair – tricotillomania – which is found in both humans and animals.

UK is not a good place to live

but it’s better than living in Spain which came lowest of all the developed nations studied by PwC and the Demos think tank.

Norway, Germany, and the Netherlands are the top three places to live and work among leading OECD countries that were scored on a “Good Growth” Index which measures not just GDP but unemployment, health, work-life balance, and housing, among other factors.

So why did people in the UK rate their country so badly? They were unhappy with average working hours, income equality, and transport costs, among other things.

The authors of the report warn the government that the public takes a wide view of what constitutes economic success including creating employment and fairness.

Health was also an issue that concerned people and the report suggested that good health should also be part of the government’s economic policy.

Norway came top because of a low unemployment rate of 3.2% compared with 7.8% in the UK, fewer working hours and higher savings rates, three times higher than in the UK.

Norway also has more space, there are only 34 people per square mile compared with 660 in the UK. It’s murder rate, the recent massacre notwithstanding, is one of the lowest in the world, only half that of the UK and a tenth of that in the USA.

The male to female ratio is almost equal and there is a life expectancy of 82 years of age. And Norwegians are well-educated; 40% of the 25-34 age group have degrees which is well above the OECD average of 29%. Not surprising when they are the 18th highest spender in the world on education.

This is not the only attempt to measure national well-being and the OECD has a “Create you own better lifecalculator where you can work out which country you would prefer to live in. Australia came first in their own comparisons with a high proportion of Australians being satisfied with their lot

Are you happy? – part 2

Married people are happier than single people (it could be that happy people get married more easily).

And the 30% improvement in happiness due to being married makes up for  all the negative affects of unemployment.

Just don’t get divorced (the two worst life events are losing a spouse and unemployment).

But how do you know if people are really happy? Women look less happy but angrier than they are, whereas men look less angry and happier than they are.

Probably because we expect women to be happier than men and men angrier than women and we notice when people display behaviour that doesn’t fit our expectations.

Optimism is associated with happiness, good physical and mental health and longevity whereas stress lowers our immune system so we are more likely to become ill. So middle-aged people who are happy have fewer physical symptoms of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Older people also focus more on the positive aspects of goods and services because they focus more on emotional goals than young adults.(See “Are you happy”).

We are attracted to happy people because we think they will give good genes to our children.

Extraverts are happier than Introverts because they spend more time doing enjoyable things. But introverts who are asked to behave as extroverts can be even happier than real extroverts.

Happiness IS NOT associated with: wealth (once basic needs are met), education, high IQ, youth (20-24 year olds are more depressed than 65-74 year-olds) or watching TV more than 3 hours a day – especially watching soaps.

But it IS associated with: religion (although it may be the community rather than the belief), having lots of friends, and drinking in moderation (compared to tee-totallers).

We are not evolved to be happy all the time otherwise we would have nothing to strive for. However 50% of happiness may be due to our genes compared to les than 10% due to our circumstances. We may have a “set point” or range of happiness to which we return after experiencing ups and downs. So  winning the lottery may not make us happy forever.

According to ideas from positive psychology we can raise our happiness levels by enjoying life more eg by savouring sensual experiences, by becoming more involved in things, and by finding ways of making our lives more meaningful.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of “The How of Happiness: a practical guide to getting the life you want”, suggests the following  to raise your levels of happiness:

  1. Count your blessings – keep a gratitude journal each week of 3-5 things
  2. Practise being kind – both randomly and systematically
  3. Savour life’s joys
  4. Thank a mentor
  5. Learn to forgive
  6. Invest time and energy in friends and family – these are more important than work to your happiness.
  7. Take care of your body and health
  8. Develop strategies for coping with stress and hardship – having a strong belief system helps.

Beauty’s only skin deep

How we look is important but to some people it’s everything.

In America 1 in 3 women think the way they look is more important for their self-esteem than intelligence or job performance.

Students said they would rather marry an embezzler, a shop lifter, or a drug smuggler than someone who was obese.

And 11% of them would abort a foetus if they knew it was  genetically disposed to obesity. It’s perhaps no surprise then that fat women are 20% less likely to get married than slimmer ones.

Now Deborah Rhode, the Director of Stanford University’s Institute for Research on Women and Gender, has published a book; “The Beauty Bias: The injustice of Appearance in Life and Law”. In it she asks such searching questions as why they spent more on Sarah Palin’s makeover and personal shopper than on a foreign policy advisor?

She discovered that good looking teachers are considered better educators and that attractive lawyers earned 12% more than their plainer colleagues despite being no more competent.

I’ve posted on this topic before, about tallness, attractiveness and earnings and about “erotic capital” and how (usually) women can exploit their looks. Taking a slightly different view Rhode refers to the “bloopsy” effect which is where beautiful women, especially those with big breasts, are considered dumb even if they have a PhD.  Attractive women have been known to be sacked for being too attractive.

But so have unattractive or ugly people and research shows that ugly criminals get longer sentences – one way to beautify the neighbourhood I suppose. Now it’s being suggested that you could be sued for calling people ugly or not attractive enough for a job. Don’t HR people and the diversity police have enough to do?

Updated 14 July 2010: Anyone who watched last year’s Channel 4 programme “The Ugly Face of Beauty” would have been horrified by the sight of operations that went wrong. Or of an England footballer’s relative wanting to have the UK’s biggest boobs (double J) plus an unnecessary liposuction on her size 8 body.

But the really scary part was that 50% of 16-21 year-olds say they would like plastic surgery. “Boob jobs” are the most popular in the UK at around £3,000 (but only £800 in Cuba) with many unscrupulous, not to say unqualified, clinics offering surgery as part of a holiday package. The following week’s programme promised: “tummy tucks” that end up looking like shark bites!

Originally posted by MikethePsych July 2010

Looking for Mr Perfect

If you thought the chick-lit era was over, with no more searching for Mr Right a la Bridget Jones or Sex in the City; or that WAGS were now irrelevant –  then you were right, but oh so wrong!

At least according to “Mr So-So has no chance with the SAS girls”  a piece  by Amy Turner in the  Sunday Times last year.

Because it seems that women might still want to meet the man of their dreams – Civitas think tank found that 70% of women aged 20 – 35 want to get married – but only if they found Mr Right.

In particular so-called SAS women: successful, attractive and single – say they are happy enjoying themselves. As one SAS women, described as having “endless legs and sparkling repartee” (sycophant-speak for skinny public school girl) said; “I’m fabulous and I want someone equally as fabulous to join my party”. Not much narcissistic self-referencing there then and hardly suggesting an equal partnership (see “Princess on board…”).

Not for them Lori Gottlieb’s advice in; “Marry him: the case for settling for good enough”. As my management consultant colleagues might say, SAS women are taking a “six sigma” rather than just a “fit for purpose” approach and as one of my guest bloggers pointed out recently; “Male modesty doesn’t pay”.

But why should women settle for less now that they are increasingly holding the purse strings? Experts in the USA think that by 2024 women will be earning more on average than men , particularly in Law, Medicine, and in academia. There are already more females than males graduating and higher education is the best predictor of future financial success. And the trend is pretty much the same in the UK with more females than males graduating in Law and Psychology for example.

In America five years ago only 1 in 4  women in dual-income households earned more than the men; now it is up to a third and if that trend continues more women in middle-income jobs like teaching and healthcare will overtake men. In America female graduates have flocked into cities such as New York and Dallas to find “gender-blind” jobs with the result that women in their 20s are now earning 20% more than their male counterparts.

A number of factors have influenced these trends: a sharp decline in the birth rate in cities where more women go to college, more men losing their jobs than women (women occupied more part-time jobs) in the recession (the “mancession”), and an increase in family-friendly – which usually means women-friendly – jobs.  And you could probably add to that the feminising of education.

Originally posted by MikethePsych in June 2010

When the kids leave home..

Feeling 10 years younger with more free time, and a better sex life?

More time for hobbies and travel, keeping fit, and making new friends because you’re spending less time cooking, cleaning and tidying up?

That’s what 80% of parents said when their kids finally left home – according to a survey of 2,000 parents whose children had recently gone to university.

Some were even hundreds of pounds better off as they had rented out their kids’ rooms to lodgers.

It’s not always good news however. Some parents are worried about their children being able to look after themselves when they leave home – eating properly and managing their money.

And for some parents once their children leave it might be the only thing they had in common so their relationship is at risk.

But don’t count your chickens too soon.

Unless they have left home for good there is always the holidays when they come back and disrupt newly-discovered lifestyles or even the boomerang children who return to live at their parents’ home because they haven’t got a job.

Originally posted by MikethePsych in September 2010

Are you a lark or an owl?

It’s important to know when you are working at your best because it could make a difference to your career success.

Some people are bright and breezy first thing in a morning (hard to believe if you are an owl of course) whilst others don’t come to life until later in the day.

Research by biologists in Germany found that people whose performance peaks in the morning are more proactive than people who are at their best in the evening. (There may be an element of puritan work ethic in this of course)

They tend to get better grades in school, and have better job opportunities. They also anticipate problems  and minimise them. Their proactive trait is what leads to better job performance, greater career success and higher wages.

Evening people have some advantages: they tend to be smarter and more creative than morning types, have a better sense of humour, and are more outgoing. Unfortunately they are out of synch with typical corporate schedules according to Professor Christopher Randler at the University of Heidelberg.

If you find yourself waking up at the same time every day, even the weekends, then you are probably an early bird. On the other hand if you like to take advantage of  your weekend and have a lie-in  – the scientists found a 2 hour difference on average  – then you are probably an owl.

It seems more people under 30 are evening types; from 30 to 50 it’s evenly split; and after 50 most people are morning types. You can change  your “chronotype”, 50% of which is due to genetics, by changing your sleep pattern but it only works for half those who try and only a small shift of an hour or so.

Source: HBR July/August 2010

Updated 13 November 2010: Everyone has probably heard about Winter blues, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), where lack of sunlight or daylight makes us feel depressed (and may contribute to the high suicide rates in some Nordic countries which enjoy  long Summer days followed by long Winter nights).

Experts now say that we should have exposure to bright daylight throughout the year. This is because daylight sets our body clocks and if we don’t get enough at the right time of day our body clock gets out of synch. That makes us feel tired and may influence our mood and concentration so that we rely on stimulants like coffee to keep us going.

This phenomenon has been called social jet lag, by Professor Till Roenneberg at the University of Munich, and it occurs because we evolved to live by natural patterns of daylight and night.

Bright lights in the morning stimulate the production of adrenaline, cortisol, and serotonin, which help us keep awake and feel mentally alert. When light fades the pineal gland produces melatonin and adenosine which make us sleepy.

However with modern work patterns we may wake up in the dark, go to work in artificial daylight, then as it grows dark in the evenings switch on bright lights and probably spend time in a brightly lit bathroom before we got to bed. This has the same effect as having a cup of coffee. So too much time in the wrong kind of light at the wrong time of day.

It’s estimated that  3 out of 4 people need an alarm clock to get up in the morning (I’m definitely an owl and I need two alarm clocks if I am going out to work) as their body clock is behind the real time and they are working at times which may not be biologically right for them.

The body clock also sets our metabolism and kidney functions and if yours isn’t in synch with real time you are more likely to use coffee or cigarettes to keep you awake and alcohol to help you sleep. You also run the risk of being overweight as you will eat at the wrong body clock times.

One study found that having lower levels of melatonin encourages cancer growth. Interestingly melatonin is used as a drug to help travellers overcome jet lag and I learned is also mainly produced between 2300 and 0300 when you are asleep. So owls like me going to bed in the early hours risk reducing their melatonin production. Knowing this helped me to make an extra effort to get to bed before midnight!

NB And none of this relates directly to how much sleep you might be getting – see “Are you getting enough Sleep?”

The problem is that artificial light is not bright enough and is only about 5% of the light intensity on a cloudy day. The best light is the brilliant blue sky and white sunlight which keeps us alert and prepares us for sleep. I remember the first time I went to Finland in the Summer and how wonderful it was seeing the sky so bright and the air seemed so much fresher.

The Health Protection Agency in the UK is studying  the effect of light on people in care homes and hospital to se if it can aid recovery, or even help them sleep better, and improve staff energy levels. Working without natural daylight is a definite no-no for many people and having sight of green grass and tress is a definite stress-reducer.

The challenge is not so much having bright light in the morning – at least 20 minutes a day is considered necessary to maintain out body clock’s accuracy – but having lower light levels in the evening whilst still being able to work. Scrapping British Summer Time would make the problem worse as it would give is more light at the end of the day all the year round.

Professor Roenneberg suggests that if you suffer from social jet lag you could try wearing sunglasses from 1600 onwards. A good excuse for looking cool in the office? Source: Daily Mail 9 November 2010

Great pull-out section in The Times (8 December 2010) “Understanding Sleep”. Everything from fatigue at work, body clocks, sleep problems to medication. Well worth a read!

Updated 16 December 2010: Scientists claim to have discovered a chemical that can wind back your body clock so that you don’t suffer jet lag (reported in PLoS Biology).

A drug called “longdaysin” can slow down the body clock for up to 12  hours which means it may be possible to calibrate the dose so you can take just the right amount to offset the number of hours that your body needs to adjust. Obviously this would be a boon to frequent flyers and shift workers if it works on humans.

So far the compound – which was found after screening more than 100,000 potential ones – has only been tried on zebra fish which had their biological clock reset by 10 hours. They reportedly suffered no ill-effects and their body clock returned to normal when the treatment wore off.