Studies show that there's science behind why certain things satisfy you.
True
Cadbury

How excited would you be if you discovered that your guilty pleasures don't always need to make you feel guilty?

GIF from "The Voice."


Like what if the blissful satisfaction you get from that slice of warm apple pie isn’t necessarily evidence of an intervention-level addiction to sugar and carbs (despite what that magazine cover told you) but could also just be a sign that you’re craving connection and feeling nostalgic?

Or that embarrassingly joyful feeling you have when small, random objects fit perfectly into another may not be a sign that you have obsessive compulsive disorder but just that you, like most people, really appreciate small moments of order in a chaotic world?

In other words, what if we could trace our feelings of happiness and satisfaction back to our brains and our humanity — and just a little farther away from the guilt-riddled land of right and wrong?

Well, according to science, maybe we can.

Over the past decade, a lot of research has been done into the science — both neurobiological and psychological — around why certain things make us feel so darn good. The science of happiness and satisfaction is a broad, relatively new area of study, and even though, like most big scientific questions, it will take a long time to have definitive answers, a few themes seem to be emerging from the research.

If true, they would be pretty powerful antidotes to the shame-based culture that makes us feel guilty about everything from a blissful bite of chocolate to our pursuit of wealth.

Image by iStock.

So without further ado, here are three ideas about satisfaction and happiness that could make you feel a bit more ... happy and satisfied.

1. It's possible that our brain wiring has a lot to do with how happy we feel.

Image via PublicDomainPictures/Pixabay.

Researchers at Kyoto University used MRI scans to see if they could find where happiness actually happens in the brain. The results showed there was a positive relationship between an individual's subjective happiness score and gray matter volume on the right precuneus (an area in the medial parietal lobe of the brain, located at the top of your head, toward the back). People who were more content with their lives had a larger precuneus. They also found that the same area was associated with positive and negative emotional intensity and life satisfaction.

So while we know that pleasure is both genetic and learned (nature and nurture), it is good to understand that overall happiness and satisfaction is also made up of a lot of factors. Good old biology may be one of them.

2. Some things that we're told "shouldn't" affect our happiness actually do — but not as much as we think.

Does money buy happiness? Well, despite the sweet old moral adage that says it can't, the science tells a different story. Studies show that our instinct (the one that we would never tell our kids about but deep down inside we think is true) is right: Money can increase our life satisfaction. Statistically speaking, household income is strongly related to both emotional well-being and a person's quality of life assessment. In other words, you don't have to feel amoral or greedy for always wanting more money. It makes sense!

Image by David Koontz/Flickr.

But it's the why that's important and can reduce our anxiety a bit. Money increases our life satisfaction in as much as it helps us satisfy other evolutionary needs (like our desire for safety, freedom, health, or novelty, for example) and only up to a certain point. Studies show that after a certain amount, it has diminishing marginal returns on our satisfaction. So we can calm the never-ending desire for more — and stop comparing ourselves to the uber-rich. They aren't that much happier than the rest of us!

3. Overall life satisfaction leads to longer life. (Duh.)

In a nine-year-long study published by Chapman University that looked at adults over 50, the researchers learned that as participants' life satisfaction increased, the risk of mortality was reduced by 18%. By contrast, greater variability in life satisfaction was associated with a 20% increased risk of mortality.

So what's the actionable takeaway here? If we know that life satisfaction is tied to our mortality, it probably makes sense for us to spend time learning what brings us true satisfaction and fulfillment and actually pursuing those things ... right? Allowing ourselves guilt-free pleasures as well as investing in the deeper things that bring us overall life satisfaction isn't a selfish pursuit. It really may be a life-saving (or at least life-extending) measure!

True

Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less