Finding the feel-good factor

University of North Carolina professor Paul Silvia and University of Otago department of psychology researcher Dr Tamlin Conner display their emotions yesterday at a panel discussion on human happiness, mood and emotion. Photos by Gerard O'Brien.
University of North Carolina professor Paul Silvia and University of Otago department of psychology researcher Dr Tamlin Conner display their emotions yesterday at a panel discussion on human happiness, mood and emotion. Photos by Gerard O'Brien.

If you are lonely, you will probably die earlier than other people. If you are unhappy, you need to exercise more. Chocolate won't help.

If you are saddened, frustrated or angered by that information, perhaps you should eat more fruit.

Emotions and their causes - and the things you can do to make unpleasant moods go away - were the subject of an International Science Festival panel discussion in Dunedin yesterday.

The event filled the Hutton Theatre, almost 90 people turning up to hear the thoughts of University of Otago department of psychology researcher Dr Tamlin Conner and visiting University of North Carolina professor Paul Silvia.

Hosted by Dr Christine Jasoni, the event heard sleep, exercise and diet were three major factors in keeping the ship of emotion in calm waters, although genetics played an important part in people's emotional make-up.

And the world needed both people who spent time worrying about the future, and those who did not - they just ended up with different jobs.

''You don't want to be happy all the time,'' Dr Conner said.

''Some times, you need to be stressed, and need to be anxious.''

But if that was an issue, Prof Silvia said there was ''an enormous amount of research'' showing people who were more physically active were happier.

Dr Conner said communing with nature, and with other people, and eating well, were also shown to help.

''Walk to work through the botanic garden while eating fruit and engaging with friends.''

Studies had shown loneliness, on the other hand, led to an earlier death.

''Loneliness is a really strong predictor of early death,'' Dr Conner said.

''Not only does being with people make you feel good, it's good for you,'' she said.

Prof Silvia said an experiment in which people were required either to eat a chocolate bar or go for a walk found those who went for a walk ended up happier.

''People who went for a walk perked up,'' he said.

Exercise led to a lift in mood that was ''more durable and longer lasting''.

Dr Conner said another thing that helped on the happiness front was developing an active interest.

That could be as simple as developing an interest in a movie genre, and seeking out examples to watch.

The more challenging the interest, and the more effort involved, the more sustainable the happiness that resulted.

The discussion ended with some good news - people became happier as they aged.

Older people - particularly those over 65 - were better at managing their emotions, and staying away from activities they did not enjoy.

''It gets better,'' Dr Conner said.

Thanks for that, Albert

Thanks for that, Albert Square.  I agree, connectedness is before romance, though that can naturally manifest from the first.  Romance itself doesn't necessarily need to be lavish either - even fish and chips in a car over looking the harbour or a DVD at home, a walk in a park is enough. 

A further complication to that is being gay but a regular Joe and seeking more than what others in the 'same team' are usually after - a decent warm-hearted compassionate reliable and all-round nice guy with depth always tends to be straight, pretty much anywhere in the nation. 

The year of iota

I concur. We haven't partied like 1999, Polytech final year. Im not sure, tho', that romance is the answer to loneliness. Connectedness may be, which is a bit different. Oi, don't go offshore, Go Ak. A Square, author 'Bohos of K Road' (pending work in progress).

Seems a bit contradictory

If you are unhappy, it's often because of loneliness, but the answer to that is to exercise?  Seems to me in simile if the computer is playing up, call the garage.  But the modern psyche tends to block out the core of it all, the basic human need to be fully connected to another person and money fame and inanimate things come first.

Just the thoughts of someone who's been eternally single, hasn't had an iota of romance in town since 1999 and goes overseas most years in attempted search of a heart of gold, having found here a no go, much like those lyrics of the Neil Young classic hit. [Abridged]

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