Weekly research roundup: Here are the happiest languages and vowels

Happiness research

This is a weekly series on the latest happiness research. Learn and be merry! 

There’s an “i” in happiness – Researchers in Germany found that pronouncing an “i” sound – which contracts your facial muscles into a semi-smile – makes you happier, while an “o” sound – which produces a less chipper facial expression – makes you sadder. They also found that words with “i” tend to be more positive (“like”), while words with “o” tend to be more negative (“alone”).

Talk happy – Researchers from the University of Vermont found that Spanish, Portuguese, and English are the happiest languages. They picked 100,000 popular words from 10 languages and asked 5 million native speakers (total) to rate how positive or negative they are. Although all the languages had a positive bias – more positive words than negative ones – Chinese was the least happy.

Thanks, moms – A study of 315 same-sex couples in Australia found that children to same-sex couples had 6% higher physical health and family cohesion than children to heterosexual couples.

Don’t quit Facebook – A study out of Kansas State University found that people who take smartphone breaks during work report higher happiness and well-being. Using social media apps like Facebook and Twitter has more of a positive effect than playing games. Participants used their smartphones an average of 22 minutes during the work day.

Put up the fence – According to a pan-European study by the UK Office for National Statistics, connections to your community aren’t associated with higher levels of happiness.

Get your priorities straight – According to a study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education of 10,000 middle and high school students, students care more about achievement than happiness or caring for others – and believe their parents and friends do, too.

Beware the big 3-0 – Research has shown that career satisfaction dips in your 30s, and a study out of Australia suggests that it’s because time pressure at work increases (as new recruits ask for help and mentoring) and coworker support wanes (as you compete for promotions).

Adapted photo by Flickr user TobiasMik WhatWeDo




Lost in Translation in Korea

We’ve been in Korea for a week, and it’s very different from Hong Kong. The food is spicy and pickled, and few people speak English. We learned a few phrases on the plane – “thank you” and “I don’t understand” being the most helpful – but Korean is still a mystery. Among our confusing experiences:

  • Everyone thinking Fred is Korean, and the exasperated sighs of cashiers and bank tellers when they find out he isn’t
  • Pointing to menu items for bewildered waiters, and misordered dishes – with mushrooms instead of without, nigiri instead of temaki
  • Going into a convenience store and not knowing what anything is
  • A waitress laughing when Fred played the audio on his Korean language app to ask for a receipt
  • Doing an interview through an interpreter

But once and a while, people are amused by our lack of Korean skills. This includes the two-year old son of our hosts, who dubbed us his aunt and uncle (in Korean, of course); a helpful security guard who called my interviewee and wrote down his office number for me; the owner of a barbeque joint who fed us some succulent pork neck and gave us a free Pepsi; and hopefully others in the next week!