Seth Borenstein

Yes, you can buy happiness — if you spend it to save time

WASHINGTON (AP) — Yes, you can buy happiness — especially if the money saves you time. People who dole out cash to save time on things like housekeeping, delivery services and taxis are a little bit happier than those who don’t, new research finds. Researchers surveyed more than 6,000 people in four countries and also ran an experiment, giving people $40 for two weeks. One week, they had to buy something material, like a shirt. The next week, they paid to save themselves time. People said they felt happier after saving time than buying stuff. “Money can buy happiness if you spend it right,” said University of British Columbia psychology professor Elizabeth Dunn, co-author of a study in Monday’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The right way is paying someone else to do the time-consuming drudge work that you don’t like, said study lead author Ashley Whillans at the Harvard Business School. When people do that, they report feeling greater life satisfaction in general and happier that day. But when they buy material objects, it tends not to bring people the happiness they expect, she said. Lynda Jones, a retired critical care nurse in Indianapolis, has been hiring a housekeeper since she got out of college and said it’s the one thing that kept her from burning out in the high stress job. Now she also has a grocery delivery service. “It’s really not that expensive when you think about what my time costs,” Jones said Monday. “You can always get money. You can’t buy back time.” Earlier research found that using money to help others or have good experiences — like a spa day or travel — also make people happier than buying things, Dunn and Whillans said. The survey was done in the United States, Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands. Except for the U.S., the countries rank near the top of global happiness reports. In general, buying time increases Americans happiness about 0.77 on a 10-point scale, with similar increases in the other countries, Dunn said. That may not seem like much but it is statistically significant, Whillans said. Income doesn’t matter. Rich or poor, spending money to save time seems to make people happier, Whillans said. And if anything, the data suggested that people with less money were able to get a bigger happiness boost from time-saving purchases than those with more, she said. Yet, only 28 percent of the people surveyed spent money to save time, an average of $148 per month. In the $40 experiment, the researchers picked 60 people at a Canadian science museum. When the people spent the money on things, their average happiness score was 3.7 on a five-point scale. But when they spent it to pay a neighbor’s kids to do yardwork or get lunch delivered or take a taxi rather than a bus, their score averaged 4, a small but statistically significant difference, said Dunn, co-author of the book, “Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending.” Not only is the phrase “money can’t buy happiness” wrong but so is “time is money,” Dunn said. Earlier studies show people are less likely to volunteer their time or help the environment when they think of time as money, she said. Outside researchers in happiness praised the research. “Research shows that people in rich nations are more stressed than people in poor ones, which at first does not seem to make sense. But part of the stress is this time pressure — too much to do and one cannot get everything done,” said happiness researcher Edward Diener at the University of Illinois. “So buying time through purchases makes a lot of sense.” Whillans put her findings to the test when she moved from Vancouver to the Boston area. She paid for someone to get rid of all of the boxes from her new house and hired housekeeping and grocery delivery services — a change from graduate student life. “I was surprised,” Whillans said. “Wow, this really does feel great.” Similarly, Dunn had been fighting with her husband about getting a housekeeper. Now, she said, “I win” and they are getting a housekeeper.

Scientists: We all lie, but politicians even more

WASHINGTON (AP) — This is the season of lies. We watch with fascination as candidates for the world’s most powerful job trade falsehoods and allegations of dishonesty. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump routinely calls rival Ted Cruz “Lyin’ Ted.” Cruz retorts: “Falsely accusing someone of lying is itself a lie and something Donald does daily.” News organizations such as The Associated Press and PolitiFact dedicate enormous resources to separating candidates’ truthful wheat from their dishonest chaff. But if we’ve come to expect and even joke about office-seekers who seem truth averse (“How do you know a politician is lying? His lips are moving”), many of us have given little thought to our own fibs and to how they compare with politicians’ deceits. What if PolitiFact looked at what we say to our spouses, friends and bosses? For more than two decades, researchers of different stripes have examined humanity’s less-than-truthful underbelly. This is what they have found: We all stretch the truth. We learned to deceive as toddlers. We rationalize our fabrications that benefit us. We tell little white lies daily that make others feel good. Now magnify that. Politicians distort the truth more often, use more self-justifications and deceive in larger ways, and with more consequences, experts in psychology and political science say. Especially this year. “I feel more worried about lying in public life (specifically by politicians, and in particular, Trump) than I ever have before,” psychology researcher Bella DePaulo at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said in an email. When lies succeed, they make it “more tempting to lie. Lies can stick. They can have a lingering effect, even if they are debunked. “ Deception starts early. Children learn to lie at an average of about 3 years old, often when they realize that other people don’t know what they are thinking, said Kang Lee, a professor at the University of Toronto. He has done extensive research on children and lying. Lee set up an experiment in a video-monitored room and would tell children there’s a toy they can have that’s behind them, but they can only get it if they don’t peek. Then the adult is called out of the room, returns a minute later and asks if they peeked. At age 2, only 30 percent lie, Lee said. At age 3, half do. By 5 or 6, 90 percent of the kids lie and Lee said he worries about the 10 percent who don’t. This is universal, Lee said. A little later, “we explicitly teach our kids to tell white lies,” with parental coaching about things like saying how much they love gifts from grandma, and it’s a lesson most of them only get around age 6 or older, Lee said. In 1996, DePaulo, author of “The Hows and Whys of Lies,” put recorders on students for a week and found they lied, on average, in every third conversation of 10 minutes or more. For adults, it was once every five conversations. A few years later, Robert Feldman at the University of Massachusetts taped students in conversations with total strangers and got similar results with the participants not realizing they were lying until they watched themselves. “I would say we’re lying constantly. Constantly,” said Maurice Schweitzer, who studies deception and decision-making at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, Trump’s alma mater. The problem is there are many shades of truth-bending. Experts split on whether to count white lies — what psychologist and political scientist Stanley Renshon calls “social lubrication” that makes civilized operate. When your spouse tells you that you don’t look fat in that outfit when you do, does it really do any harm? “There’s a difference between white lies and real lies,” Renshon said. Some lies, said Schweitzer, “fall under politeness norms and are not very harmful. There are other lies that are self-interested and those are the ones that are really harmful. Those are the ones that harm relationships, harm trust.” But others, like DePaolo, see no distinction: “It doesn’t matter if the attempt was motivated by good intentions and it doesn’t matter if the lie is about something little.” Regardless, society rewards people for white lies, Feldman said. “We’re really trained to be deceptive,” Feldman said. “If we’re not, if we’re totally truthful all the time that’s not a good thing, there’s a price to be paid for that. We don’t like people who tell us the truth all the time.” From there it’s only a small leap to what politicians do. “The lies that we accept from politicians right now are lies that are seen as acceptable because it’s what we want to hear,” like a spouse saying that an outfit flatters you, Feldman said. Or perhaps we feel that lying is necessary. “People want their politicians to lie to them. The reason that people want their politicians to lie them is that people care about politics,” said Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University. “You understand that Washington is a dirty place and that lying is actually very helpful to get your policies implemented.” When people deceive beyond white lies, they spend a lot of effort justifying and rationalizing what they are doing. “They engage in something we call justified dishonesty,” said Shaul Shalvi, who runs the Behavioral Ethics Lab at the University of Amsterdam. It happens when people’s desire to be ethical clash with the desire to profit or get something. In that case people are willing to lie just a bit “as long as it seems legit,” Shalvi said “As long as they have a good rationale they can stretch the truth as long as they really want,” Shalvi said. Cyclist Lance Armstrong, Shalvi said, justified his denials of doping because he felt his story raised hope in cancer victims — though it also benefited Armstrong. “He was convincing himself that what he was doing was not that wrong at the time. I think politicians do the same,” Shalvi said, who adds politicians do this frequently. Similarly, Jennifer Mercieca, a Texas A&M professor of communications who studies political rhetoric and teaches fact-checking, said politicians such as the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R-Wis., “convince themselves that the ends justify the means” and “the reasons they are doing it are more important.” The experts who study lying are alarmed by what they are seeing in 2016, and by its ramifications. “Dishonesty is contagious,” said the University of Nottingham’s Simon Gaechter. His March 2016 study examined honesty in a dice game in 23 different countries (but not the United States) and then compared them to a corruption index for those countries. The more corrupt a society was, the more likely the people there were willing to deceive in the simple dice game. Most people want to be honest, but if they live in a country where rule violations are rampant “people say, ‘Well everybody cheats. If I cheat here, then that’s OK,’” Gaechter said. Add to that confirmation bias, Mercieca said. The public tends to believe things — even if they are false — “that confirm what we already believe” and come from news sources and partisans that they already trust and agree with. Political scientist and psychologist Renshon said politicians should be held up to a higher standard but over the decades, they and the government have been more deceitful and unwilling to tell the public something that could hurt them politically. When President Dwight Eisenhower misled the public about a spy plane captured by the Soviet Union, lying was the exception. By the time President Bill Clinton strained the meaning of the word “is” testifying before a grand jury, it was more common. “We’ve become kind of numb to it,” said Pamela Meyer, the Washington based author of the book “Liespotting” and chief executive officer of the private firm Calibrate, which that trains people and companies about how to spot deception. “In Washington, deception is the gift that keeps on giving.” But there’s a high cost in everyday society — a loss of trust that is difficult to regain — when someone is discovered to be lying, Lee said. There are also costs to the liar, he said, noting studies that measure the effect of deception on the body and brain and how much energy it takes to create and maintain a lie. “When you tell lies it costs your brain a heckuva lot more resources than when you tell the truth,” Lee said. Lee is working on a video camera that would study people’s heart rate, stress level, blood flow and mood, a kind of video lie detector called transdermal optical imaging. He envisions a future televised political debate, with a camera trained on the candidates showing their heart rates and breathing levels — “an index of lying.”  

More quakes rattle Oklahoma but state avoids tough measures

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — In Oklahoma, now the country’s earthquake capital, people are talking nervously about the big one as man-made quakes get stronger, more frequent and closer to major population centers. Next door in Kansas, they’re feeling on firmer ground though no one is ready yet to declare victory. A year ago, the states had a common problem — earthquakes caused by the disposal of wastewater from oil and gas exploration. They chose different solutions. Kansas, following early scientific studies, decided to restrict how much and how fast the wastewater could be pumped back underground. Oklahoma instead initially concentrated on the depth of the wastewater injections. Developments since then haven’t been reassuring in Oklahoma, where a quake knocked out power in parts of an Oklahoma City suburb several weeks ago and where fears are growing that the worst is yet to come. On Friday, Jan. 15, about 200 unhappy residents packed a forum at the state capitol convened by critics of the state’s response. A governor’s task force is studying the problem but officials have so far avoided taking tougher measures. The quakes, which have been mostly small- to medium-sized, have caused limited damage, and no one foresees anything like the massive damage and deaths in the famous quakes in California, seismologists say. Still, “It’s a trend that’s unsettling,” said Cornell University geophysicist Katie Keranen, referring to the increasing number of quakes. Frequent small quakes can be a harbinger of bigger ones. “You have the ingredients you need to have a larger earthquake.” In Oklahoma, earthquakes of magnitude 2.7 and stronger increased by about 10 percent between the last half of 2014 and the last half of 2015, according to a data analysis by The Associated Press. Experts say 2.7 is a threshold at which monitors are reliable. In Kansas, earthquakes of that magnitude went down by 60 percent in the same period. According to earthquake experts, the pattern fits recent peer-reviewed studies that suggest injecting high volumes of wastewater could aggravate natural faults. In Oklahoma’s six most earthquake-prone counties, the volume of wastewater disposal increased more than threefold from 2012 to 2014. The past few weeks have been especially nerve-wracking. Eighty-eight quakes of 2.7 or stronger occurred this January as of Jan. 18 at noon central time, more than in all of 2012. The recent quakes have generally been more powerful, too, with eight of magnitude 4 or higher. “What concerns me is what is happening to our homes through all these earthquakes,” said Mary Beth McFadden of Fairview, a town about 100 miles northwest of Oklahoma City that has had six quakes of magnitude 4 since the start of the year. “It’s your home being put in that position that you have no control over.” Last week, the state told companies to reduce wastewater injections at 27 nearby disposal wells. For decades, drilling companies have disposed of oilfield wastewater — the subterranean saltwater that comes to the surface with oil and gas, and liquid drilling chemicals — by pumping it back underground. But in recent years, improved technology has allowed for injecting more wastewater faster so more oil and gas can be produced. Around here, above the Arbuckle geologic formation of limestone, water under pressure can set off a fault if there’s enough tension, according to interviews with 10 earthquake experts. “It’s a combination of putting fluid in fast enough and deep enough,” said Stanford University geophysicist William Ellsworth. “The higher rate wells are the ones where there are more hazards associated.” In 2014, scientists who looked at one swarm of earthquakes found the four highest rate wells were causing most of the pressure changes and problems. Then in June 2015, two different teams published studies pointing directly at volume and rate of injections as the main problem in such quakes. In March 2015, Kansas regulators ordered a dramatic reduction in injection volumes in the most vulnerable area. That same month, Oklahoma regulators directed the operators of 347 wells to check the depth of their injections, then three months later issued a broader order to avoid the Arbuckle’s “basement.” But by the end of November, the state had asked for volume cutbacks in fewer than 90 of the about 1,000 wells in a key area. Oklahoma Corporation Commission spokesman Matt Skinner said research suggested the biggest danger was in the crystalline basement below the porous underground Arbuckle formation. He said it was not proper to compare Oklahoma to Kansas, which has fewer wells and less wastewater. Oklahoma’s energy and environment secretary, Michael Teague, said Oklahoma’s approach — which now includes some volume reductions — is working in some areas but not others. “I like what we’ve been doing so far, but clearly we need to do more,” Teague said. But oil and gas operators in Oklahoma, where the industry is a major economic and political force, acknowledge their resistance to cutting back on their injections of wastewater. “A lot of people say we just need the earth to stop shaking, and I understand that, but the fact of the matter is that without the ability to dispose of wastewater, we cannot produce oil and gas in the state of Oklahoma, and this is our lifeblood,” said Kim Hatfield, president of Oklahoma City-based Crawley Petroleum and a member of Gov. Mary Fallin’s task force studying the earthquake problem. In Kansas, quakes have decreased from an average of nearly 11 earthquakes a month to about three. “Things are much better than they were; we haven’t had a 4.0 in quite a while,” said Kansas Geological Survey chief Rex Buchanan. “I don’t think anybody is going to declare victory yet.” Experts say the change over such a short time period could be a blip. But considering that southern Kansas and northern Oklahoma are identical in geology, what’s happening in the two states is “a very interesting experiment,” said U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Nicholas van der Elst. The most recent temblors, including the one that caused power outages and some damage in the Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond on Dec. 29, has exhausted some residents’ patience for a solution. When the quakes were mostly in thinly populated rural areas, it was “Who cares, right? It’s not in my backyard,” said Keith Gaddie, a University of Oklahoma political science professor. “But then you’re sitting in Edmond and all of sudden your $500,000 house starts to shake, shimmy and shutter. You’re noticing a lot more people are being affected by these, and more voices means more political demand.” Kissel reported from Little Rock, Arkansas, and Borenstein from Washington.  
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