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Cheer Up, Have Coffee, Science Suggests

Cheer Up, Have Coffee, Science Suggests

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A new study found that caffeine increases recognition of positive words

Turns out, those of us who need a cup of coffee in the morning to even crack a smile are completely normal. In fact, science has proven that people who have had coffee tend to be more positive, thanks to caffeine. So suck it, herbal tea guy.

According to research in the journal PLoS One, scientists have found that caffeine helps increase our ability to recognize positive words. After giving 66 people a caffeine tablet equal to three cups of coffee (we need those) or a placebo, the researchers showed them a string of letters. The volunteers had to recognize words within the string as quickly as possible.

The results? Volunteers with caffeine found words with positive associations much faster than negative or neutral words. Truth be told, in general positive words are pulled out much quicker, but caffeine reportedly increases the difference, meaning people should approach non-morning people with a cup of coffee and a chocolate donut. Please and thank you. Bonus points for amazing latte art.

Knowing How to Choose the Right Roast Is the Key to Brewing Coffee Like a Barista

Fun fact: Light roast is the most caffeinated, and dark is the least.

Let me guess: You have your ideal coffee order or brewing method down to a nonnegotiable science. From the brand of beans you buy to the grind size, temperature of the water, type of oat milk you pour in (and how foamy you like it) to the almost undetectable sprinkle of cinnamon you need to add at the end, it goes without saying that coffee is one food group where it&aposs OK𠅎ven encouraged—to be highly particular (read: completely inflexible).

While working hard to nail the perfect bone dry cappuccino or cold brew concentrate makes perfect sense to me, no matter how you take your coffee, you&aposre missing one of the biggest factors that affects the taste: The roasting process. Roasting brings out the aromas and flavors of the coffee bean, and how the beans are roasted will determine the true taste of your cup of coffee, as well as its caffeine content.

We spoke with Giorgio Milos, master barista and coffee expert for illy, to learn more about the roasting process, what the different types of roasts mean, and which roast pairs best with each brewing method.

Drinking One Cup of Coffee Every Day Can Reduce This Heart Risk, Science Says

As if you needed another reason to enjoy a fresh cup of brew in the morning, new research suggests that drinking just one cup of coffee a day may help protect one of your most essential organs—the heart.

An analysis of three large studies published in the American Heart Association journal, Circulation: Heart Failure finds that sipping on at least one cup of caffeinated coffee each day was associated with decreased heart failure risk. (Related: The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now).

Heart failure, stroke, and coronary artery disease are all among the top causes of death by heart disease in the U.S. While there are several known risk factors for heart disease—such as age, high blood pressure, and smoking—many others remain unknown, according to David P. Kao, MD, and senior author of the study.

Coffee is routinely examined in scientific studies, with plenty of research on both the health benefits and the side effects of this internationally consumed beverage. For this analysis, Kao and his team used machine learning through the American Heart Association's Precision Medicine Platform to examine data from three well-known studies. Collectively, the studies provided information on more than 21,000 U.S. adults, with each one including at least 10 years of follow-up.

Researchers then analyzed the outcomes of drinking caffeinated coffee in four categories: 0 cups per day, 1 cup per day, 2 cups per day, and greater than or equal to 3 cups per day. It's important to note that all coffee consumption data was self-reported by participants.

The main takeaway? Individuals who reported drinking at least one cup of caffeinated coffee each day had an associated decreased long-term heart failure across all three major studies. More specifically, in two of the studies (Framingham Heart Study and Cardiovascular Health Study), over the course of decades, heart failure risk decreased by 5-12% per cup of coffee per day in comparison to those who didn't drink coffee.

In the third study, Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study, the risk of heart failure was 30% lower in people who drank at least two cups of coffee per day. Interestingly enough, decaffeinated coffee seemingly had the opposite effect on heart failure risk, as indicated in the Farmingham Health study participants who reported drinking decaf java experienced an increased risk of heart failure.

"The association between caffeine and heart failure risk reduction was surprising. Coffee and caffeine are often considered by the general population to be 'bad' for the heart, because people associate them with palpitations, high blood pressure, etc. The consistent relationship between increasing caffeine consumption and decreasing heart failure risk turns that assumption on its head," Kao said in a statement.

"However, there is not yet enough clear evidence to recommend increasing coffee consumption to decrease risk of heart disease with the same strength and certainty as stopping smoking, losing weight, or exercising."

Indeed, study limitations, such as the way cups of coffee were measured (i.e. how many ounces per cup) and the way cups of coffee were prepared (think French press versus espresso) were not recorded, which could have ultimately affected the results.

In short, it can't hurt to drink one 8-ounce cup of caffeinated coffee each day—unless otherwise specified by your doctor. For more, be sure to check out Side Effects of Drinking Too Much Decaf Coffee, According To An Expert.

Bulletproof Coffee: Debunking the Hot Buttered Hype

People are putting butter in their coffee. And hey, if you're just craving a new flavor experience, more power to you. The problem is that Bulletproof Coffee , the company behind the trend, is claiming that drinking a mug of fatty joe every morning instead of eating breakfast is a secret shortcut to weight loss and mental superpowers, and now the butter coffee has developed a cult of highly caffeinated, shiny-lipped adherents. So now we have to talk about it.

Welcome to Fitmodo , Gizmodo's gym for your brain and backbone. Don't suffer through life as a sniveling, sickly weakling—brace up and get the blood pumping! Check back for the latest in fitness science, workout gear, exercise techniques, and enough vim and vigor to whip you into shape.

What the hack is Bulletproof Coffee?

Bulletproof Coffee is, essentially, a hot coffee, plus two tablespoons of butter, plus a tablespoon of MCT oil (that's medium chain triglyceride oil, which we'll talk more about in a minute). Then you stick it in a blender until it's all emulsified. Then you drink it.

Depending what level of the Bulletproof Diet you adhere to (yes, there's a whole diet that goes with this), that is generally your entire breakfast. According to Bulletproof, you should reeeeally be buying its outrageously overpriced "upgraded" coffee beans and its version of MCT oil which it has branded "Brain Octane," or, y'know, maybe this magical coffee won't work!

Bulletproof Coffee was started by Silicon Valley investor/entrepreneur Dave Asprey, who calls himself "The Bulletproof Executive." The lore goes something like, Dave was a big fat guy, and then he turned is obsessive mind to become a "biohacker," and he hacked his way into health and fitness. Because everything is a hack. One of the key components to reinvention, he claims, was his buttery coffee breakfast, which he was inspired to create this after having some traditional yak-butter tea in Tibet.

Okay, that's all fine. Where things get dodgy is when we get into Dave's claims for what this coffee does. The most dubious one is that starting your day off like this turns your body into a fat-burning machine. That it promotes healthy weight loss. That it eliminates hunger pangs. But wait, there's more! He also insists that it's the secret formula for improving mental focus and brain power. That it's a way to improve the effectiveness of coffee, making it jitter-free and eliminating spikes and crashes. And also that it's delicious.

There are a ton of very bold claims to dig into. Some are extrapolated from nuggets of truth. Some are wildly baseless. Let's start off with a very important lesson we learned from All The President's Men.

Follow the money

Okay, so you're an entrepreneur and you've come up with this idea that adding butter and MCT oil to your coffee is the secret to all kinds of good stuff. You've still got a problem: You can't monetize a three-ingredient recipe. Damn. There's got to be some way you can get rich off telling people to do this.

Enter the Bulletproof product line . They sell a ton of dubious health products at a significant markup, but let's focus on the stuff that goes into the coffee.

First up is Bulletproof's Upgraded Coffee Beans. One of the boldest claims Asprey makes is that most coffee is loaded with "performance-robbing" mycotoxins that "steals your mental edge and actually makes you weak." This is the least-bulletproof of all of Asprey's arguments. Mycotoxins are, basically, mold, and it's true that many of them are bad for you, inflammatory, and maybe even cancer causing.

Asprey claims that his Upgraded beans undergo a secret, proprietary process that all but eliminates mycotoxins. He also claims that mycotoxins are the reason you coffee is bitter.

This is almost entirely bullshit.

For starters, while mycotoxins can grow on coffee beans, the coffee industry has known about this for decades. This is why wet-processing was developed a technique employed by nearly every roaster in the world, wherein the beans are washed, and nearly all mycotoxins are eliminated.

This is something that is regulated both internationally and in the U.S. In fact, one Spanish study found that people who drank four cups of coffee a day (and this is any brand of coffee, regardless of price and quality) had only 2-percent of what is considered a safe level of mycotoxins.

In other words, you could drink 199 cups of coffee in a day and still be under the safe limit for mycotoxins. Further, mycotoxins are everywhere, including human breast milk, and a lot of the meats Asprey recommends in his own Bulletproof Diet.

There is also absolutely zero evidence to support Asprey's claims that his coffee has fewer toxins or provides better performance. Also, just what the hell does "performance" mean in the context of coffee? Unclear. What is clear, however, is that Asprey charges more than $25 per pound of his "upgraded" coffee. To its credit, it is a tasty cup of coffee, but I've had cups that were just as tasty, and "performed" just as well, that cost half as much. If you want to learn more about mycotoxins in coffee, this is a very good read .

Then we have the Brain Octane, Bulletproof's version of MCT oil. Let's be clear here: It's just MCT oil. There's nothing special about it. Bulletproof claims that while other oils have an "unpleasant goat-like smell and taste" Brain Octane tastes like nothing at all, so you can put it in anything! Great, except that any decent MCT oil you buy won't taste like anything. So what's the difference, besides the name?

Well, Bulletproof sells 16 ounces of Brain Octane for $23.50. In contrast, I was able to buy the 32 ounce bottle of the Now Foods brand (which I've found to be quite reliable) at Whole Foods for the same price. Yes, at Whole Foods—the store often dubbed "Whole Paycheck"—it costs half as much. Go online, and you can find the 32 ounce bottle for $16 , which is roughly one-third the cost of Brain Octane.

Get the picture? I have tried Bulletproof Coffee with their beans and their MCT oil, and I've tried it with some coffee I bought at a local café, Now Foods MCT oil, and butter from my nearby natural grocery store. There was no detectable difference.

Large claims court

Okay, we've tackled the Bulletproof branded products, but let's dive into some of the other claims.

"I'm programming my body to burn fat for energy all day long!"

There are no peer-reviewed studies that corroborate the idea that eating nothing but fat (and caffeine) in the morning, sets you up for burning body fat. Conversely, the majority of the studies Asprey sites for his diet were done on rats and mice. Some were four decades old. Some used humans, but in incredibly small numbers. One study's entire sample consisted of two people. One was just on rats with an auto-immune kidney disease.

This is what's known as confirmation bias. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it's when you start with a conclusion and then go looking for evidence to support it, generally ignoring evidence that may contradict it. It is the opposite of good science.

You can lose a pound a day on this diet.

This may be true, but that doesn't mean it's a good thing or that it's good for you. Hell, I lost six pounds in four days by eating nothing but ice cream . And then I gained literally all of that weight back that very weekend. This is the problem with these extreme diets that promise rapid results: They aren't sustainable. You can lose weight on just about any diet (Paleo, Atkins, South Beach, 4 Hour Body, etc), but the number one reason that extreme diets fail is that they are very hard to stick with over time.

And make no mistake, the Bulletproof Coffee Diet is most definitely extreme. Between the two tablespoons of butter and one tablespoon of MCT oil in your morning coffee, you are consuming 140 percent of your RDA for saturated fat before you have taken a single bite of real food. As for the rest of the diet, it's basically a high-fat riff on the Paleo Diet (which is, itself, highly controversial).

Bulletproof recommends that you get 50 to 70 percent of your daily calorie intake from fat. While nutritional science has definitely come around on fat, it hasn't come around that much. Saturated fat may no longer be the villain it once was, but that doesn't mean it should make up more than half of your diet. Most nutritionists, who recommend a balanced diet, would put that number around 25 percent.

While no one diet is a perfect fit for everyone, some conventional wisdom has stood the test of time. If you want to lose weight and keep it off, increase the amount of calories you burn by becoming more active, and then find a way to reduce the calories you consume until you're burning a bit more than you consume. Say, 100 more a day. Find a way that feels right to you, so you don't feel like you're starving, and so you get all the nutrients you need. The pounds won't just "melt away," but if you are much more likely to keep going with it. For a crash-course in fat, read this .

The Science of Fat

If you're anything like over sixty percent of Americans, you've got a few pounds of fat you could…

Butter in your coffee is delicious.

Yep. Got to hand it to them here, buttery coffee is indeed pretty damn tasty. And though it sounds strange, it shouldn't really be so surprising. For starters, it's butter. Butter makes everything taste better. Duh. Secondly, you don't think it's so weird that people put cream in their coffee, right? Well, what is butter but cream that has been churned? When you thoroughly blend it with the hot coffee it does a pretty good job of emulsifying the fat, and the end result looks and tastes much like a latte. But you really notice the fat on your lips after you take a sip. It feels like you put too much lip-gloss on. But still, tasty, yes.

MCT oil as a miracle food.

So, here's the short and very high-level explanation on MCT oil. Most of the fats in the foods we eat are primarily composed of long chain triglycerides (LCT), but a few foods, such as coconut and palm oils contain higher amounts of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). Because LCTs are longer, they have to go through more digestive processes before our bodies can use them as energy. Because MCTs are much shorter, they represent more rapidly accessible energy.

This, in theory, means that our bodies use them more like a carb. MCT oil, which is extracted from coconut and palm oils, has been used in hospitals for a long time for patients whose digestive systems aren't working properly but still need to ingest fats to maintain health (commonly AIDS patients).

There are still very few peer reviewed studies on the effectiveness of MCT oil for weight loss, but there are some, and there are some more that use coconut oil. It would be a stretch to call these conclusions solid, but it appears that MCT oil may contribute to a small amount of fat loss for overweight men. We're talking 4 pounds over 12 weeks. For women results were even less certain. A lot more research needs to be done before it can be billed as a miracle cure. The best distillation of the research that's been thus far can be found here .

As far as MCT oil improving brain function, that's not a call that can be made yet (sorry Bulletproof). There was a study that used MCT oil to treat people with Type 1 Diabetes and another that used it for Alzheimer's patients, and both studies found that MCT oil helped to repair some cognitive function. BUT (and it's a big but), we cannot extrapolate the results from subjects with significant cognitive impairment and pretend to know the impact on subjects with normal cognitive function. It would be nice, but that's just not how biology works.

Is it possible? Yes, it's possible, but it's far from proven. Indeed MCT oil is very controversial in the nutritional community.

It delivers longer-lasting caffeine without the spikes and crashes

To me, this is one of Bulletproof's more interesting claims. I haven't seen Bulletproof's explanation for the mechanism for this improved caffeine experience, but I have a guess at how it might work, if it works.

Caffeine is both water and lipid soluble. So, when you put all that fat into the coffee and then blend the bejeezus out of it, it's possible that some of those lipids would absorb some of that caffeine. Generally speaking, your body digests fats slower than carbs. So it's possible that these little blobs of fat sort of act like time-release capsules for the caffeine. This is, after all, how pot brownies (made with weed butter) work, and why the effects come on so slowly and last for so long. Or so I've read.

In trying it, I did feel like it delivered a somewhat more even come-up, and it didn't get as jittery as I would have if I just drank a cup of black coffee on an empty stomach and then didn't eat anything for four hours. That said, I still felt more caffeinated than I wanted to be, and I definitely felt a crash in the afternoon, so that seems like bunk to me. Iɽ be willing to experiment with this premise further, but not on an empty stomach. Speaking of…

Drink this coffee for breakfast and no hunger pangs 'till lunch

NOPE! Nope nope nope. Nuh-uh, wrong, no way. I tried this, first thing in the morning, with two other friends (one male, one female, both early 30s). We were just getting hungry when we started drinking the coffee. By the time we were finished, we felt a little queasy (see: ingesting 140 percent of your saturated fat in one go), but our stomachs still felt very empty. Our bodies still wanted food. Actual food.

In the name of science I didn't let myself eat anything for another four hours, until lunch time. By that time, I was ravenous. My friends broke their fast even earlier. That was the least fun part about this whole thing. It doesn't matter than you're getting roughly 450 calories (all from fat)—you need real food. That's the way it works in nature, and your body knows it.

You might be thinking, "Oh what's the big deal, so you fast for four hours in the morning…" but no, unless you were eating in your sleep, then you'll have been fasting for more like 12 hours by the time lunch rolls around. Consider than most nutritionists recommend eating five small meals a day, nicely spread out, because it allows for better nutrient absorption and better processing of the food you consume. This is basically the opposite of that. You will have trouble not binging at lunch, and this kind of behavior will cause blood sugar spikes and valleys, even if the caffeine distribution is more even. The whole feast and famine thing really throws you for a loop.

It should be noted that one of the lesser-known forms of the Bulletproof Diet (there are three) suggests that you eat something along with you morning coffee. This seems to be a much more reasonable approach. If you're going to do this crazy fatty coffee thing, at least make yourself some eggs and veggies to go with it, because a cup of Bulletproof Coffee does not provide the nutrients you need to survive. Any of them, except for fat. And it's got too much of them.

Bottom line

Look, there are some interesting ideas here, but this is, at its core, a fad diet. I asked nutritionist Maren Robinson, CNC, MPH, formerly of the CDC and Harvard School of Public Health, now with Kaiser Permanente in California, what she thought about it. "It may in fact contribute to weight loss, but it's not a nutrient balanced diet or a long-term lifestyle change," she said. "To me it represents the American obsession with a quick fix to weight loss." Exactly.

My biggest problem with the coffee itself is that it's excessive. Look, if you want to try blending a little butter into your coffee, have at it! Honestly, I don't think it tastes much different from cream, but hey, maybe it'll be your new favorite thing. But jeez, don't use two tablespoons of butter. And don't try to pretend it's a meal. It's a beverage. Wanna experiment with MCT oil? You don't need to take the full tablespoon all at once. In fact, you probably shouldn't, because your body is going to have trouble processing all that oil when you napalm your system with it like that (See the Paul Thomas Anderson movie, There Will Be Poop.)

Bottom line: It's almost certainly a bad idea. Ultimately, it seems to me that Bulletproof Coffee is a scheme to get you to buy some very expensive magic beans. There are better ways to get healthy, and there are tastier was to drink coffee that don't involve coating the inside of your blender with butter every morning. Keep it balanced, folks.

Easy pudding recipes

Whip up one of our comforting desserts with minimum fuss for a dinner party or family meal. Choose from super simple sponge puddings, brownies, tarts and more.

Coffee ice cream terrine

Try this twist on a favourite childhood ice-cream dessert with coffee and chocolate layers. Made with just five ingredients, it's a great make-ahead pud

Quick & easy tiramisu

Condensed milk is the secret to this super snappy Italian dessert. Coffee and chocolate are a classic combo, simply layer them up and enjoy

Salted caramel & apple pudding

Whip up this warming, family-friendly dessert in under an hour using apples and golden caramel. Serve hot from the oven with a scoop of ice cream

Brioche & brown butter pudding

Bake this sticky, moreish bread-and-butter pud using leftover brioche rolls. It's a great way to prevent extra food waste while indulging in a comforting dessert

Easy chocolate molten cakes

Bake an impressive dinner party dessert with minimum fuss – these chocolate puddings, also known as chocolate fondant or lava cake, have a lovely gooey centre

Merlot-poached pears with vanilla & cinnamon

Whole poached pears make an elegant dinner party dessert, with a red wine sauce and fragrant cinnamon and vanilla

Treacle tart

Treat family and friends to a comforting treacle tart with crumbly pastry and rich filling. A classic British dessert, serve with ice cream or clotted cream

Lemon & raspberry doughnut pudding

Expect requests for second helpings of this decadent dessert! Bake raspberry doughnuts with fresh custard, lemon curd and raspberries

Blueberry & lemon croissant bake

Croissants, custard, lemon curd and blueberries combine to make this irresistible yet easy bake that's perfect for dessert or brunch with friends

Self-saucing sticky toffee chocolate pudding

Combine sticky toffee pudding sponge with a generous helping of chocolate chunks and chocolate sauce for the ultimate comforting dessert

Salted caramel popcorn pots

Sweet and salty, this decadent dessert is served in individual pots, with a caramel puddle at the base and a creamy panna cotta topping

Lighter Creamy vanilla rice pudding

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Squidgy chocolate pear pudding

This hot, gooey chocolate pud, with dark chocolate and canned pears, can be made ahead and frozen – a perfect no-fuss dinner party dessert

Hot mocha puddings

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Luscious lemon baked cheesecake

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Lighter gingerbread

This dark and sticky ginger cake is made healthier with naturally sweet dates, buttermilk and plenty of cinnamon and fresh ginger

Chocolate orange tart

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Apple pie

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Self-saucing Jaffa pudding

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Fig sponge pudding

Sponge pudding gets taken up a level with the addition of delicious baked figs and thyme, resulting in a seriously comforting wintry dessert. Serve warm with cream, ice cream or Greek yogurt

Fruity Neapolitan lolly loaf

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Mathematics to the rescue

Our research team – which involved a team of mathematicians, chemists, materials scientists and baristas – formulated a mathematical model to simulate the brewing of an espresso in realistic cafe conditions. We used this to make predictions of how much of the solid coffee ultimately ends up dissolved in the cup. This percentage – known as the extraction yield – is the key metric used by the coffee industry to assess different coffee recipes.

Solving a series of equations, we found that our model accurately predicts extraction yields that we see in real life, except when the coffee is ground very finely. This is because water flow through the espresso bed is quite unpredictable, resulting in sections of the bed becoming clogged. In other words, parts of the coffee are under-extracted (low extraction yield), while others are over-extracted (high extraction yield).

Pulling a shot of espresso using 15 g of coffee, 40 g of water, in 14 seconds. Christopher H. Hendon, University of Oregon

But the objective of a barista isn’t just to produce shots that taste great, they also have to be reproducible. Consistency can be monitored by examining the extraction yields of different shots. Contrary to our expectation, we discovered that to make consistently tasty brews, the barista should use less coffee and grind the coffee marginally coarser. By doing so, they are able to achieve very reproducible, high-yielding shots.

The mathematical theory tells us that this is because reducing coffee mass means that the water flows faster through the shallower coffee bed. The coarse grind results in a relatively permeable bed, such that water flow and extraction are uniform and predictable. This method leads to fast, bright, sweet and acidic shots that taste the same each time.

Of course, not everyone will enjoy the same flavour profile – and we account for this by presenting a series of procedures that barista can use to help navigate the various flavours available within their coffee. Complex flavours – a result of tasting a mixture of both over and under-extracted coffee – can still be emulated by running and then mixing two shots with different extractions. More importantly, consumers could also simply select a different roast, that features flavour profiles more suited to their palate.

One of our key findings, however, is that baristas are able to reduce their coffee waste by up to 25% per espresso shot, dramatically increasing their annual profits with no sacrifice in quality. Using our protocol we estimate that, in the US coffee market alone, the total savings would amount to $1.1 billion in America’s cafes per year.

Espresso coffee. Christopher H. Hendon, University of Oregon

What’s more, it has been estimated that 60% of wild coffee species are under threat of extinction due to climate change. So ultimately, using less coffee is not only better for making a consistently tasty espresso, it is also better for the environment.

Cheer up! The happiness guru on how to feel better

Meik Wiking is a world expert on what makes us feel happier. So, is there a simple fix?

Last modified on Wed 21 Apr 2021 19.46 BST

J ust like that, one of the world’s foremost happiness boffins beams into my living room with a megawatt grin and an infectious chuckle. Even though Meik Wiking (pronounced “Mike Viking”) is moving house on the day of our interview – surely up there with the most exasperating life events – spirits are high for the bestselling author, public speaker and CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen.

There are removal boxes “everywhere”, he says, but in the Zoom square on my computer all I can see is a handsome Dane with surfer hair and black-rimmed specs flanked by minimalist furniture and a luminous pot plant. Denmark famously ranks among the world’s happiest nations and it’s tough to think of a better poster boy for the land of cheer.

The 43-year-old has been busy lately, opening a happiness-themed museum – a world first – in Copenhagen in mid-2020 advising the Nordic Council of Ministers on how social media impacts young people’s wellbeing releasing the paperback version of Happy Moments, a book about creating positive memories and overseeing a global survey of Covid-19’s impact on happiness.

The pandemic has launched an all-out attack on the emotion to which he has dedicated his career. With much of the world stripped of socialising and confined to cramped apartments, the past 12 months might well go down as the grimmest passage in living memory, with many people experiencing a spike in loneliness, anxiety and suffering.

So, for those feeling downtrodden and in dire need of a dopamine hit, is there a way to become more chipper? Or, is there a sense that, by forcing us to maintain small, simple lives, the pandemic has actually helped us zero in on what truly makes us happy?

Asking if there is a way to become happier is a bit like asking how to beat the house in Vegas, but Wiking hasn’t let that put him off. He founded the Happiness Research Institute, an independent thinktank, in 2013, pledging to “look at happiness from a scientific perspective”, by poring over reams of data to figure out why some folks are happier than others and how societies can boost their citizens’ wellbeing.

After studying sociology, political science and economics at university, Wiking joined a sustainability thinktank where, late one night, he stumbled upon the UN’s inaugural World Happiness Report. He was struck by the attention given to this emotion – and by the fact his homeland had topped the charts. “I thought, ‘Why are the Nordic countries doing well?’ Somebody should be looking into this,” he says.

The idea kept him up at night, and in the end he decided to quit his job. “I thought, ‘You can continue working here, but you’re not super passionate, or you can try this crazy idea and see where that goes.’ At first, it was just me, a bad laptop and a good idea.”

Wiking found success in 2016 with The Little Book of Hygge, on the Danish art of being cosy and content during harsh winters, which sold more than 1m copies worldwide, but the Happiness Research Institute is his baby. It sounds like something from a Hans Christian Andersen tale but, instead of being filled with “puppies and ice-cream”, as he puts it, the office houses 10 analysts, who use the intel they’ve gathered to advise governments, foundations, employers and impact investors (companies that want to invest in something which will make a difference to the world).

Quantifying happiness is difficult, but “not impossible”, says Wiking, adding that “we measure a lot of things that are subjective, such as stress, loneliness and depression,” so why not happiness? One of the ways to deal with its subjectivity is to follow indiciduals over time: for its pandemic study the Happiness Research Institute quizzed 3,211 participants up to six times each over three months.

It broke down happiness into elements including overall life satisfaction (“All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life these days?”) whether your mood is positive on any given day and whether you have a sense of purpose or meaning, based on Aristotle’s thoughts on the good life (eudaimonia).

Its Covid-19 survey found that, while daily moods have dipped during the pandemic, sense of purpose hasn’t waned. And the UN’s latest World Happiness Report, which similarly acknowledged a 10% increase in day-to-day sadness and worry, stated that life satisfaction had remained on a par with previous years. Other polls have suggested some people have been happier during Covid-19.

Why hasn’t there been a more comprehensive happiness slump? Wiking says draining commutes have disappeared, family time has increased and, for most people, the main contributors to happiness have remained fairly stable. “Putting good food on the table with loved ones is still perhaps the most universal source of happiness,” he says.

What the pandemic has done is underscore the joy of simple pleasures. The link between happiness and money has been well-documented over the years and while, in general, rich people are happier than poor people, it’s not that money buys happiness but that “being without money” and unable to afford food and shelter causes unhappiness. Once you’ve passed a certain threshold, “if you’re already making good money, and you make £200 extra, you buy a more expensive bottle of wine but it doesn’t matter”.

The pandemic has made that clear by “decoupling wealth from happiness”, he continues. “You can’t go on exotic holidays or to fancy restaurants, but you can go walking. So perhaps this year we realised better than ever that we can find happiness through simple things accessible to all.” He says we’ve reached “peak happiness for ‘stuff’”, whereas hikes or swims are more reliable mood-boosters.

Covid-19 has also diminished the possibility for social comparisons. “There’s an American saying that ‘A happy man is a man who makes $100 more than his wife’s sister’s husband,’ and that concept shows up a lot in the data,” says Wiking. We derive pleasure from being more successful than our neighbours or friends – but become anxious when we’re not. By purging our social media feeds of sparkling shots of Michelin-starred meals and island getaways, the pandemic has reduced angst, envy and fear of missing out. That no one is having fun – except the Kardashians and those pesky Aussies – makes us feel better.

These pandemic-era observations affirm much of the work Wiking has been doing for the past eight years. The Happiness Research Institute’s rise has coincided with a broader global movement as governments and the general public have started taking happiness seriously. In 2008, Bhutan conducted its first Gross National Happiness survey in 2016 the UAE installed a Minister of State for Happiness and in 2019, New Zealand introduced a wellbeing budget to ensure policies consider citizens’ quality of life. Meanwhile, wildly popular happiness psychology courses have sprouted at Yale, Berkeley and Bristol universities, and authors and entrepreneurs have filled bookshops, app stores and airwaves with tips to get us beaming. The movement has caused many an eyebrow to arch, partly because it can be considered frivolous, says Wiking. “Why should we care about how happy people are?”

Scepticism also stems from doubts about whether these developments have the capacity to effect actual change in people. For starters, can anyone attain happiness? Wiking pauses, choosing his words carefully. “Not necessarily.”

Several forces outside our control influence our ability to be happy, including genetics (studies of identical twins show they have similar mood levels) the natural rhythms of life (happiness tends to follow a U-shape, peaking when we’re young and old and nosediving in our 40s) and where we live (the least-happy countries include war-torn Syria, Burundi and the Central African Republic). “I don’t think we can go to people in refugee camps and say, ‘Listen guys, happiness is a choice,’” says Wiking. “We need to acknowledge external and genetic conditions and not put the entire responsibility on the individual.”

Indeed, if you look at global happiness rankings, the top 10 countries – the Nordics, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Switzerland – are all wealthy. Money matters. Yet countries with similar GDPs record different levels of citizen life satisfaction, and some poorer nations, such as Costa Rica, score highly. A nation’s success at converting “wealth into wellbeing” mostly comes down to its ability to eliminate sources of unhappiness, says Wiking. Some who have struggled to do this include Italy, where women are “significantly” less happy than men because of gender inequality Spain, where high youth unemployment affects morale and South Korea, where pressure on young people’s academic performance has been linked to high suicide rates. Conversely, Denmark’s widespread access to education and healthcare remove anxiety- inducing competitiveness. “I like to say the Nordic countries are not the happiest in the world – they’re the least unhappy,” comments Wiking.

Nationality aside, if an individual made a conscious effort to try to become happier, is success possible? Or do genetics and other factors mean we’re forever glued to one point on the smile spectrum?

“I don’t think you are stuck,” says Wiking, and he’s backed up by the positive psychology discourse that has been ascendant since the late 1990s, which suggests change is possible. But it’s not a quick fix – as others attest.

“I do not believe books or lectures alone are sufficient to make behavioural changes to any great effect,” says Bruce Hood, a psychology professor who runs the science of happiness course at Bristol University. “Knowledge is not enough and, as Aristotle pointed out, action is needed,” he says, meaning you need to work hard to develop new behavioral habits that might contribute to a peppier mindset – something that apps and courses can perhaps encourage.

Even so, perspective is needed to see past the smoke and mirrors, and aspirational marketing speak. We’re forever hopeful we might become a bit cheerier if we buy this product or attend that class, and plenty of entrepreneurs are only too happy to indulge us. Like its self-help cousin, the happiness sector “is populated with some charismatic individuals who possibly over-sell the promise of everlasting happiness,” says Hood.

A lot of the information given, even from respected experts, is obvious. “I wish there was a silver bullet, but that’s not the case,” says Wiking. “I think you know a lot of the things I’m telling you: that your relationships matter, having a short commute and a fulfilling job matters, having enough money to get by matters, comparisons to others matter.” Yet even if people do already know, he says, we “need to be reminded of things – such as the fact that more money does not always translate to more happiness.”

His advice, if you feel your happiness level is jammed on a five out of 10, is to ask yourself: what would lift you to a six? If you’re lonely it might mean joining a club (they’re a big thing in Denmark) to see if you can strike up new friendships. “The secret is that there’s no secret,” says Wiking. The mere act of consciously turning our mind to what could make us sunnier is a start.

She eats clean.

The 49-year-old talk show host prefers to keep her household eating right. She told Shape that she sticks to simple meals, like a sliced chicken breast with sautéed spinach, lemon, and olive oil.

"I eat a very clean diet. I have lots of vegetables, I eat protein, but I really don't put a ton of thought into it. It's everything you've read about or heard about in any diet book &ndash don't eat too much crap, and I don't," she told ABC News. "If that's the secret, then that's the secret!"

7. Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee Mix

Approximately 50mg of caffeine per serving

For those who loathe the nervousness that caffeine can cause but love the (seemingly) instant wakefulness and mental clarity, this mushroom-based alternative might be what you&rsquove really needed all along. Containing roughly half the amount of caffeine as a normal cup of coffee, you can consider this brew the next step down&mdashthough it&rsquos worth noting that the caffeine here does, in fact, come from a small amount of high-quality instant coffee that&rsquos added to the mix. The main ingredients, however, are chaga and lion&rsquos mane mushrooms&mdashtwo varieties that contain nutrients known to support the immune system and general health. The takeaway? Consider this one as either a weaning option or happy middle-ground between coffee buzz and dead tired&mdashand don&rsquot let the mushrooms deter you, because there&rsquos nothing fungi about the coffee-like flavor here. (Sorry, we had to.)

Calories, Heartburn, and Urine

You won't break your calorie budget on coffee -- until you start adding the trimmings.

According to the web site -- part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion -- a 6-ounce cup of black coffee contains just 7 calories. Add some half & half and you'll get 46 calories. If you favor a liquid nondairy creamer, that will set you back 48 calories. A teaspoon of sugar will add about 23 calories.

Drink a lot of coffee and you may head to the bathroom more often. Caffeine is a mild diuretic -- that is, it makes you urinate more than you would without it. Decaffeinated coffee has about the same effect on urine production as water.

Both regular and decaffeinated coffee contain acids that can make heartburn worse.


Frank Hu, MD, MPH, PhD, professor of nutrition and epidemiology , Harvard School of Public Health.

James D. Lane, PhD, professor of medical psychology and behavioral medicine, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C.

Barbara Shukitt-Hale, PhD, research psychologist, USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Boston.

World Resources Institute.

van Dam, R. Journal of the American Medical Association, July 6, 2005 vol 94: pp 97-104.

Huxley, R.. Archives of Internal Medicine, Dec. 14-28, 2009 vol 169: pp 2053-2063.

American Heart Association Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism/50th Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention conference, San Francisco, March 2-5, 2010.

Lopez-Garcia, E. Circulation, Feb. 16, 2009 advance online edition.

Marjo, H. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease,January 2009 pp 85-91.

Galeone, C. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, July 2010 published ahead of print.

American Association for Cancer Research International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research, Houston, Dec. 6-9, 2009.

American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology Committee on Obstetric Practice, Obstetrics & Gynecology. August 2010, vol 116: pp 467-468.


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