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facts & arguments

One secret to happiness

"When people tell me they've done their own happiness projects, I always ask, 'What resolutions did you try? What worked for you?'" writes Gretchen Rubin in The Christian Science Monitor. "One answer comes up more than any other. I'm not saying that this is the most significant thing you could do to boost your happiness, but it does seem to be a thing that people actually do – and that boosts their happiness. This most popular resolution? To make your bed. … It's a Secret of Adulthood: for most people, outer order contributes to inner calm. If you love a calm environment, making the bed is one of the quickest, easiest steps to cultivate a sense of order."

Extended teenage years

"Any teenage boy will confirm that older boys make it impossible to get the girls," says the New Scientist. "Young male orangutans with the same problem have a unique and unexpected solution: they don't grow up until they are strong enough to challenge the dominant males. Male orangutans can reproduce from around age 15, but in order to attract a mate they also have to develop secondary sexual characteristics – the equivalent of men growing chest hair. These include conspicuous cheek flanges. Yet Sumatran orangutans often delay acquiring flanges, sometimes for over 10 years. No other primates do this, not even Bornean orangutans."

Foul teenage novels?

"Popular teenage novels contain hundreds of swear words and the most popular characters are the most foul-mouthed, a study has found," reports The Daily Telegraph. "Books from popular series including Harry Potter and Twilight were found to contain language which parents may deem as obscene or vulgar despite some being targeted at children as young as nine. The study of 40 teenage and young adult books found that characters who swore were generally portrayed as rich, attractive and more popular than those who did not. Researchers said their paper raised questions over whether books should be given age ratings similar to those used on films and video games to help parents decide whether the material is appropriate for their child. The team from Brigham Young University found 1,522 instances of profanity across the 40 books, an average of 38 per book, with 88 per cent of all books containing at least one swear word."

When blah trumps good advice

"When the going gets tough," says The Boston Globe, "the tough offer generic advice. That's the conclusion of a professor at Harvard Business School who studied teams at a Big Four accounting firm and a top consulting firm. She found that performance pressure, while motivating higher performance, also undermined performance by shifting a team's focus toward using general experience and away from using client-specific expertise held by particular members of the team. That more specific expertise is what clients appreciate, though, especially in more critical projects. Teams under pressure appear to fall into this trap because they focus more on consensus, common knowledge, project completion and hierarchy."

Distracted cubicle dwellers

"The walls have come tumbling down in offices everywhere, but the cubicle dwellers keep putting up new ones," writes John Tierney in The New York Times. "They barricade themselves behind file cabinets. They fortify their partitions with towers of books and papers. … Cubicle culture is already something of a punch line – how many ways can we find to annoy each other all day? – but lately the complaints are being heard by the right people, including managers and social scientists. Companies are redesigning offices, piping in special background noise to improve the acoustics and bringing in engineers to solve volume issues. 'Sound masking' has become a buzz phrase. Scientists, for their part, are measuring the unhappiness and lower productivity of distracted workers. After surveying 65,000 people over the past decade in North America, Europe, Africa and Australia, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, report that more than half of office workers are dissatisfied with the level of 'speech privacy,' making it the leading complaint in offices everywhere."

Breastfeeding on film

"Wedding photos and maternity shots have long been a staple of family photo albums," writes Erina Ito of The Asahi Shimbun. "These days, however, another type of more personal portrait is becoming popular. Breast-feeding photos, taken while a mother feeds her young child, have been in demand lately. At an apartment in Osaka on a recent weekend, moms and their hungry offspring were waiting to have their photos taken by Hiroko Ishikawa, a professional photographer. … Tsuyuko Oto, an esthetician from Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, was there with her 11-month-old fourth son. 'I came here to get a memorial photo of the two of us, thinking he would be my last child,' said a smiling Oto, who planned to display her breastfeeding picture on the wall in the hallway of her home. … Another breastfeeding photo session was held at the Mihikaru maternity centre in Tokyo in April. Yuko Ikeda, a 37-year-old homemaker, was there with her eight-month-old son Aoi. 'I want to show him this picture when he reaches a rebellious age,' she said."

Thought du jour

"The only inexcusable offence in a commanding officer is to be surprised." – Matthew Ridgway (1895-1993), U.S. army general