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The Globe and Mail

Seekers of happiness take note: An uplifting melody may help

How to be happy

"Can you will yourself into feeling happier?" asks Pacific Standard magazine. "Adding evidence to a centuries-old philosophical debate, newly published research suggests that indeed you can – with a little help from [composer] Aaron Copland. 'Listening to positive music may be an effective way to improve happiness, particularly when it is combined with an intention to become happier,' write psychologists Yuna Ferguson and Kennon Sheldon. Their study suggests neither a determination to be happy nor uplifting music is sufficient alone: It's the combination that seems to do the trick." Their work is published in the Journal of Positive Psychology.

100 and still working

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"Jim Clements, a 100-year-old great-grandfather, has been revealed as Britain's longest-serving temp," says The Daily Telegraph. "Mr. Clements has been working for a security company in Harlow, Essex, for 34 years, since he was 66. 'When I retired I got so bored at home the wife was, like, for God's sake go and get a job … so I did,' he said. Jim has now been working a total of 86 years."

Scanning your dreams

"Neuroscientists have found a way to read your dreams – if you're lying in a huge brain scanner," reports BBC Focus magazine. "In a Japanese study, researchers were able to determine whether someone's dream featured items such as a car or computer. … [The] team first asked three volunteers to fall asleep while they were lying in an fMRI scanner – a device that reveals areas of brain activity through high blood flow. They were then woken and asked what they had dreamed about. Over several sessions, researchers collected descriptions of over 200 dreams that included eating a yogurt, using a computer or seeing a bronze statue. Finally, they showed the volunteers pictures of the items they had dreamed about, while scanning them again while awake. By comparing the sleeping and waking scans, the researchers were able to identify the sleeping brain patterns associated with specific objects."

Saying it with sweat

"Although most of us try to avoid sweating in public, some scientists believe it has an evolutionary role in sending warning signals to people around us," says The Wall Street Journal. "The body odour of a stranger provokes the brain to negatively interpret social stimuli, even friendly facial expressions, recent research has shown. Meanwhile, the scent of a family member can help calm a person who is under stress, according to a soon-to-be-presented study. Women and men respond differently to signals sent by bodily smells such as sweat. When researchers tested some 40 different fragrances to see if they could cover up other people's body odour, they found that men were fooled the bulk of the time. But for women, the masking scents almost never lessened the intensity of the body odour."

Too much efficiency

"A German postman was taken to court for being too efficient," reports The Sunday Times of London. "When the 53-year-old man from Rosenheim, near Munich, finished his round before everybody else, his colleagues reported him, suspecting he was throwing away mail. But he told a district court he had simply studied the quickest routes to speed up his round. According to the Munchner Merkur newspaper, his supervisor told the court she knew of his time-saving methods. 'I admit that some of them are possibly logical,' she said, 'but they could not be officially accepted as they did not fit the rules.' The case was dismissed."

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Thought du jour

Happiness is a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, American writer (1804-64)

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