An 18th-Century Lesson on How to Stay Healthy during a Pandemic

Evidence is now overwhelming that wearing face masks slows the spread of the COVID-19 virus. But Americans haven’t universally donned these coverings. An effective leader would find a way to encourage people to adopt this lifesaving behavior.

Take sauerkraut, for example. My German father tried his best to get me to eat it when I was a child. He failed – I hate the stuff. But in the 18th century, sauerkraut was the difference between life and death for many sailors, meaning their leaders, their captains, had to find a way to convince them to swallow the vile stuff.

To read the rest of this piece, please visit Forbes.

Smoking Cigarettes (My Circumstances Made Me Do It)

Rates of cigarette smoking have dropped substantially in the US over the past few decades. But lots of Americans still smoke, and the burden of tobacco-related illness does not fall evenly across our population. That is tragic under normal circumstances, with tobacco use leading to heart attacks, strokes, cancers, and emphysema, to name but a few relevant illnesses. In the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s even more tragic, because tobacco smoking significantly increases the lethality of the virus.

So why isn’t tobacco use evenly spread across the population? In part, it’s because the more challenges a person faces in life, the more likely they are to smoke.

To read the rest of this piece, please visits my column on Forbes.

Would Americans Be Happier with a Higher Minimum Wage?

There was a very nice piece in the Washington Post recently, exploring the relationship between life satisfaction and the minimum wage. They summarize their findings in the following figure:
Life Satisfaction and the Minimum Wage
I suggest you read the piece, to see what they make of this connection. Importantly, they explicitly mentioned that correlation does not prove causation. Unfortunately they only throw that tidbit in at the very end of the piece, after they’ve convinced most readers that the connection is real. In addition, I have to say that scatterplots like these don’t look like strong causal relationships until people impose lines on them, estimating the best fit from linear regression. I wonder if anybody has done research, on whether the insertion of such lines in these pictures strengthens people’s beliefs about the power of the connection between the phenomena being measured.
That nitpicking aside, I think this is a provocative bit of work, that we need to keep in mind when deciding what to do about the minimum wage in the U.S. The well-being of the population matters, and deserves a role in policy decisions.

Health and Happiness: A Global Perspective

As a physician and behavioral scientist, I am always interested to explore the connection between psychological well-being and health. Which is why I have decided to share recent findings from a study, published in Psychological Science, that presents data from across the globe on positive emotions and self-reported health.

 global health and emotion

The data show a pretty strong relationship between health and positive emotion. I am inclined to believe that this relationship is real. But keep in mind one problem with these kind of data – self-reported health may be influenced by the same personality traits that also influence how people report on their own emotions. In either case, the data do not look good for Eastern Europe!
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