Searching for Happiness? Look for Meaning, Not Money

Happiness is about social ties, say experts, like hiking in the woods with friends. (Loren Kerns/Flickr)

Happiness is about social ties and experiences, say experts, like hiking in the woods with friends. (Loren Kerns/Flickr)

By Lynne Shallcross

Do a quick search for “happiness” in Amazon books, and you’ll find more than 40,000 results. That’s a lot of people writing about happiness — and, presumably, a lot of people looking to find it.

“It’s typically not things or stuff, but experiences and relationships and the less tangible things in life.”

If you’re one of those people looking, you should know that finding happiness doesn’t mean you have to be cheerful and upbeat all the time. There’s more than one way to get there. Experts say even pessimists can be happy.

“There are a lot of things that we think will make us happy and don’t,” says Christine Carter, a sociologist at U.C. Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and author of the book “Raising Happiness.”

“In fact,” Carter says, “we are, as human beings, particularly bad at predicting what will make us happy. We think that we’re going to be much happier if we’re living in a bigger house or driving a different type of car or those really cute new shoes are going to make us happy.” Continue reading

Are Double Mastectomy Rates Driven by ‘Pink-Ribbon Culture Fearmongering’?

(Getty Images)

‘The pink ribbon is arguably the most successful marketing tool of the 20th century.’ — Karuna Jaggar, Breast Cancer Action  (Getty Images)

You may have read the other day about the big Stanford study on double mastectomies. Researchers looked at outcomes for every women in California diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer from 1998 to 2011 — – all 189,734 of them — and found, surprisingly, that removing both breasts doesn’t increase breast cancer survival rate.

From NPR:

Women who had breast-conserving surgery had an 83.2 percent survival rate at 10 years, compared with 81.2 percent for those who had a double mastectomy.

“What it means is that women should be aware that if they choose double mastectomy, the chances are that it won’t cause them to live any longer than if they had chosen something else,” said Stanford professor Allison Kurian, lead author of the study.

Perhaps even more surprising than the lack of evidence to recommend double mastectomies is the discovery that, from 1998 to 2011, the procedure had risen among the large population studied from 2 percent to 12 percent. And for women under 40, the rate increased from 3.6 percent to a whopping 33 percent, “even though most of them had stage zero or stage one cancer, a very early, very treatable form,” NPR reports.

Continue reading

Legal Threat to Obamacare Diminished After Court Action

by Mark Sherman
Associated Press

The federal appeals court in Washington threw out a ruling Thursday that called into question the subsidies that help millions of low- and middle-income people afford their premiums under the president’s health care law.

A woman looks at the HealthCare.gov insurance exchange on October 1, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

A woman looks at the HealthCare.gov insurance exchange on October 1, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia granted an Obama administration request to have its full complement of judges re-hear a challenge to regulations that allow health insurance tax credits under the Affordable Care Act for consumers in all 50 states.

The announcement diminishes the prospect of Supreme Court review of the issue in the near term. The initial 2-1 appeals court ruling in Washington came out the same day that a panel of appellate judges in Richmond, Virginia, unanimously sided with the administration on the same issue.

The health law’s opponents had hoped that the split rulings would lead the high court to take up the issue soon. Continue reading

West Nile Virus Infections in California at All-Time High (Map of Cases by County)

westnilevirus

West Nile virus is hosted primarily by birds — and spread by mosquitos. (Getty Images)

West Nile Virus infections in mosquitoes are at their highest recorded level ever in California. Last week, 52 new human cases were reported, bringing the total to 181.

Eight people have died from the illness.

“If you’re out there at a time of day when the mosquitoes are out — particularly at dawn and dusk — the risk of being bitten with an infected mosquito is higher than it’s been in the past,” said James Watt of the California Department of Public Health. Continue reading

Infants Given Sugar-Sweetened Beverages at Higher Risk for Obesity

Babies should only be given breastmilk or infant formula, unless directed differently by a doctor. (Christopher Lance/Flickr)

Babies should only be given breastmilk or infant formula, unless directed differently by a doctor. (Christopher Lance/Flickr)

By Brian Lau 

Were you at a Labor Day barbecue last weekend? Did you drink soda? Sweet tea? Or maybe vitamin water? Sugar-sweetened drinks are a known risk factor for obesity, and according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, one in four American adults consumes at least one sugar-sweetened beverage every day.

Now, two new studies published Tuesday in the journal Pediatrics found that 80 percent of 6-year-olds drank sugar-sweetened beverages on a regular basis. (The studies can be found here and here.)

And here’s the kicker: researchers found that 25 percent of infants also were given sugar-sweetened beverages at some point, and this consumption can be associated with health problems later.

One of the studies’ main findings was that babies given sugar-sweetened drinks during the first 6 months of life had a 92 percent greater risk of obesity by the time they were 6-years-old versus babies who were never given such drinks. Continue reading

Judge Rules Berkeley Must Change Soda Tax Language

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Update September 2, 6:05 p.m.: A judge ruled Tuesday that Berkeley officials must change the soda tax measure language because it is currently misleading.

Soda tax advocates say this change “doesn’t concern us at all.”

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo said the city’s statement that the tax would only be imposed on “high-calorie, sugary drinks” is “a form of advocacy and therefore not impartial.”

Grillo ordered the city to change the summary to say that the tax would apply to “sugar-sweetened beverages,” which he said is more neutral and less likely to create prejudice for or against Measure D.

Anthony Johnson and Leon Cain filed the lawsuit in August. Cain has previously attended Berkeley council meetings on behalf of the No Berkeley Beverage Tax campaign. Continue reading

Stanford Study: Double Mastectomies Don’t Increase Breast Cancer Survival Rate

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About one-third of women under 40 diagnosed with breast cancer in California choose double mastectomy. (Getty Images)

By Nancy Shute, NPR

More women are choosing to have bilateral mastectomies when they are diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, even though there’s little evidence that removing both breasts improves their survival compared with more conservative treatments.

Doctors worry that women choose double mastectomy out of the mistaken belief that it eliminates their future risk of cancer.
The biggest study yet on the question has found no survival benefit with bilateral mastectomy compared to breast-conserving surgery with radiation.

The study, published Tuesday in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at the records of all women in California who were diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer from 1998 to 2011 — 189,734 women, all told. Continue reading

How Will Your Hospital Fare in the Next Earthquake?

Two buildings at the Veterans Hospital in San Fernando collapsed during the 1971 Sylmar quake. (Photo: USGS)

Two buildings at the Veterans Hospital in San Fernando collapsed during the 1971 Sylmar quake. (Photo: USGS)

One thing about an earthquake: It focuses the mind.

In the wake of the Aug. 24 South Napa Quake, I became focused on hospital safety.

Queen of the Valley Hospital in Napa sustained only minor damage from the earthquake — falling items and leaks. A statement released 13 hours after the earthquake said that “(n)one of these issues have prevented the hospital from triaging and treating patients. Queen of the Valley remains operational and continues to be able to accept and treat patients.” 

Legislation passed 20 years ago, in the wake of the Northridge earthquake, seeks to make Queen of the Valley’s performance the norm for hospitals statewide after a major earthquake. That 1994 legislation was itself an update to the 1973 Seismic Safety Act, which in turn was written in the wake of the Sylmar earthquake when several hospitals collapsed. Continue reading

California Prisons Adopt Plan to Restrict Segregation for Mentally Ill Inmates

A psychiatric segregation cell at Sacramento Prison. (Julie Small/KQED)

A psychiatric segregation cell at Sacramento Prison. (Julie Small/KQED)

By Julie Small

In response to a court order, California prison officials proposed a new approach Friday to how they treat mentally ill inmates who break rules or commit new crimes. The judge who ordered the change immediately approved the plan.

Right now, if a mentally ill inmate refuses to follow orders or attacks another inmate or guards, the prison sends him to a segregation unit. In segregation, prisoners spend more time confined to their cells and must submit to routine strip searches for weapons and drugs. Advocates for inmates have long insisted the conditions only worsen mental illness. Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton unequivocally backed them up.

In an April ruling, the judge wrote, “placement of seriously mentally ill inmates in California’s segregation housing unit can and does cause serious psychological harm” by worsening symptoms, inducing psychosis and increasing suicidal urges. Continue reading

People Found Ineligible for Obamacare Coverage Must Repay Subsidies

A report from Berkeley's Greenlining Institute called on Covered California to make its enrollment website available in more languages than English and Spanish.

The rule primarily affects immigrants. Many people have not provided sufficient documentation to prove lawful presence or citizenship in California.

By Julie Appleby, Kaiser Health News

Consumers getting government subsidies for health insurance who are later found ineligible for those payments will owe the government, but not necessarily the full amount, according to the Treasury Department.

100,000 Californians must provide proof of legal residency or lose eligibility for subsidies.

The clarified rule could affect some of the 300,000 people enrolled in a health plan through healthcare.gov. They face a Sept. 5 deadline to submit additional documents to confirm their citizenship or immigration status, and also apply broadly to anyone ultimately deemed ineligible for subsidies.

California runs its own exchange and is on a different timeline. Covered California will send notices starting next week to 100,000 people affected. They have until September 30 to respond.  Continue reading