21 Weird Health Facts That Everyone Should Know (Pt 2)

The modern world is stomping all over your physical and mental well-being from several directions.
21 Weird Health Facts That Everyone Should Know (Pt 2)

You may have noticed that the modern world is just pissing all over your physical and mental well-being from several directions. Understanding the science behind the proverbial gang piss may not make you feel any better, but it can't make it worse, right? So let's dig into it!

Note: This is actually Part 2 of a list of 21. Here's Part 1. Although you can just start reading here if you want. It's not like there's a plot or anything.

Religion Is Dying, And We Have Worse Mental Health As A Result

Religious belief has dropped in America at a stunning rate. Churches are dying as fast as shopping malls. You can actually see the decline spelled out in the people around you. Among the elderly, 88% are affiliated with some kind of religion, while among people under 30, it's only 62%. We're on the verge of an Earth-shattering change here, and everyone knows why: The more we use the internet, the less religious we are. That shit has just been meme'd right out of us.

I'm telling you, Americans are not ready for this.

People who don't attend church regularly have more stress and die sooner. They have higher rates of depression. The ones who are merely "spiritual" but don't have an organized religion (like, they just meditate on their own or whatever) are more depressed than people who belong to a church.

It's not because their souls are vulnerable to assault by Lucifer -- or at least, I don't think it is. It's the loss of social support. For the vast majority of Americans who've ever lived, the pastor married you, shaped you, buried you. Members of your congregation would visit you in the hospital, come to your birthday party, gather for bingo, raise money if your house burned down. Many teens did their first hand stuff at Bible camp. It's where people found their friends, professional networks, relationship counseling ... and oh yeah, the Meaning of Life.

It's very stressful trying to cobble all of those services together when you used to get it all in one place. It's kind of like, well, if the internet went away. You wouldn't even know where to start. In a culture suddenly without organized religion, you find out things like ...

The Pursuit Of Happiness Makes You Unhappy

You want to make someone miserable? Tell them to try to be happy. They actually did that in an experiment. The "think happy thoughts" group both reported being less happy in the end and, interestingly, felt greater time pressure. It turns out that trying to achieve happiness is stressful as hell. It's like an insomniac trying to force sleep.

In another study, people who felt pressure to feel positive emotions wound up feeling worse than those who just accepted the negative ones, because they took every bad feeling as a failure. "Happiness" as an end goal is both new in society and kind of self-defeating, since no two people find it -- or even define it -- in the same way. The moment you sit down and ask "Am I happy?" you instantly are not, because happiness can best be described as "The state of mind in which you do not feel the urge to examine your state of mind."

In fact ...

Related: The 6 Most Horrifying Health Foods In The World

Hunter-Gatherer Societies Are Happier

No, I'm not one of those people -- you know, the guy finishing his tenth year on Twitter and 17,500th tweet by finger-wagging about smartphones. I like having clean water, air conditioning, and anesthetic. And yet ...

A study found that urban youths are more likely to suffer from psychosis than rural ones, due to factors such as "low social cohesion and high neighborhood disorder." To take that idea to its most extreme conclusion, a study of the Himba peoples of Namibia showed that the hunter-gatherers living in the wilderness reported higher life satisfaction than those who'd moved to a town, but both reported higher satisfaction than a sample of adults in the modern UK.

Right now, you're probably muttering something about how of course that's true. After all, those people don't have to spend all day in meetings with their condescending boss, demanding to know why they're not more productive in the 35% of their workday that isn't meetings about productivity. And, well, you're kind of right ...

Having A Shitty Boss Can Kill You

This is secretly one of the most underrated quality of life factors out there. A toxic boss can ruin your mental and physical health, right up to the point that you have a goddamned heart attack and die. Among men, the strongest predictor of well-being isn't health, relationships, or family, but job satisfaction. And sure, everyone complains or jokes about their terrible boss, but have you ever heard "shitty boss" brought up as a health risk or a societal problem that needs collective action?

Shouldn't there be some kind of reform movement around this? It's great that workplaces crack down on discrimination and sexual harassment, but next I want a wholesale cultural rejection of bosses and authority figures who are just kind of dicks. Dick Bosses Kill. And also ...

Related: 6 Horrifying Things The Nutrition Industry Won't Tell You

It's The Shitty People Who Are Getting Promoted

You didn't need a study to tell you this because, well, you live in the world, but the same traits that make someone a monster also help them rise to the top. That is, narcissism, feeling entitled to power, the willingness to exploit others, lack of regard for others' feelings, etc. That's the guy who won't lose sleep replacing the factory with a third-world sweatshop to boost the bottom line, the one who doesn't feel guilty having critics assassinated or journalists jailed.

Intelligent, thoughtful people are seen as less capable leaders, and raw intelligence might make you worse at resolving conflict. Who wants to follow the nervous guy who's always advising caution and nuance when you could be getting behind the brash, charismatic badass with an arsenal of awesome catchphrases about crushing the enemy?

Side note: There is data showing that organizations would be better off just promoting people at random.

Side side note: People in hunter-gatherer societies probably worked way fewer hours than we do. In an ant colony, about 40% of the worker ants don't do shit.

And while we're on the subject of the hotheaded BMW drivers who wind up running everything ...

Testosterone Has Super Weird Effects On Personality ... And Modern Society

We've mentioned in previous articles the incredibly bizarre yet well-supported fact that you can predict certain personality traits by looking at the shape of somebody's face. If they have a wide jaw and cheekbones, they're more likely to be more aggressive and competitive. They're also more likely to express prejudicial views on race. If you show people photos of politicians they've never seen before, they can guess with better-than-chance accuracy whether those politicians have been found guilty of corruption -- again, based on the shape of their face.

This sounds like 19th-century pseudoscience, but it's actually fairly simple. Wide facial features are due to higher amounts of testosterone, and testosterone goes a long, long way toward shaping your personality. One study found that people with higher testosterone reacted worse to being put in a position of power, in that they were more prone to narcissism and corruption.

Just ask anyone who has had to get injections of the stuff and found their personality change in real time. One study found that a single dose increased men's preference for "status goods" -- products designed to flaunt social position. Another found that a single dose reduced empathy in test subjects. Meanwhile, lower testosterone apparently means higher levels of anxiety. (I guess because testosterone = confidence?)

This may sound like I'm pushing some anti-male cuck agenda, but it's not that testosterone turns you into a shithead. What it does is drive the urge for dominance and competition by making those things feel really good, and if that can be achieved without aggression (such as, by cooperating efficiently with a team), that's what will feel good instead. It's just that the positive aspects -- like fierce loyalty -- can be hell if you're in their way.

Related: 5 Supposedly Healthy Things That Are Good For (Killing) You

When It Comes To Gender, The Workforce Is Still Incredibly Segregated

It's no surprise that more than 99% of oil well workers, roofers, and boilermakers are male. You've driven past those job sites before, you'd do a double-take if you saw a woman there.

But have you noticed that almost 98% of kindergarten teachers in the U.S. are women? They also make up more than 97% of dental hygienists, 95% of secretaries, 90% of dietitians, 84% of HR staff, and 80% of therapists. Meanwhile, nearly 99% of plumbers, 98% of electricians, 95% of exterminators, 92.5% of airline pilots are men.

What does this have to do with our health? Ask anyone who aspires to do a job that society has decided doesn't fit their gender. Imagine what a bad boss looks like in that situation. See how it all ties together?

Exposure To Opposing Political Views On Social Media Only Makes People Dig In

Well, if they're conservatives, at least. A study found that when conservatives were exposed to opposing views on Twitter (by being made to follow an account that retweeted prominent liberals), they became much more conservative as a result. Liberals who were exposed to conservative posts became a little more liberal, but not enough to be statistically significant.

Why would the results be different between the two groups? Well, we hinted above that high-testosterone types have personalities that are more stereotypically conservative. (Fun fact: People who work in physical labor like construction, farming, and mining are overwhelmingly conservative, while jobs that involve lots of sitting and typing tend to be liberal.) The role of testosterone is especially important when it comes to attitudes about helping the weaker parts of society or redistributing resources.

The whole thing with high testosterone is that it makes you react differently to threats and/or competition. This study found that in a marriage conflict, the men's testosterone levels rose, but the women's remained the same. In the face of opposition, the dude's impulse was to dig in his heels.

It seems like it would stand to reason that high-testosterone types would be more likely to further entrench themselves when presented with an opposing viewpoint if they are by nature less capable of empathy and more opposed to members of the other "team." But I'm not a scientist.

Related: 5 Huge Problems Nobody Told You About American Healthcare

We're Adapting To Social Media In Some Truly Weird Ways

It's amazing to think that just a few decades ago, it would take weeks for a meme to make its way around the world. Now it happens in hours.

Dolly Parton @DollyParton My man Jolene Me

I'll say again that I'm not here to scaremonger about social media. You've all seen my workout pics on Instagram (and my six-pack tattoo that says "Shutterstock"), but I do want to point out that teens are cyberbullying themselves.

That's right, they're setting up alternate accounts on social media and then posting fake threatening or harassing comments. One study actually found 6% of teens had done this bizarre form of digital self-harm, which would mean you've probably got dozens of troubled kids doing this in any decent-sized school. I think that's kind of alarming.

They do it to gain sympathy, or to just get out in front of real bullying that could actually come from other students. I'm not pointing it out for shock value. If they're doing this, it's because they know it's a valid social strategy in 2019. The bigger point is that it's an example of how impossible it must be for grown-ups to stay on top of these trends enough to actually help. ("I did the Fortnite dance and she's still crying!")

The reality is that we have very little data about the long-term effects of constantly connected social media on the human brain or the culture at large. It hasn't existed long enough. The kids graduating next year didn't even have iPhones when they started school, and Instagram wasn't universal until they were teenagers. In the time it takes to study the effects, the entire landscape will have changed. And yet ...

There's No Evidence That Attention Spans Have Gotten Shorter

I put this one at the end because statistically, most people don't finish long internet articles, so it's both ironic and pointless, like much of my existence.

There was a viral headline a couple of years ago that the average human attention span had shrunk to just eight seconds, which meant we had less of an attention span than the average goldfish. The source of the claim, ironically, turned out to be a random website that had seemingly pulled that number out of its asshole and which nobody bothered to fact-check. (Hint: There's no such thing as an "average attention span," considering it's different for every task and situation.)

As for whether attention spans have gotten shorter with time, that's kind of impossible to measure. If a kid in 1975 was happy to stare at a wall for an hour, is it because she had a longer attention span, or because she didn't have anything better to do? If you gave her a smartphone, would she be able to resist looking at it for any longer than you can today?

"But aren't we also in an ADHD epidemic now?" Not really. The number of kids diagnosed has gone up over the decades, but that's only because we've gotten better at identifying it. It should also be noted that attention spans vary across the population, just like height and everything else. An attention span that's so short as to be a disadvantage isn't a specific disease; it just means you're at the far end of the scale.

Also, people with wandering minds (if not attention issues) tend to be more creative and/or intelligent. Their brains are trying to get as much done as possible and seize opportunities to multitask -- our brains crave novelty. The problem is your brain can't actually multitask. It can only switch rapidly from one task to another, and the human brain is apparently not built for that. That rapid switching, among other things, stimulates stress hormones (cortisol, adrenaline) and contributes to that ever-present feeling that you're on a spiritual treadmill, frantically pursuing something that's forever just out of your grasp. The thing that will finally make you happy.

So there you go, just fix that and you'll be good. Here's Part 1 of the list if you missed it yesterday.

You can follow Jason "David Wong" Pargin on Twitter, his Instagram, or Facebook or Goodreads.

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