Dr. Laurie Santos, professor of psychology at Yale University, adapted her popular college course into a podcast series titled "The Happiness Lab" that has since been downloaded over 64 million times to teach a scientific way to live a happier life, according to New York Times.
"Why are there so many happiness books and other happiness stuff and people are still not happy?" asks the 46-six-year-old Santos.
"Because it takes work! Because it’s hard!"
The paper noted a recent Gallup poll that found only 38% of Americans were "satisfied" with their life, but Santos blames the "'capitalism culture' … that’s telling us to buy things and a hustle-achievement culture that destroys my students in terms of anxiety."
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She explains that our minds trick us about the things that make us happy, but many of these intuitions are "… not exactly right – or are deeply misguided. That’s why we get it wrong. I know this stuff, but my instincts are totally wrong."
Pedestrians walk down a path on the Yale University campus in New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.
Pedestrians walk down a path on the Yale University campus in New Haven, Connecticut, U.S. (Craig Warga/Bloomberg)
Commonplace religious practices, like meditating, reflecting and connecting with other people can have a positive effect on happiness, but Santos notes, "Turns out, to the extent that you can disentangle those two, it seems to not be our beliefs but our actions that are driving the fact that religious people are happier.
She added, "It’s just much easier if you have a cultural apparatus around you," noting even your local CrossFit team can help turn your frown upside down.
Santos teaches her students the acronym W.W.W., using the example of when we pick up our phone, what was the specific purpose? Why did we do it at that specific time? And at what cost does it sacrifice other more meaningful activities like studying or talking to your roommate?
"Based on seeing students in the trenches, the biggest hit of social media on their well-being is that they spend a lot of time on it thinking that they’re being social rather than talking to other people. I do that too," Santos added.
She notes her students are surprised that money doesn’t make most people happier, noting that recent research shows it only helps those who live below the poverty line and can’t put food on the table.
A recent paper by Matt Killingsworth, a senior fellow at the Warton School at the University of Pennsylvania who studies happiness in humans, showed if you increase from income from $100,000 to $600,000, your happiness goes up from a score from 64 to 65, according to the news outlet.
"For the amount of work you have to put in to sextuple your income, you could instead just write in a gratitude journal, you could sleep an extra hour," Santos said.
She added although her class may change behavior in the short term, achieving long-term happiness is more elusive and may require more radical changes to our life.
Dan Buettner, a bestselling author, discovered "blue zones" where people live the longest, healthiest lives, like the Netherlands, so "if you plop people down in a new culture, they change. You move to the Netherlands, you’ll be happier," Santos said.
He argues Santos’ teaching is not going to work unless people have strong structural support societally, but she hopes people don’t have to move to blue zones to attain these, but instead create "robust structures societally" themselves to achieve happiness.
Let's face it—we've been talking a lot about viruses for the past two pandemic years. That means, by now, you probably know that a virus is invisible to the naked eye and can cause all types of health problems.
But bacteria check those boxes too. So what's the difference between viruses and bacteria—and why is it important to understand the difference? Here's what to know about the two germs and the illnesses they can cause.
What are viruses and bacteria?
Viruses are tiny organisms made of genetic material called nucleic acid—either DNA or RNA—that is enclosed within a protein capsule, Charles Bailey, MD, medical director for infection prevention at Providence St. Joseph Hospital and Providence Mission Hospital in Orange County, California, tells Health.
These little germs take over regular living cells in your body and use them to multiply, overtaking other cells, and continuing to reproduce. This process can damage or kill the regular cells, leading to illness.
While a virus is incapable of reproduction unless it's within a cell of another organism, bacteria—larger, single-celled organisms—are capable of living in various types of environments and reproducing themselves, says Dr. Bailey.
The human body is actually full of bacteria—some are harmless, and some are even helpful (like by helping to keep your gut healthy), according to the National Human Genome Research Institute. But some bacteria are bad and, like viruses, can cause illness by replicating quickly in our bodies, damaging or killing cells and even tissue itself. Many disease-causing bacteria produce toxins, which are powerful chemicals that damage cells and make you sick, according to the Mayo Clinic.
"When people wonder what the difference is between a virus and a [bacterium], it's like comparing the difference between a roach and a shark," Theresa Fioritio, MD, an infectious disease specialist and director of the Family Travel Clinic at NYU Langone Hospital—Long Island, tells Health. "There are many differences: where they live (inside vs. outside our cells), what they eat, and—probably what's most relevant to us—how to kill them." (More on that last point in a bit.)
One thing viruses and bacteria have in common is that they both have the potential to cause infections and lead to mild, moderate, or severe illness, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"In recent years, as well as throughout history, we have seen pandemics and epidemics caused by viruses (eg, COVID-19, influenza, smallpox, HIV, and Ebola) and bacteria (eg, plague as the cause for the Black Death of the Middle Ages)," Dr. Bailey says.
How viruses and bacteria spread
First, let's break down how the germs are spread. Depending on the type, viruses can spread through:
- Skin-to-skin contact
- Respiratory secretions like a cough or sneeze
- Droplets when someone speaks or breathes
- Vomit, diarrhea, urine, or feces (either through the particles in the air or if someone contaminates food with it)
- Semen or vaginal discharge
That means measures like practicing safe sex, cleaning human-handled food like fruit and vegetables, and getting vaccinated against vaccine-preventable viruses can decrease your risk of getting infected by a virus.
Most people come in contact with infection-causing bacteria through:
- Direct contact with an infected person or animal
- Contact with bacteria in the air or droplets
- An insect such as a tick that has hosted on an infected person and then bites an uninfected person
- A contaminated inanimate object such as food, water, or utensil
Protecting yourself against infection-causing bacteria means taking steps similar to those for viruses, like treating water so it's safe for consumption, practicing safe sex, and vaccinating yourself and animals.
And of course, personal hygiene is key for protection against both bacteria and viruses. That's because general protective measures help to prevent many types of infections caused by bacteria (aka, bacterial infections) and viruses (aka, viral infections).
The hygiene basics are super effective: Wash your hands often, for 20 seconds, with soap and water. If soap and water isn't available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Regular hand washing helps prevent illness because viruses and bacteria can live on your hands. It's good practice to avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth unless it's completely necessary, and especially so if you've not washed your hands in a while.
You can also get rid of viruses and bacteria by sanitizing and disinfecting objects. Here's how the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) makes the distinction: "Sanitizing kills bacteria on surfaces using chemicals. It is not intended to kill viruses. Disinfecting kills viruses and bacteria on surfaces using chemicals." The EPA regulates sanitizers and disinfectants so that you can be sure that what you're using is effective.
When it comes to an infection that can be transferred through direct contact, air, or droplets, the CDC recommends keeping your distance from people who are sick to reduce your chances of catching their infection.
And again, vaccination is another way to protect yourself against bacteria and viruses. Many viral infections—including the flu, mumps, and polio—as well as many bacterial infections—like pertussis, diphtheria, tetanus, pneumococcal pneumonia, and meningococcal disease—can be prevented by vaccination, says Dr. Bailey. As such, the CDC recommends sticking to an immunization schedule to protect yourself against infection. After all, as Dr. Fioritio points out, both viruses and bacteria can be deadly.
Viral vs. bacterial infections
While bacteria and viruses are different in terms of molecular structure, they can cause infections that have similar symptoms, such as coughing, sneezing, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, and cramping. But symptoms vary depending on the specific infection and how severe it is.
Common bacterial infections include strep throat, tuberculosis, and urinary tract infections. Common viral infections include the common cold, chickenpox, and genital herpes. Obviously, all affect different parts of the body and can have a wide range of symptoms and severity.
Although bacterial and viral infections are different, they can be connected. In some cases, viral respiratory infections lead to the complication of a bacterial infection. The occurrence is known as a secondary infection, and it may be caused by changes in the immune system, according to MedlinePlus.
For instance, a 2021 study found that of 642 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 (a disease caused by a virus), 12.6% went on to develop a bacterial infection. And of 742 patients hospitalized for flu (an illness caused by a virus), 8.7% developed a bacterial infection. Having that secondary bacterial infection—which was commonly caused by staph bacteria and led to acute respiratory distress—was linked to a higher chance of death. As MedlinePlus points out, you can develop bacteria-caused pneumonia even after having a virus-caused upper respiratory infection like a cold or flu.
Treating viral and bacterial infections
If you're infected with a virus or bacterium and become sick, you might need some treatment. But how viruses and bacteria respond to medication is another difference between them.
"Viruses are treated by antiviral agents while bacteria are treated by antibacterial agents (antibiotics)," says Dr. Bailey. Antivirals can't treat bacteria, and antibiotics can't treat viruses due to the different structure of the organisms.
"Bacteria have cell walls and internal structures that can be targeted by antibiotics to either kill the organism or interrupt its life cycle," Dr. Bailey explains. "Viruses are simpler with fewer structural targets, but since they must enter into other cells to reproduce themselves, this offers antiviral agents an opportunity to work by interfering with these elements of the viral life cycle."
There are fewer therapeutic agents available to treat viruses compared to bacterial infections. But the CDC points out that antibiotics are not actually always needed in the treatment of all bacterial infections. For instance, many bacteria-caused sinus infections and some ear infections typically get better on their own; taking antibiotics when it's not necessary provides no benefit and might even result in harmful side effects.
If you are feeling ill and think you might have an infection, you can go to the doctors to find out for sure. The Mayo Clinic says medical care is especially important if you think you have an infection and have also experienced:
- An animal or a human bite
- Difficulty breathing
- A cough lasting longer than a week
- Periods of rapid heartbeat
- A rash, especially if it's accompanied by a fever
- Blurred vision or other difficulty seeing
- Persistent vomiting
- An unusual or severe headache
If you have an infection, your doctor will be able to figure out how serious it is and whether it's a virus or bacterium causing it. To do that, they can ask for your symptom history and might run diagnostic tests like taking samples of your urine, stool or blood, or a swab from your nose or throat. The results can then help them determine how to best treat your infection.
Your cloth face mask isn't protecting you against the coronavirus variant omicron, health officials say.
As common as cloth face masks have become, health experts say, they do little to prevent tiny virus particles from getting into your nose or mouth and aren't effective against the new variant.
"Cloth masks are not going to cut it with omicron," says Linsey Marr, a researcher at Virginia Tech told NPR.
Health experts are urging the public to opt for three-ply surgical masks, KN95 masks or N95 masks, which offer more protection against the highly contagious variant.
Omicron spreads more quickly and efficiently than other known coronavirus variants and is extremely transmissible – even through thick fabric face masks. Several countries, such as Germany and Austria, have surgical masks requirements in public.
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Reviewed: Where to buy N95 masks online
Should you be wearing an N95 mask? What to know and where to buy them online
The latest guidance: What to do if you test positive for COVID-19 or are exposed
So what do we need to know about which mask is most effective against omicron?
What face mask is the most effective against COVID-19?
N95, KN95 and KF94 respirators are made out of material with an electrostatic charge, which "actually pulls these particles in as they're floating around and prevents you from inhaling those particles," Dr. Abraar Karan, an infectious disease physician at Stanford University, told NPR.
Researchers at Duke University conducted a study last year to see which mask was the most effective. The N95 masks were the most effective in blocking respiratory droplets – 99% to be exact. Second-best? Surgical masks.
While being the best option for mask protection, N95s happen to be the most expensive.
Leana Wen, an emergency physician and visiting professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, said surgical masks are a great, more affordable option.
"We need to be wearing at least a three-ply surgical mask. You can wear a cloth mask on top of that, but do not just wear a cloth mask alone," Wen told CNN.
Omicron surges in the US: US focuses on testing and booster shots as omicron variant sweeps across nation
Why aren't cloth face masks effective as omicron spikes?
While cloth masks can filter large droplets, N95s can filter both large droplets and the smaller aerosols that may contain the airborne virus. N95s are also especially efficient, filtering out about 95% of airborne particles.
Infectious disease expert Steven Gordon told Cleveland Clinic that all studies show omicron is the most easily transmissible coronavirus variant, and that's why health experts urge a change in masks. Gordon added that while cloth masks help prevent the exhale of particles, it doesn't do much to prevent inhaling particles, which is a problem with omicron.
Should N95 masks still be reserved for health care staff?
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges the public to save N95 masks for health care workers. However, it was only in the first several months of the pandemic when hospitals saw a shortage in N95 masks. Now it has "been many months since the supply of N95s (has been) an issue," Wen said.
Should you be wearing an N95 mask? What to know and where to buy them online
Dr. Sabrina Assoumou, an infectious disease physician at Boston Medical Center, is among experts who recommend upgraded masks: "If you're in an indoor public setting, that's where we recommend that you wear a well-fitted, high-quality mask. With omicron and how transmissible it is, I feel that we should all be moving to wearing a higher-quality, better mask."
Some experts recommend that children wear duck-bill N95 masks for the best combination of protection and breathability.
What are the best face masks for children? Are there N95 masks for kids?
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital recommends children wear the white, duck-bill N95 masks because cloth masks "do not provide the same level of protection and should not be used."
The white duck-bill N-95 mask comes in two sizes, small and regular, and is shaped outwardly like a duck's mouth. The design was created to offer more breathability.
How to spot fake N95 or KN95 masks
The first step is to turn to the CDC and analyze its charts of N95 and KN95 masks that the agency has tested, including the make, model number and filtration efficiency. Websites such as Fakespot help consumers weed out authentic products from counterfeits, including real and fake N95 masks.
If you're purchasing a mask from Amazon, be wary of reviews in which people say they received the mask free, because that could persuade them to leave a positive review, The New York Times cautions. The Times also recommends purchasing masks through verified manufacturers such as DemeTech in Miami and Prestige Ameritech in Texas.
Certain manufactures will include a barcode consumers can scan to ensure they're buying the real product. Powecom KN95 masks have a barcode that's scannable using a phone, so whether you purchase through the website or a third party, you can verify the product.
Follow Gabriela Miranda on Twitter: @itsgabbymiranda