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Gluten-free diets, meat-free diets, the latest Android or iPhone, new religions, new exercise equipment, and the latest home health and beauty products all promise to make us happier. But some choices we make in the pursuit of our personal happiness tend to backfire. Many readers will find some items on this list controversial, but here are 10 things lots of people do to feel better that wind up making them feel bad.
1. Having lots of great sex with beautiful strangers.
Here's an activity billions of people fantasize about, going to bed with exquisitely attractive sexual partners. When 3,900 college students who lived out this fantasy were asked about it by social scientists at the California State University at Sacramento, the most sexually active were also found to be the most anxious and the most depressed. Defining casual sex as having intercourse with someone one has known for a week or less, the Cal State research team learned that about 11% of students had casual sex in any given month. Men were more likely to have had casual sex than women, but both men and women who had one night stands were anxious about them.
2. Winning the lottery.
Everybody who wins the lottery doesn't become miserable. One couple the writer of this article knows personally won $7 million in the Lotto, but kept their jobs, gave their first year's check to air condition their community's church, took on special needs children, and 20 years later seems content. But magazines and television shows are full of stories about lottery winners who ended up worse off after their winnings than before. Why? Money allows you to escape your problems, at least as long as your money lasts, but doesn't help you overcome them.
3. Going vegetarian.
Millions of people report new energy and better health after going vegan or vegetarian. Millions more just don't tell us that they once tried the vegetarian or vegan lifestyle and left it. A study of 4,000 vegetarians in Germany found that they were more likely than omnivores to suffer anxiety, depression, hypochondria, or body image dysphoric disorders (inability for instance, to look in a mirror, feeling fat or ugly all the time), and were twice as likely to be mentally ill. The study didn't reveal whether depressed people were more likely to become vegans or vegans were more likely to become depressed. And to be fair, the German word for "meat-free" doesn't include poultry, that is, German-speaking people may identify themselves as vegetarians even if they eat chicken or eggs.
4. Not drinking in a drinking culture.
A study of 38,000 residents of Norway, a culture where hard drinking is the norm, found that teetotalers were especially likely to suffer depression. Since alcohol is a depressant, how can this be explained. In cultures where nearly everyone drinks, not drinking deprives someone of opportunities for social contact. As long as one is not waking up in a pool of vomit the next morning, controlled social drinking when one's family and friends drink is a plus for health.