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Posted in Go Travel

Go Snorkeling!

Ilha Grande, Brazil

Intrepid travelers know that when you’re exhausted from exploring historical sites, when you can’t stand the thought of visiting one more museum, and you’ve trudged through every open-air market, there’s only one thing left to do—head underwater.

While scuba divers have the most freedom to explore underwater, snorkeling is easy enough for children, and exciting enough for even the most jaded traveler. Whether you’re taking your budding marine biologist to explore an underwater ecosystem or simply want to get up close and personal with a friendly shark, snorkeling is an opportunity to truly immerse yourself in nature.

To help plan your next adventure, we’ve pulled together 10 of the best places to snorkel around the world. The list ranges from U.S. National Parks to once-in-a-lifetime vacation destinations like the Maldives or Komodo Island. Whichever one you end up visiting, you’ll see underwater sights that would make your jaw drop—if you weren’t breathing through a snorkel, of course.

The underwater scenery in these islands, atolls, cayes, and reefs is unmatched, but sadly climate change is endangering the watery wonderland. Coral bleaching is already affecting many of the world’s reefs, coral is disappearing across the globe, and some scientists expect it could die out entirely as soon as 2050. Even more of a reason to start planning that snorkeling trip you’ve been dreaming about.

Posted in Let's eat

Eat Desserts!

When it comes to dessert, the HuffPost Taste editors have got you covered. Between chocolate brownies, homemade ice cream, chocolate chip cookies, layer cakes and fruit pies, we got dessert on our minds all day long. (And this is not an overstatement.) You could even say that we’re somewhat of experts when it comes to all things sugar — at least in terms of knowing the best recipes. And so, we thought it only fair to take our dessert knowledge and share it with you.

We’ve put together a collection of the 50 best dessert recipes you can find across all of our favorite food blogs. We’re warning you: these desserts are epic. You will not be able to resist them. So click through the slideshow below, and be prepared to get baking.

Posted in Cheer up

Random Facts to Cheer You Up

1. MaleCra

For a brief moment in time, you were a moment in someone’s life. A mere extra, passing through their thoughts in milliseconds, but milliseconds of their story nonetheless. For every person you’ve exchanged eye contact with, you have made a contribution to their existence, be it significant or not.

2. fuzzum111

FACT: If you were to take a live sea sponge, blenderize it, then leave the sea sponge smoothie to sit over night. When you woke up in the morning, you’d find that the surviving sea sponge cells have found each other and started to reform a new sea sponge.

3. Whacked_Bear

You were once the youngest person in the whole universe.

4. EvanTreborn

The word “suns” is written the same way upside down.

5. danrennt98

That there’s a spooky skeleton inside of you!

6. KHDTX13

Every cow has their own best friend that they hang around every day.

7. igby23

There’s an island called Ōkunoshima in Japan that’s filled with tame bunnies.

8. IranianGenius

Each year, hundreds of trees grow because squirrels forget where they buried their food.

9. Tigrael

If you took the whole solar system and shrunk it down so that the Sun was at your head and the orbit of Pluto was at your feet, Uranus would be just where you’d expect it to be.

10. guy-le-doosh

During the space race, the Apollo astronauts were given sleeves in which to put their dicks and piss in a bag. The problem was that they kept slipping off, because none of them would take first two of the three size options: Small, Medium, Large.
Instead of redesigning the entire system, NASA came up with a simple solution. They relabeled them as Large, Gigantic, and Humongous. The problem was solved.

Posted in Happiness

A Formula for Happiness

HAPPINESS has traditionally been considered an elusive and evanescent thing. To some, even trying to achieve it is an exercise in futility. It has been said that “happiness is as a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”

Social scientists have caught the butterfly. After 40 years of research, they attribute happiness to three major sources: genes, events and values. Armed with this knowledge and a few simple rules, we can improve our lives and the lives of those around us. We can even construct a system that fulfills our founders’ promises and empowers all Americans to pursue happiness.

Psychologists and economists have studied happiness for decades. They begin simply enough — by asking people how happy they are.

The richest data available to social scientists is the University of Chicago’s General Social Survey, a survey of Americans conducted since 1972. This widely used resource is considered the scholarly gold standard for understanding social phenomena. The numbers on happiness from the survey are surprisingly consistent. Every other year for four decades, roughly a third of Americans have said they’re “very happy,” and about half report being “pretty happy.” Only about 10 to 15 percent typically say they’re “not too happy.” Psychologists have used sophisticated techniques to verify these responses, and such survey results have proved accurate.

Beneath these averages are some demographic differences. For many years, researchers found that women were happier than men, although recent studies contend that the gap has narrowed or may even have been reversed. Political junkies might be interested to learn that conservative women are particularly blissful: about 40 percent say they are very happy. That makes them slightly happier than conservative men and significantly happier than liberal women. The unhappiest of all are liberal men; only about a fifth consider themselves very happy.

But even demographically identical people vary in their happiness. What explains this?

The first answer involves our genes. Researchers at the University of Minnesota have tracked identical twins who were separated as infants and raised by separate families. As genetic carbon copies brought up in different environments, these twins are a social scientist’s dream, helping us disentangle nature from nurture. These researchers found that we inherit a surprising proportion of our happiness at any given moment — around 48 percent. (Since I discovered this, I’ve been blaming my parents for my bad moods.)

If about half of our happiness is hard-wired in our genes, what about the other half? It’s tempting to assume that one-time events — like getting a dream job or an Ivy League acceptance letter — will permanently bring the happiness we seek. And studies suggest that isolated events do control a big fraction of our happiness — up to 40 percent at any given time.

But while one-off events do govern a fair amount of our happiness, each event’s impact proves remarkably short-lived. People assume that major changes like moving to California or getting a big raise will make them permanently better off. They won’t. Huge goals may take years of hard work to meet, and the striving itself may be worthwhile, but the happiness they create dissipates after just a few months.

So don’t bet your well-being on big one-off events. The big brass ring is not the secret to lasting happiness.

To review: About half of happiness is genetically determined. Up to an additional 40 percent comes from the things that have occurred in our recent past — but that won’t last very long.

That leaves just about 12 percent. That might not sound like much, but the good news is that we can bring that 12 percent under our control. It turns out that choosing to pursue four basic values of faith, family, community and work is the surest path to happiness, given that a certain percentage is genetic and not under our control in any way.

The first three are fairly uncontroversial. Empirical evidence that faith, family and friendships increase happiness and meaning is hardly shocking. Few dying patients regret overinvesting in rich family lives, community ties and spiritual journeys.

Work, though, seems less intuitive. Popular culture insists our jobs are drudgery, and one survey recently made headlines by reporting that fewer than a third of American workers felt engaged; that is praised, encouraged, cared for and several other gauges seemingly aimed at measuring how transcendently fulfilled one is at work.

Those criteria are too high for most marriages, let alone jobs. What if we ask something simpler: “All things considered, how satisfied are you with your job?” This simpler approach is more revealing because respondents apply their own standards. This is what the General Social Survey asks, and the results may surprise. More than 50 percent of Americans say they are “completely satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their work. This rises to over 80 percent when we include “fairly satisfied.” This finding generally holds across income and education levels.

This shouldn’t shock us. Vocation is central to the American ideal, the root of the aphorism that we “live to work” while others “work to live.” Throughout our history, America’s flexible labor markets and dynamic society have given its citizens a unique say over our work — and made our work uniquely relevant to our happiness. When Frederick Douglass rhapsodized about “patient, enduring, honest, unremitting and indefatigable work, into which the whole heart is put,” he struck the bedrock of our culture and character.

I’m a living example of the happiness vocation can bring in a flexible labor market. I was a musician from the time I was a young child. That I would do it for a living was a foregone conclusion. When I was 19, I skipped college and went on the road playing the French horn. I played classical music across the world and landed in the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra.

 I was probably “somewhat satisfied” with my work. But in my late 20s the novelty wore off, and I began plotting a different future. I called my father back in Seattle: “Dad, I’ve got big news. I’m quitting music to go back to school!”

“You can’t just drop everything,” he objected. “It’s very irresponsible.”

“But I’m not happy,” I told him.

There was a long pause, and finally he asked, “What makes you so special?!”

But I’m really not special. I was lucky — lucky to be able to change roads to one that made me truly happy. After going back to school, I spent a blissful decade as a university professor and wound up running a Washington think tank.

Along the way, I learned that rewarding work is unbelievably important, and this is emphatically not about money. That’s what research suggests as well. Economists find that money makes truly poor people happier insofar as it relieves pressure from everyday life — getting enough to eat, having a place to live, taking your kid to the doctor. But scholars like the Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman have found that once people reach a little beyond the average middle-class income level, even big financial gains don’t yield much, if any, increases in happiness.

So relieving poverty brings big happiness, but income, per se, does not. Even after accounting for government transfers that support personal finances, unemployment proves catastrophic for happiness. Abstracted from money, joblessness seems to increase the rates of divorce and suicide, and the severity of disease.

And according to the General Social Survey, nearly three-quarters of Americans wouldn’t quit their jobs even if a financial windfall enabled them to live in luxury for the rest of their lives. Those with the least education, the lowest incomes and the least prestigious jobs were actually most likely to say they would keep working, while elites were more likely to say they would take the money and run. We would do well to remember this before scoffing at “dead-end jobs.”

Assemble these clues and your brain will conclude what your heart already knew: Work can bring happiness by marrying our passions to our skills, empowering us to create value in our lives and in the lives of others. Franklin D. Roosevelt had it right: “Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.”

In other words, the secret to happiness through work is earned success.

This is not conjecture; it is driven by the data. Americans who feel they are successful at work are twice as likely to say they are very happy overall as people who don’t feel that way. And these differences persist after controlling for income and other demographics.

You can measure your earned success in any currency you choose. You can count it in dollars, sure — or in kids taught to read, habitats protected or souls saved. When I taught graduate students, I noticed that social entrepreneurs who pursued nonprofit careers were some of my happiest graduates. They made less money than many of their classmates, but were no less certain that they were earning their success. They defined that success in nonmonetary terms and delighted in it.

If you can discern your own project and discover the true currency you value, you’ll be earning your success. You will have found the secret to happiness through your work.

There’s nothing new about earned success. It’s simply another way of explaining what America’s founders meant when they proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that humans’ inalienable rights include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

This moral covenant links the founders to each of us today. The right to define our happiness, work to attain it and support ourselves in the process — to earn our success — is our birthright. And it is our duty to pass this opportunity on to our children and grandchildren.

But today that opportunity is in peril. Evidence is mounting that people at the bottom are increasingly stuck without skills or pathways to rise. Research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston shows that in the 1980s, 21 percent of Americans in the bottom income quintile would rise to the middle quintile or higher over a 10-year period. By 2005, that percentage had fallen by nearly a third, to 15 percent. And a 2007 Pew analysis showed that mobility is more than twice as high in Canada and most of Scandinavia than it is in the United States.

This is a major problem, and advocates of free enterprise have been too slow to recognize it. It is not enough to assume that our system blesses each of us with equal opportunities. We need to fight for the policies and culture that will reverse troubling mobility trends. We need schools that serve children’s civil rights instead of adults’ job security. We need to encourage job creation for the most marginalized and declare war on barriers to entrepreneurship at all levels, from hedge funds to hedge trimming. And we need to revive our moral appreciation for the cultural elements of success.

We must also clear up misconceptions. Free enterprise does not mean shredding the social safety net, but championing policies that truly help vulnerable people and build an economy that can sustain these commitments. It doesn’t mean reflexively cheering big business, but leveling the playing field so competition trumps cronyism. It doesn’t entail “anything goes” libertinism, but self-government and self-control. And it certainly doesn’t imply that unfettered greed is laudable or even acceptable.

Free enterprise gives the most people the best shot at earning their success and finding enduring happiness in their work. It creates more paths than any other system to use one’s abilities in creative and meaningful ways, from entrepreneurship to teaching to ministry to playing the French horn. This is hardly mere materialism, and it is much more than an economic alternative. Free enterprise is a moral imperative.

To pursue the happiness within our reach, we do best to pour ourselves into faith, family, community and meaningful work. To share happiness, we need to fight for free enterprise and strive to make its blessings accessible to all.

Posted in Happiness

There’s More to Life Than Being Happy

“It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness.”

In September 1942, Viktor Frankl, a prominent Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist in Vienna, was arrested and transported to a Nazi concentration camp with his wife and parents. Three years later, when his camp was liberated, most of his family, including his pregnant wife, had perished — but he, prisoner number 119104, had lived. In his bestselling 1946 book, Man’s Search for Meaning, which he wrote in nine days about his experiences in the camps, Frankl concluded that the difference between those who had lived and those who had died came down to one thing: Meaning, an insight he came to early in life. When he was a high school student, one of his science teachers declared to the class, “Life is nothing more than a combustion process, a process of oxidation.” Frankl jumped out of his chair and responded, “Sir, if this is so, then what can be the meaning of life?”‘

As he saw in the camps, those who found meaning even in the most horrendous circumstances were far more resilient to suffering than those who did not. “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing,” Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning, “the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Frankl worked as a therapist in the camps, and in his book, he gives the example of two suicidal inmates he encountered there. Like many others in the camps, these two men were hopeless and thought that there was nothing more to expect from life, nothing to live for. “In both cases,” Frankl writes, “it was a question of getting them to realize that life was still expecting something from them; something in the future was expected of them.” For one man, it was his young child, who was then living in a foreign country. For the other, a scientist, it was a series of books that he needed to finish. Frankl writes:

This uniqueness and singleness which distinguishes each individual and gives a meaning to his existence has a bearing on creative work as much as it does on human love. When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude. A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how.”

Posted in Happiness

What Makes Us Happy?

Is there a formula—some mix of love, work, and psychological adaptation—for a good life? For 72 years, researchers at Harvard have been examining this question, following 268 men who entered college in the late 1930s through war, career, marriage and divorce, parenthood and grandparenthood, and old age. Here, for the first time, a journalist gains access to the archive of one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history. Its contents, as much literature as science, offer profound insight into the human condition—and into the brilliant, complex mind of the study’s longtime director, George Vaillant.