Good Ideas for Happiness

happyIs there a recipe for happiness? Researchers increasingly have looked at factors which lead to happiness. Here are seven provocative ideas:

1) To Be Happy, Earn $60k Per Year

Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman points out the people earning less than $60k per year are progressively more unhappy the less they earn, but folks over $60k are all basically at the same level of happiness. My Money Blog

2) Move to Costa Rica

Costa Rica is chosen as “happiest country on earth” in 2009 Happy Planet Index.

3) Win a Bronze Medal

US researchers have concluded that olympic bronze medal winners are happier than silver medal winners. Silver = “almost gold”, while bronze = “almost nothing”.

4) Don’t Fight with your Spouse — Raise you Blood Sugar

Psychologists at Ohio State University show a correlation between spouse hostility and low blood sugar.

5) Add Lithium to the Water Supply

Studies in Japan show that lithium in the water supply helps avert suicides.

6) Grow Older

Researchers show that happiness increases with time, with sharp increases after age 50. NY Times

7) Global Orgasm for Peace

Synchronized annual global orgasm on Winter Solstice in order to “effect positive change in the energy field of the Earth through input of the largest possible source of human energy, a Synchronized Global Orgasm”. Seen at

To comment or vote on these (or other) ideas – or add your own! – visit Good Ideas.

Toilet Innovations

latrine2.5 billion people around the world do not have access to safe, affordable sanitation. For those that do have access, sanitation facilities are often bad for the environment. There is clearly a need to rethink sanitation — and to reinvent the toilet — for both developing and developed countries.

Here are five current Good Ideas relating to toilet innovation:

1) Reinvent the Toilet

Gates Foundation chooses three winning designs in their “reinvent the toilet” competition. Economist

2) Electricity from Human Waste

The Humanure Project in India uses biogas generators to produce electricity from human waste. Dell Social Innovation Challenge 2nd place (of 4000) 2012.

3) Turn Waste into a Resource

Project SOIL in Haiti installs composting toilets which promote both health and agriculture. Forbes

4) Safer Pit Latrines for $1.50

A plastic $1.50 retrofit on pit latrines blocks bugs which spread disease. Popular Science Innovation 2013.

5) Half-flush Toilets

Many new toilets have two handles or buttons for flush, one for a full flush and one for half a flush. This saves lots of water and helps the environment.

To comment or vote on these (or other) ideas – or add your own! – visit Good Ideas.

Are the World’s Best Ideas Hidden in PDFs?

The World Bank spends many millions of dollars on sophisticated policy analysis resulting in well-researched policy recommendations. Most of the information — data, analysis, recommendations — end up in PDF documents which are posted on the Bank’s site. Does anyone read the PDF documents? In a recent analytics review, the Bank found that nearly one-third of documents have zero downloads. Another 40% have been downloaded less than a paltry 100 times. Only 13% had more than a modest 250 downloads.


Congratulations to the Bank for analyzing these data and publicly questioning the value of PDF documents. Bank blog and Twitter accounts likely get more attention — but even there, the attention is fleeting. The good ideas have a moment in the sun, and then disappear.

More information is available on the Washington Post Wonkblog.

We need a better way to capture, archive, categorize, tag, rank, and share good ideas!

Paradoxical Ideas

boxSometimes the best ideas for solving problems are the exact opposite of what you might first think. These “paradoxical ideas” are useful to consider not only because they probably are effective, but also because they inspire us to think creatively and without preconceptions about a wide range of solutions.

Here are five that are particularly paradoxical:

1) Pay Alcoholics with Alcohol

A well-regarded Amsterdam program gets homeless alcoholics working again by paying them with beer. NY Times

2) Don’t Worry About Auto Safety

Why is there so much attention about auto safety and manufacturer recalls when nearly all accidents are caused by human error? Shouldn’t we worry more about that? NY Times

3) Don’t Reduce Traffic Jams

Efforts to alleviate traffic jams only encourage more cars and create more sprawl. Traffic jams encourage ridership on more efficient mass transit. Wall Street Journal

4) Forget About Global Climate Agreements

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu argues that we should expend less efforts on international treaties and more effort on bilateral discussions with China. The US and China combined create 40% of the world’s pollution. An innovative, aggressive, bilateral treaty will represent great progress, and encourage other nations to join. Wired Magazine profile

5) Never Punt 

Statistical analysis suggests that punting in football almost never pays off. Teams should never (or almost never) punt. Time Magazine

And as a bonus, how about this paradoxical idea?:

6) For Road Safety, Get Rid of Stoplights, Road Signs, Crosswalks

The “shared space” movement in Europe promotes road safety by getting rid of traffic laws, stoplights, road signs, and crosswalks. This encourages everyone to be careful and cooperate. It has been adopted in over 100 cities. Christian Science Monitor

To comment or vote on these (or other) ideas – or add your own! – visit Good Ideas.

Five Good Ideas for Making Elections Fairer

voteAs disenchantment grows with the electoral process in America, there are many excellent ideas for making elections fairer — some actively in use in other countries. Here are five:

Fewer Voters: Statistically choosing a subset of voters will make elections cheaper, lead to more informed choices, insulate against money politics, and allow for more elections and democracy.

Establish Redistricting Commissions: A politically neutral redistrcting commission, such as California’s Citizens Redistricting Commission, will make Congressional races more balanced and Congress more centrist.

Rectangular Districts: To avoid gerrymandering (with districts with long tentacles), require that all Congressional districts need to be rectangular (dimensions depending on population).

Adopt “Alternative Voting”: “Alternative Voting”, such as employed in Australia, allows voters to designate their first and second choices. If the first choice loses, your second choice gets the vote. This favors third party candidates and increased competition.

Bypass the Electoral College: A national initiative seeks to bypass the Electoral College and elect the President via popular vote. Without amending the Constitution, it calls on states to commit all electoral votes to the candidate winning the popular vote.


To comment or vote on these (or other) ideas – or add your own! – visit Good Ideas.

Controling Methane

cowThe Obama Administration has unveiled new plans to cut methane involving oil and gas production, landfills, and cattle. Targeting methane makes sense: it is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.

Policies to capture methane from oil and gas production are particularly timely given the current natural gas boom. A recent study shows a large increase in methane release — with methane levels over Texas as the highest of any state.  The Japanese are also developing technologies to use methane hydrate which also may result in increased methane release.

Cows are a major source of methane, both from manure and flatulance. HP researchers propose putting data centers near cow farms to use methane to power the center.  Others propose switching away from beef to other sources of protein, including rabbit production and kangaroo.

Methane is the classic bad news, good news story. It is really bad for the environment. It is also a really good energy source. Through better capture and reuse, we can avoid the problems and enjoy the benefits of methane.


Five Smart Policies for Improving Public Health

The laws passed by federal and state politicians have great impact on public health. Here are five smart policies government can employ to improve the state of health in the US.

1) Tax Soda

A penny per ounce tax on soda will cut obesity, decrease medical problems, and pay for better school lunches. Nice NY Times review

2) Ratify the International Tobacco Treaty

168 countries have signed and ratified the international Tobacco Treaty. The US has signed the treaty but not ratified it. The Treaty puts a number of sensible limits on tobacco sales and marketing. Time to send the treaty to the Senate! A “top ten” idea 2010.

3) Return Speed Limit to 55 MPH

The lifting of the 55 mph speed limit in 1995 has resulted in over 12,000 additional deaths – more than Iraq, Afghanistan and 9/11 combined. Higher speeds also burn way more fuel. Freakonomics blog:

4) Regulate Fast Food Restaurants Through Zoning Laws

In an effort to improve public health, L.A. now regulates fast food restaurants within certain zones. NY Times “best of 2008” idea.

5) Regulate Thirdhand Smoke

We all know about the dangers of secondhand smoke, but what about all of the smoke residue and toxins that settle on our clothing, furniture and walls (“thirdhand smoke”)?

To comment or vote on these (or other) ideas – or add your own! – visit Good Ideas.

If You Don’t Know What To Do With Your Life — Here Are Three Good Ideas

There is an old saying that if you want to be happy, choose the biggest problem you can find and tackle it.

Here are three big problems – involving health, global development, environment – that remarkably haven’t been solved yet. Maybe you can assist?

Hospital Infections

Hospital infections are a $2 billion per year problem.  We’ve tried high tech methods to encourage washing hands, surgical masks that kill pathogens, even germ-killing paint. Yet hospitals remain dangerous places, killing an estimated 440,000 people per year through errors, including infection. This seems like an problem which should be fixable.


Studies demonstrate that investing in nutrition is one of the most cost-effective ways to promote global development. Techniques include small scale food fortification, iron supplementation, and school-based deworming programs. Nutrition programs are relatively inexpensive. Why is there still malnutrition?

Tire Inflation

Most people drive on significantly under-inflated tires. This wastes fuel, harms the environment, and is unsafe. In the old days gas station attendants would check your tires. These days nobody does. Can we fix this problem?

Each of these problems impacts millions of people. They don’t seem complicated. Can we fix all three and be done with it?

Five Good Ideas For Detecting Epidemics

One way to detect epidemics

As with a forest fire, if you can detect an epidemic early, it is much easier to control. Here are five good ideas for detecting epidemics (and diseases) before they spin out of control.

1) Use Google to Detect and Prevent Epidemics Early

The Predict and Prevent Initiative at Google uses search analysis to detect epidemics at early stages. A Wired Magazine “smart idea” 2008.

2) Use Social Media for Online Disease Surveillance

Researchers have shown that combining an awareness of social networks with search data, better early detection systems for disease outbreaks can be designed.

3) Detect Drug Epidemics Via Community Urinalysis

Researchers can sample water at sewage treatment plants to detect drug epidemics and monitor progress in treatment – all anonymously.

4) Food Wrapping Detects Pathogens

New Canadian meat wrapping materials turn color in presence of certain pathogens.

5) Cough Into Your iPhone for Instant Diagnosis

Cough into your iPhone – new app will diagnose your ailment.

To comment or vote on these (or other) ideas – or add your own! – visit Good Ideas.