Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Two Steps to a Smarter, Happier Nation

"Dr. Oz"* (of Oprah Show fame) believes that in order to do the right thing, we must make the right thing to do the easy thing to do. For instance, Dr. Oz has replaced the couch in front of his TV with a stationary bike, making it easy to sprinkle his daily routine with plenty of heart-healthy exercise. In this way, I have devised two plans that have the potential to relatively easily increase my breadth of knowledge and quality of life that might also work well for the population at large.

First, I propose educational music. Today, I memorized all of the books of the New Testament in order by listening to this song. It only took a few listens, and I think it is now stuck with me for months (and maybe years). Now I'm working on learning the capitals of hispanic countries with this video. As the inept Spanish teach in the linked video shows, educational, a'cappella songs are intrinsically self-deprecating for the singer, which only adds to the fun! 

What if the easy listening music "Muzak" we are constantly bombarded with at public establishments ("Crocodile Rock," "Brown Eyed Girl," smooth jazz, etc.) and the catchy tunes we listen to in our leisure time actually had this sort of practical application to our lives (instead of all being about love/romance/sex/moral deviancy)?

The only example in popular culture that comes close to this "educational music" I am proposing that I can think of is Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire." In addition, Bill Nye and a few other children's "edutainers" (comes from educational entertainers and is a term I just coined) have worked to build a relationship between education and popular music. However, the "edutainer" approach falls short of my vision by only targeting children and by often doing parodies of already popular songs. Let me know if you can think of any further examples of educational music in popular culture.

My second idea, regarding how to increase the general well-being of our population, is that St. John's wort become a more common, widely-marketed dietary supplement for your average Joe. For those who aren't familiar with it, St. John's wort is a plant often used as an herbal treatment for depression (and it has been widely documented as an effective treatment for mild forms). It is an over-the-counter dietary supplement with minimal side effects that induces positive mood. 

I have designed an experiment, starting today, that seeks to test the effectiveness of St. John's wort on a person not suffering from depression (i.e., me). I track my mood on a 9-point scale (5 being neutral, 1 being "depths-of-despair" and 9 being "cloud 9") three times per day and will continue to do so for two months. For the first week (this week), I will not take St. John's wort, and then for the following seven weeks I will consume it at the recommended dose for the mildly depressed. At the end of the two months, I will chart the mood records to reveal the results. I have confirmed with a medical doctor that this study should not pose any significant threats to my health.

I realize the obvious weaknesses of this study: the subjectivity of self-evaluated moods, the placebo effect, etc. Nonetheless, I think the study has the potential to yield some interesting results that might suggest the need for further, more reputable research. If it does induce an almost euphoric mood in an already happy person, I think it could help us "all just get along" a little better. Expect a post soon on the progress of this cutting-edge experiment!

*Note: I do not endorse Dr. Oz.

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