Tag Archives: happiness

Dutch vs. French: Who is happier?

This weekend I had the opportunity to visit Amsterdam with some friends! We explored, went out, and soaked up the Dutch culture as much as we could in one day. While we were there, the environment, or “vibe,” was noticeably different in Amsterdam compared to what I have observed during my last three weeks in Paris. Dutch people seemed to be happier and more welcoming compared to the French.

Gorgeous Amsterdam

This first indication that Dutch people are nicer was that our taxi driver was loud, happy, and making jokes with us. During the ride, he was asking where we were from, giving us advice, and telling us himself how people are happy here. Even throughout the trip, we came across numerous people who would actually smile at us while walking! I kept thinking to myself, “Wow, I can smile here and not get a sketchy response back!” People would talk to us, joke with us, and welcome us into their city with open arms. One man even came up to us when we looked confused to ask if we needed help to get where we needed. It was almost comforting to be around these people because I got that taste of America during my time in Amsterdam.

Meanwhile in Paris, people seem to be serious and in the zone. The crammed metro rides and the stereotyped city life really becomes apparent here in Paris. Although most people are nice and helpful, the impression that they give off seems cold and rigid. Quite honestly, they seem unamused with all the Americans that are in their city. Constantly, people are crammed and trying to get through by pushing and shoving to get where they need to go. With a “pardon” here and there, the Parisian way of life seems more stressful than the seemingly laid back Dutch culture.

Besides the mood that I am interpreting based on my interactions with both groups of people, the Dutch people also seem to be happier. When comparing overall mood of people in these two cities, I assume that people in Amsterdam seem to be happier than people in Paris. I may be completely on a whim here, but I really wonder what kinds of experiences and events can shape people’s moods. Although it is a precarious topic, I wonder if the legalization of marijuana attributes to the better mood and happiness in Dutch people, and if the long-term use can results in something detrimental to mental health.

Cannabis is used to enhance mood and at times quality of life (Fischer et al., 2015). A study analyzed an Australian cohort over time to study outcomes of the people. Quality of life, happiness, satisfaction and socio-demographic characteristics were taken into consideration when analyzing. The results provided by this study showed that frequent cannabis use did not enhance quality of life, and it was actually associated with low quality of life at 21-years old and up (Fisher et al., 2015).

Another study by Bruijnzeel et al. (2019), they authors were studying rats and how emotional behavior or cognitive function can change from adolescence to adulthood. The rats were exposed to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or cannabis smoke with increasing doses. Once the rats reached adulthood, anxiety-like behavior, depressive like behavior, and cognitive function were assessed. The results showed that neither THC nor cannabis smokes during adolescence produced significant amounts of alterations in adult rats after the cannabis was abstained.

One study even compared synthetic cannabinoid use with natural cannabis use and their respective cognitive outcomes. The results showed that synthetic cannabinoid users have a higher likelihood of drug abuse, sleep problems, and other psychological problems compared to natural cannabis users (Mensen et al., 2019). Additionally, adolescents cannabis users seem to be more vulnerable to changes in the brain compared to adult cannabis users (Gorey et al., 2019).

All of these papers can be synthesized to conclude that cannabis use does not directly affect long term happiness, especially of an entire culture. It is important to consider that cannabis use, although legal in some places, can be dangerous long term. For example, grey matter volume differences can arise, especially during the vulnerable adolescent stage of life (Orr et al., 2019). I think that some people may seem happier because of alleged cannabis use (purely based off of assumption), but the research did not conclude that the use of marijuana is the direct cause of a seemingly happier society. Based on my literature search, there seems to be a fine line when it comes to using cannabis because there are still long term cognitive changes that can interfere with life (Akram et al., 2019). Although my question and assumption was not answered how I thought it would, it was interesting to see how variable cannabis consumption can be. From this, I still consider the Dutch to be happier than Parisians. However, maybe I am not giving the Parisians the benefit of the doubt, and maybe they are equally happy! We may never know the answer to that question.

Happy Tourists!



Akram, H., Mokrysz, C., & Curran, H. V. (2019). What are the psychological effects of using synthetic cannabinoids? A systematic review. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 33(3), 271–283. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269881119826592

Bruijnzeel, A. W., Knight, P., Panunzio, S., Xue, S., Bruner, M. M., Wall, S. C., … Setlow, B. (2019). Effects in rats of adolescent exposure to cannabis smoke or THC on emotional behavior and cognitive function in adulthood. Psychopharmacology. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-019-05255-7

Fischer, J. A., Clavarino, A. M., Plotnikova, M., & Najman, J. M. (2015). Cannabis Use and Quality of Life of Adolescents and Young Adults: Findings from an Australian Birth Cohort. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 47(2), 107–116. https://doi.org/10.1080/02791072.2015.1014121

Gorey, C., Kuhns, L., Smaragdi, E., Kroon, E., & Cousijn, J. (2019). Age-related differences in the impact of cannabis use on the brain and cognition: a systematic review. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience,269(1), 37–58. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00406-019-00981-7

Mensen, V. T., Vreeker, A., Nordgren, J., Atkinson, A., de la Torre, R., Farré, M., … Brunt, T. M. (2019). Psychopathological symptoms associated with synthetic cannabinoid use: a comparison with natural cannabis. Psychopharmacology. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-019-05238-8

Orr, C., Spechler, P., Cao, Z., Albaugh, M., Chaarani, B., Mackey, S., … Garavan, H. (2019). Grey Matter Volume Differences Associated with Extremely Low Levels of Cannabis Use in Adolescence. The Journal of Neuroscience, 39(10), 1817–1827. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3375-17.2018


Scholar Blogs and my own images

A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Paris

This Saturday marks my 23rd week in Paris. As I get more acquainted with and orientated in this beautiful city full of history and modernity, I feel increasingly happy with my decision to study abroad here.

I lived with a home stay in the 8th arrondissement for 5 months before moving to the Cité Universitaire for these last 5 weeks. [image source: Google Maps]

Delving fully into the language and culture, I’ve had the opportunity to see the polar opposite sides of a resident filled Paris in January to the overwhelming influx of tourists starting early April. Despite the heat of an underground metro without air-conditioning and the invasion of foreigners in a city I now claim as my own, I find myself more in love and happier with my Parisian experience every day as I near my final weeks here.

Lately, I’ve noticed the city stays light long past dinnertime so I take the scenic route home while I usually head straight back to my room to start my work.   However, am I really succumbing to the City of Love . . . or is the lingering sun really the cause of my increased feelings of happiness and simultaneous difficulty in focusing on my work? At a latitude of 48.8457°N, Paris currently experiences days that last over 16 hours (Sun and Moon, 2015). Due to such a northern latitude, we get 2 more hours of daylight to explore the city here in Paris than the 14-hour days Emory University receives in Atlanta, GA.

Sunset at the base of the Eiffel Tower at 9:35pm on May 26th, 2015

Sunset at the base of the Eiffel Tower at 9:35pm on May 26th, 2015

Light on Happiness

The circadian rhythm follows a 24-hour clock that changes our biological, mental, and behavioral processes in response to light and dark (Jackson, 2014). Light, a main natural cue we receive from our environment, regulates these rhythms and is affected by changes in daylight from one season to the next. While little research has been published showing that sunlight will actually make you happier, many studies have been conducted on the topic of light significantly easing depression. A current study aims to artificially mimic the effects of daylight through the use of light therapy for clinically depressed patients suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), where symptoms of depression manifest particularly during winter months when there is a marked decrease in available sunlight (Reeves et al., 2012). Participants received 1 hour of bright light therapy and 1 hour of placebo (a dim red light used as a phony treatment and expected to have no clinical affect) in a randomized order. Using two different self-reporting depression scales, the Profile of Mood States-Depression-Dejection subscale and the Beck Depression Inventory II, Reeves et al. measured patients’ depressed mood before the start of the experiment, after hour 1 of treatment, and after hour 2 of treatment. Researchers found a statistically significant decrease in self-rated depression scores after treatment from before starting the light therapy.  Multiple neurotransmitters, molecular compounds that neurons release in order to communicate with other neurons, are responsible for this rapid mood change. Upon light therapy stimulation, serotonin (a main neurotransmitter responsible for mood balance and involved in seasonal depression) was found to rise at a rate directly correlated to the amount of light administered (Reeves et al., 2012). Our long summer days in Paris allow for natural sessions of light therapy, which in turn leads to happier people.

Light on Attention

So now that I know why I feel happier, I also wondered if these lengthened spring nights in Paris could be having a reverse effect on my ability to concentrate on tasks rather than blaming my lack of motivation on an increasing infatuation with the “City of Love.” As we approach the longest day of the year during the summer solstice on June 21st, the day will be 7 hours and 56 minutes longer than it was when I arrived in the middle of winter (Sun and Moon, 2015). Not only am I staying outdoors longer, I’m going to bed 2-3 hours later than during the spring semester, while still waking up at the same hour as I did in winter. As the days lengthen and we stay more active, the potential for sleep deprivation and associated negative impacts on the brain’s ability to perform increase. Further, certain individuals can be more vulnerable to sleep deprivation, amplifying the resulting impact on performance and sleepiness (Chua et al., 2014). So, as we approach June 21st, I am reminded of the erratic behavior of the young lovers and comedic actors I saw in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream at La Comédie Française this April. Perhaps it wasn’t the meddlesome fairies after all, but rather neuroscience that would suggest they were vulnerable to sleep deprivation caused by the long summer day!

Le songe d’une nuit d’été à la Comédie Française/ Production of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Comédie Française

Le songe d’une nuit d’été à la Comédie Française/ Production of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Comédie Française

~ Amy Yeh


Chua EC-P, Yeo S-C, Lee IT-G, Tan L-C, Lau P, Cai S, Zhang X, Puvanendran K, Gooley J (2014) Sustained Attention Performance during Sleep Deprivation Associates with Instability in Behavior and Physiologic Measures at Baseline. Sleep 37(1): 27-39.

Jackson C, Capozzi M, Dai H, McMahon DG (2014) Circadian Perinatal Photoperiod Has Enduring Effects on Retinal Dopamine and Visual Function. The Journal of Neuroscience 34(13): 4627-4633.

Reeves G, Nijjar GV, Langenberg P, Johnson MA, Khabazghazvini B, Sleemi A, Vaswani D, Lapidus M, Manalai P, Tariq M, Acharya M, Cabassa J, Snitker S, Postolache TT (2012) Improvement in Depression Scores After 1 Hour of Light Therapy Treatment in Patients With Seasonal Affective Disorder. Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease 200 (1): 51–55.

Sun and Moon. (2015, May 1). In Time and Date. Retrieved from http://www.timeanddate.com/astronomy/france/paris