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Strange but true: Happiness curve offers hope

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Question: Across the life cycle, who should be happy about the recently publicized "u-shaped curve of happiness" and who might be unhappy?

Answer: Obviously, there are many inputs at play here: Yet the amazing thing is the regularity and predictability of happiness reports, based on surveys covering 2 million people in 80 nations, from Bangladesh to Sweden to Chile, reports the "University of California-Berkeley Wellness Letter." The key finding is that people tend to begin their young lives feeling relatively happy but then midlife crises can undermine this and despair can peak. This happiness low point typically hits men at about age 40 and women at age 50. Then comes the remarkable rebound: "People in their sixties and seventies, if healthy physically, tend to be as happy as young people."

This pattern holds for both men and women, singles and marrieds, and those with or without children. Oddly, nobody knows why most of us are able to bounce back. Maybe we just learn to adapt. Or maybe we finally give up unrealistic dreams. Or it could just be that the cheerful and resilient live long enough to answer questions at age 70. Whatever the reason, happiness's U-shapedness is something to keep in mind during the tough times, to know you're far from alone in your experience and to help you hang in there with justifiable expectation of climbing back up along the life- satisfaction curve.

Question: Why have sports scientists begun referring to baseball's "paradoxical pop-ups"?

Answer: Because these seemingly routine infield fly balls that go almost vertically upward can take such bizarre trajectories as to befuddle even veteran fielders, say "New Scientist" magazine and "The American Journal of Physics."

A normally struck baseball follows a predictable parabolic path. But a pop-up's backspin due to hitting the top of the bat creates a "Magnus force" like a curve ball, with a rotating sheath of air around it.

When physicists Alan Nathan and Terry Bahill ran a computer simulation to calculate a pop-up's trajectory, they found the sharply backspinning ball can at first fly at a steep angle before the backspin forces its path to vertical, then eventually sends it looping back on itself. Once it reaches its apex and begins to drop, the spinning ball crosses back over its upward path. So the fielder may need to do a little "to-and-fro dance" under the ball to make the catch.

Question: Cell phones are everywhere these days, handy and easy to use — at times too easy. How are modern cell-phones technologies and services assisting subscribers in making subterfuge calls or in averting embarrassing ones?

Answer: For $34, a Russian company will assist an adulterer in lying to a spouse about his or her whereabouts with a coverup call, says Tyler Cowen in "Discover Your Inner Economist." A service named Sound Cover gives the caller the choice of adding background sound, such as mimicking traffic, construction noises, the circus, a dentist's drill.

And don't we all know people who get drunk and in a sentimental or loquacious mood make calls they shouldn't. In one survey of mobile phone users, 95 percent had done this, mostly to ex-partners (30 percent), to current partners (19 percent) or to others such as bosses (36 percent).

To alleviate this drink-and-dial problem, an Australian phone company started offering customers blocked "blacklist" numbers, which they select before going out. In Japan, a mobile phone with a breathalyzer will check to see if someone is really fit to drive home, or even to make a phone call. "If a bus driver fails the test, his location is sent immediately to his boss by GPS."

Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@compuserve.com