PoW newsletter: red hot Valentine's special

Welcome to this special Valentine's Day newsletter, which I am writing from a gorgeous, although almost completely empty, hotel in the mountains of Norway - a hotel that was, in fact, originally established as a TB sanitorium at the end of the 19th century by my great-great-grandfather. It's very beautiful here. Good job, great-great-granddad.
So, Valentine's Day! You need me to answer one question, and one question only: will your date put out on the first night? Lucky for us, the genius blogger over at dating website OKcupid.com has been analyzing all the data from profiles and questionnaires on the website, and has come out with some conclusions. Apparently, the best predictor of whether women will sleep with guys on a first date is to ask them if they like beer. Girls who like beer are 60% more likely to put out than girls who don't. As for boys, the best predictor of sexual freedom is if they think it would be "kind of exciting" if there was a nuclear war. Read the full report here.

So, the date goes well, you lean in for the kiss...but what does the quality of the first kiss mean, for the rest of your relationship? Everything, according to Sheril Kirshenbaum, scientist at the University of Texas. She has just released a new book called The Science of Kissing, which is full of such interesting kiss-facts as: "59% of men and 66% of women say they have ended a budding relationship because of a bad kiss. It turns out that our sense of smell may be partially responsible as we pick up subconscious clues about the other person's DNA or reproductive status. Biologist Claus Wedekind found that women are most attracted to the scent of men who have a very different genetic code immune system than their own in a region known as the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). This may be because potential children would have a higher level of genetic diversity, making them healthier and more likely to survive. In this manner, kissing serves as nature's ultimate litmus test to help us determine when to pursue a relationship."

So you have an amazing snog and hook up with your date. But just how successful will your relationship be? Social psychologists Kathleen Vohs, Roy Baumeister and Catrin Finkenauer released a study at the end of last year suggesting that the strongest relationships are those where the two partners have the highest combined self-control. Though they did also find that, in the most successful relationships, one partner tended to have slightly more self-control than the other - so maybe if you're a serious control freak, you should find a slightly less uptight partner (and vice versa).

But that sounds boring, right? Who wants an incredibly self-controlled relationship? I want passion, steam, spontaneity, sinfulness! You too? Well, before you plunge into a torrid inferno of passion, perhaps you should read this article by Christian Jarrett, chief blogger at the British Psychology Society, on the Seven Deadly Sins, explored from a psychological perspective.

After your night of reckless passion, you feel ashamed, you feel dirty. It's time to punish the flesh. Yes, a new study, written up in The Economist, looks at the psychology of asceticism and masochism, and finds that people who had been primed to feel guilty (by writing an account of an experience they were ashamed of) were able to withstand more pain than a control group. And they also felt less guilty after inflicting pain on themselves.

As for me, I won't be indulging in any moral turpitude on Valentine's Day, more's the pity. No, I'll be here in Norway, punishing the flesh through long, Stoic cross-country skiing trips over the mountains. Did you know walking expands the hippocampus, according to a new study? It's also one of the best ways to beat the blues and increase your wellbeing, according to this research.
Meanwhile, in the world of the politics of wellbeing, Philip Blond's think-tank, ResPublica, took a breather from defending the ill-fated 'Big Society' concept to suggest that the 'new economics' after neo-liberalism will involve a broadening of the goal "from material welfare to something broader - wellbeing or happiness'.

And The Economist, again, paid tribute to the passing of one of the early prophets of the politics of wellbeing, the sociologist Daniel Bell, who foresaw the rise of the 'post-industrial society', the growth of the knowledge economy, the end of ideology, and also our current obsession with happiness: "He anticipated the current debate about happiness by pointing out that material progress cannot eliminate the frustrations inherent in the zero-sum competition for power, prestige and the attention of the sexiest person in the room. The more people are free to rise on their own merits, the more they will race on the treadmill for status."

Finally, if you happen to be spending Valentine's Day alone, why not spend a guilt-free evening playing computer games. According to Jane McGonigal, gaming makes you a better person, and the world a better place. McGonigal has a new book out called Reality is Broken. So, alas, is my XBox.

See you next week,