Can going out in the cold give you a cold? Are we losing our national forests? Can money buy happiness? You may be among the many who would answer yes to these questions. You'd be wrong. There are a lot of popularly held beliefs out there that simply aren't true. Yet the media tend to report on many of them as though they were hard facts.
Countless news stories tell us we're running ourselves ragged. And everyone thinks it's true. Lots of Americans say have no free time. We all seem to be rushing everywhere.
Sherri Kowalski is busy. She's a working mom, who's in a constant struggle to get everything done.
She has two kids, and a husband who helps. But there's a lot to do: laundry, cooking, cleaning, helping kids with their schoolwork. When we visited her home, she was so busy she didn't even sit down to eat her meals.
Everyone we interviewed said they were pressed for time.
It made me want to seek out some real data on this. I talked with sociologist John Robinson of the University of Maryland, who's been trying to measure how much time we have for several decades. Since 1965, Robinson has had people keep time diaries, so he could calculate how much free time people really have.
I assumed that we've lost free time since 1965, but Robinson said that's not the case.
Surprisingly, since 1965 we've gained an hour more free time every day.
"There is a discrepancy between what people say and what they report when they keep a time diary," he said.
Sure enough, when Kowalski and some of the other people we met at the mall kept Robinson's time diaries, what they wrote down didn't always match what they'd said.
Sherri had twice as much free time as she'd estimated. She finds time to exercise every day, and she often goes to a tanning salon. Kowalski also watches some TV; that's the No. 1 free time activity in America.
We have more free time now, say the experts, because we're working less, marrying later, having fewer children, and retiring earlier.
If we're so stressed for free time, it's hard to explain how 36 million people can find time to golf, and 65 million people can go camping, and hundreds of millions go to the beach, the movies, and sports events.
Economist Stephen Moore says, "One of the reasons that Americans feel so pressed for time is there's so much more to do in life today."
I guess politicians are no different than the rest of us. Politicians want federal money for nice things like museums and senior centers and highways in their states. We want more money too, because we think it'll buy us things that make us happy.
We get a lot of messages from television and movies telling us that more money will make us happy. Lottery winners have press conferences, reality shows have pretty women lining up to marry rich guys.
But in fact, one lottery winner told us she was very happy for several days, then the thrill wore off.
Milionaire hip-hop promoter Russell Simmons told me wealth didn't make him or his friends happy either. "If I know 15 billionaires, I know 13 unhappy people," he said.
Simmons' brother, Reverend Run was the lead rapper for Run DMC. He said he suddenly realized money wouldn't buy happiness when he was at the peak of his career.