Search term: positive psychology

Learn To Grow Your Happiness Muscles With Positive Psychology On This International Day of Happiness …*

Learn To Grow Your Happiness Muscles With Positive Psychology On This International Day of Happiness ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

Wishing you all a very happy International Day of Happiness. Through my exploration of Positive Psychology last year, I have come to reframe happiness not as an emotional ‘destination’ but more as a capacity. The good news is that a) emotional and cognitive capacities can be cultivated and strengthened in much the same way that our physical muscles can be–through work and proper training; and b) the field of Positive Psychology has a lot of easily implementable hacks and interventions to guide us in training our capacity for happiness.

So to celebrate International Day of Happiness, why not learn more about what Positive Psychology has to offer in terms of growing our happiness muscles (plural, because there are various kinds of happiness).

Want to learn even more? Check out this upcoming MOOC, fittingly titled A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment, which will start June 15,2015.

Positive Psychology Activities & Cultivating A Growth Mindset Are An Important Part of Living A Meaningful Life …*

At the end of each year, the folks of the Greater Good Science Center round up their favorite insights from the year’s scientific research on happiness, altruism, mindfulness and gratitude, what they group together as the “science of a meaningful life.” Having spent a good portion of 2014 exploring the science and activities of Positive Psychology through my rethinked*annex side project and fangirling over Carol Dweck and her work on the benefits of a growth mindset, I was particularly excited to see the two insights that positive psychology activities do have an impact on enhancing happiness and that a growth mindset is a key in growing our empathy muscle.

{ Activities from positive psychology don’t just make happy people happier—they can also help alleviate suffering } 

Research on positive psychology activities—like keeping a gratitude journal or regular meditation—has offered compelling evidence that it’s possible to cultivate happiness over time. What’s more, during the past year, we saw many different papers suggest that positive activities aren’t just for positive people, and that negative conditions aren’t just alleviated by targeting negative influences. Instead, nurturing positive skills can help pull people out of depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts. – Source: The Top 10 Insights From 2015

{ People with a “growth mindset” are more likely to overcome barriers to empathy }

According to a recent paper published in the Journal of Social Psychology, our beliefs about empathy are critical to fostering it. People primed to see empathy as a skill—in other words, people given a “growth mindset” about empathy, seeing it as something one can build through practice—were more likely to “stretch themselves to overcome their limitations.” Across all of their studies, they found that people who believe empathy can be developed expended greater effort in challenging contexts than did people who believe empathy cannot be developed, suggesting that our beliefs about ourselves are key to expanding empathy on both individual and societal levels. – Source: The Top 10 Insights From 2015 

You can read the rest of the curated scientific insights from 2014 on living the meaningful life here.

Martin Seligman – An Overview of Positive Psychology …*

Taking a quick break from writing about my experiences with the Positive Psychology interventions given by Martin Seligman in his book, Authentic Happiness, to share this TED talk he gave in 2004, fittingly titled: The new era of positive psychology. In this talk, Seligman provides context for the development of Positive Psychology while sharing a compelling overview of many of the ideas discussed in his books.

watch, learn & rethink …* 

6 Easily Implementable Positive Psychology Interventions to Enhance Mental & Physical Well-Being …*

6 Easily Implementable Positive Psychology Interventions to Enhance Mental & Physical Well-Being ...* | rethinked.org

Over the last several weeks I have been exploring and writing about the field of Positive Psychology. In many of my posts, I shared small and easily implementable interventions suggested by Martin Seligman in Authentic Happiness to translate the findings of Positive Psychology into tangible benefits in your daily life. I have been experimenting with most of these in my own life over the past few weeks and starting next week, I will share my discoveries, insights and opinions about the benefits of each of these interventions. In the meantime, I’ve assembled all of the exercises in one place in case you want to try them for yourself.

rethink & design your well-being …*

1. GRATITUDE NIGHT 

Select one important person from your past who has made a major positive difference in your life and to whom you have never fully expressed your thanks. (Do not confound this selection with newfound romantic love, or with the possibility of future gain.) Write a testimonial just long enough to cover one laminated page. Take your time composing this; my students and I found ourselves taking several weeks, composing on buses and as we fell asleep at night. Invite that person to your home, or travel to that person’s home. It is important that you do this face to face, not just in writing or on the phone. Do not tell the person the purpose of the visit in advance; a simple “I just want to see you” will suffice. Wine and cheese do not matter, but bring a laminated version of your testimonial with you as a gift. When all settles down, read your testimonial aloud slowly, with expression and with eye contact. Then let the other person react unhurriedly. Reminisce together about the concrete events that make this person so important to you. (If you are so moved, please do send me a copy at Seligman@psych.upenn.edu) (74)

2. GRATITUDE JOURNAL

Set aside five free minutes each night for the next two weeks, preferably right before brushing your teeth for bed. Prepare a pad with one page for each of the next fourteen days. The first night take the Satisfaction with Life Scale and the General Happiness Scale and score them. Then think back over the previous twenty-four hours and write down, on separate lines, up to five things in your life you are grateful or thankful for. Common examples include “waking up this morning,” “the generosity of friends,” “God for giving me determination,” “wonderful parents,” “robust good health, and the “Rolling Stones” (or some other artistic inspiration). Repeat the Life Satisfaction and General Happiness Scales on the final night, two weeks after you start, and compare your scores to the first night’s scores. If this worked for you, incorporate it into your nightly routine. (75)

3. REACH – PRACTICE FORGIVENESS 

R stands for recall the hurt, in as objective a way as you can. Do not think of the other person as evil. Do not wallow in self-pity. Take deep, slow and calming breaths as you visualize the event. (79)

E stands for empathize. Try to understand from the perpetrator’s point of view why this person hurt you. This is not easy, but make up a plausible story that the transgressor might tell if challenged to explain. To help you do this, remember the following:

  • When others feel their survival is threatened, they will hurt innocents.
  • People who attack others are themselves usually in a state of fear, worry, and hurt.
  • The situation a person finds himself in, and not his underlying personality, can lead to hurting.
  • People often don’t think when they hurt others; they just lash out. (80)

A stands for giving the altruistic gift of forgiveness, another difficult step. First recall a time you transgressed, felt guilty, and were forgiven. This was a gift you were given by another person because you needed it, and you were grateful for this gift. Giving this gift usually makes us feel better. But we do not give this gift out of self-interest. Rather, we give it because it is for the trespasser’s own good. Tell yourself you can rise above hurt and vengeance. If you give the gift grudgingly, however, it will not set you free. (80)

C stands for commit yourself to forgive publicly. In Worthington’s groups, his clients write a “certificate of forgiveness,” write a letter of forgiveness to the offender, write it in their diary, write a poem or song, or tell a trusted friend what they have done. These are all contracts of forgiveness that lead to the final step. (81)

H stands for hold onto forgiveness. This is another difficult step, because memories of the event will surely recur. Forgiveness is not erasure; rather, it is a change in the tag lines that a memory carries. It is important to realize that the memories do not mean unforgiveness. Don’t dwell vengefully on the memories, and don’t wallow in them. Remind yourself that you have forgiven and read the documents you composed. (81)

Learn to Cultivate Gratitude & Forgiveness to Enhance Satisfaction About the Past …*

4. DISPUTING PESSIMISTIC BELIEFS ABOUT SETBACKS USING THE ABCDE MODEL

During the next five adverse events you face in your daily life, listen closely for your beliefs, observe the consequences, and dispute your beliefs vigorously. Then observe the energy that occurs as you succeed in dealing with the negative beliefs. Record all of this. These five adverse events can be minor: the mail is late, your call isn’t returned, or the kid pumping your gas doesn’t wash the windshield. In each of these use the four techniques of self-disputation. (98)

Do it in your daily life over the next week. Don’t search out adversity, but as it comes along, tune in carefully to your internal dialogue. When you hear the negative beliefs, dispute them. Beat them into the ground, then record the ABCDE.

  • Adversity:
  • Belief:
  • Consequences:
  • Disputation:
  • Energization:

(100)

Cultivating Optimism & Hope to Enhance Well-Being, Performance & Positive Emotions About the Future …*

5. HAVE A BEAUTIFUL DAY – AN INTERVENTION FOR ENHANCING THE PLEASURES

I assign you (as I do my students) to have a beautiful day. Set aside a free day this month to indulge in your favorite pleasures. Pamper yourself. Design, in writing, what you will do from hour to hour. Use as many of the techniques above as you can. Do not let the bustle of life interfere, and carry out the plan. (111)

Pleasures vs. Gratifications – Understanding & Enhancing the Various Types of Happiness In the Present …*

6. IDENTIFY YOUR HIGHEST, WEAKEST & SIGNATURE STRENGTHS

Head over to the Authentic Happiness website, and under, the tab labeled “Questionnaires” you will find the VIA Strengths Survey. You will need to create an account on the website and there is a fee to take the test, I did it and thought it was worth it. You will receive a 30 page detailed report of your character strengths in rank order. You will also learn about the benefits of each of your signature strengths, ways to cultivate them and avoid the pitfalls of mismanaging your aptitudes. 

Once you have taken the survey, Seligman’s next exercise is to evaluate your results–do the strengths the survey identified feel authentic to you?

Typically you will have five or fewer scores of 9 or 10, and these are your highest strengths, at least as your reported them. […] You will also have several low scores in the 4 (or lower) to 6 range, and these are your weaknesses.

Look at the list of your top five strengths. Most of these will feel authentic to you, but one or two of them may not be the real you. My strengths on this test were love of learning, perseverance, leadership, originality, and spirituality. Four of these feel like the real me, but leadership is not one. I can lead quite adequately if I am forced to, but it isn’t a strength that I own. When I use it, I feel drained, I count the hours until it is done, and I am delighted when the task is over and I’m back with my family.

I believe that each person possesses several signature strengths. These are strengths of character that a person self-consciously owns, celebrates, and (if he or she can arrange life successfully) exercises every day in work, love, play and parenting. Take your list of top strengths, and for each one ask if any of these criteria apply:

  • A sense of ownership and authenticity (“This is the real me”)
  • A feeling of excitement while displaying it, particularly at first
  • A rapid learning curve as the strength is first practiced
  • Continuous learning of new ways to enact the strength
  • A sense of yearning to find ways to use it
  • A feeling of inevitability in using the strength (“Try and stop me”)
  • Invigorating rather than exhaustion while using the strength
  • The creation and pursuit of personal projects that revolve around it.
  • Joy, zest, enthusiasm, even ecstasy while using it.

If one or more of these apply to your top strengths, they are signature strengths. Use them as frequently as you can and in as many settings. If none of the signature criteria apply to one or two of your strengths, they may not be the aptitudes you want to deploy in work, love, play, and parenting. (160)

Learn to Identify, Cultivate & Deploy Your Unique Character Strengths to Live A Full & Authentic Life …*

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Source: Seligman, Martin. Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology To Realize Your Potential For Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press, 2002. Print.

Contextualizing the three rethinked*annex disciplines: integrative thinking, design thinking & positive psychology

It was a passing mention of Daniel Pink‘s book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainer Will Rule The World in Tim Brown‘s Change By Design that prompted my interest in the book. If Brown mentioned it, I hoped it would help me gain a deeper understanding of some aspect of the design thinking process; which it did, although not in the way I expected. I did not learn more about the process itself but I did learn how to think about it along with Integrative Thinking and Positive Psychology–three of the rethinked*annex cycles–in a more nuanced, complex and holistic way.

Pink’s argument in A Whole New Mind is based on the metaphor of the human brain’s left/right hemisphere binary. Pink calls for a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between our brain’s two hemispheres. Both the left and right brain are simultaneously engaged in most human actions and thoughts but each hemisphere is specialized in different functions and depending on the activity, one side becomes relatively more important than the other. Understanding that both sides have a complex interwoven relationship, we can simplify a bit and say that humans operate on two basic planes of thought. Left-Directed Thinking can be generalized as logical, sequential and textual while Right-Directed Thinking is best described as emotional, simultaneous and contextual.

In A Whole New Mind, Pink makes the claim that we are currently in the midst of a transition from the ‘Information Age’ , characterized by its rock stars the “knowledge workers” to the ‘Conceptual Age,’ which will be dominated, according to Pink, by creators and empathizers. In the Conceptual Age, three major forces– automation, Asia and abundance–have made many predominantly left-brain aptitudes such as seriousness, logic, and accumulation obsolete and easily outsourceable. Therefore, to remain competitive, it is crucial for us all to start nurturing and cultivating right brain aptitudes. This is not to say that left brain aptitudes will no longer be relevant, but as Pink states, they are no longer sufficient. Pink identifies and describes six essential Conceptual Age aptitudes that will help us stay professionally relevant and fully engaged and satisfied in all aspects of our lives through these changing times. The six aptitudes Pink identifies are: Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play and Meaning.

  1. Not just function but also DESIGN. It’s no longer sufficient to create a product, a service, an experience or a lifestyle that’s merely functional. Today it’s economically crucial personally rewarding to create something that is also beautiful, whimsical, or emotionally engaging. 65
  2. Not just argument but also STORY. When our lives are brimming with information and data, it’s not enough to marshal an effective argument. Someone somewhere will inevitably track down a counterpoint to rebut your point. The essence of persuasion, communication, and self-understanding has become the ability also to fashion a compelling narrative. 65
  3.  Not just focus but also SYMPHONY. Much of the Industrial and Information Ages required focus and specialization. But as white-collar work gets routed to Asia and reduced to software, there’s a new premium on the opposite aptitude: putting the pieces together, or what I call Symphony. What’s in greatest demand today isn’t analysis but synthesis–seeing the big picture and, crossing boundaries, being able to combine disparate pieces into an arresting new whole. 66
  4. Not just logic but also EMPATHY. The capacity for logical thought is one of the things that make us human. But in a world of ubiquitous information and advance analytic tools, logic alone won’t do. What will distinguish those who thrive will be their ability to understand what makes their fellow woman or man tick, to forge relationships, and to care for others.
  5. Not just seriousness but also PLAY. Ample evidence points to the enormous health and professional benefits of laughter, lightheartedness, games and humor. There is a time to be serious, of course. But too much sobriety can be bad for your career and worse for your general well-being. In the Conceptual Age, in work and in life, we all need to play. 66
  6. Not just accumulation but also MEANING. We live in a world of breathtaking material plenty. That has freed hundreds of millions of people from day-to-day struggles and liberated us to pursue more significant desires: purpose, transcendence, and spiritual fulfillment. 67

SYMPHONY = INTEGRATIVE THINKING 

If your brain bugged out a tiny bit when you read over the third aptitude that Pink describes and titles Symphony, it is most likely because you realized the uncanny similarity to Integrative Thinking. Not seeing the connection just yet? Pink’s description of Symphony seems as though it comes straight out of Roger Martin‘s The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking:

Symphony, as I call this aptitude, is the ability to put together the pieces. It is the capacity to synthesize rather than to analyze; to see relationships between seemingly unrelated fields; to detect broad patterns rather than to deliver specific answers; and to invent something new by combining elements nobody else thought to pair. 126

TAKING RETHINKED*ANNEX FULL CIRCLE

This puts the various elements of rethinked*annex into a coherent whole. Design thinking, (Design), Integrative Thinking (Symphony), and Positive Psychology (Play, Meaning, Empathy) all come together as contemporary aptitudes for living a fulfilling happy and professionally successful life. Each of these aptitudes has been correlated with health, social, emotional and professional successes and are key ingredients to living a fulfilling engaged and meaningful life in our contemporary state of humanity.

Therefore, instead of making the fourth rethinked*annex cycle “Applied Virtue” based off of principles laid out in Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics, I have decided to make it about the Conceptual Age and use Pink’s book as the foundation for that cycle’s exploration. This is a way to tie together the three other rethinked*annex cycles into a coherent whole and make more obvious and tangible the complex interrelatedness of these differing, yet mutually reinforcing disciplines. (Aristotle fans do not despair; I think I will include Nicomachean Ethics in the Integrative Thinking cycle.)

SO, HOW DOES THIS TIE BACK TO DESIGN THINKING?

As I said, Pink’s book did not really contribute much to my understanding of the Design Thinking process itself but it proved immensely valuable in contextualizing the discipline. Pink has a chapter dedicated to each of the Conceptual Age aptitudes and at the end of each chapter he has a little tools and resources section in which he includes recommended reading and exercises to broaden one’s exploration and mastery of each aptitude. I will follow his recommendations and tools for nurturing my design aptitude (and be sure to post results and observations on here sometime next week) but I want to save exploring the tools and resources for the other five disciplines for the Conceptual Age cycle. The Conceptual Age part of the rethinked*annex project will be the last of the cycles as it will provide a way to reflect on each of the other three disciplines as their own entity as well as identifying new connections and relationships between the three.

WANT TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE SIX APTITUDES OF THE CONCEPTUAL AGE?

For more quotes from A Whole New Mind and other resources related to the Conceptual Age and Pink’s six aptitudes head over to our Aptitudes for the Conceptual Age page. Enjoy!

Source: Pink, Daniel. A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. New York: Riverhead Books, 2005. Print.

{ Creativity & Happiness } An Overview of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience …*

{ Creativity & Happiness } An Overview of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience ...* | rethinked.org

Screen Shot from Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi’s 2004 TED talk – Flow: The Secret to Happiness

 

As I’m nearing the end of the Positive Psychology cycle of the rethinked*annex project, I have decided to include two additional ideas–flow and growth mindset–before moving on to the next and final cycle. Because the meaningful happy life is so deeply dependent on the successful and recurring deployment of one’s signature strengths in as many of life’s arenas as possible, I have decided to turn to Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi‘s concept of flow for some additional guidance on how to nurture and cultivate my pursuit of what Seligman terms, “the gratifications.” And because the nurturing and deployment of strengths and skills can be so radically improved by the cultivation of a growth mindset, I have decided to reread Carol Dweck‘s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. I’ll share a couple more interventions to experiment with based on these two ideas in the coming weeks.

For now, I invite you to watch Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi’s TED Talk – Flow, the secret to happiness, in which he gives some context to his research around the core question of “what makes life worth living?” and gives an overview of the flow experience.

Cultivating Optimism & Hope to Enhance Well-Being, Performance & Positive Emotions About the Future …*

Cultivating Optimism & Hope to Enhance Well-Being, Performance & Positive Emotions About the Future ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman

Today, we’ll examine how to increase one’s positive emotions about the future by learning how to cultivate our capacity for optimism and hope. As you’ve seen in my previous posts on the theory of positive emotions, and increasing satisfaction about the past, the various shades of happiness we experience over the course of our lives have very important effects on both mental and physical health. This holds true for optimism and hope:

Pessimists, I have found over the last two decades, are up to eight times more likely to become depressed when bad events happen; they do worse at school; sports, and most jobs than their talents augur; they have worse physical health and shorter lives; they have rockier interpersonal relations, and they lose American Presidential elections to their more optimistic opponents. (24)

While some people seem naturally more inclined to view the glass half-full than half-empty, the muscle analogy that pervades most of behavioral psychology also applies in the domain of optimism and hope. Both of these capacities function much like physical muscles which, when exercised correctly grow and develop. So don’t despair if you tend to be pessimistic, with a little work, you can learn to become more optimistic and hopeful and reap the many benefits of these positive frames.

Optimism and hope are quite well-understood, they have been the objects of thousands of empirical studies, and best of all, they can be built. Optimism and hope cause better resistance to depression when bad events strike, better performance at work, particularly in challenging jobs, and better physical health. (83)

TWO BASIC DIMENSIONS OF OPTIMISM: PERMANENCE & PERVASIVENESS

As we saw last week, the narratives we construct about our lives have enormous implications on our happiness and well-being, both mental and physical and one of the most powerful ways to increase well-being is to rework our beliefs about what happens to us and take charge of creating a more productive narrative. Pessimism and optimism are also tightly linked to the explanatory styles we use to frame the experiences in our lives and are defined by two basic dimensions: permanence and pervasiveness. Whether you view events and moods as permanent or temporary and universal or specific has great implications for your happiness and well-being.

Optimistic people tend to explain the bad events they experience as both temporary and specific to this one event. Pessimists, on the other hand, tend to view the misfortunes that befall them as universal and permanent.

Pessimists have a particularly pernicious way of construing their setbacks and frustrations. They automatically think that the cause is permanent, pervasive and personal: “It’s going to last forever, it’s going to undermine everything, and it’s my fault.” […] Optimists, in contrast, have a strength that allows them to interpret their setbacks as surmountable, particular to a single problem, and resulting from temporary circumstances or other people. (24)

Interestingly, the pattern is reversed when appraising good events: optimists view their good fortune as permanent, pervasive and personal while pessimists see it as temporary, specific to that one event and the result of luck rather than personal intervention.

CULTIVATING HOPE

Similarly to optimism, hope results from our explanatory style when appraising the events of our lives:

Finding permanent and universal causes for good events along with temporary and specific causes for misfortune is the art of hope; finding permanent and universal causes for misfortune and temporary and specific causes of good events is the practice of despair. (92)

INTERVENTIONS FOR INCREASING OPTIMISM & HOPE

So, concretely, what can you do to increase hope and optimism in your life? Much like enhancing satisfaction about the past, increasing hope and optimism is about reframing how you explain your life to yourself. The first step to building optimism and hope is “to realize your beliefs are just that—beliefs. They may or may not be facts.” (94) When negative thoughts creep up, you need to recognize them, learn to dispute your internal monologue and replace the negative thoughts with more productive beliefs. In Authentic Happiness, Seligman proposes the “ABCDE Model” as a helpful framework through which to recraft your beliefs:

  • A stands for adversity
  • B stands for the beliefs you automatically have when it occurs
  • C stands for the usual consequences of the belief
  • D stands for your disputation of your routine belief
  • E stands for the energization that occurs when you dispute it successfully

By effectively disputing the beliefs that follow an adversity, you can change your reaction from dejection and giving up to activity and good cheer. (93)

In Authentic Happiness, Seligman shares four techniques for making your disputations convincing and thus translating this mental act into tangible benefits: evidence, alternatives, implications and usefulness.

{ EVIDENCE }

The most convincing way of disputing a negative belief is to show that it is factually incorrect. Much of the time you have facts on your side, since pessimistic reactions to adversity are so very often overreactions. You adopt the role of a detective and ask, “What is the evidence for this belief?” (95)

{ ALTERNATIVES }

Almost nothing that happens to you has just one cause; most events have many causes. If you did poorly on a test, all of the following might have contributed: how hard the test was, how much you studied, how smart you are, how fair the professor is, how the other students did, and how tired you were. Pessimists have a way of latching onto the worst of all these causes—the most permanent and pervasive one. Here again, disputation usually has reality on its side. There are multiple causes, so why latch onto the most insidious one? Ask yourself, is there any less destructive way to look at this?

To dispute your own beliefs, scan for all possible contributing causes. Focus on those that are changeable (not enough time spent studying,) specific (this particular exam was uncharacteristically hard), and non-personal (the professor graded unfairly). You may have to push hard at generating alternative beliefs, latching onto possibilities that you are not fully convinced are true. Remember that much of pessimistic thinking consists of just the reverse, latching onto the most dire possible belief—not because of evidence, but precisely because it is so dire. It is your job to undo this destructive habit by becoming facile at generating alternatives. (96)

{ IMPLICATIONS }

Reality may be against you, and the negative belief you hold about yourself may be true. In this situation, the technique to use is decatastrophizing.

Even if the belief is true, you say to yourself, what are its implications? It was true that the dinner was not romantic. But what does that imply? One bad dinner does not mean divorce.

How likely, you should ask yourself, is the worst-case scenario?  (97)

{ USEFULNESS }

Sometimes the consequences of holding a belief matter more than its truth. Is the belief destructive? When you break your diet, the response “I’m a total glutton” is a recipe for letting go of your diet completely. Some people get very upset when the world shows itself not to be fair. We can sympathize with that sentiment, but the belief itself may cause more grief than it is worth. What good will it do me to dwell on the belief that the worlds should be fair? Another tactic is to detail all the ways you can change the situation in the future. Even if the belief is true now, is the situation changeable? How can you go about changing it? (97)

To practice disputing your pessimistic beliefs and reframe your explanatory style, Seligman suggests the following exercise:

During the next five adverse events you face in your daily life, listen closely for your beliefs, observe the consequences, and dispute your beliefs vigorously. Then observe the energy that occurs as you succeed in dealing with the negative beliefs. Record all of this. These five adverse events can be minor: the mail is late, your call isn’t returned, or the kid pumping your gas doesn’t wash the windshield. In each of these use the four techniques of self-disputation. (98)

Do it in your daily life over the next week. Don’t search out adversity, but as it comes along, tune in carefully to your internal dialogue. When you hear the negative beliefs, dispute them. Beat them into the ground, then record the ABCDE.

  • Adversity:
  • Belief:
  • Consequences:
  • Disputation:
  • Energization:

(100)

Hope this review of hope and optimism was helpful. Thursday we’ll take a look at the various types of happiness in the present.

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Source: Seligman, Martin. Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology To Realize Your Potential For Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press, 2002. Print.

{ A Theory of Positive Emotion } Building Friendship, Love, Better Physical Health & Greater Achievement …*

{ A Theory of Positive Emotion } Building Friendship, Love, Better Physical Health & Greater Achievement ...* | rethinked.org

I finished reading (one of) Martin Seligman’s book on Positive Psychology, Authentic Happiness, which was a fascinating, highly applicable and, at times, uproariously funny read. In a nutshell: Seligman outlines an evolutionary theory of positive emotion; identifies three types of happiness: happiness in the past, present and future; he lays out various ways to enhance happiness in each of these three dimensions: using gratitude and forgiveness to create positive emotions around the past, cultivating hope and optimism to increase happiness about the future and differentiates between the pleasures and what he terms “the gratifications” in the present. After reviewing some of the ways in which to enhance the pleasures in one’s life, he devotes the last few chapters of the book to finding ways to enhance the gratifications in the big arenas of life: work, love and parenting. Authentic Happiness is a treasure trove of intriguing findings and applicable insights on how to raise one’s happiness level, so I figured I would write about his findings on the blog over the next few weeks while I experiment with the many interventions he suggests and I’ll report on that after I’ve had a bit of time to reflect. Since there is so much I want to cover, I will now be posting about rethinked*annex twice a week–Tuesdays and Thursdays. If you’re interested in experimenting with Positive Psychology in your own life as well, please be sure to email me (elsa@rethinked.org) I would love to create a ‘support group’ to exchange ideas, insights and resources.

For today, I thought I would start where Seligman does, by laying out the theory of positive emotion through which he frames Positive Psychology. You will recall that Martin Seligman defines Positive Psychology as:

Positive Psychology has three pillars: First is the study of positive emotions. Second is the study of the positive traits, foremost among them the strengths and virtues, but also the “abilities” such as intelligence and athleticism. Third is the study of the positive institutions, such as democracy, strong families and free inquiry that support the virtues, which in turn support the positive emotions. 

The first question to examine when thinking about a field of study focused on happiness is to ask where these positive emotions come from and whether they serve a higher purpose than merely making us feel good.

Why has evolution endowed us with positive feeling? What are the functions and consequences of these emotions, beyond making us feel good?” (6)

DO POSITIVE EMOTIONS HAVE A PURPOSE BEYOND MAKING US FEEL GOOD?

The short answer is yes, they do:

“Feeling positive emotion is important, not just because it is pleasant in its own right, but because it causes much better commerce with the world. Developing more positive emotion in our lives will build friendship, love, better physical health, and greater achievement.” (43)

Drawing on the work of Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Principal Investigator of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab at the University of North Carolina, Barbara Fredrickson, Seligman highlights an evolutionary purpose for positive emotion:

Fredrickson claims that positive emotions have a grand purpose in evolution. They broaden our abiding intellectual, physical, and social resources, building up reserves we can draw upon when a threat or opportunity presents itself. When we are in a positive mood, people like up better, and friendship, love, and coalitions are more likely to cement. In contrast to the constrictions of negative emotion, our mental set is expansive, tolerant, and creative. We are open to new ideas and experience.  (35)

BENEFITS OF POSITIVE EMOTION – A REVIEW

Seligman devotes the rest of chapter three to reviewing various studies done around the physical and mental benefits of positive emotion, here are some of them:

There is direct evidence that positive emotion predicts health and longevity. In the largest study to date, 2,282 Mexican-Americans from the southwest United States aged sixty-five or older were given a battery of demographic and emotional tests, then tracked for two years. Positive emotion strongly predicted who lived and who died, as well as disability. After controlling for age, income, education, weight, smoking, drinking, and disease, the researchers found that happy people were half as likely to die, and half as likely to become disabled. (40)

Positive emotion protects people against the ravages of aging. You will recall that beginning nuns who wrote happy autobiographies when in their twenties lived longer and healthier lives than novices whose autobiographies were devoid of positive emotions, and also that optimists in the Mayo Clinic study lived significantly longer than pessimists. Happy people, furthermore, have better health habits, lower blood pressure, and feistier immune systems than less happy people. When you combine all this with Aspinwall’s findings that happy people seek out and absorb more health risks information, it adds up to an unambiguous picture of happiness as a prolonger of life and improver of health. (40)

Research suggests that more happiness actually causes more productivity and higher income. One study measured the amount of positive emotions of 272 employees, then followed their job performance over the next eighteen months. Happier people went on to get better evaluations from their supervisors and higher pay. In a large-scale study of Australian youths across fifteen years, happiness made gainful employment and higher income more likely. In attempts to define whether happiness or productivity comes first (by inducing happiness experimentally and then looking at later performance), it turns out that adults and children who are put into a good mood select higher goals, perform better, and persist longer on a variety of laboratory tasks, such as solving anagrams. (41)

Positive Emotions Help Cope With Adversity. The final edge that happy people have for building physical resources is how well they deal with untoward events. How long can you hold your hand in a bucket of ice water? The average duration before the pain gets to be too much is between sixty and ninety seconds. Rick Snyder, a professor at Kansas and one of the fathers of Positive Psychology, used this test on Good Morning America to demonstrate the effects of positive emotion on coping with adversity. He first gave a test of positive emotion to the regular cast. By quite a margin, Charles Gibson outscored everybody. Then, before live cameras, each member of the cast put his or her hand in ice water. Everyone, except Gibson, yanked their hands out before ninety seconds had elapsed. Gibson, though, just sat there grinning (not grimacing), and still had his hand in the bucket when a commercial break was finally called. (41)

Positive Emotions Undo Negative Emotions. Barbara Fredrickson showed students a filmed scene from The Ledge in which a man inches along the ledge of a high-rise, hugging the building. At one point he loses his grip and dangles above the traffic; the heart rate of students watching this clip goes through the roof. Right after watching this, students are shown one of four further film clips: “waves,” which induces contentment; “puppy,” which induces amusement; “sticks,” which doesn’t induce any emotion; and “cry,” which induces sadness. “Puppy” and “waves” both bring heart rates way down, while “cry” makes the high heart rate go even higher. (41)

Happy People have more casual friends and more close friends, are more likely to be married, and are more involved in group activities than unhappy people. Routine psychological studies focus on pathology; they look at the most depressed, anxious, or angry people and ask about their lifestyles and personalities. I have done such studies for two decades. Recently, Ed Diener and I decided to do the opposite and focus on the lifestyles and personalities of the very happiest people. We took an unselected sample of 222 college students and measured happiness rigorously by using six different scales, then focused on the happiest 10 percent. These “very happy” people differed markedly from average people and from unhappy people in one principal way: a rich and fulfilling social life. The very happy people spent the least time alone (and the most time socializing), and they were rated highest on good relationships by themselves and by their friends. All 22 members of the very happy group, except one, reported a current romantic partner. The very happy group had a little more money, but they did no experience a different number of negative or positive events, and they did not differ on amount of sleep, TV watching, exercise, smoking, drinking alcohol, or religious activity. Many other studies have shown that happy people have more causal friends and more close friends, are more likely to be married, and are more involved in group activities than unhappy people. (42)

Happy People Are More Likely To Demonstrate Empathy & Altruism. Before I saw the data, I thought that unhappy people—identifying with the suffering that they know so well—would be more altruistic. So I was taken aback when the findings on mood and helping others without exception revealed that happy people were more likely to demonstrate that trait. In the laboratory, children and adults who are made happy display more empathy and are willing to donate more money to others in need. When we are happy, we are less self-focused, we like others more, and we want to share our good fortune even with strangers. When we are down, though, we become distrustful, turn inward, and focus defensively on our own needs. Looking out for number one is more characteristic of sadness than of well-being. (43)

 …*

Source: Seligman, Martin. Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology To Realize Your Potential For Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press, 2002. Print.

{ Rethinking Resilience, Part I } Positive Thinking, Negativity Bias, and Why I’m Leery about Lear

Spalding High-Bounce Ball

 

I was a bit jarred this week by a New York TImes piece about kids in a Syrian refugee camp performing a Shakespeare play. King Lear, to be precise.

“‘The show is to bring back laughter, joy and humanity,” said its director, Nawar Bulbul, a 40-year-old Syrian actor.'”

Say what, now?

To be sure, teenagers and dark, depressing stories are often a good combo — but I think that the “dark” and “depressing” should be relatable. Had the Syrian kids put on Hamlet, Othello, or Romeo and Juliet — any of the tragedies that deal directly with power struggles, personal weakness, difficult parents, dishonesty, friendship, love  — I wouldn’t balk. I could even see many of Shakespeare’s history plays, often excluded from high school curricula, resonating with these young refugees, given their first-hand experience with suffering caused by political machinations. But the choice of King Lear distressed me.

I taught King Lear to 16-year-olds for several years. But, truth be told, I am not convinced that teenagers — even Syrian teenagers who are alternately scared and bored by life in a refugee camp — will be, or even should be, deeply or personally moved by a story that is largely concerned with filial impiety, physical infirmity, dementia, and mortality (mortality by natural causes, that is). Those are the concerns of old folk. It almost seems biologically right that teenagers would shrug them off.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about resilience lately. Or to put it more accurately: I’ve been thinking about other people’s resilience (on an epic scale) and my own (on a pretty mundane scale).

The epic scale came into sharp focus for me at a wonderful TEDx event I attended recently, entitled “Resilience: Consider the Uses of Adversity.” I would love to go into detail here, but I will wait until the event videos go online and you can watch them yourselves. In the meantime, if you need a gauge of what I mean by epic resilience, know this: one of the presenters was the woman whose three young daughters and parents perished on Christmas morning two years ago in a horrific house fire in Connecticut. Witnessing her strength, grace, and candor as she shared the painful and unfinished story of her survival — that was a once-in-a-lifetime gift I will never forget. Hers is epic resilience.

So the fact I can be felled by an overbaked birthday cake or a new dent in the car is a hard thing to accept — and a difficult thing to admit.

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The literature on fostering resilience emphasizes the importance of positivity and optimism. One widely accepted practice championed by Martin Seligman, founder of the Positive Psychology Center at UPenn (the birthplace of Angela Duckworth’s research on grit in students) is cultivating gratitude. For now, I’m focusing less on the method itself and more on its underlying rationale.

Gratitude is an effective means of increasing resilience because it helps counteract an inconvenient quirk of our psychological evolution: negativity bias.

Negativity bias is our natural tendency to highlight and remember negative experiences more than positive ones. Taking the time to feel and express gratitude, then, deliberately and explicitly incorporates positive thoughts and emotions into our daily existence. This points to the underlying characteristic of all resilience training: emphasizing positive experiences and foregoing the habit of interpreting one’s actions and one’s circumstances negatively.

Despite questions about its methodology, an attention-grabbing 2005 paper in American Psychologist that touted an optimal positivity ratio for flourishing — 2.9 positive exchanges for each negative one — is still regularly cited today. And not surprisingly — there is something comforting in the notion that resilience boils down to a numbers game, along these lines: Fill your mind with enough positive thoughts to outnumber the negative ones, and you’ll be more resilient. 

To be sure, not all positive thoughts are created equal. Hours spent watching cute cat videos don’t count. Conversely, not all negative thoughts are damaging. Sometimes they are necessary for our safety.

But within reason, it is safe to say that laughter and joy — and regular expressions of gratitude, which help maintain our ability to laugh and feel joy — constitute some of the best soil for seeds of resilience.

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Which brings me back to why I’m leery about King Lear.

I assume the director chose Lear as a reflection of the Syrian children’s suffering, which is tragically part of their day-to-day existence. And I accept the argument that such suffering can benefit from the affirmation and catharsis of expressing and releasing one’s own pain through the story of another.

As Edgar says in Act III of Lear:

When we our betters see bearing our woes,
We scarcely think our miseries our foes.

And to be clear, the Times piece gives plenty of evidence that the kids felt pride and value in the performance.

Nevertheless, I can’t help but feel that a play of “laughter [and] joy,” which Lear simply is not, would have created sorely needed positivity for those kids.

Let’s assume a genuinely happy play would have led to positive thoughts outnumbering negative ones in the minds of those kids, even if only for a short while. For me, this presents two questions:

What benefits — what reframed perspectives, what relief from negativity and trauma, what new ideas and possibilities — might those kids have had access to?

To what extent does the principle of positive thinking mean that occupying a space of pain and suffering, even in art, may be counterproductive to healing? 

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In my next post, I’ll be looking at the seven steps for increasing resilience as laid out in Andrew Shatté and Karen Reivich’s underappreciated 2003 book The Resilience Factor. Reivich is a co-director of the Penn Resiliency Program, a “group intervention” and resilience training course for late elementary and middle school students.

In the meantime, I’ll also be looking for answers to those two questions above. If you have answers, I invite you, as always, to comment.

{ Calling All Knowmads …* } Free MOOC On Teaching Character & Creating Positive Classrooms

{ Calling All Knowmads ...* } Free MOOC On Teaching Character & Creating Positive Classrooms

Dave Levin, co-founder of the Character Lab –along with Angela Duckworth and our very own Dominic Randolph–will be teaching a free MOOC on CourseraTeaching Character and Creating Positive ClassroomsThe course, which begins February 9th, 2014 and runs for four weeks, will explore questions such as:

  1. How can positive psychology help us maximize student engagement and accomplishment?
  2. What does it look like to implement a growth mindset in your classroom?
  3. Can you teach grit in the classroom? If so, how?
  4. Should an educator measure character? If so, how? 

This course explores the interconnection between character research, education, and academic rigor. During our sessions, we’ll cover the field of positive psychology as it relates to character strengths, as well as the concepts of Growth Mindset, Constructive Responding, and Character Behavior Language. We will engage with the existing research, hear from eminent scholars in the field and top K-12 educators, and view footage of classroom teachers integrating these ideas into their classroom instruction.

Head over to Coursera to learn more about the course and register! 

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