Tag Martin Seligman

A Simple Trick For Nurturing Better Relationships, Becoming a Better Listener & Growing Your Empathy Muscle …*

In this lovely animated short, Brené Brown, gives us a simple hack based on her research to enhance relationships, become a better listener and grow your empathy muscle: stop blaming. Sounds easy enough, and to some extent, it is.

How many of you go to that place—when something bad happens, the first thing you want to know is whose fault is it? I’d rather it be my fault than no one’s fault. Because why? Why? Because it gives us some semblance of control. […] But here’s what we know from the research: blame is simply the discharging of discomfort and pain. It has an inverse relationship with accountability. Accountability, by definition, is a vulnerable process. It means me calling you and saying, “hey, my feeling were really hurt about this,” and talking; not blaming. Blaming is simply a way that we discharge anger. People who blame a lot, seldom have the tenacity and grit to actually hold people accountable because we expend all of our energy raging for 15 seconds and figuring out whose fault something is. And blaming’s very corrosive in relationships. And it’s one of the reasons we miss our opportunities for empathy. Because when something happens and we’re hearing the story, we’re not really listening, we’re in the place where I was, making the connections as quickly as we can about whose fault something was. – Brené Brown

One of the findings from Positive Psychology that struck me the most was the notion that venting negative feelings is actually completely counterproductive. In Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman highlights various studies disproving our culture’s view that airing grievances is cathartic:

Dwelling on trespass and the expression of anger produces more cardiac diseases and more anger. Anger is another domain in which the concept of emotional hydraulics was critically examined. America, in contrast to the venerable Eastern cultures, is a ventilationist society. We deem it honest, just, and even healthy to express our anger. So we shout, we protest, and we litigate. “Go ahead, make my day,” warns Dirty Harry. Part of the reason we allow ourselves this luxury is that we believe the psychodynamic theory of anger. If we don’t express our rage, it will come out elsewhere—even more destructively, as in cardiac disease. But this theory turns out to be false; in fact, the reverse is true. (69)

The overt expression of hostility turns out to be the real culprit in the Type A-heart attack link. Time urgency, competitiveness, and the suppression of anger do not seem to play a role in Type A people getting more heart disease. In one study, 255 medical students took a personality test that measured overt hostility. As physicians twenty-five years later, the angriest had roughly five times as much heart disease as the least angry ones. In another study, men who had the highest risk of later heart attacks were just the ones with more explosive voices, more irritation when forced to wait, and more outwardly directed anger. In experimental studies, when male students bottle up their anger, blood pressure goes down, and it goes up if they decide to express their feelings. Anger expression raises lower blood pressure for women as well. In contrasts, friendliness in reaction to trespass lowers it. (70)

Source: Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment 

Since learning about this, I have made it a point to be more aware of the emotions I express and focus on. It’s not that I suppress or ignore negative emotions–I still get angry, frustrated, sad or whiny–but I try to be aware of what I’m feeling and when I notice one of these emotions, I ask myself what I can do about it; what I can learn from the experience that triggered the emotion? Then I fix what I can, make a mental note to avoid repeating any identified mistakes and I move on. If I’m having a really bad day or difficult time with something, I make myself move– either at the gym or I go for a long walk, which I’ve found really helpful in getting rid of the way negative emotions feel in one’s body. I also try not to complain to others. Whereas before I might have sought out a close friend to vent to after encountering some setback or upsetting situation–“can you believe this?!”–I now avoid such conversations; and, it turns out, I don’t miss them (and neither do my friends, it would seem).

I have noticed feeling markedly more serene overall and I’ve been surprised by how much easier it was to choose not to dwell or express my negative emotions than I had anticipated. Now, I’ll add blame to my list of negative emotions to let go of.

Try it for yourself and let me know how it works out for you …*

[ Re ] Thinking Character & Opportunity…* New Series of Essays

Rethinkers delight, the Brookings Institution has just published a new series of essays, put together by Richard Reeves, which explores the philosophical, empirical and practical issues raised by a focus on character, and in particular its relationship to questions of opportunity.

This essay collection contains contributions from leading scholars in the fields of economics, psychology, social science, and philosophy. It provides a kaleidoscope of views on the issues raised by a policy focus on the formation of character, and its relationship to questions of opportunity. Can ‘performance’ character be separated from ‘moral’ character? Should we seek to promote character strengths? If so, how?

The series feature a contribution, Schools of Character, from our own Dominic Randolph, which explains why character outcomes must become part of our entire educational system; As well as an essay, Free Will: The Missing Link Between Character and Opportunity, by rethinked * favorite Martin Seligman, which explores the need for character and opportunity to be accompanied by optimism and hope, the bulwarks of a robust future-mindedness. Head over to the Brookings Institution to browse and read all seventeen essays of the collection.

read, question & rethink …*

{ rethinked*annex } Gratitude Night …* – Adopt or Rethink?

{ rethinked*annex } Gratitude Night ...* - Adopt or Rethink? | rethinked.org

{ THE EXERCISE }

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)

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

{ WHAT I LIKED }

I thoroughly enjoyed Gratitude Night. It reminded me a bit of the Have A Beautiful Day exercise in that it provided multiple opportunities to bask in positive emotions. First there was the preparation, figuring out whom I would pick gave me an opportunity to think about all the wonderful people I am lucky to have in my life. Once I had selected the recipient of my first Gratitude Night, I loved the experience of recalling moments with that person and reliving them in my head before writing them down on paper. Then there was the experience of reading out loud to the recipient of my gratitude night what I had written for her, which was immensely fulfilling. Finally, there was witnessing her gratitude for the event and an opportunity for us to reminisce together about all the wonderful moments we have shared.

 { FRICTION POINTS }

None.

 

{ NEXT STEPS }

I believe the important people in my life know that I love them–I’m not stingy with my I love yous. I’m also prompt in writing thank you notes and I like to think that I do not take for granted the kindness and generosity people show me. But when I think about it, I don’t generally express my gratitude on a grander magnitude to the important people in my life. Other than Mother & Father’s Day, I rarely tell those I love just how grateful I am for their presence in my life, how grateful I am for their lives, for them being who they are. I think we collectively lack a socially acceptable forum and language around which to share our gratitude for one another. A funny but telling anecdote reveals this lack: a couple of years ago, I had read about gratitude letters and had sent about seven of them to some of the people I love and am grateful for. My cousin, who was in her teens at the time, was very worried when she received hers and called her mom to ask if she thought I was suicidal. We all had a good laugh about her worry, but in a way it is rather sad when you think about it: someone sends you a letter to express how much you mean to them and how grateful they are for your presence in their life and the act is such an anomaly in your experience that you immediately deduce something must be wrong. I don’t think this is particular to my cousin, I can completely understand where she was coming from.

I will keep up gratitude night going forward. Perhaps my ‘recipients’ will be inspired to declare their gratitude for people in their own lives and slowly, together, we might make expressing gratitude the norm rather than an anomaly.

{ 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.

{ rethinked*annex } VIA Survey of Character Strengths – Adopt or Rethink?

{ rethinked*annex } Character Strengths Survey - Adopt or Rethink?  | rethinked.org

Screen shot of my signature strengths from the VIA Survey of Character Strengths

{ THE EXERCISE

Head over to the Authentic Happiness website and under the tab labeled “Questionnaires” you will find the VIA Survey of Character Strengths. You will need to create an account on the website and there is a fee to take the test. 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. 

{ UPDATE } It has just come to my attention that you can take a recently validated and briefer version of the VIA Survey of Character Strengths directly on the VIA Institute On Character websiteThe briefer version is now only 120-questions (as opposed to the 240 version found on the Authentic Happiness website). VIA provides a variety of in-depth reports available for purchase after completing the survey which aim to help the individual learn more about how to apply their character strengths to find more life fulfillment. I have not yet taken the updated version of the survey on the VIA website, but intend to do so in the near future and will report back on the experience once I do. 

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 …*

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

{ WHAT I LIKED }

I’ve been thinking a lot about strengths and skills in the past few years and I have come to the conclusion that my highest strengths and deepest weaknesses stem from the same aptitudes. For example, I am a highly curious person, which in many ways is a great asset—I am deeply inquisitive about the world, ideas and people around me, I follow my questions through, I look up words I do not know when reading, even when I can still understand the meaning of a sentence, because I love learning new things, because I cannot resist the call of the unknown. At the same time, my curiosity can prove a serious handicap in some situations—when I have to finish a project or article on a deadline, for example. What I loved most about the character strengths survey is the way it attended to this duality and very deliberately highlighted the ways each strengths could be under or overused. For each of the top strengths, there is a two page report which covers the following rubrics:

  • What does research reveal about the benefits of this strength?
  • What does this mean about the individual?
  • Exploring the strength of [ the strength in question ]
  • Underuse of [ the strength in question ]
  • Novel ways to use [ the strength in question ]
  • Overuse of [ the strength in question ]

I really liked the Exploring the strengths of ____ rubric, which gave a series of questions/thinking prompts to further explore what that strength means to one on an individual level.

{ FRICTION POINTS

One category I thought could use a bit of rethinking was the “Overuse of ___” For example, one of my signature strengths is ‘appreciation of beauty and excellence’ and this is the information that was provided in the Overuse of Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence rubric:

A keen appreciation of beauty and of excellence-in performance, when overplayed, can result in perfectionism, snobbishness, and intolerance of others who do not share this appreciation. One may take offense when others threaten or disregard natural beauty, which may lead one to take an extreme position or stance. One’s personal and work relationships may suffer if one is overly critical of others who do not do things with as much care or as thoroughly as thought necessary. Additionally, personal achievements may be thwarted by one’s own perfectionist standards. Sometimes making commitments to new challenges may be avoided for fear of not being able to perform at a high enough level. Perfectionism can also interfere with decision-making if there is excessive worry about making exactly the right decision. To counteract these tendencies, self-compassion and compassion for others is helpful.

The description of the mismanagement of this strength really resonated with my experience. It felt surprisingly empowering to see that these negative patterns and behaviors which I have struggled with for so much of my life were just the mismanagement of an aptitude that could positively enhance my life, work and relationships. But ‘self-compassion’ and ‘compassion for others’ are really broad terms and can mean a great many things to different people. I wish the report had included some interventions for cultivating self-compassion and compassion for others, or at least some suggestions of curated resources to further explore how these strengths might be cultivated and deployed.

{ NEXT STEPS }

I would recommend taking the VIA Survey of Character Strengths, I’m a big believer in the value of self-reflection and self-knowledge and I found the survey and its accompanying report to be a powerful tool in that direction. For each of the top strengths, there was a bullet list of suggestions on how to optimize the cultivation and deployment of the strengths. I’ve put together all the suggested ways to use each of my signature strengths and I am now going to create a framework to ensure that I follow through on each of the suggestions. Design Thinking challenge ahead!

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 …* 

{ rethinked*annex } Using the ABCDE Model to Dispute Negative Beliefs – Adopt or Rethink ?

{ THE 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:

{ WHAT I LIKED

I found doing this exercise helped me shift from being the feeler of annoyance, anger, pessimism, etc. to being the examiner of these beliefs. Doing the exercise gave me the mental space to separate from the immediacy of the feelings and take a step back. This helped contain the feeling rather than letting it take over and color my entire experience. I found I recovered from whatever negative feeling I was experiencing much more quickly than when I let these feelings be unexamined.

{ FRICTION POINTS }

This was most likely due to the fact that I was in a bad mood already whenever I did the exercise, but I found it a bit annoying. I feel very lucky that the five adverse events I encountered in the week when I was doing the exercise were utterly minor annoyances which made the process of reflecting on each of them feel a bit like overkill. I could see this being a useful tool for bigger issues. In the chapter where Seligman explains the ABCDE model he takes as his example a couple having a communication breakdown that is leading to problems in their marriage. I think this would be the type of context where this exercise would be most useful, when one is struggling to see someone else’s perspective, or when one feels one’s own perspective is being ignored or misunderstood. While I will not continue to do the ABCDE model on a frequent basis, I would like to retain aspects of this exercise and I would likely do it the next time I run into adverse events that are a bit more high stakes than the minute annoyances of daily life. I really enjoyed the mental space it created to help me examine and feel my feelings without passing judgment. I would love to find a way to keep that going in the future.

*

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

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 …*

*

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

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

Learn to Identify, Cultivate & Deploy Your Unique Character Strengths to Live A Full & Authentic Life ...*  | rethinked.org

“Herein is my formulation of the good life: Using your signature strengths every day in the main realms of your life to bring abundant gratification and authentic happiness.” -Martin Seligman, 161

Last week we looked at the idea set forth by Martin Seligman in Authentic Happiness, that engaging in experiences that produce flow may be a way to build psychological capital. You might recall that achieving flow depends on several factors, key among which, the matching of a challenge to engage your unique and personal strengths. Today, let’s look at what Positive Psychology has to say about these strengths –how we identify, cultivate and exercise them.

CREATING A TAXONOMY OF CHARACTER STRENGTHS 

Given the importance of deploying one’s character strengths in as many situations as possible throughout life to live fully and authentically, Seligman identified the need to create a comprehensive taxonomy of good character. He assembled a team and together they started poring through hundred of ancient texts from various times and cultures -“we read Aristotle and Plato, Aquinas and Augustine, the Old Testament and the Talmud, Confucius, Buddha, Lao-Tze, Bushido (the samurai code), the Koran, Benjamin Franklin, and the Upanishads–some two hundred virtue catalogues in all.” (132) What they found were some ubiquitous virtues, valued across time and culture. These virtues, of which there are six, are: wisdom and knowledge; courage; love and humanity; justice; temperance; spirituality and transcendence. (133) Seligman and his team use the word ubiquitous rather than universal because there are some rare exceptions.

It is true that very rare exceptions can be found; the Ik, for example, do not appear to value kindness. Hence we call the strengths ubiquitous rather than universal and it is important that examples of the anthropological veto (“Well, the Ik don’t have it”) are rare and glaring. This means that quite a few of the strengths endorsed by contemporary Americans are not on our list: good looks, wealth, competitiveness, self-esteem, celebrity, uniqueness and the like. These strengths are certainly worthy of study, but they are not my immediate priority. My motive for this criterion is that I want my formulations of the good life to apply just as well to Japanese and to Iranians as to Americans. (140)

Of course, all of these virtues can mean many different things to different people and there are many ways of achieving them. Since Positive Psychology is based on empirical and scientific study, Seligman and his team had to push further and establish a system by which to identify the measurable and acquirable routes one takes to achieve the virtues–the strengths of character.

To be a virtuous person is to display, by acts of will, all or at least most of the six ubiquitous virtues: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance and transcendence. There are several distinct routes to each of these six. For example, one can display the virtue of justice by acts of good citizenship, fairness, loyalty and teamwork, or humane leadership. I call these routes strengths, and unlike the abstract virtues, each of these strengths is measurable and acquirable. (137)

SOME COMPONENTS OF STRENGTHS

The first step then in creating a taxonomy of good character is to define the characteristics of the strengths. Seligman starts by highlighting the difference between strengths and talents:

Strengths, such as integrity, valor, originality, and kindness, are not the same thing as talents, such as perfect pitch, facial beauty, or lighting-fast sprinting speed. They are both topics of Positive Psychology and while they have many similarities, one clear difference is that strengths are moral traits, while talents are nonmoral. In addition, although the line is fuzzy, talents generally are not as buildable as strengths. True, you can improve your time in the hundred-meter dash by raising your rump higher in the starting position, you can wear makeup that makes you look prettier, or you can listen to a great deal of classical music and learn to guess the pitch correctly more often. I believe that these are only small improvements, though, augmenting a talent that already exists. Valor, originality, fairness and kindness, in contrast, can be built on even frail foundations, and I believe that with enough practice, persistence, good teaching and dedication, they can take root and flourish. (134)

Strengths are voluntary and involve choices about when to use them and whether to keep building them, but also whether to acquire them in the first place. Meanwhile, talents are relatively automatic, involve some choices, but only of those of whether to burnish it and where to employ it. Seligman then highlights eight additional criterion by which to identify strengths:

  1. Strengths are traits (137)
  2. Strengths are valued in their own right (137)
  3. Strengths are what parents wish for their newborns (137)
  4. Onlookers of strengths being displayed are often elevated and inspired rather than envious or jealous (138)
  5. The culture supports strengths by providing institutions, rituals, role models, parables, maxims and children’s stories. (138)
  6. Role models and paragons in the culture compellingly illustrate a strength or virtue. (138)
  7. Some of the strengths have prodigies, youngsters who display them early on and amazingly well. (138)
  8. Conversely, there exist idiots (from the Greek, for not socialized) with respect to a strength. (139)
  9. The strengths are ubiquitous. (139)

EXERCISE: IDENTIFY YOUR HIGHEST, WEAKEST & SIGNATURE STRENGTHS

My favorite positive “intervention” is merely to ask you to take the VIA Strengths Survey, then think about which of these strengths are the ones you own and how you might use them every day. Quite astonishingly, your own ingenuity and your desire to lead the good life often take over from there, even if I step aside. (137) 

Head over to the Authentic Happiness website and under the tab labeled “Questionnaires” you will find the VIA Survey of Character Strengths. 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)

THE VIRTUES & CHARACTER STRENGTHS – A BRIEF OVERVIEW

{ WISDOM & KNOWLEDGE }

The first virtue cluster is wisdom. I have arranged the six routes to displaying wisdom and its necessary antecedent, knowledge, from the most developmentally basic (curiosity) up to the most mature (perspective). (140) 

  • Curiosity / Interest in the world
  • Love of Learning
  • Judgement / Critical Thinking / Open-Mindedness
  • Ingenuity / Originality / Practical Intelligence / Street Smarts
  • Social Intelligence / Personal Intelligence / Emotional Intelligence
  • Perspective

{ COURAGE }

The strengths that make up courage reflect the open-eyed exercise of will toward the worthy ends that are not certain of attainment. To qualify as courage, such acts must be done in the face of strong adversity. This virtue is universally admired, and every culture has heroes who exemplify this virtue. I include valor, perseverance, and integrity as three ubiquitous routes to this virtue. (145)

  • Valor & Bravery
  • Perseverance / Industry / Diligence
  • Integrity / Genuineness / Honesty

{ HUMANITY & LOVE }

The strengths here are displayed in positive social interaction with other people: friends, acquaintances, family members and also strangers. (148)

  • Kindness & Generosity
  • Loving & Allowing Oneself to Be Loved

{ JUSTICE }

These strengths show up in civic activities. They go beyond your one-on-one relationships to how you relate to larger groups, such as your family, your community, the nation, and the world. (149)

  • Citizenship / Duty / Teamwork / Loyalty
  • Fairness & Equity
  • Leadership

{ TEMPERANCE } 

As a core virtue, temperance refers to the appropriate and moderate expression of your appetites and wants. The temperate person does not suppress motives, but waits for opportunities to satisfy them so that harm in not done to self or others. (152)

  • Self-Control
  • Prudence / Discretion / Caution
  • Humility & Modesty

TRANSCENDENCE

I use “transcendence” for the final cluster of strengths. This term is not popular throughout history—“spirituality” is the label of choice—but I wanted to avoid confusion between one of the specific strengths, spirituality, with the nonreligious strengths in this cluster, like enthusiasm and gratitude. By transcendence, I mean emotional strengths that reach outside and beyond you to connect you to something larger and more permanent: to other people, to the future, to evolution, to the divine, or to the universe. (154)

  • Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence
  • Gratitude
  • Hope / Optimism / Future-Mindedness
  • Spirituality / Sense of Purpose / Faith / Religiousness
  • Forgiveness & Mercy
  • Playfulness & Humor
  • Zest / Passion / Enthusiasm

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

{ The Good Life vs. the Pleasant Life } Building Psychological Capital By Investing In Experiences That Produce Flow …*

{ The Good Life vs. the Pleasant Life } Building Psychological Capital By Investing In Experiences That Produce Flow ...* | rethinked.org

Last week, I wrote about the different types of happiness in the present: the pleasures and the gratifications and dove into various ways to enhance and amplify the pleasure in one’s life. Today, let’s focus on the gratifications, specifically on how they differ from the pleasures. The distinction is important as it frames the difference between the ‘Good Life” and the “Pleasant Life”–a life of growth and authenticity versus a life of ephemeral pleasures.

PSYCHOLOGICAL COMPONENTS OF THE GRATIFICATIONS

While the pleasures are about the surging of positive emotions, the gratifications are characterized by a complete lack of emotion– a full immersion in the moment and lack of self-consciousness. As I mentioned in my post last week, what Seligman calls the gratifications is, essentially, interchangeable with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi‘s concept of flow

From Csikszentmihalyi’s research, we know that the experience of the gratifications/flow is characterized by the following components:

  • The task is challenging and requires skill
  • We concentrate
  • There are clear goals
  • We get immediate feedback
  • We have deep, effortless involvement
  • There is a sense of control
  • Our sense of self vanishes
  • Time stops (116)

PLEASURES AS CONSUMPTION, GRATIFICATIONS AS GROWTH – A THEORY OF PSYCHOLOGICAL CAPITAL

Seligman makes a fascinating analogy with the field of economics, suggesting that in the same way that we can accrue economic capital – “resources that are withdrawn from consumption and invested in the future for higher anticipated returns,” we may be endowed with a capacity for accruing psychological capital. And the way in which we build this psychological capital is through pursuing the gratifications.

When we engage in pleasures, we are perhaps just consuming. The smell of perfume, the taste of raspberries, and the sensuality of a scalp rub are all high momentary delights, but they do not build anything for the future. They are not investments, nothing is accumulated. In contrast, when we are engaged (absorbed in flow), perhaps we are investing, building psychological capital for our future. Perhaps flow is the state that marks psychological growth. Absorption, the loss of consciousness, and the stopping of time may be evolution’s way of telling us that we are stocking up psychological resources for the future. In this analogy, pleasure marks the achievement of biological satiation, whereas gratification marks the achievement of psychological growth. (117)

I find this idea of psychological capital growing from engaging with activities that produce flow rather intuitive, but Seligman backs it up with research:

Flow is a frequent experience for some people, but this state visits many others only rarely if at all. In one of Mike’s [ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ] studies, he tracked 250 high-flow and 250 low-flow teenagers. The low-flow teenagers are “mall” kids; they hang out at malls and they watch television a lot. The high-flow kids have hobbies, they engage in sports, and they spend a lot of time on homework. On every measure of psychological well-being (including self-esteem and engagement) save one, the high-flow teenagers did better. The exception is important: the high-flow kids think their low-flow peers are having more fun, and say they would rather be at the mall doing all those “fun” things or watching television. But while all the engagement they have is not perceived as enjoyable, it pays off later in life. The high-flow kids are the ones who make it to college, who have deeper social ties, and whose later lives are more successful. This all fits Mike’s theory that flow is the state that builds psychological capital that can be drawn on in years to come. (117)

THE IMPORTANCE OF A GOOD QUESTION: ASKING “WHAT IS THE GOOD LIFE?” RATHER THAN “HOW CAN I BE HAPPY?” 

To summarize, we now know that there are two very different qualities of happiness in the present: the pleasures and the gratifications. Further, we know that the former produces evanescent positive emotion while the latter builds up our psychological capital. Back-rubs and pumpkin pie are wonderful and should be savored, but if we want to grow our psychological reserves we need to be seeking out and creating experiences for ourselves that produce flow. Yet, so many of us routinely choose the pleasures over the gratifications–spending our evenings mindlessly flipping through the channels instead of writing a story, painting a portrait or otherwise engaging in activities that require the activation of our strengths. This is a question of motivation, the pleasures are cheap and easily accessible while the gratifications require effort and hold the possibility of failure and stress:

To start the process of eschewing easy pleasure and engaging in more gratification is hard. The gratifications produce flow, but they require skill and effort; even more deterring is the fact that because they meet challenges, they offer the possibility of failing. Playing three sets of tennis, or participating in a clever conversation, or reading Richard Russo takes work—at least to start. The pleasures do not: watching a sitcom, masturbating and inhaling perfume are not challenging. Eating a buttered bagel or viewing televised football on Monday night requires no effort and little skill, and there is no possibility of failure.  (119)

But if we want a full life, a life of growth and directed change, we must be willing to endure and, in fact, seek out the challenges that produce flow:

Such people [those seeking the pleasures exclusively] ask, “How can I be happy?” This is the wrong question, because without the distinction between pleasure and gratification it leads all too easily to a total reliance on shortcuts, to a life of snatching up as many easy pleasures as possible. I am not against the pleasures; indeed, this entire chapter has set out advice on how to increase pleasures (as well as the entire panoply of positive emotions) in your life. I detailed the strategies under your voluntary control that are likely to move your level of positive emotion into the upper part of your set range of happiness: gratitude, forgiveness, and escaping the tyranny of determinism to increase positive emotions about the past; learning hope and optimism through disputing to increase positive emotions about the future; and breaking habituation, savoring, and mindfulness to increase the pleasures of the present. (120)

When an entire life is taken up in the pursuit of the positive emotions, however, authenticity and meaning are nowhere to be found. The right question is the one Aristotle posed two thousand and five hundred years ago: “What is the good life?” My main purpose in marking the gratifications off from the pleasures is to ask this great question anew, then provide a fresh and scientifically grounded answer. My answer is tied up in the identification and the use of your signature strengths. (121)

We’ll examine the signature strengths next Tuesday–what they are, how to identify them and how to build them up.

*

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

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