Tag depression

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 …*

Rethinking …* Process – Understanding & Embracing the Emotional & Subjective Aspects of Venturing Into the Unknown

“We’d all studied science as if it’s a series of logical steps between question and answer. But doing research is nothing like that. At the same time, I was also studying to be an improvisation theater actor. So physics by day and by night–laughing, jumping, singing, playing my guitar. Improvisation theater, just like science goes into the unknown because you have to make a scene on stage without a director, without a script, without having any idea what you’ll portray or what the other characters will do. But unlike science, improvisation theater, they tell you from day one what’s going to happen to you when you get on stage: you’re going to fail miserably. You’re going to get stuck, and we would practice staying creative inside that stuck place.” – Uri Alon

 

In this TED talk, systems biologist, Uri Alon, urges us to rethink our schema of science–not as a linear path from point A to point B–but as a courageous, often highly uncomfortable, uncharted flight into the unknown. Our cultural emphasis on answers over process often leads to discouragement and feelings of alienation for those willing to take a risk and venture into the fertile lands of the unknown. Uri drew from his work in improv theater to reframe and work through the discomfort of process in his scientific research and is now attempting to help other researchers name, accept, and understand the various emotional and subjective aspects of venturing into the unknown.

While Uri’s talk is centered primarily around the sciences, he provides some valuable insights on reframing, understanding and thriving within the discomfort of the unknown that can be translated to any field or experience that requires pushing past the known.

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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.

*

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

Learn to Cultivate Gratitude & Forgiveness to Enhance Satisfaction About the Past ...*  | rethinked.org -Photograph: Elsa Fridman

Today, let’s review what Positive Psychology has to say about happiness in the past. In a nutshell: the single most effective way to change your satisfaction about the past is to change your thinking:

There are three ways you can lastingly feel more happiness about your past. The first is intellectual—letting go of an ideology that your past determines your future. The hard determinism that underpins this dogma is empirically barren and philosophically far from self-evident, and the passivity it engenders is imprisoning. The second and third variables are emotional, and both involve voluntarily changing your memories. Increasing your gratitude about the good things in your past intensifies positive memories, and learning how to forgive past wrongs defuses the bitterness that makes satisfaction impossible. (82)

RETHINKING TWO PERNICIOUS BELIEFS THAT HINDER SATISFACTION ABOUT THE PAST:

DETERMINISM

To the extent that you believe that the past determines the future, you will tend to allow yourself to be a passive vessel that does not actively change its course. Such beliefs are responsible for magnifying many people’s inertia. (66)

THE HYDRAULICS OF EMOTION | PSYCHODYNAMICS

We live in a society that promotes the venting of emotions. The cultural assumption about feelings is that they must come out and be expressed for if they are not, they grow and fester within us leading to resentment, pent up frustration and ultimately, poor health. Interestingly, the research shows a completely different story:

  • Depression & The Invention of Cognitive Therapy – Aaron (Tim) Beck found that there was no problem getting depressed people to re-air past wrongs and to dwell on them at length. The problem was that they often unraveled as they ventilated, and Tim could not find ways to ravel them up again. Occasionally this led to suicide attempts, some fatal. Cognitive Therapy for depression developed as a technique to free people from their unfortunate past by getting them to change their thinking about the present and the future. Cognitive therapy techniques work equally well at producing relief from depression as the antidepressant drugs, and they work better at preventing recurrences and relapse. (69)
  • 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)

So if venting our anger and frustration only makes us feel worse and endangers our health, what can we do to increase our satisfaction about the past? Seligman suggests cultivating gratitude and forgiveness:

Insufficient appreciation and savoring of the good events in your past and overemphasis of the bad ones are the two culprits that undermine serenity, contentment, and satisfaction. There are two ways of bringing these feelings about the past well into the region of contentment and satisfaction.

  1. Gratitude amplifies the savoring and appreciation of the good events gone by.
  2. Rewriting history by forgiveness loosens the power of the bad events to embitter (and actually can transform bad memories into good ones). (70)

GRATITUDE – 

Numerous studies have shown the benefits of cultivating gratitude which increases joy, happiness, and life satisfaction. Just head over to the Greater Good Science Center for a plethora of reviews on the benefits of gratitude.

2 EXERCISES TO CULTIVATE GRATITUDE

In Authentic Happiness, Seligman proposes two gratitude interventions to try out in order to cultivate your capacity for gratitude:

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)

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)

FORGIVENESS

We cannot control the memories we carry inside us. What we can control however is our focus and interpretation of these memories. We can cultivate gratitude to shift our focus towards experiencing more positive memories and we can cultivate forgiveness to alleviate the hurt of negative memories.

Forgiveness must be given freely and voluntarily if it is to be effective. Whether you decide to forgive someone for a past wrong is entirely your choice. Moral implications of that choice aside, I would like to point you to the research on the benefits of forgiveness:

In the largest and best-done study to date a consortium of Stanford researchers led by Carl Thoresen randomly assigned 259 adults to either a nine-hour (six 90-minute sessions) forgiveness workshop or to an assessment-only control group. The components of the intervention were carefully scripted and paralleled those above, with emphasis on taking less offence and revisiting the story of the grievance toward an objective perspective. Less anger, less stress, more optimism, better reported health, and more forgiveness ensued, and the effects were sizable. (81)

Forgiving is much easier said than done, but perhaps you will find a helpful entry point into forgiving through psychologist Everett Worthington’s acclaimed 5 step process to forgive REACH:

{ R } RECALL THE HURT

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 } 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 } GIVE THE ALTRUISTIC GIFT OF FORGIVENESS

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 } COMMIT YOURSELF TO FORGIVE PUBLICLY

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 } HOLD ONTO FORGIVENESS

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)

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

What If Instead of Prioritizing the Relief of Suffering We Also Focused On the Understanding & Building of Happiness?

In times of trouble, does the understanding and alleviating of suffering trump the understanding and building of happiness? I think not. People who are impoverished, depressed, or suicidal care about much more than just the relief of their suffering. These persons care–sometimes desperately–about virtue, about purpose, about integrity, and about meaning.” -Martin Seligman, Authentic Happiness

I am currently in the discovery phase of the Positive Psychology cycle of my rethinked*annex project–reading the books and getting a deeper sense of the discipline. There is a lot of information to unpack, so this is the first of several posts in the coming week about what exactly Positive Psychology is, how it came to be, and what type of impact it might provide. I am deeply excited by the potential of an empirical science that attempts to help us thrive and live meaningful, joyful and fulfilling lives. Positive Psychology was made even more special once I discovered that it started as a wonderful “what if?” and as a challenge to the status quo. In his book, Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman walks his readers through his thought process leading up to his founding Positive Psychology as an official field of study in 1998. Noting that “psychology has badly neglected the positive side of life” and that, “For every one hundred journal articles on sadness, there is just one on happiness,” he decided to do something about it.

{ QUESTIONING THE STATUS QUO } 

THE PROBLEM – 

For the last half century psychology has been consumed with a single topic only–mental illness–and has done fairly well with it. Psychologists can now measure such once fuzzy concepts as depression, schizophrenia, and alcoholism with considerable precision. We now know a good deal about how these troubles develop across the life span, and about their genetics, their biochemistry, and their psychological causes. Best of all, we have learned how to relieve these disorders. By my last count, fourteen out of the several dozen major illnesses could be effectively treated (and two of them cured) with medication and specific forms of psychotherapy. But this progress has come at a high cost. Relieving the states that make life miserable, it seems has made building the states that make life worth living less of a priority. But people want more than just to correct their weaknesses. They want lives imbued with meaning, and not just to fidget until they die. Lying awake at night, you probably ponder, as I have, how to go from plus two to plus seven in your life, not just how to go from minus five to minus three and feel a little less miserable day by day. 

THE SOLUTION – 

My most grandiose aim […] is to correct the imbalance by propelling the field of psychology into supplementing its hard-won knowledge about suffering and mental illness with a great deal more knowledge about positive emotion, as well as about personal strengths and virtues.

{ DEFINITION } 

So what exactly is positive psychology? Seligman defines it thus:

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.

I will unpack and get into more details about how Seligman classifies positive emotions, positive traits and positive institutions in next week’s post.

{ REFLACTION } 

This week, I am beginning Tal Ben-Shahar’s Even Happier: A Gratitude Journal For Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment, which is the companion workbook/playbook to Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment and which is a way to put into practice some of the findings and insights from Positive Psychology:

Engaging in reflection and action –what I have called “ReflAction”–brings theory to life. I have adopted the practice of reflaction in my academic classes and public workshops, and I recommend that all teachers and students in any field who are concerned with real learning do the same. 

What a splendid term reflaction is, and it so brilliantly captures what I am attempting to do through the rethinked*annex project. The playbook is divided into 52 chapters, one for each week, and grouped around various themes (see my picture of the table of contents below.) This week’s theme is “Being Grateful.”

Ben-Shahar starts by giving a brief overview of the findings of Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough’s studies on gratitude, which demonstrated that “putting aside a minute or two every day to express gratitude for one’s life has far-reaching consequences:”

Compared with the control group, the grateful group not only became more appreciative of life in general but also enjoyed higher levels of well-being and positive emotions: they felt happier, more determined, more energetic, and more optimistic. They were also more generous and more likely to offer support to others. Finally, those who expressed gratitude also slept better, exercised more, and experienced fewer symptoms of physical illness. 

He then recommends a daily gratitude exercise to be completed every day:

Each day this week, write down at least five things for which you are grateful. The key when doing this exercise is to remain mindful, not to take this exercise for granted. One way of remaining mindful is by visualizing or reexperiencing whatever it is that you are writing down. For example, as you write down “parents,” see them in your imagination; if you write down “conversation with partner,” try to reexperience the same feelings you had while conversing with your partner. 

What If Instead of Prioritizing the Relief of Suffering We Also Focused On the Understanding & Building of Happiness? | rethinked.org

Brené Brown On Why Embracing Vulnerability Is Critical To Human Flourishing…*

“Our capacity for wholeheartedness can never be greater than our willingness to be brokenhearted.” 

In this splendid talk given at the RSA, research professor, Dr. Brené Brown, who has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame, highlights the tension between the behaviors spurred by our culture of scarcity– a culture of never enough–and the critical function of vulnerability in human flourishing. We live in a culture shaped by fear and blame, argues Brown; everywhere around us, the dominant questions framing the discourse in virtually all areas of society are: “What should I be afraid of today?” and, “Who’s to blame?” Our instinctual response to this culture of scarcity is to armor up in an attempt to protect ourselves from being rejected and hurt.

We wake up in the morning and we armor up and we put it on and say, “I’m going to go out into the world, I’m basically going to kick some ass, I’m not going to let anyone see who I am and in doing so, I can protect myself against the things that hurt the most–judgment, criticism, fear, blame, ridicule. I’m going to armor up and I’m going to be safe.” 

This armor takes on many facets–perfectionism, intellectualizing, etc.–but at its core, the armor serves the same function for everyone: to protect our sense of being lovable, and being acceptable and being worth connection; to avoid feeling like we’re not enough. The issue, as Brown points out, is that, as the research shows, “vulnerability is the path to love, belonging, joy, intimacy, trust, innovation, creativity and empathy.” Essentially, the strategy that we are using to protect and nurture our sense of love, acceptance, and connection–putting an armor on–is keeping us from reaching those very goals in an authentic and fulfilling manner.

What can we do to move in a more positive direction? Brown suggests three focal points for rethinking…* our behaviors:

  1. Learn to differentiate between empathy and sympathy. Act on empathy.
  2. Learn to move past blame and focus on accountability .
  3. Learn to differentiate between behavior (guilt) and self (shame). Guilt mobilizes individuals for positive action, while “shame corrodes the part of us that believes we can change.”

EMPATHY vs. SYMPATHY

Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection. Empathy is feeling with people. So to respond empathically, I would need to try to understand [that person’s] perspective, stay out of judgment, recognize what [they’re] feeling and kind of communicate it back: “Oh, shit. I hate that.” or “Oh God, There’s nothing worse than___.” That’s empathy. Empathy is, “I’m feeling with you.”

Sympathy is, “I’m feeling for you.” […] In Texas, in the South in general in the U.S., we have the worst saying ever, that just smacks and reeks of sympathy, which is, “Bless your heart.” Basically, what I’m saying is, “that sucks, but too bad and God is on my side.” So sympathy is one of the things that really gets in the way of empathy and sympathy is also often how we respond when we don’t want to be vulnerable to someone else’s struggle. 

[…]

We all need different things from empathy. There are no hard and fast rules about what empathy looks like or what it sounds like, but there is one that I will share with you from the research, it is: “Rarely, if ever, does an empathic response begin with ‘At least’.” And we do it all the time because someone just shared something with us that’s incredibly painful and we’re trying to put the silver lining around it. So, “I had a miscarriage”, “At least, you can get pregnant.” How does that feel? Awful. But one of the things we do sometimes in the face of very difficult conversations, is we try to make things better instead of leaning into. If I share something with you that’s very difficult, I rather you say, “Wow, I don’t even know what to say right now, I’m just glad you told me.” Because the truth is, rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection. 

Sometimes, the most profound and eloquent examples of empathy happen without any words. And sometimes, not even with eye contact. To me, if I’m sitting next to you and I say, “Wow, I feel like the wheels are falling off right now and things are out of control.” And someone just puts their hand on top of my hand and squeezes–that says, with touch, I think, the two most important words in my work, which are: “Me too.”

BLAME vs. ACCOUNTABILITY

Blame is simply the discharging of discomfort and pain. It has an inverse relationship with accountability. Meaning that people who blame a lot, seldom have the tenacity and grit to actually hold people accountable because we expand all of our energy raging for fifteen seconds and figuring out whose fault something is. 

Accountability, by definition, is a vulnerable process: it means me calling you and saying, “Hey, my feelings were really hurt about this,” and talking. It’s not blaming. Blaming is simply a way that we discharge anger, which is really hard, and blaming is really corrosive in relationships and it’s one of the reasons we miss our opportunities for empathy, because when something happens and we’re hearing a story, we’re not really listening, we’re making connections as quickly as we can about whose fault something was. 

GUILT vs. SHAME

Shame is, “I’m bad.” And guilt is, “I did something bad.” So shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior. The outcomes are hugely different. What we know from the research is that shame is highly, highly correlated with addiction, depression, aggression, violence, suicide, bullying. And, almost more importantly, we know that guilt is inversely correlated with those outcomes. Meaning the more someone is able to separate themselves from their behaviors, the less likely it is that they’ll end up suffering from these struggles. And the implications are huge, especially around parenting. As it turns out, there is a tremendous difference between, “You’re a bad girl” and, “You’re a great kid, but that was a bad choice.” 

When we see people change behaviors, make amends, when we see positive behavioral change, you can almost always trace it back to guilt. Guilt is uncomfortable but I’m a big fan of it because it’s cognitive dissonance–it’s, “I’ve done something, and I’m holding it up against my values and it doesn’t feel right.” That’s guilt.

Brown’s work and insights on the power of vulnerability link back directly to Carol Dweck’s research on mindsets. Armoring up to protect the self is a fixed mindset strategy–it stems from a belief that traits are fixed: I have certain inherent character traits that make me lovable, acceptable and worthy of connection to a certain fixed point. And since these traits are fixed and static over time, my best course of action is to keep others from finding out what I’m really like. Shame and blame both come right out of the fixed mindset with its framework of judgment. Meanwhile, the ability to embrace vulnerability, to lean into it, stems directly from a growth mindset. It is a recognition that we as individuals have the agency and capacity to grow, to develop our ability for empathy, change and accountability. It is a willingness to learn new strategies for connection and accepting the risks of failure and pain that inherently comes with trying something new.

The Power of Vulnerability, via RSA, published July 4, 2013.

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